Here’s the scene: a Nor’easter battering Cape Cod, winds howling, waves washing over the Provincetown seawall and hundreds of guests who’d just exited a Marc Jacobs International Halloween bash wandering happily down Commercial Street dressed as Spartans, Black Swans and the entire cast of Oprah (Dr. Phil, Rachael Ray, et al.)
“It’s been a long time since I saw a party like this,” said Marc Jacobs president Robert Duffy, whose company has a history of outre costume parties. The New York fashion house sponsored the Provincetown evening to raise money to maintain the historic 1886 Town Hall, recently given a $6 million overhaul that restored the structure’s original sweeping double staircase and ornate, coffered-ceiling auditorium.
“It’s part of our brand DNA to get involved with every community we have a store in,” said Duffy, but noted that with “P town,” where the company operates a small seasonal store, the connection’s personal. His parents rented homes in neighboring Truro every summer; by age 16, Duffy was working odd jobs in Provincetown and renting a place on his own. He hung out in the balcony of the increasingly dilapidated town hall where, for a half-century, the town threw legendary costume balls attended by resident artists and writers such as Eugene O’Neill, Norman Mailer and Mark Rothko. One year, Norman Rockwell judged the costumes.
When the town revealed it was reviving the tradition, which petered out in the Fifties, some 900 tickets sold out within hours. (Always quick to see a merch opportunity, Marc Jacobs also sold at least two runs of commemorative, proceeds-to-benefit T-shirts.)
For the price of admission, revelers got a surprise performance by Debbie Harry, who peeled off pieces of a red-and-black military ensemble as she alternated between cuts from her new album “Panic of Girls” and Blondie classics. A flash mob ran a quick, choreographed dance to “Thriller” before Harry went on.
In order to restore the town hall’s chandelier and original paint scheme, architects relied on party pics from the Twenties showing revelers dressed in costume. In homage, Duffy and event planner Bryan Rafanelli, who worked Chelsea Clinton’s wedding and who owns a home in Provincetown, duplicated the old costumes and dressed as a penguin and Portuguese fisherman, respectively.