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Market meltdowns, markdown money, magazines folding, holiday parties on hold. How about a weekend getaway to the good old days, courtesy of the Fontainebleau Hotel and Victoria’s Secret? Two days of luxe resort life and lavish lingerie sure sounded good to the 3,500-plus who showed up for the hotel’s grand re-opening and the bra-and-panty giant’s annual fashion show Friday and Saturday in Miami Beach.
This story first appeared in the November 17, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Anyone who set foot on the Fontainebleau’s sprawling Collins Avenue compound was welcomed to a land where living was large and budgets were still big, some might say colossal, considering the $1 billion price tag that came with restoring the storied hotel. Thanks to Jeffrey Soffer, executive chairman of Fontainebleau Resorts, Morris Lapidus’ original curvilinear structure, the Chateau, built in 1954, has been blown out to include two new towers, 1,500 guest rooms, 11 restaurants and lounges, three ballrooms and a 40,000-square-foot spa. Such extravagance is a risky business in times like these. But Soffer and company seem to thrive on bold moves, which could explain why they chose a big-ego bunch — actors, editors and models — as their guinea-pig guests. Between the ongoing construction, unfinished rooms and epic waits for room service, there were no shortage of kinks to be worked out. Still, they got by on giveaways (free booze and food, if you could find it) and a high-energy atmosphere.
On Friday night, the Fontainebleau, once the glamorous playground of Elvis Presley, Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra, not to mention James Bond and Tony Montana, attracted anybody who’s anybody (Gwyneth Paltrow, Brett Ratner, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Alex Rodriguez) and anybody who thinks he or she’s anybody (Kim Kardashian, Brody Jenner, Kristen Cavallari, Chloë Sevigny), as well as what appeared to be a few relics from the hotel’s glory days. “I haven’t really had a chance to check anything out yet,” said Kate Hudson, in a blue dress by Alexander Wang, who incidentally was also at the party, before heading into the Chateau building’s main lobby, now re-done up in Deco-kitsch decor — three crystal chandeliers, the hotel’s original bow-tie marble floor and Greco-Roman pillars that surrounded a “live fountain,” featuring two frolicking models. A few minutes before, Paltrow, looking tanned and toned in a teeny white dress, had shimmied through with Ratner, who snapped her photo in a meta-paparazzi moment, before positioning herself at the base of the famed “stairway to nowhere” with Rodriguez and a posse of bodyguards.
Once the Victoria’s Secret Angels, who had arrived earlier in the day in ultraflamboyant style on Soffer’s yacht, took the stairs, cut the ribbon and sent up a cheer, the Fontainebleau was official again. On to the musical entertainment portion of the evening. Terrence Howard and Robin Thicke’s performances proved rousing preludes to the party headliner: Mariah Carey, who, despite the fact that she was just getting over a cold, commanded the stage with a mix of new material (“Touch My Body”) and old (“Dreamlover,” “Hero”). Midway through her set, the curtains parted to reveal Carey’s accompanists, the 40-piece Symphony of the Americas orchestra. Together, their sound moved the likes of Angela Lindvall and Paris Hilton out of the VIP section and onto the dance floor. So that’s what a $5 million party looks like. Extravagant, indeed. But what’s another couple mill when a billion-dollar charge is already on the table?
Such over-the-top opulence would be a tough act for anyone to follow. But Victoria’s Secret, armed with an estimated $15 million budget, not to mention a bevy of bronzed, buxom beauties, promised to give the Fontainebleau’s festivities a run for its money. Its lineup included not one, but two, shows, each staged before an audience of 1,000, that featured runway performances by Usher and will air on CBS on Dec. 3.
While Friday night’s party people recovered by the pool, 35 models from 17 countries, including Angels Heidi Klum, Adriana Lima, Doutzen Kroes and Miranda Kerr, and more editorial girls, such as Lara Stone, Behati Prinsloo and Julia Stegner, were primping, prepping and enduring armies of camera crews and press in the hair-and-makeup room. “It’s always exciting,” said Lima, who had obviously been briefed on the Fontainebleau and its history. “I love Miami. This hotel, they spent over $1 billion dollars. To think of all the history, Morris Lapidus…” As thrilling as renovations and deceased architects are, Lima was even more enthused about her looks for the show, and her debut in the famed Fantasy Bra, this year a 1,500-carat black diamond push-up by Martin Katz, which costs a tidy $5 million.
Indeed, as chief executive officer Sharon Turney put it, this season is all about “a return to glamour,” a statement echoed to dramatic effect when a British-accented voice boomed “The glamour is back” just before the models stormed the runway in all sorts of outrageous lingerie. There were Glamour Goddess looks with bras and panties trailing with filmy chiffon and bound with gladiator-style straps; a Dangerous series of severe, black and silver styles, such as a molded plastic trench worn by Stone; soft, floral Ballet des Fleurs, and the retro glam Black Tie Holiday series of Art Deco-inspired pieces. Subtle, it was not. And at a time when society seems to have endorsed a collective departure from glitz, such an overt return to glamour seems a tad off point.
But Victoria’s Secret is not apologizing for anything. Between the impossible bods, bedazzled bras and over-the-top theatrics, this production has never been based in reality. “Quite candidly, I think people are looking for a little escape right now,” said Ed Razek, VS’s president and chief marketing officer, who noted that planning for the VS show at the Fontainebleau began in February, long before the economy bottomed out. And Turney maintains that such a lavish show pays off saleswise. “Once it airs, 90 countries will see the show, and I think our woman wants to feel connected to the brand,” she said. “We see a lift in the business after the show.”
And there was no arguing with the beaming faces — Seal, Bruce Weber, Jason Lewis and Lenny Kravitz among them — in the front row. After all, this is a company known for Angels and Miracle Bras, which are nothing if not uplifting.