NEW YORK — For those who see Valentine’s Day as a ‘couples-only’ holiday marketed doggedly by greeting card and boxed-chocolate companies, take heart. Hennes & Mauritz, that Swedish import and purveyor of cheap chic, sees it differently. This year, the retailer is approaching the day often dreaded by the uncoupled as a chance for swinging singletons to be the center of attention and to grab their five minutes of fame — literally. All last week, print ads and signs invited Gotham singles to audition for their chance to find true love at the “H&M Expose yourself on Fifth Avenue” event scheduled for Feb. 14. OK, I’m not exactly single (engaged), but I couldn’t resist. So last Friday, I headed to the the SoHo store where tryouts were held in second-floor offices. Hopefuls started lining up at 7 a.m., and about 60 early birds won the chance to audition for the panel of judges, while latecomers were turned away. The 30 winners will get five minutes to perform their particular talents between noon and 3 p.m. on Valentine’s Day in the windows of the Rockefeller Center store, plus $100 worth of H&M clothes to wear.
As to performance limitations — there were none. People went for everything from traditional song-and-dance routines to interesting ‘interpretive’ numbers. Done up in pillbox hat and dark glasses, Jackie O enthusiast Andrea Reese illustrated her ability to imitate the former first lady — while trying to drum up a little business for her one-woman show, “Cirque Jacqueline.” Performance artist Greg Packer dressed in drag — papier-mache mask, fishnets and a black leotard — and ice-skated on special floorboards that he brought himself. Although some contestants had obviously rehearsed, others came just for the fun of it and to show their V-Day spirit. A few obviously regarded posing as a talent in itself, especially if you have the right costume: One young man came as cupid in a tank top with spray-painted heart and red-feathered wings. A young woman brought her shih tzu Chloe, who wore a dog sweater that read: “I love H&M.”
Few who turned out viewed the audition as a chance to meet their soul mates, and typical New York nonchalance ruled. The prevailing attitude: “If I meet someone, great. If not, oh well.” Louise, a young gymnast, said: “I am an outgoing person and like to meet people. This would be a good thing to do on Valentine’s Day.” She showed off her tumbling talents to the judges. In fact, many contestants were more interested in being discovered by a show-biz exec. When asked the requisite question, “Why should we choose you as one of the 30 singles?” one collegiate type answered: “Because I’ll be famous some day.” One of the most talented performers, Doreen Franquinha, was a finalist on WB’s “Popstars.” She sang her original song “Scared,” which, appropriately, is about finding love. Others, in true Valentine’s Day spirit, sang popular love ditties including “What I Did for Love,” from “A Chorus Line,” and Celine Dion’s standard “Power of Love.”
This week, H&M will notify the lucky finalists that their big Valentine’s Day chance for love, fame or both, awaits. (Apparently, my reading was a hit, and I’ll be there.) But first, they will have free reign at the Fifth Avenue store on Feb. 11, when each must decide what side of his or her personality to put on display. And after the big event on Valentine’s Day, H&M will host a party for singles and any late shoppers in the store.