NEW YORK — The circus is coming to town — and we’re not talking elephants, trapeze artists, clowns and lions.
The fashion flock on Thursday will descend on Damrosch Park in Lincoln Center for the kickoff of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, which promises to see its own kind of cat fights, juggling acts, monkey business and high-wire acts.
There seems to be more at stake this season than in recent years, not including the $770 million the twice-yearly fashion weeks generate for the city. A glamorous, high-profile new venue farther uptown, combined with a similar number of shows taking place way downtown and across town as well, means fashion editors, buyers and the rest of the crowd will be trying to work out travel logistics that have suddenly become more complicated than air traffic out of LaGuardia Airport. Then there’s the ongoing economic malaise hanging like a cloud; the start of the shows, as well as Fashion’s Night Out, taking place on Rosh Hashanah, and the simple, shocking thought of, What, another season already?
So it begins — the crush at the door; the long delays never really explained; the rain (you know there will be rain), and the ogling of the front row as one wonders, “Who is that person and why are they taking her photograph?”
The rush for celebrities is on as designers who would never otherwise gain a mention in the tabloids aim to do so. And blame it on the recession or other reasons, but celebrities are being equally aggressive about appearance fees at the fashion shows.
“A lot of money is being exchanged and deals are being done for front row [appearances] and Fashion’s Night Out,” said one insider. An author in her own right, she said three retailers approached her about signing books during FNO, including one that offered to pony up as much as $20,000. Even bloggers like Tavi Gevinson are commanding fees for their cameos.
One publicist familiar with negotiations for celebrity appearances said socialites were being suggested as “fall backs” or more affordable options to celebrities. But “most celebs were taken in the big feed,” she said. This season’s going rate for shows ranges from $30,000 to $50,000. Bold-faced names are requesting $75,000 just to show up at FNO events, and the more enterprising ones are trying to wrangle advertising campaigns as well, sources said.
While little is definite until actresses, celebutantes, reality stars and the like actually show up for their designated photo ops, there are already rumblings of alliances. Diane Kruger is supposedly a shoo-in at Chanel on FNO. “Mission: Impossible IV” starlet Paula Patton is expected at Friday night’s opening of the CH Carolina Herrera store where Vanity Fair’s Robert Risko will be sketching illustrations for guests. Models Jessica Stam and Burberry poster boy Tom Guinness will be spinning at Aldo. Edun’s Ali Hewson isn’t counting on her husband, Bono, for the brand’s FNO musical entertainment at Edun’s pop-up store in the Meatpacking District; instead; Jaleel Bunton from TV on the Radio will be behind the turntable. Alexander Dexter-Jones will DJ at Longchamp’s store.
Meanwhile, Blake Lively and Leighton Meester, fashion week mainstays since “Gossip Girl” hit the air, will be hosting FNO’s events as well as attending shows later in the week. (Look out to see if Lively attends shows on the arm of Anna Wintour, as she did at the couture shows in Paris this summer). And Alexander Wang’s after-show bash — held this year at an undisclosed West Side parking lot — will draw its usual crowd of hipsters. Other celebrities expected at FNO include Naomi Campbell at Dolce & Gabbana, Angela Lindvall, Bar Refaeli at Armani and Jessica Alba at Ralph Lauren, to name a few.
As for the parties and other social events, the bit of variety seems to be at the many screenings that will be held after-hours during the week: Sting at a showing of “Trophy Wife,” featuring his daughter Mickey Sumner, at the Tribeca Grand; Carey Mulligan at a Peggy Siegal-hosted preview of “Never Let Me Go” on Sept. 14; Woody Allen at MoMA for a Cinema Society event for his new flick “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” on Sept. 12; Chris Noth and Matt Dillon at a screening of Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s “Jack Goes Boating” held, on theme, at the New York Yacht Club on Sept. 16; Ryan Reynolds at a showing of “Buried” at the Tribeca Grand on Sept. 16 (another Cinema Society shindig), and Zach Galifianakis at “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” at Landmark Sunshine Cinemas on Sept. 14. In addition, there’s a promising lineup of musical acts: The Strokes will be performing at Tommy Hilfiger’s 25th anniversary bash at the Metropolitan Opera House on Sept. 12 (for which the designer is also likely to draw a few A-listers), and Florence & The Machine will perform at a party for Mulberry held on the roof of the SoHo House on Sept. 14.
In terms of who to expect in the front row, up-and-coming British crooner V.V. Brown will be a special guest at Jason Wu’s show. Otherwise, there’s a chance the fashion-forward Mulligan will take in a show while in town (she’s shown support for The Row in seasons past) and a possibility that Reynolds’ wife, Scarlett Johansson, might show up at something.
As for socials, the European contingent will be out in full force — jewelry designer and “It” girl of the moment Gaia Repossi will be attending shows of young designer friends like Alexander Wang, as well as Coco Brandolini, who will be with Meester on FNO at the Roger Vivier boutique.
Then there are celebrities of a different world: New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, fighting for reelection, will be visiting Nanette Lepore’s Madison Avenue boutique given she’s a proponent of Lepore’s plight to save the Garment Center and thus save jobs and boost the economy.
Each year, the fashion weeks attract some 232,000 attendees. Restaurants, hotels and retailers around Lincoln Center all stand to benefit from a substantial boost from the influx of visitors, and designers and editors said they’re eager to try out some new places. More than $40 million annually is spent on meals at local restaurants; nearly $30 million on taxis, Town Cars and public transportation, and an additional $56 million at area hotels during New York’s fashion weeks.
Certainly the taxis, Town Cars and even subways will be getting a heftier workout than usual now that the shows are in Lincoln Center, while nearby restaurants like Cafe Fiorello, Picholine, Bar Boulud and the new Atlantic Grill are rubbing their hands together at the expected onslaught of hungry fashion workers (even if they really don’t eat…). Overall, most observers view the move from Bryant Park as a good thing and something that could give New York fashion an added jolt.
“I’m probably more excited than ever. I’ve shown at Lincoln Center twice before,” said Tommy Hilfiger. “It’s not only an iconic American landmark, but it’s such a great place to show and handles crowds well. It’s beautiful.”
Elie Tahari just moved to the Upper West Side (he spent his first night with his kids there Monday), and is also looking forward to presenting in Lincoln Center.
“It’s a new home for fashion. It will elevate American fashion and it’s a great backdrop for the industry,” he said. Tahari also noted there’s a lot more breathing room around Lincoln Center. “The presentation [Lincoln Center showed] was very proud and elegant. Lincoln Center is where music and art used to meet, now music, art and fashion meet. It’s a new fashion campus.”
“I think [this show season] will probably open a lot of fashion people’s eyes up to Lincoln Center, and all the possibilities of Lincoln Center. It might get fashion people to be a little more cultural, which I think is nice,” said an upbeat Michael Kors. “When you talk about New York and what’s iconic, from the architecture and the space, Bryant Park is convenient but there is nothing iconic about Bryant Park. [Lincoln Center] elevates everything to a whole new level.”
Kors added that he has some personal favorite hangouts around Lincoln Center.
“I have my regular West Side haunts. I either go up to Barney Greengrass and get a bialy; Café Luxembourg when I am at Lincoln Center, and now there is a P.J. Clarke’s. They are all of course nondiety, so it would have to be postshow.”
Isaac Mizrahi has a long history with Lincoln Center “I am really excited about Lincoln Center,” he said. “It’s always been an important part of my life. Some of the great premieres have occurred there for me. The first time I designed a ballet for ABT [American Ballet Theatre], the first time I designed an opera at the Met and now fashion week.”
Despite some restructuring at her company, Betsey Johnson is moving full-steam ahead with her show at Lincoln Center. “Fashion should be a visible part of New York City. Bryant Park kept it in our own wonderful backyard. Fashion is so major now, starting with all the TV shows, and MTV, being the first alternative to glossy fashion magazines. Fashion is so global and we’re streaming the show online. New York as a city should own it. New York is it to me, and I don’t know about Europe and don’t care about Europe…the fashion shows, the celebrities and stylists. It all begins with what they wear.”
Johnson shot a film Tuesday at such New York City landmarks as Lincoln Center, Times Square, the Intrepid and Central Park to accompany her fashion show. “It’s a fantasyland of fashion in New York….I love the tents. I can have my dream, explain my dream and make it come true.”
Then there are those who are just discovering the neighborhood, like downtown maven Anna Sui. “My cousin got married and she housed all the family uptown, so I had to pass Lincoln Center four times in one weekend,” she said. “All of a sudden, I felt, ‘This could be exciting.’ It’s a whole part of New York that I haven’t really ever spent much time in. I was so excited that there is a Shake Shack up there and a Beard Papa’s Cream Puffs. Did I hear that Café des Artistes is reopening? Those kinds of places spark my curiosity again. There is also that great Shun Lee up there. It’s a whole new New York for me, because I am such a downtown person.
“I am really excited about my collection. It’s a little different for me and everyone has been commenting on that. Having the new venue in the new area, and the new energy there will hopefully refresh my collection even more. Now, it’s a whole new thing and like a new beginning,” added Sui.
Public relations veteran Paul Wilmot said, “Lincoln Center has the potential to be the biggest thing to happen to New York fashion. It marries the arts, design and business. It’s a great venue. Bryant Park had served its purpose, but fashion has changed. Business is still iffy in a lot of places. There are all these different venues at Lincoln Center. The bloggers will be going crazy.”
Wilmot also believes the Upper West Side beats Bryant Park for places to “duck out afterwards” to get a bite to eat. “And all you need to do is go down Ninth Avenue to get to MAC & Milk [another show venue gaining momentum via its sponsorship of younger designers]. We’ve certainly gone through years of contraction. This is a fresh brushstroke on a blank canvas.”
Not everyone is jumping aboard, however, preferring to see how it all works out before joining the Lincoln Center pack.
Bud Konheim, president and chief executive officer of Nicole Miller, said, “We decided to not to go to Lincoln Center for the first season because it is going to be a scramble. There are too many shows as it is. This is a brand new location and a brand new idea. I suspect there is going to be some confusion. They will be dealing with the unions and everything else up there. It will take a few seasons to work everything out.”
Opting for a more controlled setting, an event space at 82 Mercer Street that is just around the corner from Miller’s SoHo store, Konheim said, “We have too much invested in the show” to leave anything to chance. “We may go back in a season or two once everything settles down. It’s nothing about them — they will just need to work some things out,” he said.
Alexander Wang, one of the hottest tickets, will also show at the Mercer Street location.
Then there’s that other key component of fashion week: the press. A spring and summer of musical chairs at the fashion magazines means the front rows will also look quite different at shows around town. Former T editor in chief Stefano Tonchi will be sitting with his new W crew, including Alex White, creative director Jody Quon and Karla Martinez, while former Voguette Sally Singer will represent for the Times’ style supplement T, with her new fashion director, Michelle Kessler-Sanders, and senior fashion editor Ethel Park. Glamour’s Cindi Leive will have a different collections companion in her new executive fashion director Anne Christensen, formerly of T. (Plus, Jessica Diehl for Vanity Fair, Amy Larocca for New York, Stephen Drucker for Town & Country…)
Meanwhile, when it comes to FNO, it seems many unaffiliated (non-Condé Nast, non-Vogue) editors have made other plans. “I’ll be hanging out with my 10-year-old niece, Leila. She will have had surgery on her leg that afternoon,” said Ariel Foxman, managing editor of InStyle. W’s Tonchi plans to attend a dinner thrown by Victoria Brynner (daughter of Yul) to celebrate the opening of the Yul Brynner photography exhibit at the Lehmann Maupin Gallery. “I have the perfect excuse not to run around shopping,” Tonchi said. “It will be a different kind of evening.”
However, Marie Claire’s Joanna Coles will be joining in on the event.
“For Fashion’s Night Out, I will be speed-shopping, starting in the West Village at 6 p.m. and then air-kissing my way up Fifth and Madison and finishing off with Domenico [Dolce] and Stefano [Gabbana],” she said. “It’s important for me to be able to look my grandchildren in the eye when they ask me what I did in the Great Recession of 2009-10 and say, ‘Darlings, granny bought more Burberry, Michael Kors, Narciso, Donna, Ralph and Calvin than you could ever imagine.’”