NEW YORK — Well, he came, but he didn’t conquer.
Hurricane Floyd may have sent thousands around town fleeing from their offices at midday, but the fashionistas hung tough.
Yes, there was a dent in the tents, as some of the afternoon shows were postponed till Saturday, but most went on with the show, including Helmut Lang, Jill Stuart, Victor Alfaro and Tony Melillo. At press time, even Alexander McQueen was expected to raise the curtain on his $1 million late-night extravaganza at the Piers along the Hudson River.
But the moment that best eclipsed Floyd came earlier in the day, when Bill Blass took his farewell runway bow.
The downpour played upon the Bryant Park tents Thursday morning like a drum roll crescendoing in anticipation of Blass’s big moment, but the drama didn’t end after his show did.
Toward the conclusion of the show, as Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock” struggled to be heard, the rain started to seep through the tent, spraying in fits along the runway as models zigged and zagged between the drops. Blass took his last curtain call just as the afternoon slate of 7th on Sixth shows was being rescheduled for Saturday — the first time the tents had to be shut down.
Blass, reached in his car on his way to his home in Connecticut, said, “There was a time about a half hour before the show that I was concerned it wouldn’t happen.”
Blass said once he takes some time off, he’ll be going back to work trying to sell his company. He’s been shopping the firm in hopes of someone continuing the name. While there’s nothing imminent, Blass said that now he’ll be devoting his full energies to finding a buyer.
Despite the distractions, the moment wasn’t lost on Blass’s faithful following, who braved the conditions like a U.S. postal worker, sloshing through puddles, careening through cloudbursts, weaving through the winds — and that was just inside the tents.
They wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
“Are you kidding me?” asked Nan Kempner, who learned her lesson on Tuesday when she arrived so late to Oscar de la Renta’s show that she had to dash down the runway headlong at the models after they started coming out.
“I got up at six o’clock today to eat breakfast just so I could get here in time,” Kempner said. “If you want to do something badly enough, you do it.”
“In a way, it’s a shame that the hurricane has to upstage Mr. Blass, but as always, his clothes were beautiful,” said Lavelle Olexa, senior vice president for fashion merchandising at Lord & Taylor. “The weather is a distraction, but what can you do?”
Suzy Menkes, who helped inspire the tents in the first place when she was clobbered by a piece of plaster at Michael Kors’s show in 1991, kept one wary eye on a rapidly increasing wet spot behind her, and the other on the runway.
“It caused a lot of complications,” Blass said, right after the show, as well-wishers poured backstage.
“It’s getting worse,” he told visitors. “You’d better get out of here while you still can.”
Whether out of affection for Blass or fear of the weather, few wanted to venture back outside.
“I just swam here from Victor Alfaro’s show,” said Kal Ruttenstein, senior vice president for fashion direction at Bloomingdale’s.
Actually, like most everybody else, Ruttenstein had a town car waiting outside Alfaro’s show, at the Altman Building on West 18th Street. Almost all the waiting cars were black, however, leading to mass confusion as editors and buyers knocked on windows in hopes of recognizing their drivers. Amy Spindler, style editor of the New York Times Magazine, couldn’t find hers at all and had to walk home — a few blocks away — to call her driver.
“I’m lucky,” Ruttenstein said. “I have a driver who finds me.”
Burberry managed to turn the weather into a promotion. Scores of editors, including Vogue’s Anna Wintour, showed up at the tents Thursday morning in hooded ponchos in the house’s signature plaid. But it wasn’t merely coincidence. When Burberry heard about the pending storm, the firm dispatched all sorts of rain gear to key editors, including hats, umbrellas and the $300 ponchos.
New York Observer columnist William Norwich, meanwhile, wasn’t in any rush to go anywhere.
“I don’t know what to do with myself,” he sighed. “I was going to go up to the Conde Nast building, but it was closed at noon. Really, you know what the word for what I am is? It’s farklempt.”
Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani had requested that all nonemergency businesses close sometime between noon and 3 p.m. on Thursday to allow employees to get home before the weather turned worse, and some buildings, like Conde Nast’s, were closed early.
“The mayor wants all the nonessential people out of the city,” Norwich said. “I guess that’s the point. How essential are we?”
“The one season where nothing was going wrong and now we have to deal with a hurricane,” said Stan Herman, president of 7th on Sixth. “But we have to do what’s safe for everyone and in accordance with the city’s orders.”
Fern Mallis, executive director of 7th on Sixth, said the afternoon shows at Bryant Park would be held on Saturday in the interest of public safety. Addressing the crowd at Jill Stuart’s noon show, the last held in the tents on Thursday, she exclaimed, “You have no reason to fear being here!”
“We expect to continue with Friday’s schedule as planned,” Mallis said later in the afternoon. “The main tent structures have been inspected by the architects and engineers on site and meet safety standards under the present conditions. However, weather reports predict high winds from Floyd that could potentially compromise the structural integrity.” Ghost, the other big British show besides McQueen’s, was originally set for 5 p.m. Thursday, but rescheduled for Saturday at noon. Tanya Sarne, designer and owner of Ghost, said she was “completely and utterly devastated,” comparing the letdown to “having your bag stolen or losing your wallet.”
Sarne lamented that, notwithstanding the extra work of rescheduling flights and going through another round of fittings, she would lose out on a lot of press coverage, knowing many members of the European press corps will be gone by Saturday. She said she had 15 TV interviews set for Thursday that could not be rescheduled.
Yet, she conceded, “one cannot take a chance of the tents falling down and killing people.”
By 4 p.m. — an hour before her initially planned start — the rain and wind had temporarily diminished and she said, “If there isn’t a storm now, I’m going to cause one.”
Vivienne Tam also expressed disappointment over the cancellation of her 5 p.m. Thursday show.
“It was my first time in the big tent, I was so excited about it,” she said. “The worst thing is a lot of people came in especially for my show, a lot of Japanese and Chinese press, people from Hong Kong.”
Tony Melillo, the designer of Nova USA, had planned to stage his show outdoors on a ball field at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Houston Street. Guests would sit in bleachers, and school buses would disgorge a high school marching band from New Jersey, followed by 70 models.
A spokesman for the designer said they had anticipated some rain and purchased 200 umbrellas.
What they did not anticipate was a hurricane. Calls were placed Wednesday night to notify as many of the 800 guests as possible that the show was moved to a gym at Broadway and Houston.
With the Donna Karan fashion show slated for Friday morning and the DKNY show scheduled for Friday evening, many Donna Karan employees here worked through the day even though the offices closed at midday on Thursday.
“We’re closing at one o’clock officially, but no one is leaving,” the Donna Karan spokeswoman said. Liz Claiborne, the Gap, Jones New York and Hanes Hosiery were among the many Seventh Avenue companies that closed their offices here early on Thursday. Nike employees were also sent home at noon.