THE GREENING OF THE GARMENT DISTRICT

Byline: Eric Wilson

NEW YORK — In the garment district’s ongoing makeover, one street corner got its roots done Tuesday.
As part of a project to add a softer touch to the urban landscape of the district, the Fashion Center Business Improvement District opened a summer garden and outdoor fashion exhibit at Golda Meir Plaza in the heart of the neighborhood.
In the 5,000-square-foot plaza at 1411 Broadway, between 39th and 40th Streets, the BID installed 14 potted trees in flower planters and 60 cafe chairs to brighten up the plaza. Interwoven among them are eight oversized garment rolling racks that feature the fashion exhibit, “100 Years of Fashion Trends in New York.”
“I walk through Bryant Park all the time, and it’s gorgeous,” said Barbara Randall, executive director of the FCBID. “But here, it’s dead. People need a place where they can sit, relax and sip a cappuccino.”
In addition, the garden is intended to better illustrate the district’s identity through the fashion exhibit, which features eight jumbo Scotchprint banners of American icons and fashion images. Randall has complained that tourists entering the fashion center expect to see its design influence, but find only tall buildings and busy streets.
The translucent hot pink, lemon, fuchsia and tangerine banners are stationed strategically around the plaza on rolling racks to evoke the spirit of the district, but in brighter colors than it’s used to. Each covers a distinct subject, such as the history of American lingerie, sportswear or textiles or important fashion trends from each of the past 10 decades.
One covers American looks such as blue jeans and T-shirts, safari jackets and muumuus (not Miu Mius), while another points to the fashion influence of American screen stars, including Madonna, Diane Keaton, Fred Astaire and John Wayne, under a blown-up image of Marilyn Monroe wearing her wind-blown white flared dress from “The Seven Year Itch.”
A third shows John Travolta dancing in a three-piece white pantsuit from the Seventies next to a Nineties’ image of Esther Canadas walking the runway for Calvin Klein. The exhibit was coordinated by syndicated columnist Marylou Luther and fashion historian Caroline Milbank, who has published a book on the subject of “New York Fashion.”
The project cost approximately $175,000 to construct, Randall said, and was partly financed by TrizecHahn Office Properties, owners of 1411 Broadway, which contributed $55,000 to cover the cost of the planters and loaned its plaza to the BID for the summer. The remainder was funded by the BID’s marketing budget.
The planters are filled with a mix of shrubs, trees and flowers designed around the logistics of the space and length of the exhibition, which is expected to stay up until at least Labor Day.
Pink impatiens were planted because they tolerate a lot of shade and the plaza gets sun only for a few hours a day, said designer Mary Riley Smith, who has created gardens for the likes of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum and the terrace of Cathie Black, president of Hearst Magazines.
Also included were spiky evergreen junipers, yews and Ilex crenate shrubs, bordeaux and pale green coleus, felty gray helichrysum and hanging purple petunias. Six Sophora japonica trees were also planted because their large, creamy blossoms develop late in July, promising floral activity throughout the summer.
Designer Yeohlee Teng stopped by the unveiling to examine the garden, which she remarked is just the beginning of a broader effort by the BID to improve the esthetics of its environs.
“The exhibit is very appropriate because it’s close to the millennium, and it’s time to regroup, recap and honor American fashion,” she said. “There’s so much that has had an influence on American fashion and it’s nice to have it noticed, from John Wayne to Fred Astaire.”
Dana Buchman showed up as the event wound down and was also surprised by the sudden transformation of the plaza.
“It’s so civilized,” she said. “It doesn’t even feel like New York City.”

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