Monday, February 25, 2013

No Holds Barred: Best in Snow

In New York, with my snow gear!!!
By Blair Sabol

I sensed when I was pulled over by the TSA screeners at The Phoenix Airport that my latest trip to New York City might be challenging. I knew "the drill" and had thoroughly shed my wrists and neck of all my Kenneth Jay Lane gear. Everything else was packed appropriately in their dirty screening bins — but still the agent insisted on singling me out for a routine "pat down" and then MORE ... as in a semi strip search!!!

Caught in the act! "Bra wiring."
I called for a supervisor and got a lot of "high attitude" from him and discussions of "bra wiring," but eventually I made it through without a Diana Ross blow-up. It left me seriously rattled to say the least. Especially since the TSA agent misplaced (potentially confiscated?) my Kenneth Jay Lane stash for a maddening 25 minutes.

After I landed in New York, I went to dinner with friends on the "Eve of the Blizzard of 13." Everyone was preparing and they warned me, "Whatever you do, don't fall in New York City or anywhere." Another pal theorized that "If you fall after the age of 50 you never fully recover, no matter how strong you are or how much rehab you do."

I took these statements seriously. I checked into the Carlyle Hotel late and was "upgraded" to a "Tower" accommodation. It consisted of a closet sized room on the 21st floor with a private terrace that was larger than the room. Perfect  for the snow storm or a quick chic "off the balcony” leap.  if things got really bad. The bathroom was so tiny you couldn't stand inside and close the door. However the view from the toilet was a magnificent floor to ceiling  expanse of the New York City skyline. 
My deluxe closet room in the "tower" at The Carlyle.
It felt like the smallest cabin in a deluxe ship. Whenever the maid or room service arrived I had to step out on the terrace or in the hall. There was no room for more than one person in that space.

Oh well ... it was THE Carlyle: deal with it! Luckily my stylist friend Linda Rodin sent over one of her magnificent signature Rodin Olio Russo pillar candles to ease my "opening moment" anxiety.  I burned it throughout my stay. Trust me, it took the edge off  and everyone on my floor seemed intoxicated with the neroli and jasmine scent. Not that the Carlyle needs help in aromatherapy.
My expansive city view from the toilet seat in my bathroom.
Within hours the snow started to fall, and my City friends were all concerned that I didn't have the right "puffer" jacket or boots. Since I live in the desert "puffers" are out of the question, and other than bringing my wonderful Stuart Weitzman suede knee-high boots, why would I need such Michelin Man protection?

Soon I realized that trashing my Weitzmans and thinking I could "layer" my measly pea coat was out of the question. New Yorkers were already dressing like "Nanooks from the North" weeks before  the snow blast. 
Carlyle Hotel balcony in early storm. Balcony, post storm.
So in true Ringo Starr fashion, "I got high with a little help from my friends" — my dear pal Nancy Davis decided to come to my aid. To be clear everyone has a famous friend named "Nancy Davis.” My Nancy is "Nancy E. Davis" (I think the "e" stands for efficient or extraordinaire).

She calls herself "The Plumbing Queen" because she owns and operates the profitable Fixtures and Fittings Inc. in Sagaponack and is involved in her husband Michael Davis's highly successful construction business.  

Buying boots at Orva Shoes.
Who better to rescue me the morning after THE deluge when the city was completely buried and barely digging out?

She arrived with her wonderful 23-year-old daughter Chelsea Berger and a puffer jacket for me. Before I knew it they had hustled me into the back of their chauffeur Sal Abbate's Mercedes SUV and away we went to Orva on 86th Street to get me the proper "Rubber Ducky" galoshes!!! The boots are a hit and the highlight of my trip!!!

They are popular and called "Hunters." I guess they are the "Manolos of Snow" as everyone in New York wears them in black.

For that reason I bought them in bright red and wasn't thinking of Iris Apfel. It was a snow boot sale madhouse in Orvas that day. But once I donned my new red boots I was almost over my giant fear of falling.

Two days later I even jogged in my Hunters in Central Park! (As The ballet master said in the movie "The "Red Shoes" — Vicky, put on the red shoes and dance" ... and so I did!) Once properly outfitted, it was at Nancy's insistence (insanity?) that we drive to Woodbury Common — A gigantic deluxe outlet village two hours away. I had never heard of it but why not surrender to such a field trip. Surprisingly it took Sal a little over an hour (who the hell was on the thruway that day to get there).
My Carlyle hotel room altar of Hunter boots, Rodin tall pillar candle, and room service roses. The two-day-old slush on my terrace.
Like the good "power shopper" sherpas that they are, both Nancy and Chelsea whipped me through this jaw dropping scene. That unusual day it was busloads of Japanese and  Russians and US. It was loaded with traditional outlet stores but also Gucci, Miu Miu, Prada, Michael Kors, YSL, Coach, Valentino, etc., you name it. THE status labels were there and so were the people.

I guess when it comes to high octane shopping, neither snow nor sleet nor rain nor terrorism nor crappy economy will prevent a Woodbury Common pilgrimage. I bought nothing because I was too busy taking in the whole ambiance.
Power shopping sherpas Nancy Davis, driver Sal, and daughter Chelsea at Woodbury Common. Me dressed for shopping and snow in borrowed puffer coat and red Hunter boots.
A Woodbury Common "street of outlet " shops.
More Woodbury Common designer stores.
Shopping in "the Himalayas's" of Woodbury Common.
To be honest most of the price tags were NOT cheap. Just slightly discounted (a few actual "markdowns"), and in some cases completely different merchandise than in the regular stores.  

But outlet shopping is a way of life for many people. Imagine a day after a statewide weather emergency was declared and these shoppers were here, and on the march. Talk about "when the going gets tough the tough go shopping." What was stunning to me was while the East Coast was snowbound and buried, Woodbury Common in Center Valley was completely plowed out to perfection.  

Situated against the New York upstate snowcapped "mountain range," I felt like I was in some remote Himalayan shopping Shangri La! I even experienced a little altitude "Visa card vertigo.” Not to mention on the village loudspeaker there were Asian (along with English) announcements being made of various store sales and their locations. Where the hell was I?
Chelsea and mother Nancy Davis and driver Sal at the end of power shopping at Woodbury Common.
Within hours Nancy and Chelsea ended up at curbside with triple bags full, and even Sal scored a tie or two. We headed back to the city again in record time. It all felt like a mirage.

That night after a storm in/shopping celebratory dinner at Sistina, Nancy taught me once and for all how to be fearless in my footing on the frozen tundra of New York City streets. She demanded we do a "Laverne and Shirley" syncopated skip (arm in arm) down the middle of a freshly slushed up Lexington Ave ... .all the way back to the hotel. I guess it was a winterized version of "power walking" barefoot on hot coals. BUT ... I  got a contact high and didn’t fall.
My "fear of falling" on these slush filled NYC corners.
Just a mere twenty-four hours later it was a different story. My magnificent editor David Patrick Columbia took me to Ralph Rucci's Fashion Week Fall collection at the famous Lincoln Center. I haven't done this scene in 40 years. The last time I did a fashion show I was writing an "anti fashion" column for The Village Voice and considered the “Abbie Hoffman" of fashion.  I had crashed many of the Seventh Avenue designer showings, and was thrown out of some — like Norman Norell.  

But in those days it was all "gorilla theatre" and I loved it. Eventually Bill Blass and Ralph Lauren actually allowed me to sit on a "gold chair" in their REAL showrooms. It was all small and stuffy and legitimate (as Ellin Saltzman has already reminisced in one of her columns). Music was bossa nova and came from boom boxes. Eventually Lauren and Blass actually spoke to me and the “after-parties” were glasses of champagne, held in the back offices.  
Press frenzy at Ralph Rucci fashion week showing.
It was really exciting and it was all about "the love of the game.” In the end it was the real deal. Not Big Business! Big Business is what I experienced at Rucci's showing. I had heard plenty about the "circus" of the whole Fashion Week. The street gawkers and stalkers outside the shows. The self important frenzy of the bloggers, B- celebrities, plastic-faced editors, and overall front row "tude" (as in "attitude").

With all my awareness I was still horrified at this experience.  They call Fashion Week the "Super Bowl" of Fashion. I grew up on Super Bowls and have attended many. Fashion Week is not The Super Bowl of anything. Super Bowls are legitimate public events with a huge Zeitgeist behind it. Super Bowls take over entire cities and an entire Sunday night mentality ... even if you hate football ... you can't escape The Game.
Martha Stewart in the front row at Ralph Rucci non-stop texting on her iPhone.
I was amazed how little Fashion Week really affected the whole of New York City. Few of my New York friends ever attended these shows and fewer even ever wanted to. As one friend calls it: a "Clusterf**k of the highest." From what I could see Fashion Week is more like wrestling mania than pro football or even Nascar.

Entering the Rucci show that Sunday night I lost DPC for a minute and was almost subject to the same Phoenix Airport horrible TSA frisk and search. Eventually David found me and "validated" me and I was quickly shown and pushed into a second row seat. As Rex Reed once said about sitting in a theatre — "It felt like I was sitting in economy Class on Air India," with my knees up my nose. Where was the glamour?  

There were no real celebrities present. Just Sandra Bernhard working the runway with all her bravura and Rucci's own "older" clientele in their basic black "snow suits" and their heads down working their iPhoned thumbs Twittering away !(Even these classy old broads feel the need to broadcast their every move?)
Bill Cunningham and Sandra Bernhard at Ralph Rucci.
I was seated behind a bent-over Bill Cunningham (always smiling but seemingly exhausted) and next to Catherine Moellering — a devoted Rucci fan who came with her crutches;  "I broke my pelvis a month ago but I wouldn't miss this spectacle for the world."

Within minutes the thunderous deafening beat of a techno soundtrack started and I was immediately thrown into  a panic attack. I kept looking at all of Rucci's older front rowed "ladies" and they seemed fine with that roar. I was struggling looking for a exit sign. There were none. I spent most of my time rifling threw my bag for an Atavan.
Bill Cunningham genuflecting or exhaustededly stooping at Ralph Rucci show. My seat view of Sandra Bernhard working the Rucci show.
At one point I glimpsed up and saw some gorgeous colorful (violet and  sapphire) mink coats walking by. But by the time I scored and swallowed my drug, the show was over and everyone was on their feet applauding and storming the doors. No question Ralph Rucci is an extraordinary architect of clothing and a brilliant colorist. And the collection — what little I saw — was sensational. Nothing I could ever wear, but who cares; I am clearly not anyone's market.

What I realized was that Fashion Week has so little to do with clothing or even shopping. After all, everyone I know shops online or at Amazon and they are still stuck in their jeans and hoodies and pajama bottoms ... even to formal events! Besides, the most important "fashion" items today are ammunition and guns.  

Rucci fan Catherine Moellering with her broken pelvis and crutches at the show.
So what is Fashion Week's influence? Is it all THAT inspiring for those of us NOT really into FASHION? Do people really care about all those reports that "leather 'n' lace is hot as is grey peplums"? For whom? For what? Talk about a giant cultural disconnect.

Clothing as spectator sport never grabbed me. If it is just "the theatre" of it all, I’d rather go to Cirque de Soleil. At least that has better makeup and the costumes are really unique and INSPIRATIONAL. As for saying the future of Fashion Week is digital, that doesn’t work either. Clothes have to be felt and tried on and actually experienced.

The "seen to be seen" scene and air kissing Kiss-Off of Fashion Week was totally lost on me.

However I have true respect  for Fashion's "war correspondents" like NYSD's Ellin Saltzman who was front row ready — even if not always front row seated — and willing all week. And the New York Times’  Cathy Horyn, who not only reported so accurately about every design but also let you know how uncomfortable she really felt about the ridiculous hype of it all. Even she seemed lost in the dust at times. As for full press coverage, I’d rather watch Joan Rivers's "Fashion Police" since she never takes any of this seriously, and lets everybody have it.  

I wonder how much Fashion Week even matters in the larger scheme considering most of the designers don't actually design anymore, and in the end it’s all about the homogenization of Big Branding. As for the explosion of all those 18-year-old fashion bloggers (who fueled all these fashion weeks for so long), The Star originator Tavi Gevinson — now a doddering 15 years old — just wrapped her first major motion picture with James Gandolfini. She doesn’t need Fashion Weeks anymore. And by the way, I didn't see one Real Bravo Housewife or even a Kardashian anywhere in and around Lincoln Center.

Is that the good news or the bad? Maybe they were all too busy getting their own collections  together. I recently read somewhere that Rihanna was London's Fashion Week biggest hit with her own clothing line. Who knew she could sketch a sleeve? And Tom Ford was quoted as saying anyone is considered well dressed by him if they "pay full retail.” I think he summed it up. I guess I should have dumped Fashion Week and gone to the Westminster Dog Show instead for a more relevant runway.  
My balcony sunrise on the morning of my exit.
By the way, DPC and I left Rucci show in a cab going east and within minutes we were slammed into a potential car and pedestrian collision. I think we were being driven by a Taliban Taxi. David assured me that these "near accidents" are the way of the city nowadays (and usually texting pedestrians ignoring the obvious).  

He reminded me I had been living "way too outta the loop" for too long. No doubt!! AND, as I left the city for home the next day, I felt like The Pope's exit announcement; "Ciao  baby, I've had it, and I'm outta here."
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