Friday, October 15, 2010

The morning ratings

Jackets required on a school outing. 12:20 PM. Photo: JH.
October 15, 2010. It was cloudy all day yesterday in New York. Big thick, silver and grey cumulus clouds, really quite beautiful and shedding the slightest luminescence on the city, intensifying the color of everything below. The weatherman forecast a BIG rainstorm beginning about six pm. A “Nor’easter” was the warning. The clouds overhead was the overture for us armchair weather adventurers. However, although the rains did start about five o’clock (lightly), and continued on through nine o’clock (not as lightly), it was more like a Nor’easter Egg, laid by the weatherman.

Mid-day I went to midtown to run some errands
including picking up a copy of a new book that was left for me at Michael’s. While there I decided to sit at the bar have a bowl of soup. It was the perfect afternoon for it.
An overcast sky, 4PM.
The soup on the menu right now is a Pumpkin Squash finished of with a dollop of crème fraiche. I had that along with my regular Barbara Bush (iced-tea and orange juice), and a steaming hot roll.

I was going to sit there and take in the crowd like an innocent bystander but I was soon looking at one of the iPads that Michael’s now features for its guests while they wait for their guests. You can sit there and read the papers, or the NYSD (Michael’s has links to all) or visit Michael’s blog or the Santa Monica Michael’s. I took in the California stuff just to indulge my own memories.

Over in the bay, a group of young women were having a book publication lunch (just like yesterday with Deb Shriver and her book on New Orleans). This one was for Hoda. You don’t know Hoda? I don’t even watch the Today Show and I know Hoda. I also know Hoda and Kathie Lee are the Fric and Frac of morning television (until it’s time for The View, which I’ve also never seen except for clips on the web).
Kathie Lee and Hoda and pals at Michael's yesterday lunchtime. From left: Megan Kopf, Melissa Lonner, Christine Gardner (behind), Tammy Filler, Kathie Lee, Jennifer Miller, Adrianna Trigiani, Hoda, Sara Haines.
I see Hoda herself fairly often at Michael’s. Kathie Lee too. Also Kathie Lee’s husband Frank Gifford, who often lunches there with our mutual friend Herb Siegel. I can imagine what Hoda’s like on TV because you can see it in the persona. A pistol they used to call girls like her. And a very nice woman. Her book is named after herself (you probably know all this already), plus: HODA; How I Survived War Zones, Bad Hair, Cancer, and Kathie Lee.

As the group were leaving after lunch, Steve Millington, the GM of the place, came over and told me about the lunch, and asked if I wanted a picture. So he organized them just as they were all about to leave. I think we missed one: Amy Rosenbloom, who left before everybody else.
The morning ratings.
There was a lot going on last night. By 6:30 many of the main streets and avenues of the city were clogged with bumper to bumper traffic. This was because of the rain and because the City Fathers have found a way in their attempt to make things run more smoothly to often make things barely run at all. The job of traffic planner and decider would be best served by someone who has spent a lot of time in cars midday or storm days in Manhattan. I’m not alone in my thoughts.

Last night was a good example. I left 83rd Street and East End Avenue at 7:30. Traffic on East End, usually non-existent in that hour, was backed up from 79th Street to 86th Street, waiting to get on the East River Drive South. My cabbie took 83rd Street all the way east to Fifth Avenue. What ordinarily would have been a ten or twelve minute ride was a thirty-five minute ride down the avenue to 58th and Bergdorf Goodman. The fare was 15.30 before tip. I gave the cabbie a little more than 20% because those guys don’t make any money when the meter is stuck in traffic.
Waiting for the light on 83rd and Madison with the meter at $2.90 (plus $1.50 surcharge) after seven city blocks with 26 blocks to go.
I was going to Bergdorf’s to a book signing by Bridget Foley, the Executive Editor of WWD, for her just published book WWD: 100 Years, 100 Designers. I’d been invited as press to cover it. These are frequent social gatherings – book signings in stores. They’re actually promotions – which is good for any business – but have also morphed into social gatherings. They’ve replaced the old fashioned cocktail party.

The PR people handling it sent a list of expected guests (meant to entice you to wanna go, wanna see). Such as Francisco Costa, Vera Wang, Arnold Scassi, Yigal Azrouel, Tory Burch, John Bartlett, Norma Kamali, Olivia Chantecaille, Poppy Delevigne, Lisa Airan, Lauren DuPont, Jennifer Creel, Elettra Wiedeman, Fabiola Beracasa. The party was on the 7th floor in the store’s restaurant, with its great view below of The Plaza Fountain, the Apple Cube, the Plaza, the Sherry and Fifth Avenue along the park. Last night with the rain gave the streets and cars a splashy sheen in the lights. It was one of those images that makes you think of New York in the movies or a Scott Fitzgerald or John O’Hara story.
Bridget Foley, Executive Editor of WWD, with her new book on the paper's fabulous history.
When I got there, an hour into the event at 7:30, the first person I saw was Nina Griscom, just back from Safari. Nina kept a Diary of the trip, and we’re running it next week with her photos. Nina’s a natural at giving the scoop on living well as the best revenge, as they say. (The diary explains it all, plus gives you a good look at What It’s Like on safari. But I digress.)

I didn’t see any of the aforementioned boldfacers. I did see Bianca Jagger, however, surrounded by what looked like friends and reporters.

I often go to a party like this just to see who is there, who I can photograph and show you because these are uniquely New York parties. Although the place was still very crowded by eight o’clock, I recognized very few.
Leonel Piraino and Nina Griscom. Fern Mallis and James LaForce.
Bobbi Queen, Senior Fashion Editor, with Etta Froio, Contributing Senior Executive Editor. Etta has been with WWD for 50 years and is still at it. Bobby Queen checking out her heel.
I’d come to this party only because of the Foley book. Women’s Wear Daily, if you didn’t know, is a very powerful trade newspaper in New York. In its heyday it had weight and cachet comparable to Variety or the Hollywood Reporter, in their heydays. With a circulation hovering around 30,000, a tiny number in a city of 17 million daytimers, its influence rivaled and sometimes eclipsed the major dailies, not to mention periodicals. I have always been fascinated by its phenomenon.

It began, started by a man named Edmund Fairchild, in 1910, back when the garment industry in Manhattan employed many thousands of people whose union grew to be one of the most powerful in America. But it wasn’t until the early 1960s when the founder’s son (or grandson, I’m not sure which) John Fairchild took over.
John Fairchild in his day stops to hava a word with Mrs. Vreeland.
This was a family business a half century old. Trade papers while essential to an industry, are not exactly must-reads to those outside the industry. John Fairchild, when he took the helm, was a scion of a newspaper family who must have set out to put his family’s company on the map. Put simply, he was a natural for it, one of those orchestrators, one of those impresarios of newsprint with a genius for creating reader interest.

He used that talent to call the Industry’s attention to his paper as a force, and then to re-fashion the industry itself into a social lever. He scooped Vogue and Bazaar , as well as establishing the paper as an opinion maker without peer (or gravity) in a certain portion of the power sets, with his daily coverage. He also transformed the image of the garment industry into what is now called: the fashion industry (an almost tardy title), with this little rag that was published five times a week. It was devoured every morning on every breakfast table and tray and countertop up Fifth Avenue and down Park, not to mention executive suites and other newspapers.

With the exception of the gilded pen of Aileen Mehle aka Suzy (who later joined W, the offspring of WWD), the paper became the social arbiter of New York and a force in London, Paris and Rome, and streamlined and re-designed the public image of this great New York industry. Ironically, from the standpoint of Manhattan metaphors, the scion had a WASP’s attitude about the glitterati. It was all business.
Gina Sanders, president and CEO of the Fairchild Fashion Group. Thom Browne and and WWD's Editor in Chief Edward Nardoza.
The barroom of the restaurant on the seventh floor.
Sara Beth Shrager of Marvel Entertainment, with Rodney Hilton Brown. Dan Sheffey, Director of Communications of Fairchild Fashion Group, with Peter Kaplan, Editorial Director of Fairchild Fashion Group.
He did for the fashion business what today’s weather forecasters do for their business: make everybody pay attention in anticipation.

Mr. Fairchild wasn’t there last night (at least I didn’t see him). He sold the company more than ten years ago to Conde Nast and retired to aeries somewhere hither and yon (I really don’t know). What he wrought exists now in many publications, now also blogs and internet sites (such as NYSD). Most of the elements he used (manners, wit, the poke) are no longer considered effective tools in attention-getting. We are all his offspring, however, some more religious, others more errant than others. Even the Real Housewives of Wherever have borrowed a few spoonfuls of this and that from WWD in all its glory.
Shail Upadhaya. Linda Fargo.
Menswear designer Robert Geller and friend. Yigal Arouzel and friend.
That is not to say its “glory” is not evident today, because it is. But now it is a massive entity, both trade and commercial, catering to a very different industry (and a very different public – now known as consumers).

All this from a booksigning where I haven’t seen the book, but soon will, and will report back. It’s a big slice of the last half century of New York (and American culture).
Two of the Bergdorf's windows last night. 8:40 pm.
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