Saturday, October 04, 2008


A Tale of Two New Yorks

West 18th street, home of the Altman Building, was recently host to two large groups of people. Lined up on the street from west to east were the twitchy, edgy people photographed above. They are what I call the "New York Cerebrals," and they were waiting to get tickets for the New Yorker Festival. You see people like this in most major American cities, but I'd still argue that New York has the highest concentration; these are people who like to think and want to think and value thinking and irony and all that and it was fun to watch them squatting down or leaning against a wall earnestly filling out some kind of questionnaire or debating with strangers in line whom it was best to see at the Festival (and how Palin had performed the previous evening).

Lined up from east to west were a group of women. They were kept in place by tall men dressed in black who, in bearing and more importantly in job function, resembled bouncers. This is because these women were waiting in line to get into the Escada Sample sale. In line were the orthodox Jewish women in hats and skirts, overly tanned emigrees from ex-Soviet countries, anorexic and anti-social fashionistas, teams of Korean and Chinese women and the occasional gay male stylist.

Women were handed tickets with a number; there was to be no cutting in line. Traffic was carefully monitored. Inside, I found the scene to be tamer, though, than in years past when teams of women kept a sharp eye out on a momentarily abandoned and enticing dress in order to "steal" it for a try-on in the dressing room ("Oh, well it's mine now. You weren't paying attention." The stress!) Still, it's best to attend a sample sale of this caliber with wingmen; some of the ex-Soviet block ladies are really tough--tanks in disguise.

The last time we had a recession, the sample sale pickings were very good. I remember a hand-bag designer saying to me in 2001; "there has never been a year of sales quite like this." Clothes had been overproduced, and needed to be liquidated. I'm curious to see how the end of 2008 and the start of 2009 go. I asked two recent acquaintances about the sample sale prospects in New York and they grimaced; they work in manufacturing and aren't looking forward to the downturn. The tough--the sample sale pickers--are ready.

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