When Vogue editrix Anna Wintour and Fairchild chief Patrick McCarthy left the Calvin Klein show last Thursday mere minutes before the collection’s presentation, two delectable front-row seats became available. Ms. Wintour and Mr. McCarthy had become impatient with the venue’s stifling heat and the gaggle of photographers that had collected in front of them, rather obliviously, to shoot the opposing front row of young starlets.
“The front row is a debacle,” one publicist told The Transom, “and it must be stopped! If you are not there to buy or review the clothes, you have no place being there!”
But as those two front-row seats went free, it wasn’t outlandish to suppose that certain socialites would muscle their way in because they felt entitled to them.
The scene is familiar: A prominent socialite is given her seat assignment; it doesn’t place her in Row 1. She loiters on the runway with her other socialite friends until the last minute, when she squeezes her way into the front row. Another scenario: A friend of the designer is given a seat assignment that doesn’t place her in Row 1. She makes her way backstage to complain to the designer himself, and when she is refused access, she storms back and wedges herself into the front row. “Let’s be clear,” said Annelise Peterson, who handles publicity for women’s wear at Calvin Klein. “If you’re not front row, there’s a reason.”
Devising seating arrangements at shows can be a trial, especially when there are hierarchies to obey. “You don’t want to piss off the older socialites,” said another publicist. “When a young unknown is sitting in the front row, you don’t want the older contingent saying, ‘Who put her there?’ These women have been loyal customers for many, many years, and you want to reward them for it.”
But there are customers, and then there are customers. Some aren’t always given preferential treatment, and so they will take it for themselves. And once such a customer has settled in, it is very hard to evict her. “It’s just hard to kick them out of their seats, because our business even depends on them to a degree,” said Kelly Cutrone, whose company, People’s Revolution, handles many of the best shows. “I’ve tried this season to be a little kinder, because I don’t want to be this hard, cold fashion bitch. The truth is that I do all of this out of love for my clients.” Ms. Cutrone breaks it down: “The front row is for clients, buyers, reviewers and, in that rare case, celebrities. No one else. But someone will always try to tell you that they deserve it.”
Another publicist tells of an experience at the Narciso Rodriguez show a few seasons past, where “Zelda,” the ubiquitous fez-wearing eightysomething fashionphile, arrived with a coterie begging to be seated, when “the Twins,” two other famous seat-crashers, came to her aid, leading her to a second-row seat originally meant for Janet Ozzard, who at the time was the executive editor of Style.com. Ms. Ozzard wound up sitting somewhere else. Crashing the after-party too, Zelda then claimed to be twentysomething Deborah Schoeneman.
The outburst took everyone by surprise.
It was an evening in “Celebration of The Paris Review” at the New York Public Library, and it had drawn an auditorium full of elderly matrons, students and intellectuals murmuring with eager anticipation. They had come to see a pair of literary headliners: the writer and filmmaker Miranda July, and the novelist and husband of Padma, Salman Rushdie, who were to read and submit to questioning by Philip Gourevitch, the editor of The Paris Review. In between the two readings, there would be a mini-reception; a bar and tables piled with snacks beckoned tantalizingly at one end of the room. Ms. July went first.
“I have to keep talking, because I’m really nervous,” the pixie-like Ms. July confessed as she hovered over the podium. Standing tall in black pumps and jeans and a striped chiffon blouse, Ms. July read her finely worded short story “Birthmark,” about a woman who had an unsightly stain on her body removed. She then moved to an armchair onstage to be interviewed by Mr. Gourevitch and to take questions from the audience.
About 20 minutes into Ms. July’s Q&A, an elderly woman stood up with belligerent determination. It was Saturday night, and she couldn’t take it any more.
“Where is Salman Rushdie?” she shouted.
There was some isolated clapping, and then the room went awkwardly silent. Many in the audience gasped in horror.
“Oh my God, that was so rude I can’t even believe it,” said Ms. July onstage, her voice wavering.
They continued the interview for a few more minutes, and after she and Mr. Gourevitch stepped down, a protective huddle formed.
“You gave the perfect response,” said Padma Lakshmi, Mr. Rushdie’s ravishing wife, who was seated in the front row in a shorter-than-thou miniskirt and suede-fringed boots.
“Throw her out!” said Mr. Gourevitch to Paul Holdengraber, the library’s dashing head of public programming.
After the intermission and a few swigs of Jack Daniel’s, nerves had been calmed and the indiscreet older woman stayed on. Mr. Rushdie took to the podium, dressed somberly in a gray dress shirt and dark slacks.
“Ma’am,” he said gravely, “ your intervention was philistine and has no place here.” There was hearty applause.
During his own question-and-answer session, there was a second “intervention,” but that one posed less of a problem. A young woman took the microphone, trembling.
“First of all, I just want to say … I can’t believe that I’m standing in front of you!” the woman gushed. “It’s out of my wildest dreams!”
Mr. Rushdie flushed for a brief moment.
“It’s fiction,” he said.
Ms. Johnson Comes to Town
True, it is after Labor Day. But Sheila C. Johnson was mostly worried about her white shoes because of the groundbreaking. They’re “my wedding shoes,” she said.
Ms. Johnson, who was divorced in 2002 from Robert L. Johnson, will marry William Newman Jr., the Chief Justice of the Arlington County Circuit Court, this month at her Virginia farm.
Fortunately for the shoes, and for her gold-buttoned coral skirt-suit, the groundbreaking ceremony was really more of a wall-breaking ceremony, and therefore not that messy an affair. In the awkwardly named Parsons the New School for Design on Fifth Avenue, Ms. Johnson took a gray mallet in hand and gave a wall the first thwack.
Thwacking rights are undoubtedly hers. Work now begins on a radical revisioning of the Parsons campus, spurred by a $7 million gift from Ms. Johnson, which was announced in 2003. The Sheila C. Johnson Design Center will unify the first floors of the four Parsons buildings, creating a more dynamic street-level presence.
Ms. Johnson, a co-founder of BET with Mr. Johnson and the first female African-American billionaire—yes, before Oprah—was brought to the Parsons board of governors by her friend Tess Gilder. After an intense vetting process, she became a member and is now the vice chair. “They really put you through the wringer,” Ms. Johnson said.
After just a few board meetings, she took a tour of the facilities. “I was just appalled,” she said. She found the cramped spaces and “half-mile-long line for the elevator” to be unfitting for Parsons’ reputation. “I wondered what I could do here. After I saw the conditions of campus, I thought, ‘Aha, I know how I can help.’”
And Ms. Johnson has been busy!
“The resort finally got approval,” said Ms. Johnson. Back at home in Middleburg, Va. (pop. 600), her plans for a luxury resort and spa were finally approved by the town council. In exchange for a zoning variance and the town’s consent, Ms. Johnson agreed to provide Middleburg with a “new wastewater treatment plant,” according to the memorandum of understanding between her company, Salamander Development L.L.C., and the council.
Previously, Ms. Johnson had found there were few good local spots to dine, so in 2004 she built Market Salamander, an adaptation of a European country market.
So let’s say the lady knows how to get things done. New York should only hope to have more of her attention.
Ms. Johnson bought her daughter, Paige, her first pony when she was 7; she is now an accomplished rider with Olympic aspirations. “I’m not just saying this as a mother! She’s very talented,” said Ms. Johnson, who is now also a board member of the United States Equestrian Federation. “I support that organization too,” she said with a very slight eye roll.
Lyn Rice, formerly of OpenOffice, the firm that did up Dia:Beacon, and now of Lyn Rice Architects, won the bid to build the new center. Mr. Rice said that he was looking to build “an urban quad,” and that he wants the new space “to convey a sense of Parsons’ commitment to the new.” Mr. Rice was hesitant to offer a completion date for the project. “It’s an extensive renovation,” he said.
This Is It
“Everyone abandoned us and moved to Chelsea!” said Taki Wise, co-owner of the Staley-Wise gallery, at Amanda De Cadenet’s Soho opening last week. Her thumb was wrapped in gauze from a manicure gone awry earlier last week. “People who go gallery-hopping Thursday nights, gallery-hopping and drinking for free from gallery to gallery—they’re mostly in Chelsea now.”
Ms. De Cadenet gamely greeted the guests, despite having had back surgery only the week before. “Every piece I chose is an image that I love,” she said, her blond hair pulled away from her face with butterfly barrettes. “I’m just enjoying that people are enjoying the work—”
She was interrupted by a shattering crash—not the overhead lights à la Diane von Furstenberg, thankfully, but rather fallen stemware.
“Uh-oh,” said Ms. De Cadenet. “The first broken glass.”
The photographs of her A-list friends were mingled with family pictures. In a shot of a shaven-headed Tobey Maguire, he sat at a table with a can of Mug Root Beer at his elbow, his eyes, through dorky glasses, looking off in the distance, as if he were eyeing a pretty girl. Or something.
Photographer Stephen Klein kissed Ms. Wise. “This is it! This is IT!” he said. “You called it. There’s nothing else going on in this town. Compared to a marching band at Marc Jacobs? Anyone could get a band!”
Keanu Reeves walked in, his beard even shaggier in person than in his De Cadenet portrait.
“That’s a good one,” Mr. Klein said. “That’s who you pulled in!”
The Strokes’ Nick Valensi, Ms. De Cadenet’s beau, looked ever the rock star with his long and luscious brown locks, a blue bandana loosely draped around his neck, and a pack of Camel Lights squashed into the left pocket of his jeans.
“I am just so fucking proud of Amanda,” he said, taking it in. Mr. Valensi said they were going to have a quiet night at home because of her back.
“She’s supposed to be on bed rest, and I’ve been charged with keeping an eye on her,” he said, watching as she got out of her chair—again—to hug and kiss another friend.
“We’ll probably order in some dinner, rent some movies,” he said.
“I sucked my thumb, constantly, until I was at Princeton,” said Walter Kirn. “I wrote an autobiographical novel. Just my luck, they made a movie—so the whole world would know. I thought it’d be just the literary crowd.”
It was the Thumbsucker premiere last Wednesday, sponsored by Paper magazine and Jack Spade, at Guest House.
Mr. Kirn, a 7 Days and Spy alumnus, fell into fiction by happenstance, when he told then–Knopf editor Gordon Lish that he wrote fiction, even though he hadn’t. (Bloggers, take note!) After Spy, he moved off to Montana to become a novelist.
Michael Mills’ film adaptation of Mr. Kirn’s novel wants to tell you that everyone’s a little screwed up—whether it’s 17-year-old Justin Cobb’s (Lou Pucci) thumb-sucking, or his mother’s (Tilda Swinton) obsession with a drug-addled TV actor. Under the effects of Ritalin, young Justin speeds through Moby-Dick, becomes the star of the debate team, and experiments with sex and marijuana. Mr. Reeves lends his messianic posturing to the role of a hippie physician (“Are you ready to let go of your thumb?”) who asks Justin to draw strength from his “power animal.”
So does Mr. Kirn still suck his thumb? “Only when I’m really, really tired and very stressed. I’m 43. There can be no more embarrassing habits.”
Oh, can’t there be? In the dimly lit lounge, GQ deputy editor Michael Hainey confided, “I still hate my mother … and I wet the bed.”
The film’s young star, Lou Pucci, bedecked in a suit, black silk bowtie and Converse shoes, reported that he sucked his thumb until he was 8. He didn’t see a problem with it. His father—also named Lou—concurred. “We do things that the public would rather not see. That’s what makes us people.”
“I don’t have any real odd habits,” said the younger Mr. Pucci. “Except for acting. That’s an odd habit—going into someone else’s eyes.”
A skinny man in 80’s workout gear flitted past.
“Do you have any weird habits?” the young Mr. Pucci asked. The Transom said no.
“Can you just tell me one weird habit of yours? I know you have at least one. Ha, ha!” Again, The Transom claimed to be perfect—except when it is not.
“Jesus, you’re like … Jesus! That must be rough.”
The Secret of Gwen
Barred from Gwen Stefani’s L.A.M.B. show, which kissed off the end of Fashion Week last Friday, The Transom waited outside Roseland Ballroom with heaps of fashion victims and disgruntled journalists.
Just when the only option seemed to be drinking Fashion Week into oblivion across the way at Gallagher’s bar, it was noticed that the L.A.M.B. standing-room tickets were merely three-by-five-inch index cards with the word “Standing” scrawled on them in black pen.
With a quick trip to Duane Reade on 50th Street and Broadway, The Transom returned to the line holding its “official” key into the L.A.M.B. show. To see Ms. Stefani, $1.29 ain’t too shabby.
Madness! Snakeskin fleece pants, yellow track pants, cashmere hoodies, Chevrolet Cadillacs, scalloped blazers, diagonal zip-front jackets, silk chiffon Rasta gowns and mesh street glam!
At the end, the Orange County girl herself came skipping down the walk in drawstring pants and a black see-through tank layered over a gold bikini top. On her way offstage, she kissed Anna Wintour, her husband Gavin Rossdale and, of course, her mom.
Afterward, backstage at the Roseland Ballroom, the slim, platinum-blond beauty gushed in front of a crowd of reporters. “It couldn’t have gone any better than that,” she said. “I don’t know what I’m saying right now! I’m so thankful.”
Some Gilmore Girls stopped by to shower Ms. Stefani with compliments. When asked about her next show, she smiled. “Who knows?” she said.
The Transom tried to score some fashion swag: a haunting pair of alligator-green sequined high heels, which had been worn by one of Gwen’s lanky models. But a production freelancer named Mike stood in the way.
“You don’t want to wear these,” Mike said. “They’re five inches.”
But just before a brawl over shoes began, Lenny Kravitz walked by. With raw instinct, The Transom grabbed his upper arm—his buttery-smooth bicep—and asked him about the show.
“I loved the show,” he said. Why? “It’s Gwen.” Mr. Kravitz also liked the familiar aura of the models. “They’ve all got Gwen’s vibe,” he said.
Of course Gavin Rossdale was publicly smitten by his wife’s show. “I’m 50 million out of 10 proud,” he said. “Her flavor was everywhere. Fashion should be about … fun. The line is quite rare.”
But he admitted that Ms. Stefani’s inspiration may have at least a little something to do with him.
“She likes to sketch on me,” Mr. Rossdale said, breaking out with a rakish smile. “She jams on it. It’s a great process.”
—Erin Coe and Nicole Pesce