The Long and Winding Lagerfeld: Designers Apply Death Grip to Podium!

doonan 7 The Long and Winding Lagerfeld: Designers Apply Death Grip to Podium! Karl Lagerfeld and Christian Louboutin! J’accuse!

And you, too, Philippe Starck! You are gorgeous, super-talented Euro geniuses. J’adore you all, but you have been très, très naughty and you need to be spanked. Heads up: You will each be receiving an invoice from me for the time I spent listening to your long and winding words. I refer to the imprisoning and protracted acceptance speeches y’all recently delivered at the star-studded endurance test that was the Fashion Group International Awards, held at Cipriani Wall Street on Thursday, Oct. 23. The monies I receive will be sent to Prince, or the charity of his choice, as a reward for having had the decency to remain mute while presenting to Donatella Versace.

Just to refresh your memory, the Fashion Group International Awards (an annual hosting gig for yours truly) is to the Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards what the Golden Globes is to the Oscars—that is, the naughty, cuter little sister.

My duties entail jump-starting the proceedings with a short, kicky monologue, the goal of which is to set the tone for a light, fluffy, let’s-remember-we’re-making-frocks-not-curing-cancer kind of an evening. This year, encouraged by the organizers, who were still reeling and groaning from the protracted orations of the ’07 ceremony, I exhorted both presenters and awardees to keep their speeches short.

In order to avoid sounding naggy and schoolmarmy, I couched my warnings in humor, inventing fake post-awards obligations for the recipients: “Let’s not drag the evening out with long speeches because Donatella Versace has to be down at Katz’s Deli by 11 to judge the annual pickle-eating competition, Francisco Costa has to be home in time to watch Sam Champion, and Philippe Starck and Harvey Weinstein have dates with Bolivian transgender showgirls at Escuelita. Short speeches! Short speeches! No need to thank your cleaning lady. If you love her that much, then just send her a big juicy ham next Easter.” You get the picture.

Well. Guess what? I might as well have been speaking Sanskrit. Nobody listened. The podium-crazed presenters and awardees, many speaking in thick incomprehensible European accents, delivered the longest speeches in the history of saliva.

This terrifying phenomenon is on the march. The same unwillingness to self-edit was apparent at all the sit-down dinners that I have attended so far this season. I am groping for answers and finding none. Is everyone having a deluded inauguration moment? Why, in the age of A.D.D. and texting, do people feel the impulse to bore the living poo out of others with their dry, extended, autobiographical ruminations?

A well-known sage who prefers to remain nameless for fear of retribution provided me the following explanation: It all comes down to empathy, or rather, a lack of empathy. In order to torture other people, you have to lack empathy. If you have empathy you say to yourself, “As much as I would love to blather on about myself ad nauseam, I would not dream of inflicting a mind-numbing speech on another person because I do not enjoy it when others do it to me.”  According to my mystery sage, a lack of empathy is a key component to success. People who care too much about the sufferings of others will never claw their way past the middle and will never be showered with awards. Et voilà! A dearth of empathy among the super-successful.

Though compelling, this explanation does not jibe with the fact that podium hogging is a new phenomenon. Somehow, the overachievers of the past were able to wrench themselves from the microphone after a couple of sentences. The Academy Awards speeches of yore were always brief. My own CFDA speech—I received this illustrious award in 1998, before the current craze—consisted of a cheery “Lucky me! Thank you!”

The Lagerfeld-Louboutin soiree was not without its share of bright spots. The brightest occurred backstage when I found myself in a mute surely-I-must-be-at-Madame-Tussauds huddle with Prince, Donatella V. and Jennifer Lopez. I was almost overcome by the impulse to ask Prince if he remembered the time, back in the early 1980s, when, having been commissioned to szoosh the décor of his record launch party, I upset the manager of the Sheraton by festooning the chandeliers with blow-up dolls. Miraculously, I managed to keep my gob shut.

sdoonan@observer.com