A Quieter Approach to Christmas

bryan 13 A Quieter Approach to ChristmasLithe brunette socialite Jennifer Creel arrived on Tuesday, Dec. 9, at the meatpacking district showroom of British handbag designer Anya Hindmarch wearing a puffy coat, black spandex and a tank top. She was there to participate in a holiday gym class Ms. Hindmarch was holding for fashion industry types.

“I exercise regularly,” said Ms. Creel, a mother of three, having breezed through a series of squats and leg lifts that extinguished several other participants before the hour was up.

How would she assess the current holiday mood?

“I think everyone’s kind of taken a step back,” Ms. Creel said. “Which is nice. There’s not as much chaos. Everyone seems to be really pulled back, really enjoying who you’re with. I think that’s really the take this year. It just seems calmer.”

Not that she’s become a recluse or anything. “I’ve been to some Christmas and cocktail parties,” Ms. Creel said. “People losing jobs is terrible, but I think people are thinking more about everything. It’s not as disposable and throwaway.”

As the average New Yorker worries about unemployment, the fashionable flock is taking a quieter approach to Christmas this year.

At Bergdorf Goodman on a recent weekday morning, the mood was quiet, if festive. Patricia Lansing, the younger of designer Carolina Herrera’s two daughters, was spotted wandering in a long trench coat and baggy jeans, selecting holiday gifts (a gingerbread house, a green serving platter, and several Christmas ornaments).

“What is this?” she asked a saleswoman, of a tiny black box shaped like a traveling trunk.

“Australian chocolate,” came the answer.

“Then why is it $35?” she wondered aloud. The sound of “Silver Bells” was filling the cozy, labyrinthine seventh floor—home of housewares, children’s clothes and bridal—an entire room of which had now been given over to Christmas ornaments.

Down the hall at Bergdorf’s restaurant, ensconced at a table in the center of the room, blond socialite and Fashion Institute of Technology trustee Yaz Hernandez was lunching on a salad with an old friend.

“It’s the one area I love during the holidays, because they have the most beautiful ornaments!” she said, reached by phone later. “It has been my favorite store for the longest time.” She bought her first Bergdorf dress at 16, which was “50 minus 16 years ago,” she said. It was white and had feathers.

“I hate to be negative, I just hate negativity,” Ms. Hernandez continued, of the current economic situation. “The truth of the matter is everybody’s feeling sad about what’s going on. I think that everybody’s thinking that they can’t wait for the new year. They want December to end and the new year to begin.”

On the night of Monday, Dec. 16, socialite Gillian Hearst-Simonds was among the first to arrive to the AIDS Community Research Initiative of America’s annual holiday benefit dinner at Donna Karan’s spacious Urban Zen Center in the West Village. Ms. Hearst-Simonds was wearing a fuchsia dress and a pair of formidable Chanel pumps she bought recently on 57th Street, with heels comprised of tiny handguns.

“It’s been a little bit stressful, but it’s been all good things causing the stress,” she said of her holiday season, adding that she and sister Lydia planned to visit the new house their parents are building in Garrison, N.Y. “Right across from West Point!”

Ms. Hearst-Simonds had her eye on several silent-auction items, and had in short order placed a $6,500 bid on a Ross Bleckner painting of a seashell.

Ms. Karan was also inspecting the offerings, looking very tanned and Zen in a slinky black off-the-shoulder dress and chunky African horn necklace. She’d just returned the day before from the island resort Parrot Cay, where she designed two villas that opened earlier this year.

“My husband and I redid our vows there,” she explained. “Right before he passed away. I promised that this was the place I’d try to keep the family together. We’re back down for Christmas.”

“You should check the table before everyone sits down,” said Ms. Karan’s dopplegänger daughter, Gabby, suddenly materializing at her mother’s side.

“Gabby, there’s nothing I can do about it, I trust you, completely!”

“I moved people around,” said the younger woman.

“However you did it is perfect!”

Ms. Karan refocused.

“I think people are looking for sanctuaries,” she said.

mbryan@observer.com