The scene outside the Central Park Boathouse was less than serene last week. “Shame, shame!” yelled a crowd of protesters at guests arriving outside the annual Couture Council summer cocktail party. “Don’t go in!” they implored the well-turned-out arrivals as they made their way toward the restaurant. And while some partygoers slouched sympathetically toward the door, others held their heads high, arched eyebrows showing only a gestural curiosity about the ruckus.
Once inside, however, another scene unfolded. No shouting protesters could be heard in the Lake Room of the storied eatery. Guests trickled in, some pushing the limits of warm-weather fashion, others donning classic summer cocktail wear. In what seems to be an emerging mini-trend since the royal nuptials, the Brits have rubbed off on New York fashion sensibilities, as several heads were topped with whimsical (some downright more-than-whimsical) hats. Several of them could give Princess Eugenie’s millinery a serious run for its money.
“The young people really come out for this event,” Eleanora Kennedy, who sits on the board of the Couture Council, told The Observer. “I love seeing what they’re wearing!” she said excitedly. Ms. Kennedy, who wore an understated black dress by Lela Rose, made the dutiful rounds of the packed room, with her daughter Anna in tow.
Meanwhile, the vice chair of the council, Yaz Hernandez, blew into the building, boisterously greeting guests in a black Yves St. Laurent gown. “Hello baby, how are you!?” she squealed at another attendee. The Observer asked Ms. Hernandez whether she had run across the protesters outside. “You know what—I actually did not notice them. I didn’t see them, so I had no idea.” As Ms. Hernandez took her leave, puckering her bright red lips, she looked back. “Once you stop working, have a little drink. On us!” she said, disappearing into the crowd.
Naturally, there were drinks to be had. A monumental bar in the center of the room was serving generous helpings of Champagne. No flutes were to be found, so bartenders filled wine glasses with ample helpings of bubbly. Guests appeared to gaze at goldfish swimming in giant decorative vases, but all the while they glanced sidelong, discretely sizing up each other’s outfits and waiting on further refreshment.
As waiters brought out trays of delectable hors d’oeuvres, members of the New York fashion elite began to appear, causing ripples of barely concealed whispering throughout the room. A very smartly dressed Zac Posen showed up, though his publicist kept him on a tight leash as cameramen and overzealous reporters flitted about the young designer.
Patricia Field soon appeared wearing a signature slinky dress that looked not unlike a luxurious bed sheet she had deftly stitched together—perhaps it was. In any event, even this was less aesthetically daring than Rosemary Ponzo’s jailbird chic. Wearing a black and white striped gown with a black tulle hat resting smartly atop her head, Ms. Ponzo had certainly put in the effort.
Less theatrically inclined guests went for the straight summery look when it came to their cocktail attire. Alexandra Lebenthal was wearing an ankle-brace that she had gamely wrapped in a green satin sash to match her green blazer. “It’s J.Crew, actually,” Ms. Lebenthal said when we inquired about the coat. Ms. Lebenthal went on to rave about the ready-to-wear brand. “I love J.Crew. It’s actually half of my wardrobe, it’s all of my 7-year-old’s wardrobe, and it’s actually half of my husband’s wardrobe!” Ms. Lebenthal hobbled off, smiling the whole way, in well-worn Jack Purcells.
Although the glamorous scene inside seemed far removed from the protesters outside, the boycott was the preferred subject for casual conversation among guests. Most were unsure what was being protested in the first place. “Apparently they’re like, ‘Do you know you’re being a sexual harasser by entering this establishment?”’ Melissa Berkelhammer said, imitating the angry voices from outside. “I know sometimes—not that I’ve ever been—at the Oscars there’s all these picket lines. I guess this is like a little version of that,” she mused. Ms. Berkelhammer was slightly concerned that cabs would not be allowed in the park by the time the event let out. “Maybe I’ll, like, get taken away and get kidnapped somewhere,” she said, fearing the sojourn from the Boathouse to Fifth Avenue.
On the back porch guests discussed the protest in fits and starts while sharing cigarettes. Some were concerned for the well-being of the waitresses, while others took a more lighthearted approach. “I think that’s sexual harassment,” one guest said, pointing to another male attendee’s form-fitting leopard-print pants.
As the sun set over the Central Park Lake, the room began to empty out. The crowd thinned, while some guests helped themselves to packets of Pop Chips, perhaps hoping to snack some after their goblets of Champagne. Sufficiently readied, they walked out into the park where the protesters were still beating drums and breasts, calling for the Boathouse to close.