Rowan Riley, 22, was sipping bubbly over in the front row of the grandstand at the Hampton Classic horse show on Sunday, Aug. 21, wearing a baby-doll top and suede Dr. Scholl’s-like sandals with a logo of signature Chanel C’s crossed on top. “I feel strongly against the war and I don’t like Bush and did work for the D.N.C.,” she said, rationalizing her exodus from Manhattan. “In spite of all these things, however, I feel no desire to join the ranks. There was a certain doomsday quality that I felt present leading up the Convention. There’s enough people there flying in. The last thing they needed were New Yorkers.”
As the proverbial “elephants” stampeded into Manhattan this week, glossy horses were clip-clopping peacefully, reassuringly along in Bridgehampton, as they do every year bearing pipsqueaks in jodhpurs with ribbons at the end of their plaits and an assortment of moneyed young scions (equestrian Georgina Bloomberg, Steven Spielberg spawn Destry, Glenn Close’s child Annie Starke). Proud mothers stood around watching, in those bright, infantile Lilly Pulitzer shift dresses.
The pastoral scene was far-removed indeed from the city’s spookily deserted, heavily policed streets. “I feel like our presence is not needed,” Ms. Riley said. “I feel like we could do more harm than good.”
“Really? I feel like I should be there,” interrupted Katharine Jose, also 22, a friend of Ms. Riley’s from their Andover days who was sitting nearby.
“I mean, I feel like I should be there just so I can tell my kids I was there,” Ms. Riley said.
Ms. Jose shook her head. “I have a lot of friends who went so they could protest,” she said. “And I feel vaguely guilty that I’m not there,”
She would’ve been a very chic protester, too, clad as she was in the summer’s must-have frayed denim miniskirt.
Vogue Editor Braved Kabul!
Once a peaceful patch of potato farms, the Hamptons have taken on an unbearably cheesy aspect in recent years, flooded with promotional parties, “branding events” for things like Evian and PlayStation. (Let’s not even mention l’affaire Grubman. ) But this season, with the Convention occupying Manhattan and MTV’s Video Music Awards at a safe remove in cheese-happy Miami, the East End was once more bucolic upper-crust refuge.
Socialite Judy Peabody was dining Sunday night at the American Hotel in Sag Harbor, in full bouffant and vintage Bill Blass. “Yes, my husband will be arriving tomorrow. We’re purposefully avoiding the convention, we’re Democrats,” she said proudly. Nothing personal, she added, “just avoiding a city that will be semi-hysterical.”
At Nick & Toni’s that same night the Manhattan set was in full swing, presaging a full week of convention avoidance. At the bar, Vogue editor Alexandra Kotur was displaying a near-Victorian pallor, her glass filled with ginger ale. She said she was planning to head back to the city shortly, bucking the tide of peace-seekers crashing on the East End.
“I think there’s a whole reverse psychology going on,” Ms. Kotur said. “I feel like when everyone leaves town it’s almost the time to be in town. It’s sort of like the whole notion of staying town on the weekends. I think New York when it’s deserted is fabulous.
“I never thought we could get in here tonight,” she added. “because I thought everyone was staying out here. I thought no one is going back to the city everyone is staying in the Hamptons. It just shows that you never know.”
Ms. Kotur told of a trip to Afghanistan she’d taken last year. “Everyone was saying ‘you know don’t go,'” she said. “It was at still at a scary point. I went to Kabul. You read so much and I was so scared, and I actually went and it was fine! You expected that you would never be able to get there, that there weren’t flights. There are flights that go to Afghanistan . You buy a ticket and you get on the plane! I remember thinking to myself, ‘you’ve got to question things and don’t necessarily do what you’re told or what you read in the paper.’ There’s probably another side, and oftentimes when you do that other side, something interesting can come out of it.”
Ms. Kotur’s adventuresome nature, however, had its limits.
“I have things to do in New York and I’m going to do them,” she said, but “I can’t say I’m going to take the subway. That’s probably the only thing I won’t do.”
A little further West at a restaurant called Savanna’s in Southampton, a kick-off party to the final week of the Hamptons “season” was held after the premiere of Finding Neverland, attended by designer Donna Karan, magazine publisher Cristina Greeven Cuomo, and the model Sophie Dahl.
“I may be the contrarian, but I think I’m going to go in for a day,” said the socialite Helen Lee Schifter, when asked about the action in Manhattan.
“I think the convention is Neverland and this is the real world,” snapped artist Bruce Arnold, laughing at his own line.
Producer Michael Mailer, the writer Norman’s 40-year-old son, was sitting at a center table. He said he was planning to attend a “Poor People’s Protest” in Manhattan on Monday.
“It’s a very complex issue,” he said in faint but unmistakable lockjaw, about New Yorker’s pre-Labor Day presence in the Hamptons. “Some people leave because they just don’t want to deal with the traffic issue; some people leave because they’re genuinely afraid; some people leave because it’s the last week of the summer and they’d be leaving anyway. I think the notion of leaving because they’re afraid is a very cowardly act. If you would normally be in New York at this time, and you’re leaving because you’re afraid, I think as a New Yorker, that’s a violation of a spirit that New Yorkers are famous for. If you’re leaving because you’d leave normally then that’s fine or if you’re leaving because you just don’t want to deal with the traffic or the cops, I don’t have a problem with it.”
Leathery Broadway producer Ron Delsener leaned in at the bar, dapper in a royal-blue linen blazer. “Of course I’m fleeing the city, I drove here last night from Jersey, I had a show with Pavarotti!” he said with a trill. “It took me three hours to get out here but I didn’t want to go anywhere near the city. I don’t like what’s going on with the world, I don’t like what Bush stands for, his warmongers, I believe in peace. I think it’s called the dumbing-down of America, it’s World Federation of Wrestling, it’s NASCAR, it’s MTV, it’s everything that’s bad and the illiterates of the world have taken over, The intelligentsia is finished! It’s time to move to Italy or Spain.”
‘We Didn’t Want To Be Inconvenienced’
The next morning, The Observer went in search of stray intelligentsia in East Hampton.
Manhattanite Jamie Wiener, 23, was sitting in the sun on Main Beach with her sister Lisa, 26, a real-estate broker at Halstead. “A lot of people are out here and the ones who aren’t wish they could be,” Jamie said, channeling a bit of a Tara Reid vibe in a tennis-skirt style sarong and push-up orange bikini, a stack of People, Hamptons, and Social Life magazines at her side. Lisa, meanwhile, had just finished the political thriller Memorial Day. The sisters had fled to their parents’ house in the East End for the duration of the convention.
“We came out for the weekend and we’re not going back,” said Lisa, whose own sarong featured a Polo logo. “Part of it was definitely safety concerns. The chaos anticipated in the city wasn’t something worth enduring.
“I watched the entire Democratic convention,” she added a bit defensively. “We’re away but not disconnected.”
Meanwhile, in town, the streets were flooded with shoppers, store windows indicating a kind of passing interest with the political fray. At The Monogram Shop, co-owner Valerie Smith had posted a tally of the number of Bush-Cheney and Kerry-Edwards plastic tumblers she’d been selling in the window. By 1 P.M. on Monday afternoon, sales of Kerry tumblers were trouncing Bush tumblers 2,972 to 1,332. “This is a very Democratic area,” Ms. Smith said briskly. At BookHampton, red and blue t-shirts strung along a laundry line in the window read “Dissent is patriotic,” and yet dissent was not very much in evidence. The most prominently displayed books were Maureen Dowd’s Bushworld, the Kerry biography The Candidate , and the candidate’s own book, Our Plan for America.
Liberal limousines (Beemers, Audis) hummed by on the streets. Babette’s was full for lunch, and as were the tables at a chic newcomer called CittaNuova, where a plasma screen behind the bar tuned to CNN’s convention coverage, catching the glare from the daytime sun, was drawing fewer observers than the foot traffic on Newtown Lane.
“I think everyone wants to be out of the city. Monday’s normally a good shopping day for women but there are more men out here this week, ” said Helaine Strauss, owner of The Nines boutique, a unisex shop where the ladies can pick up a pink Bogner tweed blazers for $1,100, and a man’s suede vest runs $650.
At Citarella, college sweethearts Rick and Amy Garcia were wearing matching Lacoste polos and munching on chicken-salad sandwiches (“Vietnamese” for her; low fat for him). They had fled from their Upper East Side apartment.
“We just didn’t want to deal with anything, we didn’t want to be inconvenienced,” said Ms. Garcia, 29. The couple had booked five nights at an inn in East Hampton, along with dinners at The Palm, Nick & Toni’s and Andre Balazs’ Sunset Beach club on Shelter Island. “It wasn’t as 1-2-3 easy as we thought it would be,” Ms. Garcia said.
Later, longtime Hamptons habitué Jodi Della Femina phoned in from Capri. “We actually fled the convention,” she said. “But we actually went one step further and fled the Hamptons. August does really get so crowded.”