Finicky New Yorkers May Not Warm to an Underground Mall, Even If It’s at the Plaza

Wednesday evening, at the launch of the Plaza’s brand new, high-end underground shopping pavilion, Anthony Nicola was putting on a

Wednesday evening, at the launch of the Plaza’s brand new, high-end underground shopping pavilion, Anthony Nicola was putting on a brave face. Mr. Nicola is the general manager of the Plaza’s retail operation, and with the Dow having taken another big hit Wednesday and the whole city consumed by financial jitters, the timing seemed a bit inauspicious for a "strictly luxury" mall where one can purchase a $500 Vacca shirt.

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Mr. Nicola was wearing a sharp Zegna pinstriped suit; his head is closely shaved. He gave the Daily Transom a quick tour of the lobby’s landmarked spaces. Despite its renewed gilded-age elegance it was quiet, like a museum, and had none of the bustle of its older, shabby genteel incarnation. "Nothing’s lost and all the landmarks have been restored," he said. We wondered about the people. "Yes, given the room rates, we’re sure the clientele has changed," he said.

Katie Lee Joel, accentuating her youth in shorts and tights, seemed puzzled that she was alone on the red carpet. She struck a few winning poses for the lone photog.

Mr. Nicola excused himself to glad-hand a matronly British hotel resident who was a tad miffed that she hadn’t been invited to the downstairs event. "Oh, come with me," Nicola said, leading the woman and her friend past the event coordinators.

"I’m glad you got to see that," Mr. Nicola told us when he came back. "Residents want to be a part of this! It’s unfair that there’s been so much negative press about them." Could it be envy over the strong euro? "There’s a new level of wealth in this city that’s very important and this hotel is strictly luxury. We’ve brought something very new and special to New York."

The Daily Transom wanted to know where Mr. Nicola hung his hat. "New Jersey," he said.

Downstairs in the concourse, models were milling around jewelry-filled vitrines in Helen Yarmak furs, one of the labels with a kiosk there. One model had been decked out to look like Josephine Baker, complete with beret. Sonia, who was wearing a $54,000 Chinchilla, had been rescued from South Sudan when she was a kid. "These are amazing people with a lot of money," she said, looking at the guests sipping Champagne around her. "They do a lot of good."

Another model, Lauren Tenor, from South Carolina, complained aloud about not getting a drink. "Why are we being treated like staff?" Ms. Tenor told the Daily Transom that she couldn’t wait to hang up the fur she was draped in and head to a downtown dive bar.

Anait Kinadze, a bigwig at Yarmak, had a novel way of rebranding fur. "Fur is green and global," she said in a thick Russian accent, "it’s the best way to keep the planet clean."

The Daily Transom spied 6-foot-2 blond Czech supermodel Hana Soukupova wearing a black leather motorcycle jacket. Looking like the leader of an all-girl street gang, she towered over a small entourage of girls wearing the same jackets. With a black ruffled tube dress, her leather, and a silk and chain necklace, one of Yarmuk’s $300,000 furs didn’t seem to interest her. Her chichi rock ‘n’ roll look wasn’t a statement, though. "Everyone has their own style today," she said. Soukupova’s stylist—who looked to be around two feet shorter than her client—added, "We’re just all about leather tonight."

Lisa Smilor, an executive at the Council of Fashion Designers of America—which sponsored the event—was complimenting Michael McGraw, of PETA, on his natty gray Etro suit and tie. We wondered what Mr. McGraw thought of Ms. Kinadze’s claim that fur was the greenest thing going. "Actually, the chemicals used to treat the furs are poison, so fur is about as green as a Hummer."

Before the Daily Transom left, Mr. McGraw’s partner David wanted to share some New York history. "An underground mall opened right around the corner from here—on 57th—right after the ’87 crash. It was closed by the early ’90s. It seems relevant, doesn’t it?" he asked, "New Yorkers don’t want to shop underground."

Finicky New Yorkers May Not Warm to an Underground Mall, Even If It’s at the Plaza