On Friday the Labor Department announced that the country had lost more jobs in November than it had in any single month prior to 1974, a state of affairs one economist dubbed “almost indescribably terrible.” And yet every major stock market index soared, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up 260 points and your correspondent, whose job was a casualty of the previous month’s purges, paid $41 to take a taxicab to a Chanel-sponsored Winter Wonderland ball, to which Holly Dunlap had decided to wear a multicolored wreath around her head. (Ms. Dunlap’s 10-year-old shoe and clothing line, Hollywould, shut down over the weekend.)
The venue was the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx, which earlier that day announced it too would be reducing its workforce by 10 percent in response to budget constraints. But whatever! “Who’s your favorite celeb fashion crush?” an US Weekly stringer held out a digital recorder at the platinum-haired fashion designer Erin Fetherston, who answered once another guest had finished tripping on the lengthy train of her flowing lace gown. (Answer: Zooey Deschanel, whom Ms. Fetherston calls a “good friend.”)
A diamond gleamed from Ms. Fetherston’s chest; it was so massive the Daily Transom was tempted to call it “kiwi-sized.” We asked if she’d been following the rumors that Vogue editor Anna Wintour might soon be axed.
“I love Anna, I think we’re all better off for having her,” said Ms. Fetherston, who is certainly herself better off since Ms. Wintour began appearing at all her fashion shows, featuring her dresses in the magazine and nominating her for all manner of prestigious awards following her debut at the 2005 Paris couture shows, thereby catapulting her into the ranks of designers supposedly famous enough to warrant their own Go! International lines at Target by age 27.
This year is different though. Not even deep-discount designer fashion is safe. Shoppers have flocked to Wal-Mart, sending same-store sales at Target down 10 percent last month and Vogue‘s December ad pages down 22.3 percent. Straight men throughout the Botanical Garden’s magestically-lit foyer had huddled into packs to discuss the latest bulge bracket bank layoffs and Obama cabinet appointments, and the fortunes of the companies in which their various private equity firms had invested. “Fourteen out of 15 companies are down,” one fortysomething man said glumly, adding that the recession was going to be “much worse than anyone thinks” before a friend tore him away from the conversation. (“Robert, you’re talking about the economy when you should be having a good time tonight. Your wife is going to kill you.”) On the other hand, a doctor in town from California who seemed to be actively avoiding his companion was eager to talk about what he called “the most unnecessary economic crisis in the history of the world,” a disaster he blamed on mortgage bankers who “made Nixonian used car dealers look like Saint Francis of Assisi.”
Joy Marks and Leif Bringslimark, a couple in their sixties who divide their time between the Upper East Side and the Hamptons, talked about how the economic crisis had affected the commute-“The driving time has gone from three and a half hours to two!” exclaimed Mr. Bringslimark, who owns a construction company-and the merits of the Barack Obama victory, for whom neither had voted. “The message [of the Obama campaign] was a little scary, taking from the rich to give to the poor,” said Ms. Marks. Her companion, however, seemed to have transferred much of his disillusionment to the members of his own tax bracket. “Everyone knew this was coming, but no one thought it would happen this way…[the investment banks] waited until they couldn’t hide it anymore,” he said. “I’m not sure any president can fix this.”
Ms. Fetherston was more vague, and upbeat, when another reporter asked her about business conditions. “It’s not easy,” she said, smiling sweetly. Then we discussed her haircare regimen: She trims her signature very blunt bangs every few days (every day when she’s feeling “obsessive.”)
“There is this weird schizophrenia at events like this,” mused Margherita Missoni, the model-actress and heir to the Italian fashion house, who was standing nearby waiting patiently for the throng to clear the way toward the ballroom. “We know it’s happening, but obviously it hasn’t hit us yet. Of course we’ve been affected, anyone with a business has been affected, but if you were really hurting, if it were really affecting you, you wouldn’t be here! I find it a bit ridiculous actually, almost like it’s the cool hot topic to talk about at fancy parties is the economy, which seems very decadent.”
Ms. Missoni surveyed the scene and shook her head, setting free a few locks that had been loosely tied into her chignon. “Sometimes I wonder, are these people going mad? Am I in the sinking Titanic? I think I’m in the sinking Titanic.”