On any other night, by seven p.m. the beauty counters in the basement of Bergdorf Goodman are clearing out. Scents linger but customers don’t, and the sales girls look at themselves in small counter top mirrors and text boyfriends. Tonight, during Fashion’s Night Out, however, the place swarms with hundreds of people, milling about an invisible cloud of a thousand scents. I’m here to interview Francis Kurkdjian, a perfumer who’s on hand to squirt small bits of blotting paper with his two new perfumes and press flesh. Mine included. First though I navigate the security, a Blackwater-esque cadre of large men in black suits with white earpieces. I wonder if Michelle Obama is inside. She’s not, but many others are. The first floor looks like something out of The Bacchae. There’s a line stretching to The Paris Theatre (Mao’s Last Dancer, next show 8 p.m.). Inside the store, the racks are obscured by a swarm of deeply tan women. Are they smiling or grimacing? Best not to be caught staring.
Kurkdjian, a nice enough type. He goes through the motions, describing his two new perfumes with a simulacra of interest. “They’re unisex,” his PR girl chimes in, the oldest line in the book. A camera shows up and with that camera someone clearly important. Kurkdjian launches into the same spiel though with more gusto. I take the opportunity to fade into the scrum and the cloud of perfume to escape. Walking down Fifth Avenue, store after store, packed with crowds, clamoring for Champagne and the chance to spend. White suits at Balenciaga. Camera flashes at the Prada store. Lines and red carpet cover the sidewalk, soft red pavement, one night only! Is this what Andrew Jackson’s inauguration was like? Probably. In front of Lord & Taylor, a squad of New York Jets cheerleaders, midriffs exposed to the crisp September air, smile and shimmy.
I hop on a southbound bus. White smiles and Jets-green short skirts jiggle like aftershocks in my mind. Everything looks seedy and important from behind a public bus window. Soon enough I end up at The Ace Hotel, a Dave & Busters for hipsters that houses an Opening Ceremony, Project 8b, and the restaurant, the Breslin. The line stretches around the block, full of women as thin as pussy willows—if a zephyr swept northerly up Broadway, they’d topple like dominoes. I cut the line, head through the Breslin, a workaround in reckless pursuit of a perfect Manhattan—that’s one part dry vermouth and one part sweet. Instead I find myself mingling in the flea market—a re-creation of Marché aux Puces de Saint Ouen, the sprawling flea market on Paris’ north side. This too, sprawling but less rusty, less brass, fewer framed lithographs. Instead, Band of Outsiders sells cookies made by Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar—I forego—and cute Amélie-esque shopgirls stand behind tables laden with Colette materiel. Retreat to the relative quiet of the upstairs bar at the Breslin and finally find my Manhattans. Perfect.
The crew’s all here. Friends from work. Friends from life. Friends making the transition from one to the other. Tentative raindrops of extracurricular amitié. Behind us two bros discuss their sexual exploits with more bravado than truthfulness. “It was like Mrs. Robinson!” one says. Fat chance. If I didn’t love my Manhattans so much I’d turn around and toss a refreshing glass in their faces. “Wake up!” I’d say, “Your narrative holds no water.” Feeling generous I buy my mates some prosecco, my friend Richard a vodka soda and a dirty martini straight up with extra olives for his half-French girlfriend. I down more Manhattans, a couple. Maybe three. God I love this city. “Let’s clear out!” I say, and we head to the next party: Vogue and David Chang at the Andaz Hotel. Rumor has it this is the most exclusive invite of the evening, with a list as tight as I’m quick becoming. We scram from the Breslin, line still long, flea market still hopping, and walk a few blocks in the Halloween night before giving up and hailing a cab.
No list at the Andaz hotel but who would have the audacity to trespass? Anna Wintour has just gone by the time we arrive. She had swept in, they tell use, sampled a pork bun, and exited. David Chang, in chef’s whites, and Jeffrey Steingarten, Vogue’s curmudgeonly food critic, with white mane, demo how to make pork buns to a crowd of people, drinking whiskey. I can’t find any food… I order a whiskey, water back. Half as good as a pork bun. I know some people here but end up leaving with a guy named Sean and a guy named Françoise, in the long search for the next part. I thought I knew them or that they knew someone I know but it turns out I’m riding the subway—Sean hollering at girls, Françoise, in town from Paris, showing me his hamburger wallet—with complete strangers. It’s great. Trick-or-treating. I’m mangling some French to Françoise who nicely pretends to understand. Sean is staring at the subway map and we plot our next move.
A hundred and fifty years ago Bond Street—at the heart of the Five Points—was ground zero for turf wars between the Bowery Boys and the Dead Rabbits. Tonight, it’s ground zero for bearded men and their stilettoed girlfriends, weaving down the street, treading carefully over the cobblestones. There was once whisky in the Billy Reid store but by now there’s just a pail of cold Budweiser. “That’ll do,” says Amanda, a cute girl I’m with. She’s brought some friends so I grab a couple and we stand near the Mexicue truck. I get tacos. Tacos and sliders. Many, too many tacos and too many sliders, eating them huddled in a small circle. I pull out a bottle of rum. “What are you, a pirate?” some rotter says. “Argh,” I say back. The street’s packed, a true block party, yet cars still weave their way through. A U-Haul truck inches passed the sea of people banging on the windows. A Mercedes crawls through, its driver looking terrified. Argh!
We blow out of there at midnight, heading south to the Soho Grand. No cabs, so one of our girls flags down a Scion with Jersey plates. “Headin’ south?” she says, flirting. “Sure,” the man says, flirting. We pile into the cab—the group now three girls, me and my friend Matt—and head to the Rugby after party. The driver, apparently, has done this kind of thing before. I write the headline in my mind: Fashion Fright Out: Party Tragedy as Five Abducted During FNO.
Fatigue turning the bright night grey, we storm the velvet rope. Someone texts someone who texts someone and someone ushers us through the plaintive supplicants, all wide-eyed and hopeful. I yell, “It’s a shell game, you rotters! There’s nothing inside!” It was a guess but, it turns out, true. The party is dark and crowded. The line at the bar is four deep and cleavage has a way of making that five or six deep. But the mojitos are free so I get some. We stand around in the darkness and lean in to each other. After seven hours of partying, what’s there to say? Everyone is fashionable in the dark. It’s almost three. “Let’s scram,” someone says. We hail a cab, a real one this time, and direct the driver, “Go East on Canal and don’t stop ’til you’ve left the island.”