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Karen Elson, Joe Zee Debate Creativity and New York

The W Times Square and Liberatum hosted a panel about the city's influence on fashion, music and design.

NEW YORK — “Is corporate America killing what’s great about New York?”

Filmmaker Paul Haggis’ question triggered just one of many only-in-New-York debates during Tuesday night’s panel about New York City’s influence on fashion, music and design hosted by the W Times Square and Liberatum.

To add some perspective to the depth of change, Karen Elson recalled how early in her career she had only enough money to buy two subway tokens to meet Steven Meisel downtown, while moderator Joe Zee described hearing gunshots from his “15th and Seventh” apartment in 1990, when “Chelsea wasn’t even Chelsea.”

Haggis, Elson and Zee debated the city’s perks and hindrances on the creative class with Prabal Gurung, Karim Rashid and Stacy Engman. Haggis, who lived in Manhattan full-time in the Seventies and Eighties, said, “Here you get into great conversations with people who are in professions you’ve never even heard of. If you’re curious, you can have a great life just talking to and meeting people. But what I truly love about New York is that it’s so f--king dirty.…I mean has anyone ever been to Switzerland? It’s the scariest place in the world. It’s so clean.”

But Rashid, a New Yorker since 1992, argued that in this digital age the city is no longer the be-all, end-all for creativity. “There was a time in history where you had to be in a certain place if you were creative…but now if you’re creative and you have something to contribute in the world, you don’t need to be anywhere, you can be everywhere. I could name 20 cities that are more progressive than New York — number one is Berlin. The point is not who is at the bottom but that we as creative individuals can do our work anywhere in the world.”

After Haggis asked whether a Marc Jacobs store on every corner in SoHo and the West Village or Disney in Times Square is improving citizens’ lives, Gurung said, “In the 13, 14 years that I’ve been here, I’ve seen the landscape changing. When I go to Brooklyn, the energy is still incredible. It’s still crazy and insane.”

Not quite, according to Rashid, who piped up, “OK, I’m in Brooklyn and on every corner it’s the same — Capital One bank, CVS, Starbucks — it’s all bulls--t. And it’s certainly destroyed not only New York — but the world. I’m working —and I don’t mean this in a braggy way — in 42 countries and when I travel I am just shocked how gentrified and homogenized the entire world is.”

While Engman said the pace of change is undeniable — “Three years is a decade now” — creative-minded residents have the advantage of being an arm’s length away from each other. “We can collaborate in a lot of ways that you can’t do in other cities,” she said.

A little later, Rashid said, “The difference is it’s not as much about place any more as it is about the empowerment of the individual. And that’s the digital age, that’s the big shift. I’m not saying the world is becoming a dull place by any means.”

Zee questioned whether New York has become less of a hub of creativity and more a hub of ambition, drive and power, “because we’re talking about making money and we’re talking about artists and directors that film Dior commercials.”

“I think [for] a lot of creative people that is not their first agenda by any means. In fact, most creative people have such a creative passion to do what they want to do that money is the last things on their minds,” Rashid said. “I moved to New York with zero. I wanted to do well with my profession. It had nothing to do with making money.”

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