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Under the Circus Tent: Looking Back on Bryant Park

There’s a thin line between love and hate when it comes to the fashion crowd and Bryant Park.

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There’s a thin line between love and hate when it comes to the fashion crowd and Bryant Park. Sometimes it’s as narrow as the space between two photographers angling for a shot of Molly Sims, between the bumpers of Town Cars jostling each other at the entrance, or between fashion assistants packed into the standing-room-only section at The Promenade. And as much as we appreciate the convenience, the souk-like atmosphere and the endless product placement can get a little tiresome (even those Evian girls).

 

However, as IMG unveils plans to relocate to Lincoln Center and the industry struggles to comprehend a Bryant Park-less 2010, here’s a dose of instant nostalgia for the park and the role it’s played in fashion for the past 16 years.

 

 

In 1993, the tents were inaugurated on a rainy Halloween with a DKNY runway show. They began with little ceremony: then-Mayor David Dinkins missed both a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open 7th on Sixth and the actual DKNY show, where his seat was filled by one of the label’s staffers. But the spacious tents (the Gertrude Pavilion, which seated 1,100 people, and the Josephine Pavilion, which accommodated 600) were a welcome respite from fashion week’s previous digs. Bloomingdale’s chief executive Michael Gould said, “Anything that gets us out of cramped showrooms is a major plus.” Suzy Menkes of the International Herald Tribune, who had understandably negative associations with showrooms after being clocked with falling plaster at Michael Kors the previous season, gushed that the tents “will transform my life in New York.” She added, “The fashion editors were doing contortions in cramped spaces at their showrooms simply to write down a page of notes.”

 

 

Of course, there were some naysayers: “Well, they wanted the Paris tent shows and they got them. It’s as cold and nasty here as it is in Paris,” said Donna Karan. And WWD admitted the tents “were a big success, [but] now it’s time for the clothes to liven up.”

 

As the seasons rolled on, corporate sponsors began to overtake the event. In 1996, representatives from Apple were ready with demonstrations of “such things as how to get on the Internet.” Free Red Stripe and Guinness beer were offered by advertisers who had clearly misjudged their demographic. Soon, editors could hardly exit a show without being barraged with food, beverages, color touch-ups from Clairol and foot rubs from Dr. Scholl’s. Some grew disenchanted with the circus raging around fashion week’s Big Top. “Where’s the Sbarro?” was the headline for a WWD takedown of the madness in 2003. “The tents at Bryant Park have become a literal bazaar — or perhaps that should be bizarre — of manicures, pedicures, pizza and even doughnuts.” (The doughnuts being a perhaps misguided attempt by Kenneth Cole to woo invitees by placing Krispy Kremes at their seats. WWD also spotted two editors gorging themselves on garlic pizza, “not a welcome sight at 10 a.m.”)

 

“Such shenanigans don’t raise an eyebrow at the Yonkers Mall,” the article concluded, suggesting the Chanel No.5-scented glamour of the event was long gone.

 

And then came the celebrities >>

 

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