Bits & Snippets
A collection of semi-newsy magazine-ish articles I wrote last semester. They were partly for practice and mostly for myself, and are completely unpublishable now because it’s been a few months since they were relevant. That’s not to say they’re not interesting though, so go ahead. Scroll.
Fashion’s Night Out, Sept 2011
In a sense, stepping out of the subway station into SoHo on Fashion’s Night Out is strikingly similar to Alice’s tumble out of the tunnel into Wonderland.
Fashion’s Night Out, which Vogue’s Anna Wintour masterminded three years ago, amidst recession, is meant to celebrate the fun and excitement of going shopping and dressing up. And fashion was very much out that night, September 8, 2011, as tens of thousands swarmed the streets of downtown Manhattan in all but casual attire – adorned with studs, plush velvet, fur vests, 10″ heels and sunglasses despite (or because) the stars shined so brightly. Men who normally dress down their 9 to 5 suits with happy hour tee’s were out and about in bow ties and squeaky clean Italian loafers. The first thing you notice: everything goes.
“Isn’t everyone dressed up so nice tonight?” Smiled Simba, a 28 year old carnival costume designer from Brooklyn. Herself tucked in a black skin tight mini dress, an immense black hat atop her shaved bleached head, her big grin dipped in rich red lipstick. Her plans for the night? To go see Chanel, DVF and Louis Vuitton. She might afterwards meet up with rap mogul Kanye West. “Hopefully we’ll have a foursome!” she exclaimed.
As someone who works in attire, Simba hopes to see more embellished accessories this year: hats and bold, bright colors like oranges and gold. “Spice it up!” she called out to the many designers, who as of that morning started displaying their Spring 2012 collections at New York’s Fashion Week. “I don’t want comfortable shoes. Make my feet hurt!”
Just down the street on Broadway a long queue serpentines around the corner. They are all in line to get into Prada. A few feet ahead another line formed a few hours ago. Victoria’s Secret brought out four of their Angels – Adriana Lima, Alessandra Ambrosio, Erin Heatherton and Lily Aldridge, to bestow their beauty upon the masses and give out autographs.
“We shop at Victoria’s Secret so it’s exciting for us to see the supermodels,” explained 24 years old Kat Pietraszewski, a native New Yorker. She has been waiting in line for a little over an hour with two of her friends, but the fact that she is nowhere near the entrance does not discourage her. “I would definitely wait another hour if that’s what it takes to get in,” she said. Her goal? To take pictures with the gorgeous quartet – then shop.
A couple of blocks over, in his shop at 103 Grand St., the young-and-successful designer Alexander Wang hosted a Talent Show. Wang sat in the middle of his store dressed in a plain black tee, surrounded by three beautiful models that also served as judges, and called out each upcoming act. One by one they appeared before him and the cheering audience – a break-dance performer, a belly dancer, a gifted singer. Among the many who lined up to watch and take part was Joshua Christensen, a 29 year old men’s-wear designer from LA, a contender in the last season of Project Runway, now in town to attend the finale. Though he is not in it, he feels blessed to have been part of the show and feels a great connection to this night. “It was an amazing experience,” he said.
Not sold in stores yet, Christensen has a line that he presents nationwide and his designs have just made a cover of a magazine back in California. “It is very cool to be at this event because I know as a designer it is important to connect to the people, be in touch and hear them out,” he explained. “Even the most creative designer needs to show people he is not this untouchable, magical person.”
As the night lingers on, certain patterns take shape. Lines form everywhere: outside the Kardashian’s store DASH, through the dumplings truck, and among the portable nail-salons. It seems as if people don’t mind waiting, everyone has taken the night off and time is abundant. Each store that respects itself brought in a DJ and gave out free drinks. At Kate Spade on Broome St. they even made it into a Karaoke contest.
There’s a festive air about the city, a real holiday. That night, New York celebrated fashion.
Remembering 9/11, Sept 2011
A Picture is Worth a 1,000 words
A grandfather grasping on to his infant granddaughter; an evacuation crew taking a much needed break, catching some shut eye on a gurney; a burnt press pass; an improvised sign, reading “You came in when we all ran out, for that we are forever grateful.” They say a picture is worth a thousand words. At the 10-year-anniversary of the events that robbed New York of its last shred of innocence, pictures may have to fill the void where words fail.
It’s been ten years since the atrocities that took place in the Financial District of lower Manhattan on the morning of September 11, 2001. This past weekend, hundreds of events took place all over the city, all intended to commemorate those who lost their lives in the attack. Among these memorials is the International Center of Photography, located midtown by Times Square, exhibiting “Remembering 9/11″. It opened two days prior, on September 9, and will continue through January 8, 2012. On the 10-year-anniversary entry was free of charge, and around noon two dozen or so visitors were in attendance.
The lower level of the two-story building has been divided into five parts: Stepping Through the Ashes, the work of Brooklyn-based photographer Eugene Richards; Here is New York, excerpts from the project that Alice Rose George, Gilles Peress, Michael Shulan and Charles Traub began immediately after the attack on the World Trade Center; Above Ground Zero by Gregg Brown, who was hired by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to do aerial photography of Ground Zero for six months; Francesc Torres’ Memory Remains: 9/11 Artifacts at Hangar 17; and Cedarliberty, the work of Elena del Rivero and Leslie McCleave. Ironically enough, no photography is allowed on the premises.
“Here is New York” prides itself on being “a democracy of photographs”: 5,000 photographs were gathered in the days following the attack, taken by some 3,000 professional and amateur shutter-bugs. All proceeds went to a children’s organization. The result is a collection of strong, silent reminders of what was lost and, ultimately, found. The grief, the pain, the anger, the make-shift memorial sites; the “Missing” ads aching and echoing through New York; powerful portraits of people who have lost so much and decided to step in front of the camera as if to say “I’m still here.”; the kind of photographs that remind you that New York might have lost the battle, but definitely not the war.
In “Stepping Through the Ashes”, Richards tried to capture the aftershock. On 9/11 he was abroad, working in Prague, and when he returned he decided to portray the turmoil and the struggle, the stillness of a city in utter shock and the emptiness, inside and out. In his preface he compared the sights to what he had seen in war zones such as Hiroshima, Sarajevo and Beirut.
Another space is devoted to Torres’ documentation of the artifacts found on scene, those that the rescue teams salvaged and stored in hanger number 17 at JKF airport. Some are shown via video, screened on the walls of the dark room. Others, an origami paper boat for example, are there in the flesh, covered in glass. One of the photographs displayed on video is of a little girl’s Tweety barrette, covered in ash.
Though the pictures are haunting, not everyone has their minds set on taking the day to grieve. That is the case for four friends – Daniel Veryard, 29, Libby Bright, 30, Benjamin Harlow, 30, and Ashley Miller, 27, who traveled from Australia to New York and inadvertently stepped into one of the memorials. Bright explained they were not looking to commemorate 9/11. They found it more interesting to stand around and chat, did not pay much attention to the photographs.
“The New York Times published a piece stating most New Yorkers want to leave the city on 9/11. They don’t want to remember,” I challenged them, “Do you feel the city is overreacting?” “Not to disrespect, but it seems, like with the hurricane, the city is a little hysteric. If we had listened to every threat, every potential hazard, life would not carry on,” said Harlow.
On the upper floor there is a Harper’s Bazaar – A Decade of Style exhibition taking place. Photographs of models and well known designers are on display, and the small room is tightly packed with visitors. It is hard to blame people for taking interest in other things, for – as Harlow said – carrying on with their lives. And it’s with a sad smile that I realize it is much like the duality in the city this weekend: Fashion Week on one end, the memorial at Ground Zero on the other. That just might be the magic of New York City, the reason why it had not fallen apart.
Q&A, Sept 2011
More often than not, names like Zac Posen, Badgley Mischka and Alice+Olivia don’t play well with terms such as recession, economic hardship or financial downfalls. But if you ask RentTheRunway, the couture garment rental company based in New York City, they mesh perfectly.
The RTR offices are located in a rather austere looking building in SoHo. Located on the 4th floor, their office space looks more like a renovated loft, with computers set as a broken up T and about a dozen young women and men sitting in front of them with Madonna head-sets on. For a place that delivers glamour straight to your doorstep, the whole ensemble appears rather reserved. Aside from the ticking away and the pink and yellow post-its on the computer screens, nothing seems to take up space – no extravagant clothing racks, no stacks of stilettos a-la designer leftovers at Vogue, as seen on Sex and The City. All in all, it resembled more of a tech company than a fashion one.
RTR was founded in November 2009 by two Harvard Business School students – Jennifer Hyman (Jenn) and Jennifer Fleiss (Jenny), now in their early thirties. Their basic idea: every woman should be able to feel like Cinderella is she so wishes. So the two started up the company that delivers couture gowns and accessories at a fraction of the cost (for example: a Herve Leger dress – originally $1,450 – for $150.)
According to The Wall Street Journal, which conducted an interview with the two entrepreneurs last February, the company has over 800,000 members, has secured $17 million in venture capital and has become cash-flow positive in under a year. With that kind of success, was the company actually defying the economic downturn of recent years? In other words – was the company reaping the benefits, as women who became stingy with fashion simply opted for renting, rather than buying?
Justine Pombo is a 23 year old Stylist and Customer Service representative at RTR and has been for nearly a year. She was a Communication major at the University of Texas, and as she moved to the Big Apple she wished to incorporate her love of fashion with her newly acquired knowledge.
The interview with her has been edited.
Q: Describe the company and what an average day looks like for you.
JP: “It’s a really fun start-up company, a lot of young people work here and it’s a very hands-on experience. [As stylists and customer service reps] we are available by phone and online, either to chat or email, and we answer customer questions: they call in and want to know how the dresses fit, what the material is like, what size they should order – and we help them select dresses. We carry thousands of dresses by hundreds of designers. We also help customers figure out how the website works, because a lot of our customers are first-time users. There are eight full time stylists each shift, along with a manager and a director who manage the team. We are also the eyes and ears of the company, if customers bring issues up over and over we pass them along to our tech team or our service development department.”
Q: How many orders do you receive daily, in estimate?
JP: “It varies. We are kind of a seasonal business, so during the holidays we have a lot of orders coming in, also during wedding season or over the summer. Yesterday for example we had 353 orders. During the holiday season we can ship up to 1,000 orders, and we ship all across the country, excluding Hawaii and Alaska.”
Q: What are some of the challenges you face?
JP: “As we are a start-up company, our website is always changing. Our company is growing very rapidly, so having enough people around to take care of each customer’s needs is an issue, we don’t want them to have to wait on hold. So that’s the main challenge I believe, trying to reach everyone that is interested in our company. I also know that at the beginning designers were a little hesitant to work with us because they thought that women will only rent their dresses from now on and not buy them, but we found that when a woman falls in love with the brand she will go out and buy more of it.”
Q: What are some of the changes that are being implemented right now, or are planned for the future?
JP: “We are hiring a lot of engineers and software people to help with our website as we want to make sure it’s user-friendly. Our system is based on availability – you can’t rent a dress if it is not available on the website, so the calendar is something that takes a lot of work, we need to know which dresses are available and when. As we get bigger every department gets bigger, including marketing and advertising to get the word around. Although we get this a lot, we don’t intend on opening a store anytime, not soon anyway. RTR will remain website only.”
Q: In a Wall Street Journal interview, Jenny Fleiss described that when Jenn Hyman approached her with the idea, it was the end of the recession, a lot of women were thinking about cost-per-wear and fashion awareness was on the rise. How do you feel the company has dealt with the current economy?
JP: “I think we are doing really well. I think people are less likely to buy expensive dresses when they’re cutting back to save money, so renting a dress is a great solution to that – you get to wear an expensive designer but don’t have to flip the bill for it. So it’s affecting our customers in a positive way. Also in an era of social media when people are taking pictures all the time and posting them on Facebook, women feel like they can wear each dress only once, especially really nice gowns. Because I don’t work at the financial department I don’t know for sure, but as far as I can tell from what we hear, we’ve only been growing and gaining more success. As a customer rep I don’t hear too much feedback about pricing being too high, people like renting everything because it is cheaper. We also send a free back-up size and a second style for only $25, so most people are really happy with the pricing.”
Q: Can you tell me who your average customer is? Which parts of the country you ship more to?
JP: “Our customer is a little different than the average Saks or Neiman-Marcus shopper, we have customers as young as 14 and as old as 80. We have young professional women looking for formal attire, girls who need dresses for prom, college girls who rent dresses for get-away weekends, army wives. I don’t have exact geographical information but I would say we ship a lot to New York City, it seems like New York City women attend a lot more events than let’s say the Midwest. We have frequent customers in California, Vegas – we ship a lot to the hotels, DC, Chicago, anything associated with weddings.”
Q: Are Jenn and Jenny present every day? Are they hands-on, or has the company grown too big?
JP: “They are definitely here every day. Jenny works mostly with the operation and tech teams to keep everything going smoothly, and then Jenn does more designer relations, she’s become sort of the face of the company, she’s a big public speaker.”
AP Daybook Piece, Oct 2011
Democrats v. Republicans, a Whole Different Ball Game
The coin was tossed, the Democrats called out in delight – and the first ball was served. It was a rather chilly Sunday afternoon in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, and the clouds forebode rain, but that did not seem to disturb the hundreds of people who walked the streets during the “Third Avenue Festival”. Nor did it seem to bother the honorable Assemblymen and Representatives, fully engaged in a game of ping pong: on the one side, in white polo shirts, slacks and jeans, stood Republican state Sen. Martin J. Golden and Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis; opposite them, hunched over the green table in oh-so-appropriate black tees, were Democratic Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny and City Councilman Vincent J. Gentile. It was on.
Among the dozens spectators gathered around the table was Cindy Louney, a petite, agile woman in her 60s, with warm eyes and an even warmer smile. Louney, an attorney from Staten Island, found a strategic spot – close enough to the players to name the moves and shout out the score, but not too close for comfort. She knew all of the players, as she is part of the “No Labels” organization (www.nolabels.org) encouraging people to “work together, communicate and socialize, so that the country can move forward.” Despite the obvious differences between the opposing players, she believes breaching the gap through sports is invaluable. Louney has been a part of numerous clubs in the past, all of which are either bipartisan or nonpartisan. “Our country is stalling right now,” she said, “and I believe many things in life can be taken care of if we only try to meet in the middle. When we do it through sports or music or art it’s a good, healthy thing. People need to talk to each other, and what I like about events like this is that nobody is demonizing, nobody is making nasty comments.”
Although the republicans won the first round, spirits were high and handshakes were noted on both sides. Marc Hibsher of the Brooklyn Eagle was also in the audience, camera in hand. An Executive Sales Manager at the newspaper, he said he is watching the game “for both personal and professional reasons.” Hibsher, a rather large man in his 50s, came to observe not only the players but also people who were there to watch. “I am on neither side, I am bipartisan,” explained Hibsher. “I enjoy seeing the politicians engage in something that is not stressful; I enjoy seeing them have a little fun. I also enjoy the crowd watching them in a different atmosphere that is not hectic. Nobody is protesting anything, this is just a laid back, good day for everyone, they are all coming together and I take appreciation from that.”
Senator Golden, beaming in victory, worked the crowd. The author of over 75 laws after being elected to represent Brooklyn’s 22nd Senate District in 2002, Sen. Golden seemed to enjoy himself and take pride in the same views: politics may be hard work, but that day was pure entertainment. “Well, we kicked the Democrats’ butts back in August at tug-of-war, and now we did it again!” he exclaimed. “But this is just about showing the community a good time. We are all bipartisan people, working here together”.
Though true, right before he moved on to the next eager constituent, Sen. Golden let out a little secret. “This table was in my office for two days before it was brought out here. So in between, I practiced in my office a little bit.” It’s all good fun – but when you are in politics, you do you whatever it takes to win.
Halloween, Greenwich Village Parade; Oct 2011
Not to Rain on Their Parade
When Michael Jackson danced by, people were screaming the loudest. Of course it wasn’t MJ in the flesh, though some may confuse Halloween with the resurrection of the dead (and there sure were a hefty number of zombies around.) But even when it wasn’t about the King of Pop or the flash mob that followed him to the sounds of “Thriller,” the crowd at the 39th annual New York’s Village Halloween Parade was going wild. That is, when they could see something.
But first, rewind. A stroll taken at noon along the expected route of the parade, that is – 6th Avenue between Spring St and 16th St, showed little signs of what’s to come. Road blocks were up, separating the sidewalk from the road (to avoid parked cars on the course) and police officers were present at the corner of every other street. A young saleswoman from Ricky’s costume shop between 11 and 12 St, who would not give out her name, said they are closing at 6pm as the crowd is supposed to be overwhelming and might prove too much for the store.
Yet it was still Halloween day, so even six hours before “The Greatest Event on Earth,” as named by Festivals International for October 31 (according to the official website,) pedestrians were walking the streets in costumes. A cotton candy girl in bright blues and purples pranced by, and a cat woman, a group of tween girls dressed as characters from Alice in Wonderland, Robin (Batman’s trusty sidekick,) a witch (adorned with strings of dollar bills) and a ghoul were spotted, to name a few.
Outside Papaya Dog on 6th Ave stood Adam Korn, 21, of Buffalo, New York. He moved to the city over the summer to do his Masters in international affairs at NYU and now lives only a few steps away from the famed hot dog stand. To him, Halloween used to be about candy but “parades are for people who are too old to trick or treat,” he said. He planned to watch the parade with his friends that night and was pretty excited about it. “We never had this type of community event [in Buffalo] and I think people undervalue these things,” he added. “They bring families together.”
By New York Public Library stood Jon Cantor, 23, originally from Nassau County, a PhD student of public policy at NYU. He too lives in the neighborhood, but this will be his first time observing the parade. He decided not to dress up. “I am not creative enough,” he said, “I’ve heard people go all out with costumes.” He did have his concerns, however, as cops on the West 4 Subway Station handed out pamphlets that morning, warning passersby of pick pocketing. In his opinion, the parade is good for the area as it can stimulate the economy. “I’m also just excited for tonight. I just saw a dog on the street with bat wings on it,” he described. “I can’t wait.”
This much anticipated carnival began in 1974, as “Ralph Lee, a mask maker and theater director, with the help of the Theater for the New York City, convinced 150 friends and acquaintances to march through the streets of Greenwich Village wearing his masks and carrying his giant puppets.” Lee thus began a tradition “that would quickly assume a life of its own, growing on a scale beyond anyone’s expectation”. In 1982 masses of people already crowded the streets, so “to cope with the logistics of large crowds, changes were made … barricades were introduced to separate spectators from participants, and notices were posed by the traffic department banning cars from parking along the parade’s route” (as present today.) Lee remained in charge as organizer until 1985, the same year the parade switched from zigzagging and winding along small streets in the heart of The Village to 6th Avenue.
In 1987, Greenwich Village property owners tried to put an end to it, complaining about “the dangers posed by the sudden descent of so many people into an historic neighborhood.” Needless to say, they did not succeed in their attempts. In the years since then, Jeanne Fleming – titled the Artistic and Producing Director of the night – has taken over. Nowadays, the parade prides itself in attracting participants by the thousands and nearly two million spectators each year.
Somewhat accordingly, by 7:30pm there seemed to be more spectators than actual participants in the parade. The streets proved difficult to walk through, and the crowd was just warming up. The sea of people did part for male model Tyson Beckford, who crossed it with ease and a smile, followed by his entourage. Merely two minutes after the “oohing” and the “ahhing,” someone called out to his friend that he had spotted singer Nicki Minaj. Despite the fact the wigged phenom was nowhere to be seen, the masses were beside themselves.
Amidst them stood Nintendo-characters Mario and Luigi, or Andrew Shannon (23) and Lindsey Kerth (22), accordingly. The two are grad students at Columbia, both studying physical therapy. “This is our first parade”, said Kerth, “but we can’t see anything.” The two tried to work their way in, unsuccessfully, but even as is they were enjoying themselves. Shannon, who was drinking beer out of a plastic bag, explained that “the police are more concerned about crowd control than reinforcing public drinking.”
But not everyone seemed to be enjoying the cramped streets. An older man, plastic bag in hand, shouted “it’s a sidewalk! Walk!” as he shoved people out of his way. The inability to actually see what goes on beyond the barricades was also a reoccurring theme. “This is insanity, so many people,” said one young woman to her friend. One batgirl climbed up on a payphone booth to catch a better view, a young boy climbed up a tree and an officer yelled for him to get down. Ironically enough, the theme this year was “I of the Beholder,” and giant balloons shaped like eyeballs floated above.
Five friends who flew in from Spain a few days prior to the parade were also in the crowd. Jose Sala, 28, a tap dancer from Barcelona, came to take classes on Broadway. He was wearing a cape, and of his little gang – consisting of the vigilante character from “Vendetta” (Crispin,) a young man with an Avatar mask (Xavier) and two friends who did not dress up (Alejandro and Jose,) he was the only one who spoke coherent English. He explained this is not their first time in the city but it is the first time they are attending this event. They found it on Google and bought the costumes that same morning. “It is nice, it is good,” said Sala of his experience, “but there are a lot of people and we can’t see anything.”
As cameras were clicking in the front row, a football float passed by. The shutterbugs in the audience were not only taking pictures of the participants but of each other, as well. “My son will love your costume!” one man called out to another, dressed as an orange superhero, before taking his photo. A man dressed as a caveman on stilts passed out candy to the children leaning against the roadblocks.
Joe’s Pizza on Carmine St was bustling. So much so that it was difficult to get to the counter. Outside the ice cream parlor next door stood two men in US Army costumes, sunglasses on, and drank from a brown paper bag. “I got my uniform from a friend,” said Michael Billy, 29, a lawyer, who then pointed to his friend, Jose Garcia, 34, a male nurse. “He got his from the salvation army”. For Billy, who has been living in the Bronx for nearly 20 years, this was the first time attending the parade. For Garcia this was the fourth. “The weather is great, people are having fun,” said Billy, who was soon distracted by a woman dressed up as Siri – the new iPhone 4S software.
By 10:30pm sanitation vehicles were combing Avenue of the Americas. The barricades were still up but the crowd had thinned. Steven Crane, the owner of Po – a quaint little restaurant on 31 Cornelia St, stood outside his place and grinned. Half of the reservations for the night cancelled as they could not cross the street to get there, but he had so many walk-ins that it evened out. “It’s like this every year on Halloween,” he noted. Onegin, located on 6th Avenue between Waverly Place and 8 St, opened only a week ago. Although strategically located, the new restaurant did not have to fend off customers. “We had more bar traffic,” explained Jacob Ryvkin, the general manager. “But this is a Russian restaurant so it’s different, it takes people time to adjust.”
It wasn’t until 9 St that the cops let everyone cross the street from one side to the other, officially sealing the night. People may have only caught a glimpse of the extravaganza, and not all restaurants in the vicinity reaped the benefits, but the night had its magic. Or at the very least, it brought the community together, for one night of celebration.
 Kugelmass, Jack. Masked Culture: The Greenwich Village Halloween Parade. Columbia University Press, 1994