The night that Sarah Jessica Parker stepped on my foot and the world changed

Correction appended: Where I say “Kenneth Cole,” I mean Marc Jacobs. Memory fails ten years on. Thanks to Kelly Crow herself for fact checking me.

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Ten years ago today, September 10, 2001, my friend Kelly Crow had invited me to be her plus one at the Kenneth Cole fashion show. Kelly was working as a contract writer for the New York Times then, and she was covering the event for the now-defunct City section that ran on Sundays. She probably wasn’t supposed to be covering the fashion, per se. It was more of a scene piece. Anyway, I wasn’t supposed to be writing anything at all. I was working as the web editor for Architectural Record magazine, and there were never any big architecture stories, right?

I think we met somewhere on West Street, the broad boulevard that runs down the west side of Manhattan, sometimes living up to the sort of urban grandeur that the phrase “broad boulevard” evokes, and sometimes just existing as an exhaust-choked multi-lane highway dividing nice parts of the city from piers owned by (and smelling like) the sanitation department. That night, though, we were going to be sitting in a tent erected on one of the flat piers out in the Hudson. It was, like so many of these outdoor events, temporary elegance. I probably walked over from the A/C/E subway lines, but many of the guests came in black cars with drivers. Ten years later, I still don’t have a driver.

Cole was debuting his fragrance for women that night. Kelly got a gift bag with samples. I remember low pools in the entrance area with flowers floating in them. I want to say they were jasmine, because I remember them being white. But I also remember them floating, so maybe they were lotus. Whichever they were, that’s what the perfume smelled like. The walls of the entrance area were just white waterproof canvas or vinyl or whatever those shiny white tents are made of. There were cameras, and celebrities. Sarah Jessica Parker put the heel of one of her (Manolo Blahnik?) shoes on top of whatever I was wearing, and she turned to look up at me. “Oh my god, I’m so sorry,” she said. “Did I hurt you?” She didn’t, of course. She isn’t exactly a large woman.

Kelly and I were ushered to our seats, near the top of the long rows of benches on either side of the runway. We sat there. Forever. The show started nowhere close to on time. For a while, we watched the crowd—fashion editors, beautiful people, beautiful young people (these were Kenneth Cole’s employees), Donald Trump. Trump was, I think, on our side of the runway, but he’s easy to identify from above and behind. We probably sat for 45 minutes on the uncomfortable benches, while only two songs alternated on the loudspeakers: “2000 Light Years from Home,” by the Rolling Stones; and either “Psyché Rock” by Pierre Henry and  Michel Colombier, or the more familiar song that it was reworked into, and which you may know as the theme from “Futurama.” I think it was the Futurama theme version, but ten years later, I can’t be sure. Either way I heard each of those songs probably ten times that night.

I don’t remember the fashion show. There were dresses. They were probably quite pretty. Beats me.

After the show was over, the back wall of the runway opened up, as if by magic, and the crowd filtered down to runway level, and then out onto the end of the pier, which was tentless, and set up as a cocktail reception, with Moby DJing. As we shuffled out there, Kelly took the opportunity to interview Monica Lewinsky, who I think was about to introduce a line of handbags.

We must have had a drink or an hors d’oeuvre or two, but I don’t think we stayed too late. I’m not sure what Kelly was going to be doing the next morning, but she had to get home to Brooklyn. I was going to take the train back to the Upper West Side, where I lived in a little studio on the block that now houses the first indoor Shake Shack. I could sleep in a little bit the next morning, since Architectural Record was having its sales meeting downtown at the offices of our sister company, Standard & Poor’s. I think I was supposed to show up there at 11, so I wouldn’t have to leave the apartment until after 10.

As it turned out, Kelly never got a chance to write her story about the Kenneth Cole show. I wonder if she still has her notes from that night. But there was other news that blotted out the smell of jasmine or lotus the next morning, and made fashion seem so suddenly frivolous. As it happened, it was, in a small way, architecture news, news that would lead Architectural Record’s team, of which I was proud to be a part, to a National Magazine Award. I made a brief part of my career interviewing architects of memorials.

But we didn’t know any of that on the evening of September 10. Kelly and I, before we left the pier, wandered out to the very far end of it, which was open to the clear, cool, black sky, and we looked downriver and then panned our heads upward at the two square towers, glimmering between the vertical columns that lined their solid bulk, with the office lights of late-night traders, patrons, of the bar at Windows on the World, and of course, the blinking red of their aircraft warning lights.

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