By Terry Trucco
Sometimes a hotel just gets lucky. For years Fashion Week unfurled in big white tents in Bryant Park across the street from the Bryant Park Hotel. But in 2010, the big twice-yearly show moved to a sleek gray cube planted in Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park. And just like that, luck winked at the Empire Hotel, so close you can scamper from hotel to cube in stilettos.
This year the Empire went all out to celebrate Fashion Week, February 9th to 15th. We stopped by to see what you can do without checking in or scoring an invitation to a private party.
Since its renovation in 2007, the lobby feels like a nightclub even during the day. Velvet sofas, animal print pillows and a bold, black-and-white stone floor reminiscent of a Venetian ballroom dress a sprawling, darkly lighted room with a moody bar, generous seating and a curvaceous staircase designed to showcase anyone who wants to make an entrance. Typical of early 20th-century buildings – the Empire was built in 1915 — the mezzanine, studded with more velvet sofas, overlooks the lobby.
It could have been a convention. Younger, hipper and a lot better dressed than a gathering of cardiologists or insurance agents, people milled about chatting in small groups, talking into smartphones, poring over notebooks and downing bottled Fuze drinks handed out after a fashion show in a ballroom.
Under the staircase we spotted an artist creating a charcoal rendering of a stylish woman in a short black dress. A senior at Pratt Institute, Ryan Jones was one of four students recruited by the school at the hotel’s request to draw free portraits of Fashion Week guests wishing to sit for one. It was his fifth portrait of the day.
A different artist shows up daily from 11 am to 5 pm, each with a specialty, be it digital art, markers and color or, in Jones’ case, traditional fine art drawings – a departure for him. “I usually do more satirical stuff,” he said.
We headed to the bar, where a menu of $15 Fashion Week cocktails features choices like Don’t Feed the Models (Crop Cucumber Vodka, lime juice, cucumber juice, mint) and Thanks, It’s Vintage (Woodford Reserve Bourbon, sweet vermouth, pomegranate molasses, bourbon-soaked apple slices, cherry bitters).
The drinks looked pretty, but every seat was taken so we stepped outside. A hotel storefront
had been transformed into Fit in Fashion, a pop-up shop for vendors and press crammed with an array of small businesses that change daily.
Jamie Turquie, a social worker turned fashion designer, sported a black sweater over a white blouse that was actually a faux blouse, ie a collar. Her company CeCe Toppings creates trompe l’oeil collars in a variety of styles and fabrics priced from $40. “The weight of your sweater holds it in place,” she said.
We also got a preview of Chaise 23, a new Manhattan fitness club offering classes that use a special chair and bungee cords for a variety of Pilate-inspired stretches, strength builders and cardio workouts. It looked fun — like a lot on view this week at the Empire.