I wrote this for one of my first graduate assignments at NYU. It was supposed to be a Fashion Week story, but I failed to get access to the event. Looking back, the story is equal parts cringe-worthy and pride-inducing.
I’m a bit embarrassed about a phrase like “unshakable aura of a sleepless night” but surprisingly proud of “Your correspondent was relieved to learn that Butler is an advertising and marketing student at FIT that also just happens to be a savvy street camper.” I might’ve been onto something with the whole “reality TV-obsessed” “VICE News” correlation, though I certainly failed to articulate the connection.
It seems I possessed a certain confidence and naivete, which I fear was bludgeoned out of me by the mysterious forces of academia. Oh well. I hope that some distance from my upper-level education will restore my sense of mischief.
On the morning of Sept. 9, your correspondent was walking through SoHo smoking the last of his American Spirits, looking for a quiet place to drink coffee and generally organize his thoughts for the day. That’s when he stumbled upon Brian Lai, a 28-year-old man with the unshakable aura of a sleepless night, standing at the front of a very long line.
The line started at the entrance of the Alexander Wang flagship store on Grand Street, stretched back several storefronts toward the end of the block, and contained approx. 140 people. The first 100 would receive an invitation to #WangFest, the ultra-exclusive AW fashion show and after-party that night in Bushwick. Lai, who looked a bit disheveled behind matte black Yves Saint Laurent sunglasses, had been there since 6:30pm the night before.
“I didn’t sleep at all. I was just like standing and sitting over here,” said Lai as he pointed to a ledge below one of the store’s broad windowsills. “I’ve never done this before, so I wasn’t prepared like the other people.” He had come straight from work the night before and didn’t have time to grab fresh clothing or even a blanket.
One of those “well-prepared” people was Jenna Butler. From a distance, it looked like the 23-year-old was just a homeless person splayed across the pavement, with three multi-colored blankets, a rug, and a miniature hamburger-print pillow. Your correspondent was relieved to learn that Butler is an advertising and marketing student at FIT that also just happens to be a savvy street camper.
“I was thinking of asking for change at a couple points in the night, and drunk guys kept coming up to us,” said Butler, still cuddled up in her makeshift bed on the sidewalk. “You know, it wasn’t a bad night. It was actually kind of fun.” She also mentioned that alcohol worked as a nice sedative, “I did kind of pass out. You know what I mean? It just made it easier.”
There was something grossly American about this scene, watching a few sleep-deprived people simulate homelessness outside of such a glamorous and expensively lit store, undoubtedly cut from our bogus, reality TV-obsessed, culture. That’s why it wasn’t much of a surprise when VICE News arrived.
Their posse consisted of a whip-smart female reporter with a Midwestern accent and strawberry blonde hair, flanked by a skinny dude shouldering a big cumbersome camera, and a less-skinny dude hoisting one of those long feathery boom mics. When it was discovered that some people had cut into the middle of the impossibly long line, all hell broke loose and VICE was right in on the action.
Matthew Nguyen, 18, watched it unfold from his spot near the front of the queue, “It’s definitely barbaric. They’re clapping and hollering and it just seems really unnecessary.” Nguyen noted that the arrival of camera crews may have exacerbated the problem, causing otherwise friendly people to act uncivil, “It was definitely quiet and nobody cared about the cutting itself, but when they were asked (about the line cutting) and the big ass cameras came out, they got extra loud seeking that attention.”
And Nguyen might have been right. When VICE began filming the blob-like mass of people in the middle part of the line, they started calling for vigilante justice against the opportunistic and sharp-elbowed budgers. The front of the line was still tranquil, however, and its occupants looked down the line with a combination of amusement and casual indifference. But the people at the back of the line were decidedly less chipper.
Heather Nitti, 22, had arrived at 7:30am (hardly the dedication necessary to earn an exclusive ticket to see #WangFest) and looked defeated and annoyed. She sat with her head in her palm, half to block the sun from her face, but mostly to keep her entire body from slinking to the concrete in a state of existential despair. The heat felt oppressive back here, and Nitti was definitely not in the top 100. So why was she still waiting?
“There’s an off chance that it’s 21 and over, and there’s lots of younger kids here,” said Nitti who studied fashion merchandising at LIM College. There was still hope.
Cut to Isaiah Barnes, an industrious little 18-year-old wearing a cozy black-zip up with white stripes running down the shoulders to the cuffs (he bought this particular piece at Forever 21, but suggested trying Topman, Zara, or H&M if interested in something similar). The Fordham freshman was standing near the front of the line when he realized that he was too young to attend the “big, outlandish” AW after party. All of his efforts – sleeping outside, freezing in a lawn chair – might have been for naught.
“Every model you can think of and every celebrity that has over 30 000 followers is going to be there. Kim Kardashian. Gigi Hadid. I know there’s nothing like a Wang party,” said Barnes. In other words, he wasn’t going to miss it.
Being the young, creative (and slightly desperate) individual that he was (and probably still is), he asked your correspondent if he would be willing to take his spot in line, grab the wristbands, then slip them off later so he could attend the show. Notwithstanding several logistical issues – being ID’d, signing in, cutting off the wristband without totally destroying it – your correspondent agreed to take part in this elaborate little ruse, mostly out of boredom and curiosity. The plan imploded, somewhat expectedly, when his friend panicked at the last moment, but Barnes was still able to get a wristband for the fashion show. They said they would figure out how to get into the after-party later.