Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Met Fête Cloaks me in Fashion Nostalgia

I was so miserable on Monday night.

I sat watching all the tweets that my fashion tweeps were twittering about – Anna Wintour’s 2011 Met Gala – formerly known as the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Gala Benefit.

WWD tweeted that Blake Lively, Salma Hayek, Kate Hudson and Zoe Saldana attended the event at the Met.

Michael Kors twittered that he was celebrating the genius of Alexander McQueen.

The Los Angeles Times reported, “This year’s exhibit celebrates the life and work of Alexander McQueen…who took his own life in February 2010.”

The Met Gala is all about the who’s who of fashion, entertainment and the world of art:  Madonna, Sarah Jessica Parker, Gwyneth Paltrow and Renee Zellweger wowed in all the colors of the rainbow.

If I could, I would have loved to have been there soaking up that energy and excitement; wearing my own gorgeous gown and exuding a certain élan.  However, the reality was that I was at home donning a pair of sweats – although they were Juicy Couture, does that count for any style points? 

But it wasn’t all a sad state for me. It also brought back some very fun memories of when I did a stint in the fashion world.

In 1989, when I was 19 and in my second year of college – much to my mother’s chagrin – I quit school and moved to New York City.  A total retail slut in my youth, I had landed a job working at one of Betsey Johnson’s boutiques, located on Columbus Ave. and West 72nd Street.  Initially, I was still going to University and commuting into the city to work. But that got real old, real fast!

I had always wanted a career in fashion, so I packed my bags and was on my way to the big apple without looking back.

My co-worker already had a sub-let, but was losing her roommate, so it was the perfect fit.  I moved into the old brownstone on Bethune Street in the West Village – just off West 12th – and one block from the Westside Highway.  It was an absolute picturesque street – complete with geraniums in the flower boxes – and Dirty Dancing’s Jennifer Gray was our neighbor who lived upstairs.

Even though it was just retail sales, I loved my job working at Betsey Johnson.

Shop Girls: Tracy (L) and Ariana
I had barely graduated from high school and was enthralled with living in New York City.  Our apartment and work were almost half the distance of Manhattan and it took us just about an hour to ride two subways to get to the Upper Westside to work, but we didn’t care – we were living our dream.

I loved the eccentric designer that I worked for and the eclectic group of women that I worked with in the shop.  The other associates and I became fast friends and were like a small family. We spent a lot of our free time – outside of work – together as well.  Mostly drinking margaritas at our favorite Mexican restaurant, but one time a French dignitary came into the boutique and invited a few of us to a gala at the French embassy. We arrived in all our BJ finest -- to sip champagne and eat canapes -- with nary a token for the subway ride home.  True Cinderellas.

We had a lot of crazy times in the boutique as well.  Once, we had a man – who was a transvestite – come in and shop for clothes.  He would have been better served at Frank’s Big and Tall.  I try to be accepting and tolerant of the differences in all human beings; however, the image of that giant hairy guy in his bra and girdle -- who had to be at least 6 foot and possibly 250 pounds – trying on a boucle skirt and sweater outfit – still haunts me. 

Everything about working at the Columbus Avenue shop was creative and hip -- from the clothes to the hot "Betsey" pink walls with 70s style murals to the women.

I was just a shop girl, but my position came with some perks.  We could only wear Betsey Johnson designs so a severe discount and a clothing allowance helped us to wear BJ from head to toe.  Also, we worked with a lot of stylists and I personally helped dress the members of the band,C&C Music Factory for a music video;  actors from All My Children and we even helped pick out some outfits for the “original” 90210.

Also, I had a lot of celebrity sightings: Michelle Pfeiffer, Pamela Anderson, Iman, Tori Spelling and Shannon Dougherty just to name a few.

I know, I am sooo dating myself but this stuff was a big deal in 1989.
But the big highlight of my short career with Betsey Johnson was actually being a part of a fashion show at Bryant Park.  Basically, we were just runners and pages, but we did get to be in the tent and actually watch the show. 

It was a magical experience:  The music thumping so hard it felt like my heart beating in my chest, the models clomping down the runway and at the end Betsey's signature cartwheel to signify the closure of the show.

After another year of living in New York, the magic started to disappate just a bit.  In the end, I realized that I wasn't destined to "just" be a shop girl. 

To my mother's great happiness, I returned to college and my journalism studies.  Today, I can live vicariously through my memories of NYC and happily be a fashion vouyer -- and self-proclamied fashionista -- from the comfort of my own home in Los Angeles.

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