The ornery, enduring truth about New York City is that it’s all always right here — the talent, the beauty, the energy, the vitality, the smarts, the grit and the peerless cinematic backdrop of what the director Milos Forman once called “the only city which in reality looks better than on the postcards.” All that’s needed to bring it together is a focus and a frame.
And for several hours on Monday evening Vogue World provided those elements in the form of a multiplatform extravaganza cast with A-list attendees like Kanye West and Jared Leto, Ons Jabeur and Casper Ruud, Ansel Elgort and Russell Westbrook; 200 models from across every era; stunt cyclists, a college drill team, a dance troupe; one R&B legend, a hip-hop superstar and Serena Williams, the undisputed GOAT.
“We wanted it to reflect the heart of the city and of a great fashion capital,” Anna Wintour, the global chief content officer for Condé Nast, said Monday evening of a singular event whose commercial ambitions were clearly much larger than that. (For a start, Vogue World flipped a New York bird at those who think the time may have come for the tennis-obsessed Ms. Wintour to relinquish her pursuit of global domination and focus instead on her cross-court forehand.)
The reality is the future of fashion is as entertainment. Few recognize this more clearly than the woman presiding over a formerly mighty print product and a now-wobbly publishing empire. There can be little doubt that Ms. Wintour is aware of the lessons laid down by Mark McCormack, the lawyer and agent who effectively invented sports marketing with the founding of IMG. Mr. McCormack was early to spot the potential of sports as an image language, universal in appeal and requiring little translation.
Fashion, for obvious reasons, is the next frontier, and, if three years of pandemic doldrums have proven anything, it is how powerful pent-up consumer appetite is for the sort of gorgeous content produced at events that stayed rarefied for too long.
Forget the old format of catwalk parades lasting eight minutes at most and staged for a sniffy, largely self-anointed elite. Fashion shows are theater, after all. Why not amp up production values, sell tickets, give consumers a chance to snap up what they see right off the runway immediately, livestream the whole shebang, bring the world under the tent?
As at Disneyland, tiered Vogue World packages were available to provide various levels of swag and access. Third-row ticket holders got “gifts” handpicked by Vogue editors, unlimited quantities of the vintage Vogue editions on display at branded newsstands and a chance to nosh on snacks from designer-sponsored food trucks. Vogue editors themselves were part of a costly V.I.P. level that promised “access.’’
For Rachel Petraglia, 26, and Eli Sanon, 29, two tech professionals in Los Angeles, the $750 they each spent was a bargain. “It was a chance to be close to this world we’re both obsessed with,” said Ms. Petraglia, who, like most attendees, was dressed to the nines. (Mainly thrifted Fear of God and Gucci.)
What they got for their money besides proximity to fashion greatness was some bang-up theater, the kind you’d have to be pretty jaded not to be wowed by and that it would tough to imagine another city being able to deliver. (Well, OK, there was the 2021 Gucci show that shut down Hollywood Boulevard.)
The Vogue World stage was West 13th Street, a cobbled stretch of old New York that few under boomer age remember anymore as a place where cross-dressing prostitutes and clanking leather daddies once picked their way around animal blood and offal.
Now of course the meatpacking district is a luxury goods rialto. Birkin bags long ago replaced carcasses slung from hooks. Yet the squat brick buildings remain to flank a broad street designed so as to accommodate refrigerated meat trucks. And there was the moody twilit sky you can almost count on New York producing whenever it’s cast to play itself.
This was a movie for which the production powerhouse Bureau Betak pulled out the stops, opening it with a regal Serena Williams processing the length of 13th Street in a floor-length silver gown and flowing cape and attended by a retinue of young female pages dressed in tennis whites.
What followed, once she had taken her seat in the front row beside Ms. Wintour, seemed in certain ways like a greatest hits compilation of scenes from New York City life. It was not just that there were stunt bike riders pulling wheelies just like daredevil teenagers do all the time in the middle of Madison Avenue traffic. It was not that beats were so irresistible that even Ms. Wintour was seen head bobbing.
Neither is it that designer-branded trucks would dispense soft-serve ice cream (Ralph Lauren); offer tins of spiced chocolate cookies (Gucci Osteria); sew customized souvenir patches; or even build messy pastrami sandwiches on rye (Michael Kors.) And it was not that some attendees could briefly mingle afterward with stars like Mr. Leto. Surely it was not the fashions themselves, which seemed somehow beside the point.
What made the evening “joyous,” as David Lauren, the chief innovation officer at Ralph Lauren, called it, was the show’s diversity — of race, sexuality, gender, ethnicity and physical presentation. Vogue’s record on inclusion, as so many know, is dismal. It took the Black Lives Matter movement for Ms. Wintour to acknowledge publicly the damage inflicted by decades of defining beauty and fashion in ways that were narrow and Eurocentric.
Whether, as some suggested in a New York Times article published in 2020, after Ms. Wintour issued an apology for her editorial shortcomings, the shift of editorial tone was a “calculated play by an executive known for her ability to gauge the public mood” may be moot by now. Vogue World was beautiful and joyous for one reason. It looked like the real world outside the stanchions — no tickets required. Move with it or condemn yourself to irrelevance. Any New Yorker can tell you that’s the best way to stay in the game.