David Tang’s Big Publicity Trick Pits Sleeksters Against the Cops
By Frank DiGiacomo. The New York Observer, November 30, 1997

David Tang did not need the bullhorn that he carried into the confusion on Madison Avenue. His yellow silk pants were loud enough to command the attention of the thinning crowd that had remained behind blue police barricades long after the police had closed down the Nov. 21 opening night of Mr. Tang’s new store, Shanghai Tang.

“David!” exclaimed one woman in a manner that suggested she and Mr. Tang had bumped into each other in a crowded restaurant. Before a fashion grandee like Mr. Tang, the Hong Kong-famous style magnate, it was important not to seem desperate, but the situation was indeed dire. Just 20 minutes earlier, as confusion reigned, the scene resembled some weird international incident as, every so often, a cashmere-coated invitee scrambled under one of the barricades and made a mad dash for the doors of the store (Must … reach … a publicist!) as cops and security guards lunged to halt their progress. But Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s police force had quickly gained control of the situation, and the thwarted revelers could do little but brandish their lapel pins and wave their invitations as Mr. Tang clutched his bullhorn and the cops kept shouting again and again: “The store is closed. Nobody is getting in. Please come back tomorrow.”

New York has always been about attaining the unattainable, and that includes working one’s way behind the most unyielding velvet ropes. But in recent weeks, the city’s nightlifers have been pushing and shoving, making asses of themselves to get into the lowest of all social events: store openings.

“Come back tomorrow”: What was the point in that ? This throng of alleged V.I.P.’s had no interest in visiting Mr. Tang’s store in broad daylight, did not want to come back tomorrow when any old German tourist was invited to fondle the $800 Mein Lap jackets and the $16 Mao coffee mugs. They wanted entree now, so they could join Sarah Ferguson, her mother Susan Barrantes, British journalist David Frost, cross-dressing comedian Barry Humphreys, fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger and a host of other people who looked like extras in a Peter Greenaway film and who at that moment were guzzling Veuve-Clicquot, snarfing roasted almonds and smugly staring out at them.

Ultimately, these invitees (The Transom among them, though we have a professional excuse) are falling for one of the oldest tricks in the P.R. manual: Invite two to three times the number of people that a boutique can hold, and suddenly the melee outside makes a haberdashery look like Studio 54 for a night.

Inside Shanghai Tang, though, the only decadence that was being peddled was an outer-borough version: expensive clothes displayed in luxurious, well-lit surroundings. Perhaps it is only logical that in the new, more accessible New York-the New York with an 8,000 Dow Jones industrial average and no dark, edgy spaces-store openings can lead to pandemonium.

A man with the self-confidence to wear yellow pants is not easily embarrassed, and Mr. Tang’s appearance outside his store around 7:15 P.M. helped make the evening even more of a clublike sadomasochistic experience. Actually, it wasn’t just the pants. Mr. Tang looked like he’d been outfitted by the costume designer for What’s New, Pussycat? He wore black velvet slippers with crests on them and a slouchy black velvet Mao jacket. His bullhorn was a mod white. He blamed the fuzz for the crowd control taking place outside his store. “I’m sorry, it is the police,” he said, unamplified, to the angry queue. He did not sound apologetic. Perhaps it was his overwrought English accent.

Inside, he had been using his bullhorn to tell people who had somehow made it past the front door to “please leave” if they’d been there more than 25 minutes. Now, outside, Mr. Tang held out little hope that those fuming out in the rain would gain access on this night. “I’ll be here in the morning,” he told one person.

The police had decided to shut Mr. Tang’s event down, but the cops and security guards trying to keep order on the street explained that it was only because between 1,500 and 2,000 people had been invited by Loving & Weintraub, the publicity firm handling the event, to a space that holds only about 800. (An executive of the firm denied this, saying that the invitations, which came in elaborate boxes that held a mod green silk frame, were too expensive to send out in such numbers.)

The Transom asked Mr. Tang about this, and as he surveyed the crowd, he quickly spun it to his favor, explaining that most parties have a 60 percent to 70 percent R.S.V.P. rate. Mr. Tang said that his R.S.V.P. rate was more like 98 percent.

The evening had begun with some sort of feng shui ritual dance that involved men in lion costumes. The intent was to bring good luck to Mr. Tang’s new store, which is directly across Madison Avenue from the now-in-Chapter 11 Barneys. (Mr. Tang has said that if fellow fashion mogul Dickson Poon succeeds in taking over Barneys, their neck of the woods will be called the “Poon-Tang Corner.”)

Instead, the spectacle attracted scores of uninvited guests and eventually one police emergency services vehicle, two squad cars and three all-terrain vehicles. Still, Mr. Tang maintained that he did not doubt the powers of feng shui. “This is minor,” he said. “There were no altercations.”

Aaah, but there were a lot of unhappy people. Many were still standing behind the barricades. When The Transom mentioned this, Mr. Tang’s eyeglasses magnified the steely look in his eyes. “Well, the world is full of unhappy occurrences,” he said.

Indeed, another one had occurred just a few blocks away on Nov. 5, when Bulgari decided to fete its newly renovated store with a disco party. And what better way to illustrate where the jeweler falls on the taste scale than to have Donald Trump, his ex-wife Ivana Trump, “actress” Elizabeth Berkley and model Marcus Schenkenberg moving through a crowd that had the density and moisture content of a mosh pit. Outside, even in the November air, a United Nations of unfortunates were still sweating as they clamored to get in. (One man stuck at the back of the herd turned aggressively jingoistic as he began repeating over and over to the people in his way: “Do you have a green card? Do you have a green card?”) Again, the excuse was used: The crowd inside was at capacity. Yet, a small army of door people and security guys who resembled an understudy cast to The Usual Suspects continued letting people like lawyer Richard Golub inside.

Ilaria Alber, a publicist at Nike Communications Inc., the firm that organized the Bulgari event, said that the turnout far exceeded her firm’s expectations. “We had a list, but at some point the list became sort of irrelevant because it was so overcrowded.”

The Bulgari event occurred during fashion week and, as Ms. Alber said, those who run with the fashion crowd “are used to chaos. They kind of seek it out.” She also added that “Nothing drives people more than what everybody else is doing.… It’s just like how everybody wants to go to Balthazar.”

Ms. Alber added that Nike didn’t overcrowd Bulgari on purpose, but she said, “Making something challenging … definitely adds to the intrigue or the cachet of an event.” That and, of course, Veronica Bulgari getting down on the dance floor.

Not long after Mr. Tang re-entered his store, the police began to allow those diehard invitees who had been shivering behind the barricades into the store. By then, Ms. Ferguson and most of the boldfaceable names had already left. Still, the pushing and shoving resumed. A wan-looking Nick Rhodes, the keyboardist for Duran Duran, stood in the crowd, looking positively knackered as members of his entourage told him they could wait no longer. The rain began to fall harder. “It’s just a store!” cried William Taubman, son of Sotheby’s owner Alfred Taubman, as he was jostled from all sides. But in the line he remained. He was just minutes away from getting inside.

Fired by Fred

Ex- Daily News editors are not the only souls who identify with Pete Hamill’s unhappy departure from the tabloid.

On Nov. 10, at an event celebrating the publication of Our Town: Images and Stories From the Museum of the City of New York held at the museum, Mr. Hamill was chatting with a group of people, including the novelist Louis Auchincloss, when he was approached by a vivacious blonde who introduced herself as Cynthia Drasner, wife of the Daily News ’ stickball-playing chief executive Fred Drasner. According to sources who overheard the conversation, Ms. Drasner told Mr. Hamill, “He fired me, too,” an apparent reference to her recent separation from Mr. Drasner. One witness said that Mr. Hamill, who resigned from the News under pressure on Sept. 4, broke out laughing and replied: “I hope you did better than I did.”

Contacted by phone, Ms. Drasner confirmed that she introduced herself to Mr. Hamill at the party and held a brief conversation with him, but she insisted that those who heard her make the remark “must be mistaken.”

“I just wanted to say hello to him,” she said. “He’s someone I’ve admired.” Mr. Drasner did not return calls, and Mr. Hamill was traveling and could not be reached for comment.

Restaurateur Humor

Julian Niccolini should consider it payback for the potatoes.

Mr. Niccolini, the co-general manager of the Four Seasons Restaurant, recently took possession of a letter that Pete Peterson, a Four Seasons regular and the chairman of the investment banking firm, the Blackstone Group, sent to Mr. Niccolini.

Mr. Peterson had read The Transom’s Nov. 24 report about the fit that Mr. Niccolini had thrown at the American Automobile Association’s Five Diamond Award dinner on Nov. 10 when the Four Seasons Restaurant was confused with the unrelated hotel of the same name. And he decided to yank Mr. Niccolini’s chain one more time.

“I was not surprised that you lost your Italian temper (forgive the redundancy) at the recent A.A.A. Five Diamond Award dinner,” Mr. Peterson wrote. “Psychologists tell us that anger is often in response to fear. You have good reason to be fearful of the profound changes at the Four Seasons Restaurant that will soon be implemented by Blackstone.”

The Blackstone Group owns Four Seasons Hotels in Philadelphia and Atlanta, and, piggybacking on the confusion that occurred at the Five Diamond dinner, Mr. Peterson wrote that Blackstone was “delighted to hear that the Four Seasons Restaurant was part of our Four Seasons Hotel portfolio,” adding: “We have a number of obvious and significant changes that should be made in the management of the Four Seasons Restaurant. And we are, of course, happy that we now have the license to make the changes.”

Mr. Peterson concluded: “I know this news might effect [sic] your otherwise irrepressible ambiance as you approach Thanksgiving. But as close as we are-and we are about to get much closer-I wanted to get this news to you promptly.”

Mr. Peterson told The Transom that the letter was intended strictly as a joke (“I love Julian,” he said) and recounted that once, on his birthday, Mr. Niccolini sent him a huge box of raw potatoes. Earlier in the year, Mr. Peterson said that he had jokingly complained of the price of the restaurant’s baked potatoes, and that Mr. Niccolini had sent him the gift “to make up for any overpricing.”

Mr. Niccolini could not be reached for comment, but Mr. Peterson said that the Four Seasons restaurateur had already responded to the letter. During one of his last visits there, the investment banker said that former Gov. Mario Cuomo approached his table and told him that “Julian” had hired him as counsel.


articles from Vanity Fair by Frank DiGiacomo

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March 2008

John Mellencamp: One from the Heartland
February 2007

The Esquire Decade
January 2007

The Gossip Behind the Gossip
December 2004

articles from The New York Observer by Frank DiGiacomo

Puff Daddy’s Black and White Ball ’98
December 3, 2006

The Bling of Comedy
February 8, 2004

Baldwin Aroused
November 30, 2003

Triumph Sniffs a Hit
October 19, 2003

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October 12, 2003

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