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Many people remember exactly where they were when the first plane struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. As an oral history of September 11 told in our September issue, for Creators, Models and Others New York professionals, the answer was New York Fashion Week. Saturday afternoon, Harper’s Bazaar Editor-in-chief Samira Nasr moderated a panel discussion with four of the topics from the article titled “Resilience and Remembrance: New York 20 Years After September 11” as part of the NYFW: The Talks series at Spring Studios.
Designer Adam Lippes, model Karen Elson, IMG Models and Fashion President Ivan Bart and New York Fashion Week designer Fern Mallis recounted the events of that momentous day, which fell on day five of the Spring 2002 collections. shared their memories and ideas, as well as their hopes for the future of New York fashion. The event is now available to stream on demand, with free registration on the NYFW website.
Elson, who lived close enough to the Twin Towers, recalled in haunting detail witnessing the attack firsthand and then running for his life. “It was very strange, you know, your eyes see this horrible thing, but the city was always bustling, moving, and it was just this surreal moment. But then a moment of fear of ‘Oh, this is a terrorist attack happening’, ”she said.
Bart took charge of his agency, making IMG’s headquarters a meeting point for models and making sure they returned home safe and sound.
Lippes, who was then the creative director of Oscar de la Renta, was preparing for a midday show in the tents of Bryant Park in Midtown when he heard the terrible news. “Everyone got together at that point,” recalls Mallis, who ended the shows. “The tents became a meeting place for everyone to find out what was going on, especially for the thousands of editors who were in town for Fashion Week and wanted to know what to do. I told them, ‘Take off your stiletto heels and go cover another story.’ “
Bearing witness to the city’s resilience and its provocative beauty performance in the face of atrocity, the shows finally continued. A few days later, Oscar de la Renta and other top designers including Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors and Donna Karan presented scaled-down productions in their showrooms without music or sets. Bart said he remembered the community spirit, with designers sharing models and hair and makeup teams, and drew a parallel with the present moment. “People really came together and then moved quickly into this pandemic and everyone comes out at seven to cheer on our heroes, our healthcare workers, the people who really support restaurants,” he shared.
Nasr also asked the panelists to share lessons from that time that they carry forward. “Watching Oscar until September 11 has helped me lead my own team [during Covid], because they were all looking at me, ”Lippes replied. “Even though I didn’t necessarily know the right answer, I knew I had to stay strong, stay positive and move on. What we do in fashion matters. We employ a lot of people. We let a woman put on a dress, a guy put on anything, smile and feel good about himself.
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