New York Fashion Week Spring 2002—scheduled to run from Friday, September 7, through Friday, September 14, 2001—was a heady time in the city. The MTV Video Music Awards were held in New York on September 6, with Britney Spears and a snake serving as NYFW’s unofficial opening act. Just three years before, Helmut Lang had helped make New York one of the Big Four fashion capitals, alongside London, Milan, and Paris, when he announced that he would show in September rather than November, prompting the rescheduling of NYFW from last to first. The event became a cultural magnet, with a cavalcade of designers, models, and celebrities and thousands of international journalists flying in to cover it.
Fresh off his graffiti handbag collaboration for Marc Jacobs’s Louis Vuitton, artist Stephen Sprouse had given NYFW’s main venue, the tents at Bryant Park, a neon makeover for the Spring 2002 season. More than 40 collections, including those from Diane von Furstenberg, Carolina Herrera, and Tommy Hilfiger, had shown by the time Jacobs introduced his first fragrance, Marc Jacobs Perfume, with the blowout party of the new century on the evening of September 10.
Then the music stopped. On Tuesday, September 11, at 8:46a.m., a plane crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, followed by a second plane striking the South Tower 17 minutes later and a third hitting the Pentagon, in the nation’s capital, within the hour. The world changed forever. And within the insular New York fashion sphere, the events helped galvanize a new sense of community that can still be felt today.
9/10/2001: Marc Jacobs Show
IVAN BART, PRESIDENT OF IMG MODELS AND FASHION: September 10 was a very normal day of Fashion Week: busy, hectic, crazy. The Marc Jacobs show on Pier 54 [over the Hudson River] that night was amazing.
JULIE MANNION, CHAIRMAN OF FASHION-SERVICES AGENCY KCD: The build-out took 10 days, and there was not a cloud in the sky. And then we got to September 10 and they’re predicting a hurricane. I’ve never seen a sky so low and ominous. It held out until 3:00 p.m., when the skies just opened up. We had a clear tent, and there was a ginormous bubble over the top filling with water. Grass we’d laid down on the pier was floating away. The show was supposed to be at 9:00 p.m., but it wasn’t until 10:00 p.m. that the rain finally stopped and we were able to salvage things.
MICKEY BOARDMAN, PAPER MAGAZINE EDITOR AT LARGE: It was the last show before September 11 and was sort of like the period at the end of what fashion had been up to that time: over-the-top, money’s no object, glamorous, celebrities, and all of that. It was like a movie. Marc came and took his bow, and the curtain opened, and we were outside on the pier. There was a tugboat shooting water with a fire hose and the Twin Towers in the background. It couldn’t have been more of a postcard New York gorgeous moment.
BART: Sofia Coppola was there, and Zoe Cassavetes. It was a starry, beautiful, moonlit night. I looked up and saw the towers and was like, “Look how beautiful they look.” It was just this incredible moment in fashion that felt potent and exciting, and there was just so much hope.
9/11/2001: Bryant Park
FERN MALLIS, FASHION CONSULTANT AND CREATOR OF NEW YORK FASHION WEEK: September 11 was the fifth day of Fashion Week, and I purposely was a little late getting down to Bryant Park [in Midtown] that morning. CNN was covering backstage at the shows. Working at the tents, I never got the chance to catch any of it. So I was watching the 9:00 a.m. Liz Lange Maternity show on TV when there was a news flash saying that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I raced out of my apartment on the Upper East Side to grab a cab, and when I got to Park Avenue you could see smoke filling the air downtown.
LIZ LANGE, DESIGNER: This was my New York Fashion Week debut. And it was actually the first-ever maternity fashion show taking place during New York Fashion Week. So, I’m backstage watching, and I noticed all of a sudden that CNN and Good Morning America go running out. We had no idea what was going on. We finished the show, and then the security guards started just pushing people out of the tents. We walked outside into this crush of people, and it was like we’d just walked into a different world. I felt that people were almost zombielike.
ADAM LIPPES, DESIGNER: I was working at Oscar de la Renta as creative director. Our show was scheduled for noon. The morning of a show, Oscar would be at our showroom two blocks away, and I would get to the tents early to get set up. I had a camera crew from the Style channel following me around, and the producer said, “There’s been an accident and all crews need to head downtown.” We had hair assistants and models showing up late; photographers and other press are leaving. I called Oscar and said, “There’s been a horrible accident and models are sobbing.” I was young, and he had seen a lot more. He said, “Oh, it’ll be fine. We’re going to continue.”
JIMMY PAUL, HAIRSTYLIST: There’s a really short amount of time to get models ready for a show, and it’s extremely stressful, and adrenaline is at full blast. I was doing hair for Oscar, and one of my team members was late, and he started saying something like, “My phone won’t work. There’s something going on.” Then Liya Kebede comes in. And same thing. She’s late. All I’m thinking about is hair and the show. And she’s saying,“My phone won’t work. There’s something going on. Something happened.”
LIYA KEBEDE, MODEL: As I was paying for my cab, there was this woman in tears who was pleading with the driver to please take her to Wall Street. Her phone rang, and she’s like, “Is it you? Oh, my God, thank you!” I walked into the tents, and from there it’s kind of a blur.
JAMES KALIARDOS, MAKEUP ARTIST: [Model] Audrey Marnay was in another tent—they’re all connected—filming a television segment, and she kept running over, feeding me news. “A plane just hit one of the Twin Towers.” “A plane just hit the other tower.” I remember thinking, What’s next? If a terrorist was going to hit somewhere in New York, they were going to hit Times Square. I told my team, “You guys, start packing up. This is not safe to be here.” At that moment, Fern Mallis came running in, saying we had to get out as soon as we could.
MALLIS: I remember standing on some platform or ladder and saying, “Everybody, I need your attention: There has been a terrorist attack at the World Trade Center.” Jaws were dropping. And I continued,“Please gather your things and go home and be with your loved ones. Go home, safely and quickly. We have to vacate these premises.” I could barely get the words out. I was crying the entire time, and I still do whenever I repeat that story.
KEBEDE: There was another model who had her daughter with her and was worried about how they were going to get back to Brooklyn with the bridges closed. I lived uptown, so I said, “Just come with me and stay.”
MICHAEL KORS, DESIGNER: My show was scheduled for the next day. I was finished with most of my show prep and had only one fitting left to do, with model Erin Wasson. I was running late, so I got out of the shower and called the office to let them know I’d be on my way shortly. I was living in Greenwich Village, in an apartment with a terrace that faced directly onto the Twin Towers. As I was on the phone, I saw the first plane go into the first tower. I immediately thought I’d witnessed an unimaginable accident. I was still on the phone, trying to comprehend what had happened, when the second plane went into the second tower. In that moment, I knew this was no accident but an act of terrorism. My phone went dead, and I dropped to my knees watching the aftermath.
KAREN ELSON, MODEL: I was actually very close. I lived in TriBeCa right by the Hudson River at Chambers Street. So I remember hearing a very, very loud noise. My friend Maggie Rizer, who’s also a model, called me and said, “A plane’s just flown into the World Trade Center.” And then we saw the second plane go in and very soon realized, Okay, this is a really scary situation. We were all running from this big ash cloud. I’d never before had an experience where I thought, My God, I could die. It was a stampede, and I fell down and cut my legs quite a bit. There was a photographer who picked me up and put me on the back of his bike and rode me up to Chelsea to a friend’s house.
MARIA CORNEJO, DESIGNER: I was dropping my daughter off at PS 41, on West 11th Street. It was just so surreal because the sky was this gorgeous blue, and there wasn’t a cloud to be seen, but there were these things that looked like sequins falling from the sky. They were actually debris from the explosions before the towers came down. It felt like we were on the set of some weird disaster movie.
My first runway show was supposed to be on Wednesday, and my husband was in Washington, D.C., working on the soundtrack with a musician friend. When I was finally able to get through to him, he told me that the same thing had happened there. He often jokes about things, and I said, “Oh, please don’t joke about it.” And he said, “No, for real, it’s happened here too.”
DIANE VON FURSTENBERG, DESIGNER: At the time, my design studio was in a carriage house on West 12th Street and I had an apartment upstairs. I had had my fashion show on Sunday evening, and Tuesday was the day I was to have my review in The New York Times, so I had woken up early to get the paper. That’s when I heard the news.
My son had just had a baby three weeks before, and he came to pick me up and said, “Let’s go to the country.” You know how people always ask you, “If you had to leave home in an emergency, what would you take?” I realized that I took nothing besides my medicine. We picked up my daughter at Gramercy Park, and then we went to get the baby, who was uptown with his mother and other grandmother. I’m the daughter of a woman who survived the Holocaust, so survival is something that’s in my genes. Your first instinct is to take your children and protect them.
BART: When I walked into the IMG offices at 23rd Street and Park Avenue that morning, the TV screens that we usually watched shows on were filled with news. It was very clear there were no fashion shows happening, so I had all of our models come into the office. Alek Wek was here, and Guinevere van Seenus and Carolyn Murphy too. And at the end of the day I made sure everyone got home safe. I was like, “Excuse me, where do you live again?” to one of our employees. “I live on the Upper West Side.” “Great. These five models also live on the Upper West Side. I want you to start walking north.” “Where do you live? Queens? Great. I want you guys to go over the 59th Street Bridge together.”
9/12–15/2001: Recovery and Relief
VON FURSTENBERG: I lost my friend Berry Berenson, Marisa Berenson’s sister, in the first plane. She was going from Boston to L.A. to visit her son, and that’s it. It touched everyone.
MALLIS: We posted a sign to say we’re shut down. If you weren’t a policeman or a fireman, you felt pretty useless. We had a billion cases of Evian for the week that we sent down to Ground Zero. And several of our people who built the tents went down to help organize tenting. We were just trying to use whatever resources we had to help.
ALEXANDRE DE BETAK, FOUNDER OF FASHION PRODUCTION COMPANY BUREAU BETAK: We had rented the Lexington Avenue Armory for the entire week and were transforming the space for various shows. John Bartlett was over the weekend, and I’d done an installation inspired by imprisonment. It was really intense, and there were these very loud sounds of jail doors closing and the lights going off and on. Donna Karan was scheduled for Thursday, and we’d designed custom banquettes with beautiful big round pillows for it. There were hundreds of them.
Because we were on site downtown with a big production team, we immediately offered to help with rescue and recovery efforts. They called us in first to help transform our fashion-show setup into a field hospital. And very sadly, in the course of 24 hours, no survivors were brought in. And then they asked us to turn it into a morgue. And no bodies came. Then finally they asked us to turn it into a family center, a place where people could bring something from their lost one to match the DNA.
MANNION: We got a call from a city official saying, “We see you have this tent [from the Marc Jacobs show]. Can we confiscate it for triage?” So we’re clearing it out, and then I remember getting a call later that afternoon: “Never mind. We don’t need it anymore because there are no survivors.” You just couldn’t even fathom.
NORMA KAMALI, DESIGNER: I went down to the World Trade Center to volunteer, but there was nobody to help. I didn’t go back to my business on 56th Street for a while, and when I did I was surprised to find a lot of messages on the answering machine asking for sleeping-bag coats. September 11 was a hot day, and the last thing I thought anybody would be thinking about was a warm winter coat. But flights were canceled, and people were sleeping in hotel lobbies, at the airport, at friends’, and they literally wanted sleeping-bag coats to sleep in. I brought back my team and the domestic factory that I work with and went through all of our fabric and cut coats out of everything you can think of.
TOMMY HILFIGER, DESIGNER: I’ve been on the board of the CFDA for forever, and we all came together to raise money for families and for the Twin Towers Fund. The memories of patriotism are also very strong: People were hanging American flags out of their windows. We were coming together as a nation and coming together as a city and coming together as an industry and coming together as people who were going to rebuild and be strong no matter what.
9/17–21/2001: New York Fashion Week Part Two
LIPPES: We were the first show to happen again, on September 17. Oscar was very much like, “The show must go on. These people cannot win.” We decided to show in the showroom, with no music, no set, no anything, out of respect. We put one flower on each chair. And everyone wore a black armband with an American flag.
KORS: After a lot of deliberation, I decided that although it would no longer be a large-scale fashion show, it was important for me and for New York to present the collection. So I did, albeit in a much more intimate way, in my showroom on Seventh Avenue, roughly 10 days later. The collection was originally meant to be very audacious and celebratory, so I edited things accordingly.
DICK PAGE, MAKEUP ARTIST: The thing that really struck me just now was how soon after we did these shows. I did a Michael Kors show and a Donna Karan show on September 20. They were small, and they were in the showroom, which is sort of how I started doing shows with Calvin Klein years ago, in the early ’90s, so that was quite strange.
PIERRE ROUGIER, FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT OF PUBLIC RELATIONS AND DIGITAL COMMUNICATIONS AGENCY PR CONSULTING: We presented Narciso Rodriguez’s collection in his showroom the minute it was appropriate to do so. When adversity hits, America rallies very quickly. Many small fashion businesses suffered greatly, and I think from that came a strong urge to support new designers. There was this collective realization that young, smaller companies were the fabric of American fashion. Maria Cornejo took part in one of these industry initiatives.
CORNEJO: There was a group show organized at Carolina Herrera’s showroom on September 21 for 11 young designers who missed their shows that I was able to be a part of.
STEVEN KOLB, CEO OF THE CFDA: Mrs. Herrera opened up her showroom for designers to use as a replacement for what had been lost otherwise. And I think one of the significant things that came from that was the Fashion Fund. By putting a structure around young talent, we created a generation of American fashion designers that I think has really contributed to the global fashion conversation. From Proenza Schouler, Rag & Bone, Altuzarra, and Rodarte to, in recent years, Pyer Moss, Christopher John Rogers, and Brother Vellies.
THAKOON PANICHGUL, DESIGNER: I was a fashion features editor at Bazaar at the time, and I felt this responsibility to really champion young designers. Post-tragedy, there was a lot of new energy.
DEREK LAM, DESIGNER: I was definitely a beneficiary of this kind of coming together. In New York City, it’s all about literally elbowing your way down the sidewalk, and these kinds of tragic moments show a different side, where people are linking arms.
CORNEJO: When the chips are down, New York’s actually a very small community.
THE YEARS SINCE
MALLIS: We kicked off the next show season with a press conference on the steps at Bryant Park with Mayor Bloomberg. I remember we had Tommy, Michael, Carolina—all of the designers were there. We did a speech about New York being back and better than ever.
ROUGIER: I think what’s proven again during the pandemic is how fast America rebounds. The minute you tell people to go, they go. Fast.
KAMALI: There’s been a huge demand for sleeping-bag coats again during Covid. There’s a certain cocooning effect when you wrap yourself in a blanket: You feel safe. And I think the coat does that. Walking around last winter, I noticed a lot of people wearing the coats for outdoor dining. I decided to sell them for half price so that they would be affordable to more people. Restaurants are the glue that holds our neighborhoods together, and we need to support them.
RALPH LAUREN, DESIGNER: 9/11 was such an overwhelmingly emotional experience for everyone. It was something this country had never experienced. The sense of terror and loss was incredible. But the days, months, and years following September 11 were a reminder of how compassionate Americans and people from all over the world can be toward one another. What we experienced was unreal, but optimism paired with courage and compassion is how we have been able to stand up, be strong, and grow as a nation and a world.
KORS: Fashion people are far more resilient than people give us credit for and are always thinking about moving forward. I found that kind of can-do spirit during the AIDS epidemic of the ’80s and ’90s, after 9/11, and during the Covid-19 pandemic. And I continue to feel like that resilience is such a hallmark of New Yorkers and fashion people around the world. Some might call me a cockeyed optimist, but I like to think of myself as an optimistic realist.
This article originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of Harper’s BAZAAR, available on newsstands today.
GET THE LATEST ISSUE OF BAZAAR