In The Magazine

AVENUE: The 1990s

Friday, October 30, 2015
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The Nineties began with a backlash against Society, or, at least, what John Fairchild’s WWD dubbed the Nouvelle Society of the Reagan boom years just ended. After the stock market crash of late 1987, and the recession that followed, the Nouvelle types who’d flaunted their fabulous lives, clothes and wealth for a giddy decade ducked, went to ground or disappeared altogether.


In 1993, the Costume Institute’s Party of the Year at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, chaired by Eighties ingénue Blaine Trump, who’d just replaced her social mentor, Pat Buckley, in that influential eleemosynary slot, fell flat. It was a sign of changing times. Two years later, the modern age of society, or rather a commercialized simulacrum thereof, was christened when Anna Wintour took over that fête, bringing in a new breed of cochair, a younger, more photogenic generation of society girls (Clarissa Bronfman, Julia Koch), but more crucially, the stars of the newly ascendant infotainment society, the thespians, musicians, artists, agents and dealers who’d long dominated what was called the counterculture, but now represented the red hot center of . . . well . . . everything. Or at least everything that mattered to the fashion and luxury industries, also ascendant, after they’d morphed from cottage businesses into international conglomerates with unprecedented commercial power and an unquenchable thirst for social synergies and the omnipresence that accompanies them.


Until then, it had seemed perfectly normal for men and women in their forties to still be called Juniors. Suddenly, the senior set seemed to wither and shrink, as an upstart ascendancy kicked into high gear. The perennial Brooke Astor and Mercedes Bass still kept a tenuous hold on the top slots in the city’s social hierarchy. But AVENUE saw the future and in years to come spilled far more ink on the likes of Rena Sindi; the beautiful Miller, Fanjul and Boardman sisters; the wilder likes of the Ronson brood; and Aerin Lauder, Brooke de O’Campo and Marina Rust than on those ancien régime types who hung on in their brooding Park Avenue fortresses while the new royals of rap and real estate sought shelter in a new breed of look-at-me glass towers in chic new neighborhoods. In fashion, Vera Wang was giving Arnold Scaasi a run for the big money/statement dress business. In media, Tina Brown was shaking the dust from The New Yorker. On television, Darren Star’s take on Sex and the City was about to make Candace Bushnell the new generation’s Jackie Collins. The times, they were a-changin’ again.


By 1999, the coup d’état was complete, and not even the deaths of American princeling John F. Kennedy Jr., his beautiful bride Carolyn Bessette, and the dot.com economy could stop the relentless force of the future. It was battered, perhaps, but it was here to stay. And in the new century that followed, nouvelle society would seem as much dusty, old memories as the 400 folks who’d filled Caroline Schermerhorn Astor’s ballroom more than a century before them.


Michael Gross,
is a bestselling author and the former real estate editor of AVENUE.
His latest book, Focus: The Sexy, Sordid, Secret World of Fashion Photographers, will be published next year.




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