Hurricane Hanna narrowly missed the 40th anniversary party for Calvin Klein on Sunday, and so did Calvin Klein, who had decided to sit it out at some unspecified locale. They were among the few no-shows for an event that marked both the social high point of New York Fashion Week and one of the livelier site-specific installations seen around here since Christo’s and Jeanne-Claude’s “Gates” was erected in Central Park in 2005.
That project cost $20 million, was up for 16 days and was experienced by half the local population. The Calvin Klein party was held in a structure specially designed by John Pawson around the elevated train tracks known as the High Line, included a light sculpture by the artist James Turrell, cost the company roughly $3 million (including an undisclosed donation to Friends of the High Line), lasted one night and was enjoyed by 700 of those special people who have no difficulty telling Proenza Schouler from Preen.
If that was a lot to spend on a wingding, the cost paid off in variety of ways. For a start, it highlighted the unlikely success of a decade-long effort to develop a disused 22-block railway along the West Side into a park. “We’re at the point after nine years where it’s all really starting to happen,” Joshua David, a founder of Friends of the High Line, said as Eva Mendes, Kevin Bacon and Halle Berry ran the red carpet gantlet.
It underscored the not-so-subtle competition among mega-brands to outdo one another on red-letter occasions. (Remember Ralph Lauren’s enchanted black-tie 40th anniversary dinner last year at the Conservatory Garden in Central Park? Oh, you don’t?) It also served as a reminder, long after Mr. Klein’s sale of the company to Phillips-Van Heusen, of how far his aesthetic influence extends beyond jeans and underpants.
Nowadays artists are to fashion designers as “It” bags are to socialites. No wardrobe is complete without one. And yet, long before it was in vogue for dressmakers to underwrite pavilions at the Biennale in Venice, Mr. Klein was collaborating with artists or frankly drawing inspiration from their work. There is a reason why your bedsheets look like an Agnes Martin painting or something Georgia O’Keeffe might have had at Ghost Ranch, and it is not unrelated to the decision the Calvin Klein label made to commission a work for an event lasting five hours from an artist as well-esteemed as Mr. Turrell.
“It’s bulbs in bondage,” said Mr. Turrell, the California artist who has spent the last 30 years attempting to turn Roden Crater, an extinct volcanic crater in Arizona, into the world’s largest art installation, and who had built his piece at the party inside the second of three cool ascending minimalist pavilions.
Mr. Turrell was referring to unseen fluorescent tubes he had wrapped in tape to temper their spectral emanations and create what looked like a window into the limitless violet beyond. “I like this idea of the luminous emptiness of a fluid void,” he said.
Of course, few at the party were as focused on the void as on the fashionable scrum. As expected, the crowd was slick and shiny. And, in another touch reminiscent of the label’s founder, the waiters were handsome and muscled in a way that, although not currently in fashion, will always denote Calvin Klein.
As servers circulated through the cool white space carrying trays of vodka concoctions and oblong platters of tiny hors d’oeuvres, the fashion pack made its way up broad flights of steps that funneled one toward the old train bed, transformed for the night into a garden that “is a Calvin Klein interpretation of what the High Line will look like a year from now,” said Malcolm Carfrae, a company spokesman.
At this point, it seems unlikely that the ghostly old train tracks will become a garden of 5,500 long-stemmed Ecuadorean white roses lighted with pillar candles. Besides, anyone who ever troubled to clamber onto the High Line during the long decades when it lay forlorn and abandoned will recall finding something there better and more poetic than any florist’s scheme.
“The High Line is a tough industrial structure,” said Robert Hammond, a founder of Friends of the High Line, and what made the juxtaposition between the superstructure and the train bed evocative “was that it had this meadow on top.”
Early on, Mr. Hammond assumed the wild grasses were all native. The truth, he later learned, resembled a more typical immigrant tale: “Most of what was there had just hitched a ride on a train car, got here and then took hold.”