When Eric Adams walked into a room of designers, editors, and models on Thursday night, he had a backlog of material to work with as far as setting the stage for an imminent New York Fashion Week. The self-described nightlife mayor, in the nine months since he took office, has placed his own after-hours pursuits at the center of his account of how the city should carry itself—a civic brand ambassador. It’s an approach to balancing work and life familiar to many in the fashion world, with its role as both cultural and economic driver, especially around September. As he delivered his remarks at the cocktail party he was hosting to kick off the week to come, Adams pulled from some of his trademarks.
“New York is as cool as can be right now,” Adams told the crowd, “in Gracie Mansion with this room full of folks with swag.”
The audience at the event, cohosted at the mayor’s official residence with Condé Nast chief content officer and Vogue global editorial director Anna Wintour and Council of Fashion Designers of America CEO Steven Kolb, offered a politely enthusiastic laugh. In this corner of the city, where Tommy Hilfiger and Thom Browne had gathered with Emily Ratajkowski and Tara Subkoff, Adams’s invocation of charisma and aura seemed to be taken well enough.
The broader reaction hasn’t always been so uniform. As his administration has progressed, the list of on-the-town Adams sightings, by now a regular tabloid and social media target,has grown steadily longer: with French Montana, with Cara Delevingne, with assorted Real Housewives players, with the D’Amelio sisters, or else in Los Angeles with Paris Hilton, Kate Hudson, Rich Paul, and Casey Affleck. The private social club Zero Bond, which opened in 2020, has become intertwined with the mayor’s regular visits there. Adams appointed its founder Scott Sartiano to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s board.
Adams’s nightlife has landed, finally, somewhere between meme and legitimate political issue. The New York Times recently published a front-page story that focused on the mechanics and finances of Adams’s regular evenings at the restaurant Osteria La Baia, which is run by two friends, the brothers Robert and Zhan Petrosyants, who pleaded guilty to felony charges in 2014 after federal prosecutors accused them of money laundering. (A spokesman for the mayor told the paper that Adams conducts business and personal meetings at the restaurant and that he personally pays his tab there monthly.) That report came a couple of months after a commonly cited Spectrum News/Siena College poll this summer showed that, amid myriad pandemic recovery issues, 56% of residents said their city is headed in the wrong direction.
During a brief interview ahead of his remarks on Thursday, Adams said in Gracie Mansion’s dining room that he wasn’t feeling any heat. “I’m not going to listen to the noise,” he insisted. “I know I have to focus on the entire city. People miss that at 11 pm, when I leave that establishment, I’m going into the subway system.”
“No one can ever complain that Eric is not up at 5 am pushing forward with the city,” the mayor went on. “You have to say to yourself, ‘I know this guy has a chiplet because he can’t be doing this.’”
When it came to matters of fashion—he arrived at the Met Gala in May with a tuxedo reading “End Gun Violence” on the back—Adams struck a softer tone. “I like to believe I’m a throwback from the ’50s,” he said with a smile. “How you look really handles your mood. Many people don’t believe that.”
After his remarks, Adams chatted with Tory Burch. Ratajkowski formed a circle across the room with the designers Connor McKnight and Batsheva Hay. More than a handful of attendees had been to Bill de Blasio’s 2014 Fashion Week kickoff party, and there’s precedent for the mayoral-fashion alliance. During Michael Bloomberg’s short-lived 2020 presidential campaign, Diane von Furstenberg described him to me as “an extraordinary executive who really knows how to solve problems, who would surround himself well.” But some ramped-up boosterism might come as especially welcome as the fashion industry continues to navigate its own pandemic-related retail hurdles.
In his remarks introducing Adams, Carolina Herrera creative director Wes Gordon recalled how he grew up in Atlanta thinking of New York fashion as “Seventh Avenue, Barneys, Bergdorf’s, Vogue, Saks, Bryant Park, a cinematic version of my fashion-outsider dreams.” The obstacles were there, he said, but they were the old ones: “We all know that this is an industry full of challenges. But it is thanks to programs like this and the work of the CFDA, the young designer is reminded that they are not in it alone.” Gordon noted how meaningful the support of Wintour and von Furstenberg, standing a few feet from him, had been.
When Adams took the podium a few minutes later, he broke into a reflection on what he saw as the power of fashion. “You see your business as just fashion,” he said. “I see something else. I see that wedding dress you designed as that person starts out his or her life. I see that tie, when someone goes to an interview, that because you designed it so correctly, that they were able to nail it and felt good about themselves. I see it when we go out to women who are the victim of domestic violence, and take them…so they can have clothing to dress themselves—when we go to a homeless shelter where young people did not have clothing to make it from day to day, embarrassed to go to school because they did not have a change of clothing, that some of you donate and dedicate the items.”
As he picked up steam, he returned to a more joyous mode. “You grace Gracie Mansion with your presence,” he told the crowd.
The attendees recording the speech on their phones gave a light round of whoos. (“That was cute,” one guest remarked.)
“People thought the city was a 9-to-5 city, it was just a flannel-suit city,” Adams continued. “Then all of a sudden January 2022 comes about and a mayor comes in and says he’s a nightlife mayor.” Times having changed, he ended his speech with a promise: He’d be back to hold this event every year.