Waiting behind the men is in line a sweaty guy whose workout headphones are clearly too high to realize he’s yelling, “You guys look great!” The men smile silently; they stare at him awkwardly for a moment before turning to place their hot drink orders.
Fashion Week, or NYFW, comes to New York twice a year — and as veteran attendees like to point out, the whirlwind six-day event, where more than 75 designers showcase their upcoming collections, is a metaphorical 42.2-mile sprint. So every February and September, a new series of Insider Guides recommends where buyers, reporters, assistants, stylists, and the general ticket-buying public can grab an iced oat milk double-shot latte.
Located just below Canal Street, on a grungy block surrounded by sidewalk vendors selling handbags purportedly made by Prada, Goyard, and Fendi, this particular Starbucks is the closest to Spring Studios, Fashion Week’s main hub since 2015. (Google Maps calls it a six-minute walk, though you have to imagine it done in half that time, by a desperate assistant on a troubled morning.) Yes, there’s La Colombe and Blue Bottle (and Bluestone Lane and Blank Street Coffee, the list goes on), but for hurried fashion people who like show to the next, a Starbucks is the pit stop they need, its green and white sphere is the pedestrian version of a blue “REST AREA” sign along the highway. It reliably provides all essentials for the road: a quick bite, a bottle of water, wifi, power outlets and, crucially, in this part of town, a bathroom. It is, by default the unofficial gas station of New York Fashion Week. Where the mundane meets the million dollar, and the familiar meets the fantastic.
On Saturday, much of this NYFW has yet to unfold; around noon, a bunch of young adults wait in line, a cloud of colorful mohair sweaters, platform shoes, Telfar purses, classy loafers and trembling excitement.
“What are you wearing later?” one asks.
“Fashion Weeeeeek,” another sings as they leave.
The two tall men are draped over bar chairs in the back, sunglasses still on. (“Looks like it’s sold out,” one says to the other as he scrolls through footage from last night’s shows.) A white faux-fur pillar – in the center is a flat blonde chop and round sunglasses with gold frames at the top, snakeskin boots at the bottom – orders without looking up from her phone. The pillar looks up only to snatch a reheated pastry from the takeout counter. The giant gold watch on her wrist glistens against the green and white paper bakery bag, then she turns and darts out, her eyes already on her phone.
A woman in a chocolate parka with stiletto heels waits in line for the toilets with a girl of about five in a teenage Doc Martens patent leather and an equally petite Canada Goose puffer coat. While they wait, the woman tells the girl all about the shows they will see this afternoon. When the girl starts squirming and then whimpering, they leave: Let’s try the one across the street. Other customers with shiny hair and unshod shoes glance at the drinks line, then dip their heads and dart to the toilets.
According to a Starbucks spokesperson, “Starbucks is proud to be a meaningful part of the New York City community, and we are honored to welcome customers attending Fashion Week and serve as a third place for them to drink coffee. “
Edward Wosu, 21, works shifts this weekend. It is the second Fashion Week he attends in the year he works here as a barista.
Many fashionable people stop at his workplace every day; it is, after all, the center of Manhattan. But at the beginning of February and the beginning of September there is a peak in customers who do not take off their sunglasses upon entering. “I thought, ‘It’s dark in here!'” he says with a laugh. And fashion industry customers, he adds, “need so much coffee. So many chocolate mochas.
“They have a little, I don’t know. Almost an advantage over them,” he says. “A chip on their shoulder.”
On Monday, day 4 of Fashion Week, customers indeed seem more tense. A gray-haired woman with a slicked-back ponytail, high ruffled collar, and little red buttons adorning her black double-breasted coat, asks the barista on duty an inaudible question; when he responds in the negative, she shakes her head in disbelief and runs out. A bundled man in sneakers with a long-lens camera rushes in to order hot chocolate and a bag of chips. A short, slender man in dark sunglasses and a black jacket with feathery faux fur over the shoulders ducks in with a rolling suitcase, grabs an ice-cold drink from the mobile order counter and disappears out the door in about 12 seconds.
A stream of customers in head-to-toe black outfits stops. Are they part of the fleet of NYFW staffers, dressed in black for sophistication and/or invisibility, who make sure the trains run on time (or, well, a stylish 30 to 40 minutes late)? Only their official NYFW branded lanyards set them apart from ordinary New Yorkers in winter.
Maggie Yu, a 24-year-old model from London, sips a Spindrift while donning all black: combat boots, leather pants, leather trench coat. Today is her day off from walking in shows; her only appointment was a fitting this morning ahead of the Bach Mai show on Tuesday.
Usually, Yu spends her free hours at the Fanelli Cafe or the neighborhood coffee shop Pause. But today, “I’m out of data and I needed Wi-Fi,” she says with a laugh.
As is the case everywhere in New York City, being here means being reminded that you just can’t get rich enough or be pretty enough to avoid certain basic indignities. Even the most glamorous of us need to check email now and then, have to drink, have to perk up, have to pee, have to sit down to renegotiate with a sock that keeps puffing up, have to eat hot, spongy bacon and Gruyere scare away egg biting in flight. Whether you bought your wallet on the other, glittery side of Canal Street or from one of the shady guys on your doorstep, you came to this Starbucks because you’re human.
On Monday evening, after dark, three young friends are sitting at the farthest table in the back. Fragments of their conversation float above the buzz of staffers closing shop. “Sure, you might be on 300k…” “The OG influencers…” “…have a lot of followers from the Reels…” “…dressed like a Miu Miu model…” “…but you just never really know what brands want, whether they will use your content.”
Soon a fourth joins them, in black loafers, a black scarf and a small black purse on a gold chain. “Cartier?” a seated friend asks, pointing. “Bulgari,” he replies, taking off his coat.
Wosu informs them that it is two minutes before closing time. One of the friends unplugs her iPhone charger. She stuffs it back into her beige Coach tote bag before they all shove their seats in and leave.