Social Anxiety

Not since the British government imposed the Gregorian calendar on the American colonies in 1752 has there been such scheduling havoc in New York. As people debate how best to commemorate September 11, others are worrying about how to plan around the mournful anniversary: The usual post–Labor Day social-season kickoff – charity galas, book parties, movie premieres, fashion events – has been postponed while publicists and social committees wrestle with questions of taste and timing.

One public-relations exec says she recently persuaded a foreign client to delay the opening of a new Manhattan boutique until later in the fall. “How shallow can you be to try to hype $600 blouses in September?” With Fashion Week pushed back to start the 18th, planners are scrambling for acceptable dates for pre- and post-collection celebrations. “I wouldn’t touch the week of September 11,” says publicist Nadine Johnson. “And nobody wants to do anything on the 18th or 19th either.”

The same nervous mood extends to the book circuit. “Normally, the season for authors commences the day after Labor Day, but this year it will start September 16,” says Random House spokesman Stuart Applebaum. Given that TV shows and newspapers will be saturated with remembrances, he says, trying to plug a new novel would be inappropriate (and unprofitable).

At entertainment networks, programmers are also concerned about striking the right tone. “We want to be respectful,” says Patty Newburger, Comedy Central’s vice-president for films, who has pushed back the air date for the network’s first original movie, Porn n’ Chicken, a true-life tale of Yale students who went from watching porn to (pretending to) make it. By mid-October, however, she thinks viewers will welcome a comic romp.

Just how long the social blackout should last is being quietly discussed all over town. Society caterer Sean Driscoll, co-owner of Glorious Food, says that the 11th, combined with the early Jewish holidays, means the caviar-canapé circuit will be slow mid-month: “We don’t have anything yet for September 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, or 16.” Adds Liz Neumark, owner of the caterer Great Performances, “I’ve never seen such fear and uncertainty. Everybody’s afraid to be the first to book.”

Of course, there are those contrarians who expect New Yorkers to fall silent for a day or two and then carry on. As movie publicist Peggy Siegal says, “I can’t see the entire city coming to a screeching halt in September.” Restaurateurs and hoteliers hope she’s right. Drew Nieporent, who is considering closing Montrachet and Tribeca Grill on the 11th, says, “I think it’ll be a one-day issue. If we keep mourning this, we’ll never get over it.”

And then there are those unfortunate organizations that find themselves locked into September dates arranged years ago. Paul Kellogg, the general director of the New York City Opera, sounds somewhat pained as he explains that he can’t reschedule the September 10 gala opening since the opera shares the Lincoln Center hall with the ballet: “We have very little flexibility,” he sighs. Last year’s gala, on September 11, was canceled, and this year’s scaled-down version offers only a dinner before the performance for the $500-a-ticket patrons and no dancing afterward. “It’s totally inappropriate to do a celebratory party,” Kellogg says, “but we hope people will find solace in the music.”

Social Anxiety