Thursday, February 23, 2006

A Classic Tale... retold for the first time here.

Before my blog, there was just my e-mail and a few friends who were tortured with/by my world view... As I have been "riding the couch" all week, I could not help but notice the onslaught of commercials from Victoria's Secret... and that reminded me of an experience I had just last Fall... (cue the harp music and step into the time machine)


Last week I attended the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show taping at the Armory on Lexington Avenue with my co-worker, "Goumba Johnny." Many of you would have enjoyed the insanity. The security was tighter than any airport, and rivals that of a Presidential visit!

The attendees, all there by special invite, were grinning like grownup Golden Ticket holders about to enter the lingerie equivalent of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. Many of these folks appeared to be Wall Street types -- and since it was 3pm we assumed that the trading floor must have looked as empty as a snow day. The event is not simply a television show taping, there was historical significance to the day, this would be Tyra Banks' last catwalk. All the single names of Supermodeldom were on the bill (well, all those who were brave enough and could still squeeze themselves into the woven dental floss which VS passes as clothing) - Tyra, Naomi, Adriana, Heidi, and Gisele.

Arriving two hours early, we were taken with the other electronic press a large dressing room in the basement of the Armory. The 20 x 30 staging area / (un)dressing room was packed to capacity, filled with swarming media, models and assorted support staff. The Models ("Angels") were moving from hair to eyes to body makeup (nice work if you can get it) to foot preparation and it was difficult for the mind NOT to wander to those tapes we see of preparations given to show dogs at the Westminster Kennel Club. Considering their size and stature, perhaps they looked more like Clydesdales than Collies...

As we were being directed to the media holding area (a small corner in the room, by the coat rack), just past the curling iron lineup and before the hair-extension station there was a small human traffic jam of maybe 8-10 people and in the middle was the recently single Gisele Bunchen. The gridlocked Gisele was apparently not used to waiting for anything and began talking loudly about how "these people needed to go." --- Her tone and volume escalated to near paint-peeling levels... repeating "THESE PEOPLE NEED TO GO! WE CANNOT GET OUR WORK DONE!" I was actually close enough to have been able to smell Leo's cologne (had they still been together) and managed to remark just loudly enough for her to hear, "yeah, need a little space, we're curing cancer here people." Her glare was worth all the hassle of the day. In any case, handlers arrived in seconds and the bottleneck was broken ... the show was saved! Thanks Gisele.

We waited in line behind the ET crew, the Extra crew and a few locals who were all miffed that a radio station would be granted the same access as TV. Johnny spotted the models catering buffet and decided that he would be a food tester, making certain that none of the "Performances" would be spoiled by food-bourne illness. By my count, he consumed more food than the entire stable of Angels. And I'm betting that his food stayed down longer too! There was one nifty little scene - I spied a model pouring herself a nice glass of champagne and then filling a bowl with Kellogg's Sugar Frosted Flakes and milk. This will forever be burned in my brain as the pre-game meal of Supermodels and a vivid reminder of just how different my world is from theirs.

All probing questions had been answered, a few pictures taken (just to prove that we actually DID get backstage) and now we were off to the show. Thanks to an amazing clerical error, John and I were granted seats in Section B (center), Row 1, Seats 1 & 2. We were attending the Superbowl of Lingerie Shows with seats on the 50 yard line ... and pre-game locker room passes!

Our perch on the sidelines was almost too close. We sat less than 10 feet from the edge of the catwalk -- a sixty foot expanse on which the Angels would stride down ... stop ... pose ... spin and walk back. And that's their job! Walk, stop, pose, spin, walk again. Someone else dresses you, does your makeup, picks your clothes... You walk, stop, pose, etc.

During the pre-show build up a crew of broadcast professionals was walking through the cues for the 28 min show. A motorized, computer controlled camera like those which follow Olympic sprinters was being tested back and forth on the runway, three high-tech cameras on cranes were swooping over various sections of the audience, no doubt anticipating some of the reactions from the crowd and there were an additional five or six handheld steady cam operators wandering the room. The tension was palpable.

A hush fell over the crowd as the lights dimmed on the set. We sat in silence and darkness for almost 30 seconds before a single spotlight slowly revealed Chris Botti and his horn, mid-runway. He delivered a spectacular rendition of "Embraceable You" and the fuse was lit on this one.

The holiday themed set was now bathed in lights and sound... 30ft tall teddy bears flanked the stage and a gigantic pink and lavendar box was slowly opening to reveal the Angels... 10 women dressed in enough fabric to possibly make one blouse for a three year old... and the wings, what is the deal with the wings? It did not really matter, just makes me laugh. One after the other, most with strides like Lipizzaner Stallions, they stepped out of the box and down the catwalk to the pumping beat of dance music. We clapped, we stared - ok we gawked and we made jokes like 13yr old boys might do when they catch a neighbor girl in her underwear.

Round one was done and the lights dimmed a bit as the stage rotated to display a huge ornament which was slowly rotating to expose a tuxedo'd Seal reclining inside. He stepped out of the ornament, mic in hand and ready to sing. At that moment I remember thinking - "he could be the first black James Bond." Seal sang his hit CRAZY as his wife, Heidi Klum took the stage just 8 weeks after giving birth to their child. How nice... a family values moment at the underwear show. Heidi was given a thunderous round of applause. She was followed by the rest of the Angels... Seal finished and disappeared again in his ornament/lounger.

The pop sounds of Bow Wow Wow's "I Want Candy" began to fill the arena and once again the stage revolved to reveal a small forest of candy canes through which the girls were forced to navigate before getting to their familiar straight path of 60 feet... Finally, I thought to myself, a genuine challenge! It was touch and go for one of the nameless youngsters who lost a 6in spiked heel somewhere in the "woods" - but she managed to complete the 120ft distance - pretending that her left foot was still strapped into those torture shoes.

Again there was a tempo change and scenery meant to transport us to Moscow's Red Square was flown in... Glasnost indeed! Were we going to see Victoria's Secret Police? Nah... just a little variety and I'm guessing an effort to make some of the girls feel a little less homesick. Another parade up and down the catwalk, but this time the Eastern European flavor gave the girls a little more goose in their step.

Another hush fell over the stage as silence and darkness tipped us off that something big was going to happen. We heard downstairs that Ricky Martin was the surprise guest ... and since it ruined the surprise for us, I am ruining it for you too. Puerto Rico's favorite son magically appeared on stage with his own gaggle of dancers, performing "Drop It On Me" as the real supermodels took a much-deserved smoke/purge break backstage and changed into their costumes for the finale.

In the pause that followed Ricky Martin's performance, I realized that we were 22 minutes into the show and not a scripted word had been spoken... (no intros, no welcomes, no billboarding of the models or the singers, nada) I was developing a genuine concern for the future of writers - like my wife. Could the bra and panty show become a trend as big as reality tv and threaten the future of writers on television? This must be stopped! Something must be done! Then WHAMMO! All the lights were back up, the music taken to the next level and the Angels appeared for their final walk ... and they were all dressed in bows. Get it... PRESENTS. They were now changed from Angels to holiday gifts.

Tyra took command of this last round by appearing with some kind of carved, five foot long staff. It made no sense for her to be carrying a staff, unless this was the Victoria's Secret Scepter or a ceremonial cane they hand out to all models on their "last walk." She pranced one last time down the catwalk ... like a Jeff Gordon victory lap at Talledega. There she was, surrounded by the Angels ... all in various stages of undress, smiling and waving from the edges candy cane forest. Then suddenly, almost as abruptly as it started, it was all over. The girls, the glitter, the music -- all gone. We were hustled off into the chilly rain on a late November afternoon in NYC. I clutched my press kit and digital camera, securing the indisputable evidence of my afternoon. This was not a hallucination.

Out-sprinting a woman twenty years my senior and jumping into what may have been the last available cab within miles I took comfort that the past three hours inside the NY Armory had not been wasted. There was a lesson to be learned. This historic building which has housed countless soldiers and stored their supplies of guns, ammo, food, and no doubt clothing, was finally fulfilling it's dual purpose potential, servicing the good citizens of New York City and the country by hosting a high-tech, televised underwear show.


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