It is two nights ago—Wednesday, September 4, 2013—around 8:15 p.m. At this precise moment, you are enjoying yourself, conservatively, one thousand million times more than Kate Upton is. I know this, because I am in the same room as Kate Upton, and a man she does not know is bellowing at her to tell the hundreds of people seated around her what she would do if she had a penis. Kate Upton and I are at the 2013 Style Awards.
I am wearing a short, loose cotton dress printed with what even the most imaginative child could identify as “an unlikely jungle scene.” The design features dozens of giant cheetahs poking their heads out from behind leafy green palm fronds. The overall effect of the pattern is “green and brown splotches.” I anticipate I will be receiving many "Nicest Style" awards tonight from my peers in the fashion community. Kate Upton is not wearing the same thing. Kate Upton is wearing this.
I am in the lobby of the Theatre at Lincoln Center, chatting with a nice girl who works for a publication called Footwear News (Breaking: Shoes) when Kate Upton arrives. We know she has arrived because the cavernous room suddenly fills with photographers' loud cries of “Kate! KATE! KAAAATE!” and I have been here since 5 p.m., guys, thanks, I’m glad you love my dress.
Upon arriving, Kate Upton does her job, which consists of standing next to an expensive-looking car while appearing to have the time of her life. She also stands in a different part of the room. She is the Model of the Year.
An earlier model of the same product, Christie Brinkley, is standing on the "red carpet," along with her towering 15-year-old daughter, Sailor (a prototype). I am also on the red carpet, next to a white piece of paper reading "GAWKER" that has been taped to the floor. Christie Brinkley is the happiest, most beautiful human being I have ever seen. I’m sorry to report that Christie Brinkley has died, but surely she must have, for only an angel could be as warm and luminous as she is, in this moment.
Footwear News asks Christie Brinkley’s assistant what exactly Christie Brinkley is wearing to protect and decorate her feet tonight (got a hot lead on SHOES). The assistant asks Christie Brinkley, who casually plops her hand on my shoulder, like we are old friends or maybe a coat rack and the owner of the coat rack, for thirty seconds while she struggles to check.
“Oh no, I’m wearing so many pads!” Christie Brinkley exclaims, as all manner of meticulously concealed foot-cushioning devices threaten to spill out of her high-heeled claw-shoes. “Oh, we all are!” I say, which MAKES NO SENSE because we are not. I will say anything to make Christie Brinkley feel at ease. My dearest wish is for her to forget her hand is on my shoulder and accidentally leave it there forever.
After Christie Brinkley successfully removes her silver shoe and then untangles it from where it has become lost inside the voluminous folds at the bottom of her grey lace dress (Christie Brinkley! How did that happen?), she looks at her hand on my shoulder, as if noticing it for the first time. She scrunches her face in apology. Don’t even worry about it, Christie.
I follow Christie Brinkley’s new assistant (my shoulder), out of the lobby, into the shadowy chamber where the presentation ceremony will take place.
The theatre is filled with wide round tables draped in white cloths. Three hundred people (celebrities on the ground floor; people of no consequence out of the way on raised platforms) are clustered around them on clear, plastic chairs. On every table rests the ingredients for a hearty autumn soup: two (2) bottles of water, one (1) bottle of vodka, and three (3) pods of Crystal Light Liquid.
The “host” of the the 2013 Style Awards is a socialite made of Popsicle sticks named Nicole Richie, though the real “host” of the evening is “a teleprompter,” and the really real “host” of the evening is comedian Sherrod Small, who will not appear on camera when the broadcast of the night airs on CNN September 14th, but who has been brought out to prod and corral the crowd in ways the delicate Richie cannot. You may recognize Small from past appearances on VH1’s Best Week Ever, or future appearances in Kate Upton’s stress dreams.
Under Small’s command, the energy in the room blossoms to that of a “Sales Manager of the Quarter” foodless awards banquet held in the group event space of an Asheville Marriott. Tedium bleeds into delirium. The evening is punctuated by extended periods of stony silence, often following, but not confined to, those moments occurring directly after Small has told a joke. (Things start at the bottom of the hill when he opens with a line about PETA and quickly burrow down through the Earth’s mantle as he jokes that no one in the room knows who Kofi Annan is.)
One of the first things Small has the crowd do is perform an elaborate applause pantomime, presumably so that footage of us clapping can be edited into the CNN broadcast after the fact. (Small’s explanation of the exercise: “For television.”) As cameras film us, we clap mildly three times, clap loudly and cheer three times, and give two standing ovations to an empty stage. The exercise feels oddly sinister, like we are all hostages who have been instructed to make merry. We are all Models of the Year.
Then, the fun—or at any rate, the next part—begins. One by one, Megan from Mad Men, a werewolf from True Blood, and Vogue’s André Leon Talley (clad in a shiny blue wizard’s cape) march on stage and deliver their lines from a teleprompter with a lack of enthusiasm matched only by the recipients of the rewards, who, with the exception of a couple, also read their lines from a teleprompter.
Receiving a 2013 Style Award sponsored by Crystal Light is similar to receiving Kennedy Center Honors or a Nobel Peace Prize, in that there are no on-the-night “winners”; there are only honorees," all of whom have been publicly announced well in advance.
Another quirk of the show is that the categories are not consistent from year to year, which lends the impression that the Style Awards' nominating committee decides whom they want to reward and then creates a category for that person. Someone thought it might be nice for Patrick Demarchelier—a photographer who has been shooting Vogue covers since the 1970s and famously snapped some of the most iconic photos of Princess Diana—to receive an award, so now he is the 2013 Style Award Photographer of the Year!
(Last year, the category "Photographer of the Year" did not exist, though "Breakthrough Designer of the Year" did, and was awarded to Prabal Gurung. This year, no "Breakthrough Designer of the Year" was recognized, suggesting that whatever Prabal Gurung broke through was so badly damaged it has yet to be rebuilt.)
The ceremony relies heavily (mercifully) on vast quantities of heavily edited pre-taped video. The most exciting thing that happens is that, at one point, Nicole Richie emerges wearing a jumpsuit of sequins. Recipient after recipient thanks the room for this truly special honor that they will cherish for the rest of their lives (the 2013 Style Award for Most Visible Brand goes to...Victoria's Secret!) and the only thing that prevents these heartfelt statements from coming across as intolerably sad is the knowledge that they are lies. This Vine, taken by Dodge & Burn editor Victor Jeffreys II, captures the general vibe of the night: hesitant.
Shortly before the evening ends, confident young person Ariana Grande takes to the stage to sing a song about a tattoo. She stands there, in the dark, breathing audibly into the mic (why won't someone turn down the mic?!) for a good two minutes while everyone struggles to figure out exactly what is going on, and then one additional minute while she waits for designer John Varvatos and Nicole Richie (seated, suddenly, in the middle of the room at Varvatos’ table—sure, why not?) to introduce her. She sings her song, the loudest thing anyone has ever heard, well. By the time she squeaks “Thank you!” into the microphone, the spotlight on her has already been extinguished.
But rewind. That hasn’t happened yet. Christie Brinkley has not yet strutted onstage breathless with excitement, to present Kate Upton with a mango-sized glass pyramid—the Model of the Year award!—and Kate Upton has not yet accepted it with identical breathless excitement. The crowd has not yet risen as a single mass and filed out of the room in shell-shocked silence, its members having just borne witness to an inexplicable tragedy.
Because right now, it is about 8:15 p.m. and Kate Upton is squirming uncomfortably in her chair while a comedian she thinks she remembers seeing on VH1 once, in high school, demands to know what she would do if she had a penis. Christie Brinkley is there, and Sailor Brinkley Cook, and Kate’s personal trainer, David, who has modeled Kate's body into a beautiful model of a human model's body. Frédéric Fekkai is there, and André Leon Talley and Maria Sharapova. Rachel Zoe is there, and Zac Posen (or, in the words of the Sherrod Small, “Jack Posen”).
And everyone is staring at Kate, waiting in nervous silence for this endless moment to expire so that we might crown Victor Cruz the Most Stylish Athlete of the Year, Anno Domini two thousand thirteen, and return to the house-sized glass pyramids we call home.
If you had an operation and you could have a penis, what would you do with it for the first day, Katie?! If you had one day to have a penis what would you do in that one day?!
Finally, she comes up with an answer:
“Pee in the bushes."
Model of the year.
[Images by Victor Jeffreys of Dodge & Burn]