A New Spin on Fashion Parties

The Soho Grand

Photo: Zac Sebastian

The crowd at the Soho Grand.

Fashion, music, and nightlife have long held court as the holy trinity of New York. Each ruled its own realm, overlapping when appropriate. But in the last few years, the profoundly close-knit relationship these industries enjoy has shifted. 

Call it a role-playing phase or a continued evolution from the Misshapes: These days, disc jockeys are designing clothes, designers are deejaying, and fashionable figures, by and large, are creating side careers as the premiere "curators" of nightlife. Whereas American sportswear titan Halston -- with Liza Minnelli on his arm -- once dominated the exuberant dance floors of Studio 54 as a guest of honor, today he would be the one manning the decks.

Of course, the rise of the fashion DJ is a generation-specific occupational shift -- most of these multitasking spinners are under age 30, a highly ambitious and restless demographic who grew up believing they could be all things to all people. And if the spike in fashion-to-nightlife crossover is any indication, they actually are.

fashion parties

Photo: Caroline Torem Craig

Publicist Matt Kays doubles as a DJ.

On any given weeknight, many of fashion/nightlife's key players hold forth at a select group of nightspots. A recent favorite is the Tribeca Grand's gay night on Tuesdays (which has, as of January, moved to its sister location, the Soho Grand's Club Room). Hosted by Paper magazine's Mickey Boardman and cult fashion figure Andrew Mukamal, and deejayed by Seventh House publicist Matt Kays, it's a good place to catch a particularly chic crowd in action. Notable attendees include Elle style director Kate Lanphear, designer Prabal Gurung, and Harper's Bazaar's David Thielebeule.

"Fashion people, in general, like to go out, and it's not weird for them to be at a bar at 3 a.m. on a Tuesday," notes Kays. "They look at it almost as part of their job."

On Thursdays, DJ May Kwok attracts a similar crowd at the Jane Hotel. By day, she works in special sales for EMK, the pioneering trade show company, but "fell into nightlife" about five years ago when she was an event promoter. A digital native like many her age, Kwok uses Facebook invites and Twitter to spread word about her events, updating her robust network of fashionable peers with a few clicks.

Predictably, she sees a lot of the same people by night and day. "It's bound to happen," Kwok says. "It doesn't get boring -- just a little redundant."

fashion parties

Photo: Zac Sebastian

Paper Magazine's Mickey Boardman co-hosts Tribeca Grand's Tuesday night party.

Aside from the obvious benefit of hobnobbing with designers, editors, and others in the biz, there’s one very lucrative incentive for throwing these parties: "Who am I kidding? I want the extra income!" Boardman laughs.

Indeed, it's proven to be a fruitful "extracurricular activity" for his collaborator Kays, who has become one of the most successful of the fashion DJ breed. "What started for me as a fun thing has become a pretty nice second income," Kays says.

Kwok reports that she can earn anywhere from $300 to $1,000 per gig -- an attractive sum, especially for a young, creative type in the midst of a recession. "Money is definitely a major motivation," she confirms.

Designer Timo Weiland, who currently deejays special events and Wednesdays at the Soho Grand with partner Alan Eckstein, can make between $500 to several thousand dollars per event.

But for all the perks, there are pitfalls.

"I have to be up every day at 7:30," Kwok says. "It can definitely be tough to manage both."

Weiland agrees that the balance between work and play can be a tenuous one. "We had a late DJ gig the night before our first-ever Barney's New York sales associate clinic," he recalls. "That was rough because we brought breakfast and had to pick it up at 7:30 a.m."

Mandy Coon, a New York-based designer and musician who first made her name as a DJ, jokes that there's only one major distinction between "serious" disc jockeys and everyone else: "Their sleep schedules!"