Postcard from New York

A kick up the Eighties
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Every 15 years or so, everyone in New York forgets who they are, and as long as amnesia persists, the persons affected can be seen wandering about in a state of near-total self-alienation, protectively swaddled in belts, handbags, scarves, shoes and shopping bags that bear the names of other people, as a kind of defensive buffer against distressing attacks of collective confusion. These periods of mass forgetfulness tend to arise during those historic moments when Wall Street cavorts like a bull amid buttercups, the US president is beloved (last week, President Clinton's popularity rating of 62 per cent broke his prior records), and when, what's more, the president has a pally relationship with the British PM - as Reagan had with Thatcher, as Clinton has with Blair.

At such high-water marks of national status and international comparison, even union organisers get teary when they see the Stars and Stripes, while socialites begin to clamour for an American royalty to curtsey to. Lacking a proper royal court, reverent citizens pay obeisance to a shopping court of exclusive designers, seeking reward in the form of resplendent livery and labels rather than titles. For most of the afflicted, symptoms linger for only one to five years, fading as signal events such as Christmas, a birth in the family, or the scent of a favourite childhood food - perhaps bread pudding with hard sauce or raclette with cornichons and potatoes - jog the memory back into place.

Distressing omens reveal that it is past time to start stockpiling raisins and hard cheese; the identity crisis is preparing to erupt in full force. Two tell-tale signs of the sickness have struck Manhattan simultaneously, and while one on its own is almost enough for a diagnosis, when both arrive in combination, strong men start running for sick bay.

As the first sign, a growing number of people have begun to display excessive interest in a two-inch area behind the right hip; it is no longer enough for that region to be covered in denim, corduroy, suede or velvet, it must further be appliqued or stitched with the letters Diesel, Guess? or cK. Flouters of this new convention find themselves seated by the toilets in bistros, or left on the pavement outside hallowed SoHo boites. This is a recurrence of a terrible syndrome of the Eighties, which began with five letters (Levi's) and ended with a nightmarish 18 - a process known as Salvatore Ferragamoantiasis.

The second sign, an even more reliable harbinger of one of these perilous epochs, has already blighted mail boxes humble and grand across town; it is a lingering rash of elaborate party invitations from illustrious strangers, which offer such enticing entertainments that people cast off their actual friends in order to hit as many of the high-flying galas as possible.

The names of the hosts sound eerily familiar - Louis Vuitton, Rockefeller, Guggenheim, Hugo Boss, Philip Morris - as do the names of the guests: Robert Rauschenberg, Nicole Miller, Bruce Weber, Carre Otis, Rolls-Royce. Brazen corporate bashes, which rope together museums, luxury cars, magazines, billion-dollar industries and artists, all in the name of charity, but in the service of publicity, have invaded the social scene now as they last did in the Eighties - a bloated tribute to noblesse oblige by the newly visible native elites. One's bosom friends, with their squalling stereos, wine and hummous-crisps, can hardly compete with the Jamiroquai concerts, champagne and foie gras that the big names dish out - nor do they show the graceful touch of providing a gift bag, crammed with eau de parfum, Hermes silk squares, silver cigar snappers, luxury car key rings and CDs, as a memento of an evening of dancing and public service.

There is a catch, of course: glam benefit revellers pay $150 or more to get in the door. Still, it's all tax-deductable and charity work impresses the bosses no end. And when they leave, flushed with wine and stumbling under the weight of a corporate fun-bag, they gloat in the knowledge that when they see their chums at the water-cooler, they will be able to say, deflatingly, "No, I didn't manage to get to the cinema Saturday - had to go to that tiresome Guggenheim benefit." The chum, observing the departing Guess?-jeaned posterior, will bite her lip, and wonder who she is after all, not to have made the guest list. In most cases, she will head straight for a boutique in search of designer-labelled accessories.

That, at least, is how the disease progressed previously. The last time the name epidemic hit was in 1981, starting with the big-spenders' cattle- call that followed the inauguration of Ronald Reagan. Luckily, though noxious, the disease is easy to cure; all it took to beat it back last time was the stock market collapse of 1987.