• Washington Post

Five Hours at the Unofficial Starbucks of New York Fashion Week

Washington Post photo by Ashley Fetters Maloy
The Starbucks at 405 Broadway in Manhattan.

NEW YORK – Around 1 p.m. last Saturday, the Starbucks at 405 Broadway comes to a near-standstill. Two slender, towering men in black sunglasses and gold jewelry have just come loping in: One wears a ruby-colored velvet kufi cap, a long wool coat of the same hue and a lilac suit with spiky beige Balenciaga sneakers. The other wears glossy crocodile-leather pants, an enormous jet-black shag coat and elegant Chelsea boots. They glide toward the register. Among the regulars catching up at the front tables, heads turn.

Waiting behind the men in line is a sweaty guy whose workout headphones are clearly turned up too high for him to realize he’s yelling: “You guys look amazing!” The men smile, silent; they gaze at him awkwardly for a moment before they turn to place their hot-drink orders.

Fashion Week, or NYFW, comes to New York twice a year – and as veteran attendees love to emphasize, the whirlwind six-day event, where upward of 75 designers debut their upcoming collections, is a metaphorical 26.2-mile sprint. So every February and September, a new crop of insider guides recommends where buyers, reporters, assistants, stylists and the general ticket-buying public might grab an iced oat-milk double-shot latte.

Located just below Canal Street, on a grungy block surrounded by sidewalk vendors hawking handbags purportedly made by Prada, Goyard and Fendi, this particular Starbucks is the closest one to Spring Studios, Fashion Week’s main hub since 2015. (Google Maps calls it a six-minute walk, though one has to imagine it’s been done in half that time, by some desperate assistant on a scrambly morning.) Yes, there is La Colombe and Blue Bottle (and Bluestone Lane, and Blank Street Coffee, the list goes on), but for harried fashion folks rushing from one show to the next, a Starbucks is the pit stop they need, its green-and-white orb the pedestrian’s version of a blue “REST AREA” signpost by the highway. It reliably offers all the on-the-go essentials: a quick bite, a bottle of water, WiFi, electrical outlets and, crucially, in this part of town, a bathroom. It is, by default, the unofficial refueling station of New York Fashion Week. Where the mundane meets the million-dollar, and the familiar meets the fabulous.

On Saturday, much of this NYFW has yet to unfurl; around noon, a gaggle of young adults wait in line, a cloud of colorful mohair sweaters, platform boots, Telfar purses, spiffy loafers and vibrating excitement.

“What are you wearing later?” one asks.

“Fashion Weeeeeek,” another sings out as they exit.

The two tall men sit draped across bar seats in the back, shades still on. (“Looks like that one sold out,” one says to the other as he scrolls through images of the previous night’s shows.) A pillar of white faux fur – center-parted flat blond chop and gold-framed round sunglasses up top, snakeskin boots at the bottom – orders without looking up from her phone. The pillar glances up only to snatch a heated-up pastry from the pickup counter. The giant gold watch on her wrist glints against the green-and-white paper bakery baggie, then she turns and darts out, eyes already back on her phone.

A woman in a chocolate-colored parka with stiletto boots waits in the bathroom line with a girl of about 5 wearing teensy patent-leather Doc Martens and an equally wee Canada Goose puffer coat. As they wait, the woman tells the girl all about the shows they’ll see this afternoon. When the girl starts to squirm and then whine, they leave: Let’s try the one across the street. Other customers with lustrous hair and unscuffed shoes simply glance at the drinks line, then duck their heads and dart toward the restrooms.

According to a Starbucks spokesperson, “Starbucks is proud to be a meaningful part of the New York City community, and we are honored to welcome customers attending Fashion Week and serve as a third place where they can connect over coffee.”

Edward Wosu, 21, is working a shift this weekend. It’s the second Fashion Week he’s seen in the year he’s worked here as a barista.

Plenty of fashionable people stop into his workplace every day; it is downtown Manhattan, after all. But in early February and early September, there’s a spike in customers who don’t take off their sunglasses upon entering. “I’m like, ‘It’s dark in here!'” he says with a laugh. And fashion-industry customers, he adds, need “so much coffee. So many chocolate mochas.”

“They’ve got a little, like, I don’t know. Almost an edge about them,” he says. “A chip on their shoulder.”

By Monday, Day 4 of Fashion Week, customers seem more on edge indeed. A gray-haired, sleek-ponytailed woman with a tall frill collar and tiny red buttons adorning her black double-breasted coat asks the barista on duty an inaudible question; when he responds in the negative, she shakes her head incredulously and flounces out. A bundled-up man in sneakers with a long-lens camera hurries in to order a hot chocolate and a bag of potato chips. A short, slender man in dark sunglasses and a black coat with feathery faux fur across the shoulders swoops in with a rolling suitcase, picks up an iced drink from the mobile-order counter, and vanishes back out the door within about 12 seconds.

A stream of customers in head-to-toe black outfits stops in. Are they part of the fleet of NYFW staffers, clad in black for sophistication and/or invisibility, who keep the trains running on time (or, well, a stylish 30 to 40 minutes late)? Only their official NYFW-branded lanyards distinguish them from regular New Yorkers in winter.

Maggie Yu, a 24-year-old model in town from London, sips a Spindrift while she sits alone wearing all black: combat boots, leather pants, leather trench coat. Today is her day off from walking in shows; her only appointment was a fitting this morning ahead of the Bach Mai show on Tuesday.

Usually, Yu spends her off-duty hours at the Fanelli Cafe or the neighborhood coffee spot Pause. But today, “I’m out of data, and I needed the WiFi,” she says with a laugh.

As is true throughout New York City, to be here is to be reminded that you simply can’t get rich enough or be beautiful enough to sidestep certain basic indignities. Even the most glamorous among us occasionally have to check email, have to hydrate, have to perk back up, have to pee, have to sit down to renegotiate with a sock that keeps bunching, have to scarf down a hot, spongy bacon and Gruyere egg bite on the fly. Whether you bought your purse on the other, glitzier side of Canal Street or from one of the shady guys right outside, you’ve wound up here at this Starbucks because you’re human.

On Monday night, after dark, three young friends sit at the farthest table in the back. Snippets of their conversation waft up over the hum of staffers closing up shop. “Sure, you might be at 300k . . .” “The OG influencers . . .” ” . . . got a lot of followers from the Reels . . .” ” . . . dressed like a Miu Miu model . . .” ” . . . but you just never really know what brands want, whether they’ll use your content.”

Soon, a fourth – in black loafers, a black scarf and a little black bag on a gold chain – joins them. “Cartier?” a seated friend asks, pointing. “Bulgari,” he answers, taking off his coat.

Wosu informs them it’s two minutes to closing time. One of the friends unplugs her iPhone charger from the wall. She tucks it back into her beige Coach tote bag before they all push their chairs in and leave.