New York Fashion Week’s Security Guards Have Seen and Heard It All

·8 min read

Blizzards, hurricanes, fashion show crashers, packs of paparazzi, animal rights activists, celebrity entourages — the Citadel Security Agency team is well versed in all things unexpected that have occurred during New York Fashion Week.

On the scene since the inaugural season of 7th on Sixth in Bryant Park in the fall of 1993, the company is hosting a party Wednesday night to celebrate its 30 years in fashion.

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Citadel was tapped after putting in a bid and beating out what was a competitive field. Although president Ty Yorio only had a small window into the fashion world through Citadel’s then-limited work with Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS, Yorio said after seeing the initial plans he knew the shows would become “huge. It turned out it was. Fern Mallis envisioned this along with Stan [Herman] and the rest was history.”

The first time out, the security team on the scene was no more than 20 people, but that base grew to hundreds as fashion week scaled up. Initially, “Gertrude” and “Josephine,” two circus-like tents were hoisted up at opposite ends of Bryant Park and “it rained like hell for a week, but you knew it was going to be big,” he recalled, adding that the New York Public Library’s Celeste Bartos Forum was soon needed as a third venue.

Citadel’s main task was to get the people who were invited in, and the people who were not out. Immediately, tickets to New York Fashion Week became “the hottest ticket in New York,” so much so that some crashers split the sides of the tents and snuck under them to get in to see the shows, Yorio said.

Before there were QR codes and e-mailed RSVP’ed confirmations, attendees received physical invitations, but more often than not attendees showed up empty-handed. “Most people would come to the door and say, ‘I’m on the list.’ Very rarely did they carry their invitations,” Yorio said.

Case in point: the woman who arrived at the entrance and told him that she was Andrea Leon Talley — trying unsuccessfully to pass herself off as the unmistakable and towering male Vogue editor André Leon Talley. “I thought to myself, ‘Well, I don’t think this is going to work.’ I mean we have heard all sorts of stories. People on the list say, ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ or ‘She’s with me.’ ‘I’m with her.’ You hear some of the most absurd things. You have to decline their story and say, ‘This is not working. I’m sorry,’” Yorio said.

The most challenging shows were the most popular and overbooked ones, Yorio said. “We’ve had to turn away standing-room attendees more often than I want to remember. These poor people are standing there for an hour and then you come out and say, ‘I’m sorry. There’s no more room. It’s overbooked.’ I made a lot of friends but I probably made a lot of enemies at the same time.”

Anti-fur protestors turned up at least six times at shows like Randolph Duke and Oscar de la Renta, and in some instances that led to arrests. Once the former CNN fashion commentator Elsa Klensch had the misfortune of being doused with red paint. Eventually the CFDA gave the activists a designated time to come into the lobby to explain what they were doing, Yorio said.

On the night of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, there were a few arrests made in Bryant Park after three “ill-advised, not so bright” people tried to steal sound boards and some of the other “millions of dollars worth of equipment” that was in the tents. While most New Yorkers were eager to reunite with family and friends that evening, Citadel employees volunteered to man the tents overnight in the event the city needed assistance of any kind. “When we were involved with 9/11, we didn’t know what was next. So we held down the fort,” Yorio said.

Recalling setting up for the Oscar de la Renta show on the morning of the terrorist attacks, he said, “A lot of people don’t know this. The first plane flew down Fifth Avenue. None of us realized until that day that Fifth and Sixth Avenues were directly in line with the World Trade Center. The jet roared, roared over our heads. Everybody went, ‘What was that?’ Fifteen minutes later every police officer who was backstage with us — because it was an Oscar show and a fur alert show — had their beepers going off. And the word came out that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. We looked at each other and said, ‘There’s not a cloud in the sky. How did this happen?’ Then somebody said, ‘Well, maybe it happened deliberately.’ Sure enough, it did.”

The shows were canceled for a couple of weeks and some were held at a later time on a much smaller scale. “That’s what was salvaged from that season. It’s very sad,” he said.

Harrowing as that world-altering event was, Citadel had become accustomed to dealing with other uncontrollable forces. ”It was either a blizzard in the winter or a hurricane in September,” Yorio said knowingly. “‘What’s the funniest thing that ever happened?’ I really can’t answer that. There was always a laugh a day or two or three or five depending on who was around. That made it challenging but enjoyable. Fortunately, in the 35 almost 40 years in business, I don’t have a client that I don’t like. Every job we go to we like doing — as challenging as they are.”

Making the point that NYFW helped to define Bryant Park, Lincoln Center and other New York City landmarks internationally, Yorio said celebrities brought with them their own attention — from former first ladies Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton to Hollywood actresses and musicians like Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and Jennifer Lopez. Celebrities in general are “very compliant and not demanding,” according to Yorio, who declined naming the few who were not. “That would be suicide to mention. In my field, you never ever speak ill about the client or a celebrity,” Yorio said. Dolly Parton “could not have been nicer,” whereas another celebrity attendee is now in jail, “but we won’t mention their name,” he said.

Digging through some archives not long ago, Yorio said, “I don’t know how many pictures that I have of Ivana Trump — and of Donald Trump. [Former New York City Mayor] Michael Bloomberg always supported us — always. He was there at the beginning of every season.” American soprano Renée Fleming is “absolutely as lovely as you see, the Hilton sisters [Paris and Nicky] — no problem,” Yorio said. “The first show that we ever did was with Donna Karan. Barbra Streisand was late. They started the show. Barbra Streisand showed up a few minutes later. They stopped the show and restarted it.”

Years ago when the actress Susan Sarandon showed up for an Isaac Mizrahi show, it was chaos in the venue. Yorio’s cue to the celebrity was always, “‘How much of this do you want? How much photography do you need, do you want?’” He also inquires about plans for post-show backstage visits and where they prefer to exit. “We would do this with Anna Wintour and any high-profile celebrity, journalist. A lot of the people, who sat in the front row, ended up getting a little more attention.”

He continued, ”We learned that anything past the second row is basically Siberia. We also learned that if we saw you at 9 a.m. and you went to every show, we also knew that you didn’t have a job. You were there to become part of the woodwork. Then you see them season after season. You realize that these are people who want to get in the standing-room-only line and they want to maybe have their photograph taken. People come in all sorts of outfits to make people photograph them. In this business, you never judge a book by its cover — ever, ever, ever. Turn a few pages and you might finally see what that book is. That book could be somebody in the industry who plays a major role. Sometimes the more outrageous they’re dressed, that’s how it turns out to be.”

Thirty years in fashion has been an education for the Citadel team. Yorio explained, ”I didn’t know who André Leon Talley was until I saw him at the first show. And then I saw him in the first row. Then I said to myself, ‘This guy’s got juice.’ That’s how you learn who needs to get in in the most civil way and to keep out the people who are not invited. They will be the most disruptive. I used to say, ‘How do you come to a place where you’re not invited?’ It was beyond me. This is not a public event. This is not a freebie.”

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