On a good day, a Soho commute requires deep stores of patience and a healthy tolerance for getting jostled by strangers. Throw into the mix thousands of screaming teenagers, several blocks of barricades, dozens of uniformed NYPD officers and the promise of one Kylie Jenner, and you have a Homeric journey ahead of you.
Such was the case this Monday morning with the opening of Jenner's pop-up shop on Mercer Street, a promised land of Lip Kits, Kyshadow palettes, hoodies emblazoned with the star's name and likeness and a whole wardrobe of bikinis, sweatsuits and underwear exclaiming "THICK!" in big block letters (including her Valentine's Day collection, a day before it's officially released). Per the announcement the 19-year-old star made on Instagram last week to her 85-million-plus followers, the store was due to open at 10 a.m., and by 9 the line already snaked down to Canal Street, all the way across that block, and up Greene, plus an additional hundred or so people cordoned off across the street to mitigate crowds. (Ha, yeah right.) Officially, there's no set end date; the store closes at 9 p.m. daily and will remain open "until supplies run out."
I set out determined to talk to some of the brave souls at the beginning of the line, and after heeding the instructions of a burly security guard to go all the way back around and up the other side, I finally made it within 15-or-so feet of the bubblegum-pink door, earning only the occasional suspicious glance from teens wary that someone might cut the line.
Not that I would dare — the first group of fans in line had been camped out for upwards of 24 hours. Justin, Mallory, Angelo, Emily and Monica all arrived between Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon and brought blankets, sleeping bags and thermal wear to deal with the 20-degree February temperatures and sporadic bouts of rain and hail that pelted the city throughout the weekend.
Because, oh yeah, while the West Coast pop-up was inside the (nice, clean, temperature-controlled) Westfield Topanga Mall, Tri-Staters risked frostbite and hypothermia for the opportunity to get a selfie with their Queen — or at least get a T-shirt with her name on it.
For some, it seemed almost like a point of pride — like they had really earned their merch the hard way — but most just seemed cold.
"We ended up having to buy shower curtains because it was wet and they had no ponchos at the store," said Mallory, 16, pointing to the window ledge and sidewalk the group had slept on, now piled high with duffel bags, knapsacks and sleeping bags.
Some people further down the line clutched cups of Dunkin' Donuts coffee, but most seemed to be running on adrenaline.
"I met Kim last year for her book signing," recalled Angelo. "It was the best day of my life — I can't even talk about it. Kim's the OG. How do you not love her? But Kylie is so much of an expanded brand I feel like. They both have their uniqueness."
One dad from Hartford, Conn., waited in line with his twin daughters, Anna and Maggie, for more than 16 hours as a 16th birthday present.
"It's worth it," he said. "We wanted to do something special for their birthday, and I think we did that."
Like most of the teens I talked to, the twins talked about her entrepreneurial drive as much as they did her sense of style and selfie-taking skills. It may be her eyebrows and outfits that they fawn over on social media, but it's her business success (to the tune of $18 million in earnings in 2016) that they respect.
"I like how she made a brand for herself," said Anna.
"She knew what she wanted to do," said Maggie, nodding.
Another shopper, Janelle, agreed: "I've been following the Kardashians since she was a baby — since she was young and on the show ["Keeping Up With the Kardashians"] — so watching her grow up and build her empire is pretty cool."
As 10 a.m. grew closer, the crowd started cheering. Kylie had promised to open the doors herself, and every SUV that barreled down the cobblestone street was a potential suspect. At 10 seconds to, fans screamed out a countdown worthy of Times Square on New Year's Eve, and soon the lucky few with wristbands were being ushered into the store, which was bathed with neon-pink light and lined with boxes of Kylie Cosmetics, along with a fully-made bed (or at least that's what I've gathered from social media; I got shooed away by security every time I got close to getting a peek inside).
Thirty minutes later: still no sign of a Jenner, and people were starting to get antsy. A girl who'd clearly been in line since Sunday was sobbing because she needed the bathroom. A police officer escorted her to a store across the street, assuring her she wouldn't lose her spot. The people in charge were letting in 15 people at a time — and since those who'd waited hours weren't in any rush to leave the store, it was taking longer than expected.
Call it cynicism or just being a wimp about the weather, but I, at least, had an inkling that I wouldn't be seeing Kylie that morning. I started the long walk back around the barricades, past high-school-age boys with impeccable contouring, girls sitting cross-legged on the trash-strewn sidewalk and parents wrapped in fleecy blankets.
A couple towards the end of the line said they'd already been waiting over an hour. She wanted the flame hoodie (by far the most popular item among shoppers I interviewed) to show off to her friends; he was there as an early Valentine's Day present. I asked how much longer they thought they'd be waiting. "About an hour, I hope?" she said. I didn't have the heart to tell her it was almost certainly going to be more like six.
I wished them luck and rushed home to my blissfully warm apartment where, at 3:30 p.m., I finally saw the notification: Kylie had started an Instagram Live video from inside the pop-up. There and on Snapchat, the peach-haired reality star posed for photos with fans and walked down the street flanked by a half dozen NYPD, the screams painfully loud, even filtered through my iPhone.
She also posted a photo of a "Kylie" pin advertising the time all of the new merchandise goes on sale online at KylieJennerShop.com — 10 a.m. PST on Tuesday, just over 24 hours after the New York pop-up opening. Shopping-wise, it promises to be a hell of a lot more comfortable than waiting outdoors in freezing rain, but as everyone I spoke to pointed out, it's not about just buying a couple hoodies and matte lipsticks; it’s about the experience. And, of course, the Instagram.
Homepage photo: Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for MTV