The first time he crossed the bridge carrying the torch from downtown to Macy’s Herald Square at midnight, designer Ralph Lauren made one thing clear: New York’s community of style pros was not impressed.
“I thought I could glide across and be a fashion butterfly,” he said, back then. But that day, in the sultry environs of Herald Square, I couldn’t find the wings on a New York man. There was just an orange confetti cloud—the snow in the sky had apparently fallen on the parade’s high-budget balloon costuming company before he made the fateful decision to bring the balloons down to earth.
Two decades and 5,000 parades later, the winds are strong. That doesn’t mean the balloons are intact. Indeed, Sunday’s balloons had yet to be inflated.
Up on the curvy top deck of the Claiborne B. Massey and Louis P. McFadden Building—designer Ranae Horackiff’s tenth parade on which to sit and take in the iconic spectacle—the observer quickly noticed that the balloons would take shape in the middle of the parade. Besides being dangerous, overcrowding would be the worst danger.
Were they white? Hazel? Cowskins? Black clouds like the one you’re looking at? Assembled last Thursday, the bunnies, reindeer, and panda balloons looked like part of a Gumby play area. Perhaps that’s why a few refused to touch the ground.
Tiki torches hung from the aluminum trusses, illuminating passersby, and the spectacle finally got underway. While the creation of a giant birdcage is something that appears in a McDonald’s commercial, if you paid attention, you could only see one foot sticking out. That foot belonged to the character Puff the Magic Dragon. Up in the first-floor Panoramic Clock Tower, which served as the ballroom for 11 years of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, digital displays showed photographs of the best, worst, and in between from the parade’s past, recalling “Happy Days” star Henry Winkler as a National Anthem singer, to Elizabeth Taylor, a pair of stars from the first appearance of Astro Boy in 1958, and the youngest performer, Simon Igde, then 7, in 2007.
Throughout his career, the parade’s founder, Harry “Hap” Macy, had always prefigured technology by showing the first science fiction film in the series as well as the cover of a movie album in its marketplace. And so one of the highlights of the parade is featured this year: the official premiere of Wonder Woman, filmed by Zack Snyder’s team at Paramount Studios at the Warner Brothers lot.
Wonder Woman was a sensation. Within a month of its release, it was the only movie to make over $400 million domestically.
“I was ecstatic,” said Rita Hamilton, who first got involved with the parade in 1963 as a costume designer. “It was an amazing feat.”
Hamilton’s salesmanship has guided thousands of Macy’s retailers around the world to brand their products with birds, lambs, and rabbits, and to think of twinkly-light holiday gifts.
Little did she know that launching in the 1960s was going to create a billion-dollar business. But, on Sunday, Hamilton, now 86, became the oldest Macy’s parade vet, as she was joined by daughter Margaret “Peggy” Messler, to see 34 years worth of the parade go by.
“I just want to be here,” Hamilton said. “To see the parade and that stuff. I just can’t watch TV.”