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11.19.08

Google, Marc Jacobs, and Other Casualties of the Christmas Party Recession

With their bottom lines at breaking point, companies known for lavish holiday celebrations are downsizing.

Back when I was a professional party hopper—cough, I mean reporter— for pretty much every publication with “New York” in the title, the holiday season was practically a gladiator sport—in heels, over sleet and snow. Everyone got drunk, dirty, and stupid, and the evening typically ended when someone passed out, half-dressed, in the boss’ bathtub.

Ah, those were the days.

This year, the shattered economy has canceled Christmas. The emails keep pouring into employee inboxes that their companies just can't justify the expense (nor the expense of seeming frivolous in these dire days). Hearst was among the first to cave, and other corporations have quickly followed, including Conde Nast, MTV, and UBS' Wealth Management division.

All three parties (L.A., N.Y., and D.C.) at ABC News were canceled, in the same memo that asked all executives “to stay in ‘B’ level hotels.”

Even Google is Scrooging this year. Last year’s New York party was at the Rainbow Room, which typically costs $300 a head and a minimum of $60,000. But this year, Google has broken up its festivities into smaller gatherings: one split between two separate lofts for its engineers, another for its sales staff at the Central Park Boathouse. We don’t know exactly what Google is paying, but the loft spaces it has reserved this year—the Westside Loft, in Midtown West, and Penthouse 15, a partially glass-enclosed rooftop space on West 37th Street—typically rent for $7,500 and $6,500, respectively. The Boathouse is closer to $150 a head. And Google said no plus-ones at the Boathouse (which is unfortunate because that would definitely be the one to crash). Last year’s party at the Rainbow Room was “open to all full-time Googlers,” with spouses and partners welcome. Google declined to comment on the record.

The L.A. party outlook is no less gloomy. Last week, Paramount announced via an email from Human Resources that instead of its usual massive bash on the L.A. lot, it is giving employees the week of December 22 as paid vacation:

As we approach the end of the year, we, like many companies around the world, have been weighing how best to handle the holidays given the current economic environment. Our senior executives have decided rather than having the holiday party and gifts this year we would expand on our annual Tree Lighting Ceremony, and give you the entire week of December 22 as paid holiday time off. By making the announcement today, we’re hoping to give you ample time to make your holiday plans with your families.

The Lauder Family and The Estee Lauder Companies canceled their bash, informing would-be guests that they would be making charitable donations instead of consuming free sake and sushi at Nobu 57.

Dear Friends,

Many of you have been asking us about The Estée Lauder Companies Holiday press party this year. After much thought and consideration, we have decided that, at this moment in time, it is more appropriate to thank you and celebrate in another way. To express our gratitude for your support and to recognize our invaluable, deep relationships, The Estée Lauder Companies will be making a donation in your honor to Dress for Success. The mission of Dress for Success is to promote the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, a network of support and the career development tools to help women thrive in work and in life.

So, although we will be cancelling the party on December 1st at Nobu 57, you are very much in our hearts….

The Lauder Family and The Estée Lauder Companies

I haven’t been to the legendary Marc Jacobs Christmas parties, but I always appreciated virtual crashing the next day via Patrick McMullan’s photographs, particularly when Marc dressed up like a polar bear. That party, sadly, was just canceled, too.

Due to the financial climate, I had to make the decision to cancel the 2008 holiday party…It pains me as this has been a Marc Jacobs tradition for the past 18 years. Hopefully it will be reinstated next year.

And all three parties thrown by ABC News were tossed, said the same memo that asked executives to “fly one grade below what they’re entitled to” and “to stay in ‘B’ level hotels.”

We report every day on the economic climate and the effects being felt throughout the country. We are not immune from the downturn. At the same time, the importance of the election and economic stories reminds us how much we have to do to help our audiences absorb and understand what is going on around them. What we need to do—and will do—is to make sure that we have all the resources we need to cover the news… This means that the company parties in LA, NY and DC are cancelled.

Social climbing aside, these swooshy affairs mean paychecks for plenty of out-of-work actor/waiters, caterers, cleaners, bartenders, drivers, and security guys. Even the girls with the clipboards outside are getting paid, at least in bribes. So please, do your part. Keep the holiday spirit alive. Lord knows no one else this year seems able to.

Deborah Schoeneman has been a columnist for The New York Observer, New York magazine, and Conde Nast Portfolio. She was the editor-in-chief of Hampton Style magazine for a party-hopping summer. Her freelance articles have appeared in The New York Sunday Times Styles section, The Wall Street Journal, Blender, Angeleno, and Playboy. In 2006, Random House published her first novel, 4% Famous. Last year she moved to Los Angeles to break into Hollywood writing and learn how to surf.