Bryant Park is located in the busy Midtown neighborhood of Manhattan. It's a short walk from the offices of Vogue and adjacent to the New York Public Library and fancy hotels and restuarants. On Thursday, the park — the former site of New York Fashion Week — hosted about two dozen sheep, brought in by the Campaign for Wool to promote the wool industry.
Founded by Prince Charles in 2010, the Campaign aims to increase awareness and understanding of wool's benefits, its sustainability especially. This event, called "Wool Uncovered," marked the Campaign for Wool's U.S. launch.
Along with the sheep, a UK-based bed company called Vi-Spring was in attendance, holding a contest to give away one of their all-wool beds (everything, from mattress to frame, is made from fine Shetland wool). According to Huw Bussell, who does PR for the company, Vi-Spring made the beds for the first-class cabins on the Titanic. Apparently, some customers say they take their mattresses with them on vacation.
I tested the bed as well, my feet carefully propped cloth to keep the bedspread from getting dirty. It was seriously one of the most comfortable beds I've ever felt — and, with Vi-Spring's mattresses starting at $2,500, it will cost you if you want one.
The sheep in the park weren't the Shetland breed that provide the wool for Vi-Spring beds. Shetlands "live on seaweed and kelp in very windy conditions," Huw said. "They're hardy little beasts, I can tell you." But they weren't hardy enough to make the trip over to New York, leaving local Rhinebeck sheep to fill in for them. (Rhinebeck is where the annual Dutchess County Sheep and Wool Festival is held. This year's is the weekend of October 20, FYI.) .
The Bryant Park fountain was filled with wool as part of an art installation. It would only remain there for ten hours before getting deconstructed "with sledgehammers," a repairman explained through a mouthful of pins as he tacked a fallen piece of wool back to its wooden base.
"Wool can be water in a fountain, it can be a bed, it can be a rug, or it can be a couture gown," said Sonny Puryear, the host of a panel discussion on wool's relationship to fashion, and a representative of Woolmark. Other panelists included, from left: Alan Eckstein, one of the co-founders of fashion line Timo Weiland; Nick Sullivan, Esquire's fashion director; and John Muscat from luxury brand Line Knitwear.
They spoke about their experiences with and love of working with wool. "As a designer," Muscat said, "I think the most interesting thing to design is knitwear... There's something with knitwear where you can just play with proportions, play with stitches, and really create something different."
Sullivan noted that turtlenecks would be a trend for men's knitwear, at which several women in the audience appeared to gasp in horror.
Not everyone at the event was there to extol wool's virtues. Around noon, a handful of PETA members arrived to protest the industry's treatment of sheep.
A protestor named Crystina was dressed as a sheep with a bloody gash on its head, while three other volunteers and PETA employees passed out flyers to passersby.
Ashley Byrne, the manager of campaigns for PETA, spoke of the poor conditions in which many sheep are raised and sheared. She also touched on how they're killed even when they're not intended for meat, castrated and stuffed into cramped quarters by a lot of small sheep farmers. Gesturing toward the excited crowds clustered around the fountain and the sheep pen, she said, "People deserve to know that there's so much more to the picture than what's in there."
"With all the alternatives available," she insisted, "there's just no reason to wear wool."
The PETA protestors were incredibly polite, and remained outside the perimeter of Bryant Park itself, smiling at everyone who passed by. For the most part, people ignored them.
"It's the real stuff," said a woman, holding up a cloud of unspun wool.
"Yeah," agreed her friend. "It smells like sheep, though."