Interior Dialogue with Amy Virginia Buchanan of SSSS
The fantastical events thrown by New York’s very own Spring Street Social Society are very much a moveable feast, with wondrous venues dug up from every corner of the city, and the world at large, to bring together artists, chefs, performers, and lovers of all things fabulous. For the past five years, the members-only society has been amassing many followers for its unique events that have a way of seamlessly mixing performance art and fine dining, resulting in an experience that can be out of this world.
From old cargo ships in the East River, to swanky pool parties in LA, Spring Street Social Society seems to be popping up everywhere. Which is why we were lucky enough to catch up with co-founder and artistic director Amy Virginia Buchanan, who had just come back from a marathon event in London, and is already onto another uber cool dinner here in NYC next week!
INTERIOR MONOLOGUE: How did the idea for Spring Street Social Society come about?
AMY VIRGINIA BUCHANAN: Patrick and I met as strangers and did a cabaret show as our first event together. It was called ‘Spring Street Social Society presents Camp Cabaret.’ So our relationship began around working together. It was a one-off event, but the first night was great—although it had its ups and down, but both Patrick and I were really open about what worked and what didn’t. And everyone who came wanted to know when the next one would be, so we decided to do it again. We did about six cabaret shows in Patrick’s backyard in Soho, then when it got cold out, we found raw retail spaces to perform in. We did one show in the book store I worked in at the time. We also just looked around for nontraditional event spaces to pop up in where ever we could. Then Patrick had the idea of doing a dinner, which I wasn’t too excited about since I had already worked for years in the food service industry, and wasn’t interested in going back. But the dinner made sense as a next step. The tradeoff would be that I could curate performances and the artistic presentation, and we’d work with a chef, not just catering companies.
Camille Becerra was the first chef we worked with, and she brought in friends that made pasta, and did floral arrangements, and there were performers, and some of my clown friends came. It felt a lot like what we’d already built with Camp Cabaret, which was very much about creating this charming, collaborative experience. So we continued in that vein, and we’ve been at it for about five years now. Now we fit into this category of combination membership club / production firm / integrated marketing.
INTERIOR MONOLOGUE: What is the most important aspect of the society that you strive to maintain?
AMY VIRGINIA BUCHANAN: The nice thing about what we’ve created is that we have a base layer that is firmly rooted in the fact that SSSS is an artistic expression of the collaborative relationship between myself and Patrick, as well as the other artists that we bring into whatever we create. We never sacrifice our artistic integrity, which made the first years an interesting struggle. And still is, because we want to stay true to that integrity. We were really firm about what we were willing to do in terms of the brands we work with and what we give to our audience. We are all about respecting the artists we work with, as well as the audience, because they also bring something else to the experience. It has to be a good feeling all around. We want to treat everyone involved well, and make things that are really worth spending time on and in.
INTERIOR MONOLOGUE: How do you scout locations, and once you’ve found the perfect spot, what does it take to make it all happen?
AMY VIRGINIA BUCHANAN: It feels very fluid and connected. When we were first starting out we’d literally walk or bike around NYC looking for interesting spaces, or empty retail spots, and just cold call the numbers on the signs to pitch what we were doing. And it worked a few times! And other spaces came through connections—we did an event early on at the Highline Hotel, which they basically sponsored because I knew the manager from when I worked at the café downstairs and gave him a cappuccino everyday so he liked me. It’s all about positive vibes, constantly talking about what we’re doing with people, and so now places actually reach out to us.
The last two New York dinners we did, the Wavetree Cargo Ship and the Downtown Association, were both a part of a collaboration with the Downtown Alliance, which is working to bring people below Chambers Street. So they took us around to all sorts of places, and when we saw the ship we said, yes! Let’s do it! Let’s figure out how to throw a dinner on a boat with no running water and limited electricity. It wonderful, we’re always on the hunt and seeking out new spaces because we want them to be super-secret or special or first access. The more difficult the better—if we need to bring in a generator, great. If it might be haunted, event better!
INTERIOR MONOLOGUE: What’s the most successful partnered event you’ve done, and what made it so?
AMY VIRGINIA BUCHANAN: Wow, it’s hard because we’ve done 23 events in the last year alone, so there’s a lot to choose from! But we worked with Create & Barrel last year on an event that was pretty great. The whole partnership was built around making use of their product within the world we’d create. We got access to a town house in Soho and were able to take over four floors for this roaming dinner party. We got to build it out with all of the new Crate & Barrel product, but there were also all these great old vintage pieces already there, so it felt really unique. We had guests enter through the back ally and up through the basement to give it the feel that you were discovering this grand home that’d been abandoned. There were drop cloths draped over furniture and Crate & Barrel boxes packed up everywhere.
Then you went upstairs and it was all decorated out with a bar. And on the 2nd floor, there was a build your own bouquets station, all with Crate & Barrel glasses, and a tattoo station (I had probably eight massive florals on me by then end of the second night!) Then that was interrupted by a marching band (the Hungry March Band, who leads the Mermaid Parade every year in Coney Island), and they played down the street and busted in the front door and marched people up to the roof, where there was a flower canopy to make it feel like an overgrown secret garden. The table top was all Crate & Barrel, mixed in with flowers and lights. Dinner was interrupted by an acapella troupe who performed a Prince and David Bowie mashup. Then at the end of the night we’d marked the bottom of all the plates with a sort of raffle, and we were able to give away all these amazing Crate & Barrel picnic baskets and lawn games and goodies. We love being able to give things to our members, and we love having a beautiful table top, so the whole partnership really worked because we were able to showcase the Crate & Barrel line, but also make it our own.
INTERIOR MONOLOGUE: What is one thing you’d like a guest to come away with from one of your dinners?
AMY VIRGINIA BUCHANAN: We pack our events full of things, so people always walk away being surprised by performances. One event we had a calligrapher on site that wrote instructions in a sealed envelope for each name card, and at the end of the night we had people open it up to find thigs like, ‘cut a rug with Partick,’ or ‘swap a phone number.’ It ended up being this crazy musical chairs of phone number swapping and dancing. We like to find ways for guests to interact and play.
One of the best compliments we get is when someone who’s lived in NY for a long time comes and says it made them remember why they live in NY. We like to inspire awe and wonder, and make feel people lucky to be in NY, or wherever we are.
INTERIOR MONOLOGUE: You also worked this year on a more permanent spot, the stay pop-up, how did that come about?
AMY VIRGINIA BUCHANAN: The tay pop-up was at Platform in LA, and they’d reached out to us to do something in the space because it was empty and pretty raw, but going to be turned into a restaurant in the coming year. So we had the opportunity to do something for as long or as little as we wanted, which gave us some cool ideas. We used the space for a big dinner, when it was still raw, to kind of ‘christen it.’ We had a smaller scale dinner while the store was up, we also hosted a number of different events; product launches, a magazine launch of a men’s journal, a book launch. We did a panel discussion with Uprise Art (an online art dealer), which included a gallery wall and panel discussion with their founder, local artists and designers. It was a fun space to have, but there are limitations. If we had a more permanent space we’d want to be able to combine everything we do—performance, food, drinks, atmosphere. And we’d probably do it in NY, because that’s where we’re based.
INTERIOR MONOLOGUE: Where do you see the society growing in the coming year?
AMY VIRGINIA BUCHANAN: What’s great is that it’s forever evolving and adapting. Spring Street Social Society is one thing now, and that’s different than the thing it was six months ago, and still different from the thing it’ll be in the next six months. But we’re really excited to be able to take on any opportunities that come up.
Next week we were getting into an old box factory in Industry City, which is one of the few spaces left in that complex that is still raw and untouched and beautiful. We had reached out to them at just the right time too, because they were going to start construction, but they actually pushed it back to let us get in, which is an amazing feeling. It just inspires us to want to create something really beautiful. Plus we’re partnering with Anthropologie to do table tops and other design elements, so I’m just really excited to get in the middle and see how the whole spectacle will unfold.