Monday, May 02, 2016

In the Market Report: Manus x Machina

A Primer for Tonight's Gala

Photo Laurel Marcus
Click image for larger view

I remember my very first reaction upon hearing the news many months ago, that this year’s blockbuster Costume Institute Exhibition would be called “Manus x Machina”. I think I said, “Huh? And apparently, I was not alone. Any question about the exhibit’s contents and objectives, would have assuredly been cleared up by now thanks to all the pre publicity surrounding it, and of course the attending gala, which has gotten bigger and more publicized each year. For the first time, E! will be covering the red carpet arrivals, giving it the same importance as the Academy Awards.

But if any confusion or questions remained about the exhibition, they certainly would have been cleared up after this morning’s jam packed press preview. Coincidentally, I walked in with Thom Browne, Andrew Bolton’s significant other, and told him I enjoyed reading the entertaining article about the creative duo’s Sunday rituals (and their beloved dog) in yesterday’s The New York Times. Thom also told me he had created a dress for Amy Fine Collins to wear at the gala, as he did last year. Another designer I spotted was Mary McFadden who had three of her iconic pleated ready-to-wear dresses on view. They were across the aisle from 6 pleated Fortuny haute couture gowns.

In a nutshell, Andrew Bolton, the Met’s Curator in Charge, has sought to explore the creative process and illustrate the way designers have reconciled the handmade with the machine-made. Most importantly, he has put to rest any preconceived notions about handmade vs. machine made. His contention is that one is not inherently better than, or preferable to the other; there is a continuing blurring of the lines between the two (so much so that it’s often hard to tell which is which); and quite frankly, they are perfect together. A fashion match made in heaven.

This is successfully supported by the approximately 120 pieces of haute couture and avant-garde ready-to-wear exhibited in both levels of the Robert Lehman Wing. Included are designs by Gilbert Adrian, Cristóbal Balenciaga, Boue Soeurs, Miuccia Prada, John Galliano for Christian Dior and Maison Margiela, Madame Grès, Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton, Noa Rvaiv, Raf Simons for Jil Sander and Christian Dior, Riccardo Tisci for Givenchy and threeASFOUR.The first floor gallery examines the métiers of embroidery, feather work, and artificial flowers. The ground floor examines pleating, lacework, leatherwork, pleating and innovative processes such as 3D printing, laser cutting, thermos-shaping, ultrasonic molding, computer modeling, and more. It is very dramatic and visually arresting- almost like Theatre in the Round.  My only criticism is the heavy and somber music. It is VERY serious. They might have wanted to lighten it up a bit.

The press preview was called from 10 – 1PM and at about 11AM, everyone convened in the Carroll and Milton Petrie European Sculpture Court to hear remarks made by Thomas P. Campbell, Director, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Jony Ive, Chief Design Officer, Apple (the exhibition is made possible by Apple with additional support provided by Conde Nast); and Andrew Bolton, Curator in Charge.

Mr. Campbell noted that “Andrew Bolton’s ambitious new exhibition fits perfectly with a museum dedicated to the what, how, and why things have been created over the past 5000 years. The space within the museum was transformed by OMA New York architect Shohei Shigematsu. Our incredible MET team literally created a building within. A cathedral of sorts. A central platform built across the atrium holds one of the highlights of the exhibition: Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel wedding ensemble. It’s a perfect melding of hand and machine and one of Andrew’s inspirations for the show. Andrew’s carefully crafted vision for this exhibition is yet another example of his expansive mind and rigorous intellect.

Mr. Campbell continues: 

"I would once again like to thank Met Trustee Anna Wintour. Tonight for the 18th time, she will work her magic at the Costume Institute Benefit. Conde Nast has also provided generous funding; further demonstration of its continued support. Of course, this project would not have been possible without the generosity of our sponsor, Apple, and its visionary chief designer, Jony Ive. Apple’s commitment to excellence in design and its mission to please the eye as well as the hand and the mind impacts us all. And it’s now my pleasure to introduce Jony (Ive)."
Jony Ive continues: 
“Good morning. We are thrilled at Apple to bring to life, “Manus x Machina”: Fashion in an age of Technology. When Anna and Andrew first talked to me about the exhibition, I was particularly intrigued that it would stimulate a conversation exploring the relationship between what is made by hand and what is made by machine. That it would challenge the preconception held by some that the former is somehow inherently more valuable than the latter. With the design team at Apple, we do share some similar preoccupations and goals with the designers whose work you will see here today. Many of us believe in the poetic possibilities of the machine while in equal measure, we have tremendous respect and admiration for what is made by hand. Our goal has always been to try to create objects that are as beautiful as they are functional. As elegant as they are useful. Our physical designs are informed by our passion for materials and processes. Based on my experience, surprisingly fewer and fewer designers regardless of their particular design discipline seem to be interested in the detail of how something is actually made. My father was a fabulous craftsman, so I was raised with the fundamental belief that it is only when you work the material with your hands that you come to understand its true nature. Its characteristics, its attributes, and I think very importantly, its potential”.
“Watching the exhibition evolve, it has been exciting to see craftsmanship considered not only the context of today, but also the future. The Chanel dress which was Andrew’s inspiration for the exhibition is a wonderful example of artisan like craft executed with the deepest consideration made possible by the latest technology. I am humbled by the innovations of the past in the same way I’m humbled by the work that we can see here today. All craft was at some point new and it challenged convention”.  
“Fundamentally though, that most important part of this discussion is the notion of care. Whether something is made in the smallest volume as a one of couture piece, or in large quantities, deep care is critical in determining authentic, successful design. It’s the great care, and resultant beauty that I recognize in every piece I see here today - whether it’s being made by man or machine. It is creation led by great consideration. It’s the amount of care invested, whether machine made or hand made that will transform ordinary modest material, to something extraordinary. Technology and craft are not at odds and much like beauty and utility, they go hand in hand. One makes the other more powerful”.

Last but not least was Andrew Bolton. Highlights of his speech: “The initial idea for the exhibition came when I was looking at Saint Laurent’s iconic 'Mondrian' dress from his fall 1965 couture collection. In examining its construction we discovered that it was sewn almost entirely by machine. In fact, the only presence of the hand was the hem and zipper. I was surprised because traditionally, the distinction between the haute couture and pret-a-porter has always been between the handmade and the machine made respectively. In fact, the Chambre Syndicale specifies handwork requirements in its rules and regulations."

Mr. Bolton continues:

“Manus x Machine questions the dialectical relationship in which the hand and the machine are portrayed as discordant instruments in the production of the haute couture and pret-a-porter. And it proposes rethinking of the haute and cout re and pre a porter, especially in light of the fact that the technical separations between the two are becoming increasingly more ambiguous, and that the quality of pret a porter is becoming increasingly more sophisticated”.
“Our intention is to liberate the handmade and the machine made from their usual confines of the haute couture and pret a porter and releases them into the hands of fashion designers for whom they serve as expressions of creative impulses rather than the exigencies of the fashion system”.
“As the exhibition demonstrates, designers of either the haute couture or pret- a- porter seldom discriminate against the hand and the machine in their design process. For them, the hand and the machine are creative- rather than contradictory- tools that help to refine, perfect, and advance their craft. The hand and the machine work in combination to assist and enhance the design process, enabling highly imaginative inventions that might be impossible without such a thesis.”
“Introducing the exhibition is a wonderful example of this confluence between the handmade and the machine made- a wedding dress by Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel fall 2014 couture collection, which was one of the main inspirations for the exhibition. The design on the train was sketched by hand and then manipulated on the computer to give the appearance of a pixilated “baroque” pattern. It was initially hand painted with gold metallic pigment, then machine printed with rhinestones, and finally hand embroidered with pearls and gemstones. In total, the train took 450 hours of workmanship” (when I heard this, I couldn’t help but think it sounded like something Sarah Jessica Parker would have loved to get her hands on for the gala tonight lol).
“Each piece in the exhibition has been dissected - metaphorically speaking - to determine its “genetic” makeup and clarify its position on the hand/machine continuum. The results of the “DNA” testing are stated beneath every garment, almost like a medical record.”
“The show is structured around the métiers of dressmaking as outlined in Diderot’s “Encyclopedia of the Sciences, Arts, and Crafts.” Published in the mid-18th century, it was one of the most controversial publications of the French Enlightenment. The métiers defined by Diderot remain at the center of the haute couture today and provide the organizing principles of the exhibition which has been meticulously designed by OMA to stand as a temple to the beauty and artistry of fashion. The exhibition  unfolds as a contemporary adaptation of Diderot’s Encyclopedia.”
“Ultimately, the show attempts to present an alternate reading of fashion, one that’s more in keeping with our “Age of Technology.” In this age, the technical separation between the haute couture and pret-a-porter is diminishing through the shared usage of hand techniques and mechanical technologies. Through the marriage of the handmade and the machine made, a new aesthetic is emerging- one of exacting beauty and unfettered imaginings.”

- Marilyn Kirschner

Saturday, April 30, 2016

In the Market Report

Miniskirts in Paris

Photos: Laurel Marcus & Marilyn Kirschner
Click images for full size view

Medical Missions for Children ( is a nonprofit organization that provides surgeries free of charge to underprivileged children and young adults living in the most underserved areas of the world. Their focus is specifically on the surgical repair of cleft lip and palate deformities, burn injuries, microtia (absence of the outer ear) and head/neck tumors and their motto is “Let the healing begin- one child at a time”.

Lauren Lawrence, Vicky Tiel, & Joy Venturini Bianchi

On Friday evening, they held their first annual spring fundraising gala at 580 Park. Chaired by Board Member Margie Rotchford and Vice Chaired by Lauren Lawrence (who generously opened up her Park Avenue apartment to host the kick off cocktail party), it was called “Miniskirts in Paris” as a fitting tribute to their 2016 honoree, Vicky Tiel, the famed American born French designer, who (along with best friend and partner Mia Fonssagrives), put miniskirts on the map. (Ms. Fonssagrives-Solow was a Vice Chair for the event though she was unable to attend).

Vicky Tiel and Mia Fonssagrives in Life Magazine 1965
wearing their hand made Floppy Hats

The talented duo was discovered by Louis Feraud in Paris and their careers were kick started when their Mia-Vicky mini dress was included in his couture show in Paris in 1964. It prompted Eugenia Sheppard, the famed International Herald Tribune writer to headline her review with this startling caption, “Anyone in Fashion Over 25 Might as Well Be Dead”.

Vicky Tiel and Mia Fonssagrives on The Tonight Show with
Johnny Carson in 1964

Life Magazine subsequently wrote a five page profile of the young talents, “Two American Girls Show in Paris” and they became instant stars. Johnny Carson even invited them to appear on his show with their ‘daring’ creations.

Joy Marks in a Vicky Tiel gown & Lucia Hwong Gordon

For the record, I am WELL over 25, and don’t think my life is over lol. And I don’t wear minis either. Though that is precisely what Vicky wore (along with white lace tights), and I spotted a few others among the approximately 250 in attendance for an evening of cocktails, dinner, and dancing; all for a very worthy cause.

Vicky meeting Marylou Luther, with Nicole Fischelis,
 Marilyn Kirschner and Lynne Deutch

The guest list included Lucia Hwong Gordon, Marylou Luther, Nicole Fishelis (Vicky once worked for Nicole’s furrier father in Paris!), Joy Venturini Bianchi (who came all the way from San Francisco and looked fabulous in a fitted Tom Ford embellished jacket), Heather and Ed de Courreges, Martha Kramer, and Joy Marks, who was wearing a form fitting strapless beaded Vicky Tiel gown purchased at Bergdorf Goodman 15 years ago.

Margie Rotchford

Margie Rotchford was also wearing Vicky Tiel. The blue dress, a couture creation was made specifically for her. Vicky told me it was modeled after an 80’s design that’s been selling in Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus for 34 years and is the longest selling continuous dress in their history. It was copied in the movie “Pretty Woman” from the windows of Giorgio’s, who did it in red first. It’s called the “Pretty Woman” dress in the stores. When I saw it, I immediately thought of the 80’s hit show, “Dynasty”.

Denise and John James

Coincidentally, after taking the podium to make her welcoming remarks, she introduced the event emcees, Denise and John James (Denise is a former Miss World Australia who has her own radio show called “Let’s Talk Animals” and John is an actor who is best known for his role as heart-throb Jeff Colby in “Dynasty”). He wasted no time introducing a film about Vicky Tiel which was followed by a fashion show featuring some of her iconic, notoriously leggy designs.When Vicky took the podium, she jokingly admitted she had never been honored by anyone before, other than her “HOT” husband. For the record, she is married to fishing boat caption Mike Hamilton who is 15 years her junior. He is obviously her secret weapon in being able to turn back the clock; she looks decades younger than her 72 years.

Elizabeth Taylor and Vicky Tiel in Paris

She went on to explain that Elizabeth Taylor had not only been a loyal customer, but a great friend and an investor in her company. “How many people can say that Elizabeth Taylor was a great friend?” she asked. “She taught me that the most important thing in life is to give back and to think of others. The only time you should think of yourself, is when it comes to your jewelry”. This got a lot of knowing laughs.

She also remarked that she was lucky enough to have met Coco Chanel who inspired her to create fragrances along with her designs (they, along with her fashion, have become great sellers that have enabled her to enjoy a wonderful life). In fact, she once said, “I think of myself as a beauty expert. Fashion doesn’t come first, you know. The whole point of my clothes is to make a woman’s body look beautiful.”She has created 15 fragrances in 25 years and they can all be described as “feminine and seductive” just like her clothing. Her first was called “Vicky Tiel” and launched in 1989 and her latest, “1964” launched in 2014 and celebrates Vicky’s 50 years in fashion. A bottle of “Bonaparte 21” was at each guest’s place setting. The name of the oriental floral, created in 2013 is the address in Paris of the dress boutique Vicky co owned with Elizabeth Taylor (Vicky still owns the real estate which is no longer a retail shop).

John James came up again and announced that he has been in the entertainment industry for over 40 years and “these are the true talented artists”; an obvious reference to the approximately 375 volunteer surgeons, anesthesiologists, medical, dental, speech and nutritional specialists who generously donate their time and their remarkable services to literally change lives. He then introduced Dr. H. Dennis Snyder, Chairman, MMFC, who showed graphic and heart wrenching images before and after successful surgeries, putting names with faces. Truly remarkable!

The Denis Collins Band

This was followed by a live auction headed up by Ms. Rotchford and Dr. Shadi Daher. An operating room for one week: $15,000; an operating room for one day: $2500; one operation: $300. Afterwards, the celebration (music and dancing) began, courtesy The Dennis Collins Band with help from special guests Alfa Anderson, Luci Martin, and Norma Jean Wright (formerly of Chic). Vicky and Marcie helped blow up large purple balloons which matched the room. It was aglow in purple and I noticed it as soon as I walked in. Naturally, I immediately thought of Prince (though it should be pointed out that purple was also Elizabeth Taylor’s signature color). And yes, there was a tribute to the late singer as the group broke out with their rendition of “Party like its 1999”.

Vicky Tiel sketch for the mini wrap dress for the movie Candy 1968

But clearly, the evening was all about raising money for this wonderful charity. It also gave me an opportunity to finally meet Vicky and familiarize myself with her long and productive fashion career, which is still going strong, and includes many firsts (many years before Diane Von Furstenberg became a household name with her wrap dresses; Vicky created a bias cut wrap dress for the movie “Candy” in 1968). She has also designed costumes for iconic movies such as “What’s New Pussycat”, and her dresses have appeared on leading actresses in “Saturday Night Fever”, 1977, “Black Rain”, 1989, and “Pretty Woman”, 1990.

Models on parade wearing Vicky Tiel

Her couture evening dresses and gowns are available at Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus. Vintage websites like 1stdibs feature her sexy, form fitting designs and she has a collection which is available on HSN. Her autobiography, It’s All About The Dress: What I learned in Forty Years About Men, Women, Sex, and Fashion was published in 2011 by Saint Martin’s Press. (On Thursday, the day before the gala, there was a book signing party at the home of Vice Chair Lauren Lawrence was which being filmed as part of a documentary about Vicky). When I asked the woman known for her unapologetically feminine, body hugging designs, what she thinks of androgynous fashion (which is all the ‘rage’), she answered “I don’t think about it.” But quickly offered that everyone should dress the way they want.

Vicky Tiel beaded tulle dress in Bergdorf Goodman's Holiday Windows, 2004

Re-acquainting myself with Vicky’s resume and body of work made me realize just how impressive her accomplishments have been. She also has the honor of being the longest lasting female fashion designer in France (52 years). Given the fickle industry we are in, the fashion world’s well documented short attention span, and the never ending revolving door of designers, this makes Vicky’s staying power and longevity all the more impressive and miraculous. While this is hardly in the same category as the life altering work being done by Medical Missions for Children’s highly skilled team of physicians and specialists, it is miraculous none the less. Even more so when you consider that she has accomplished all this without a publicist! As she put it, “I just sell!”

- Marilyn Kirschner

Friday, April 29, 2016

New York Fashion Cool-Aid ®

Vicky Tiel To Die For...

All photos Laurel Marcus
Click images for full size views

Have you noticed that it's nearly impossible to attend just a charity benefit lately? It's become an entire affair rather than a one night stand. First there's the kickoff cocktail party for the event, followed by yet another event possibly to celebrate the honoree, then (if you're lucky) there's the actual main event -- the benefit dinner. Yesterday afternoon I attended the "middle event," a book signing for designer Vicky Tiel and her name droppy, sex-filled, fascinating memoir "It's All About the Dress: What I Learned in Forty Years About Men, Women, Sex, and Fashion" (believe me it's a lot as she counts as friends La Liz, Richard Burton, Goldie Hawn, Warren Beatty and others)! Ms. Tiel will be the honoree at the Medical Missions For Children (MMFC) Miniskirts in Paris benefit on Friday evening at 583 Park Avenue which I also plan to attend.

Ada de Maurier on the left with Host & Vice Chair of  MMFC's
 Lauren Lawrence on the right in a Carolina Herrera dress

Chairperson for the MMFC Event Committee Margie Rotchford greeted me at the Upper East Side home of our host New York Daily News dream reporter Lauren Lawrence,while clad in a beautiful soft purple classic Vicky Tiel frock. Rotchford, a resident of Saratoga Springs and owner of thoroughbreds, met Tiel recently through a friend and asked her right away if she would support her first time gala for MMFC; an organization which sponsors doctors travels to countries such as Ecuador and Peru in order to operate and correct disfiguring defects such as cleft palates.

Chairperson Margie Rotchford

The book signing event was called for 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., a little odd I thought since most take place after working hours. When I arrived on the fashionably late side of 1:30, the guest of honor had not shown up yet and there was panic in Lawrence's eyes. I spoke with some of the familiar faces including Joy Marks (in a fabulous Maggie Norris suit and Patricia Underwood hat), Adele Nino and Katlean DeMonchy.

Joy Marks

I also met a few interesting out-of-towners including Joy Venturini Bianchi, a San Franciscan with a great attitude and a love of statement making costume jewelry. A vision in her orange wool hat, huge tortoise glasses, chic navy pantsuit and orange bangles, Iris Apfel could learn from this bad ass broad! Check out her Instagram at Helpers House of Couture to get an idea of how she rolls (Spoiler Alert: she's on a motorcycle!)

Joy Venturini Bianchi

By 2 p.m. we were all getting a little woozy day drinking champagne (or at least I was) when we were informed that Ms. Tiel, who had "gotten the time wrong," would be here shortly. Vicky eventually breezed in, her red mane freshly blown out, in a multicolored, shiny short caftan with hot pink tights and black and hot pink booties. Ms. Rotchford introduced me to the inventor of the miniskirt, adding that I had a tale (literally from the crypt) to tell.

Vicky informal signing copies of her book

The saga involves my late stepmother who owned several of Vicky's ruched creations which spanned the ages. I pulled out photos of the saffron colored dress she had acquired in the '80s as well as a white lace number purchased circa 2008. I also hesitantly shared that her longtime housekeeper and I had made the decision to lay her to rest in the designer's red "Pretty Woman" gown; one that she had adored wearing. Ms. Rotchford not only told me Vicky would love this, but it is in fact mentioned in her book as a common occurrence. Sure enough, Ms. Tiel referred me to that mention (it's actually on the first page)! "Bergdorf's says that I'm the number one designer for this purpose. My dresses make the body look good in the box," she boasted.

"The scene"

Back amongst the living in the living room, a huge chocolate Passover cake courtesy of Joy Marks by way of William Greenberg desserts was proffered, along with more champagne, while Ms. Tiel got down to the business at hand: signing books. This was not your ordinary book signing (or maybe it was these days) as it was being filmed for a documentary on Vicky. Each customer got to sit halfsies in a chair with the designer, have a nice long chat, and get not only her signature but a little Sharpie version of the designer's famous dress silhouette "customized" for her body type.

Laurel Marcus & Vicky

When it was finally my turn (I kept losing my place in line as I went to take photos) there was nothing left to say as I had already spilled my somewhat macabre story. When I got to pride of place, Vicky suddenly remembered that her multi strand two-tone charm necklace of Egyptian artifacts (Queen Nefertiti's profile included) was lurking hidden beneath the front of her dress. (Was she hiding it on the subway or something)?

I handed her my book and she took up the Sharpie. I spelled my name for her:

"You're very sleek so I think this would be good on you" she said as she drew a strapless, modified sweetheart neckline with a ruched bustline and a long slinky yet slightly flared at the bottom gown.

"Sold!" I thought "Just don't bury me in it yet."

- Laurel Marcus