Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Rita Hayworth 31st Anniversary Alzheimer Gala

Karl Wellner, Deborah Norville, & Princess Yasmin Aga Khan
(All photos Lieba Nesis)

The Alzheimer's Association held its Rita Hayworth 31st Anniversary Gala in the ballroom at the Waldorf Astoria at 6:30 PM. It began with a cocktail party accompanied by a silent auction with loads of celebrities and socialites streaming in and posing on the red carpet. This is one of the major social events of the year and one thing that nobody forgot, was to come bedecked in their best jewels. The event was underwritten by Rolex, and Mark Locks, a leader in the apparel industry, and the Kornfeld family were presented with a "Champion" and philanthropic award, respectively.

Joy and Regis Philbin

Since the inaugural Rita Hayworth Gala began 31 years ago they have raised more than $61 million to support Alzheimer's Association's critical care and research programs. Princess Yasmin Aga Khan established the Gala as a tribute to her mother, Rita Hayworth, who lived with Alzheimer's for many years before her death in 1987. The dinner attendees included: celebrities Brooke Shields, John McEnroe, and Lisa Rinna; news personalities Regis Philbin, Deborah Norville, and Bryant Gumbel; designers Dennis Basso and Tommy Hilfiger; and socialities Jean Shafiroff, Somers Farkas, Muffy Aston, Lucia Hwong Gordon, and Alexandra Lebenthal (and many more).

Suzanne Murphy, Somers Farkas, Dennis Basso, Alexandra Lebenthal and Muffy Aston

While I expected a quiet, stuffy evening the dinner was lively and exciting with guests getting down to all types of disco music.  This was a crowd that likes to have fun, and despite their vast wealth, does so in an unpretentious manner. The evening raised $1.6 million and attracted an unprecedented amount of people, eager to spend money on the items up for bid.  The silent auction included items like meeting Hugh Jackman at a Broadway show, and tickets to see Bradley Cooper in "Elephant Man" and Cher at Madison Square Garden.  Moreover, pearls and diamonds were being auctioned as well as Chloe bags and a Nicole Miller and Naeem Khan two-week internship. The idea of bidding on the opportunity to work for free is a novel one, but I think the foundation is onto something interesting. The foundation's estimation of the value of an internship was listed as "priceless" so I guess they will not be requesting monetary payment.

Michele Herbert, Frank and Michele Rella and Nick Loeb

They also had a cashmere robe listed with an approximate value of $488 and a disclaimer that it could not be returned or exchanged.  You can tell the crowd you are dealing with when they need to come out of a dripping wet bathroom and don a cashmere garment.  Moreover, it never occurred to me that you could return an item from an auction (however, there were a lot of high level businessmen who are one step ahead of the rest of us). The auction was anything but silent with guests socializing and laughing uproariously as they greeted one another.  As the lights began to dim, it became apparent that the dinner was about to begin and the crowd headed into the ballroom.

The Catsimatidis family

The master of ceremonies for the evening was news anchor Deborah Norville who grimly notified everyone that 1 out of 3 people over the age of 65 will get Alzheimer's.  When she asked those in the audience to raise their hands if they had a friend or relative who was diagnosed with the disease, more than half the audience responded affirmatively. Not to worry, as Norville assured us that doctors thought it was a distinct possibility that they could attain a cure. Princess Aga Khan then spoke of her mother's suffering and how important it was to raise money for this pivotal charity with the help of her committed friends. Now it was time for the entertainment which featured Lesley Gore singing "You Don't Own Me" and "It's My Party."  This was pretty exciting, even for someone who thought Lesley Gore was Al's mother. Ronnie Spector, the lead singer of The Ronettes and Phil's ex wife, then sang "Be My Baby," one of my all time favorites with an enthusiasm and energy belying her 71 years of age.

Brooke Shields with John and Patty McEnroe

The crowd then continued to dance accompanied by a 15-piece band that played a lot of oldies.  John McEnroe hit the dance floor with his wife Patty with an athleticism that was reminiscent of his days as a tennis player. McEnroe's wife, Patty, was clad in a sequined tuxedo jacket, and black pants and they engaged in animated conversation with Brooke Shields, in a beautiful orange J. Mendel gown. Dennis Basso, was surrounded by a bevy of socialites hugging and kissing him adoringly, while he basked in the attention. Even the normally reserved Tommy Hilfiger made his rounds, posing for pictures and engaging in chitchat. Nick Loeb, newly single, and looking dashing in a grey 3-piece suit ran off to another charity event, while John Catsimatidis, resisted his wife, Margo's, attempts to engage him in the frivolous pursuit of dancing.

Lisa Rinna in Dennis Basso

This evening is a standout event in the gala heavy month of October. The confluence of guests from varied industries and backgrounds lends an intangible appeal to this annual happening.  As Brooke Shields exited, a fan asked her to mouth the words "Blue Lagoon" while posing for a picture. She graciously smiled and declined the request - only in New York.

- Lieba Nesis

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

“Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire”

Death, Taxes, & Black

All photos Randy Brooke
(click images for full size views)

As they say, the only things that are certain in life are death and taxes. But I can add one more to that: the fashion world’s ongoing obsession with black; and its popularity with women, across the board. This is quite understandable given its universal appeal. It is practical and easy to take care of (well, most of the time anyway); instantly chic, slimming, and lengthening; a perfect foil for experimental shapes and silhouettes as it is inherently restrained and chic. You feel safe in black because it can make you blend in anonymously, or it can be statement making and unforgettable. Actually, it can be anything you want it to be: edgy or conservative, rebellious or mainstream, minimal or maximal, decorative or elaborate, festive or solemn.

Speaking of solemn, yes, black is the color that has come to symbolize mourning and death. The mourning industry came into its own in the mid 1800’s, and, hard as it might be to imagine now, there was a time when, if you wore black when not in mourning, you might evoke reprobation, and risk being “classified as a dangerously eccentric woman” (as decreed by Harper’s Bazaar, August 9, 1879). This was just one of the many interesting snippets of information, I learned during the course of the morning preview of “Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire,” the fall Costume Institute (or should I say, the Anna Wintour Costume Center) exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. It’s their first fall exhibition in 7 years and Nancy Chilton, head of communications for the Costume Institute, noted it was also their most “mellow” morning preview. Also, from my point of view, perhaps because the Met is now open on Mondays, instead of  feeling like I was almost all alone  as I walked inside the Great Hall (there’s nothing like feeling you have the museum all to yourself), I was surrounded by hordes of tourists and guests, so it felt a little less rarified.

In any event, the exhibit is curated by assistant curator Jessica Regan and curator in charge Harold Koda, who admitted his favorite group are the pieces from the 1860’s, and noted that the exhibition is all about showing “respect for the deceased” through the distinctly defined fashion (which evolved through the years) as it pertained to various stages of grief. There are 30 antique ensembles (mourning dresses, mourning coats, mourning suits), and they are mostly for women (there are two ensembles for men and one child’s dress). Included is a black silk taffeta dress that was worn by Queen Victoria, and a bespoke mourning coat made of lace, knotted fringe, and silk bengaline, by the House of Worth, dated 1907. Needless to say, almost everything, including accessories (necklaces, hats, fans, parasols) is black, juxtaposed against a white backdrop, with the strains of Gabriel Faure’s haunting Requiem in D minor in the background (appropriately, this iconic piece is the Roman Catholic Mass for the Dead).

Notable exceptions to the all noir landscape are an American wedding ensemble in gray, black, and white (worn to honor of those who died during the Civil War), a duo of French sequined tulle gowns (1902), one in mauve no less, and an American mourning dress (1872 – 1874) which makes liberal use of decorative black and white silk fringe. They exemplify the dramatic shift from the sober mourning attire of Queen Victoria, and the eventual loosening of the rigid rules (even the notion that certain shiny fabrics were not appropriate began to change later as well), and they serve to illustrate the idea that certain designs could be deemed appropriate for “half mourning” or periods of “lighter mourning” (which came towards the end of the grieving cycle).  The gradual blurring of the lines between mourning and fashion was exemplified by two black silk faille American mourning dresses from 1876.

And by the way, even in cases of unrelieved black, there could be many subtle and not so subtle differences. For example, while exaggerated bustle shapes were the order of the day (and they were there on display), that was not the only silhouette, and several pieces stood out by virtue of the fact that they were relatively streamlined by comparison. Along those same lines, two American mourning dresses were displayed side by side: from a distance they might look almost identical but upon inspection, it was easy to see that one defined “nun like simplicity” and the other had “decorative flourishes” made possible by intricately pleated swags along the sash and elaborate hem embellishments. Proof that even in mourning, one could still follow the dictums of fashion at the time.

Cocktail party

Later that day, I came back for the evening cocktail party during which time guests, including Yeohlee, Fern Mallis, Amy Fine Collins, R. Couri Hay, Lynn Yeager, and Jennifer Creel, got to take in the exhibit and gather in the beautiful Temple of Dendur for refreshments. While the tone and mood (and clothes) of the exhibition may be unapologetically somber and black, and there were many guests who dressed accordingly (some in the morning went as far as to wear black veils along with their Victorian hats), there were a few who refused to go with the flow. And what better way to do that than by wearing something in a bright and lively floral print?

Amy Fine Collins and Jennifer Creel
(photo: Marilyn Kirschner)

While the runways for spring 2015 were filled with florals in every imaginable incarnation, the surprise has been their sighting on many stylish women right now, as we head into the winter months. And so, there was Jennifer Creel in a fur trimmed floral zip up parka, and Lynn Yaeger in Comme des Garcons. As for moi, I went with a vintage 50’s black wool Lilli Ann coat whose amazing shape recalled Victoriana, and accessorized with my Celine brass belt for a bit of shine, and what else- a touch of 'Black' Comme des Garcons Eau de Parfum.

And finally, I was saddened about the passing of Oscar de la Renta at the age of 82. Oscar, who I first met some 40 years ago when I was his editor at Harper’s Bazaar, was the personification of elegance and class. Always debonair and perfectly turned out, he lived life with passion, and he always had a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eyes. He carried himself with dignity at every stage of his life and did not have an un-chic, un-elegant bone in his body. The same could be said about his designs, which were the definition of timeless, feminine elegance. He had amazing longevity in an industry where that is almost impossible to achieve, and he managed to remain current and relevant by staying true to himself (to the delight of his loyal customers), without ever sacrificing his design principles. 

He appealed to an enormous range of women (of all ages and with different fashion personalities). I mean, really, who else could make perfect clothes for the likes of Barbara Walters, Laura Bush, Hilary Clinton, Michele Obama, Oprah, and Sarah Jessica Parker? And how fitting is it that his last collaboration was the beautiful wedding dress worn by Amal Alamuddin for her high profile wedding to George Clooney? In one of Oscar's last interviews on television, he told a reporter that he did not know how long he had, but he loved life and intended to live each day to the fullest. 

- Marilyn Kirschner

Monday, October 20, 2014

The CEO's of Fashion - From Turtlenecks to Hoodies

Mark Zuckerberg

The world of business fashion has greatly evolved since the days of Gordon Gekko and John Gotti, who served as sartorial models for the male populace in the 1980's. The wave of fashion amongst male moguls has recently shifted to hoodies, turtlenecks and untucked shirts. John Gotti, otherwise known as "Dapper Don," was as famous for his $2,000 Brioni suits and $400 handpainted floral ties, as he was for ordering the executions of numerous mafiosos. Gordon Gekko aka Michael Douglas, made the "Gekko shirt," a blue shirt with white contrast collars and cuffs, a popular fad in the financial district crowd. During the 1980's, a mover and shaker was defined by the thread count of his suit, whereas in the 2000's it is determined by the color of your jeans. The shift from sartorial splendor to "hoodie chic" is hard to explain, yet the forerunners of this trend have strongly impacted fashion and changed the notion of what constitutes "dressing for success."

Gianni Agnelli

There is an argument to be made that those who dress casually, with little heed to their attire achieve greater success, because they are concerned primarily with the fortunes of their company. Dressing down has become the ultimate status symbol, manifesting that either you are too busy and lofty to concern yourself with fashion; or that you are so revered that your fashion choices are trivial in comparison to your business acumen. When you are changing the course of history, such as Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates have, you are a paradigm of efficiency and content without tending to the triflings of window dressing and fashion. The shunning of three-piece suits and $500 ties has created confusion in the professional world with executives questioning whether they can afford to don casual attire akin to these technology giants. Recently, Silvia Bellaza, Francesca Gino and Anat Keinan, three professors at Harvard Business School, found that scholars who dressed down at a business conference had stronger research records than their fancy counterparts. The positive correlation between financial success and nonconformity might be one explanation for the success of these anti-fashionistas. However, upon further review, it becomes apparent that choice of fashion attire may not be as inconsequential as it appears.

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs, was not only considered a revolutionary in the computer world, but was also a fashion iconoclast, wearing his chosen uniform of a black turtleneck, blue jeans and New Balance sneakers. The sameness of his attire indicated he was too busy to choose an outfit when he could be contemplating how to change the course of communication. Steve Jobs idea for a uniform can be traced to his Sony Japan visit in the 1980's where he was surprised to find everyone in the company wearing the same thing. When he tried to implement a uniform among the employees of Apple he was booed off the stage and required to drop the idea. But the concept of a uniform stuck with him and he purchased hundreds of black turtlenecks with enough of this signature attire to last a lifetime. In February 2011 Jobs and Zuckerberg met President Obama with Steve wearing his trademark turtleneck and jeans while Zuckerberg was decked out in a sports jacket - even for an engagement with the commander-in-chief Jobs remained informal. Tim Cook, the successor and CEO at Apple, has recently been criticized for consistently wearing slightly wrinkled, untucked button-down shirts with Nike sneakers.

Albert Einstein

While Jobs look was "shabby chic" Cook's fashion choices are just plain shabby, and surprising considering Apple's recent foray into fashion. Mark Zuckerberg, king of the hoodies and Adidas slide-on sandles received scathing criticism in 2012 when he attended investor meetings for his initial public offering in this casual attire. Michael Pachter, a renowned securities analyst, said "this was a mark of immaturity" and showed a lack of seriousness. However, since then his net worth has jumped to $34.7 billion so it is clear purchasing hoodies was a good investment. Moreover, Zuckerberg's repetitive wardrobe finds him in good company with Albert Einstein, who purchased several versions of the same grey suit so as not to waste brainpower on choosing an outfit each morning. The success of these legendary men may not be directly attributable to their wardrobe choices; however, it may be indicative of their single-minded focus on substantive issues with little need to con people with fancy attire. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, continue to dress like used car salesmen, while their companies thrive despite recessions and economic upheavals.

In contrast to these plain-suited titans we have Marissa Mayer of Yahoo, a couture lover who sat down for a Vogue interview in September 2013. This interview in which she posed seductively in a blue Michael Kors dress and showed off her vast cashmere sweater collection stirred great controversy, calling in question her level of professionalism. Mayer has become as famous for her fashion choices, as she is for her business savvy and some have questioned her dedication to the company. In the recent Alibaba IPO, Yahoo's stock fell 8.2% and investors are disappointed with the company's performance and failed turnaround. Similarly, it is no secret that basketball player Amare Stoudemire is fond of fashion. He co-designed a line with Rachel Roy and has become a front-row fixture at numerous fashion events. Amar'es 5-year 99.7 million dollar contract proved deleterious to the Knicks bid for a championship, and they are now trying to shop him around. His age, injuries and distractions have made him a liability to the team and it has been difficult to trade him. However, no worries for Amar'e, there is a career in fashion waiting for him.

LeBron James, and Dwayne Wade, some fellow basketball sartorialists, also made incredible fashion choices this year (thanks to a group of stylists); however, their game playing was extremely disappointing, and failed to live up to expectations. Gianni Agnelli, the CEO of Fiat, was another fashion devotee who was considered one of the most stylish men of the 20th century. He wore only the finest handmade suits, watches over the cuff of his handmade shirts, and high-top hiking boots, a bold fashion choice in any time period. He is one of the greatest influencers of men's fashion and a respected businessman. However, towards the end of his life in 2003, Fiat was in a bad way - with losses of 1.5 billion per year and talks of bankruptcy mounting. All of these fashion standouts, have had major career letdowns calling into question the old notion of "dressing the part."

Alexander Wang

There are a small group of professionals whose job requires them to be fashion superstars, and they are known as celebrities and models. Every article of clothing they wear is dissected and analyzed via numerous lists such as do's and dont's or who wore it better. For them stylists are as pivotal to their career as managers and agents, and they become as famous for their apparel choices as they are for their acting parts. Surprisingly, fashion designers are not included in this group whose success is determined by their choice of apparel. Numerous designers maintain casual or uniform like attire. Alexander Wang, who is in charge of 3 design labels, recently gave an interview to Bazaar where he claimed he could sleepwalk into his closet which was exclusively filled with black jeans, shirts and sneakers. Karl Lagerfeld, with his trademark skinny suits and dark sunglasses, and Vera Wang with her omnipresent leggings, recognize the convenience and usefulness of a fashion uniform. Moreover, Carolina Herrera with her white button down shirt and Michael Kors with his blazer and jeans have lent gravitas to these monolithic looks. All of these designers have achieved insurmountable success in their careers, despite their limited fashion wardrobes.

Tom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe, who has worn a white suit since 1962, is a fashion trailblazer with his uniform choice, and it is a trend that is quickly gaining traction in myriad fields and professions. The uniqueness associated with a trademark look makes a personality instantly recognizable and capable of being branded. Zuckerberg and Jobs are almost as well known for their attire as for they are for their superior products; a signature look enables them to achieve instant notoriety-attaching an individual to his high quality creation. While purchasing a hoodie or turtleneck may not guarantee success - it should not be an impediment to those that have the talent to triumph.

- Lieba Nesis

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Better Bets "Halloween Treats" by Rhonda Erb

Silvestri Sweets Fall Caramel Apples

These delicious caramel apples are perfect for parties or just to treat yourself. The package contains 9 hand dipped (5oz.each) apples: 3 with orange, yellow and black sprinkles; 3 with chocolate sandwich cookie pieces and white sprinkles and 3 with peanuts and orange, yellow and black sprinkles.

Available at: $29.95

Cake Boss Ghost Cakelette Pan

Add a not so scary ghost design to your cookies and baked goods this Halloween with this durable carbon steel baking pan. It’s non-stick so it cleans up easily.

Available at: $19.99

Lands’ End Glow-in-the-dark Embroidered Halloween Tote

You can fill this 100% cotton tote with lots of trick or treat candy and it will last year after year, thanks to the reinforced bottom and handle. The glow-in-the-dark embroidery adds to the spooky fun and it can be personalized as well.
Available at: $25.00

Halloween Color Changing Witch Lantern

Welcome trick or treaters with this metal lantern that features wrought iron cut out details. The color changing LED lights create an inviting glow.

Available at: $12.95

L’eggs Sheer Energy Sheer Tights

Sheer tights from L’eggs can put the perfect finishing touch on your costume without breaking the bank. Try black sheers with a tiered, fringed dress, a classy headband and a feather boa for a fun 20’s flapper look.

Available at: CVS, Target, Walgreens nationwide. MSRP: $5.99

For more Better Bets visit