Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Couture Marries Dance - The New York City 2014 Fall Ballet Gala

Starting from the left:
 Friend, Lieba Nesis, Michele Herbert & Chiu-Ti Jansen

The NYC ballet gala was held at the David Koch Theater in Lincoln Center. Attending and reporting on 2 galas in a row left me with gala-itis, but I made some noteworthy observations in the process. Firstly, I am convinced there are a group of people at the opera, ballet and symphony who attend just for the joy of telling others to shut up or not to move so loudly. Secondly, there is a small segment of the social elite of New York who will attend anything with the name "gala" in its title. Lastly, the connection between designers and the arts is inextricable and continues to evolve with numerous collaborations and alliances.

Dancer Maria Kowroski, Carolina Herrera & dancer Sara Mearns
all in Herrera
(all photos Lieba Nesis)

This gala is the first time I have seen fashion become the focal point of a ballet, and I am still unsure if this is a positive development. Carolina Herrera, Valentino Garavani, Thom Browne, Sarah Burton and Mary Katrantzou were the designers chosen to dress the dancers for each individual vignette choreographed by 5 different individuals including Peter Martins, Justin Peck and Christopher Wheeldon. This, according to Martins, was the brainchild of fashion icon Sarah Jessica Parker. Parker, accompanied by Andy Cohen, appeared in a demure Mary Katrantzou gown and posed on the red carpet for what seemed like an eternity.

Julia & David  Koch with Robert Kraft & Ricki Lander

Some other fashion luminaries in the audience were Jean Shafiroff, Chiu-Ti Jansen, Michele Herbert and Fe Fendi as well as lifestyle gurus Nate Berkus, and Martha Stewart. David Koch and his wife Julia, the ballet's redeemers, joined fellow billionaire Robert Kraft and his 30-something year old girlfriend, Ricki Lander.

Thom Browne & Andrew Bolton

The opening of the ballet presented a film where the designers and their collaborating choreographers were introduced. Carolina Herrera expounded on how style is not "just what you wear but the way you wear it-with your own personal stamp. " Following her was Thom Browne, who recounted how his fitted clothing had to be adapted to ballet wear. Sarah Burton never appeared in the film or on the ballet stage; perhaps, she is too busy dressing Kate Middleton. While I enjoyed the narrative, I was more interested in watching the ballet to see whether the designers lived up to the hype.

Jodi Wolf, Lauren Roberts, Di Mondo and Carolina Portago

The first act opened to the singing of soprano Jennifer Zetlan. After spending 4 hours listening to the opera last night this was slightly sadistic and detracted from the beauty of the ballet. The costumes designed by Herrera in white, midnight blue and peach with some slight embroidery and beading were pretty and ethereal. The next act contained some unremarkable costumes in a grey palette, designed by Valentino in 2012. Thom Browne's costumes in the 3rd act were disappointing and gimmicky. The dancers appeared in tweed coats that were mechanically removed and suspended mid-air, with the coats collapsing on the floor at the end of the act. The dancers costumes were grey wool shorts, and skirts accompanied by high grey socks, and grey and white wool jackets. The look was masculine and heavy, giving the dancers a weighty appearance - the opposite of what most designers aim to achieve. Thom failed to adapt his trademark clothing to accommodate the specifics of the ballet. Moreover, the dancers seemed restricted in movement despite their best efforts to prove otherwise.

Sarah Jessica Parker in Mary Katrantzou

The 4th act contained a beautiful white and black flamenco style gown worn by dancer Tiler Peck and designed by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen. This look was my favorite, but the difficulty of dancing in a voluminous skirt makes it impractical - a problem Valentino encountered in his 2012 ballet collection. Robert Fairchild, the male partner in this act, sans shirt, wore an embroidered jacket and tights, kind of like Antonio Banderas meets Peter Pan. The culmination of the ballet with costumes designed by Mary Katrantzou, was paradigmatic of the problems with hodge-podge collaborations. Katrantzou, a Greek designer, went over the top with her mazelike unitards for the men - this look was dizzying, distracting and dismal - a 3D combination. The womens leotards in a nude pink were attractive, but the prominency of the mens attire made it hard to focus on anything else. Uniting choreographers Peter Martins, Liam Scarlett, Troy Schumacher, and Justin Peck, with talented designers was an ambitious endeavor. The choreographed vignettes were executed perfectly by the dancers, with a flexibility that was remarkable. However, the mix of costumes created a confusing collection which lacked cohesiveness and failed to dazzle.

Amy Fine Collins in Thom Browne & Robert Couturier

At the conclusion of the ballet, a select group congregated on the 2nd floor of the Theater where dinner was served and pictures were snapped. Peter Martins, the ballet's master-in-chief, called the choreographers and the designers on stage to congratulate them on the successful evening, and rightfully acknowledged that the "New York City Ballet" does not play it safe with its choices. Despite its imperfections, the beauty of the dancers and their partners made this evening an unforgettable one - even by those who are dazzled on a continual basis.

- Lieba Nesis

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Metropolitan Opera Opening Night Gala

Rally protesting the showing of "The Death of Klinghoffer"
(All pictures Lieba Nesis)

The Metropolitan Opera held its annual gala at Lincoln Center to a flurry of controversy. This year I held a dual role of protester and participant in the course of a night, and felt slightly uneasy in this position. There was a rally I attended across the street to object to the showing of the "The Death of Klinghoffer" scheduled for October 20th. This opera desecrates the memory of Leon Klinghoffer in the most outrageous fashion and mixes art and terrorism - a disastrous combination. Legitimizing the senseless killing of a wheelchair-bound jew in order to gain an understanding of the terrorist's plight is outrageous and ill-advised. The rally had speakers who were victims of terrorism, including a letter read from Daniel Pearl's parents denouncing the inclusion of this opera in the repertoire of Lincoln Center. The callousness of this choice has not gone unnoticed and there will undoubtedly be many concerned patrons of the opera who will unsubscribe. Peter Gelb, the general manager of the opera, should recognize the error of his ways, and pull this opera from the fall schedule before the damage is irreparable.

Jill Hennessy in Cynthia Rowley and Gina Gershon
 in Zac Posen

Notwithstanding this unfortunate interruption, I rushed across the street to the gala, where an illustrious crowd comprised of glitterati, socialites and artists, congregate annually to usher in the beginning of the cultural season, after many have been ensconced in the Hamptons. This year the crowd and their fashion choices exceeded expectations. The attendees included designers Vera Wang, Zac Posen and Domenico Dolce; actresses Jill Hennessy, Bridget Moynahan, Jennifer Esposito and Gina Gershon; and socialites Jean Shafiroff, Zani Gugelmann, Julie Macklowe, and Lucia Hwong Gordon.

Renee Fleming

Moreover, Renee Fleming, Grace Coddington and Peter Martins were just a sprinkling of the creative elite who joined billionaire David Koch, without whom no cultural event would be complete. Unfortunately, the opera itself "Le Nozze di Figaro" was a bland disappointment invigorated by the participation of James Levine, who despite crippling back pain, lent excitement and gravitas to the event.

Chiu-Ti Jansen in Cavalli and Lucia Hwong Gordon
The opening, which began with the star spangled banner, was melodious and pleasurable due to the numerous audience members who were opera veterans, or rejects. My enthusiasm for vocal expertise waned during the first act due to its 2 hour duration whereby, my fidgety restlessness incurred the wrath of my unfriendly neighbor. Furthermore, the sets and costumes were surprisingly bare, with a revolving wood stage set displayed throughout, coupled with drab servant costumes and an occasional gown. Perhaps, the simplicity was inherent to this opera, but it still did not seem fitting for this momentous evening. However, the dire financial situation of the Metropolitan, which according to its general manager could face bankruptcy within 3 years, is a possible explanation for the modest stage sets and attire. Moreover, the sopranos voices were splendid, but lacked the wow factor of prior years.

Domenico Dolce

Nevertheless, the evening had a glamour and allure that is hard to beat and this sentiment was reiterated by stylist Carson Kressley, who noted that this and the Met Gala are the 2 most exciting fashion events of the year. He also commented on the variety of fashion choices which "ranged from bedazzled tracksuits to Balenciaga ball gowns." Spotting Domenico Dolce, who tried to remain inconspicuous, I asked him whether he would ever join the ranks of Valentino and Lagerfeld and design attire for the opera or ballet. Dolce shot me an incredulous look and cleverly remarked, "I am a fashion designer not a costume designer. You need to know the story and its history before you can design for the arts, and I do not do this."

Elana Taranina in Dior and Merih Morgan and Irina Bas in Tom Ford

Undeterred by the brevity of his response, I approached Grace Coddington, who was unusually smiley and gregarious, declaring that she loved the whole event and wishes she could wear the costumes displayed on set. I was more desirous of possessing the apparel of much of the audience - which was nothing short of spectacular. There was Christine Baranski in a black tuxedo pantsuit and glasses standing near a Zac Posen clad Gina Gershon.  The creativity of the outfits were noteworthy in comparison to other years, with guests, men and women alike, choosing sartorial individuality over safe and conventional evening wear.

Zani Gugelmann in Valentino couture and Gillian Miniter
in Bibhu Mohapatra

The conclusion of the performance, 4 hours later, was met with applause and hollers. The well-heeled guests congregated in the beautifully adorned tents to socialize with their peers and recount the night's festivities. Bill Cunningham, and numerous other photographers waited patiently to snap the photos of those performers whose names they barely knew. The importance of events like these should not be underestimated, as it exposes a wide variety of individuals to the refinement and loftiness of the arts. The Klinghoffer opera, which allows disorder and hatred to enter the opera lexicon, is an anathema to this cultural institution which is meant to provide a respite from the chaotic environment surrounding us.

- Lieba Nesis

Fall Fashion Kool-Aid: True Innovation or Attention Whore?

"If at first the idea is not absurd, then there will be no hope for it" - Albert Einstein
This edition of Fashion Kool-Aid is devoted to interesting items that I've come across that are different in somewhat fundamental ways, either by virtue of design, or by price or by taking a unique approach to a problem. These are products that are innovative and may solve a need for someone somewhere; while to others they may be completely useless. So the question becomes, in the eye of the beholder: "Covet" or "Shove it?" Sorry, couldn't resist...

AlignMed Posture Shirt

The first such item is something that I actually own however it was provided to me for review purposes by its makers AlignMed. It initially came to my attention after reading about it this summer in the Wall Street Journal (click here for article) This is a shirt that is designed to help with posture, pain relief, increase balance and stability and muscle stimulation. I don't think I'd wear it as a fashion statement but to each his own. As an occupational hazard, I spend long hours often hunched over my computer which tends to aggravate my neck, shoulders and back so I thought that this product might provide some relief. The shirt retails for around $95 and I'm embarrassed to say I've only tried wearing it once due to sheer laziness. It did feel a bit restrictive but I got used to that after a bit of wearing it (maybe I should have sized up?) and I bet if "broken in" would work fairly well. At the very least, it reminds you to sit up straight as the "neurobands" of resistance will not allow you to slump in any real fashion. There is much research behind it (an entire scholarly document in my press kit) entitled "The Influence of a Dynamic Elastic Garment on Musculoskeletal and Respiratory Wellness in Computer Users" written by a PhD, two M.D.'s and an RPT/CMT/CNMT if that sort of thing moves you.

Treadmill Desk

In a similar vein (or tendon) HA, those who work in an office or spend hours behind a computer, may feel that they're sitting too much...I know I do. Recent medical research (thank you National Cancer Institute, I really could have happily lived out the years that I have left without this "fun fact") has suggested that a sedentary lifestyle; even if you're active the rest of the time just spending those several hours on your butt can take its toll apparently, and will increase your chances of getting various cancers, diabetes and heart disease. I often stand in front of my computer to take a break but I never thought that someone would invent a treadmill desk. I had heard of a standing desk but this takes it to the next level! Here is the article in The New York Post that introduced me to this concept (click here for article). Needless to say, I am intrigued but have not gone out and invested the $1,446 to see if this would work for me and I doubt the company that makes them (Rebel Desk) will supply me with one for review purposes (although on their website I do see they offer a 30 day trial). Tory Johnson who wrote the article swears by it and claims she has lost 62 pounds in a year with the help of this work aid.

Cynthia Rowley bracelet flasks (top and bottom)

Perhaps after investigating all of these work/health options, I felt disillusioned and ready to seek a work release plan. Enter the Cynthia Rowley flask bangle also courtesy of the Journal (#19 Off Duty Fall 50 Eating & Drinking (click here for article)). Here is an invention for all you female pre-gamers (mid and post gamers, too) who get dragged to the football game and the only first down you care about can be found in a duvet. You can stack them and really give new meaning to an "arm party." This chunky and fashionable stainless-steel bracelet (available in gold for $365 or silver plate for $225) also meets TSA standards so feel free to tipple off to Buffalo (Biffalo?) and really fly the "friendly skies."

Pharrel in his Adidas Originals = Pharrell Williams fashions

Speaking of Buffalo, I am reminded of Pharrell's infamous hat. And do you recall what he wore with that hat to the Grammy's? It was a red leather Adidas track jacket; one of his favorite looks. How fitting that Pharrell has collaborated with Adidas Originals (Adidas Originals = Pharrell Williams) and developed his first few pieces which had their debut this week in stores and supposedly online (although I have not found that to be the case as of this writing). In this first delivery (more styles to come in October-December) are two quintessential items done up in luxe Pharrell style. The classic Superstar Track jacket is available in soft Napa leather in black, red or bright blue. As Pharrell owns his trademark hat in many colors, he also owns the Adidas jacket in yellow and green as well as the black and red so I wonder if we'll see some more rainbow hues before the collaboration is finished.

While many music/fashion collabs tend to result in flashy, over-the-top design renditions, this is an exercise in restraint as even the Adidas Trefoil logo has been removed from the outside of the jacket, allowing only the three white stripes as design detail and brand recognition. The other item is the Stan Smith tennis shoe, also available in black, red or blue (the colors will give you "Happy" feet) and these are equally stripped down only bearing a white "equal sign" insignia on the heel. While the shoes are "affordable luxury" at $150, the jacket will require a bit more of your hard earned cash to the tune of $1G. Of course, Pharrell has much more fashion cred than your usual hip hop producer/star and ruled his own fashion empire in cult collabs with insider favorites Nigo and Mark McNairy and most recently in July with G-Star Raw, so you're paying for his expertise as well as the fine skins. Got to hand it to Adidas as this "Normcore" brand has collaborated with Jeremy Scott with the famous winged tennies, as well as Rita Ora for women's apparel, staying extremely current with the fashion/music scene.

Givenchy Le Rouge Limited Edition Lipstick

Remember a month ago when Christian Louboutin introduced a $50 sculpture er, I mean a nail polish at Saks and everyone went insane in Loubiville.(Yes, that is what they called the window display)! Not to be outdone, Givenchy will be introducing a $300 crocodile cased lipstick available later this month at Barney's. There will be a limited run of 3,000 of the Le Rouge lipstick in Carmin Escarpin No. 306. Good news is that the case can be fitted on any of their other lipsticks that retail for $36 if you should (shudder) manage to use up the three figure shade. It will come in a numbered gift box and hopefully will make your lips six times more irresistible than its closest price competitor (Tom Ford at $50). I think this may work as a great diet tip; after all if you have on $300 lipstick, you're not likely to be eating much of anything that could possibly smear it or God forbid, make you have to reapply. Certainly you would be saving this rouge a levres for an uber fancy black-tie occasion and not thoughtlessly grabbing it to apply as you head out to the nearest pizza joint. (click here to see product)

At this rate, we'll soon be taking out home improvement loans to buy cosmetics and paying to insure our makeup on our homeowner's policy.

- Laurel Marcus

Friday, September 19, 2014

Independents' Beauty Day at FGI

Photos: Laurel Marcus

It was "Independent's Day" at the FGI offices across from Bryant Park yesterday as a panel of five women who have successfully launched their independent beauty lines or concepts shared their knowledge on the topic. The panel included Christy Prunier, Founder and CEO of Willa, Patti Pao, Founder and CEO of Restorsea, Rebecca Perkins and Stephanie March, Founders of Rouge, NY and Elana Drell Szyfer, CEO of Laura Geller and the moderator was Karen Young, CEO of The Young Group. The event was sponsored by Conde Nast.

Photo: L-R
Elana Drell Szyfer, Christy Prunier, Rebecca Perkins,
Stephanie March, Patti Pao

These women have all made their own business models; whether they sell through social selling models, social media, e commerce or a brick and mortar store. In the case of Christy Prunier of Willa, a cosmetics and skin care line for teens named after Ms. Prunier's daughter(which I previously wrote about here: in-market-report-by-laurel-marcus) all selling is done through a teen girl's number one influencer. If you guessed it was her friends, you are correct...not her mother as panelist Elana had hoped (she has three daughters, one a teenager so you can't blame her for trying).

Willa sales get-togethers are social events complete with Instagram and Snapchat adding a new twist; this is not your mother's Tupperware party. Girls take a training course and earn money in the form of a Willa debit card. They use an app on their phones to track orders and sales. Willa is also a company which supports matching funds; in this case, the money goes towards college. Speaking of Insta, Christy mentioned that teens didn't like to wear sunscreen because of how it tended to look shiny when photographed, so they created a product that goes on without shine. When the line first was developed they tried selling at Henri Bendel and Harrod's but realized that a teen doesn't relate to "a 35 year old salesperson and a high-end retailer." Next they tried Target, but that too failed until they came up with their current sales plan which was begun in Connecticut with eight girls and is now in 14 states with a waiting list of girls wishing to be sales reps. Christy credits selling the products as a self-confidence boost as well as a way to gain some financial independence for these young girls.

Patti Pao's story is quite an interesting one; a graduate of Harvard Business School, she worked at developing anti aging products for Guerlain and Avon, then founded her own consulting firm: The Pao Principle. She was working with a client on one of her many business trips to Norway when, in order to get out of a hiking trip ("As an Asian, I am genetically predisposed to dislike the outdoors" she says) she spied a little building and asked to take a tour of that instead. It turned out to be a salmon hatchery which practiced "Darwin's 2nd Principle" meaning that the salmon were hatched in synchronicity by using light and were all the same size. "It was the Chanel of hatcheries" she said. While taking the tour she saw that the workers who had their hands immersed in the salmon hatchery water helping to remove the eggshells and herding the just emerging salmon, had hands that looked 20 years younger than their faces.

She discovered that as the salmon are hatched out of their shell they release an enzyme "that selectively exfoliates only the dead skin cells leaving the living cells to flourish." See her tell her story here: and on her website: She was able to buy the exclusive rights to this ingredient and to find financial backers however she found that her own website was the best vehicle for sales. "I love Bergdorf's but I lost money when my product was there" she admitted as well as at Saks, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Macy's. On how she developed an e commerce site: "I was a Luddite and only emailed" Patti claims, but had to expand her internet knowledge quickly in order to grow her brand. She also has celebrity spokesperson/ devotee Gwyneth Paltrow who promotes the line.

Stephanie March and Rebecca Perkins were longtime friends who met on the set of "Law and Order SVU" as Stephanie plays ADA Alexandra Cabot on the show and Rebecca is the show's resident makeup artist. Their company Rouge NY came about as a makeup version of Drybar or Blow where women go to get a quick hair blowout without an appointment. They wanted to get out the word that having your makeup done " isn't just for weddings" and unlike a makeup counter they are not interested in "pushing product" as they call it. Using only their favorites of different lines as well as having developed a few of their own products, the emphasis is still on the technique of makeup application rather than the products themselves. They cite The New York Times article which claimed they are "first to market" with this concept however I remember back in the day, a place called "Beauty Checkers" run by makeup artist Amy Greene (former beauty editor at Glamour) inside the old Henri Bendel on West 57th Street and this reminds me a bit of their concept although they would encourage you to bring your own makeup for application. Their Thompson Street store has been open since last December and they are considering expanding uptown, then perhaps go national and then who knows: "We always say that global domination is the plan." Here is an article about Rouge NY that appeared in Elle.

Elana Drell Szyfer came to Laura Geller Beauy by way of L'Oreal, Estee Lauder and Avon. She spoke of the fast paced and incessant need for newness and innovation as their customer on QVC demands it. "A brand is a living breathing thing and is always changing. How many times have you changed your hair in the past 17 years?" she asked referring to how many years the company has been in business. Laura Geller who originally started with event and theatre makeup, now has brick and mortar stores as well as sells online and on QVC where the brand is a top seller internationally. Coming soon: a brick and mortar store in the UK. She claims that Laura Geller herself is very "intuitive" and can predict "what will resonate and what won't" in terms of new product. Referring to the fact that there is never any downtime: "Your foot is really always on the gas," Elana explained.

In conclusion, Karen Young, pointed out that these "independents" are all about "creating relationships directly with the consumer. The companies that are growing are the smaller companies. Sometimes they are owned by the larger companies which is where their growth is coming from." She also mentioned that she had expressed interest in doing a panel such as this for the past two or three years to FGI President Margaret Hayes who was skeptical. "They're not really you think you could fill a room?" Ms. Hayes reportedly said.

I'm happy to report that the room was full.

- Laurel Marcus