Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Discovering the Underpinnings of Charles James - A New Exhibition

"Balloon" evening coat made as a ball gown for
 Mrs. William Randolph Hearst Jr.- 1960
(All photos Lieba Nesis)

The Charles James "Beneath The Dress" exhibition opening was held in the Grand Gallery of the National Arts Club from 7:00-9:00 PM. There were hundreds of people who attended, prompting security to shut the doors because it was filled beyond capacity. This week-long show features over 60 of James's fashion and erotic drawings from the collection of his friend R. Couri Hay, which have never been publicly viewed. Additionally, pictures of James and his models taken by noted photographer Anton Perich, and a short film utilizing footage from Perich and Hay's documentary were shown.

Jean Shafiroff, Victor de Souza, Chiu-Ti Jansen and Joy Marks

The crowd ranged from authors Jay McInerney and Michael Gross to "real housewives" Sonja Morgan and Countess de Lesseps. Moreover, socialites Lucia Hwong Gordon, Jean Shafiroff, Chiu-Ti Jansen and Prince Dimitri were just a small sampling of the illustrious crowd. There were women in ball gowns and jewels, marveling at the collection while a seven-piece band played and sang, with a select few choosing to dance. Charles James exceptional ability to design has been immortalized; however, these rudimentary artworks reveal his facility in painting and drawing as well. The sketches of women's clothing include gowns and capes done for William Randolph Hearst's Jr.'s wife, Salvadore Dali's spouse and none other than Madam Chanel.

Jay McInerney and Countess de Lesseps

The drawings span from the 1930's to the 1960's and depict voluminous gowns and coats in a simple one-dimensional fashion.  The totality of the display provides interesting insights into the makeup of James. Much of the art is X-Rated, with a lot of male buttockses, and penises displayed from varying angles and positions;  the man next to me remarked it should be called the "cocks and balls" exhibit. There was a lot of material that would cause my grandmother to at least blush, so it is bold to produce such work in the 1930's, a period marked by modesty and prudishness.

Charles James paintings of male genitalia

These drawings were indicative of a very sexual man who was motivated by lust and desire. Anton Perich, who met James at the Chelsea hotel, remembered him as a great designer who became a radical punk at the end of his life. Perich, said James was eccentric and tempestuous and always seemed to be struggling financially. Perich, whose photos were on the wall, said that James was "bisexual' and Perich found the sensuality in which James would touch his models when he was clothing them "very inspiring."

Michael Bidlo, Colette and Anthony Haden Guest

However, most of his erotic photos depict the male genitalia so it seems as though his true ardor was directed towards men. The film documents his financial hardships, starting with the opening of his first store in London in 1930 which went bankrupt soon after and a trip to New York, motivated in part by the necessity of escaping his creditors. Anthony Haden-Guest, the noted author and art critic, who knew James well and interviewed him for an article, said the quality of his fashion design was true art, up there amongst the greats such as Courreges and Galanos. However, he found his paintings "okay and designey" and said that James most noteworthy characteristic was his "bad timing." Guest recounted how James failed right before the wave of financial success produced by the business of merchandising resulted in great affluence for his fellow designers. Furthermore, Guest remembers him as being happy and friendly without the sour and bitter demeanor portrayed by the media.

R. Couri Hay and Dianne Bernhard, President
 of the National Arts Club

Charles James has attained mythological status in the fashion world for his art of sculpting fabric into ingenious fashion masterpieces. Even though he never had formal dressmaking training, he was viewed as America's first couturier and revered by artists and designers alike. The last fourteen years of his life were spent in the Chelsea hotel, a refuge for artists who were experiencing financial woes. It is paradoxically tragic, that the perfectionism which produced great works of "fashion art" also resulted in spiraling costs and fiscal irresponsibility, ultimately leading to James descent into penury. The Costume Institute's James Exhibit was the fifth most viewed in its 25-year history. The National Arts Club display, as well as the Metropolitan's exhibit, celebrate his life and contributions, providing us a glimpse into the inner life of this enigmatic man, and ensuring that this fashion legend will never again fade into obscurity.

- Lieba Nesis

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." http://www.cynthiarowley.com/flask-bangle.html

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