Wednesday, November 14, 2018

New York Fashion Cool-Aid by Laurel Marcus

John Varvatos Shares Secrets on Brand Building at FGI Tastemakers Breakfast

Nick Sullivan & John Varvatos
Photo: Laurel Marcus - click images for full-size views

"Building a brand should be evolutionary, not revolutionary," said menswear designer John Varvatos during FGI's Tastemaker series breakfast yesterday at the Cosmopolitan Club. Esquire's Fashion Director Nick Sullivan joined him on stage gently posing questions that were meant to make you feel like you were eavesdropping on two industry insiders literally "talking shop."

"DNA is everything," Varvatos continued. "It's the brand's personality-- in Europe, it's referred to as the 'perfume of the brand.' You have to keep reinventing yourself and reinvigorating yourself. Some brands make a lot of noise then move onto something else. It's important to build a client base, hopefully with some loyalty there. My job is to continue to deliver with long-term building not just in the moment."

Photo: Laurel Marcus

The Detroit native who started his brand nearly 20 years ago acknowledged that it was easier when he began his business -- before the immediacy of what's being shown two seasons ahead on the runway.. "The consumer doesn't move as fast as the industry would like," he said. Since designers are always working two seasons ahead, data from the present season as well as selling and style reports of things that are trending are one thing, but instinct is still important. "You have to have the gut for what's next, to know when it's time to move on. Maybe the market is getting saturated (with a trend), and a year from now it's not going to be as vital as you think it's going to be."

 Amy Rosi & Marylou Luther
Photo: Laurel Marcus

When Varvatos came up through the ranks at both Ralph Lauren and then Calvin Klein, he was not thinking that he would create his own brand. In 1990 while working on designing men's underwear for Klein, he happened upon one of his moments when "a light bulb went off," resulting in the creation of the iconic jersey boxer brief. As the story goes, Varvatos had amassed a collection of flea market finds including "old underpinnings and vintage long underwear, the kind with the buttons on the front," which he thought would be cool to show under a coat on the runway. Trying them on the models, he got an idea -- "let's cut them off."

Varvatos brought Calvin in who got "super excited," and showed them to David Geffen who he had just had lunch with. Geffen mentioned that Mark Wahlberg (then "Marky Mark") "would be hot in them" -- that is how a legend was born. "We did them in different lengths. Once our marketing department got involved, there were billboards on planes flying across the Hamptons. It became one of the most, if not the most copied styles in menswear. We should have registered it," he added.

Ana Martins (AMPR Public Relations), David Swajeski (Onerock, Director) ), Tom Morrissey (band Killcode), Alexandra Abshere (TrueFacet), DC Gonzalez (band Killcode)
Photo: Bruce Borner

Varvatos is credited for having done one of the earliest collaborations in the early 00's with Converse, pulling the shoelaces out, grabbing a roll of nearby elastic thereby creating a prototype lace-less shoe. "We worked with Converse for 15 years during which millions of these were sold. Later Converse took the design and "whored it out," yet Varvatos is still doing his own version under his own label. Of course, you can't talk about the designer without touching on his love of rock music which is such a large part of his brand. Growing up in Detroit in a tiny three bedroom bungalow, seven people to one little bathroom, he would often escape into the basement with headphones. He listened to international music on the BBC and was a "passionate Rolling Stones fan."

"I followed the style of the musicians whether it was Keith Richards' scarf, Jimi Hendrix's boots or Iggy Pop's leather jacket. Detroit is not a fashion place -- I started working in retail to look cool for the girls. It soon became an addiction -- I need another new sweater or jacket -- they already saw that one," he joked. Varvatos was soon recruited to open a store in Grand Rapids in which he developed a merchandising style that set it apart. In the mid-1980's, when he was in his mid-20s, he was approached by the Ralph Lauren team to head up Midwest sales for the brand. Next, it was on to New York where he became head of sales merchandising. By his late 20s, he decided he wanted to be a fashion designer, but thoughts of having his own brand were still many years away.

In 1998 another "light bulb moment" occurred when Varvatos looked around the New York City store windows only to discover that "everything was black nylon. I thought it's time to do something different." He contemplated starting his own brand but didn't want it to look like either Ralph or Calvin, as others who had left had done knock-off versions. "If you really think that you have something new to say you have my blessing," said Calvin Klein.

Music played a huge role in the brand's aesthetic with many musicians gravitating to the Varvatos brand. Since 2005 Varvatos pursued and used an artist or band for his ad campaigns -- now he remarks, the artists come to him. He recently started his own record label on Universal called "Big Machine Records" to promote up-and-coming artists.

When the historic Bowery space which held the club CBGB's became available, Varvatos had another "light bulb moment"-- he couldn't let something so special become a Bank of America or a Duane Reade. Against everyone's advice ("I'm laying on the railroad tracks for this one," he said) one of his stores is currently occupying the previously rundown location. The space even includes a live performance space to honor the building's legacy. "It feels like a museum," said Varvatos of the store. "We've had musicians play -- it's changed the path of who we were and enhanced the credibility of the brand from a music standpoint. I still get goosebumps when I go there, and we do live shows."

- Laurel Marcus

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

New York Evening Hours by Lieba Nesis

Friars Club Honors Billy Crystal in Star-Studded Evening at the Ziegfeld Ballroom

Rob Reiner, Joe Torre, Jordin Sparks, Billy Crystal, Rinaldo Nistico, Alan Zweibel, Bob Costas and Josh Gad
All photos Lieba Nesis - click images for full-size views

The Friars Club held its Award Gala honoring the 70-year-old comic Billy Crystal with the Entertainment Icon Award on Monday, November 12, 2018 at 6 PM at the Ziegfeld ballroom. The sold-out dinner with tickets starting at $500 and reaching up to $50,000 was a major happening although there were a number of prominent no-shows including Alec Baldwin, Jimmy Fallon, and Martin Scorsese.

The venue

Crystal is only the eighth person in the Friar's 114-year history to receive this tribute and he joins an illustrious group of past honorees including Douglas Fairbanks, Cary Grant, Tom Cruise, Tony Bennett, Martin Scorsese, and Frank Sinatra.  There were also awards given to Rinaldo Nistico for his outstanding contributions to the Friars and Alan Zweibel for being voted "Friar of the Year".

Lieba Nesis and Billy Crystal

The Friars Club is a private club in New York City founded in 1904 that hosts celebrity roasts and is comprised of mostly comedians and actors.  Previous members include Frank Sinatra, Ed Sullivan, Alan King, Dean Martin, and Jerry Lewis.  Recently, the Friars has experienced a host of financial problems as well as a sexual harassment suit bought by a former receptionist.  However, this night was unsullied by any external unpleasantries as guests enthusiastically enjoyed the entertainment and speeches.

Dick Ebersol

At one table was the elusive Meg Ryan, who refused to be photographed, seated with Katie Couric and Rob Reiner with Billy Crystal nearby surrounded by Robert De Niro, Crystal's wife and his extended family.

Joe Torre, Robert De Niro, Deana Martin, Bernie Williams, and Rinaldo Nistico

Talk show host Larry King started the evening off by presenting an award to Deana Martin, daughter of Dean, by declaring that she was representative of the fact that nepotism wasn't a bad thing if backed by talent. Deana Martin thanked Larry and his caregiver and joked that her award from the Friars was the most well-hung thing at the club not including Milton Berle - who I learned this evening was well endowed.

Larry and Shawn King

King also contrasted honorees Billy Crystal and Rinaldo Nistico saying Billy was a Jew from Long Island while Rinaldo was an anti-Semite from the Bronx; Billy's autographed picture is featured in restaurants whereas Rinaldo's picture is displayed for skipping out on checks.  Despite these insults,  Rinaldo held his own in a room full of comedians as he thanked both his parents who are still alive and said this award was especially meaningful since he was receiving it on the night honoring Billy Crystal.

Jamie deRoy, David Steinberg and Brynn Thayer

Comedian Lewis Black, who also counts Crystal as an inspiration, remarked that he was glad Larry King was present because he wanted to know if the shit Larry was shilling on television really worked.  He then said presenting an award to his friend Alan Zweibel was the lowest point of his career with an admission that Zweibel was the person you want sitting at your table at all times.

Marvin Scott, Bernie Williams, and Lorri Scott

I am still trying to figure out why every comedian's name is Lewis, Alan, Richard or Black making it difficult to keep track of who's who. Zweibel who is an American producer and has worked on such productions as Saturday Night Live, PBS Great Performances, and Garry Shandling's Show and wrote the memorable sketches of Samurai for John Belushi and Roseannadanna for Gilda Radner was greeted with loud applause. Zweibel recalled selling jokes at the Friars in 1972 for $7 a piece with his first joke being how do Hasidic men have an orgy? with the women on one side and the men on the other.  His next joke which he sold to Rodney Dangerfield for $10 was along the lines of my mother wouldn't breastfeed me because she only wants to be friends.

Paul Shaffer

Zweibel, in the only Alec Baldwin joke of the night,, said he had to leave since he asked Baldwin to save his parking spot and wasn’t sure how that would turn out. Larry King then remarked that Alan's speech was so long three Friars had died in the interim. Having people appear via film is funny and effective; however, when there are too many no-shows you begin to wonder why a big star akin to Billy Crystal can't get people in person. It was funny to have Scorsese remark on film that he should have cast Crystal in Taxi Driver and Goodfellas instead of De Niro, or to hear Jon Lovitz flush the toilet when speaking on camera, or to watch Mel Brooks call him one of the most talented little Jews to live - but I kept wondering why these people weren’t there.

Dominic Chianese and Eleanora Pieroni

The last straw was when he had the ubiquitous Keegan Michael Key appear on screen someone who is hardly even known by the vast majority of the public-honorees should be careful when overusing film especially when it adds time to an overly long program. Nonetheless, the entertainment was great with Paul Shaffer singing "Sex Machine", Jordin Sparks wowing the crowd with her incredible vocals and Smokey Robinson sexily chanting "Fly Me to the Moon".

Jane Hanson and Katie Couric

Katie Couric gave one of the most biting and vitriolic toasts I have heard even at the Friars Club where she said De Niro gets sent bombs whereas Crystal makes movie bombs; the room looked like a colonoscopy waiting room with guests equally enthused at attending; Larry King got paid $180 for his last gig which will be reduced to $43 in his next divorce; and this was like covering the Olympics except at this event they conducted drug tests for Crestor and Cialis. The crowd was in shock as Couric lobbed one insult after another saying she loved interviewing Crystal about the meaning behind "City Slickers 2: The Legends of Curly's Gold" and that she and Crystal were still pretending to be relevant.  Couric then said she was leaving because she heard Crystal had to take his fourth pee.

Meg Ryan

Meg Ryan gave a similarly puzzling speech as she remarked it was impossible to be Crystal's friend as they just wave across red carpets or pass by each other's tables the way Hollywood types do. When Ryan heard about Crystal's charity work she said she thought wow he is a good actor. Ryan concluded by saying he is a true mensch and she could never fake it with Crystal - alluding to her scene in "When Harry Met Sally."

Rinaldo Nistico and Joe Tacopina

Following an auction where a Baldwin piano on which Frank Sinatra played and a lunch in LA with Crystal and Reiner each fetched $50,000, comedian Robert Klein, in one of the funniest bits of the night, joked that Jews buried their dead so quickly he was afraid to take a nap in front of his relatives. Another less effective presenter, Robert De Niro, used the evening, as he always does, to disparage Trump by calling him the jerk-off in the White House and the buffoon-in-chief. Hijacking a celebration of your friend to air your own political grievances is classless.

Robert Davi and Carol Alt

De Niro said Crystal had the soul of a comedian and giving him this award was more meaningful to him than receiving it 5 years ago. It wasn't until 11:15 PM that Crystal took to the stage joking that he had grown a beard during the endless evening. Crystal said when he saw all the movie clips the only thing that came to his mind were residuals. He said this was one of the highlights of his 45-year career as his father would bring home comedy albums when he was a kid.

Mike Tadross, Ralph Compagnone and Georgia Witkin

Crystal kept asking Larry King if he was okay and if both of his lungs were functioning properly as he mimicked Muhammad Ali whom he had the opportunity to perform in front of at the Plaza Hotel and who remained a close friend of his for forty-two years.  He thanked his wife Janice and said he was appreciative for his four grandchildren since they gave him a second chance to screw things up and said his wife was his co-star in every movie since she auditioned his lines with him each time.

Bo Dietl and Mike Tadross

Crystal thanked De Niro for improving his acting technique in each scene they starred in together and said the aura of The Friars has awed him since he was a young child. At the end of the night, guests headed to the Friars club to dance, drink and recount the "good old days" when Sinatra, Martin, and Sammy filled the hallowed halls with irreverence and ribaldry.

- Lieba Nesis

Monday, November 12, 2018

In the Market Report by Marilyn Kirschner

Red States, Blue States: Can’t We All Just Get Along?

For those of us who live in the United States, red and blue have become symbols of a nation divided along party lines, as illustrated by the recent midterm elections. In actuality, the current color-coding only dates to the 2000 election. Before 2000, networks did use color-coded maps, but varied them and were more likely to use red for Democrat, blue for Republican. In 2000, Tim Russert began coding Democrats as blue, supposedly to avoid any taint that “Democrats were Reds.”

Fashion is a reflection of the current zeitgeist. Designers have become increasingly outspoken and politically/ socially proactive, and they have used their runways and their designs as a platform to make a statement. But fashion is also mercifully escapist, and let’s face it; sometimes color is just a color. In the course of the spring 2019 collections, which were marked by saturated color, both red (crimson, tomato red, pinkish red, blood red) and blue (every shade from the palest to the darkest and everything in between) were employed by designers with equal vigor. These are some standouts from the recent runway shows.

All photos
Click images for full-size views

Junya Watanabe brilliantly fashioned patchworked denim in a variety of washes into dresses with tulle petticoats whose hourglass silhouettes recalled Dior’s New Look. Her bright blue wig added a pop of color.

At Valentino, Pierpaolo Piccioli’s couture-like billowy red dresses (both long and short) made a welcome appearance. This is hardly surprising given that red has long been a house signature.

This blue chambray belted trench with exaggerated flaps was one of the notable pieces at Joseph under the tutelage of Louise Trotter (she has since been replaced by Susan Clayton who will take over the design helm).

A flame red leather trench trimmed with feathers was just one of the unapologetically flashy, colorful, and in your face pieces on the runway of irreverent feminist label Discount Universe designed by Cami James and Nadia Napreychikov (it was the Australian design duo’s New York Fashion Week debut).

Uruguayan/American designer Gabriela Hearst has been compared to Hermes owing to her understated, minimal approach to luxury, her employment of the finest materials on earth, her superb workmanship and expert tailoring. Her impeccably cut pantsuit in dark navy silk, and wool speaks volumes.

Who else but Rodarte’s Mulleavy sisters would add ruffles to gutsy red leather, fashion it into a short playsuit and voluminous cape, and add a veil and romantic rose headpiece no less?

Pyer Moss’s Kirby Jean- Raymond just won the 2018 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund top prize. The Brooklyn born designer is no stranger to social/political commentary, especially where race is concerned and his involvement with the Black Lives Matter movement, but no doubt, the color of this cornflower blue silk pin tucked elongated shirt, and wide-legged trousers was selected for its visual appeal rather than to make a social statement.

Dressed up day wear, informal evening wear, clean lines, and primary colors (yellow, green, pink, red, and blue) were at the heart of Brandon Maxwell’s spring collection. Coincidentally, the designer is a Texas native, and in the recent mid-term elections, his traditionally red state was about to turn blue (like this dramatic floor-length silk tunic and trouser set). But while Democrat Beto O’Rourke put up a good fight against Republican Senator Ted Cruz, in the end, he could not prevail.

Marina Moscone’s spring 2019 show was held in the late artist Willem de Kooning’s studio/residence near Union Square. The elegance of this royal blue silk dress with twisted knot detail and cut out sides was downplayed through the use of flat pool perfect slides and exemplify her signature unfussy glamour.

Sies Marjan's Sander Lak has been a great colorist from the beginning (he was mixing and clashing colors before it was the ‘thing’ to do so to speak). His bias cut red jersey dress with asymmetrical hem and lettuce trim, called to mind Stephen Burrows’ signature disco era designs from the 70’s that were made for dancing.

Marc Jacobs has announced the launch of the ‘Redux Grunge Collection 1993/2018,' a capsule fashion series marking the 25th anniversary of his iconic Spring 1993 ‘Grunge' collection for the US label Perry Ellis (it famously got him fired but also led to his eponymous company). But there was nothing at all ‘grungy’ about his ultra-feminine, ultra glamorous spring 2019 lineup which included this belted blue sweater, ruffle trim skirt with uneven hem and choker decorated with a large blue flower at the neck.

 Victoria Beckham celebrated her 10 years in business with a runway show in London rather than New York. Her aesthetic is minimal, relaxed yet pulled together with an emphasis on knitwear, layering, and intense color, as typified by this flame red knit top and drawstring waist handkerchief hem skirt.

Miucci Prada accessorized her structured knee length red satin coat with sporty royal blue and white open toed sock sandals.

At Discount Universe, royal blue lipstick and royal blue eyeshadow were a striking contrast to a red metallic ruffle trimmed dress.

Gucci’s Alessandro Michele punctuated his dramatic turquoise fringed v neck maxi dress with lacquer red tights and pumps.

Whether adding a touch of blue to red or a touch of red to blue, the last three are proof that the two colors are perfect together and can live in harmony. Indeed. Can’t we all just get along?

- Marilyn Kirschner