Sunday, December 14, 2014

In the Market Report: It's All "White"

Valentino Haute Couture Collection

As we head into the holidays and end the year, there’s been an endless parade of fashion shows for pre fall 2015. (Am I the only one who thinks of the word preschool when I hear the nomenclature?) That being said, and regardless of the fact that you can’t convince me that full culottes, which have been cropping up (pardon the pun) all over, are really un-flattering on most of us, I keep thinking that the pre seasons often outshine the others. There have been some really great clothes, lots of variety, and once again, coats shine. And with good reason, as exemplified this past week by a 5 month pregnant Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, who managed to look fabulous regardless of the occasion, or weather, thanks to her wardrobe of versatile coats which acted as dresses and tunics, served many purposes, and can cover a multitude of sins (not that she has any mind you). Just throw a coat over anything, and you are instantly dressed and pulled together.

Oscar de la Renta Collection

In any case, this past week certainly had its share of intrigues, not the least of which was the first Oscar de la Renta collection without the beloved designer. While Oscar was reportedly involved somewhat (he wanted to use the crepe soled loafers as they added a sportier feeling), it was actually designed by studio director Laura Kim and her team, with some input from Peter Copping, the new creative director. Interestingly, while the collection touched on all of Oscar’s signature trademarks, not the least of which are his standout evening dresses, it was obvious to me that he was not fully involved in the finished product and we will have to wait for New York Fashion Week in February, to see what he has in mind for the label, going forward. He certainly has his work cut out for him as Oscar was such a beloved icon, and it is hard to separate the man from the label.

Valentino Haute Couture Collection
Photo: Harper's Bazaar

And then there was the Valentino extravaganza at the Whitney Museum of Art in celebration of the new Fifth Avenue Flagship. The “one off” haute couture collection (which was seemingly attended by “everyone who is anyone”) was a palette cleansing study in winter white. Inspired by the dress the house designed for Jacqueline Kennedy when she married Aristotle Onassis on Skorpios in 1968, it relied on clean lines, simple cuts and luxurious fabrics. Looking at the pieces, especially the capes, I could not help but be reminded of the amazingly chic white cape and gown Mrs. Kennedy wore to the 1961 Inaugural Ball designed by Ethel Frankau of Bergdorf Custom Salon. While the show assuredly had a hard to miss bridal vibe, suffice it to say it was about as far removed from Kleinfeld’s Bridal as could be (LOL).

Valentino Haute Couture Collection

While it had a Courreges vibe, it was modern not Mod in a costumey-stuck-in a-time warp kind of way, and I was immediately inspired to follow suit. It had me thinking: what better way to stand out in a crowd of all black clad New Yorkers than to wear shades of white? Unless of course, you find yourself in a room filled with chic white clad fashion mavens (this was the case on Wednesday, when many of the well-dressed guests in attendance opted for white). And talk about a class act (not that it should be surprising: this is the house of Valentino after all, and elegance rules). There was not a platform stiletto or open toe bootie in sight (I can’t imagine Jacqueline Kennedy or anyone truly chic for that matter, wearing them), and the emphasis was on flats and demure low heeled pumps and boots. I loved that pale gold loafers accessorized many of the outfits; in my mind, the only thing that could possibly be better than white with black, is white with silver or better yet, white with gold.

Botanical Garden Gala
Photos: Laurel Marcus

Coincidentally, just days after the Valentino winter white show was held, one of the season’s most popular events took place: the New York Botanical Garden’s 16th annual Winter Wonderland Ball (, where the dress code for an evening of cocktails, dinner, and dancing is, as always, black tie and winter white. Patrick McMullan, one of the many shutterbugs on hand (along with Bill Cunningham who was there to record it all), told me this is his favorite party to cover because it is filled with eye candy. There is so much to look at inside the Victorian style glass Enid A. Haupt Conservatory: not only the beautifully dressed guests, but the spectacular Annual Holiday Train Show, which is now in its 23rd year. And better yet, since it’s all about giving back, the proceeds from the event help support NYBG’s acclaimed Children’s Education programs, which specifically target underprivileged children in the Bronx.

Mark Badgley & James Mischka

The event’s chairmen: Byrdie Bell, Alina Cho, Cristina Cuomo, Brooke Gerschel, Emma J.P. Goergen, Dalia Oberlander, Alexandra Lind Rose, and Gillian Hearst. Honorary Chairmen: Mark Badgley, Sloan Barnett, Whitney Fairchild, Alexandra Lind Rose, James Mischka, Connie Ann Phillips, Milly Sims. It was sponsored by Northern Trust, Glamour and Badgley Mischka, the duo known for their dreamy evening wear (they had the honors about 10 years ago as well). I told Mark and James when I saw them, that I thought it was so apropos, as I recalled one show many years ago, where they turned the runway at Bryant Park (filled with fantastical, divinely beaded and embroidered confections), into a fairytale forest, down to the glittery trees.

Whitney Fairchild

To say that guests took the dress code directive seriously is an understatement, which is always the case. Many women showed up in white or off white dresses and gowns, many covered or trimmed with furs, feathers, and fringe (it did sort of look like one big fashionable wedding at times). Included in this list were Alina Cho, Ariana Rockefeller, Birdie Bell, Trisha Gregory, Alexandra Lind Rose, and Whitney Fairchild whose Badgley Mischka gown was accessorized with a white Ralph Lauren fur stole. In some cases, black and white were graphically combined, (Josephine Jenno wore beaded Balmain) and lacquer red was added to the mix (as in Joy Marks’ Victor de Souza). Sometimes red just stood on its own.

 Michelle De Mathew and Josephine Jenno

Another popular way guests mixed black with white was by arriving in twos: one wearing white, the other wearing black; or by relying on their tuxedo clad escorts. Some women resorted to ‘shock’ therapy (Jean Shafiroff’s hot pink gown, which was so voluminous I was afraid she wouldn’t fit through the wide hallways, was designed by Victor de Souza and directly inspired by the Charles James 4 Leaf Clover gown). And other guests let the dress code go to their heads (literally). Laurel Marcus, Rosemary Ponzo, and Annika Connor, were among those who wore black, white, or black and white headgear. And naturally, there were plenty of women in floral patterns (it's the Botanical Garden after all).

Fine feathered friends

Certainly, there were many designer labels in attendance, but as we all know, one needn’t wear designer togs or pay astronomical prices to look great. Alexandra Lebenthal, who always looks fabulous I might add, asked who made my white fringed top; which I must say, got a lot of compliments. I accessorized it with Chanel pumps, the Chanel perfume bag (yup!), vintage white pants, and large pearls. I was quick to tell her it was DKNY, $399. I spotted it in the window of their Madison Avenue store and bought it immediately, thinking it to be versatile and fun. She smiled and said that I was the second person who she had asked who designed their outfit (assuming it was very high end), only to be told it was more moderately priced (what she assumed was Valentino on one guest, turned out to be BCBG).

H&M faux fur jacket

I would be the first to admit that I am an equal opportunity shopper and am not a label snob. I buy what I like, and I am hardly above a good bargain. So, I had to share with Alexandra, (a financial wizard who certainly knows a thing or two about 'smart money') what has to be my biggest ‘cheap thrill’ this season: the black and white zip front faux fur jacket I purchased from H&M, which cost $34.99 to be exact ( I never fail to get compliments when I wear it, it is soft and warm, and looks and feels like the real deal (not that it matters, as faux furs have never looked better and even houses like Lanvin are including them in their lines). But that’s not why I bought it. I certainly don’t need more furs (I have a closet full of them and many are still in storage). I simply liked it. And seriously, what can you buy for $34.99?

- Marilyn Kirschner

Friday, December 12, 2014

New York Fashion Kool-Aid: Big Ben Meet Big Apple

Kate Middleton in a Jenny Packham  three-peat but great jewelry
(Photo: Getty Images)

London's calling and the Big Apple not only answered on the first ring but put the Brits on speed dial. In the past week alone we've achieved transatlantic symbiosis by swapping with our sister city across the pond: 47 Angels for two Royals. I'm referring, of course, to the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show much of which, since it was taped last week and aired this week, was sort of anti-climactic. Likewise, Prince William and Duchess Kate who, while radiant and barely showing a bump at five months along, failed to capture the fashion capital's fancy in a teal Jenny Packham three-peat. The emerald earrings and bracelet didn't disappoint however and were a far cry from her usual Zara jewels

Victoria's Secret London bound

Let me recap the VS show for those who are not quite up to speed. This was the first time in the nearly twenty years of the show's existence that it took place outside of the U.S. although they did film a segment in Paris last year. Interestingly enough, Victoria's Secret is a new brand to the U.K. having only opened there in 2012. It seems that most women buy their "knickers" at M&S (Marks & Spencer) and don't give them all that much thought.

Ariana Grande is clipped  by an Angel

After the taping and before the airing we learned way too much from the press (Spoiler Alert x infinity)! We got to hear conjecture on whether or not Taylor Swift got VS model Jessica Hart fired. The former angel had made a disparaging comment last year about Tay saying that "she didn't really fit in on stage with us," words that I'm certain became a bitter mainstay of her diet, particularly after seeing the new totally dope "Lingerie Taylor." The media also let us know that tiny Ariana Grande got shredded on the runway by Elsa Hosk's pink wings. Ms Grande, ever a good sport, tweeted #bangbangintomyface referencing her hit song however the scene was unfortunately cut in post production. Perez Hilton and other clued us in to watch Ed Sheeran's performance of "Thinking Out Loud." He awkwardly avoided glancing upon Alessandra Ambrosio and Adriana Lima as they pranced by in their $1.5 million dollar bras lest he be turned to stone or perhaps risk the wrath of a jealous girlfriend (just a guess on my part).

Karlie Kloss dressed a a ceiling fan or are those snow shoes?

While many of the Angels costumes were utterly amazing in both beauty and workmanship, particularly the gold feathered, jewel encrusted wings, I could not stop thinking that Karlie Kloss resembled either a ceiling fan or someone with snowshoes on her back (maybe she's a "snow angel") during her segment with bestie Swift performing "Blank Space." T. Swizzle rocked her extreme push up bustier however am I the only one who would have preferred to see her just a bit "above the fray" in a cocktail dress as she appeared last year? It seemed like it was not only an effort to brand her as a VS girl but also to address the absent Ms. Hart and drive the point home with Ms. Swift's negligee display. In general, there's only so much winking, blowing of kisses, wide grinning and dancing down the runway that a person can take and I actually kept nodding off during the show.

British Royalty meets American Royalty

In exchange for sending winged beauties to England we got to host a glowing duchess. It's been written that dear Kate may have been instructed to tone down her glamour quotient so as not to upstage Prince William mum the way his mum Princess Di did with his dad Prince Charles. Some observers were particularly disappointed in her final night's Met Museum black tie gown declaring that an evening such as this in our fashionable city deserved a new frock. I think it's quite possible that even royals might like to get several wearings out of a gown costing 5k. Even Princess Di wore her outfits more than once (usually no more than twice though, judging from the dresses that were auctioned off right before her death). Much was made and continues to be made about the meeting of Queen Bey and Jay Z ("American Royalty") crossing the basketball court into King Arthur's Court to do a meet and greet. I would have liked to see Bey curtsy (can't quite picture it though) and I'm still mortally offended at King James draping his sweaty arm around Kate in a half hug. LeBron, that would have been cringeworthy even if she weren't a duchess!

Another of our "national treasures" known as Kim Kardashian West is set to "break the mould" if not the internet in her triple January cover of Elle UK. She appears in three different outfits: first in a striped sequin tank while licking cupcake frosting, second in a low scooped white bodysuit, tight skirt and leather jacket and third in a belted white tunic blouse for the "Confidence" issue. Her noteworthy quote on why she gained so much weight during her pregnancy with North: "I'd think God was doing this for a reason," she told Elle U.K. "He was saying: 'Kim, you think you're so hot, but look what I can do to you.' Yeah, I'm sure it had nothing whatsoever to do with what she was stuffing her face with. Sounds more like the devil made her eat it.

Meanwhile fellow notable bumster (and royal sister) Pippa Middleton has come out against KKW's Paper Mag cover.Read about it here, Pippa says that her posterior is not in the same league as Kim's and she questions why Americans are so obsessed with bottoms while dubbing 2014 the "Year of the Booty".

Carol Garber

Furthermore on the subject of cross pollenization (cross colonization?) It's been brought to my attention by Carole Garber, a stylist and transplanted Brit who I recently profiled here, that there's been a bit of a "British Invasion" on Fifth Avenue. of course, there's the newest installation of Topshop but also there are boutiques such as Karen Millen and Ted Baker. I recently visited the Paul Smith men's store on 16th and Fifth after my son lost a button off of last year's shirt. A match was miraculously procured courtesy of their ginormous button jar and a patient manager with eagle eyes. It is worth paying a call even without a similar quest as the downstairs is like a museum complete with rare posters and British art, collector's editions of rock band posters (Stones, Beatles included), as well as an interesting library of art books for sale.

Speaking of Ms Garber, I'm afraid that she is absolutely desolate having never received an invite to see the Cambridges on their recent visit. From her Facebook she writes: "Alas, my outfits, accessories including special hats have now been stored away in my wardrobe for there is always the next time!" As far as this trip is concerned she continued: "Seriously, I would have LOVED to have been at all of the events but the one closest to my heart was the reception at NEUEHOUSE for Inovation is GREAT. British people in the Art and Creative living in New York. I am quite sure The Royal Highnesses will be enticed to return to the Big Apple by which time anyone they will be presented to will not be SWEATY and will have been taught correct protocol."

Let's just hope that they are not so "chuffed" at Buckingham Palace that Will and Kate can never make a return visit; next time with big brother George and his sibling-to-be. They should plan to come back in the summer when there's no Nor'easter. Bey and Jay could lend them the Hampton's house.

- Laurel Marcus

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

New York Fashion Kool-Aid: "Transit"-ory Beauty

Drew Barrymore puts on concealer

While Eleanor Rigby may have kept her face in a jar by the door, real commuting women of NYC tend to take theirs with them and apply it on public transit. En route to an early morning appointment yesterday I dashed onto the 86th Street crosstown bus which was jam packed with commuters. Towards the back, a seated young woman with a large sack on her lap was engrossed in, shall we say, readying  herself for the day. So, maybe you're thinking a little lipstick, a little powdering of the nose...what's the big deal? Let me assure you, that this makeup application was quite a bit more than that including but not limited to at least ten separate products each using a different brush, as well as a separate compact. I was duly impressed that this woman could flawlessly paint on black gel eyeliner as the bus careened around a corner.  I can't even draw on a proper cat eye standing perfectly still in front of my bathroom mirror.

And there's this: I don't need to see how the sausage gets made and if I do, I'll watch a Youtube makeup tutorial. Unfortunately, it's not unlike an accident on the highway; you desperately want to look away but morbid curiosity prevents you from doing so.  I had no sooner transferred onto the subway when lightning (or was it Lancome? L'Oreal?) struck again. A beautiful redhead reached into her bag and began "putting on her face." I counted four lash products (a primer, a separator, a mascara applied with the requisite open-mouthed fly catching face, a curler) plus a powder blush all used expertly with seemingly no worries as to the multitude of stops and sudden starts endemic to subway travel. I became transfixed and craned my neck to see in what order she used each of these products. I nearly missed my stop. Although, I too am a "makeup girl" (or at least I thought I was until now) I began to wonder if I was old fashioned. I've always believed that a quick refresh of the lipstick is acceptable in public; affixing four shades of eyeshadow and plucking your brows, is not. In addition, who has the strength to tote around an arsenal of beauty products? My vanity drawer tells all the tales that my overtaxed shoulder doesn't need to.

Armed for battle

When I arrived, ironically enough, at my day spa appointment, I asked two of the women who work there if they had observed this AM rush hour phenomenon.  One proceeded to tell me about the time that she was convinced that she was watching a makeup artist judging by the huge carryall of products in use, only to catch a glimpse of a stethoscope in her bag as well (cosmetologist on call)? I suddenly remembered observing a woman on a plane last week while coming home from Thanksgiving in Atlanta as she applied false eyelashes in the center seat. "What's next?" I asked. "Someone will brush their teeth on mass transit?" Apparently this was "deja subway vu" for the receptionist/office manager. "There was a woman with one of those little tooth brushes that you use on safari in Africa or places where there is no water...the kind that folds over your finger and she was cleaning her teeth. When I saw that I really felt like saying something to her" she added.

MTA Rules of Conduct

Aside from being extremely humorous (at least to me) this is a trend that needs to stop. Is this just another taboo or boundary that's been broken down or pushed back by the internet and the excessive amount of makeup application videos? There seems to be little left of propriety if we are basically getting prepped for our day in full sight of everyone who maybe hasn't even fully digested their Egg McMuffin yet. I know that there are rules on the subway including a ban on eating and on hot beverages (maybe to prevent something like this: click here for article) but maybe there should be a rule concerning what the French call "faire la toilette" (translates to "grooming") instituted on this 110 year old institution.

Laura Geller's discontinued makeup bag

Numerically speaking, in a city that counts its inhabitants in the 8.4 million range, public transportation has got to be one of, if not THE single most important service and more than six million riders would no doubt agree. Another statistic: at least among NY singles, gender lines break down as 53% female vs. 47% male. Meanwhile, our fair city is naturally (or maybe I should say unnaturally) in the top 10 for the cosmetics obsessed according to this: click here for article all facts giving this "movement" the makings of a potential problem of epic proportion. Maybe we can find a way to blame Sephora for this "trillions of beauty products" epidemic the way we blame Starbucks for making everyone coffee obsessed or heroin mules for enabling junkies. We need to cut down on this practice soon, else I fear there will soon be an entire section of the train taken over for makeup classes. Interestingly, makeup mogul Laura Geller used to sell a NYC taxicab shaped pouch with about three items in it for application on the go. She should consider updating it in the shape of a NYC bus (one of the double-sized accordion ones for sure) or a subway car for today's woman.

All I know is that if I were Big Bird on Sesame Street, today's lesson would be brought to you by the letters "M" and "U" (for make-up) as well as the acronym "MTA." However, what's actually called for here is another kind of lesson; one maybe better served by a big purple dinosaur who featured the "Please and Thank You Song" on his TV show. My words to the legions of mobile women primpers are "Please stop! The eye you save may be your own" and "Thank you for respecting my disgust in witnessing your morning routine. Kindly do that in the privacy of your own home or maybe in your office cubicle with the door closed." If you really need to be in motion while you gussy yourself up go seek out an empty elevator. If not, how about this novel idea--wake up ten minutes earlier! This has been a public service announcement from your future orthopedist.

- Laurel Marcus

Monday, December 08, 2014

Lookonline's 20th Anniversary Party - An Ode to an Iconoclast

Ernest Schmatolla, publisher
(Photos: Lieba Nesis)

I am sitting here at my computer, trying to figure out how to write an article on the 20th Anniversary party given for by the publisher Ernest Schmatolla. A host of feelings come over me and I am inexplicably unable to articulate what the site means to me or others, in a world replete with hordes of bloggers and fashion experts. What do I say about Ernest whose site struggles to gain legitimacy in a universe where age and expertise is devalued and youth and connections are rewarded. I met Ernest two years ago at a Ralph Rucci show where he kindly told me to, "Get the hell out of his seat!" and the rest is history. After graduating Harvard Law School I thought the world was open to me; and there I stood at a fashion week event recuperating from an unpleasant divorce that left me wondering how I would occupy myself professionally.

Marilyn Kirschner, editor-in-chief

Enter Ernest who asked me to come write for his fashion website. My first response was now tell me your real name, but after googling him numerous times I realized he was indeed legitimate. In a world that is consumed with celebrity and glamour Ernest stands alone as the purveyor of the "truth" and a ruffler of feathers (my own included). He takes unpopular positions and suffers financially for it, but he always says "I did not come into this world to be liked" and he holds true to this motto. He has criticized fashion powerhouses KCD and Diane von Furstenberg and remains unapologetic for his unpopular stands. And yet this party was testament to the fact that, despite his brutal honesty, he remains a bastion of integrity for those who have had the joy of parrying with him over the years. Ernest is the type of person worthy of a short story, but putting pen to paper would never adequately capture the uniqueness of this man.

Laurel Marcus

The party took place in his modest apartment on East End Avenue from 2PM to 5PM with french champagne and delicious hors d'oeuvres from babeth's feast. Ernest had been preparing for this party for months, and while he was proffered a host of elegant venues, he chose the most meaningful one - the home where he and his wife, Deborah Brumfield, have lived for the past thirty-seven years. Deborah, a remarkable woman who ended her job with the Fashion Calendar after working there for thirty-three years, remains by his side with loyalty and passion. She herself is reticent and prefers to keep a low profile and stick to volunteer work in her church. However, when it came to describing Ernest's ardor for the site, Deborah perked up and enthusiastically spoke of his great pride in the site, waking up at 6AM every morning to tend to his blog and watching it grow with the love a parent might feel towards a child. "It's the reason he wakes up in the morning," Deborah said emotionally, "money has always been secondary to him; it's his integrity that drew me to him, and it continues to guide him through his life."

Lieba Nesis

Marilyn Kirschner, the editor-in-chief of Lookonline for the past eighteen years reiterated this sentiment when she spoke about Ernie's desire "to speak the truth" even when it was unpopular. Marilyn, who was a senior editor at Harper's Bazaar for twenty four years and considered a fashion icon, found herself between jobs in 1996 and came to work for Ernie after he beseeched her to document her love for fashion. Marilyn spoke of Ernest as someone who lives up to his name, preferring to remain honest and unpretentious without ever selling out for materialistic concerns. She also lamented his stubbornness which leads him to make decisions that are sometimes economically imprudent. A highlight for Kirschner was when Ernest convinced fashion legends Grace Mirabella and Bernadine Morris to contribute to the blog. Marilyn appreciates the immediacy of a blog, as opposed to a magazine where the fruits of one's labor has a lead time of two to three  months.

Udor & Susan Sommers

The history of Lookonline is interesting as it involves a number of people who still remain loyal friends of Ernest and Deborah. The launch party which was held at Sony Plaza in 1994 for over 850 people, was organized solely by Rhonda Erb who still remains a contributor to the site. Rhonda recounted how groundbreaking the idea of a fashion blog was at the time, and how Ernie's dedication gives him the strength to keep chugging along. Ernest who started off as a fashion photographer decided he wanted to delve into the world of fashion and asked his friend Susan Sommers to help him start a column. Susan, who was a fashion writer at the time for The Daily News, became the editor of his site and told him to call it Lookonline because she told me, "fashion is all about your look."  Susan who was at the party had a great ''look" wearing a Rick Owens jacket and high-end costume jewelry. She left Lookonline when she became frustrated with the inability to "monetize" this highly regarded column.

Katlean De Monchy & Stacy Lomman

Stacy Lomman, a professor at FIT and a couture designer, who wrote for the site in 2008 and 2009, spoke of Ernest as a "true friend" who is a good person in an industry with a lot of difficult people. Stacy, praised Ernest as a man with no agenda except to write about fashion and to do it well. Similarly, Laurel Marcus, who joined the site in 2013, met Ernest at the neighborhood supermarket and said her favorite and least favorite thing about Schmatolla was his impetus to tell it like it is. Marcus, was appreciative to Ernest for getting her back into journalism and giving her places to wear all her fabulous designer clothing.

Buddy the "copy cat" guards the original launch  invitation
(Photo: Rhonda Erb)

 Ernest, while walking around offering guests dessert mini tarts, told me that it "was not about how many people he reached, but rather the quality of his readership" that set his site apart. The readership of Lookonline consists of almost every major fashion editor in the industry; an illustrious group whose numbers have grown over the years. Moreover, the site as a whole continues to expand with readership up almost 80% since 2012. Ernest's face lit up when he talked about the incipient stages of his site where he contemplated calling it "FashionNet" except he feared people might confuse it with a hair stylist. Ernest's caustic humor sometimes leaves me angry and this evening was no exception. As I left the party, after running around to record the afternoon's events and photograph the participants, he commented on how "big" I had gotten and how "well I carried my weight." Just as I felt the anger stirring inside me, I saw a smirk appear on his face. That is why Ernest remains a fashion iconoclast; he knows how to aggravate his constituents, and he does so unapologetically. And with that, I left his apartment wondering why I still found his roguishness so charming.

- Lieba Nesis

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Imitation: Flattery or Forgery? FIT's Faking It Explains It All

"Whenever there are luxury designs in demand, people are going to copy them--no matter what" - Ariele Elia, curator

So said assistant curator of costume and textiles at FIT, while giving a tour of the new exhibit at The Museum at FIT entitled Faking It: Originals, Copies, and Counterfeits. It begins chronologically with a 1903 House of Worth afternoon dress of purple silk, velvet, chenille, chiffon and bullion fringe somehow reminding me of Scarlett O'Hara's curtain couture.   Charles Frederick Worth was essentially the first signature "designer label" in history and so, became a mark for forgers. In 1913, couturier Paul Poiret visited the United States only to find that illegal copies of his designs, even bearing his label, were selling for as little as $13. Poiret fought back by trademarking his label since fashion designs were not copyrighted inAmerica as they were in Paris by France's Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture.

Unlicensed copy of Madeleine Vionnet's Little Horses dress as compared to the original seen on screen
(All photos Laurel Marcus)
Click on images for larger views

In the early '20s, Couturiere Madeleine Vionnet not only registered photos of her designs but also began using her thumbprint on her label (take that Inspector Clouseau). She sought to develop an extremely complex beading technique with embroiderer Albert Lesage that would be impossible to reproduce (as seen on her 1924 "Little Horses" dress) however even this plan did not completely foil the copyists. With the development of the Fashion Originators' Guild of America in the 1930's, a group which allowed designers to register their work, and called for manufacturers to "red card" or refuse to do business with retailers selling knockoffs of registered garments, it seemed a plan was hatched. Victory was short-lived however; in 1941 the Federal Trade Commission disbanded the U.S. guild for "eliminating the right to free competition."

The Chanel on the left is the original, on the right is the copy

Department stores after WWII, became instrumental in creating licensed copies of Parisian styles including those of Balmain, Dior and Jean Desses. Retail establishments such as Bergdorf Goodman, I. Magnin or Ohrbach's would receive couture samples on bond for six months and would present their copies alongside the originals demonstrating their spot-on reproductions. Eventually, quality got watered down when inauthentic copies started to filter in from unscrupulous dealers. As illustration, the entrance to the exhibit features two "identical" Chanel suits, only they're not identical. Upon closer inspection you can see how costs were cut and details were skipped in order to make the copies more cost effective. An advertisement on the wall features designs that were available at Macy's during the '50s that were alluded to as being from "Monsieur X, Monsieur Y, and Monsieur Z", code names for Dior, Jacques Fath and Givenchy. Another poster shows Monsieur Givenchy with one hand up towards the camera lens as he attempts to block a photo of his work. Directly underneath is another newspaper ad which was censored by the Chambre Syndicale and obscures the designs coming down the runway. The model's have thick, black Slinky-type conical lines around the photos of their clothing which reminded me of the secrecy that used to shroud the roll-out of the new season's auto designs.

Louis Scherrer on left, Chanel in center, Adolfo on right

As the shift to ready-to-wear occurred, an early casualty was Pierre Cardin who was expelled from the Chambre Syndicale. Andre Courreges followed and eventually Yves Saint Laurent but by the time he did an RTW line they had adapted and were used to it. In 1959, the result of a landmark lawsuit saw Emilio Pucci copyrighting his patterns, eventually even incorporating his signature of "Emilio" into his fabric's design patterns. Coco Chanel is still the most copied designer as referenced by three Chanel-like suits grouped together by Scherrer, Chanel and Adolfo who made a career out of copying Chanel. Apparently she didn't mind and is quoted as saying "If mine are copied, so much the better.Ideas are made to be communicated." In a display case you can even see a "Fiche de References" which includes a sketch of a Chanel suit, samples of materials and a list of where to buy everything needed to duplicate it.

Andy Warhol inspired paper dress

The exhibit moves on to designer's diffusion lines such as Moschino's Cheap amd Chic, Donna Karan's DKNY and even Missoni for Target as examples of gray areas in original design. Across from these are several examples where fashion was lifted directly from art or as Ms. Elia called it "A loophole for a designer to copy art." In the case of the Roy Lichtenstein/Moschino suit it was necessary to get a license from the artist. No sooner had Cindy Crawford donned this Marc Jacobs Oscar statuette long full skirt on the Academy Awards red carpet when Mr. Jacobs found himself with a huge trademark and copyright infringement issues; he was told that the Academy would sue him if that skirt was ever seen again. The Campbell's Soup Dress had a tastier ending: the company considered it great publicity and came full circle by using the Andy Warhol design on a paper dress, available if you mailed in a dollar and two soup can labels. Ms. Elia mentioned that these sell on eBay now for the very "Umm Umm good" price of about $3,000. Several designers have appropriated the artist Piet Mondrian's work including Yves Saint Laurent however the first was a 1961 Jr's dress by Anne Klein shown here in an ad.

The wall of originals vs. copies

The final section of the exhibit focuses on counterfeit fashions. "At the worst, counterfeit fashion finances terrorism, the drug trade and almost certainly child labor," said Ms. Elia. She pointed to a wall of real vs. knockoff fashions and accessories and from the outside you would perhaps be fooled. "The inside always tells" she cautioned. Red flags are poor stitching, and particularly with Chanel bags, be wary of mismatched quilting as it will always be matched perfectly on the real thing. The lack of an ability to copyright fashion is the secret to the Zara/Celine knockoffs. Whereas back in the early '20s, during the time of expert copyist Elizabeth Hawes ("Fashion is Spinach" is one of her books on the industry) who bragged that she would never copy anything without having held the original in her hand, the copyists today have only to see an item walk the runway. It will appear in the store within two weeks, often faster than the original.

Marc Jacobs Oscar statue dress

Ms. Elias mentioned that a store such as Zara will tend not to group the entire outfit together, preferring to hang the jacket in one place and the skirt in another, making it less obvious that it was a direct copy. Also on display is an 8-Ball Jacket from the '90s (originally designed by Michael Hoban for North Beach Leather) and facsimile, no doubt like the jacket that recently caused a brawl on the F-train: see Daily News article .There is also a video of Fashion Law Institute's Susan Scafidi and Valerie Salembier, CEO of the Authentics Foundation taking turns discussing the counterfeit industry and current initiatives that are being implemented to curtail illegal copying.

Mao Tse Tung suit by Vivienne Tam, Moschino Cheap and Chic suit with Roy Licthtenstein print

A last laugh, if you will, is a small section considering what is Parody rather than plagiarism. Examples of this include the ubiquitous Brian Lichtenberg Homies ensemble (a parody of Hermes), and AINT LAURENT t-shirt, a Yohji Yamamoto logo (double Y's riffing on the Louis Vuitton logo) and the "double arches" of last winter's Moschino/McDonald's collection. Ms. Elia mentioned that Jeremy Scott had to enquire McDonald's for a license for its use. I neglected to ask if he had licensed SpongeBob but I'm guessing he did or Nickelodeon might suggest Mr. Scott go "live in a pineapple under the sea."

Faking It: Originals, Copies and Counterfeits is at The Museum at FIT from December 2, 2014-April 25, 2015 Museum hours: Tuesday-Friday, noon-8 pm; Saturday, 10 am-5 pm.

- Laurel Marcus

Friday, November 28, 2014

All Wrapped Up: Idina Menzel and Bloomingdales Holiday Window Celebration

Idina Menzel
(Photo: Isabelle Erb)

A crowd gathered in Beacon Court at the Bloomberg building in New York City late Monday afternoon, just before sunset.  They were eagerly anticipating a performance by one of Broadway’s brightest stars, Idina Menzel.  Bloomingdale’s was about to deliver a holiday gift to the city in the form of a free concert featuring Menzel and dancers from the Broadway techno light show, iLuminate. Menzel took the time to meet many of her fans earlier in the day at Bloomingdale’s when she signed copies of her new album, Holiday Wishes, in the store.  The day’s festivities are all part of Bloomingdale’s All Wrapped Up holiday campaign.  The store is using the symbol of the classic Mylar bow to communicate the spirit of the season in everything from gift giving to giving back.

 This year, Bloomingdale’s has established three ways to give back through a marketing program that benefits the Child Mind Institute (CMI).  Their collectible Little Brown Bear is back for 2014 and $2.00 of each sale goes to CMI.  A percentage of the sales from a specially designed Little Brown Bear Charm Bangle from Alex and Ani and a collection of holiday gifts designed by Michael Aram will also be donated to the charity.

(Photo Isabelle Erb)

Just as night was falling, the show got underway.  The concert was also streamed live on Live Nation at The opening performance by illuminate combined state of the art special effects with fast paced choreography and a pulse-pounding soundtrack. Finally it was time for Menzel to take the stage.  The much celebrated, TONY award-winning actress has garnered additional fame of late for her performance of the song, Let It Go, from the mega hit film, Frozen.  Menzel, wearing a black fur jacket and slim black pants, immediately added a touch of intimacy to the outdoor scene, chatting casually about herself and waving to the fans gathered in the office windows above.  She performed selections from her new holiday album and, to the delight of her fans, closed the show with the afore mentioned hit from Frozen.

Store window
(Photo Rhonda Erb)

Following the performances, everyone made their way to Lexington Avenue to see Bloomingdale’s holiday windows and enjoy treats from the Coolhaus food trucks. This year, the store’s windows give onlookers an interactive experience, featuring games based on the holiday Gift A Bow theme.

- Rhonda Erb

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