Tuesday, September 27, 2016

New York Evening Hours by Lieba Nesis

Star-Studded Crowd Ushers In the Fall Opera Season

From left: Bartlett Sher director of Opera Romeo and Juliet, Bengt Gomer, Opera Manager Peter Gelb, Opera Soprano Nina Stemme, Ekaterina Gubanova & Rita Schutz
All photos: Lieba Nesis - click images for full size views

On Monday September 26, 2016 at 5 PM the Metropolitan Opera premiered its new production Richard Wagner's "Trisan Und Isolde." Celebrating its 50th year residing in Lincoln Center, the illustrious crowd which gathered for this opening night extravaganza included: actresses Malin Akerman, Keri Russell, Patricia Clarkson, Julianna Margulies, Dana Delany, Christine Baranski, Javier Munoz, Candice Bergen; business moguls Robert Smith, John Utendahl, Fred Iseman Michael Shvo; socialites Ann Ziff, Julie Macklowe, Mercedes Bass, Jean Shafiroff  among many others.

Jean Shafiroff in Oscar de la Renta

I eagerly await this event every year because of the phenomenal attire of the attendees and the excitement surrounding the new opera season. When Wagner first started working on "Tristan" in 1857 he thought it would be a quick moneymaker.

Fred Iseman and Socialite Mercedes Bass

After experiencing ample bad luck it finally appeared on stage in 1865 with the public both reviling and adoring it. Whatever one's opinion, it has greatly influenced poetry, literature, painting and theater. Its heavy romanticism and endless melodies climaxing with Isolde's Liebestod has retained an overarching power in the cultural sphere.

Julie Macklowe in Dolce & Alan Dershowitz

This evening the opera was broken up into three acts and featured singing phenoms Stuart Skelton and Nina Stemme who brought down the house. Entering the hall, I bumped into Alan Dershowitz who was in the standing section. When I asked him if the legal profession was that unrewarding he replied, "No I just didn't want to spend the money on a seat since I am leaving to watch the debates after the first act."

Camilla Staerk in her own design & Helena Christensen in YSL

Alan is one of those concerned jews who said he hoped Obama, as a lame duck President, would not make the "undemocratic" choice of forcing the French proposal of a two-state solution on Israel and the incoming President. Alan was also looking forward to seeing Trump's acumen at debating-a skill that Dershowitz has down to a science.

Candice Bergen

I ran to my seat to catch the first act which lasted one and a half hours. This was a challenge for an opera novice who doesn't appreciate a German opera where every other word is "isht"- I much prefer Italian. A gala should be a crowd pleaser and I wondered why Peter Gelb, general manager of the Opera, didn't pick a more user friendly "Madama Butterfly" or "La Boheme."

Bengt Gomer and wife and lead soprano Nina Stemme

Nevertheless, the music and singing were flawless and the production was highly unexpected- astonishing the jaded audience. The story follows an ancient myth popular throughout medieval Europe concerning the illicit love of a knight and the wife of his king who is given a love potion that brings them together, ultimately leading to the knight's death.

Elizabeth Peyton in Vetements, Kristian Emdal, & Elias Ronnenfel

The opera takes place in Ireland, Cornwall and Brittany with a distinct romantic flair. The dark costumes and dreary sets containing heavy coats with badges, submarines, and jails left the audience baffled, resulting in them booing the production designers. A story about medieval castles with royal protagonists should contain lush surroundings and attire. Peter Gelb's modern sets and productions are aimed at attracting a younger audience as the opera continues to struggle.

Actress Dana Delany in Tom Ford & TV personality
Carson Kressley in vintage

During intermission, I bumped into television and fashion personality Carson Kressley who loves this event, "because it has great people, and great glamour with an element of kookiness." His favorite part of the night was all the "hot soldier guys" on stage - maybe I could attain a new appreciation for this art form. I responded, "basically you come to the opera to ogle hot guys" to which he replied, "yes."

Antoine Wagner-great, great grandson of Richard Wagner
& Emily Bromfield

Carson is coming out with a new book called "Does This Book Make My Butt Look Big" and said the key to fashion is having flawless fitting attire. On my way through the lobby, I bumped into perfectly attired Antoine Wagner, Richard Wagner's great great grandson, who was seeing "Tristan" for the second time this year and loved the wormholes depicted on stage. He managed to remain neutral on the rest of the production as we hurried off to Act Two.

Actress Julianna Margulies & Keith Lieberthal

At the conclusion of the five-hour ballet the performers received numerous ovations with the crowd especially loving Nina Stemme, Evgeny Nikitin, and Stuart Skelton. I had the chance to speak to Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia who is a paradigm of elegance and asked who designed his tuxedo. As befitting of a Prince he said he has a special tailor and then showed me the Pucci lining which was obtained from material provided by Emilio Pucci, a close friend of his mother's. My mother's close friend also has a pooch - but I guess we are not royalty.

Opera great Placido Domingo wearing Caruso

Dimitri is an avid fan of the opera and loves the music of Wagner. At the guests headed to the tent for dinner, the decor of mint green streamers hanging from the ceiling was breathtaking. The crowds gathered around soprano Nina Stemme but I was more interested in the man standing next to her named Placido Domingo whose thin frame and stylish Caruso suit made him unrecognizable. He lamented that he needed to lose more weight-revealing that no matter your level of fame girth continues to be a preoccupation.

left to right Andrew Saffir, Hamilton actress Betsy Struxness, Hamilton actor Javier Munoz,
Malin Akerman, & Daniel Benedict

The crowd was dazzling, with actors, directors and socialites conversing enthusiastically with each other as photographers snapped away. I spotted the current "Hamilton", Javier Munoz, who spoke about his modest upbringing in the projects and what a dream it was to be on a Broadway stage. He said he wouldn't trade it for anything recounting his most exciting moment as meeting Beyonce and Jay Z backstage - admiring them as "wonderful" people and performers. Tonight was a smash hit with a star-studded guest list and the magic of three things: Opera, Lincoln Center and my father.

- Lieba Nesis & father

Monday, September 26, 2016

New York Evening Hours by Lieba Nesis

Radmila Lolly's Amazing First Collection

Radmila Lolly in her own design
All photos Lieba Nesis

Fashion For Peace held its World Fashion Parade featuring designer Radmila Lolly who was premiering her first collection at Gotham Hall. The doors opened at 7:00 PM and there was an enormous crowd waiting outside to view the collection many of whom were friends of Radmila's boyfriend, John Utendahl.

John Utendahl on the left

For those who don't know Utendahl he is the former owner of one of the largest African American owned investment banking groups in the United States and is currently Executive Vice Chairman of Bank of America Global Corporate and Investment Banking. Utendahl is always dressed in a magnificent suit perfectly complementing his 6 ft 6 in frame and "classy gentleman" is the only word that adequately describes him.

Lavender fringed pantsuit

He is also a financial whiz with much of the billionaire African American community choosing him as their investment advisor. Tonight he was glowing with the pride of a loving boyfriend as his statuesque girlfriend, Radmila Lolly, wowed the crowd. Radmila has the figure of a model and the creativity of a veteran designer, treating the crowd to her operatic voice while models paraded down the runway in her smashing attire.

 Green caped pantsuit

She showed a fluency and knowledge of fashion that is rarely seen in a fledgling designer with models in white and gold gowns looking elegant and award ready. Moreover, I loved the red, purple and green capes especially when accompanied with a pantsuit or shorts-this was high fashion meets high society.

Denim jumper with train

The denim jumper with a train was paradigmatic of the trend we are seeing of denim for the night which Herrera recently showcased and was a nice addition to the bold colored gowns. The fringed midriff-baring lavender pantsuit was a jaw-dropper with the crowd bursting into applause-this was sexy, and edgy with a modern twist on the flapper trend.

diamond-caged dress

The last looks were executed to perfection with diamond caging accompanying a black ensemble and a white leotard-this kind of statement making clothing is worth the discomfort. The finale piece was a gold embroidered jumpsuit with an angelic train - a heavenly conclusion to an excellent show produced by a novice in the industry who is headed for an illustrious career.

- Lieba Nesis

Friday, September 23, 2016

New York Fashion Cool-Aid ® by Laurel Marcus

Proust's Muse The Countess Greffulhe: Beyond the Madeleine to La Mode

Gretchen Fenston and Patricia Mears
Photo: Lieba Nesis - click images for full size views

Elisabeth de Caraman-Chimay, the Countess Greffulhe, put the belle in Belle Epoque. Born in 1860 to poor but aristocratic parents, she became an extraordinary fashion icon of the 20th Century when she married the extraordinarily wealthy (but indifferent) Count Henri Greffulhe. Preferring to look "bizarre" rather than "banal," she only commissioned her robes from the great couturiers of the time including Worth, Soinard, Poiret, Lanvin, Fortuny, who would allow her input into the design process.

Elisabeth de Caraman-Chimay

Marcel Proust was so in awe of her beauty and presence that she became the inspiration for the fictional counterparts of the Duchesse de Guermantes, as well as the Princesse de Guermantes from his great seven-volume novel "In Search of Lost Time" aka "Remembrance of Things Past." As the queen of society she represented a perfect blending of aristocratic and artistic elegance; according to Dr. Steele, someone like Daphne Guinness would be close to a modern day version of Countess Greffuhle.

Lily dress created by House of Worth circa 1896

As I arrived at yesterday morning's press preview for "Proust's Muse The Countess Greffulhe" (now through January 7, 2017) at the Museum of FIT, I was greeted by a particularly ebullient Valerie Steele, who termed the exhibition "a real labor of love" that had run "way over budget." As Dr. Steele explained, it all started several years ago in Paris at a Christian Dior show when she ran into Olivier Saillard, director of the Palais Galliera, Musee de la Mode de la Ville de Paris, the repository of all things Countess Greffuhle.

House of Worth Tea Gown circa 1897

"From the moment that Olivier Saillard told me that he was planning an exhibition, I was determined that people in New York City would also have the opportunity to see masterpieces such as the "Lily Dress," to appreciate the life of a legendary fashion icon, and to understand how Proust helps us interpret the 'mute language of clothes.'" Steele was involved in that exhibition writing for the catalogue and Saillard will be attending this exhibition for the October 20 fashion symposium at FIT.

As you enter the anteroom of the exhibition, there are several photographs of the Countess (you would think her impossibly tiny waist was photoshopped!) and her family as well as a video of her twirling around in a gown. Steele is quick to point out photos of some of the benefactors of her largesse as she was also a great philanthropist and pioneering fundraiser for the arts and sciences.

Charles Frederick Worth garden-party dress circa 1894

These include supporting Diaghilev's Ballet Russe, the composer Gabriel Faure, Scientist Marie Curie and oddly for someone of the aristocracy, Armed Forces Officer Alfred Dreyfus. Here you will find a photo of her at the opera with the quote "I don't think that there is any pleasure in the world comparable to that of a woman who feels that she is being looked at by everybody...How can you live when one can no longer provoke this great anonymous caress, after having known and tasted it." Interestingly, despite her narcissism, she would have hated the paparazzi -- although Proust often asked her for a photo she would never oblige as she believed photos weren't to be given to "outsiders."

Felix day dress circa 1895

The mirrors are used to great effect in the main exhibition room -- the famous Lily dress is positioned perfectly before a mirror while two gowns that were too fragile to put on mannequins are displayed in custom built cases with mirrors strategically hung, allowing one to view the garment from another angle. As a young woman, The Countess preferred pinks, mauves and lilacs as seen in the Soinard day dress and the Worth garden party dress which she wore at her uncle's (Count Robert de Montesquiou) party where she first met Marcel Proust (then freelancing as a social writer), who later dubbed his character Odette, the mysterious "lady in pink."

Charles Frederick Worth cape & House of Worth Byzantine gown 1904

She also favored the color green to set off her auburn hair, as evidenced in a House of Worth tea gown and a Felix day dress of green shot silk taffeta. Long before Andy Warhol made his quip, Countess Greffuhle was the queen of the 15-minute dramatic appearance -- perhaps after that she wanted to let loose her corset?

Oriental inspired gown

Later fashions were inspired by the wave of "Orientalism" (not a politically incorrect word in those days) which was ushered in by the Ballet Russes and other eastern influences. Also on display is the House of Worth gold "Byzantine Gown" which she wore in a photo opportunity at the top of the stairs, upstaging her daughter on her wedding day. Next to this showstopper, a cape from Bukhara which she had transformed by the House of Worth, is displayed.

In her later years (she lived until 1952, age 92) The Countess primarily dressed in black and cream, and of course, the silhouettes had changed dramatically to more modern day proportions. Her style remained flawless as illustrated by a Jeanne Lanvin "brick effect" coat with fur trim. Dr. Steele pointed out that between the wars, female designers were all the rage although Chanel and Schiaparelli were unlikely candidates since they would have insisted that things be made their way.

Jean Shafiroff & Ike Ude at evening reception
Photo: Lieba Nesis

Accessories were quite important to The Countess as evidenced by a display case of various hats, elbow length embroidered, embellished and poufy topped gloves, red brocade Lagel-Meier shoes (all the shoes remind me of those of the now shuttered Peter Fox who made my wedding shoes) and decorative painted fans of ivory and tortoiseshell. Unfortunately, the Bird of Paradise chapeau had to remain in Paris, as Steele admits, there's a limit to what you can get through customs.

Lucia Hwong Gordon, Lauren Roberts, Yaz Hernandez, Amy Fine Collins,
Valerie Steele, and Dennis Basso at the evening reception
Photo: Lieba Nesis

As members of the press along with Laure de Gramont the great great granddaughter of The Countess,  and others who had flown in from France marveled at how these special frocks had remained so well preserved through time and careful conservation, Dr. Steele mentioned that this is the only fashion collection that has been recorded in literature.  "Fashion is central to time and art in Proust and Countess Greffulhe was a big inspiration." The exhibition also serves as a reminder of "the individual wearer as a corrective against the idea that it's all the designer."

Kyla Malbon and Victor de Souza at the evening reception
Photo: Lieba Nesis

Perhaps it's best summed up by Proust's "Countess inspired character" Princesse de Guermantes. "I shall know I've lost my beauty when people stop turning to stare at me," she says. To which another character replies, "Never fear, my dear, so long as you dress as you do, people will always turn and stare."

- Laurel Marcus