Friday, October 24, 2014

Fashion Group 31st Annual International Night of Stars

Peter Copping and Marc Jacobs
(All photos Lieba Nesis)

Last night, I attended Fashion Group International’s 31st annual "Night of Stars".  Cipriani Wall Street was filled with stars from the worlds of  music, entertainment, business, beauty, and. of course, fashion. But the real star of the evening was the beloved designer Oscar de la Renta who passed away on Monday and continues to be in everyone’s thoughts and on their minds. And in what has to be the most fitting coincidence (either that or the folks at FGI are prescient), Peter Copping, Oscar’s successor, was there being honored as a Fashion Star (along with Joseph Altuzarra, Sarah Burton, and Brunello Cucinelli; with the Superstar Award going to Diane Von Furstenberg).

Giovanna Battaglia and Stefano Tonchi

Of course, when these awards were announced months ago, Peter was working as creative director at Nina Ricci in Paris. Who could foretell that he would subsequently leave his post and that Eliza Reed Bolen would make the formal announcement on Monday, October 20th, the day of Oscar’s passing, that he was named as Oscar de la Renta’s successor (Oscar made this selection himself).  And how fitting that the overall theme of the evening was “The Protagonists”, which translates from ancient Greek to mean, “one who plays the first part, is the chief actor or main character, central primary personal figure; the leading character, hero or heroine of a drama or other literary work; the first actor in ancient Greek drama who played not only the main role but also other roles when the main character was offstage”.

Debbie Harry with award winner Glenda Bailey

Let’s face it, the world of fashion is always rife with Greek dramas: (there are those never ending revolving doors, with designers taking on many different roles), and this is just one example of it coming to life. In any event, it was obvious that many people were eagerly waiting to catch a glimpse of the man of the moment as he arrived on the red carpet (many did not even know what he looked like; but as I pointed out to a fellow guest, that will all soon change), and we were all curious as to what exactly he would say when he received his award. Before a wonderful dinner of filet mignon and Chilean Sea Bass (and prior to host Simon Doonan telling the crowd that he was on a mission to “liberate everyone” and then went into a hilarious bit about the time he hired a Queen Elizabeth lookalike to attend the opening of Barneys in Soho), FGI President Margaret Hayes took the stage to make her welcoming remarks and wasted no time in honoring Oscar, a “true gentleman”. She talked about how much he loved life and lived it with a purpose; how he was only one of three American designers to design haute couture in Paris, and observed that he was a mentor to many people in the room. “His mission was to make women look beautiful”.

Linda Fargo

When Marc Jacobs took the stage to give the award to Peter Copping, he noted that when he met Peter in 1997, he “knew he would be part of his team” (at Louis Vuitton in Paris). Marc positively effused about the designer, talking about his creativity, how he valued his opinions and his work ethic. When Peter announced to Marc that he was leaving to go to Nina Ricci, Marc said it was Louis Vuitton’s loss, and Ricci’s gain, and “he put his own unique stamp on that label”. “I’m thrilled to have Peter here in New York where we’ll be seeing more of him.”Upon taking the stage, Peter said, “I’m excited about this new challenge. But it’s obviously a bittersweet moment with this week’s events. I want to thank everyone for their support. I’m sure Oscar will be my guardian angel.”

Diane von Furstenberg and Karen Elson

Karen Elson took the podium to give Diane her Superstar Award, and described her as cool, sexy, “the epitome of foxy”. “She’s a powerhouse, a woman of extreme depth. I’ve not met a woman like her. I am constantly in awe of her. She is a mentor to so many and a massive force in philanthropy. She has shaped and paved the way for us all.” She asked people to stand to honor her and then Diane said, “This is what happens when you get old. People stand for you.” She talked about how fashion is a family, and observed, “We may look frivolous, but are also philanthropic.” She then began talking about her good friend Oscar de la Renta and her tone changed immediately. With tears in her eyes, she explained how she and Oscar always shared Saturday Night chicken dinners in Connecticut (where they had homes nearby), but that two weeks ago, it became more difficult for him to do so” and it was the last time she saw him. She began tearing up as she talked about how “he loved life, beauty, flowers”. “He was the best gossiper and he was mischievous.” “The only fitting tribute is to love life”. Then addressing Peter Copping, she said, “Oscar was very proud when he told me he chose you.”

Katie Couric and Lisa Paulsen

By the way, the best speeches were those that were short, sweet, and to the point, but the award for the shortest speech of the night, has to go to Sarah Burton. The famously shy designer quickly thanked several people including stylist Camilla Nickerson “for her inspiration”. Andrew Bolton, who presented the award, talked about how he met her in 2010 when he was working on the Alexander McQueen exhibition. He praised her “deep respect for craftsmanship and her technical brilliance” and noted, “She doesn’t design for herself which is unusual for a woman”. “Sarah isn’t channeling the McQueen DNA, she IS the McQueen DNA.”

Joseph Altuzarra and Michelle Monaghan

Actress Michelle Monaghan gave Joseph Altuzarra his award saying “he oozes sex appeal” (“both he and his clothes”) and praised his inherent goodness, eagerness, and optimism. “He is a legend in the making.” She recalled wearing his “incomparable leather fringe dress” to the 2014 Met Ball and said she felt like a “kid in a candy store.” When Joseph took to the podium, he remarked that it was only four years ago that he received Fashion Group’s Rising Star Award. “I feel incredibly blessed to be here tonight.” He then thanked his wonderful team and his husband of “5 days” for “supporting and loving him”. Brunello Cucinelli spoke almost entirely in Italian when he accepted his Fashion Star Award from Richard Story.

Mary J. Blige, Elie Tahari

There were performances by New York City’s Gay Men’s Chorus and music was provided by Brian Newman; best known for his collaboration with Lady Gaga. Speaking of musical legends, Debbie Harry was there to present Glenda Bailey with the Lord &Taylor Fashion Oracle Award and Mary J. Blige gave Elie Tahari the Brand Vision Award. Isabella Rossellini gave the Sustainability Award to Roger Schmid for Natura; Susan Kaufman gave Fossil’s Tom Kennedy his Corporate Leadership Award; L’Oreal’s Carol Hamilton received the Beauty Award from the team of Viktor & Rolf (their fragrance Flowerbomb is one of the top selling fragrances in the U.S.); Domenico De Sole gave William Sofield the Interior Design Award; and Katie Couric honored Lisa Paulsen with the Humanitarian Award. FYI, when Katie arrived on stage, she was unimpressed with the crowd’s rather unanimated welcome. “You could do better than that” she chided. “Come on, wake up!”  The self-effacing communications star said “This is such a swanky affair”. “I never know quite how to dress for these fashion events and so I turned to my good friend Carmen Marc Valvo to make my dress”.

Some random quotes gathered by Lieba Nesis during the evening:

Elie Tahari - What are you most looking forward to? "Seeing your dress and sharing the love with everyone".
Diane von Furstenberg-Are you excited for the award? "I am really sad about Oscar". 
Wes Gordon-What are you looking forward to tonight? ?I am looking forward to seeing Diane get her award.?  Did you know Oscar? "Yes I interned for him for two summers and he came to my first presentation.  He always made women look beautiful and If I could be one tenth as good as him I would be happy."
Jane Seymour-What was the most amazing thing that ever happened to you? "Being honored by the Queen of England-it was very ceremonious." Who are your favorite designers? "Pamela Roland, Herve Leger, and Valentino.  I usually wear colors because they look better on camera." What do you think of the way young stars dress today? "They all feel the need to look like pole dancers and I don't do that, I like to wear classic couture." Would you do plastic surgery? "No, I would rather play women my own age and besides fillers make people look like chipmunks.  I am comfortable with the older version of myself." What is date night like for you and your husband? "Well he is currently dating somebody else so I don't know. Yes we are getting divorced and I have a boyfriend-can't tell you who."
 Peter Copping- Why do you think Oscar chose you? "We share a lot of things in common and I can't wait to be in NY with all the great energy-Paris is like living in a museum." Will you stick to evening wear and what about designing for the red carpet? "We will do day wear and evening wear a whole range of things - but primarily evening wear. I don't want to dress too many celebrities for the red carpet I want to just nail one look and stick with that - and I can't say who I will be dressing yet."  
Selita Ebanks- What are you looking forward to tonight? "Just came here to see all the beautiful people" - spoken like a true Victoria's Secret model!

It was all over when Simon told everyone they could go, and then it was a scramble to retrieve coats and umbrellas, and the very large and very heavy gift bags, which are always filled with wonderful goodies. Included this time was a Lord & Taylor gift certificate, Nina Ricci’s Bougie Parfumee, a cashmere scarf from Brunello Cucinelli, a handsome watch from Fossil, a Brian Newman Live from New York City CD, a black and white chain patterned nylon zippered bag from Diane Von Furstenberg, and a bottle of Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio.

- Marilyn Kirschner

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The ABT Fall Gala-Celebrating 75 Years of Excellence

The young dancers
All photos Lieba Nesis

The American Ballet Theatre held its 75th Anniversary Gala at the David H. Koch Theatre on a night of inclement weather, so it was fitting that the second piece by Sergei Rachmaninoff was called "With a Chance of Rain." New Yorkers must be commended for their devotion to the arts as they come out in droves, regardless of the harsh climate. This evening was no exception with movie stars, socialites, fashion icons, and plain old billionaires joyfully attending this happening.

Joy Marks, Jean Shafiroff, Fe Fendi principal ABT dancers Maxim Beloserkovsky, Irina Dvorovenko & Cory Stearns with Chiu-Ti Jansen

There were many notables in attendance including: celebrities Alec Baldwin, Chris Noth, Sonja Morgan, Taye Diggs, Nigel Barker and Star Jones; socialites Fe Fendi, Jean Shafiroff, Chiu-Ti Jansen and Joy Marks; CNN president Jeff Zucker whose wife Caryn co-chaired, sitting with ABC correspondent Deborah Roberts; designer Christian Siriano and style icon and Vogue editor Hamish Bowles, accompanied by famed artist Anh Duong.

Susan Fales-Hill, Bettina Zilkha, co-chair Caryn Zucker & Deborah Roberts

This was a multifaceted crowd who can afford to take advantage of the cultural offerings of New York. The lead sponsor was Clinique with supporting sponsors Piaget and Lanvin, and a bag with Clinique moisturizer and lip gloss was distributed at the end of the evening. This year's theme was red, white and blue with the red changed to Scarlett in honor of choreographer Liam Scarlett, who produced "With a Chance of Rain."

The first act featured young dancers from the American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy School accompanied by young ABT apprentices and members of the ABT studio company. These fresh faces dazzled the crowd with their precise movements and spirited energy. The choreography, by Alexei Ratmansky, included an illusory mirror, with dancers magically mimicking each others's movements. The next piece was "With a Chance of Rain" which was sexy and provocative, the antithesis of the kid friendly opening. The female dancers clad in simple light blue and grey skirts and shorts were joined by men in grey allowing the unadorned lines and movements of the dancers to take center stage. The music by Rachmaninoff, played by piano soloist Emily Wong, was haunting and sparse. The scanty costumes, music and stage sets, wowed the ballet purists in the audience. However, this was a surprisingly risky move for Kevin McKenzie, the artistic director of ABT, who usually awes the gala crowd with elaborate outfits and staging.

Hamish Bowles, Anh Duong and principal dancer Marcelo Gomes

This ballet by Liam Scarlett was spellbinding, with a bare-chested Marcelo Gomes, muscles protruding from every ounce of his flesh, captivating the audience with his bold movements and sinewy physique. The pas de deux between Gomes and female dancer, Hee Seo, was passionate and erotic and Gomes even joined James Whiteside for some man-on-man partnering. Misty Copeland, another ballet star with a perfectly proportioned body, joined this act providing enough eye candy for the male and female audience to last a lifetime. The next pieces were executed thoroughly with a purple light illuminating the stage and female dancers in black and grey ensembles with yellow and pink ribbons on the bottom partnered with black and grey jacketed men. Once again the unembellished costumes and staging left me hungry for a classical ballet extravaganza.

Co-chair Sutton Stracke, principal dancer Misty Copeland, and Star Jones

While the ballet itself may have been simple, the decor where the dinner took place was elaborate. There were red streamers hanging from the ceiling and beautifully decorated tables with red tablecloths, roses and masks at each setting. The 2nd floor of the Koch Theatre is a magnificent venue because the expansive view of Lincoln Center highlights the grandeur of the evening. Anne Tatlock, received a leadership achievement award and spoke of the preeminence of Kevin McKenzie who has a keen eye for recognizing young talent and will successfully march ABT from 75 to 100 years. The importance of the Jacqueline Kennedy School as a feeder to ABT was emphasized and the young guileless dancers took pictures and won over the adoring crowd.

Eva Johansson in a Siriano dress, and Christian Siriano

They then announced that the dinner had raised more than $1.4 million.  On that note, the DJ began to play tunes while the amazing dancers and crowd boogied and socialized. Christian Siriano, who was accompanied by 2 women wearing his designs, told me that his 5-year plan was to design ballet costumes, but he was currently too busy with a new perfume fragrance launch. Siriano whose label is carried at Nordstrom's and Neiman Marcus lamented the death of Oscar de la Renta who was a great inspiration for him and all young designers. He said that the longevity of Oscar's brand was noteworthy and he was a role model for many in the fashion industry. As I turned around I spotted Alec Baldwin and his wife Hilaria engaging in a romantic embrace. Alec enumerated the designer of his wife's dress (Carmen Marc Valvo), jewelry, shoes, and hair (Warren Tricomi). On a more serious note, Alec said he was "anti-censorship" when it came to the arts. Alec has softened up since his nuptials and slimmed down, looking every inch the movie star in a tuxedo and slicked back hair.

Alec and Hilaria Baldwin

As the evening came to a close I bumped into Cory Stearns, a principal ABT dancer and a muse of Zang Toi. Cory, who was wearing a custom made Zang Toi tuxedo pronounced that dancing was "very tiring." Cory confessed of the vulnerability he felt in performing with the fear of mistakes and resulting humiliation omnipresent in his thoughts. This was a brutally honest assessment from a talented young dancer, and that is why I love the ballet-it allows us to feel in ways we never thought possible.

-Lieba Nesis

An ‘Oscar’ Worthy Appearance

Oscar de la Renta takes a bow spring 2015

Much has been written about Oscar de la Renta following his death on Monday evening, and the tributes continue to pour in. In today's The New York Post, "Man about Gown" by Serena French, there were pictures showing some of Oscar's most "iconic looks" worn by a diverse group including Princess Diana, Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Lawrence, Jessica Chastain, Jackie Kennedy, Nancy Reagan, and Anna Wintour. There was a picture of the Vogue editor attending the 2014 CFDA Awards in a blue printed dress and fur trimmed tweed jacket that they mistakenly said was from Oscar's Resort 2014 collection. In fact, it was from Marc Jacobs' Resort 2014 collection. Oops! In any event, Oscar's longtime friend Anna Wintour wrote an essay which appeared on Wednesday and unsurprisingly, she hit the nail on the head with her description of his “extraordinary personality: optimistic, fun, sunny, romantic," pointing out that these very same elements  were always there in his designs.

Oscar de la Renta black tulle with silver leaf floral  embroidery spring 2015

 In fact, unlike many of his fellow designers who apparently love to explore and tap into their dark sides, Oscar (who didn’t seem to have one) was apparently incapable of doing so. Indeed, even his black dresses (which make sublime use of tulle, open work, and guipure lace and are often decorated with vibrant flowers), were just about as un-brooding and un-funeral as could be. This is not lost on me given the recent opening of the Costume Institute’s “Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire”, an exhibition devoted to death and almost entirely played out in black.

Oscar de la Renta Fall 2015 a standout in red

On Tuesday morning, Glamour magazines’ editor-in-chief Cindy Leive appeared on the Today Show and was interviewed by Matt Lauer who pointed out that many people associate Oscar de la Renta with his grand, luxurious, entrance making eveningwear. He asked Ms. Leive if his designs resonated with more than movie stars and glamorous first ladies, and if they had more of a mass appeal beyond the red carpet. Cindy said yes, Oscar was also known for his day dresses and tailored suits, which are perfect for working women. This is of course, is true. Oscar was a designer of complete collections and had licensees for bridal, home, children’s wear, accessories, fragrance/beauty. But let’s get real. When you say “9 to 5”, “working women”, there are many other names that instantly come to my mind before Oscar’s. Without question, he was perhaps best known, for his exquisite evening wear (cocktail dresses and gowns), and rightly so.

Fashion designers will always point out that the biggest compliment they can get, and the thing that is the most satisfying and flattering, is when they see women actually wearing their designs out and about. A designer’s clothes will always long out live them. That is their legacy. There is no question that Oscar loved what he did and he loved making women look and feel beautiful. If you are lucky enough to own one or more of his creations, there is perhaps no better way to honor him and pay tribute, than to take them out of the closet and wear them. And what better time, since we are entering the festive holiday season! He will undoubtedly be watching, with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eyes.

- Marilyn Kirschner

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Rita Hayworth 31st Anniversary Alzheimer Gala

Karl Wellner, Deborah Norville, & Princess Yasmin Aga Khan
(All photos Lieba Nesis)

The Alzheimer's Association held its Rita Hayworth 31st Anniversary Gala in the ballroom at the Waldorf Astoria at 6:30 PM. It began with a cocktail party accompanied by a silent auction with loads of celebrities and socialites streaming in and posing on the red carpet. This is one of the major social events of the year and one thing that nobody forgot, was to come bedecked in their best jewels. The event was underwritten by Rolex, and Mark Locks, a leader in the apparel industry, and the Kornfeld family were presented with a "Champion" and philanthropic award, respectively.

Joy and Regis Philbin

Since the inaugural Rita Hayworth Gala began 31 years ago they have raised more than $61 million to support Alzheimer's Association's critical care and research programs. Princess Yasmin Aga Khan established the Gala as a tribute to her mother, Rita Hayworth, who lived with Alzheimer's for many years before her death in 1987. The dinner attendees included: celebrities Brooke Shields, John McEnroe, and Lisa Rinna; news personalities Regis Philbin, Deborah Norville, and Bryant Gumbel; designers Dennis Basso and Tommy Hilfiger; and socialities Jean Shafiroff, Somers Farkas, Muffy Aston, Lucia Hwong Gordon, and Alexandra Lebenthal (and many more).

Suzanne Murphy, Somers Farkas, Dennis Basso, Alexandra Lebenthal and Muffy Aston

While I expected a quiet, stuffy evening the dinner was lively and exciting with guests getting down to all types of disco music.  This was a crowd that likes to have fun, and despite their vast wealth, does so in an unpretentious manner. The evening raised $1.6 million and attracted an unprecedented amount of people, eager to spend money on the items up for bid.  The silent auction included items like meeting Hugh Jackman at a Broadway show, and tickets to see Bradley Cooper in "Elephant Man" and Cher at Madison Square Garden.  Moreover, pearls and diamonds were being auctioned as well as Chloe bags and a Nicole Miller and Naeem Khan two-week internship. The idea of bidding on the opportunity to work for free is a novel one, but I think the foundation is onto something interesting. The foundation's estimation of the value of an internship was listed as "priceless" so I guess they will not be requesting monetary payment.

Michele Herbert, Frank and Michele Rella and Nick Loeb

They also had a cashmere robe listed with an approximate value of $488 and a disclaimer that it could not be returned or exchanged.  You can tell the crowd you are dealing with when they need to come out of a dripping wet bathroom and don a cashmere garment.  Moreover, it never occurred to me that you could return an item from an auction (however, there were a lot of high level businessmen who are one step ahead of the rest of us). The auction was anything but silent with guests socializing and laughing uproariously as they greeted one another.  As the lights began to dim, it became apparent that the dinner was about to begin and the crowd headed into the ballroom.

The Catsimatidis family

The master of ceremonies for the evening was news anchor Deborah Norville who grimly notified everyone that 1 out of 3 people over the age of 65 will get Alzheimer's.  When she asked those in the audience to raise their hands if they had a friend or relative who was diagnosed with the disease, more than half the audience responded affirmatively. Not to worry, as Norville assured us that doctors thought it was a distinct possibility that they could attain a cure. Princess Aga Khan then spoke of her mother's suffering and how important it was to raise money for this pivotal charity with the help of her committed friends. Now it was time for the entertainment which featured Lesley Gore singing "You Don't Own Me" and "It's My Party."  This was pretty exciting, even for someone who thought Lesley Gore was Al's mother. Ronnie Spector, the lead singer of The Ronettes and Phil's ex wife, then sang "Be My Baby," one of my all time favorites with an enthusiasm and energy belying her 71 years of age.

Brooke Shields with John and Patty McEnroe

The crowd then continued to dance accompanied by a 15-piece band that played a lot of oldies.  John McEnroe hit the dance floor with his wife Patty with an athleticism that was reminiscent of his days as a tennis player. McEnroe's wife, Patty, was clad in a sequined tuxedo jacket, and black pants and they engaged in animated conversation with Brooke Shields, in a beautiful orange J. Mendel gown. Dennis Basso, was surrounded by a bevy of socialites hugging and kissing him adoringly, while he basked in the attention. Even the normally reserved Tommy Hilfiger made his rounds, posing for pictures and engaging in chitchat. Nick Loeb, newly single, and looking dashing in a grey 3-piece suit ran off to another charity event, while John Catsimatidis, resisted his wife, Margo's, attempts to engage him in the frivolous pursuit of dancing.

Lisa Rinna in Dennis Basso

This evening is a standout event in the gala heavy month of October. The confluence of guests from varied industries and backgrounds lends an intangible appeal to this annual happening.  As Brooke Shields exited, a fan asked her to mouth the words "Blue Lagoon" while posing for a picture. She graciously smiled and declined the request - only in New York.

- Lieba Nesis