Sunday, July 24, 2016

Editorial by Marilyn Kirschner: Peter Copping & Oscar de la Renta

The Name Game

Since the news broke last week that Peter Copping was out as creative director of Oscar de la Renta, it’s been the topic of discussion among industry insiders and unsurprisingly, many have offered their opinion and sought to make sense of yet the latest in a string of designers’ firings. Let’s just say that even though many thought that on paper, due to many similarities, this pairing had all the earmarks of a success, I generally found Peter’s collections generally unexceptional, lacking the exuberance and excitement that had been there before, and never thought it was a match made in heaven.  Obviously, the bottom line is that Copping did not perform well at retail, and he apparently did not do so since the beginning (things would have been very different if he had). End of subject. Let’s just say that there were several factors at play.

We’re undeniably at a moment when there is just too much of everything: too many designers, too many brands, too many companies, too many stores, too many websites, too many bloggers, too many seasons, too much fashion, and a proliferation of fast fashion coming at the customer at breakneck speed. The customer, who has access to everything and sees everything, is confused, has a short attention span, and is fickle. But the bottom line is that what she wants is “amazing” fashion she can “respond to emotionally”; she doesn’t necessarily care what seasons it’s from or who the designer is. This is precisely what Neiman Marcus’s VP, Fashion Direction, Ken Downing had to say during the course of Fashion Group International’s "Tastemaker Series" last Thursday. Let’s face it, there are not too many designers like Gucci’s Alessandro Michele, whose fan base has reached cult like proportions and who can singlehandedly drive in sales.

Needless to say, these are challenging times for businesses and retail, and it’s especially difficult for established brands, particularly when they are faced with reinventing themselves and flourishing without the original designer at the helm. Sure there are success stories like Valentino, Chanel, Gucci, Calvin Klein, Balenciaga, Lanvin, Saint Laurent, and Alexander McQueen, to name a few, but there’s also Halston. Geoffrey Beene and Bill Blass, among others. Both iconic labels bore witness to a succession of talents taking over at the design helm but they could not manage to restore their original glory after the designers’ passings.

It can’t be underestimated that Oscar was the breath, the soul, and the face of the label for over 40 years. While Peter Copping preferred to keep a rather low profile in his rather short tenure, Oscar was a celebrity and an icon in his own right, and he seemed to revel in his role. Always dapper and debonair, he was inducted to the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1973. He was a commanding presence, undeniably attractive (inside and out), and quite seductive (who could forget his gleaming eyes and broad smile when he walked out on the runway after his shows, flanked by his favorite models?)

It didn’t hurt that both of Oscar’s marriages were to elegant, highly cultivated women who were internationally known for their exceptional taste in clothes and decoration (both were also celebrated hostesses).   It certainly didn’t hurt that his first wife Francoise de Langlade de la Renta (who had been fashion editor and editor in chief of French Vogue and passed away in I983), and his second wife, the philanthropist Annette de la Renta, were celebrated hostesses who wore only his designs. In both marriages, they were a high profile couple, formidable fixtures on the social scene (Oscar was on the board of the Metropolitan Opera and Carnegie Hall among other things). And it most certainly didn’t hurt that many of Oscar’s most ardent fans and most loyal customers traveled in the same social circles.

The fact that the focus these days, is on streetwise, relaxed, casual fashion, is yet another hurdle for Oscar de la Renta, a company synonymous with elegant, ladylike, feminine, opulent, clothing. While there may still be a customer for the sort of designs which have been the hallmarks of the label since its inception in 1965, under the guise of Peter Copping; and more importantly, without the driving force of the man himself, Oscar de la Renta, there was unfortunately nothing much to distinguish it from just another collection of expensive, chic suits and pretty dresses. My overall impression was, “Meh!” And there’s just too much competition. “Meh” just doesn’t cut it these days.

 Looking towards the future, I am intrigued by the list of possible replacements that have been mentioned thus far: particularly, Alber Elbaz, Francisco Costa (who worked in Oscar's studio in the 80's), and former Oscar de la Renta designers Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia. They launched the highly acclaimed label Monse last fall and are also consulting with Carolina Herrera where they are imbuing their youthful spirit into the line.

- Marilyn Kirschner

Friday, July 22, 2016

In the Market Report

Fashion Group International’s “The Tastemakers”: A Conversation with Ken Downing & Anne Fulenwider

Ken Downing and Anne Fulenwider
Photo: Alan Lungen

One of Fashion Group International’s ongoing signature events is their Tastemakers Series: a one on one conversation between two highly regarded individuals, at the top of their fields, representing the worlds of beauty, fashion, retail. Technically, one of the two normally ‘interviews’ the other; the only exception was a few years ago, when the featured guests were Andre Leon Talley and Ralph Rucci and they each seemed to be interviewing the other in equal parts. Their latest installment, held yesterday at Le Cirque, put the spotlight on Ken Downing, Senior Vice President, Fashion Director, Neiman Marcus, and Anne Fulenwider, Editor-in-Chief, Marie Claire, who steered the conversation and asked the questions. It was sponsored by Lafayette 148 and Neiman Marcus.

Photo: Alan Lungen

After a wonderful lunch of ‘Le Cirque’ salad and Mediterranean branzino, FGI President Margaret Hayes stood up and made her welcoming remarks. She said that Le Cirque is FGI’s “favorite” restaurant (it is equal parts “whimsical and elegant” and a perfect respite from the harsh realities of our everyday world). Always a stickler for keeping to a schedule, Margaret said that dessert (crème brulee) and coffee would be served after the main event, and quickly introduced the two guests. In summing up Anne’s impressive publishing resume she explained that before taking the helm at Marie Claire in 2012, she was Editor-in-Chief of Brides, and prior to that she was Executive Editor at Marie Claire. When she was a former editor at Vanity Fair, Fulenwider launched their now very famous Fanfare section, and this was after a Senior Editor position at The Paris Review, as well as a research assistant job under George Plimpton at the time he was writing Truman Capote.

Anne Fulenwider and Margaret Hayes
Photo: Alan Lungen

Margaret described Ken as an “expert in all things stylish; a “salesman extraordinaire” who knows the luxury market “better than anyone”. The Seattle born Downing attributed his love affair with fashion to his stylish mother. He explained that she was fond of saying, “pretty, not peculiar” and “women want to look pretty; if they say they don’t, they’re lying”. It was from his early work at an auction company that he developed a love for vintage clothing and thus began his lifelong love affair with fashion.

Ann wasted no time in asking what Ken thought about the news that Peter Copping had exited Oscar de la Renta. Ken replied that he considered Peter to be a “wildly talented guy” but was “not surprised” (“there was passion missing, but change is good”, he offered). He also brought up the name Alber Elbaz as an interesting replacement owing to his fabulous way with opulence (the operative word in his opinion) and femininity, and his ability to make them modern and relevant. Even though Peter had been given the “go ahead” by Oscar de la Renta himself (and he apparently had Oscar’s blessings), just days before his passing, for the record, I myself never thought it was a match made in heaven, and quite frankly, called it from the beginning  Read my article..

Meanwhile, according to WWD’s Rosemary Feitelberg, (“Industry’s Latest Talk: Who’s Next for Oscar?” July 22), Alber is in fact one of the names being mentioned as a possible replacement for Copping. Others are Rodarte’s Mulleavy sisters, Doo-Ri Chung, Jonathan Simkhai, Joseph Altuzarra, Francisco Costa, and Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia, the young duo behind Monse. Unsurprisingly, the latter three designers have all worked in Oscar’s studio (Costa was there in the 80’s and Kim and Garcia were there until they left to start their own label which launched in September, 2015. They are now consulting with Carolina Herrera and imbuing their youthful spirit into the line).

And naturally, what would any chit chat these days be like without talking politics (specifically, the upcoming Presidential election)? Ken said that at the recent round of shows in Europe that included the spring 2017 menswear collections (where he thought both Gucci and Thom Browne were “standouts” and hailed camouflage as the menswear equivalent to leopard), and fall 2016 haute couture, all everyone wanted to talk about was Donald Trump, “except at Balenciaga which was so good” as he put it. FYI, FGI Creative Director Marylou Luther told me she just came back from Nebraska (where she is originally from), and was proud to say that she had worked her magic and managed to “convert” several Trump supporters into Hillary supporters.

Customers were a major theme throughout this conversation and they are always on Ken’s mind. He noted that his customers want “beautiful clothes they respond to emotionally” and “don’t care who is designing them.” Similarly, they don’t really care about seasons. As he put it, “they don’t come into the store and ask, “Where’s fall?” What they care about is buying something “amazing.” In his opinion, “seasonless fashion is the answer”.

He went on to say that “the customer is very fatigued by the time the clothes hit the stores.” “Fashion shows have become a mega marketing tool and bloggers and social media have “got to pull back“.He went on to say, “We are a very broken industry now. It’s like the Industrial Revolution all over again. The customer is very fatigued by the time the clothes hit the stores. Technology is the most brilliant tool. The good news is that social media has created an appetite. The bad news is that we are showing too much too soon (the “bloggers and social media have to pull back”).

He also said that he spends “more time apologizing for designers” that make something “one off” for a celebrity. It “enrages the customer” when they can’t have something they have seen in a photograph (“they want what they want when they want it”).

Photo: Alan Lungen

When Anne asked Ken about emerging new talent to watch for, he singled out the team at Monse (for their “amazing shirting”), and the husband and wife team behind Brock.

AF (Anne Fulenwider): “Are men the new women?”

KD (Ken Downing): “We are in a very peacock moment. Men (of all ages) are the new peacocks of the street”.

“A demographic doesn’t excite me. It’s the psychographic.”

“It’s all about the casual cool approach to everything. The elevation of the sneaker. Guys are not eating so they can get their sneakers.”

AF: “What percent of your time do you spend with customers?”

KD: “50 – 75%. I am all ears around a customer. They keep me informed and I really listen to them. The customer is in control. Not you or me. The customer. They can tell us what they want and when they want it.”

“Technology is a large part of what we’re doing. We were the first luxury retailer to go online. The customer uses online shopping to research. Look books and iPad are an important part of what we’re doing.”

“I go to many events to bring the customers into the store. It’s all about creating experiences now.”
“In 2018, Neiman Marcus will open in Hudson Yards. It is the store of the future.”

AW: “Can you tell us more about it?”

KD: “No because then the surprise will be gone.”

AW: “Do you have any negative traits?”

KD: “I have no patience”.

AW: “Do you have any hidden talents?”

KD: “Gardening. I also love cleaning house. Give me a bottle of Clorox and a vacuum cleaner and I’m in heaven.”

AW: “Do you have a bucket list?”

KD: “I want to go to India and Morocco”.

AW: “What would you tell women they must buy for fall?”

KD: “A skirt with movement or volume; something opulent and over embellished (we’re having a David Bowie moment); gold gold and more gold (how about gold boots?); something in a seasonless floral.”

AW: “Who do you admire?”

KD: “My mother, who pushed me in this business.”

AW: “What is selling well at Neiman Marcus now?”

KD: “Over the top maximalism (as exemplified by Alessandro Michele’s Gucci), and high quality, tactile luxury (as exemplified by Ashley and Mary Kate Olsen’s The Row), and nothing in between.

Guests were invited to ask questions and one woman inquired whether Ken (who has obvious great taste and a discerning eye) had ever considered designing his own line. While it doesn’t seem to be in the cards at the moment, he said, “I never say never.”

This is also what he said when asked if he would consider having his own television show. While Ken is arguably a celebrity in his own right, that is not what it’s about for him. At some point, he even asked, “If everybody is a celebrity, who is the customer?” What it IS about however, as he succinctly put it, “I love clothes and I love to see people looking amazing. I like to make people feel good about themselves. Fashion used to be a velvet rope society and now it’s for everyone. We sell confidence, not clothes. We are really selling confidence.”

-Marilyn Kirschner

Monday, July 18, 2016

New York Evening Hours by Lieba Nesis

The Southampton Animal Shelter Gala Raises More Than $600,000

Jean, Martin and Elizabeth Shafiroff
All photos: Lieba Nesis

The Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation (SASF) held its Seventh Annual Unconditional Love Gala on Saturday July 16th in a Great Gatsby-esque mansion on Gin Lane. The house which is situated right on the ocean with acres of land was perfect for the shelter animals to roam around in. The Southampton Animal Shelter is listed in the top ten percent of no-kill shelters in the country and is used as a model for dozens of others shelters. Its goal is to place homeless pets in the community into permanent caring homes.

Georgina Bloomberg in Antik Batik

The night's festivities began with a 6:30 PM cocktail hour and honored El Faro De Los Animales. Event chairwoman Jean Shafiroff greeted guests in a sweeping Oscar de la Renta pale green gown strewn with ribbons. This is Shafiroff's fifth year as chairwoman and she and her daughter, Elizabeth, continue to travel the world in pursuit of saving animals. Georgina Bloomberg, another avid animal rights activist, wore a floral Antik Batik gown, and said she loved traveling with the amazing SASF organization to Puerto Rico in February. Georgina just came back from a riding competition in Europe and was looking forward to the August Hampton Classic.

Janet Constance, John Catsimatidis Tom Constance

The night's crowd was an illustrious group of well-heeled Hamptonites who prefer to remain under the radar including billionaire businessmen: John Catsimatidis, CEO of Douglas Elliman Howard Lorber, Ziel Feldman, Owner of the Rockets Leslie Alexander, and the founders of The Allen Company. The emcee Chuck Scarborough was dashing as usual as he and his statuesque wife Ellen graciously posed for pictures. Scarborough is the go to guy for animal events and his impeccable elegance is what the Hamptons is all about.

Ellen and Emcee Chuck Scarborough

When it was time for dinner, the 300 guests streamed into the lavish tent for a vegetarian dinner of fish with a delightful bean concoction and some delectable apple crisp. A live auction was then held where prizes included a three night stay at the Peter Island Resort and Spa in the British Virgin Islands and two nights at the Grand Hotel Minerva in Florence, Italy.

Sony Schotland and Jewel, founder of Pet Philanthropy Circle,
and Bob Morris

Jonathan McCann, the Southampton Shelter Board President, told me that 7 years ago they were going to close down the municipal shelter with no arrangements for the 250 homeless animals. After reaching out to residents on radio and television, he found someone to donate money to privatize the shelter and the rest is history.

Journalist and animal advocate Jill Rappaport with Southampton Shelter
Board President Jonathan McCann

Journalist Jill Rappaport then joined him in urging attendees to donate to this pivotal cause and the night's festivities raised more than $600,000-an exorbitant sum for an animal charity. The evening concluded with some dancing under the stars and the melodious music of the Alex Donner orchestra-a fabulous conclusion to another event filled Hamptons weekend.

- Lieba Nesis