Friday, July 31, 2015

New York Fashion Cool-Aid™

Beene Counters Cancer with Philanthropic Initiative

Geoffrey Beene

Lookin' good Colin Jost! The Saturday Night Live writer/performer was revealed yesterday as the new spokesmodel for the fall Geoffrey Beene menswear line to a few select members of the press at a power luncheon chez Michael's. While Beene, the inscrutable multiple award winning American designer who mentored former apprentice Alber Elbaz and others, is gone, his name lives on in a men's global lifestyle brand with an extremely charitable angle. When I received the invitation to the luncheon I assumed that Jost would be attending however I soon realized that the ad campaign photos, encased, brick-like in heavy clear glass blocks would be as close as we would get to having him avec nous.

In the current ads featuring the tagline "GBGB Geoffrey Beene Gives Back," (the logo is in a similar typeface to the fabled punk club CBGB), the company displays their commitment and promises more than most fashion brands. One hundred percent of all net profits (that's right, 100%) are given to fund revolutionary new cancer research at the Geoffrey Beene Cancer Research Center at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Since the beginning of this initiative in 2006 the Beene brand will have donated $144 million to date this year. GBGB was created as per the wishes of its namesake, who before succumbing to cancer in 2004 specified that he wanted the company's profits to be earmarked for this use. "He couldn't believe that there wasn't a cure" said Russell Nardozza, SVP and COO of the company.

Colin Jost

How was Jost anointed as the brand ambassador? "A lot of people are looking at comedians as the new face of entertainment," said Andrew Egan of CoolGraySeven agency, the creators of the print, outdoor and digital media campaign. "Colin Jost can wear the clothes as well as appear in a video about the Foundation for Cancer Research. He's the face of the brand and the talking head, so we were able to marry the two." Egan added that the agency sought a lighter approach to the philanthropic program, not wanting to be too heavy- handed with the message. "Millennial customers like brands that give back to charity. We had to find a tasteful way to communicate the message. Colin Jost got on board straight away," he said.

Colin Jost

The campaign will be a "360 degree all touch point enterprise" and Jost will be doing his part by using his social media accounts to promote the line, available at Macy's.  As the brand is represented by a licensing business model under non-profit structure there is no designer specified for each of the U.S. and International licensees. Instead they are overseen by Merle Sloss, Executive VP and President of Licensing. All areas of men's and boy's apparel are represented as well as accessories and home goods such as towels and bath rugs.

Upon examining the ad photos my first impression is that Jost appears more rugged with his slightly scruffy beard than the clean shaven pretty boy seen on SNL. Egan, in his delightful British accent, recounts that the show's costume designer was with him as they selected clothing for the ads yet it's doubtful that Jost kept anything from the shoot as many of the clothes were reportedly too large on him. It's good to know that if Jost's comedy career is derailed for any reason ( ahem..."Staten Island Summer"), he can always "Zoo-land(er)" a modeling job.

Mr. Nardozza, who has been with the company since the days of the legendary Mr. Beene himself, mentioned that their offices still occupy the same space and house an archive of around 1,500 pieces of women's wear. In response to a question I posed regarding whether Beene (one of many to have had a falling out with WWD publisher John Fairchild) had any friends in the industry, Nardozza mentioned that he was very fond of famed publicist Eleanor Lambert whose 100th birthday party both he and the designer attended. Sadly, she had ordered a Geoffrey Beene jacket just two weeks before her death.

If you should find yourself at Michael's, I highly recommend the delicious chicken paillard (hold the fennel) and a seat facing into the room so you can check out the famous faces. Ensconced by the large bay windows, I kept a constant vigil on the stormy weather (sky darkening, umbrellas up, umbrellas down, rain falling sideways), but was unable to see anyone of note over my shoulder (was that Jeffrey Katzenberg?) in the main dining room.

At exactly 2:31 p.m., there was a loud and long buzzing alarm sound as everyone in the restaurant's phone signaled a synchronous flash flood warning in unison. I hope this never occurs during a performance of "Shows For Days." As Patti Lupone is not an octopus I can't imagine how she'd deal with that!

- Laurel Marcus

Thursday, July 30, 2015

In the Market Report

Knock on ‘Wood’

Enid Collins of Texas wooden Love Box Bag

I was looking through the August issue of Vogue and came across a portfolio called “Box Set”, photographed by Bruce Weber and styled by Tabitha Simmons. It’s all about this season's new handbags which “resemble everything from lunch boxes to treasure chests”, (“proof that it’s never been so hip to be square”). One full page shows a model posing with about 12 of Dolce & Gabbana’s immediately recognizable, decorative and elaborately embellished box bags which are available at select Dolce & Gabbana stores, and range in price from about $2995 to $9995.

Box Set photographed by Bruce Weber

They instantly called to mind Enid Collins’ highly collectible, hand crafted wooden box bags from the 60’s which were decorated with paint and embellished with jewels, sequins, and bright and brilliant rhinestones. Collins of Texas first opened its doors in Medina, Texas in 1959, producing whimsical, happy handbags. Enid Collins, owner and designer, had a background in fashion design, and her husband Frederic (whose expertise was in engineering and sculpting), operated the company until 1970, when it was purchased by the Tandy Leather Corporation. An artist herself, she had a “special place in her heart for the starving artist”, according to her grandson Christian Collins.

Enid Collins working in her studio 

Never meant to be faddish, every bag was always signed, had its own unique personality, and was finished with distinctive leather trim, brass findings and fasteners. Many also had an interior mirror on the inside, which was personalized with the hand printed statement: “The Original Box Bag by Collins of Texas, hand-decorated for you”. In addition to a series of Zodiac signs, her other popular themes included: Glitter Bugs, Money Tree, Flora, Sol, Love, Gifts from the Sea, Pax, Flutterbye, Black Bird, Bird Brain, Early Bird, Love Birds, and my personal favorite, Night Owl (she had a special fascination with owls).

Enid Collins of Texas Night Owl Box Bag

I happen to think that Enid Collins bags are always great; unique and quirky are always ‘in style’ especially when it’s well-done (and done in a rather sophisticated way as these are), and having something amusing that puts a smile on one’s face never gets old (unsurprisingly, many others agree as she has continued to have a cult like following). But as it happens, they could not be more of the moment given fashion’s continuing love affair and fascination with arts & crafts, and all things unique, handcrafted, and artisanal (if not unapologetically kitschy). Let’s face it; there’s a time to be sober, restrained, and elegant, and a time for whimsy (variety is the spice of life after all). Quite frankly, I love the juxtaposition of her funky bags with something quite classic and restrained.

Erins Collins of Texas Money Tree Box Bag    

These vintage bags are not only wonderful because they are authentic (and guaranteed to be almost one of a kind), but they also happen to be readily available at vintage stores and websites where they are a fraction of the cost of the pricey Dolce & Gabbana incarnations (prices can range from about $50 to over $400 depending on the style and purveyor, but most are in the $100 range).

Enid Collins of Texas Papillon Box Bag  

One woman, Karen Adler (an artist and anthropologist), admits to being “totally enamored” with Enid Collins box bags (she views EC as an American folk artist). It first started when she spotted one of the designer’s iconic LOVE box bags in a Chicago vintage shop. For the past 3 – 4 years, she’s been quietly researching, collecting and refurbishing them, in an effort to document every box bag she designed while the head of Collins of Texas. As she collects, cleans, and restores each purse, she lists them on Enid’s grandson’s website, under manifestart.

Enid Collins of Texas Paper Mache Box Bag

She currently has over 300 bags, some of which she sells on Etsy (her shop is called Niwot Art Gallery), She also sells on eBay and is currently working on her own website, which will have a gallery of her purses, purses for sale, and shared knowledge about Enid Collins. She admits her prices may be a bit higher than the average because she meticulously cleans, conditions the wood and leather and makes sure the jewel pattern is correct (replacing jewels with authentic vintage jewels when need be). “If there are major flaws, they will be disclosed in the description”. “My goal is not to conceal vintage history, but simply to photograph, restore, and learn about the creations of an American folk artist”, she said.

Enid Collins of Texas 1963 Gifts from the Sea Box Bag 

As an avid vintage collector, I concur that imperfections don’t have to be seen as something negative. I myself have never been deterred from buying something wonderful because of so called ‘imperfections’. Quite frankly, I think a few scrapes, nicks, chips, scratches, hanging threads, etc., give an item personality and character and add to its charm, collectability, and uniqueness. To my way of thinking, it’s an added bonus when something looks well-loved and lived in, as opposed to brand spanking new, and tags-still-on just purchased. So nouveau riche!

- Marilyn Kirschner