Friday, September 21, 2018

New York Fashion Cool-Aid by Laurel Marcus

FGI Wakes Up & Smells The Fragrance Industry

Rose Marie Bravo, Annette Green & Kate Oldham
Photos: Laurel Marcus - click image for full-size view

"Everything I've ever done or seen I relate to fragrance," said the indomitable Annette Green, author of the new book "Spritzing to Success." The 40-year executive director and president of the Fragrance Foundation, a non-profit educational organization (she's now president emeritus since her 2003 retirement) and the 1972 originator of the FiFi Awards, was featured along with Kate Oldham, senior vice president and general merchandising manager of Saks at FGI headquarters bright and early yesterday morning.  Rose Marie Bravo, a veteran of the retail "trenches" (a nod to her time at Burberry for which she received her CBE) served as moderator.

"Years ago I was walking down Madison Avenue and passed Steuben (Glass) where they had snuff bottles in the window. They should be perfume bottles, I thought to myself. " Later she made good on that idea with a production line of 'Small Wonders' as they were called. Then there's the time that Green was on a bus coming down Fifth Avenue and saw people standing in line. "I wondered what they were in line for -- it turned out they were having their hearing checked.  I thought why not do that for their sense of smell -- people know even less about that." Another Green brainchild was born leading to the one-time Fragrance Fun Day in Lincoln Center.

Yet another story revolves around the indefatigable Green trying in vain to contact a handsome Lanvin executive by phone -- she wanted the company responsible for then uber popular fragrance Arpege to join the nascent Fragrance Foundation. After repeatedly being put off by his secretary, the gods of serendipity (or maybe the St. Patrick's Day leprechauns) smiled on her. Encountering him in his office building's lobby florist while she was buying a friend a green carnation, he relented and agreed.  All of these and many other stories are detailed in her memoir.

Why is scent important? Green's offshoot of the Fragrance Foundation known as the Sense of Smell Institute ran a study that showed how fragrance can improve behavior, mood, make you feel better -- even increase productivity in a work environment. Green mentioned how a peppermint scent gave more energy to factory employees -- may be less need for that coffee break? Shimadzu fragrances (scents that do something for you) are being developed for use in various settings -- Bravo mentioned Evelyn Lauder having developed fragrances for Memorial Sloan Kettering.

Oldham, wearing what appeared to be a Prada lipstick tube skirt (doesn't anyone make a perfume bottle skirt?) was quizzed about the Saks second floor beauty renovation and move. "When I heard that Saks was going to move Beauty up to the second floor I said don't do it!!! But now I say if you haven't seen it yet, go!" remarked Bravo. In a quest for more space and that ever-present bugaboo known as providing an "exciting experiential environment" the beauty floor moved up the escalator and possibly upmarket. "We either could stay and keep things the same or move and do things differently," said Oldham. "Some brands didn't come with us." Bravo mentioned the impressive Saks Beauty catalog while Oldham spoke of how women today want a "wardrobe of fragrances. Everyone is doing it, even McQueen -- it's here to stay. There's no signature fragrance anymore leaving an 'elevator trail' wafting out. People don't really do that anymore, as in, 'Oh, Rose Marie was just here,'" she quipped to audience laughter.

As Saks has become known for "niche brands of the haute parfumerie" (such as Creed, Killian, Bond No. 9 and Le Labo), the sticker shock of fragrances has perhaps lessened. "Once a woman spends $300 on a fragrance, she's not going to go back to spending $65. The Millennial interest in self-care is really good for fragrance and beauty." There's also more interest in personalization. Bravo mentions how back in the day we all wanted Opium (my fave '80s scent). Chanel No. 5 and Joy. However, once the scent is in the wind so to speak, other retailers jump on board the trend for niche brands -- "everyone's catching up, so we need to think of something else," Oldham added.

What of online sales for scent?  "Will we get to the point where our computer shoots out fragrance?" mused Bravo. "If it resonates as a story, people will buy it," answered Oldham. " We're pretty particular -- we try to make it about the fragrance versus the marketing. If it's authentic, people will buy." Oldham confessed to enjoying the movie or video clips found on YouTube and social media that introduce new fragrances as she finds them very effective.

Bravo returned to Green asking her how she managed to always have her finger on the pulse of the fragrance industry -- recognizing trends such as the importance of musk, the rise of the celebrity fragrance, packaging, limited distribution and developing a quality product which raises the bar for everyone. "I once interviewed a child psychologist who said the most important thing in life is to learn how to hear the grass growing. I didn't know what she was talking about then, but now I do. Being on the scene all the time feeds ideas to me." When asked how does she succeed in bringing other industry types (her co-conspirators) along Green, a former journalist extolled the need to have communication skills. "It's not easy to speak to a room of 1,000 people. Forget yourself, think of your audience and try to get your message across."

Annette Green signing copies of her book

What of her general ebullience? "I eat a Mediterranean diet -- I haven't had meat in 30 years. I exercise with a trainer and go to Equinox. It's important to be interested in life -- I'm involved in women's theater, I love ballet and opera. The one word used to describe me as a child is 'curious' so I guess it stuck," Green, an FGI member since 1956 "(it was my ultimate goal at the time -- you had to have two sponsors!") remarked. "I would use the word 'love.'" said Bravo. "She has love in everything she does, and it's inspirational."

After the panel wrapped up, Green sat and lovingly signed the large stack of books on the hallway table as attendees lined up to purchase their personalized copy.

- Laurel Marcus

Monday, September 17, 2018

In the Market Report by Marilyn Kirschner

New York Fashion Week Spring 2019 Ready-to-Wear: Rules Don't Apply!

 Ralph Lauren's 50th Anniversary Show, for Fall 2018, was the
highlight of the week
Photo: The New York Times- click images for full-size views

Among the many themes and subthemes that kept reappearing during NYFW which ended last Wednesday evening, were strong vibrant color and color blocks, head to toe white, yellow, lace and lingerie touches, fringe, pleats, luxe boho, florals, stripes, choir robe gowns, denim, tailoring, shirt dressing, pantsuits, tie-dye, romanticism, cross-cultural references, prairie looks, trench coats, caftans, pointy-toed pumps, crochet, photo prints, cargo pockets, face art, shifts, volume, oversized, etc. But just listing trends robotically is boring and irrelevant, and anyway, when are these items above ever ‘out’ of style? What is good is good period. It is how things are worn, mixed, and put together that makes it modern and relevant. It’s all about variety, options, and personal preference.

Of course, one significant trend of the week was the plethora of showings by designers who are all but unknown (right now) except to a handful of fashion insiders. Industry veteran Fern Mallis who created NYFW admitted that there were “a thousand names on the calendar” she had never heard of, and when she got an invitation, she often wondered who it was. One such newbie was undoubtedly Jerry Lorenzo’s label Fear of God which focuses on unisex classic American workwear seen through the lens of fashion. You better believe it’s darn scary to start a fashion business these days as the name implies.

 Pyer Moss

Another trend is that Brooklyn has officially replaced Soho and Tribeca as the cool, hip, happening place to show. But not everyone who showed in Brooklyn found such a symbolic venue as Kirby Jean-Raymond. He launched Pyer Moss as a menswear line in 2016, and his shows are always loaded with social commentary (specifically, as it applies to race). He presented his women’s spring 2019 line at the Weeksville Heritage Center in Weeksville, Brooklyn. As one of the first free black communities in the United States, founded in 1838 by an African American man named James Weeks, the location was loaded with rich history and symbolism, and was a perfect setting for Kirby’s beautiful collection presented on men, women, and little children (symbolizing the importance of family). One highlight was the designs featuring the artwork of Derrick Adams, who was commissioned by Kirby to create 10 paintings specifically for the collection.

But perhaps the most important trend, when it comes to fashion and beauty, is that anything and everything goes. There are no rules and no hard and fast dress codes with regards to seasons, occupations, occasions, and especially as it applies to genders, and that was the message that rang loud and clear throughout the week. Remember when you could tell the boys from the girls because they were the ones with the short hair, wearing blue, and the girl was wearing pink and had the long hair? Neither can I!

Women routinely wear men’s suiting, oxfords, and brogues, and men are increasingly donning florals, ruffles, dresses, sequins, heels, carrying handbags and wearing their hair long. In fact, they have become the peacocks. Women are shopping in menswear departments, and men are buying in women’s departments. There were so much wardrobe sharing and so many designs that were gender-bending and gender neutral, that quite frankly, I often did not know if I was looking at a man or a woman. Was it a woman wearing a man’s design, or a man wearing a woman’s design or both? It’s increasingly about his, hers, theirs.

Ralph Lauren

This was exemplified by Ralph Lauren’s Golden Anniversary Collection for fall 2018. It was a real highlight of the week, and much of the fashion, shown on 100 or so models (toddlers, seniors and everything in between) was almost entirely interchangeable. As usual, Ralph once again proved that he is a master of the mix, which is what makes it all modern and relevant.

 Matthew Adams Dolan

Among the labels that showed their women’s line on both sexes was Matthew Adams Dolan who launched in 2017. He was one of the many designers showing last week, who could be considered as under the radar although, given his talent, this is likely to change. His show was a study in functional, practical, unfussy American sportswear, played out in monotone shades of cobalt blue, magenta, fluorescent yellow, purple and green and it was terrific. He said he was inspired by the work of American fashion icon Claire McCardell who is credited with creating American sportswear, though I also saw vestiges of another American designing icon, Bonnie Cashin, who also revolutionized sportswear.

Photo by The New York Times

Monse’s Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia said that menswear retailers have already been buying pieces for customers and that their male friends have been wearing their designs (specifically their twisted takes on men’s shirting, which were inspired by menswear in the first place). So, this season, they actually added a dozen items (oversize knitwear with a nautical bent) that were explicitly made as unisex items. Tibi’s Amy Smilovic said that the men in her office routinely wear her neutral looking tailored clothing and knitwear and while she did not launch menswear this season, there were a handful of guys walking in her runway.

Eckhaus Latta
Photo by Krista Schleuter for The New York Times

The unconventional, versatile sportswear of Eckhaus Latta, designed by Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta has been interchangeable between the sexes from the beginning, particularly their in-demand jeans. Because of the way their design studio is set up in their L.A. store, they say they can literally hear when men are trying on women’s clothes and vice versa, which gives them a pretty good idea of what is actually working. Well, something is indeed working for the design duo who are part of a new generation of designers operating at the intersection of fashion and contemporary art. They are the subject of an exhibition at the Whitney Museum of Art, "Eckhaus Latta: Possessed" which runs through October 8, 2018.

Calvin Klein
Photo by The New York Times

At Calvin Klein, Raf Simons put his scuba suits and scuba suit tops (worn with tanks splashed with the “Jaws” promo picture and used as aprons/cummerbunds that wrapped the hips), oversized blazers, chunky fisherman knits, and graduation caps (inspired by “The Graduate”) on both the men and women. I’ll be honest with you, while I’m a huge fan of Raf’s work which is always interesting and loaded with references and symbolism, this was not one of my most favorite of his collections. His fixation on the movie “Jaws,” and water was not only a bit strange but unfortunately ill-timed. Who wants to see more water right now? Not only has it been a rainy summer, and a rainy fashion week, but just days after the show, Hurricane Florence hit, and as I am writing this, more than 800,000 souls have been without power, and at least 15 deaths have been reported. And as for sharks, I’ve feared them since the movie “Jaws,” and in a case of life imitating art, on Saturday, there was a report of the first fatal shark attack off the coast of Cape Cod in more than 80 years. Too close for comfort from my point of view.

Tom Ford
Photo: The New York Times

Tom Ford played masculine against feminine pairing men’s jackets in silk satin, gutsy zip front biker jackets and blousons made of faux crocodile and leopard printed pony, and oversized trenches, with more delicate lace trimmed slip tops and knee-length skirts with lace slips peeking out from beneath. But there was nothing at all gender neutral about his shoe of choice, a fierce pointy-toed stiletto. For those who wondered whether this signaled the death of comfortable, practical, footwear, try running through an airport in those shoes! And judging from the show attendees, many whom did not teeter around on stilettos but rather, stuck to somewhat comfortable shoes (including sneakers and trainers), they agree that one does not negate the other. It’s all about options and choices and in fact, on most other runways thus far there have been plenty of comfortable options including sneakers, espadrilles, pancake flats, kitten and block heels, flatforms and platforms, and a variety of boots.

There were plenty of designs that were unmistakably feminine rather than gender fluid. Oscar de la Renta’s Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia were inspired by past holidays in Morocco and a future sojourn to India (and Spain of course) among other destinations, but they wisely did not take their references so literally as to make the clothes look costumey. There were some absolutely lovely pieces with an emphasis of course, on evening wear. And while it looked elegant, it had a light, easy, vacation vibe.

Photo by The New York Times

But in some cases, the femininity was quite exaggerated as it was at Rodarte which could not have been more obviously feminine and romantic. It was Kate and Laura Mulleavy’s return to New York after showing in Paris the last two seasons. The 46 piece collection, a marvel of workmanship and construction, belies a commitment to their craft. It was filled with color (only 3 outfits were black) and comprised of full-skirted tulle gowns, ruffles, lace, and satin with a smattering of leather, shown like nowhere else. Los Angeles based floral artist Joseph Free created headpieces made of garlands of real roses that the models wore in their hair. The prettiness was offset by showing in the historic Marble Cemetery on the Lower East Side with a constant drizzle toning things down a bit and adding a supernatural glow.

Marc Jacobs
Photo by The New York Times

There were frills galore at Marc Jacobs’ over the top, extremely frothy, cotton candy-hued collection. Like last season, it harked back to the 80’s, was couture like, and notable for its large proportions, giant Pierrot collars, oversized rosettes, and bows. Marc was once again inspired by his personal design heroes Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel. There might have been a smattering of tailored, broad-shouldered jackets, and one fabulous trench, but all in all, the clothes were significantly ultra femme and were made for a great photo op, and for special occasions. If you’re looking for something great to throw on to walk your dog, get a carton of milk, or for all other real-life situations for that matter, you might want to look elsewhere, like Proenza Schouler.

Proenza Schouler
Photo: by The Impression

It was the first show back in New York for Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough after presenting in Paris for two seasons. Inspired by the success of their lower priced sporty line, Proenza Schouler PSWL, the design team was intent on focusing on “real” clothes. What it was lacking in artsy-craftsy (which had become a signature), the duo made up with their urbane, gusty, sportswear. Their pragmatism, no-nonsense approach, mannish jackets, layering, interesting proportions, and a controlled volume called to mind Phoebe Philo when she was at Celine. Coincidentally, German artist Iza Genzken, who created the mannequin installation at the entrance of the show, had a MoMA exhibition five years ago that was sponsored by Celine.

At the heart of the collection were ‘humble’ workwear fabrics like cotton twill (there were some pretty wonderful belted trench coats) and denim, the latter of which was offered up in several appealing incarnations. It was shown dark, bleached out, acid washed, and tie-dyed and included slope shouldered blazers, A-line skirts, halter neck drop-waist dresses, and enormous bags slung over the shoulder. It was all about clothes that celebrated every day rather than special occasions. Of course, I happen to think every day I’m alive is a special occasion lol!

Gabriela Hearst

Clothes for real life; quietly luxurious, exquisitely fabricated wardrobe basics, are the definition of modern, as summed up by Gabriela Hearst.

The Row

Luxurious, timeless wardrobe basics are also at the heart of The Row, whose purity of design never gets old.

Talking about getting old, every season, one color or another is touted as the ‘new’ black. This time it’s yellow, the symbol of sunny, cheery optimism and part of the “C’mon, Get Happy” movement proposed by designers like Michele Smith of Milly, Prabal Gurung, Bandon Maxwell, and Michael Kors all of whom presented ultra-colorful collections. Michael Kors seems to be eternally cheerful (what does the billionaire designer have to fret about? lol). Of course, he appeared at the show’s finale dressed all in black but proudly anointed himself to be ‘fashion’s Xanax.’

Discount Universe

But isn’t it clichéd and oversimplifying things by thinking that just by wearing bright, happy colors and prints you will instantly be happy? Sure, strong color can change one’s mood, but it’s got to be done well for it to be good. I smile whenever I see my 1960’s apple green canvas Bonnie Cashin coat peeking out of my closet. And I will admit that Discount Universe ’s unique and colorful ‘Losing my Mind’ mix leather coat might just make me lose my mind. But I am similarly swept off my feet when I find those perfect pieces in black. And my idea of fashion heaven can also be Gabriela Hearst’s midnight above blue silk and wool pantsuit, or The Row’s pristine floor length white tweed coat for that matter.

FYI, Discount Universe is an Australian company who made their NYFW debut. And no, they are not Australia’s answer to Zara, but an irreverent feminist label designed by Cami James and Nadia Napreychikov with more than 286,000 Instagram followers. Their strikingly colorful, shiny, sparkly collection, accessorized with plush red hotel slippers embroidered in gold with the word, ‘Bitch’ included sequined pieces with provocative feminist slogans like ‘Not for sale,’ ‘Not your baby,’ and some cheekily objectifying the female form. There was one so sexually explicit I will refrain from sharing.

Maybe you stumbled across items this past week that "floats your boat". If not, there’s always London, Milan, and Paris. And there’s still your own closet. Sometimes the biggest takeaway from the collections, more than the clothes themselves, is a styling trick (a color combination, a proportion, an accessory) that you can apply to what you already have, that changes it all and makes it sing.

Fashion is a powerful tool for self-expression. In the best case scenario, it can be transformative, change one’s mood and the way one feels. But it’s hardly about a one size fits all proposition. Designers can only propose. They give us the raw materials, but the fun part is ruthlessly editing, selecting what works best and personalizing it to make your own. As Oscar Wilde once said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” Touche!

- Marilyn Kirschner

Better Bets by Rhonda Erb

A Conversation With Designer Emily Brady Koplar

Emily Brady Koplar

“I have always been interested in design and business and have spent much of my life balancing the creative and the practical.” In another life, Emily Brady Koplar, founder and designer of the women’s clothing line, Wai Ming, might have found herself working in finance or accounting. “I grew up designing, drawing, painting, and sewing while also working at my mom's office and factory on the weekends. When it came to college, I decided to forgo a degree in fashion design and ended up studying Economics at Boston University.”

After college, Emily decided to follow her heart and enrolled in Parsons School of Design, where she earned her degree in fashion design.  After years spent honing her skills at companies like Ralph Lauren, Aeropostale, and Vivienne Tam, she felt ready to start her own apparel line, Wai Ming, which means “Gift of Light” in Chinese.

“Throughout college and design school, I interned for companies in design, buying, merchandising, and PR.  I was exposed to many different opportunities and facets within the fashion industry and decided that design was still what I wanted to pursue post-graduation. After graduating from Parsons, I worked as a designer for several companies before deciding to start my own line.”

Rhonda: When did you start your fashion line, Wai Ming?

Emily: I launched Wai Ming in 2012 through specialty boutiques.

R: What are your influences for your Wai Ming designs

E: The collections are often inspired by architecture, art, and my travels, but I truly find inspiration anywhere and everywhere. It could come from an interesting woman that I meet or read about, textiles, textures, a font, a sign, a shadow - anything is fair game! Spring/Summer 2018 was inspired by strong architectural lines juxtaposed with floral tiles and the pleats of handmade fans. It's all tied together with beautifully textured fabrics from Italy and Japan and clean, modern silhouettes.

R: Is there a specific type of Wai Ming customer?

E:I always think of the Wai Ming customer as a strong, dynamic, global woman. She is intelligent, curious, creative, kind and witty. She is a leader in her industry who wants to look effortlessly polished and put together, not stuffy or uptight.  She wants clothes that help her shine and make her feel like she can take on the world. She appreciates quality, subtlety, interesting design details and versatility since she is balancing a demanding work schedule, social engagements, family and travel.

R: Where can Wai Ming be purchased?

 E: You can find Wai Ming online at or at specialty retailers across the country.

R: Anything else that you would like to add about yourself or Wai Ming?

E: The entire line is made in New York with fabrics from Italy and Japan. 
I always design with versatility and comfort in mind. I want my customer to be able to wear pieces in a variety of ways and on multiple occasions.

 To see more of Emily’s designs visit:

- Rhonda Erb