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 Laura 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

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

“Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire”

Death, Taxes, & Black

All photos Randy Brooke
(click images for full size views)

As they say, the only things that are certain in life are death and taxes. But I can add one more to that: the fashion world’s ongoing obsession with black; and its popularity with women, across the board. This is quite understandable given its universal appeal. It is practical and easy to take care of (well, most of the time anyway); instantly chic, slimming, and lengthening; a perfect foil for experimental shapes and silhouettes as it is inherently restrained and chic. You feel safe in black because it can make you blend in anonymously, or it can be statement making and unforgettable. Actually, it can be anything you want it to be: edgy or conservative, rebellious or mainstream, minimal or maximal, decorative or elaborate, festive or solemn.

Speaking of solemn, yes, black is the color that has come to symbolize mourning and death. The mourning industry came into its own in the mid 1800’s, and, hard as it might be to imagine now, there was a time when, if you wore black when not in mourning, you might evoke reprobation, and risk being “classified as a dangerously eccentric woman” (as decreed by Harper’s Bazaar, August 9, 1879). This was just one of the many interesting snippets of information, I learned during the course of the morning preview of “Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire,” the fall Costume Institute (or should I say, the Anna Wintour Costume Center) exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. It’s their first fall exhibition in 7 years and Nancy Chilton, head of communications for the Costume Institute, noted it was also their most “mellow” morning preview. Also, from my point of view, perhaps because the Met is now open on Mondays, instead of  feeling like I was almost all alone  as I walked inside the Great Hall (there’s nothing like feeling you have the museum all to yourself), I was surrounded by hordes of tourists and guests, so it felt a little less rarified.

In any event, the exhibit is curated by assistant curator Jessica Regan and curator in charge Harold Koda, who admitted his favorite group are the pieces from the 1860’s, and noted that the exhibition is all about showing “respect for the deceased” through the distinctly defined fashion (which evolved through the years) as it pertained to various stages of grief. There are 30 antique ensembles (mourning dresses, mourning coats, mourning suits), and they are mostly for women (there are two ensembles for men and one child’s dress). Included is a black silk taffeta dress that was worn by Queen Victoria, and a bespoke mourning coat made of lace, knotted fringe, and silk bengaline, by the House of Worth, dated 1907. Needless to say, almost everything, including accessories (necklaces, hats, fans, parasols) is black, juxtaposed against a white backdrop, with the strains of Gabriel Faure’s haunting Requiem in D minor in the background (appropriately, this iconic piece is the Roman Catholic Mass for the Dead).

Notable exceptions to the all noir landscape are an American wedding ensemble in gray, black, and white (worn to honor of those who died during the Civil War), a duo of French sequined tulle gowns (1902), one in mauve no less, and an American mourning dress (1872 – 1874) which makes liberal use of decorative black and white silk fringe. They exemplify the dramatic shift from the sober mourning attire of Queen Victoria, and the eventual loosening of the rigid rules (even the notion that certain shiny fabrics were not appropriate began to change later as well), and they serve to illustrate the idea that certain designs could be deemed appropriate for “half mourning” or periods of “lighter mourning” (which came towards the end of the grieving cycle).  The gradual blurring of the lines between mourning and fashion was exemplified by two black silk faille American mourning dresses from 1876.

And by the way, even in cases of unrelieved black, there could be many subtle and not so subtle differences. For example, while exaggerated bustle shapes were the order of the day (and they were there on display), that was not the only silhouette, and several pieces stood out by virtue of the fact that they were relatively streamlined by comparison. Along those same lines, two American mourning dresses were displayed side by side: from a distance they might look almost identical but upon inspection, it was easy to see that one defined “nun like simplicity” and the other had “decorative flourishes” made possible by intricately pleated swags along the sash and elaborate hem embellishments. Proof that even in mourning, one could still follow the dictums of fashion at the time.

Cocktail party

Later that day, I came back for the evening cocktail party during which time guests, including Yeohlee, Fern Mallis, Amy Fine Collins, R. Couri Hay, Lynn Yeager, and Jennifer Creel, got to take in the exhibit and gather in the beautiful Temple of Dendur for refreshments. While the tone and mood (and clothes) of the exhibition may be unapologetically somber and black, and there were many guests who dressed accordingly (some in the morning went as far as to wear black veils along with their Victorian hats), there were a few who refused to go with the flow. And what better way to do that than by wearing something in a bright and lively floral print?

Amy Fine Collins and Jennifer Creel
(photo: Marilyn Kirschner)

While the runways for spring 2015 were filled with florals in every imaginable incarnation, the surprise has been their sighting on many stylish women right now, as we head into the winter months. And so, there was Jennifer Creel in a fur trimmed floral zip up parka, and Lynn Yaeger in Comme des Garcons. As for moi, I went with a vintage 50’s black wool Lilli Ann coat whose amazing shape recalled Victoriana, and accessorized with my Celine brass belt for a bit of shine, and what else- a touch of 'Black' Comme des Garcons Eau de Parfum.

And finally, I was saddened about the passing of Oscar de la Renta at the age of 82. Oscar, who I first met some 40 years ago when I was his editor at Harper’s Bazaar, was the personification of elegance and class. Always debonair and perfectly turned out, he lived life with passion, and he always had a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eyes. He carried himself with dignity at every stage of his life and did not have an un-chic, un-elegant bone in his body. The same could be said about his designs, which were the definition of timeless, feminine elegance. He had amazing longevity in an industry where that is almost impossible to achieve, and he managed to remain current and relevant by staying true to himself (to the delight of his loyal customers), without ever sacrificing his design principles. 

He appealed to an enormous range of women (of all ages and with different fashion personalities). I mean, really, who else could make perfect clothes for the likes of Barbara Walters, Laura Bush, Hilary Clinton, Michele Obama, Oprah, and Sarah Jessica Parker? And how fitting is it that his last collaboration was the beautiful wedding dress worn by Amal Alamuddin for her high profile wedding to George Clooney? In one of Oscar's last interviews on television, he told a reporter that he did not know how long he had, but he loved life and intended to live each day to the fullest. 

- Marilyn Kirschner