Monday, May 25, 2015

In the Market Report:

Exotic, Indian Inspired Bags for Summer

Figue in Easthampton

Yay! So, summer has now unofficially arrived. Whether you are here in the city, at the beach, in the country, or far away (perhaps at some fabulously exotic locale), this time of the year is really all about loosening up, having fun, relaxing, and adding a bit of fun and whimsy (to one’s daily routine, AND one’s daily uniform). There is perhaps no easier way to do this, than by simply changing one’s bag. I don’t know about you, but all of a sudden for me, a leather bag, (as chic or handsome as it may be), seems just a tad too serious at times, and I find myself drawn to those things that are a bit more eccentric, colorful, and freewheeling.

Stephanie Von Watzdorf carrying her Tuk Tuk Tote

Enter Figue (, a “travel inspired artisan-centric luxury collection with a global gypsy-meets-jet-set spirit". Geared for “women who travel, or dream of traveling to exotic locations”, it was founded in 2013, by former Tory Burch design director Stephanie von Watzdorf. A Parsons grad who was awarded the Golden Thimble award by Calvin Klein, Stephanie has an impressive resume that includes stints at Yves Saint Laurent, Giorgio Armani, Ann Taylor, and Ralph Lauren. In 2004, she joined Tory Burch where she worked in design development and ready to wear accessories until 2011.

In addition to ‘core items’ such as tunics, kaftans, shirtings, dresses, denim, and one of a kind, embellished, reclaimed military jackets, Figue sells jewelry and bags, and their elaborate, intricate, Indian inspired Tuk Tuk totes (with hand stitched leather handles, cotton twill lining with interior zip pocket and optional drawstring closure) are truly sensational and collectible, if not highly addictive.

I have been sort of obsessed with them ever since I saw a picture of their first one several years ago (it reminded me of a few vintage bags I happen to own), and I’ve been a pretty faithful customer since then. Happily, each season, they add new versions (different colors and embellishments). I have to say that they are really all so fabulous (and quite different), I have a hard time deciding which one to buy, and I have to stop myself from buying them all LOL. They are not only practical (the medium and large sizes are extremely roomy and in the case of the latter, can function as a weekend bag), but are real look changers. And the best part is that whenever I carry one, even if I’m here in New York, I feel as though I’m on vacation, somewhere far far away.

These are their current offerings, which are available online and in their stores, in New York and Easthampton (268 Elizabeth Street, 212 380 7970; 55 Main Street, 631 527 5111):

The multi Tuk Tuk tote with Indian inspired navy and ivory jacquard fabric, multi colored pom poms and tassels, finished with ivory beading, white leather accents and silver accented mirrors (the medium size is $595 and large is $695).

The navy Tuk Tuk tote (it has a somewhat nautical feeling) features navy and ivory jacquard Indian inspired fabric, navy pom poms and tassels, navy beading and gold accented mirrors (the medium is $595 and large is $695).

The red Tuk Tuk tote features red pom poms, white tassels, beading, gold coins and mirror (the medium is $595 and the large is $695).

The black Tuk Tuk tote has black pomp oms, beading, gold coins and mirrors (medium size is $495; large is $595).

The one that is perhaps the most different is the Evil Eye Tuk Tuk tote which features black and white pom poms, gold coins, mirrors, and protective evil eye at center ($395 for small cross body style; $495 for the medium size, $595 for large).

FYI, they are offering 30% off through Memorial Day weekend. Betcha can’t buy just one!

- Marilyn Kirschner

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

New York Fashion Cool-Aid™: Book Review

Models of Influence: Fifty Women Who Reset the Course of Fashion

                       Click here to buy: Models of Influence

Leafing through Nigel Barker's bestseller "Models of Influence" I am transported back to my high school days, reliving my obsession with fashion (which I obviously still retain) and with fashion models of that era. When I got the email from Intermix in the Meatpacking District inviting me to come meet fashion photographer Nigel of America's Next Top Model and The Face fame, purchase his book and peruse the Gap-owned store for fashion how could I possibly refuse.

Nigel Barker

Arriving "fashionably late" I expected to see Nigel at a table signing books with a long line of giddy females before him. Instead, glimpsing his strong profile through the glass storefront, I see that he is standing tall as ever (he may have two kids but definitely no Dad Bod here!) and talking to another gentlemen while a photographer intermittently snapped away. I was greeted with the ever present prosecco which seems to be de rigueur at these events, not to mention the ubiquitous macarons butlered on a silver tray. Partaking of the former and eschewing the latter, I awkwardly mentioned to Nigel that I loved the photo of him and his wife taken last night at the American Ballet Theatre Spring Gala which I had seen on both Patrick McMullan's site as well as Nigel's Facebook. He and #TheWife aka Crissy were photographed in their formal best (she in a blush colored lacy Pamella Roland gown) as he playfully and elegantly dipped her complete with a smooch in an elegant little pas de deux in the Plaza of Lincoln Center.  He called the event "a very New York evening."

Nigel Barker and a fan

I asked Barker what prompted him to write and compile the tome, a fascinating read profiling fifty of the most noteworthy models from the 1940's to the present. "I wanted to honor and celebrate the impact that these models had brought to the world through their photos including those I had not photographed as well as those I had" he said. To that end the book features 110 full-color and black & white photographs capturing each model in a few of her most iconic poses. He also stressed the idea that all successful models have a personality; that these women would not have attained legendary status without a message that came directly at the viewer through their photographs.

Even in the days before social media, fashion magazine readers were interested in knowing about their favorite models and many models had quite interesting backgrounds. For instance, did you know that Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn was a sculptor or that Dorian Leigh had two children, earned an engineering degree in night school, helped design airplane wings for Eastern Airlines and served as a copywriter for Republic Pictures, all before she even started modeling? You can read more about each model's background, what happened to her later in life (if applicable) and learn some intriguing facts in the pages of this book. Barker shows how the popularity of what was looked for in a model mirrored what was happening socially and politically in the world during each decade starting with the post-World War II era "when fashion and fashion photography were reborn out of the ashes of the war." He highlights all of the iconic photographers as well as their muses from Irving Penn and Richard Avedon to Francesco Scavullo, Terry Richardson, Mario Testino, Patrick Demarchelier, Gilles Bensimon, Bruce Weber to name a few.

As for his own past, Barker practically didn't have a choice when it came to modeling as it was in his blood. He was raised by a former model who almost became Miss Sri Lanka in 1960 at seventeen however being biracial (half English, half Sri Lankan) halted her claiming the prize. She became a successful model in spite of this as did Nigel who was discovered in a televised modeling search called "The Clothes Show." Thinking he was bound for premed studies at Guy's Hospital in Central London, he decided to take a year's sabbatical before starting school to try his luck at modeling and seeing the world. As we now know, his modeling career introduced him to a "small but international community of fashion" where he felt that he fit in and he did not want to leave to go back to school. He later made the transition from modeling (when skinny boys came into vogue) to photography in the early '90s, followed by that of television host first on ANTM with Tyra Banks (both she and co-host Twiggy are featured as well as Naomi Campbell however Heidi Klum only rates a photo with other Angels during a Victoria's Secret Fashion Show) and later with "The Face."

Coco Rocha photo by Nigel Barker

In the course of speaking to Nigel I mentioned having heard Coco Rocha expound on her social media presence recently at the Fashion Law Institute seminar and he agreed that she was definitely one to watch in that arena. I later noticed that she is one of the models that he profiled, even using a photo that he took of her himself.

Intermix Store on Washington Street

As for the shopping aspect of the evening, besides the book I bought a polka dot top on sale. As 10% of the proceeds were to benefit UN Women's HeForShe, I'm afraid I didn't do much for gender equality.  Sorry Emma Watson who promotes the cause as well, but everything else I tried on was either ridiculously cut-out, impossible to put on/figure out (Note to clothing designers: I shouldn't need a diagram just to get dressed), or the wrong size. If you do end up at Intermix in the MPD make sure you ask for Emily who even remembered me from a shopping expedition there one year ago! As I walked down the street by the Highline I took a photo of the newly minted Whitney Museum, vowing to hit it up soon before the wonderful first light of summer has gone.

- Laurel Marcus

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

American Ballet Theatre Diamond Jubilee Spring Gala

Ballet finale
(All photos Lieba Nesis)

The American Ballet Theatre held its 75th Anniversary Gala at the Metropolitan Opera House to a sold out audience. This event has been on the calendar of every socialite from New York to California for the past six months with the elite of the country waiting for this exciting happening. This evening surpassed even the most jaded New Yorker's expectations with a Who's Who of New York society attending to show their appreciation and adoration for this incredible Company.  Kevin McKenzie, the Artistic Director of ABT, continues to dazzle with his jaw-dropping sets and costumes and this evening he outdid himself.

Amy Fine Collins and Hamish Bowles

The astounding guest list exceeded expectations including socialites: David and Julia Koch, Amy Fine Collins, Kelly Rutherford, Christine Schwarzman, Di Mondo, Fe Fendi, Alexandra Lebenthal, Blaine Trump, Jean and Martin Shafiroff, Gillian and Sylvester Miniter, Emily Blavatnik, Muffie Aston, Leslie Ziff, Julie Macklowe and hundreds more. There were also fashion heavyweights Hamish Bowles, Giovanna Battaglia, Cameron Silver, Peter Copping, Zang Toi, Jessica Stam and Anh Duong sprinkled amongst the glitterati.

Giovanna Battaglia in Herrera & Anh Duong in Alta Moda

The sponsor of the event, Escada, dressed many of the evening's guests including Christine Schwarzman, Jessica Stam and Kelly Rutherford, but unfortunately only distributed free Escada stationery at the conclusion of the evening. There were so many luminaries lining the lobby of the Metropolitan House the normally punctual ballet started 15 minutes late.

Jean Shafiroff, Zang Toi, and Julie Macklowe all wearing Zang Toi

This Gala is my favorite of the year as it contains vignettes of upcoming ballets as well as the creation of new dances produced especially for the evening.  This is the only event my father agrees to leave his desk for, and this year he appeared in a suit and tie awaiting the excitement of the night (although I wish he had not eaten garlic 10 minutes before), which he had joyfully witnessed one year before.

Laura Nicklas Mary Snow Despina Yarian
and Susan Fales Hill

This year our third row seats allowed me to view every muscle protruding from the dancers bodies-and I must say some of the male "muscles" were larger than others. The intensity of the dancers emotions, which I was able to closely witness, left me invigorated; the importance of a front row seat in a highly interactive discipline such as the ballet (last year we were in the last row) should not be underestimated.

Kelly Rutherford and Di Mondo

This evening was all about the history of ABT with numerous short films shown while Sigourney Weaver, Joel Grey, Kevin McKenzie and Susan Jaffe appeared on stage to recount the history of the American Ballet Theatre. Choreographers Agnes de Mille, Jerome Robbins, Antony Tudor, Alexei Ratmansky, Natalia Makarova, Twyla Tharp and George Balanchine were paid tribute to and their ballets were performed by the current ABT dancers. When former ballerina Susan Jaffe showed clips of Baryshnikov dancing with ABT, later becoming its artistic director, the audience burst into applause- Baryshnikov's jumps and turns were gravity-defying.

Christine Schwarzman, Kalliope Rena, and Fe Fendi

The other choreographed pieces included cowboys, sailors, slaves, and swans, all with costumes and sets executed to perfection-leading me to worry as to how the ballet would afford the extravagance of this extravaganza despite the fact that this evening raised 2.3 million dollars. One vignette even inadvertently paid homage to Bruce Jenner with male dancer Daniil Simkin wearing a white tutu and headdress in a scheme to trick his companion during the Russian Revolution in a piece called "The Bright Stream." A man in drag is about as modern as dance can get and it was a great tongue-in-cheek moment. Simkin astounded the audience throughout the night with his jumps, pirouettes and larger than life stage presence and received thunderous applause in the finale.

Dancer Diana Vishneva

However, my favorite sequence of the evening, which had much of the crowd in tears, was "Manon" which was performed exquisitely by Julie Kent, who will soon be retiring, and Marcelo Gomes. The utter romanticism and beauty of this piece was haunting and otherworldly. McKenzie did not miss a trick, performing classics "Giselle," "Swan Lake," "La Sylphide," and "Don Quixote"-staples of the ballet and definite crowd pleasers.

Principal dancer Marcelo Gomes at the dinner

This evening, which also celebrated the Jacqueline Kennedy School of Ballet's 10th year Anniversary, saved the students' incredible performance for the latter portion of the evening, with ebullient teenagers in multicolored leotards and a starry backdrop dancing with unbridled enthusiasm. The finale of the Ballet included retired dancers and choreographers as well as current principals arriving on stage with confetti streaming down on these incredible performers. However, the fun had just begun with dancers and well-heeled guests making their way into the tents nearby.

The dinner

The dining room was the most elegant I have ever seen, with silver tablecloths, pink and white flowers and crystal chandeliers adorning each table.  There were so many beautiful "swans" wearing Oscar de la Renta, Roland Mouret, Chanel, Valentino and Zang Toi, it was dizzying. The actress Jennifer Tilly flew in from Los Angeles for the occasion and looked voluptuously divine in a lilac Monique Lhuillier gown.

Jennifer Tilly, chair Sutton Stracke and Star Jones

Tilly said her favorite designer was Dolce and Gabbana because their dresses are "good for all shapes and sizes." Tilly wishes she could be skinny like the rest of Los Angeles, and told me she went from movies to Broadway because she finds New Yorkers and the stage more forgiving to full-figured women-especially since the screen adds on 15-20 pounds. Tilly's intelligence and candor were refreshing, expressing an appreciation of the ballet's film footage and historical perspective-a sentiment mirrored by many of the dinner attendees.

Ladies dancing

Overall the gala was a smash success with socialites enthusiastically dancing to the tunes of the ten-piece band and snapping photos of each other. Kevin McKenzie, who earlier in the evening spoke of the more than 466 works that have been performed by over 1212 of the world's finest dancers, managed the most incredible feat of all - getting my father to ask if I could purchase a ticket for next year's spectacular show.

- Lieba Nesis

Saturday, May 16, 2015

In the Market Report: El Museo del Barrio’s Spring Gala

Click images for larger views
Photos: Max Lakner

El Museo del Barrio held its most important fundraiser of the year, their annual Spring Gala, on Thursday, May 14th at The Plaza Hotel. El Museo board member Yolanda Santos received the Joseph A. Unanue Trustee Leadership Award; Senior Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at Time Warner Inc., Lisa Garcia Quiroz, were honored with the Corporate Excellence in the Arts Awards; and Founder and President of Fundación Jumex Arte Contemporáneo, Eugenio López Alonso, was presented with the Excellence in the Arts Award. The three silver awards were generously donated by Christofle. The sold out gala raised $1 million dollars.

The Young Gala Committee Chairs included Jamie Diamond, Karla Farach de Athanasopoulos, Jessica Garza-Bueron, Karina Palma, Jana Pasquel de Shapiro, and Leticia Pittman Presutti.

Ike Ude, Maria Eugenia Maury

The Honorary Committee included Pedro Almodóvar, Miguel Bosé, Maria Cornejo, Ambassador Sandra Fuentes (Consul General of Mexico), Erika Harrsch, Magos Herrera, Ambassador and Mrs. Jorge Montaño  (Permanent Representative of Mexico to the United Nations), Dascha Polanco, Candy Pratts Price, Narciso Rodriguez, Andres Serrano, Maricruz and Ray Smith, Isabel and Ruben Toledo, and Iké Udé.

Luis Medina Abascal, Maria Eugenia Maury, Bill Haseltine,
& Rodner Figueroa

Guests attending included Luis Medina Abascal  (Grandee of Spain, and brand ambassador for Dolce Gabbana), Tony Bechara, Barbara Berger (Jeweler), Violaine and John Bernbach, Maria Cornejo, Laura and John Desmarais, Valdislav Dornin, Jacqueline Weld Drake, Anita Durst, Ambassador Sandra Fuentes (Consul General of Mexico), Council Member Julissa Ferreras, Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl, Dayssi Olarte de Kanavos and Paul Kanavos, Ambassador Jorge Montaño (Permanent Representative of Mexico to the United Nations),

Jean Shafiroff

Enrique Norten, Council Member Annabel Palma, Florence Peyrelongue, Congressman Pedro Pierluisi, Dascha Polanco (Orange Is The New Black), Assembly Member Robert Rodriguez, Rodolfo de Rothschild, Julian Schnabel, Andrew Solomon, Maurice Sonnenberg, Andres Serrano, Jean Shafiroff, Jana Pasquel and Adam Shapiro, Maricruz and Ray Smith, Daisy Soros, Deputy Commissioner Edwin Torres, Adrienne and Gianluigi Vittadini, Carmen Ana Unanue, and many more.

The evening of cocktails, dinner and dancing (to the music of Avendia B, and a multidisciplinary performance by Erika Harrsch in collaboration with Mexican jazz singer Magos Herrera) had a black and white cinematic theme, inspired by the museum’s current exhibition, “Under the Mexican Sky: Gabriel Figueroa- Art and Film”, which celebrates the highly distinctive work of famed Mexican cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa (1907 – 1997). Not only was the Plaza ‘dressed’ for the occasion (Jeronimo Gaxiola designed the event), but so were the guests, and it lent a wonderfully moody ambience to the night.

Evelyn Gutierrez Subramaniam

The women were asked to dress in black and white with gloves and veils, and let me tell you, most of them went to great lengths to take this directive seriously (so much so that one could have called this gala, “The Dance of the 700 Veils”). The official milliner of the event was Patricia Underwood and last month, (at a gala kickoff party held at the UN Plaza apartment of El Museo’s Gala Chairs Maria Eugenia Maury and husband William Haseltine attended by 100 guests), she was on hand, with a selection of her veils, and guests were able to purchase and/or design their own. Patricia designed a special veil for actress Dascha Polanco, whose gown was by Badgley Mischka. But hers were not the only veils.

Barbara Berger

Jeweler Barbara Berger wore a fantastical veiled floral headpiece to compliment her divine black and white vintage Oscar de la Renta gown; Maria Eugenia Maury accessorized her Giorgio Armani black label black satin evening gown with a Prive black fishnet mantilla with giant black patent paillettes; and several women admitted they created their own veiled headpieces.

Dipak Shah

And let’s not forget about the guys. They normally dress in black and white attire for evening soirees, and served as perfect compliments to the ladies, and a few even got a bit creative with the theme. Brett Gallaway wore a printed black and white bow tie and black velvet smoking slippers embossed with a white design, and Dipak Shah’s black and white eyeglass frames served as the perfect foil for the similarly optical seating and cushions. But nobody could top Ike Ude, the celebrated artist, author, dandy and fashion icon, who arrived in a black and white polka dot jacket, matching shirt, and black bow tie, which he paired with crisp white trousers and natty black and white wingtips.

All in all, the evening could not have been more spirited, visual, or successful, as summed up by the evening’s host Maria Eugenia Maury: “My husband and I were proud to chair this year’s Gala as it accompanies a renaissance for our institution. We celebrated an ambitious new director, new board leadership, and a brilliant slate of exhibitions. This year’s honorees are outstanding individuals who support the arts and our Latin community. Like El Museo, their impact is international. The enthusiasm for all this was reflected in our gala, which sold out, through longtime supporters and new.”

- Marilyn Kirschner

Thursday, May 14, 2015

New York Fashion Cool-Aid™: Book Review

Buy now on Amazon with below link:
Primates of Park Avenue: A Memoir

My first thoughts upon hearing that author and social researcher Wednesday Martin, author of "Stepmonster," had written a forthcoming book entitled "Primates of Park Avenue," a memoir of her experience trying to infiltrate "the status-and hierarchy-obsessed tribe" of mommies in the urban jungle of the Upper East Side, was that it would be the flip side to "The Nanny Diaries" (a book Martin actually mentions on page 179) albeit with an anthropological twist. Although it does cover some of the same terrain and observes the same species in its "extreme ecological release" or Island habitat where natural resources are plentiful and there are no predators ie Manhattan and specifically the UES, West of Lex, the story skews a bit more serious than your average breezy beach read. This book is being released on June 2 however I was given an advance press copy for review.

Wednesday Martin

Ms. Martin, originally from a small town in Michigan, was a married mother with one son living in downtown NYC until 9/11 when she and her financier CEO husband decided to move north and east near the "Big Field" (Central Park) and the best "learning huts" (schools). Having previously resided in a town house with a small outdoor garden they were now looking at "vertical villages" (high rise condos and co-ops) and needed a "native informant or guide" to show the way (enter buyer's broker Inga). Upon being mistaken for her own non-existent "assistant" (many prospective buyers send a scout to do a preliminary search for them) Martin also realized that she needed a better bag and a less casual outfit than her "nerdy hipster" Marc Jacobs get-up which was "all the rage downtown." Eventually she acclimates for her UES apartment-hunting forays donning a uniform of a "demure sheath dress, Agnes B. or French Sole flats, and the most ladylike bag I owned--no slouchy satchel would do for my errand."

Map of the Upper East Side
(click on image to see detailed notes)

On bed rest with a difficult second pregnancy when her board interview is scheduled, she decides the term supplicant should replace the word applicant as seven board members march into her bedroom where she greets them in pearls and a jacket on top and pajama bottoms under the covers. Finally ensconced in the desired apartment and zip code, Martin has many more "hazing" and "culture shock" moments. Much like a Stepford wife might chastise herself for forgetting to bake, Martin confesses to having forgotten to apply to nursery school (Insert my screaming face here!) There is much made over her shocking naivete; thinking that one just applies to preschool when everyone knows you must apply at the same time you fill out the birth certificate! Of course, anyone with kids in Manhattan is also aware of the selectivity and exclusivity of any of the "feeder" or on-going preschools and the daunting nature of getting your kid accepted, particularly as an outsider. In the book Martin enlists the help of Inga as well as her sister-in-law who had four teenage children that had previously attended the most sought after program and wrangles entrance to what I'm guessing is the 92nd Street Y. (My guess is based on her reference to a highly publicized "million-dollar donation" being proffered and refused).

Much ink is given to Martin's description of being a "playdate pariah" on behalf of her son Eliot, as the fellow mommies including the "Queen of Queen Bees" brush her off, ignore her and deny her existence despite her repeated friendly attempts to infiltrate their tribe. Eventually, after being "charged" and forcibly pushed aside on the street by a woman wielding her handbag superiority, she goes "native" and decides that her existence will be confirmed with a talisman of sorts: a Birkin bag. Again, as we all know, one doesn't just go and purchase a Birkin and Martin goes into great detail about how she obtains hers.

Throughout the book, Martin espouses the Hillary Clinton-esque "It takes a village" theory of child-raising (kids would hang out in multi-age groups and be tended by the older children, extended relatives or even other villagers) which anthropologically is the way primates and even humans used to be fostered. Now there are the "Alloparents" or caregivers that are hired to give a mother a much-needed break. There is much written about the mommies (Manhattan Geishas) strict grooming and maintenance routines as well as a page breaking down the cost to be about $95k per year! Martin addresses the constant stress level felt among the "ultimate nerve-racked nellies" and concludes that "Mothering in a state of ecological release and an honor/shame culture, I was learning, was in many ways a perfect storm for anxiety. Their perfect lives were in fundamental ways the worst thing for these mommies' minds" she writes.

I will not give away the whole story but suffice it to say that after enduring much hostility, ill treatment, shunning, and general nastiness, Martin finds that a common bond is eventually forged with these women through a shared, gut-wrenching experience. Warning: the book is a fast read but may produce some level of PTSD flashbacks for those who've been down a parallel Manhattan avenue, (in my case, not as exclusive as Park and decidedly East of Lex) but have experienced many similar child rearing experiences. Unfortunately, I still have screaming nightmares about those pre-school interview "play-groups" that Martin chronicles here.

In the last chapter, Martin mentions that they now live on the Upper West Side where she rarely feels underdressed and the mommies are more "casual and friendly."  Does that mean there won't be a "Carnivores of Columbus Avenue" in her future?

- Laurel Marcus

Saturday, May 09, 2015

In the Market Report: Pratt Benefit Gala

"Pratt" Pack

Francisco Costa with Rose Byrne
(Photo: Fernando Conlon)

Francisco Costa, Calvin Klein Collection’s Women’s Creative Director for over two decades, was honored with the Pratt Fashion Visionary Award during the course of the school’s 2015 benefit gala on Thursday evening (the proceeds of which will go to benefit the Pratt scholarships fund as well as their Department of Fashion). Previous honorees have been Thom Browne, Fern Mallis, Hamish Bowles, and Ralph Rucci, Stephen Burrows, Byron Lars.

 Barry Schwartz and Calvin Klein back in the day

The highlight of the event, which also included a ticketed cocktail benefit (at the Dream Downtown in the Meatpacking District), was their runway show. The 116th in their history, it has launched the career of many designers, and was held at Center 548 on West 22nd Street. In attendance were Calvin Klein Inc. chairman and co-founder Barry Schwartz and wife Cheryl; Italo Zucchelli, men’s creative director of Calvin Klein Collection; fashion designers Bibhu Mohapatra, Gabi Asfour, and Yeohlee; philanthropist and Pratt trustee Kathryn Chenault; Fern Mallis; Stan Herman; InStyle’s Eric Wilson; Architectural Digest’s editor-in-chief Margaret Russell (who ‘accessorized’ her little black dress with a cast on her left foot).

There were welcoming remarks by Thomas F. Schutte, President of Pratt, and Linda DeFranco, Director, Product Trend Analysis, Cotton Incorporated (a lead sponsor for the event). The talented, beautiful and stylish actress Rose Byrne, was there to give Francisco his award. She told the audience that she’s been “fortunate” to wear his “understated, elegant designs” which "exemplify American fashion" (such as the modish, abbreviated leather dress from the designer’s fall 2015 collection which she had on for the occasion), and remarked that he dressed her for her first red carpet (the 2008 Emmy Awards). On a personal note, she praised him as being a “lovely man, kind and gentle”. For his part, Francisco hailed Pratt as an “incredible design school”. Most importantly, he observed, “It’s a wonderful night for the students.” “It’s all about “passion”. “If you have passion, drive, and work hard, you will succeed”. “There’s always room for talent”, he promised.

 Award Winning Claire McKinney's workwear inspired ensemble
(Runway photos: Fernando Colon)

Speaking of talent, 16 talented senior fashion design students were selected to show between 8 and 10 of their inventive creations during the course of the show, which was appropriately called ‘Laboratory’. Claire McKinney, whose work wear inspired designs are all about a “struggle between nostalgia for the past, and a desire to be innovative and fresh”, was announced as the recipient of the Liz Claiborne Concept to Product award, a $25,000 prize funded by the Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg Foundation.

Kit Woo's trench made of a new neoprene fabric he created

For me personally, other highlights of the show were Kit Woo’s armor like outerwear, made of innovative non-traditional fabrics (he actually created a new neoprene textile called “Suitprene” which bonds suit fabric with foam and traditional lining fabric; Shani Starinsky’s 3D exploration into a “DIY armor”; Helena Eisenhart’s experiment with transparency, using different types of vinyl, nylon, plastic, mesh, organza, and satin to emphasize the idea behind the collection in a high gloss manner; Shaelyn Zhu’s sheer layered looks which are inspired by the way women look when they emerge fresh from the shower with water drops in the hair and on their bodies; Carolyn Kilcoyne Voyta’s inventive use of a light wash denim, an assortment of different striped shirting fabrics, and a custom dyed seersucker plaid cotton, all of  which were inspired by her days in summer camp as a camper and counselor.

Sophie Andes Gascon's ensemble made of found
and bartered materials

And there was Katya Reilly’s experimental and innovative use of textiles, which often involved heat to melt materials and then press them flat; Chantal Galipeau’s non-exclusive, genderless collection inspired by a trip she took to a tropical trailer park; Sophie Andes Gascon’s use of found and bartered materials including pieces of tape, plastic, string, old dresses, and kitchen rags (in 2014 she was awarded a scholarship from Cotton Incorporated to allow her to source materials and explore different ways to work with cotton).

Dress by Lauren Nahigian

Last, but not least, I was particularly moved by Lauren Nahigian, whose collection, titled “My mind is the enemy”, was inspired by her personal experience with mental illness (OCD, anxiety, and body dismorphia). Hence, the notions of over stimulation, discomfort, and exposure run throughout. As for her next steps; she hopes to get her fashion career off the ground working at a company in their design department, where she can continue to hone her skills doing hand work and embellishments.

- Marilyn Kirschner