Tuesday, May 31, 2005

‘The Graduate(s)’

Designer Ralph Rucci & Lookonline.com Editor-in-Chief Marilyn Kirschner at the dinner hosted by Christine Suppes

May is traditionally graduation month, and that includes fashion schools across the country where graduation fashion shows have taken on all the markings and proportions of true fashion ‘happenings’. Pratt Institute recently held its 106th annual show at the Hammerstein Ballroom on Tuesday, May 10th, which also honored the Council of Fashion Designers of America by presenting an award to designer Stan Herman, CFDA President. Sponsored by RadiciSpandex, WWD observed (“Pratt Institute’s Bright Future”, May 16th), the students were quite obviously “not afraid to stretch traditional design”.

Not to be outdone, “Cocktails by the river, an over-the-top fashion show and a huge turnout” (according to WWD, “Gala for the Graduates, May16) marked the Parsons School of Design benefit Monday, May 9th, held at the Chelsea Piers. The black tie event which boasted 750 in attendance included such luminaries as Donna Karan, Vera Wang, Carolina Herrera, Simon Doonan, Jack McCullough and Lazaro Hernandez (the duo better known as Proenza Shouler). Indeed, with so much worldwide interest in fashion, not to mention all the constant speculation about the future of fashion, these events are becoming more and more important, are highly watched, and typically draw an a list fashion crowd who hope to spot and identify the next big design stars. So highly anticipated was San Francisco’s Academy of Art University Graduation Show held on May 25th, the event made it to the pages of www.fashionweekdaily.com (“Too Tulle For School: Part 2”, May 11th.)

Indeed, the prestigious and well respected Academy, founded in 1929, is the largest private art and design school in America and fashion grads have been known to go on to work for the likes of Marc Jacobs, Oscar de la Renta, Calvin Klein, Alexander McQueen, Ralph Lauren, and Missoni.

From left to right: Carla Sozzani, Azzedine Alaia, and Glenda Bailey at the dinner.

This year, among those taking in the standing room only runway show from their front row seats (including myself) were fashion luminaries such as Ralph Rucci, James Galanos, Azzedine Alaïa, and legendary/iconic Milanese retailer Carla Sozzani. By the way, Alaia and Sozzani (both chicly clad in black...what else?) were presented with honorary doctorates by Dr. Elisa Stephens, President of the Academy, and were special guests of honor at a beautiful dinner for about 85 immediately following the show, hosted by Christine Suppes, publisher and editor-in-chief of www.fashionlines.com, and her husband, Professor Patrick Suppes. The international worlds of retail, publishing, design, and academia literally collided as illustrated by those in attendance.

From left to right: Sylvia Rubin, San Francisco Chronicle, Marilyn Kirschner, Lookonline.com, Suzy Menkes, International Herald Tribune, and Christine Suppes, publisher Fashionlines.com and host of the evening.

Enjoying the wonderful ambience, interesting conversation, champagne, and fabulous food at Farallon Restaurant were Denise Hale, Vanessa Getty, Tatiana Sorokko, Glenda Bailey (whom I was seated beside and is always a wonderful conversationalist), Ralph Rucci, James Galanos, Suzy Menkes, Gladys Perint Palmer, and Wilkes Bashford (yes, THE Wilkes Bashford, the renown retailer).

In addition, May 25th was declared “Azzedine Alaia and Carla Sozzani Day” by San Francisco Mayor, Gavin Newsome, and earlier in the day, Alaïa (about whom famed illustrator Gladys Perint Palmer - the Academy’s Executive Director - remarked before the packed audience at Morgan Auditorium, “He’s the reason women exercise”) and Sozzani, the mastermind behind the Milanese shop, 10 Corso Como, hosted a symposium for graduates and press with a panel that included International fashion director of Condé Nast Gene Krell, and International Herald Tribune fashion editor Suzy Menkes.

Even jaded fashion insiders predicted I would be “blown away” by what I would see on the catwalk and as one veteran runway photographer put it, “It’s usually better than many shows I’ve sat through in Europe or New York.” The knitwear and textiles were particularly outstanding (it was noted that “the knitwear design and textile design graduates have created all fabrics in the knitwear studio and print room”), and while there was much talent on display, many stars in the making, some stars just seem to shine more brightly than others, as is always the case.

Design from Sangmin Yoo Collection

Coincidentally, or perhaps not, the ones that caught my eye also caught the eye of the other fashion pros, including the two honorees who were asked to chose a graduate to take as an apprentice in their respective cities (Paris and Milan) for the coming year. Azzedine Alaia picked Sangmin Yoo (my personal favorite by the way), a young man who cited “Jacqueline Kennedy, Audrey Hepburn, and equestrian looks from the Fifties and Sixties in a modern setting” as his inspiration.

Design from Jamie Mihlrad Collection

Carla Sozzani selected not one but two: Jamie Mihlrad, a New Yorker who has already nabbed an internship with Marc Jacobs, and who is unapologetically inspired by Art Deco, vintage, late thirties party dresses, and the works of Phoebe Philo for Chloe in Paris with its ultra feminine aesthetic. The second is Kia Faulkenberry-Lewis, who is already known for her floral engineered prints and is inspired by Art Deco, Art Noveau, and the Thirties.

Design from Kia Faulkenberry-Lewis Collection

Of course, top retailers are getting into the picture as well. It was announced right after the show that Neiman Marcus will be showcasing the work of Jeehyun Shim, Amy Fink, and the design and textiles collaboration of Staci Snider and Tomoko Hatayama-Khassa, in their downtown San Francisco windows. Macy’s West Chairman and CEO, Robert Mettler, has invited eight graduates to take part in Passport, an annual Aids Fundraiser.

Marilyn Kirschner & photos by Randy Brooke

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Basso Gets ‘Stoned’:

Dennis Basso has seemingly abandoned (if only temporarily) the inspiration of New York’s well manicured 5th and Madison Avenues (where his well heeled customers live and shop, and where HE has set up shop) in favor of a far more eclectic, global, locale, judging by his fall/winter 2005 collection. Shown yesterday afternoon at The New York Public Library’s Astor Hall, the cross cultural collection of furs and ready to wear was unabashedly colorful, embroidered, mirrored, studded, beaded, bejeweled, embellished, and marked a true departure for a designer who originally put himself on the map with rather traditional, if not somewhat predictable, ‘uptown/glam’ furs, fur trims, and fur accessories.

There was absolutely nothing slick or aggressive in this line-up. Even his choice of venue (the ‘bookish’ and learned New York Public Library, which represents the crossroads of the world) spoke volumes about his breaking with tradition. In the past, he had shown at the very tony and sociable Pierre Hotel, and then more recently, Cipriani 42nd street.

I spotted Jack Cohen, Managing Director of the Dennis Basso Fur Salon, (765 Madison Avenue, 212 794-4500), clad in black tunic and beads, prior to the show (which can only be described as a true fashion spectacle and one that becomes more so each year). He was happily meeting and greeting the guests (which included Neil Sedaka, Patti Raynes, Marty Richards, Pamela Fiori, Jamee Gregory, Nina Griscom, Susan Fales- Hill, Somers Farkas, Hal Rubenstein, Anne McNally) and asked why there were no printed run of shows on the seats. Without hesitation, he pronounced, “Because, it’s SO over the top. We killed ourselves. You’ve never seen this kind of collection and I’ve been in this business 30 years!”

And when I asked if he could try to describe or sum up the line, he quickly said, “Rich girl who lives in the mountains of Tibet.” “Oh, like Lizzie Grubman?” I jokingly asked (I had just spotted the infamous publicist taking her seat). “Perhaps”, Jack smiled.

It was hard not to notice that the rich bohemian, globally eccentric look parading down the runway (which evoked the moods of Dries Van Noten, Romeo Gigli, Matthew Williamson, and Miuccia Prada all at once) was in sharp contrast to many of the middle aged (and older) Chanel suited and coiffed-to-the-nines guests who looked as though they had just come- by limo- from lunch at Daniel or The Four Seasons. Although, there were many in the audience wearing versions of the ethnic gypsy circle skirts that Dennis seemed to favor, pairing them with his narrow shouldered, high arm-holed, intricately designed, and beautifully worked fur coats and jackets.

Tasseled belts, long scarves, sable tail trimmed and embroidered slouchy shoulder bags, and flat shoes accessorized all the outfits nary a stiletto or high heel in sight. In fact, flat colorful and jeweled Tibetan style slippers (the type that are being hawked by street vendors all over town), brown knee high suede flat boots, and furry Mukluks, NOT Manolos, were the order of the day. Long, voluminous, tulle skirts, (many of which were tiered and seemingly petti coated), were shown alongside skinny jeans. Dramatic floor length coats were offered in addition to tiny, shrunken, abbreviated jackets.

Did Dennis ‘reinvent’ the wheel? No, but it was highly visual, had lots of energy, and looked great. Was it ‘new’? Well, no of course, this look has been done, but certainly not by Dennis, whose ‘muse’ had long been Joan Collins (this was not a very ‘Joan Collins’ collection). It’s obvious that Mr. Basso is intent on reinventing himself, keeping up with the times, and going after a more youthful, hip, plugged in clientele.

Oh and by the way, Dennis has long been known to favor dramatic finales featuring diva songstresses like Liza Minnelli and Patti LaBelle. Not this time. There wasn’t even that traditional disco-friendly musical tape accompanying the show. In its place was a somewhat ethnic, global musical soundtrack, which perfectly ‘mirrored’ the mood on the runway.

- Marilyn Kirschner
Rootstein Mannequins Presents New Collection

Jade Parfit Mannequin (Click on image to enlarge)

Rootsein's debuted their new mannequin collection titled "Drama Divas" with a cocktail party hosted by Creative Director Devin Arpino. On hand for the party as Roostein' newest model muse was the latest English beauty Jade Parfit, who joins fellow English mannequins Erin O'Conner, Jodie Kidd and Anne V to be "immortalizes".

(Click on image to enlarge)

It was a very well attended party. Cocktails were served among the beautifully staged and illuminated mannequins dressed in exquisite luxe gowns. The collection first previewed in Dusseldorf for spring of 2005 and was made up of two parts: "Diva---Tall modern girls in languid editorial stance, perfect for the new glamour about to hit the fashion world"; and "Drama----Big glamour poses, striding the runways of Paris, new age sirens, women who take the lead, travel alone, are independent and fearless."

(Click on image to enlarge)

According to the Rootstein press kit, the collection was inspired by "six of the fashion worlds youngest talents". They are Ulla Van Zella, a German/Columbian model and actress and Oliver Stones recent muse in his latest epic 'Alexander the Great; Laiane a 16 year old Brazilian model; Nairi a Russian girl seen as the face of Vivienne Westwood on London billboards; Astra a 19 year old Lithuanian beauty, Irene a voluptuous and sensual exotique from the Cameroon, and Jade Parfit the English model.

(Click on image to enlarge)

The event was attended by over 250 people over the course of the 3 hour presentation. Public relations for the party was handled ably by MAO Public Relations. For more information about Rootstein Mannequins and their new collection please visit their website at www.rootstein

-Ernest Schmatolla

Monday, May 16, 2005

Driving the Point ‘Home’

Speaking about the well documented interest in- and popularity of- all things related to one’s home AND the colliding worlds of design (both of which were subjects of my most recent New York Fashion Industry Report). New York Design Week kicked off this past weekend, and there are no fewer than three events around town that are dedicated to the decorator that lurks inside us all. The Target Open House, which opened on Saturday (and brought out fashion designers turned home gurus Isaac Mizrahi and Cynthia Rowley) runs through Tuesday, May 17th, and is being held at the Trinity Lot on Grand Street between Sixth Avenue and Varick Street, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Five modular 500 square foot dwellings are set up, each with its own design theme. And the best part is should you find an item or two you wish to purchase, there are booths set up that enable you to do so. Also kicking off on Saturday (and going through Monday, May 16th) was ‘Downtown’ (www.designdowntown.com), being held at the Drive-In Studios, 443 West 18th street between 9th and 10th avenues.

The International Contemporary Furniture Fair (www.icff.com), which The New York Post called “The Mother of All Shows”, opens to the public on May 17th and is being held at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, 655 W. 34th street.

And as if to drive ‘home’ (pardon the pun) the point about the blurring of the lines within the worlds of design, The New York Times Magazine this past Sunday, May 15th, was called ‘The Architecture Issue’ and it’s ‘Style’ section, featured a story called, “People Who Live in Glass Houses”. Amongst those photographed were iconic fashion designer Ann Demeulemeester and her husband in their house in the south of Antwerp.

Also included in Sunday’s The New York Times was yet another one of their ‘Style’ Magazine supplements, “Travel Summer 2005” whose cover spoke volumes about straddling several worlds of design all at once. Photographed by Raymond Meier and styled by fashion editor Tina Laakkonen on Harbour Island in the Bahamas, it prominently featured a zebra patterned Ralph Lauren bikini (you only see the bottom half of the model with her perfectly manicured feet playfully extended across the white beach). One could just as easily imagine this cover being used for Sports Illustrated's annual ‘Swimsuit Issue’, any one of the many health and fitness magazines, or a tony fashion magazine for that matter.

Marilyn Kirschner

Friday, May 13, 2005

No Fooling!

Karl Lagerfeld's Haute Couture Faux Jewel Gown

Trompe l’oeil is French for fool, deceive, ‘trick the eye’, and is a centuries old practice within the design worlds of art, architecture and fashion. I have always loved trompe l’oeil for its whimsical, witty, and playful effects and I am not alone. Elsa Schiaparelli, who opened a boutique in Paris in the latter part of the 1920’s, was known for her ‘shocking’, bold designs and her irreverent use of trompe l’oeil. Later versions, like Karl Lagerfeld’s haute couture faux jewel trimmed evening gown from 1983, is currently on exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Chanel exhibit. Oscar de la Renta has recently been taken with trompe l’oeil in the form of jeweled sweaters, and Anna Sui’s trompe l’oeil filled collection several years back, was an homage to Roberta di Camerino, the Italian born designer who rose to fame in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, applied this technique on everything from evening dresses to ties, handbags, scarves, and umbrellas.

As any collector knows, choice vintage di Camerinos can fetch big bucks, and her newer bags (normally done in rich velvet often mixed with leather) which are currently available worldwide and at Barneys New York (Madison Avenue, Chicago, Beverly Hills), can easily sell upwards of $800. That is why Roberta’s fabulous, eye-catching, signed, large, light, and practical canvas tote bag (boasting the trompe l’oeil design of a bag complete with luggage tags and gold screws), selling for a mere $190, is hard to resist. Perfect anytime of the year, and great for travel, it is made for the summer months ahead. Measuring approximately 18 inches by 15 inches, it features TWO sets of handles (one can be slung over the shoulder and the other is meant to be hand held) as well as a roomy zippered inside pocket. Though I cannot attest to what Barneys currently has in stock (the bags are going fast), they originally came in three color combinations: red, white, and blue; luggage, navy, and red; and shades of green. (212 826-8900)

Marilyn Kirschner

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Gimme ‘Shelter’:

The well documented popularity - and interest - in all things related to the home, and the continued merging, colliding, and blurring of the lines within the worlds of design (fashion, architecture, home decorating, food), was a recent topic within my Thursday, May 4th New York Fashion Industry Report, “Interior Motive”. Coincidentally, the subject was also on the minds of several major publications beginning this week where it was the topic du jour. www.style.com’s home page proudly boasts a brand new feature, ‘Our debut report from the Milan Furniture Fair’. When you click on for the entire story and slide show, you are greeted with the headline, ‘Interior Motives’ (hmm….just a coincidence and further proof that “great minds think alike”?) and continues with the observation, “forget hemlines and heel heights. Thousands of visitors recently flocked to Italy’s fashion capital to see the latest styles in furniture and home furnishings”.

And on Monday, May 9th The New York Post’s ‘Media City’ section bore the headline, “Living Blueprints” as the editors devoted the first part of their column to the stiff competition heating up between what is affectionately referred to as ‘shelter’ magazines. And in WWD’s ‘Fashion Scoop’ column on that same day, ‘Design For A Living’ discussed the admiration Reed Krakoff (Coach’s “creative director and an enthusiast of contemporary design”) has for the sculptures and furniture of Ron Arad. So much so, that the design focused Krakoff penned a book which goes along with the Israeli-born designer’s first exhibition and retrospective which was held here in New York in almost 20 years. In addition, Arad’s “carbon fiber and Nomex honeycomb paper desk” sits in Krakoff’s office” on 34th street.

-Marilyn Kirschner

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Neiman Marcus Accessories Press Preview, Fall 2005

Accessories have become THE most popular, highly watched, and growing area within fashion retail, and the subject of an ongoing love affair and obsession by fashion editors and customers alike. And all for good reason. Vignettes set up at the Chanel exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, illustrate and exemplify the way in which belts, bags, shoes, jewelry, can be quickly called into service and literally transform the mood and look of a simple sweater and pant. www.style.com’s ‘Style Notes: Chanel A to Z’ borrow a quote from Christian Dior (regarding Coco), that exemplifies this perfectly: “She revolutionized fashion with a black sweater and 10 rows of pearls.” So it’s hardly surprising that the Neiman Marcus Accessory Press Preview has become more important each season.

Once set up within the luxury retailer’s New York offices located right off 7th avenue -- in the heart of the garment center -- it is now an orchestrated, theatrical, and catered production which takes place in a terraced duplex suite at the chic and fashionable Chambers Hotel, right off 56th street and 5th avenue. Hosted as always by Ken Downing, Neiman’s Vice President, Corporate Public Relations/Fashion Presentation, and Sandra Wilson, Accessories Fashion Director, it’s a great way to see the best of the best under one roof. It is something I look forward to and the duo never disappoints.

Glenda Bailey examining Cole Haan boot

When I showed up for my appointment, I was ‘teamed’ with an editor from Harper’s Bazaar. And no, it was not the magazine’s accessories or fashion director, but Glenda Bailey, editor-in-chief, who proved to be down to earth, animated, and thoroughly enthusiastic throughout the session (she certainly loves accessories!), heaping praise on both Ken and Sandra for their wonderful selections and the way in which everything was displayed and put together.

Dressed in a very ‘of the moment’ neutral toned Prada pleated skirt, grommeted Christian Dior tan suede jacket, and knee high brown suede low heeled boots, she accessorized with a gold and jeweled ‘lariat’ and Verdura’s gold watch/charm bracelet (which Sandra and myself both eyed with envy).

As usual, the hotel suite is divided into separate vignettes where the selected objects of desire are arranged by color story or mood, though Ms. Wilson did note that this season, there was no ONE ‘umbrella’ to hitch the story on, nor was there one specific trend (something which played out in ready to wear during the last round of shows) but rather, many different sub trends.

The first group was the toned down metallics, more subdued and subtle than last season’s, with a Renaissance feeling (not to mention a touch of Russian/Chekhov/Romanoff which gave it somewhat of a 70’s YSL vibe). Sandra said that the Prada travel case (a shape was shown throughout) with the Mulberry bag on top exemplified this feeling and looked “ready to take away on a jet”. She also pointed to the crushed down pewter Marc Jacobs boots that she said would look great with jeans or anything else for that matter. Sandra also spoke about the trend in iconic religious symbols, represented by the Oscar de la Renta mules embroidered with Maltese crosses.

As for color stories, though Ms Wilson loves the whole range of wines and burgundy (which is very ‘Renaissance’ and regal, after all), the big news this season is the entire family of blues...shades of blue ranging from pale aqua (as seen at Balenciaga and Rochas) to deep navy blue (represented by the high heeled Roger Vivier pilgrim pump). But the store’s favorite group is the clear and vivid peacocks and teals.

Another newsworthy story for fall is that Gucci is launching a ring collection (oversized cocktail rings were modeled in multiples by Sandra). Another nice surprise is the change underfoot (pardon the pun) at Cole Haan which was illustrated by their smashing, couture like, intricately embroidered boot. Who would have thought? Certainly, it sparked Glenda’s interest and Sandra even described another boot (a brocade shoe boot) which she felt merits looking into by the editor and her staff. By the way, it’s worth noting that Cole Haan, www.colehaan.com, is one more in a growing list of well established leather goods companies whose image is benefiting from a make-over as of late.

Furs are naturally another very big story for fall 2005 and Neiman Marcus feels strongly for Mongolian lamb (like Anne Dee Goldin’s chic and sporty zip front white lamb vest which prompted Glenda to exclaim, “My team would go crazy over that”). Ms. Wilson also noted she loves broadtail, especially colored broadtail, and made a point of fur’s whimsical linings (such as Kassin’s butterfly print) that are another big trend.

When Ms. Bailey surveyed a group of Manolo Blahnik shoes, she immediately praised Neiman Marcus for the way they work with the iconic shoe legend to come up with 10 special shoes each year (that are exclusive to them). “It’s so wise” Glenda remarked. Ms. Wilson also said she loves the idea of the open toed platform and adores “a touch of color on the foot.”

Speaking of shoes, last season, for spring/summer, it was all about wedge soled espadrilles, which were displayed “up the stairs” of the suite. This time around, it’s “up the stairs with the flat boot” exemplified by covetable selections from Prada, Christian Dior, and Chanel amongst others. By the way, when the conversation found its way back to bags, Glenda said she felt there were two ‘It Bags’ this season: “the Gucci and the Chanel 255” (a re-issue of the iconic quilted bag, so–named as it was created in February 1955).

The last room was all about black “Black is THE story but not your basic black” effused Sandra. It’s all about the mix of textures, velvet, fur, broadtail, patent leather, jet beads (like those from Jose Barrera, Lee Angel, and Stephen Dweck) AND the return of the black bag (which we haven’t seen making that much of a statement in recent years.. Ms. Wilson singled out those from Tanner Krolle).

Last but not least, it was out to the terrace to see their “glacial story”- ski inspired shearling boots, furry mukluks, fur vests, fur hats, Manolo Blahnik’s version of a Timberland boot complete with chinchilla trim, and variations on the Moon Boot. What can I say; I can hardly wait for the weather to turn cold!

Throughout the preview, there were many pieces of jewelry by the very popular David Yurman who is currently celebrating his 25th anniversary in business. While, alas, there were may not have been any David Yurman trinkets in the gift bag everyone is handled upon leaving, (and I won’t divulge precisely what we received) the Neiman Marcus shopping bag was filled to the brim, as usual, with a covetable variety of thoughtfully selected make-up products, leather goods, scarves, perfume, and more, from highly sought after houses. It’s a wonderful added bonus and a class act all the way!

Marilyn Kirschner

Monday, May 09, 2005

“He said, she said”

I know, I know, enough of the Chanel exhibit already. However, that said, if you missed the ongoing ‘dialogue’ between Coco and Karl that took place in Bergdorf Goodman’s 5th Avenue windows, I thought I would share this with you.

Karl: “I want everyone to wear what they want and mix it in their own way. That to me is what is modern.”
Coco: Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street. Fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live. Fashion is what’s happening.”

Karl: “Fashion does not have to prove that it is serious”.
Coco: “The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.”

Karl: “Only the minute and the future are interesting in fashion.”
Coco: “Luxury must be comfortable otherwise it is not luxury.”

Karl: “Youthfulness is about how you live not when you were born.”
Coco: “In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different.”

Karl: “Clear thinking at the wrong moment can stifle creativity.”
Coco: “I like fashion to go down to the street but I can’t accept that it should originate there.

Karl: “In the summer I sleep under a white ermine cover and in the winter, under sable.”
Coco: “Don’t spend time beating on a wall hoping to transform it into a door.”

Karl: “Intelligent frivolity can be creative and positive.”
Coco: “Look for a woman in the dress. If there is no woman there is no dress.”

Karl: “Absurdity and anti absurdity are the two poles of creative energy.”
Coco: “Women must be able to get into a car without bursting their seams. Clothes must have a natural shape.”

Karl: “The purpose of life is life”.
Coco: “Innovation? One cannot be forever innovative. I want to create classics.”

Karl: “Fashion is a language that creates itself essentially with clothes to interpret reality.”
Coco: “Fashion is architecture. It is a matter of proportion.”

Karl: “Like poetry, fashion does not state anything. It merely suggests.”
Coco: “Since everything is in our heads, we better not lose them.”

Karl: “To adopt this profession and make it one’s life work, one has to be both conscious and unconscious.”
Coco: “I want to be part of what is going to happen.”

- Marilyn Kirschner

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Loco for Coco (and Karl)

Quick! When you see the following items (or hear the following words): black and white, quilted bag, gold chains, ropes of pearls, camellia, little black dress, tweed suit, and cap toe pumps….what comes to mind? If it isn’t Chanel, there are perhaps only two viable explanations: 1- you are not living on the planet earth, or, 2- you are completely oblivious to the world of fashion (which seems impossible since you wouldn’t be reading this column if that were the case).

What’s more impressive is that one needn’t even put all the above elements together in order to have the same effect. The iconic symbolism of each one is strong enough to illicit the same knee jerk reaction and association. How many other designers and design houses can boast such a rich, lush history of identifiable symbols and recognizable icons? How many others can lay claim to such a fiercely loyal customer base AND have earned such unmitigated and unparalleled respect from other designers? (So much so that his or her designs are constantly being referenced season after season- year after year) Coco Chanel is alive and well and living….. well…everywhere, it seems. But for the next several months, her spirit (and that of Karl Lagerfeld,who is entrusted with carrying on the legend) are taking up residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where a major exhibit is being housed, not in the traditional basement space, but in a sprawling gallery on the main floor. The resulting effect is far less like a traditional costume exhibit and feels more like walking through a spacious art gallery. And showing the clothing (Coco's couture and ready to wear designs dated as far back as the 30's- spiced up with Karl's newer translations) is an effective way to heighten the understanding of Coco's modern genius.

The continued popularity of, and loyalty to, the name and the brand, and the unstoppable influence of this fashion icon knows no bounds. So therefore, it is hardly surprising that there has been so much unprecedented publicity and hype surrounding the new Chanel exhibit (which opens to the public on May 5th and runs through August 7th) as well as last night's gala, which has come to be known as ‘The party of the year’. Even yesterday morning’s press preview (scheduled from 10 a.m. to 1p.m), which has normally been a rather low keyed affair (particularly when one compares it to the evening’s festivities) was turned into a bona fide fashion ‘happening’. Drawing far more of an a-list fashion insider crowd than usual (Anna Wintour, Candy Pratts Price, Stephan Gan, Julie Gilhart), it included many fashion fixtures and fans who came dressed in obvious homage to the label (Chanel tweed suits and coats, Chanel scarves, Chanel logo shoes and belts, camellias, pearls, etc.) The event featured an unprecedented press conference which took place in the Great Hall- where chairs were set up just for the occasion- and the Curator of the Costume Institute, Harold Koda took the microphone, gave a bit of background information, explained that the most important thing everybody involved wanted to avoid was to turn this exhibit (which he called “a breakthrough for the museum”) into a retrospective. He then introduced Karl Lagerfeld, who spoke briefly and quickly, and unfortunately, due to the acoustics, and Karl’s trademark ‘manic’ delivery, I could not discern what he had to say.

By the way, just hours before, an entire segment of the ‘Today’ show was devoted to the legacy of the house of Chanel and the exhibit, and featured interviews with Harold Koda (who spoke about Coco’s connection to the little black dress, pearls, and her signature perfume- Chanel No.5); Andre Leon Talley (who observed that Coco did not need a publicist as she did all her own publicity); Michael Kors (who referred to Coco as “the first media star in fashion”, and said that she was “ way ahead of her time”; and Vera Wang, who called her “the most modern woman who ever lived…if she were alive today, she’d still be modern.”

In this past Sunday's 'Style' section of The New York Times, ("A Peek Into Coco's Closet"),Cathy Horyn posed the question, "What would Coco think?" Actually, I'm trying to visualize how she'd be dressed today, and what she would have worn to last night's gala.

-Marilyn Kirschner