Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Ten Best Looks of the Spring 2006 Season

Our senior editor Bernadine Morris, who was the senior fashion writer for the New York Times for almost thirty years and who is still one of the most repected fashion journalists picks her best looks of the New York Spring 2006 Season. Click here for her full report.

Thursday, November 17, 2005


Photo: Lanvin courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Does anyone actually question whether Iris Barrel Apfel's colorful, individual, and eccentric style, which is the focus of the current exhibit at the Met's Costume Institute, 'Rara Avis', and the cover story of Thursday's 'Style' section of The New York Times, ("What Iris Wore: A Style Original", by Ruth La Ferla) will be an influence on the upcoming fall 2006 collections?

I was inspired to walk through the exhibit again yesterday, and thought the lower level galleries that comprise the Costume Institute seemed rather crowded for a Thursday afternoon and wondered if the attention given to it by The New York Times was partly responsible. I asked a security guard if he thought it was more crowded than usual and he said, "yes - particuarly this afternoon".

I was particuarly amused by the conversations that went on between the visitors ('lay' people, not involved in the fashion business) who by and large, were overwhelmed by the sheer creativity, verve, and amount of clothing and accessories on display, with many seeming to have a hard time believing Mrs. Apfel actually wore these outfits out - or anywhere. Some obviously ignored the designer's names identifying each look and asked each other if she perhaps designed them herself .

I thought it would be timely to reprint my initial thoughts about the subject following Bill Cunningham's 'On the Street' homage, Sunday, October 2.

(DFR Report from Monday, October 03, 2005)

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Yesterday’s ‘On the Street’ column, “In her Image” by Bill Cunningham, which was devoted entirely to the exuberant, colorful, joyful, expressive, and highly personal style of Iris Barrel Apfel, exemplifies the phrase, “A Picture is worth a thousand words”. Though in this case, it’s ‘pictures’. It spoke volumes about the meaning of true personal style (as opposed to that which is manufactured and predicated on robotically chasing the trends du jour), and it could not have been more perfectly timed, being that the month long spring 2006 shows are winding down in the city of Paris this week and the fashion world is mulling over what will be ‘trendy’, ‘new’, and ‘hot’ for the coming season.

With one quick glance at these pages, an homage to a woman who is also the subject of the current exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute ("Rara Avis"), which illustrates the "power of dress and accessories to assert style above fashion, the individual above the collective", as described by the Museum, you see a style that is built on a wonderful, keen and knowing eye, an innately confident sense, an ability to mix high and low (which she did long before the fashion world spoke about it), and most importantly, added wit and whimsy.

Mrs. Apfel’s collection of clothing and accessories transcends seasonal vagaries of ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ and have more to do with what’s always fabulous than what’s NEW right now. It’s apparent she didn’t take too seriously the admonition of magazine editorials or store ads to pare down when stark minimalism took over in the 90’s (I doubt she would have even considered consider putting her fabulous statement making accessories in storage), and looking at her red head to toe ensemble (which she was photographed in as she walked around the exhibit), she is obviously not giving too much thought to the recent decreeing that black from head to toe is now the way to go. By the way, it also proves that red always stands out in a crowd.

This portfolio defines the notion ‘Youth is wasted on the young’. There is absolutely nothing subtle, dainty, or old fashioned about the ageless Ms. Apfel (not her colors, her proportions, or her accessories - including her oversized reading glasses); on the contrary, her rule breaking look defies conventional notions of what one ‘should’ wear as one ages. I would suggest that all those so called style mavens and image consultants who are paid to give women direction, and who would probably argue that at a certain age, you should ‘act your age’, fade into the background, tone it all down a notch, and wear a lot of neutrals (like beige), take a long look at these images, or better yet, get yourself over to the Costume Institute and walk around these inspirational displays. (The exhibit runs through January 22nd.)

By the way, speaking of ageless, the same can also be said of Bill Cunningham, who has more energy, stamina, and curiosity than almost anyone (regardless of age) and whose brilliance lies not only his finely tuned and well educated eye, but in the perfect timing of his columns.

-Marilyn Kirschner

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Having a ‘FIT’

Left: Cristobal Balenciaga, silk evening dress, Autumn/Winter 1957 Right: Nicolas Guesquiere for Cristobal Benciaga graffiti mini dress, Fall 2004.

On Monday night, Dr. Joyce Brown, Dr. Valerie Steele, Elle, and Redken hosted a reception to fete the opening of the new Fashion and Textile History Gallery at the Museum at FIT. According to the press release, “the gallery will feature changing selections from the Museum’s permanent collections, which are comprised of more than 50,000 garments and accessories dating from the 8th century to the present - with particular strength in contemporary designer fashion - some 30,000 textiles from the 6th to the 21st centuries, and 300,000 textile swatches and 1,300 sample books.”

This new addition was made possible through the “generosity” of Elle magazine and Redken (“with additional support provided by the members of the Couture Council of MFIT”), and not only did the evening’s hosts reflect this new ‘marriage’ (Elle’s Roberta Myers, Giles Bensimon, and Nina Garcia were there in force), but the partnership was evident in the gift bags guests received when leaving. In addition to the December issue of Elle Magazine, the bag was filled with 6 new heavy duty (and I mean HEAVY DUTY), life altering Redken hair products (two for men) with names like “go clean”, “grip tight”, “workforce 09”, and “headset 25”. Well, okay, so they may not really be ‘life altering’, but they will probably alter the look and feel of your hair.

When I originally contacted Valerie Steele to inquire what the dress code for the event was, she e-mailed, “Fashion Dress up - think historic costume”. Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be too many creative attendees willing to get into the spirit. Dr. Steele looked elegant and chic in a timely and romantic black Victorian inspired Comme de Garcons coat with sculptural collar, and wearable artist/designer/lecturer Marjorie Nezin was dressed in her signature statement making and exuberant manner, but most others didn’t seem to make too much of a creative effort.

Because the guest list was larger than usual for a Museum event, the party was held in two places rather than one - the cocktail party was in a hall within the main building across the street from the Museum. While I understand this was done out of need, not logistics, or aesthetics, I felt it nonetheless took away some of the ambience and intimacy that comes with having everything centralized. The extra walking did however enable you burn off some of those calories from the rich and intoxicating vodka cocktails that were being served.

The event was certainly well attended by a divergent fashion group, including some of the city’s most well respected designers. Interestingly, of the designers who showed up (including Yeohlee, DooRi Chung, Alice Roi, Roland Nivelais, Zac Posen), Zac was the only one who actually had a dress on display (it was Zac’s voluminous raffia ballgown from 2004 that he donated to the Museum).

--Marilyn Kirschner

Friday, November 11, 2005

“No Rest for the Weary”

If you think the newly retired Joan Kaner is now resting on her laurels (or just plain resting)…think again. Though the well loved Neiman Marcus VP and Fashion Director formally retired at the end of October, this past week she found herself immersed in a hub of activity and the center of attention. And her expertise was called into service just one more time before heading off to a much deserved rest in Sarasota with her family.

Just days after her well attended farewell cocktail party on Monday evening (where everybody who was anybody in the fashion world seemed to be), she was one of the panelists at Fashion Group International’s Trend Overview for Spring/Summer 2006 where she once again, “told it like it is” in the words of Marylou Luther, FGI’s formidable Creative Director. First came the audio visual presentation narrated as always by Marylou, which highlighted the most important looks and trends of the season. Her picks for “most likely to make it from runway to retail” are The Dress, The Evening Dress, The Pant, The Coat, The Shirt/The Shirtdress, Shorts, White, The Belt, The Big Bag. Afterwards, Mary Lou introduced the panel saving Joan for last.

She took a few minutes to talk about her dear friend and colleague (apologizing for having to stop now and then as her voice cracked with emotion, illustrating her palpable heart felt sadness that Joan will not be a permanent everyday part of all our fashion lives) and acknowledged that Joan not only nurtured designers and “nurtured Fashion Group”, but she also made “tons of money for Neiman Marcus”.

Joan took her place on stage with Vogue’s Sally Singer, In Style’s Alice Kim, Saks Fifth Avenue’s Michael Fink, Kirna Zabete’s Beth Buccini, and moderator, Bryan Bradley, designer of Tuleh. The New York Times fashion critic Cathy Horyn was supposed to be one of the panelists, but at the last minute, found herself having to care for her sick pooch.

Bryan Bradley focused the panel’s discussion on the idea of “anything goes” which was something alluded to during the prior presentation, but his question was, “Does anything and everything REALLY go”? Sally Singer said that for Vogue, it continues to be about personal style and a well educated customer who is attuned to what’s going on in fashion. It’s not about things matching perfectly, which is “old’ but rather, all about the mix (as perfected by designers’ muses, Kate Moss, Sienna Miller, and Sophia Coppola). She also said the magazine tries to help people be their own stylists and also said the New Minimalism is right for now because it’s understandable, relatable, and easy.

Joan Kaner immediately chimed in and took her to task on certain issues. “I’m ready for good taste” she said, in reference to the eclectic look and the notion of mixing things up. “Most people are not that secure, they want a ‘how to’, and magazines have let the customer down. Magazines are too hip and they have neglected that (professional) woman”. The one who leads a busy life, does not necessarily want to be ‘hip’, too fashion-y, or stand out in a bad way. Joan also remarked that when all is said and done, most women want to be well groomed and “look pretty”.

Bryan Bradley noted that from his experience, “women want to know 3 things each season”:
1-What should I wear to work?
2-What should I wear for a special, formal occasion?
3-What shoes should I wear?

Beth Buccini said her downtown shop has a very hip, in the know, customer and she credited Style.com with having had a lot do with that. “Style.com has revolutionized shopping” and has created a savvy, educated customer. When the subject came up about knock off houses and the speed with which so many influential designers are being copied, Beth observed that H & M and others like it “keep high end designers and business on their toes because they are being knocked off so quickly”. She acknowledged that it’s also raised the couture like handwork and attention to detail that we are now seeing (at record breaking and skyrocketing prices of course) simply because these things cannot be copied.

At the end, Bryan asked the audience if they had any questions, and some did. I couldn’t resist directing my questions to Joan: “What will you miss MOST about leaving the fashion business, and what will you miss the LEAST?”

Without hesitation, she responded: “The anticipation of a show…the thrill that comes with thinking this may be ‘THE SHOW’ where you discover that amazing design. That, and the love of fashion and the people that are special to me”.

As for what she will not miss…unsurprisingly, it was all about the well- documented grueling bi- annual show schedules (of which she has been a verbal and vocal voice). As she put it, “The 45 minute wait. There are far too many shows. Something has to be done about the schedule.” And then she spoke about her dislike of off site locations. “Off site locations ruin the whole day and don’t make the clothes look any better”. Since it was the day after Mayor Bloomberg’s re-election, it was rather timely that she also added perhaps “he could do something to help”. Fashion is big business in New York, after all.

For the record, Fashion Group has been using FIT’s Katie Murphy Amphitheatre as a venue for these events the last few years, and in my opinion, the space (right across the street from the FIT Museum) is far more intimate, personal, and appropriate, than the imposing midtown office buildings that had been used in the past.

-Marilyn Kirschner

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Victoria's Secret Fashion Show

The Victoria's Secret fashion show was back last night in NYC at the New York State Armory after skipping last year because of media criticism that it was too racy for network television. This year CBS will be broadcasting the show in early December and our photographer Randy Brooke was there shooting the show for us.

Unfortunately, Victoria's Secret will allow us to only post 10 images from the show at this time. So we posted 10 of our favorites! Click here to see current and past shows.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

‘Most Likely To Succeed”

Joan Kaner

On Monday evening, some of fashion’s biggest names and heaviest hitters congregated at Country, a restaurant located on Madison Avenue and 29th Street in the Carlton Hotel, to honor Joan Kaner, Senior Vice President, Fashion Director of Neiman Marcus, who formally retired last month. It was a perfect choice because like Joan, the restaurant is chic and understatedly elegant.

It felt like "Old Home Week" for me and a bit like having my fashion life flashing before my eyes because of the interesting and eclectic mix of people, many of whom I had not seen for years, who turned out. Of the 400 invited guests, representing every facet of the industry and spanning all generations, I spotted Ralph Lauren, Ralph Rucci, Diane Von Furstenberg, Rose Marie Bravo, Robert DeMauro, James Mischka, Mark Badgley, Fern Mallis, Ron Shamask, Ruth Finley, Freddy Lieba, Cindy Weber Cleary, Margaret Hayes, Kay Unger, CeCe Cord, Charles Chang-Lima, Anne Kampmann, Tommy Tune, Gemma Kahng, Yeohlee, Sandra Wilson, Hamish Bowles, Patti Cohen, Greg Mills, Dawn Mello, furriers Adrienne Landau, Anne Dee Goldin, and Gilles Mendel and Jerry Sorbara (at least four people in the room who are definitely NOT happy about the unseasonably warm weather we’ve been having as of late).

In addition to all Joan’s many friends and admirers, the popular and influential figure can claim quite an impressive resume. After graduating from college, she was hired as a buyer at Henri Bendel, went on to become Director, Merchandise Manager of Fiorucci in the mid 70’s, and from there, Fashion Director/Accessories and Shoes at Macys. In 1979, she landed at Bergdorf Goodman as VP and Divisional Merchandise Manager, Accessories, Fine Jewelry and Shoes; VP, Fashion Director. Afterwards, she was a consultant at I. Magnin where she reported to the then President, Rose Marie Bravo, returned to Macy’s in 1984 as Vice President, Fashion Director, Women’s ready to wear, and in 1989, resumed the same position at Neiman Marcus.

When I spoke with Joan about her imminent retirement at FGI’s International Night of Stars, several weeks ago, she expressed her excitement about this new phase of her life and finally being able to move into the house she and her husband are building, in Sarasota. Since Hurricane Wilma had just hit southern Florida the day before, and we have recently had more than our share of devastatingly destructive hurricanes here and abroad, my initial thought was, hmmmmmm though Sarasota is beautiful, how brave- perhaps it’s not the best choice for building a home. But I quickly realized, “silly me”… Joan has spent the better part of her adult life immersed in the competitive, vicious, and dog eat dog worlds of fashion and retail. She has not only survived, she has flourished. If this hasn’t prepared her for whatever life holds in store, and automatically qualify her as THE Ultimate Survivor, I don’t know what would.

Oh, and did I forget to mention that she achieved her success while retaining her dignity, remaining elegant, engaging, open, friendly, and approachable, not to mention smart, eloquent and highly quotable (I’m hardly the only one who has relied upon her for her astute observations and words of wisdom). She is an anomaly and rarity. It’s rare to find a woman (or man) in this or any business, who rises to the top of their profession without having made ONE enemy along the way, and doesn’t have an associate or two or three who can dish some dirt and cattily unearth some unattractive skeletons somewhere along the line. And though she’s a star, she’s not a diva and she’s not a snob. There are no airs about her and no artificiality. Not Joan. She is one of the most influential and talented executives in fashion and also, one of the most respected and beloved. A true class act.

By the way, not only was she valedictorian at her high school graduation and co-president of Arista Honor Society, but she was voted “most likely to succeed.” Boy, did they get that right!

-Marilyn Kirschner

Thursday, November 03, 2005

March of the Penguins:

Men always look fabulous in a classic tuxedo and thanks to Yves. St. Laurent, tuxedos, which provide a welcome alternative to something more frilly and frou, have become a wardrobe staple and must have for women as well. The legendary designer first put a woman in a tuxedo about 40 years ago when he unveiled a black grain de poudre jacket with four button down pockets and trousers at his ‘Pop Art’ autumn-winter haute couture collection in the summer of 1966 and it has been a signature of the man and the label ever since. In fact, an exhibit ‘Smoking Forever’ featuring 50 different interpretations of Yves’ ‘le smokings’ through the years opened midway through Paris Fashion Week at the Pierre Berge - Yves St. Laurent Foundation last month, and will run through April 23. It is testament to the timelessness and longevity of this perennial favorite, (about which Yves observed, “For a woman, le smoking is an indispensable garment with which she finds herself continually in fashion, because it is about style, not fashion. Fashions come and go, but style is forever.”)

Countless interpretations of the tuxedo can be found on international runways each season, as designers try to find new and improved ways to play around with this genre. Unsurprisingly, Stefano Pilati, creative director of Yves. St. Laurent Rive Gauche for the past three seasons, is one of them, infusing his latest spring 2006 collection (and his ‘le smoking’) with a decidedly Spanish flavor. In a very short time, Mr. Pilati has found himself in the limelight and has become a widely influential design force. His collections, notwithstanding some mixed reviews, have been right on the money in terms of the direction others would eventually take (such as the polka dots, cinched waists, wide belts with oversized buckles, and short rounded hip tulip skirts he showed for spring 2005 - his first solo effort for the label) and he has amassed legions of loyal customers.

Coincidentally, many of that loyal following were on hand to toast the designer who was here in New York this past week. On Tuesday evening, he was guest of honor at a cocktail reception held at Bergdorf Goodman (headed by a host committee that included Sophie Dahl, Linda Evangelista, Plum Sykes, Rachel Feinstein, and Anh Duong, among others). And the following day, he was present at a spring 2006 trunk show in his boutique on the store’s second floor. (It marked his first personal appearance “at such an event” as noted by www.fashionweekdaily.com ).

I had a chance to chat with the 40 year old Milanese born designer who is not only talented but blessed with matinee idol good looks and elegantly narrow frame - like his former boss and mentor Tom Ford. (Stefano worked under Tom Ford when he was at YSL and became creative director when Ford left). His dapper YSL menswear (natch!) charcoal gray suit was fitted to within one inch of its life and interestingly, fastened with a safety pin (I was intrigued since I have been known to do the same thing and when I asked whether it was a ‘statement’, or if he just lost the button. He said it was “both”).

Stefano admitted that he has always loved fashion and said he knew he wanted to be a designer by the age of 17. Though he had no formal schooling in design, he was obviously a quick study and began his career in menswear (first at the house of Cerutti and then Armani). Afterwards, he landed a job working for Miuccia Prada, where he scouted for fabrics, and was eventually given his chance to design both menswear and womenswear for Miu Miu. While he is ‘very’ Italian and loves Milan, he said he found the city to be rather “provincial” and he needed to be creatively challenged. As a designer, Paris is unquestionably the place to be and this is now the city he calls home.

As for those tuxedos (his delightfully youthful and feminine versions are featured in the windows of Bergdorf Goodman and the YSL Rive Gauche boutique just around the corner on east 57th street). When I questioned him about their relevance and importance, considering all the publicity they’re getting lately, I got the impression that while he certainly believes in them, they are not necessarily his most favorite items on the line. He feels that most women really don’t want to look like a man (especially now), and for big soirees (like the Oscars for example) none of the big stars ever wear them (they opt instead for drop dead gorgeous glamorous gowns). Of course, I happen to agree and this was precisely my observation in the last blog item. Tuxedos no doubt have their time and place but the bottom line is that when a woman wants to look fabulous, make an entrance, and truly stand out, there is nothing as dramatic as a beautiful dress or a long gown.

-Marilyn Kirschner