Sunday, October 30, 2005

“Starry, Starry Night”

That there is absolutely no shortage of star power in the world was confirmed for the 22nd year in a row by Fashion Group International as ‘stars’ from the heavenly galaxies of stage, screen, fashion, beauty, publishing, real estate, architecture and commerce (did I leave anything out?) collided at Cipriani 42nd Street for the annual ‘Night of Stars’. Almost no other organization has been so focused on the ‘big picture’ from its inception and done more to celebrate and illustrate the way all these worlds so perfectly interact, merge, and support one another in this increasingly global universe of ours.

Fashion Group International (www.fgi.org) is a “non-profit association of over 6,000 professionals of achievement and influence representing all areas of the fashion, apparel, accessories, beauty, and home industries”, and from the beginning it has always taken the high road with an ambitious mission to inform, educate, enhance, enlighten and be relevant and timely. It was ‘conceived’ at a luncheon in 1928 with 17 women including Edna Woolman Chase, Editor-in-Chief of Vogue, and formally became an organization in 1930. Among the group’s Founding and Charter members are such legendary icons as Eleanor Roosevelt, Elizabeth Arden, Claire McCardell, Carmel Snow, and Lilly Dache. While it began as a woman’s group, men are of course welcome and cherished members.

The annual ‘Night of Stars’, a New York tradition, was one of the first (if not THE first) fashion soirees to make such brilliant use of the celebrity factor, capitalizing on ‘star power’ in every category and predated the culture of celebrity, media blitz and paparazzi feeding frenzy that has since insued. It is one of the most highly anticipated and well attended events of the season, and has seemingly become more so each year. That the evening is about more than just looking good, but DOING good, is evidenced by the list of awards and star honorees. (What did you think Sandra Bullock and Donald Trump had in common that would have linked them together for the evening? Big hair? Well, that, and their humanitarian efforts and business acumen). Last Thursday night, with “The Romantics” as its theme (and yes, romance was palpably in the air what with all the lusciously dressed attendees air kissing under that beautiful Italian Renaissance inspired ceiling and the flickering candles casting a romantic and flattering glow on everyone), FGI paid tribute to the following:

Superstar Award: Valentino
Humanitarian Award: Sandra Bullock

Star Honorees:

Fashion: Alberta Ferretti
Ralph Rucci
Olivier Theyskens


Beauty: Pat McGrath

Architecture: William McDonough
Visionary Business Leader: Donald Trump

Fashion Oracle Award: Prosper Assouline

But while the gala is not only about jaw dropping gowns, let’s face it, it IS a fashion event after all and of course the requisite red carpet. So, what were the fashion trends of the evening? Black, black, and more black, (from lbd’s to floor length gowns and everything in between). And while young Bee Shaffer (Anna’s daughter) looked amazingly romantic in her floor sweeping and voluminous strapless Rochas gown designed by Olivier Theyskens (to whom she presented his award), some of the true knockouts were designed by another evening honoree, Ralph Rucci. Standouts included, fashion icon Deeda Blair’s architectural Rucci floor length trapeze shaped black coat; Sam Nguyen’s black feather trimmed midcalf dress (Sam is the wife of glove maker Daniel Storto and a design assistant to Ralph Rucci); and Joan Kaner’s truly beautiful bias cut satin 1 shoulder Rucci gown. By the way, Joan, who is set to retire shortly, took the stage to present Ralph with his award, and she has never looked better. Great arms!

And then there was red (coincidentally a Valentino signature) either worn alone or in combination with black. Regardless of how it was worn, it made a statement and stood out in the crowd. For example, while several guests chose glamorous long red gowns, Margaret Hayes (President of Fashion Group International), opted for a festive and eye catching Jeri Gerard red jacket worn over black pants. Even the men, who were predominantly decked out in classic tuxedos, were able to get into the act. Andre Leon Talley who presented Pat McGrath with her award, enlivened his tuxedo with the surprise of crimson red satin Manolo Blahnik slippers, and the host of the evening, the always witty and irreverent Simon Doonan, added a welcome hit of red to his tux with a vibrant red ruffled shirt.

Speaking of the men, all the honorees (and most male guests) looked elegant and dapper in their traditional tuxedos (personified by Valentino) but many gave it their own spin including honorees Ralph Rucci who left off the tie but artistically (of course) tucked a beautiful iridescent green scarf inside his perfectly fitted double breasted tuxedo jacket and added a matching mouchoir; and Olivier Theyskens, who replaced the black tie with white. With his long dark hair parted in the middle, beard, and slight frame, he looked more like a religious figure than a fashion designer.

And since furs are now de rigueur, worn long before the calendar formally announces winter, it was hardly surprising that so many women used small fur pieces (capelets, abbreviated jackets, stoles, vests) to cover their shoulders. The most popular color was white - white ermine, white fox, or white mink, as exemplified by Vera Wang clad Anna Wintour (her short white fur jacket topped a graphic black and white gown).

By the way, while much of the world is still dressing down, looking casual and wearing jeans with everything (to the chagrin of fellow guest James Galanos, who told November Harper’s Bazaar, “I try not to look anymore at what women wear for evening. It’s kind of disastrous what I see these days. It’s all jeans, jeans, jeans today with a $5,000 little blouse”), this crowd was predominantly dressed to the nines. While we are in a moment of ‘anything goes’ (for formal occasions, women can opt to wear long gowns, short dresses, tuxedos, or separates), to my way of thinking, the evening served to illustrate that when a woman wants to make a statement, make an entrance, or simply look divine, nothing is as effective as wearing something long (whether voluminous or narrow).

-Marilyn Kirschner

Friday, October 28, 2005

West Looks East: Couture for a Cause
Special Auction at Doyle New York



Chanel Couture Gown by Karl Lagerfeld and Sketch

A unique collection of 29 couture gowns and ensembles donated by well know designers will be auctioned off on Thursday November 17 at 10AM to benefit the Mosiac's Tele-Medicine Inititive: linking Children's National Medical Center (CNMC) to North Africa.

The West Looks East Collection debuted at the 2005 Annual Benefit Gala of the Mosaic Foundation in Washington, DC on May 12, 2005. Guests were treated to an historic fashion event -- a dramatic runway show of couture daywear and eveningwear donated by Chanel/Karl Lagerfeld, Christian Dior/John Galliano, Christian Lacroix, Dominique Sirop, Donna Karan, Elie Saab, Emanuel Ungaro, Gianfranco Ferre, Giorgio Armani, Jean-Louis Scherrer/Stephane Rolland, Jean Paul Gaultier, Oscar de la Renta, Ralph Rucci, Reem Acra and Valentino.

Each look exemplifies the designer's personal homage to the rich historical influences of traditional Arab design on contempory Western fashion. The design sketch accompanies each lot, providing collectors with the rare opportunity to acquire both facets of the couturier's creation.

The gowns go on exhibition from Saturday November 12 until Tuesday November 15th at Doyle New York, 175 East 87th Street. A cocktail reception and private exhibition of the collection will be held Monday November 14th at 6PM-8PM.

For further information about the auction please visit their website at DoyleNewYork.com

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Fancy That!

And the debate rages on. What is the definition of ‘modern’? It’s a common practice for fashion pros to try to put their finger on what defines ‘modern’ as they observe the styles being proposed by designers for the coming season. Not long after the spring 2006 collections ended in New York, and Milan was history, the ‘New Minimalism’ was being touted as the unofficial barometer of this notion and was the reigning Look of the Moment. Its obvious appeal lies in a certain paring down, stripping away, simplification, and purity of line, but this time around it is not as antiseptic and less scarily austere as the minimalism of the 90’s and there is far more emphasis on design and on deliciously delicate detail (a “softer, kinder” minimalism?)

This, coupled with an eased up silhouette, and almost all white or pale neutral color palette, was exemplified by Francisco Costa for Calvin in New York, who received unanimously glowing reviews and praise from both retailers and members of the press for his efforts, and later by Miuccia Prada in Milan, who is still considered to be THE MOST influential designer showing in that city and who continues to be a major force to recon with on a global scale. But of course, that was before the collections unveiled in Paris, the city where one expects to be inspired and creatively tickled. (Even when it’s not Paris’s “best season ever”, it’s still the highlight of the month long shows).

And guess what happened? Along came Nicolas Guesquiere who kicked things off with a critically acclaimed and crowd pleasing collection for Balenciaga that was a far cry from minimal. Highly embellished, deliciously frothy, decorated, and ornamental, it was an interesting and unexpected juxtaposition of Baroque modernized with bits of rock and roll and plenty of attitude (not to mention a lineup of the best models on the planet and some decidedly modern and sexy looking sandals). Cathy Horyn called it a “spree of brilliance and madness”.

But the following day, Cathy was apparently jolted by what she saw on the runway of Olivier Theyskens for Rochas, a collection that carried the fin du siecle into 2005. It was a beautiful evolution of what Theyskens had presented for fall (which was based on Victoriana) and was far more subtle, more pared down and quieter than Balenciaga. Horyn praised Olivier for his thoughtful and intelligent approach to design and his creation of a “modern uniform” (in this case, a languid somewhat relaxed pantsuit). In her words, “Olivier Theyskens’ collection tonight for Rochas clearly, handsomely and calmly established what is modern in fashion. It erased the day. It made you rethink everything you had seen since the French spring 2006 shows began on Sunday.” (Just a note, the ‘Man of the Hour’, Olivier Theyskens will be the center of attention in New York later on this month when he will be guest of honor at a party at Barneys New York, and on October 28th, he, along with fellow designers-“The Romantics”- Valentino, Alberto Ferretti, and Ralph Rucci, will be feted at Fashion Group International’s 22nd Annual Night of Stars).

The conflict and conundrum which apparently left the fashion writer befuddled was evident in her October 6th review, “while Balenciaga was rich and provocative, the Rochas show, with its tranquil palette and emphatic, uncluttered line, raises a question about what is modern.” At the very least it makes for a lively fashion dual.”

To my way of thinking, it’s not as much about a “dual” as it is about a ‘dual’ ity. Why must one philosophy win out over the other or negate the other? Why does one have to choose between plain and fancy? Why can’t both be relevant? Why can’t both happily coexist? I can just see the ongoing dual raging right now within my closets as the heavily embellished items duke it out with the simpler ones as they vie for more space, and ask, “Can’t we all just get along?”

The way I see it, there is a time and place for everything- all looks are relevant depending on one’s needs, wants, and desires. Who would want a wardrobe of just one look, just one designer, just one ANYTHING (regardless of how wonderful and fabulous it is?) “Variety is the spice of life” and “Man does not live by bread alone” (or in this case, “Woman does not live by ‘thread’ alone”). As Sara Mower put it, (in her review of the highly varied Chanel spring 2006 collection for Style.com), “In reality, fashion is now more about the availability of a gazillion simultaneous choices rather than the single, old-school designer diktat.” Exactly!

Some days you may want- or require plain, straightforward and simplified clothes. The next day, you may crave (or need) something more celebratory, expressive, decorative. If this seems schizophrenic, it is. But schizophrenic and bi-polarity as it applies to fashion is not a condition that requires medical attention – it’s the essence of modern and it was even captured in the title of Tuesday, October 11th’s ‘Fashion’ review in the New York Times, “Two Schools for Spring: Ruffled and the Reverse” by Cathy Horyn. The essence of ‘modern’ is also in knowing when each is appropriate. But perhaps the most modern of all is mixing the two together the way it was done on some of the most influential runways in the world. It continues to be all about offhanded, unexpected mixes and unorthodox pairings. It’s a balancing act and you can get away with almost anything if you know how to wear it.

Part of the success of Balenciaga was the way in which Nicolas Guesquiere mixed “architecture with airiness” (according to WWD), austere with ornamental, hard with soft, masculine with feminine, street with couture. Here in New York, some examples of clever mixing were seen at Ralph Lauren, where a lavishly embroidered frock coat was shown over a humble cotton striped t shirt, slouchy white jeans, accessorized with a gutsy wide brown belt and masses of beads, or the way in which a fitted patchwork denim skirt suit was softened with a white ruffled cotton blouse. Ralph’s use of shiny gold leather bags and shoes with sporty white cotton pieces was another good example. Michael Kors nonchalantly tossed a classic and chic khaki trench over a full midcalf tulle skirt dusted with gold sequins and added a mile long muffler, and Vera Wang put a heavy white cotton menswear shirt under a feminine black taffeta coat with puffed sleeves, belting it with a heavy brown leather belt to further ‘throw’ the look off.

The best part is that these are all things you can do without even buying new clothes- just by shopping in your own closet and experimenting with different proportions, unexpected pairings, and interesting juxtapositions. Think out of the box!

-Marilyn Kirschner

Friday, October 07, 2005

Op-Editorial: "Take Out the White Trash"

Our editorial on celebrity worship running amuck in the media written by Diane Clehane our entertainment editor created quite a stir when first published in August for our subscribers. Here is an excerpt:

"We pour over stories about a woman who first became famous thanks to a sex tape, cluck about a teenage starlet's public battles with her father and her rapidly shrinking frame, and snicker at a clueless young singer whose frequently profane musings (Just check out her interview in Allure) on life and love have more in common with a high schooler playing house for a health class project than a young woman on the brink of motherhood."

We got a tremendous response to this editorial on both sides of the issue. Let us know what you think? Click here for the complete editorial.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Grade Point Average: Spring 2006
Part 1


- By Adrienne Weinfeld-Berg

The Bryant Park Shows are a thing of the past and the craziness of The New York Collections has come and gone. But, while we were running around The Tents, we found more than just mere clothes and goodie bags to keep the excitement level high. Here, opening comments, and some really good behind-the-scenes gossip, from few of the top, front-row A-listers. Take a peek at what these industry pros had to say about the good, the bad and the down-and-out ugly; The Celebrity Factor, The Tents and Fashion Week overall. Then, draw your own conclusions.

Sascha Charnin Morrison, Fashion Director, Allure
A: “What’s going on this week? Spring fashion. It’s really beautiful. It’s very dewy; very new very fresh; lots of florals, chiffon, pale chiffon. Everything is looking really pretty, which is nice, because for Fall/Winter, it was very dark; very Goth, very voluminous. Now, it’s diaphanous, which is a nicer word, I think. It just feels like a breath of fresh air.”

“I would love to wear these clothes, but my problem is that I have twin boys, and I’m going to get something like pizza grease or something like that, all over this stuff. So, while there’s so much clothing that’s really beautiful, and so many things that I highly covet, I just don’t have that type of life.”

The C Factor: B+: “Celebrities are just a way of life right now. Celebrities are on our covers and they sell our covers. They’re the things that we obsess on. We kind of know everything there is to know about somebody now, so there’s really no big mystery anymore. But, I think celebrities at the shows add to the excitement of it all. I mean, it is a show.”

“Let’s not forget that in a certain world, this really is Show Business, so the more that the celebrity thing happens during the shows, well, it just goes along with the plan. And, it’s where we are right now in our life. It’s always been a celebrity-driven world. You can’t tell me that there’s any difference with the obsession everybody had with people like Carole Lombard, Jean Harlow, Joan Crawford, back then. I think the difference now, though, is just that we know so much more because we want to know more and there are so many ways available to us to give us ‘more’.

Also, back then, the stars were unapproachable on so many levels. Certainly, there was nothing like Fashion Week back then that made them accessible to real people. But, today, it’s evolved, and it’s a cyclical thing. It has turned into something that’s just what’s current and modern, and this is where we are right now and it just adds to the drama of the whole thing. So, even though people hate it, it’s very exciting.”

A: “As for IMG handling the shows, whatever’s going on is pretty much working. It all seems pretty civilized. The tents are great. I know where the restrooms are. I know where to get a cup of coffee. I know where I’m going and I’m very comfortable here.”

Sarah Kuhn, Associate Accessories Editor, Teen Vogue
A: “I think that the attitude at The Tents is really mellow. I feel like people in general are in a really good mood. It’s not stressful at all. People are open to seeing what’s new out there. It’s been a really good week.”

A: “Accessories are everywhere at the shows. The chunky, stacked heel and the wedge. There’s a lot of really cute, almost sixties, loafers. Lots of long necklaces. Some interesting rope necklaces. Alexandre Herskovitch, I think, is amazing, especially for Teen Vogue. He’s so fun and creative and whimsical. His feather hats are to die for.

A+: In terms of emerging designers, especially for ready-to-wear, there’s so much out there.” There’s an incredible amount of new designers this year. For example, I went to GenArt and I was just so impressed with what I saw there, both in terms of clothing and accessories. I loved LuLu Frost; she’s definitely someone to watch. She showed necklaces with numbers from The Plaza Hotel rooms. Beckerman, who showed some really cute tights with pompoms, is also great for our magazine.”

“I think that in general there’s a lot happening with new, young names, and I think we’ve gotten to the point where people, especially the press, are paying a lot of attention to them. I think that’s great.”

Joan Kaner, Fashion Director, Neiman Marcus
A: “It’s been a good week, especially for designers such as Brian Reyes, who’ve shown for the first time. I’m loving the show of ‘hands’; i.e., there’s so much intricate handwork on the clothes. Designers tend to often simplify the silhouette, shape and prints of their collections, but what so many of them have done instead this time around, is to hand-embellish their clothing in some new, eclectic ways; either with appliqué or some kind of needlework or embroidery, etc. And, all of this looks new and fresh.”

“As for all of the ruffles we’ve seen, well, there are options, of course, as there always are. But, we buy the ruffles sparingly. There are those size 0 and size 2 ladies who are going to look divine in ruffles, and then there are those mere mortals like us who are going to stay away from the ruffles. So, therein, lie the choices.”

“I love the season’s color palette, especially the pales. People are talking about a dark season; i.e., a lot of navy, a lot of brown. But, to me, the pales look beautiful; all the shades of ecru, crème, beige, rose, lilac; they look like a soft, pure wash over the fabric. Then, there’s the chiffon, which is everywhere. A hint of metallic, here and there. The fabrics that are wired, so that they crinkle on their own. Frayed edges still very much with us. I thought this particular aspect was beautifully done at J. Mendel.”

The Celebrity Factor: F: “Who the heck cares. This is where I kind of agree with Ron Galella. These are not really people I look up to. We’re here to see clothes. It’s nice that celebrities show up to support particular designers, but if they create a turmoil or they keep us waiting just so they can make a grand entrance, then I’m annoyed.”

D: “As for how the shows are running in general, I think that too many people are taking us off site, and it’s almost impossible to go downtown for one show and then come back to Bryant Park for another show. I guess because there are four shows going on every hour, and they just can’t accommodate more than one show at a time here; that’s unfortunate. And, the other question is, as we say every season: if some of these young people would band together, they would save themselves a lot of money and a lot of time by doing 15-minute presentations, each day, in the morning and at night. You’d then have a one-hour, group presentation of four young people because all you need to see is l5 pieces, to know if they have talent and whether or not you want to go back and see more.”

Ross The Intern, The Tonight Show/Jay Leno
At Michael Kors: A: “I just got into town last night; this is my first show. There’s a big buzz around town about Fashion Week. Everybody I’ve seen so far has been asking me, ‘are you in town for the shows?’ I guess they just assume that’s what I’m here for. I’m doing a special Fashion Week report on the show, and also something about The San Gennaro Festival.”

“I just think that it’s all about being in New York City for the shows; it’s so exciting. Everybody’s thrilled. This is their world and since they only get two of these a year, they just can’t seem to get enough of it.”

A: “I thought Kors was fun. I like color, and even though he didn’t show a lot of it, the show was definitely wonderful. I totally want one of the textured scarves.
The C Factor: A+: Oh my god, no, I definitely don’t think celebrities take away from the shows. I loved seeing Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones at Kors. It’s all about the fashion and the celebrities being here. It’s about all of it. Take away one element, and it’s not Fashion Week anymore. I like it this way. I think it’s fun, and I think it puts an even bigger spotlight on the fashion, which is important. After all, that’s why everybody’s here.”


Kelly Kuan, Editor-in-Chief, ZooZoom.com
“Regarding the shows this season, I think it’s much better than in past seasons. One season was especially chaotic. I don’t know if it was the transition between Mercedes and Olympus, but it was just a nightmare. Being out in the main hall was a disaster. Seating at the shows was terrible. I had seating at virtually all the shows, but once I got there, I couldn’t even get close because somebody had already pinched my seat. So, that’s no good. But I haven’t really seen much or any of that this season. It’s been really good. I have to say that I haven’t had a bad experience.”

F: “However, Nanette Lepore this season was probably a disaster. One of our editors waited several hours in the lobby of The Tents before queing up for this show to get her seat assignment. She was given a preferred standing seat, which pretty much meant that she was going to get into this show. But, then, she got to the very front of the que, and that was it. They wouldn’t let anybody else in, which meant, no Nanette, or no Nanette in the way we wanted to report on the show, on ZooZoom.com.”

“I think the whole event was poor planning. The PR company definitely had us on the list. They knew who we were. My guys were already in the house. My photographer was front of house and my videographer was backstage. They were ready and live, and all they needed to get going was a reporter. Ultimately, we’ll show the pictures, but I won’t be able to blog it and I won’t be able to add the personal editions that we do with every other designer we see. Because when you’re there, you know as any reporter, that you see nuances of things going on; you see who’s there, you see and feel the vibe and the energy of the show itself, which is a performance. So, if you cannot see that, and you’re only looking at still pictures, you don’t get that.”

The C Factor: D-:“It is very celebrity driven, and I think that IMG focuses on this. Because if they believe in the philosophy, as does most media, that if you bring in the celebrities, you’ll bring attention to that venue, to that event or that entity, then, to a lesser degree, they’re correct.”

“But, the point of 7th on Sixth and the point of having these shows is not for celebrity value. That’s why we have The Oscars. So, I think all of the celebrities at the shows is too much. And, because of this, I think that actually there’s a lot of people who don’t get the kind of recognition they need. The focus is not on that. The clothes are almost an afterthought, which is a shame.

You know, New York has to fight for the creative end in the whole hierarchy of fashion worldwide. We’re going head to head with Paris all the time, and we’re always being called the consumer; everything is about sales for us. American fashion is about dollars and we’re constantly going against that. So, I think it’s about time that we actually get out of that because this is not entirely about what all American fashion is all about. There’s an enormous amount of talent here, and they’re not getting the kind of exposure they deserve. The celebrity thing comes first and foremost because it draws a lot of attention to itself.”

Ruth Finley, Publisher, Fashion Calendar
C: “In my opinion, there are too many fashion shows. Ten years ago, we had one show every hour, and it was a wonderful arrangement. Now, on some days, we have five shows in one hour, which is an impossible situation. Many people are anxious to get to least two of those shows, but they can only get to one, obviously. And, I wish there were some way to solve that problem.”

“Also, it’s very difficult when some shows are located far away from The Tents. If you have to get to a show on 11th or 12th Avenues, with traffic in the city being what it is, especially this week, when the president and so many foreign dignitaries were in town for the Anniversary Celebration of the UN, which we knew about beforehand, it’s just extremely tough. So, when that happens, it then makes the entire day run late. And, that’s with buses taking you there from The Tents. And, when it comes to the question of why these designers choose to show off-site, it’s not because they can’t afford to show at Bryant Park, it’s that some of them simply do not want to show there.”

“Obviously, we could not change the dates of Fashion Week because of the European Shows, which started right after New York, and we couldn’t do anything before Labor Day. So, there was no solution. However, what I did try to do was to arrange to have no shows on the East Side of the city where the UN is, but 42nd Street is so impossible. It takes around 40 minutes to get from Bryant Park just to Fifth Avenue, it’s so jammed.

A: “As for what IMG has done since they’ve taken over Fashion Week in New York, I think we have more shows at Bryant Park now, and that’s a very good thing to have the majority of shows at one central location. Many people don’t even leave Bryant Park. “They don’t even go to the off-site shows, particularly in this very hot weather.”

The C Factor: B: “This is definitely becoming extremely important to many name designers and it helps their PR. I don’t object to celebrities coming to the shows, but some people do. And, I definitely do not think it takes away from the fashion on the runway.”


Barbara Berman, BB’s Backstage:
Best first timer: A+: UPS Hub Tent People’s Revolution at The Altman Building
Best backstage catering: A: Tuleh Altman Building – Le Pain Quotidien
Biggest backstage challenge: C: Celebrity stylists who don’t understand runway shows.
Biggest backstage disappointment: D: The number of people smoking despite fire codes and health risks.
Most annoying sponsor: F: WE Entertainment – lining up for those bags
Biggest backstage peeve: F: Photographers who insist on taking pictures of models changing.

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 Cunninghan, 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