Sunday, January 29, 2006

Ninth Annual Rising Star Awards

The ninth annual Rising Star Awards were presented over lunch on Thursday, January 26, 2006 in the Trianon Ballroom at the New York Hilton. These awards, given by The Fashion Group International, celebrate innovation, creativity, and accomplishment in eight beauty, fashion, and design fields. The keynote address was given by Liz Lange, who spoke of some of the challenges she faced in building her own fashion business.

Presenters included such fashion luminaries as Carlos Falchi, who presented the award for accessories to Michael Spaulding and George Gublo of Gunmetal. Robert Lee Morris presented the award for fine jewelry to Roberto Faraone Mennella and Amedeo Scognamiglio of Faraone Mennella. The award for men’s apparel was presented by John Bartlett to Thom Browne. Other winners included Clement Gavarry of International Flavors and Fragrances, Laurice Rahme of Bond No. 9 New York, Dylan Lauren of Dylan’s candy Bar, Ernest de la Torre of de la Torre Design Studio, and Brian Wolk and Claude Morrais of Ruffian who tied with Phillip Lim in the category of women’s apparel.

-Rhonda Erb

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Mid Winter’s Night Dream

Marilyn Kirschner at the Winter Antique Show opening party photographed by Bill Cunningham for The New York Times Sunday January 22 edition.

Last week I had the pleasure of conducting a video taped interview with style iconoclast and true fashion original Iris Barrel Apfel (the subject of Rara Avis at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute) for our Master of Fashion Series (made possible by our sponsor, Fashion GPS) which will be up and running in about one week. I asked Ralph Rucci, who has known her for about 3 or 4 years (they first met at the Adrian exhibit at the Costume Institute though Iris had been wearing his designs long before) to comment on this special woman.

He was quick to note that paradoxically “she’s interested in the new, yet entrenched in tradition”, she’s “unpretentious and totally non judgmental” and “she and Carl (her husband of almost 48 years) make you feel comfortable and cozy as if you’ve known them your whole life”. He also observed, “You really get what love’s about with them”. Naturally, the conversation I had with Iris kept going back to the relationship between fashion, textiles, and home décor. I say “naturally”, because as everyone must know by know, Iris and Carl, founded Old World Weavers about 50 years ago, the legendary textile and interior design company, which claimed some of the most prominent clients in the world.

That there is a long and storied relationship between how one chooses to cover one’s body and how one decorates one’s home, cannot be denied and I have long believed that in order to qualify as truly stylish, one can’t just think about looking good on the outside but by definition, must have a corresponding home environment (whatever that might be). By the way, this is exempflied by Mrs. Apfel, whose apartment, with is colorful, eclectic, highly personal, exuberant and expressive style, (filled in every corner with witty juxtapositions of high/ low and global references), perfectly reflects and mirrors her fashion sense. In fact, it’s hard to tell where the fashion ends and the interior décor begins (and visa versa). It’s all one consistent, cohesive, and continuous visage.

Need more proof of this relationship? The 52nd Annual Winter Antique Show at the Seventh Regiment Armory (, a benefit for East Side House Settlement in the South Bronx and the granddaddy of all antique shows which still sets the standard, is chaired by Chanel’s Arie L. Kopelman, it’s Opening Night Party (held on Thursday, January 19th) was sponsored by Elle Décor Magazine, and the Young Collectors’ Night (to be held on Thursday, January 26th) is sponsored by Reed Krakoff for Coach.

I had the privilege of attending the Opening Night Party, and of course, this highly anticipated and always well attended event lived up to its expectations- a class act all the way (it didn’t hurt that the highly professional company, La Force & Stevens, was enlisted to handle public relations). Even the weather cooperated. Talk about global warming… you know something’s going on with the weather, when the Opening Night Party of the Winter Antique Show, which almost always falls on the COLDEST evening in January, is met instead, with delightful, almost balmy temperatures. And when you factor in the sheer number of attendees, lets just say that things really heated up inside. This of course, did not stop the stubborn fashion die hards from leaving on their fur trimmed jackets, small fur pieces, big fur coats, or fur boas (one must suffer for fashion, no? Well, actually, no…but that’s another story).

And talk about going from the sublime to the ridiculous, the party had it all: museum quality collectibles of all kinds, great food, great champagne and wine, and of course, great people watching: everyone from George Washington (well okay, a GW look a like- there was a special loan exhibition of George Washington’s Mount Vernon and the costume clad gent was manning the booth), to a cross dresser in a vintage black cocktail dress from the 50’s paired with a fuchsia wig, and everything in between. Rubbing elbows in the crowded aisles were elegant and fashionable collectors (like Aerin Lauder, Jamee Gregory, CeCe Cord, Nina Griscom, Somers Farkas, Bettina Zilka, Amy Fine Collins), domestic diva Martha Stewart, fashion veterans (Helen O’Hagan, Kasper), and designers- Richard Lambertson, B. Michael, and Mr. Lauren. (Well, okay, so it wasn’t Ralph but older brother Jerry with whom Ralph founded Polo Fashions decades ago and who is now head of Polo Menswear). Jerry Lauren, bedecked in an elegant and signature Ralph Lauren pinstripe suit was accompanied by wife Susan, who was dressed in a chic and sleek black Ralph Lauren skirt suit from 2005.

He admitted to me that they are in the throws of putting finishing touches on the men’s fall 2006 collection, having just left brother Ralph back in the offices in order to come to the opening night party. When I tried to pry some information from him on what Ralph is planning for his upcoming women’s collection, he was tightlipped but when I brought up the name of Iris Apfel, Jerry confirmed that Ralph was completely taken with the ‘Rara Avis’ exhibit at the Met (which he recently saw with a group of his designers in tow). In fact, Iris told me a few days prior that Ralph even offered her a job on the spot (though she assumed he was kidding) and was blown away by how ‘freeing’ the exhibit was for him. It did not go unnoticed for me, that Ralph’s last collection, for spring 2006, was dubbed ‘freewheeling’ so I guess you can say that Ralph is in a ‘freewheeling’, ‘free- spirited’ mood. You can bet the zany, eccentric, eclectic, global aesthetic of Iris Apfel will be very much on view when he unveils his women’s collection in February, as has been widely speculated.

Speaking about fashion, admittedly, most of the extremely well heeled guests I saw were conservatively dressed in suits, black dresses, or simple separates (this was after all, not a fashion party), but there were some creative types, including one woman wearing a graphic black and white Issey Miyake top, and another wearing a jaw droppingly enormous and bold Coppolo e Toppo silver leaf collar I had recognized from Doyle New York’s Couture and Textile auction this past November. She confirmed that she bid far more than she intended to, but really wanted it, and more importantly, wanted to outbid another woman. Boy, she was not kidding. The catalogue estimated it would go for $2500 to $3500, and it sold for $16,000!

When pondering what to wear for the event (an antique show at an armory), I decided the perfect and most appropriate thing to don was my grommeted vintage coat that resembles a coat of armor. When I bought it at a vintage show, the dealer only said that it was a military costume but had no other information. I hoped that this event would be the place to find someone (a dealer or customer) with more knowledge as to its lineage. Alas, that didn’t really happen, though one attendee suggested that it was from the Knights of the Roundtable, while a dealer thought it was Shakespearean. What I hadn’t counted on was that there would be a booth (London based Peter Finer, entirely devoted to exceptional pieces of European arms and armor, in which I felt quite at home (I actually looked like I belonged) and which certainly made for some interesting conversations and photo ops.

If I have any complaint about the evening, it’s that I wish the handsome and large Wathne umbrellas with wood handles, which were given out to all guests as they left the Armory, were available in any other color than royal blue. But as they say, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”

-Marilyn Kirschner

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Remembering Kal

The late Kal Ruttenstein, the beloved, well respected, highly visible and legendary fashion figure who had been Senior Vice President, Fashion Direction, for Bloomingdales the past 28 years of his life, was lovingly remembered at an upbeat, often poignant, and entertaining memorial service held Wednesday at a jam packed Carnegie Hall. Everything about the proceedings, (which were made possible by Bloomingdales’ Chairman and CEO, Michael Gould) was quite fitting and served as a memorable tribute - a class act all the way from beginning to end.

Printed programs were handed out to all who came (entitled, ‘Bloomingdale’s Remembers Kalman “Kal” Ruttenstein’), featuring a cover shot taken on July 11, 2002 after he received his Legion of Honor Award in Paris, and one taken of Kal by Patrick McMullan during this past fashion week on the back. Called for 11 a.m., the proceedings didn’t start fashionably late, but elegantly and thoughtfully on time and lasted almost one and a half hours during which some of the fashion world’s biggest fashion names took the podium to reminisce, often holding back tears. This was broken up by entertaining interludes of beautiful music and song (again- highly fitting since Kal was known for his love of music and specifically, the musical theatre).

On stage, a pair of Kal’s signature silver running shoes, were propped up on their own little stool (which served as a reminder of the man) and against the back wall there was a continuing montage of pictures of Kal, dating from early childhood all the way up to the end (he passed away on December 8th). A prelude of Dvorak’s Scherzo from Terzetto, Op. 74, performed by two violins and a viola was followed by the speakers. Michael Gould noted that Kal’s “destiny was to be a teacher and a mentor” and he remembered Kal’s “passion for fashion which was contagious” as well as the “things Kal taught us” (“to never stop looking”, “to reach for the stars”, and that “to be a great merchant, you must be able to see the unseen.”)

Ralph Lauren, clad in an elegant dark suit and tie, admitted that he would never start a show if Kal was not there and remembered that Kal was “quite simply, in love with fashion” . He also spoke of his trademark athletic wear (colorful, oversized parka and clashing running shoes) which became his uniform, especially during Fashion Week, and which were symbols of this “whimsical and happy man.” It’s “an image that always remains in my mind.”

Suzy Menkes had the audience literally in stitches as she remembered how Kal loved food and eating out and relished taking her to whatever the hot new restaurant was. (“He really wanted to be the restaurant reporter for the International Herald Tribune”, she jokingly told the audience). She also recalled that she had done “a lot of laughing with Kal” and that even though she had a typically British sense of humor, he ‘got it’. She also observed that he was “interested in anything that was new and that would excite him”, that “his passion for fashion was grounded in the reality of commerce” and that “he is the end of an era. We won’t see his likes again.” She ended by holding back tears in her observance, “I love fashion, I loved Kal, and I will miss him so much.” This was followed by Rent’s Daphne Ruben-Vega celebration of Kal’s life in song.

Charles Chapin, Kal’s Princeton schoolmate (Class of ’58- they met in French class) remembered that he was “a loud opera diva”, that he jokingly referred to his stroke as “his skateboarding accident”, and that even though he was a fashion legend, he was above all “a treasured friend.”

Donna Karan choked back tears when noting that “we never thought he would ever really go and he’s always with us” and she admitted “his was the first opinion I wanted after a show.” She recalled how she first met Kal in the 70’s when designing for Anne Klein (teasing that she was about “16 or 17” which had the audience laughing) and he was the fashion director for Bonwit Teller. “He was the first at everything” and she fondly remembered that he introduced her to the Queen. She also stated “Kal wearing my clothes was the coolest thing ever” and ended with the observation that he was such a “good knockoff artist”, he was able to “deliver the clothes we did BEFORE we delivered them”.

Marvin Traub, the former Chairman and CEO of Bloomingdales who hired Kal as Fashion Director in the 70’s, reminisced about his 15 year partnership and 30 year friendship with Kal (whom he referred to as “larger than life”) and remembered him for his 5 key roles: 1- Kal the Inspirer, 2- Kal the Creator, 3- Kal the Visionary, 4- Kal the Fashion Conscience for Bloomingdales, and 5- Kal the Fashion Junkie (he enjoyed the best of everything- the best restaurants, the best trends, the best fashion, etc.) He ended saying, “I’ll never be able to attend a fashion show without thinking of Kal Ruttenstein”.

Chantal Rousseau, President of Bloomingdales Europe, remembered that Kal was a true celebrity, a larger than life figure people expected to see at the shows (“Paris will miss him”); Sibyl Piccone, his assistant for 35 years who answered his phone, spoke of his humanity and his thoughtful nature. Even though he could be “very demanding and a perfectionist” he quickly thanked her for a job well done. This was followed by another musical tribute from Daphne Ruben-Vega singing, “Without You.”

Marc Jacobs remembered Kal as “one of my greatest lifelong supporters and friends who was amongst the first to come and see my collections.” And he fondly recalled how he would always say, “we have to do windows”, even after the infamous Grunge collection. (By the way, Kal was one of the few who ‘got’ the Grunge collection). Marc had the audience howling when he spoke of the time Kal was in the hospital and had a “transgender nurse” that he thought looked like Linda Evangelista and told Marc he should use him in his next fashion show. “For me it will never feel the same during fashion week without him at the shows”.

Kenny Karlstein, Kal’s best friend for 33 years called Kal a “romantic old soul” and “a quintessential old world gentleman”, but at the same time, “he celebrated what was new and young.” It ended with 11 clean cut young men (the Princeton Footnotes), clad in their Ivy League navy blue blazers, chino trousers, crisp white shirts, and red and blue striped ties and penny loafers, singing two musical tributes, a Capella. And it all had me wishing I had gotten to know Kal Ruttenstein better.

-Marilyn Kirschner

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Fashion Week ‘Preview’:

With the frenetic holiday season now ‘history’ and the fall 2006 collections looming in the near future, most of us are back to reality - or at the very least, back in town. So it couldn’t have been a more perfect time for the cocktail party given by Donna Karan this past Thursday evening to honor Steven Kolb, the new executive director of the CFDA. Held at the Stephen Weiss Studio (Stephen of course, is Donna's late sculptor/husband) in the far reaches of the West Village, the cavernous space (a former garage) was transformed into a nightclub for the festive event. And it seemed that tout le monde (of the fashion world, anyway) turned out.

Against the beat of lively music pounding in the background, there were the requisite air kisses and audible shouts of “Happy New Year”, and an array of artistic and creative nibbles and drinks were enjoyed by the likes of Oleg Cassini, Vera Wang, Michael Kors, Diane Von Furstenberg, Isabel Toledo, Simon Doonan, Roland Nivelais, Behnaz Sarafpour, Carolina Herrera, Fern Mallis, Stan Herman, Louis Dell’ Olio, Marylou Luther, Virginia Smith, Ruth Finley, Ed Filipowski, Margaret Hayes, Dr. Valerie Steele, Cathy Hardwick, Sal Cesarani, Robert Bryan, Cindy Weber Cleary, and Peter Arnold (who left his post as the Executive Director of the CFDA vacant when he agreed to become President of John Varvatos Enterprises, and who recently announced he was leaving that position).

Ms. Karan, long known for her love affair with shoulders (she seemingly never met a shoulder she didn’t like) was clad in signature body defining black layers, topped off by her cardigan, which she periodically tugged on to reveal both her shoulders and the bare, plunge front sleeveless tunic worn beneath. (Let’s face it; Donna is definitely NOT a turtleneck kind of gal). While it was cool outside in the chill of the winter evening, it was downright sweltering inside and most guests came dressed for the cold. Many of them, including yours truly, stubbornly left on their outerwear despite the heat (including Michael Kors who was clad in a black puffy parka, and Adrienne Landau, who wore a mirror encrusted coat lavishly trimmed with Mongolian lamb). In fact, Donna seemed to be one of the few who appeared to be wisely prepared for the rising temperature, a fact which had me chuckling in speculation that she had purposely adjusted the thermostat to accommodate her penchant for shoulder and décolleté baring and to show off her great shape (of course I’m kidding, but hey, this is fashion, so anything is possible!)

Because the evening was a fashion celebration, and New York Fashion Week is less than one month away, fashion design, fashion shows, and the seemingly never ending (and never changing) fashion cycle were on everyone’s minds. The latter two were certainly on the mind of Patti Cohen, Donna Karan’s childhood pal and the company’s Executive Vice President, Global Marketing and Communications.
When I greeted Patti and asked how she was, she bemusedly replied, “same old, same old, nothing changes” and immediately referenced Cathy Horyn’s December 22nd article “Fashion Is Two Clicks Behind. She couldn’t agree more that the “fashion industry is still stuck in the 70’s”. “The process that we do and how we do it has not changed since the 70’s. First you have the fashion shows, then you have to ship, then you’re late shipping, and then come the markdowns, and then you can’t get it made. And this happens twice a year (if not more)”.

I asked if Donna, (who always loves tackling problems and moving forward), would love to find the answer, Patti quickly agreed, “Donna’s dying to have the answer”.

When Stan Herman looked around and marveled out loud at the wonderful space that defined the Stephen Weiss Studio, with its beautiful second floor garden, (it’s been the venue for Donna’s past three collection runway shows), Patti noted with chagrin, “it’s too small for Donna’s shows” and voiced her frustration at not being able to accommodate all the people she would like to. “We should show in the BIGGEST possible space (like Louis Vuitton and others who show to about 1000 guests). We need a space that accommodates thousands of people because that’s what you do a show for, not to have to limit it and say, ‘no, no, no’. It KILLS me. I can’t tell you. When you sell all over the world like Donna, and you have all these retailers and freestanding stores and international press in China and India - they all come. What do you do? That’s why it’s horrible.”

She also voiced her frustration at not having the budget for more than just one show (“I don’t have money any more”). And then there’s the conflict between art and commerce which was apparent in her precise description of the laborious way in which no stone goes unturned in staging that all important show. “We doven (pray) over the background, what the seat covers are going to look like. We bend it, we change it, we do it. “Donna wants, ‘intimate’. How do you have ‘intimate’ with 500 people?” she exasperatedly asked. (Good question and certainly, I don’t have the answer).

Speaking about fashion shows, they are obviously on the mind of Isabel Toledo, a designer I have long admired, who has not staged a formal runway show in many years is planning to next year. "I can't wait to do a show again. I'm really looking forward to it” she told me when I asked if this was in the future. How does she describe her aesthetic? "Evolving. Allowing myself to evolve and not be pinned down, stereotyped, or pinpointed to one thing. It's really about design and how it evolves.”

Who are her design ‘Gods’? “Mme. Gres, Vionnet, Balenciaga.” But she also had praise for her contemporaries. “Everyone has something to say- just as long as you are saying what you feel and not what the masses are telling you to say. It's about having an identity that says why you are doing what you're doing."

When I asked how she feels about the current state of fashion, she said, “The one thing I love is that fashion is available to everybody. Everything is available to everyone; therefore we need the designers to move forward. It gives us a challenge. And we should be challenged constantly."

What inspires this intelligent thinker? "Construction. I’m interested in how garments are made. I get a lot of inspiration from how things are made. I love the making of things- not just the end results”. The Parsons and FIT student never actually graduated which proved to be a major influence on her designs. "I took ceramics instead...I worked on the wheel all the way around (and she motioned with her hands) and that was an influence on me because I see everything three dimensionally. As you can see from my seams."

What's on Adrienne Landau's mind for fall 2006? Well, though things might change, for the moment, it's Aspen 1970's. "I'm feeling Aspen 1970's, Cher, funky cowboy hats…. rock and roll funk” (characterized by "oversized things on the backs of jackets that make a statement”). What else? “Easy and comfortable jersey knits, sweatery things with a lot of textures, and CRAZY hand knits…very artisinal. I have some really great shapes!"

On Roland Nivelais’s mind is a return to his roots (which means more structure, more boning, and more couture like fit for his decidedly dressed up and sophisticated evening wear).

Peter Arnold’s next career move is obviously on his mind as he begins the New Year. The extremely popular former CFDA executive director will be pondering his job options ("I have four things on the table that I have to decide between. Four good things. But I'm taking my time.”)

Will the former lawyer return to the law or stay in fashion? "There's no turning back once you leave a law firm. So it will be something in fashion. I love fashion!" When I asked if he had any regrets about leaving the CFDA in the first place, he said without hesitation, "I left the CFDA for the right reasons. It was four amazing years. I feel I took the place from one point and brought it to another and now it's time for somebody else to come in and do it. It feels right to me. It feels like it was enough time and I was able to accomplish enough”.

How soon after he assumed the title of President of John Varvatos did he know it would not work out? "It was really tricky for me and for John (who he referred to as “a great guy and very talented”). “John was philosophically ready for a president but then I think the reality of it was problematic and ultimately challenging for both of us. So I think we both realized this may not be the best fit for either of us. But it was very amicable and it was a great experiment and it was six good months during which I learned a lot. So now, instead of sitting at the CFDA and saying, “Oh the business of fashion is really hard”, now I REALLY KNOW how hard it is and how challenging it is.”

-Marilyn Kirschner