Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Doncaster: Keeping Tradition Alive

Doncaster (www.doncaster.com), whose parent company is Tanner Companies, was originally founded in 1931 as the Doncaster Collar and Shirt Company in Rutherfordton, North Carolina by S.B. (Bobo) Tanner, Jr. and his wife Millie. They named it after Doncaster, England, a town they visited (and fell in love with) while on their honeymoon.

In 1935, their ‘basic’ product took a glamorous and fashionable turn when the shirtwaist, for which they became known, started to be sold through the Junior League of Charlotte, N.C. This very same tradition of “personal service” achieved through in-home shopping continues today: the Doncaster Collection is only available through ‘Wardrobe Consultants’, and is not sold in stores or online (well, not yet).

While the company is decades old, they have just recently begun to spread the word and capitalize on their storied past. Lippe Taylor, www.lippetaylor.com (their public relations firm) organized a viewing for their holiday 2006 collection last week and it’s only their second showroom event (their first, for fall/winter, was held several months ago).

What caught my eye upon entering the reception area of Doncaster’s lower 5th Avenue showroom (aside from the handsome beaux arts building that serves as the company’s New York headquarters and its decidedly ‘off’ 7th Avenue locale), were the vintage black and white photos lining the wall, featuring pretty, fresh faced, wholesome young women wearing the company’s signature items. The one that really stood out was a completely unrecognizable, pre-Hollywood Jane Fonda clad in a shirtwaist dress; the item that started it all back in 1935. It perfectly sums up the philosophy and captures the mood of the 75 year old family owned and operated sportswear company.

The line, which for the last 7 years is designed by Cathy Schepis (though not a member of the family by blood, she is treated as though she is) retails from about $110 to $2200 (the most expensive item is a handsome honey colored shearling coat). Doncaster knows their customer (and she IS loyal), is not trying to be all things to all people, and considers themselves to be “ahead of the curve but easy to wear”. But that doesn’t mean there are no novel, ‘newsy’ items mixed in with the more traditional suits, sweaters, knitwear ensembles.

Notable examples are the aforementioned shearling coat; the boxy rust suede cardigan jacket trimmed with gold nail heads ($450) which was shown with glen plaid cropped wool cuffed pants; an ivory chain stitched wool sweater with taupe corduroy pants; a textural black rayon/nylon/spandex cardigan trimmed with silver pailletes $420, shown over a lurex striped t ($250); a bow trimmed wool/lurex black and white tweed jacket ($595); a gold brocade pantsuit (the jacket is $495 and the pants are $420); a red leather jacket ($695) shown with black leather ‘miracle’ pants ($695); the pants are so named because they are guaranteed to fit like a dream while miraculously slimming and sculpting the torso; and the leopard printed silk shell ($170) and matching long scarf (sold separately).

For more information, contact Charly Rok or Jamie Rudolph, Lippe Taylor, 212 598 4400, X 155, 162.

-Marilyn Kirschner

Monday, July 17, 2006

Majorie Mortensen Selling Non-Vintage Accessories

‘Decoration’ Day

Weekends spent in the city are a perfect time to visit the indoor/outdoor Greenflea Market located on Columbus Avenue between 76th and 77th street. Given the ongoing fascination with decorative accessories, (a trend that shows no signs of abating) one person I always make a point of visiting is Marjorie Mortensen, who was the subject of my Daily Fashion Report back in July 2004 “You gotta hand it to her” .

Marjorie Mortensen is one of the best (AND reasonably priced) vendors selling non-vintage accessories anywhere around town. On any given Sunday, she can be found at the indoor/outdoor Greenflea Market, located on Columbus Avenue between 76th and 77th streets, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., where she has been a fixture for about 20 years. You can find her inside the school building, and you can't miss her because she has the most dazzling displays.

This very interesting New Yorker - who studied literature and loves home decor as much as accessories (which she claims to "buy to sell" rather than to collect or wear herself), told me she was one of the co-founders of the Tibet Center on East 28th street more than 25 years ago, where she set up the first Tibetan Bazaar and taught Tibetan cooking. It quickly became a Mecca for such acclaimed visitors as James Beard. The experience got her interested in selling. As they say, the rest is history.

Marjorie is consistent in both her eclectic selection (there’s something for everybody) AND her great prices. And while she thankfully tries to stock certain things all the time (like her AMAZING surrealistic lip and hand pins), she certainly does her homework and you can be sure that the assortment will change every so often.

This past Sunday I was especially taken with her exceptional cache of oversized statement making plastic chains and beads (ranging in color, size, shape and priced from about $16 to $30). Some of which like the large mod inspired black and white discs could be used as a belt or a necklace; jeweled pins, pin on flowers, and of course, watches.

Among those items that really caught my eye were the enormous multi color stoned butterfly pin ($80), the jeweled floral brooches, the $50 oversized round faced watch with black elastic band and Velcro closing (Marjorie had Swarovski crystals added to the face), and the colorful, chunky and eye catching long necklace ($40) made of individually made beads of yarn and beaded fabric.

Marjorie’s current favorite (and mine) is the whimsical jeweled skeleton pin. Given the fashion world’s obsession with thinness (so hilariously captured in “The Devil Wears Prada”), I found this especially timely. And just think, by simply wearing this pin, you’ll have friends commenting how “you look like a skeleton of your old self” without even having to lose an ounce. Just a note,this is not recommended for Nicole Richie.

Standouts among the items she sells, which range in price from about $4 to $165 (for a rhinestone bracelet) include her incredible selection of silk and leather flower pins which come in every size, shape, and variety imaginable. She admitted she does very well with them, since she began selling those 6 months ago. Also catching my eye were her colorful and fanciful jeweled nature friendly dragonfly and butterfly pins (the large dragonfly sells for $32). By the way, the butterfly was used throughout John Ray's Gucci Men's spring/summer 2005 runway show in Milan - a butterfly print was used on some shirts and caftans, and butterfly pins accessorized chicly tailored jackets.

And I can't leave out her surrealist grouping of red lips that undoubtedly would have made Salvador Dali smile. Coincidentally, Marjorie told me she met Dali and his wife Gala in the late 50's through a photographer friend and frequently socialized with the couple in the early 60's.

But speaking of surreal, my 'hands down' favorite is her 3 inch rhinestone hand punctuated with perfectly manicured ruby red jeweled nails. It is one of the best buys in the city and the ideal way to make a statement.

She counts major fashion magazine editors, designers, actors, and "Lincoln Center people" amongst her loyal customers. My suggestion: run, do not walk!

-Marilyn Kirschner

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Lunch at Michael's Column

Our entertainment editor Diane Clehane is now one of the media insiders that Media Bistro has tapped to pen its very popular Lunch at Michael's column. The report appears on the site every Wednesday afternoon (the most popular day at the restaurant favored by heavy hitters like Ron Perlman, Barbara Walters, Liz Smith and scores of Conde Nast editors). Editorial Director Dorian Benkoil asked Diane to lend her fashionista's eye and unique point of view to infuse more style into the weekly chronicle of Manhattan's movers and shakers. Check out Diane's first column this morning. Click here to read article.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

To The "Max"

‘Trophy Girls’ black beaded gowns for the ladies who gave out the 2005 Oscar Awards

This past week I had the pleasure of meeting the young, talented, (unapologetically non-minimalist) couturier Max Nugus (www.maxnugus.com) at his Madison Avenue atelier (1065 Madison Avenue, 212-249-0162). Since his aesthetic defines the notion ‘More is More’, his given name could not be more fitting. “I like to do treatment on things…I don’t want to do just fabric, even fur. So if we do furs, we put ribbon on it, we slash it…we make life difficult on ourselves” he joked.

While Max is not shy about admitting monetary success is certainly part of the motivation, he is hardly in it only for the money and that is immediately apparent upon talking with the inventive designer and Arnold L. Goodman (his General Manager), a longtime veteran of 7th Avenue whom I first met years ago when he managed Revillion Furs and I was at Harper’s Bazaar. By the way, he and Max are so compatible they practically finish each other’s sentences.

The Bangkok born San Francisco resident, whose father was a diplomat, grew up in many different cities (Hong Kong, Tokyo, Vienna, and London) and was therefore exposed to many varied cultures and lifestyles. He made the decision to study fashion design in San Francisco rather than New York because being from an Asian family, where a premium is put on higher education, it was important to his family that he received a 4 year degree (a BFA) which is not always possible at traditional fashion schools.

In 1991, while still in school he decided to open up a boutique in San Francisco, followed by Beverly Hills, Palm Desert, Phoenix, Houston and finally New York. (Phoenix and Houston were ‘experimental’ for about one year but he hopes to go back to Houston again).

When I asked who his “design Gods” were (beside himself of course) the ambitious designer proclaimed, “If I want to model myself after a person, I would say “Oscar de la Renta”. I want to reach his success, or Valentino, that’s what I want to do.”

“I don’t want to be commercialized like Versace (when he was still alive) or Dolce & Gabbana. l want to do clothing that is timeless and that lasts...I don’t want to do fads, and I don’t want to have underwear licensees. Or socks, or cigarettes” he laughed amusedly. He certainly knows himself, he knows his customers, and is not trying to be all things to all people.

Arnold Goodman interjected, “he (Max) wants to keep creating and the way to do that is through creating dresses and this type of marvelous, glamorous clothing.”

Which celebrities has he dressed? Glen Close for the Oscars two years ago (a black beaded tuxedo pantsuit and coat), as well as the ‘Trophy Girls’ that same year in similar black beaded gowns (they’re the ones who give out the Oscars). Arnold recalled with obvious pride and amusement that “the producer was initially against the girls wearing those gowns because he feared they’d look BETTER than the movie stars. “Gee, what a complement that was!” he reflected.

Max recently dressed Kim Bassinger (for her birthday), and Mrs. Walter Annenberg. “I was invited to her ‘18 hole golf course’ home in Rancho Mirage and she ordered an entire wardrobe. That’s the kind of customer we need - a whole wardrobe!” He also counts the heirs to the Levi Strauss empire (who live in San Francisco), as loyal customers, and told me about another client in San Francisco who “has so many of my pieces, she flew in her own plane to New York to see what I was keeping here for her.”

In fact, on the day I was in his atelier, Barbara Tober, an attractive, beautifully groomed New York social fixture who sits on many boards, was due in later for a fitting on a gown to be worn at a big event she is chairing in November. The elegantly glamorous bronze embroidered chiffon and lace creation was in the corner of the shop on a mannequin, awaiting her arrival.

With glee, Max told me that when Ms. Tober first met him and came upon the shop, she declared it was like stumbling upon a surprise ‘jewel”. She ordered this dress back in March. “We love customers like this who don’t rush us and give us lots of time for proper fittings.” The designer also said that ideally, he wants 8 weeks for fittings (during which time 36 measurements are taken by him or Arnold) “and you can’t change your shape” he jokingly warned. Of course, he sees that there is some extra fabric left in the seams (“we leave a lot of seams…there’s always room”) even though “most of our ladies just wear the gown once.. It’s a one shot deal”. “We don’t ‘own’ every lady” said Arnold…”but we want to” interjected Max.

As Arnold put it, “It’s true couture. We make sure everything is perfect. We have to meet continually with clients…clients who are ‘walking advertisements’ for Max Nugus clothes.”

And just who is his ideal customer? Who would he love to dress that he hasn’t? Max had no problem answering this one…he quickly said, “I’d really love to dress Catherine Zeta-Jones.” Arnold concurred, “He’s in love with her and she’s gorgeous…she’s a glamorous Hollywood movie star who wears clothes well.” (So Catherine, if you’re reading this….)

While Max Nugus is hardly the only couturier out there, he does set himself apart with two very rare characteristics:

1- He will NOT lend his clothing. As Arnold put it, “Max doesn’t give his clothes away. Glen Close bought what she wore to the Oscars…his customers (all of them) must pay…and that’s a stiff rule”. Though he did admit to loaning a gown to Miss Universe for a special occasion. (But as he observed, “there is only ONE Miss Universe” and she is hardly a multimillionaire (or billionaire).

2- By his own admission, he’s “very nice to work with” and is eager to say that he doesn’t have a “huge ego like a lot of other designers do. So if you want to change my design, that’s fine.” After all, the customer is ultimately wearing the item so she might as well have it her way.

'The Bride Wore Pants'

Max Nugus Haute Couture is all about “statement making” special occasion clothing (perfect for “socialites” as Max observed): custom made one of a kind ready to wear, tailored day suits, cocktail couture, red carpet worthy evening gowns, bridal, shoes, jewelry, accessories, handbags, and menswear. The price range for eveningwear goes from about $3000 to as high as $12,000 or more (for an elaborate bridal gown).

Signatures are the elaborate hand work and painstakingly exquisite workmanship (as seen in the intricate cut outs, beading, fur trim, embroidery, brocades) that come with the territory. But that doesn’t mean there are no fun ‘surprises’…like the exquisite hand beaded proud peacock that adorns the back of a turquoise silk blazer, or the use of fine art as inspiration (more than just a big trend these days and one worth watching as we head into the next season).

For example, one pantsuit features a jacket whose back is emblazoned with a facsimile of Jacques-Louis David’s famous painting, ‘Napoleon Crossing the Alps’. Max originally found a silk screen printed t-shirt with the Napoleon print on the front, while in Paris and he had the idea to create something more luxurious with it. So he bought the t-shirt and cut out the print and used as embroidery on the back of the jacket.

And one decidedly muted hand beaded gown (which by the way is my favorite piece in the collection), is hauntingly and surrealistically printed all over with Botticelli’s ‘Birth of Venus’.

For more information, or to set up an appointment to view the Max Nugus Haute Couture and bridal collection (www.maxnugus.com), please contact Sandy Blye at Sandy@blyemediarelations.com.

Are you listening Catherine?

--Marilyn Kirschner

Monday, July 10, 2006

Editorial Cartoons

Well it is summer and a good time for some lookonline.com reruns! Every once in a while, we like our readers to see some of our past favorite features. We have published a series of editorial cartoons over the years. Poking fun at some of the biggest names in fashion that always puts a smile on our face. We hope you enjoy viewing them as much as we do... Click here and enjoy!!!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

“Sympathy for the Devil”

Bill King's group shot (click image for larger view) of all Bazaar’s young single editors as part of the March 1976 issue. Photo includes a young Anna Wintour and Marilyn Kirschner.

Well I finally saw “The Devil Wears Prada” over the weekend and I thought it was delightful and very entertaining. In a nutshell, my overall impression (keeping in mind all the controversy and discussion regarding Patricia Field’s wardrobe choices for the lead characters) was that she fared better than I was led to believe. Get a life guys! It’s not a documentary, but a movie. It’s not brain surgery or rocket science, but one person’s interpretation. And you know what? In the end, it almost didn’t matter how Meryl Streep was outfitted, which designers she wore, what labels were present. She is such an amazing actress, she would have been convincing in her portrayal of Amanda Priestly, ‘The Boss from Hell’, even if she had worn that proverbial paper bag over her head.

As I bemusedly watched, laughing along, identifying with many of the characters and remembering many instances in my past experiences that paralleled what was on the screen, I couldn’t help but think about something else. While much of the movie rang true, and while I certainly crossed paths with many loathsome, mean creatures, luckily for me, I never worked for any of them. In fact, my experiences have been quite the opposite.

While I’m hardly suggesting that devil - like bosses don’t exist (based on my own personal, very lucky and positive experiences), I would like to think that the true leaders are so comfortable in their positions and in their own skins, and so confident (like the late Carrie Donovan), that they are more inclined to be wonderful mentors and nurturers to young underlings, as opposed to trying to make their lives miserable, and would willingly encourage and give credit where credit is due.

I remember when I was a fashion assistant at Harper’s Bazaar, there came a point fairly early on that simply being an assistant began to wear thin. I recall how I began to question whether or not being a fashion editor was even what I wanted (so why was I there?). I even began to think perhaps I should look for something else and contemplated going to Law School (honest!). But that changed when the Senior Fashion Editor at the time, the late, larger than life Carrie Donovan http://www.lookonline.com/carriedonovan.html, (who was as far from a ‘devil’ as one could be, and quite frankly, she was my ‘angel’), started taking notice of me and gradually gave me ‘projects’. I began to cover the market and low and behold, was promoted to an assistant fashion editor and then a full fledged fashion editor.

Another fond memory was the time Carrie Donovan had the idea of the late legendary photographer, Bill King, taking a group shot of all Bazaar’s young single editors as part of the March 1976 issue whose theme was ‘America’s Single Women’. She was proud to be ‘mother hen’ to this attractive, talented, group who she felt was worthy of the spotlight. (See top photo)

And to this day, I will never forget the way Carrie Donovan credited me with ‘discovering’ the late Perry Ellis and bringing this talented man who became her great friend, to her attention in the late 70’s. And she did so in a most public way, in front of an auditorium packed with the fashion world’s biggest names. When Perry passed away at the age of 46 in 1986, there was a highly public and well attended memorial service held at the Ethical Culture School on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. EVERYBODY was there (store presidents, fashion designers, magazine editors and publishers). Carrie Donovan was one of the first speakers and when she addressed the packed crowd, she recalled how it was “a young editor at the time…Marilyn Kirschner, who kept coming in to my office and telling me I had to see his wonderful clothes”…It was an out of body experience and something I will never forget. Of course, I will never forget Carrie Donovan, because without her support, encouragement, and her confidence, I’m sure I never would have endured and become a fashion editor.

So, to answer my rhetoric question: is it necessary for someone at the top of their field (like an editor in chief) to be bitchy, mean spirited, insulting, unrealistic, and intimidating? Does that come with the territory? Hardly. Coincidentally, in WWD this past Friday, June 30th, within their ‘Media/Advertising’ section, they asked a select group of high profile editors-in-chief “What They Are Reading” this summer. The answer I got most of a kick out of (because of all the recent publicity afforded to the ‘Boss from Hell’), was Seventeen’s editor-in-chief, Atoosa Rubinstein who admitted it was “The Power of Nice - How to Conquer the Business World With Kindness” by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval. Hmm maybe this book should be required reading by those at the top!

Oh, and speaking of ‘the boss from Hell’….did you know that “80% of employees who quit their jobs do so because of problems with their bosses?” (I bet you did!) So says management researcher Chandra Louise, as reported in a recent edition of AM New York (www.amny.com). In fact, according to Karen Salmansohn, the paper’s ‘One-Minute’ Career Therapist’, who wrote a book, “Gut: How to Think from Your Middle to Get to the Top”, due out in September, there are 5 key things to keep in mind if you want to be a great boss: 1- Be fun; 2- Be approachable and warm; 3- Be open to new ideas; 4- Show appreciation; 5- Trust your gut instinct.

-Marilyn Kirschner