Monday, January 29, 2007

It’s a ‘Fashionable Life’ Indeed

Jayne Chase began her fashion career at Glamour and Vanity Fair Magazines, eventually finding her way to Harper’s Bazaar where she was named the International Editor at Harper's Bazaar. It was there that our paths crossed (some 20 years ago give or take a few), as I was Senior Market Editor at the time.

Fast forward to September 2006 and New York Fashion Week for Spring 2007 (the Bryant Park Tents to be exact). I can’t remember what show exactly, but seated beside me was Jayne Chase. We caught up a bit and exchanged cards. She knew I was the Editor-in-'chief of the Look On-Line, but I was not aware of her interesting endeavor. (FYI, one of the more interesting aspects of Fashion Week, other than seeing the clothes, is having a chance to catch up with people from your past ‘lives’ that you haven’t seen for years).

The New Canaan resident and mother of two explained that in addition to being a fashion reporter for Connecticut, Hampton and Palm Beach Cottages & Gardens Magazine Group, covering the New York and European fashion collections, she and Jennifer Goodkind (another fashion veteran with an impressive background and resume) co-host 'The Fashionable Life', ( an interview format show based out of Greenwich, Connecticut which is live on Wednesdays at 9:30 am, (WGCH 1490-AM). It’s devoted to “everything that helps to make a woman’s life fashionable”. And that means fashion, beauty, accessories, home interiors, entertaining, health and wellness, body, mind and spirit.

She asked if I would consider being a future guest and of course, I said yes (what a no- brainer: just think, I could even stay in my pajamas and not even put any make up on since nobody will see me…they will only hear me!) It is scheduled for this coming Wednesday, January 31st. I’m certainly in good company; other notable guests in the past have included: Carolyne Roehm, former fashion designer, lifestyle expert, author; Cap Lesesne, plastic surgeon and author of Confessions of a Park Avenue Plastic Surgeon; Liz Michel, celebrity make-up artist; DJ Carey; Editor-in-chief of Connecticut Cottages & Gardens Magazine; Chandler Burr, new perfume critic for The New York Times; Dana Cowin, Editor-in-chief of Food & Wine; Jill Fairchild, author of What to Wear; Michelle Kwei, Marketing Director of Moet & Chandon;
David Patrick Columbia, Editor-in-chief of NYSocialDiary and Quest; Dana Buchman, fashion designer and author.

By the way, Jayne and Jen will be covering the scene and reporting on the entire goings on from Mercedes Benz New York Fashion Week (join the club!). They will be live from the Moet & Chandon VIP Lounge on Wednesday, February 7th from 9 - 10 am.

-Marilyn Kirschner

Friday, January 26, 2007

'Rising' to the Occasion

Yesterday, Fashion Group International held its 10th Annual Rising Star Awards at a jam packed luncheon which took place in the Trianon Ballroom of the New York Hilton. The Awards were created a decade ago, as a way to celebrate new and emerging talent and to pay homage to the “innovation, creativity, and accomplishment” of 8 individuals.

Margaret Hayes, President, Fashion Group International, delivered the opening Welcome address and introduced the event’s Keynote Speaker, famed designer Joseph Abboud. The dapper and popular veteran posed the question, “Who is the American Designer Today?” noting that it’s “the designers who breathe life into a label”. He went on to say that when a designer can prove his or her creativity and formidable talent, they can then become legends.

In reference to his longevity, years of experience, and dues paid along the way, he jokingly observed, “My hair is grayer now than when I started in 1988” and he went on to engage the room in a number of personal and amusing recollections, which were meant to prove thought provoking and relevant to the young hopefuls (and everyone else) in attendance.

He described in full detail how he scored an all important interview with the House of Chanel (for the position as head of design for menswear, an enviable position he eventually nabbed), a veritable 24 hour comedy of errors which took place between London and Paris. He then addressed the issue of creativity, and what it means to stick to your guns and never compromise. This time, his story focused on his discovery of beautifully colored rocks on the beach in Nantucket, and what he had to go through in order to find someone who would be able to translate them into colors for an upcoming collection (he found one such factory in the far reaches of Scotland). The moral to both stories is that a young designer should “never give up, even in the face of great odds and obstacles”. “It’s about YOU and fulfilling yourself creatively” he said.

And then came the ‘Main Event’: the awards were handed out to 8 emerging stars, in 8 different categories, presented by 8 proven stars in each category:

Accessories - Award presenter: Donna Kalajian Lagani; Winner: Margret Karner, Massivesilver, Inc.
Beauty/Fragrance Corporate - Award presenter: Jane Larkworthy; Winner: Shirley Dong, Avon
Beauty/Fragrance Entrepreneur - Award presenter: Sonia Kashuk; Winner: Dr. Steven Victor, Victor Cosmeceuticals
Home/Interior Design - Award presenter: Jamie Drake; Winner: David Ashen, D-ash Design Fine Jewelry - Award presenter: Gerard Yosca; Winner: Coomi Bhasin, Coomi
Men's Apparel - Award presenter: Robert Bryan; Winner: Duncan Quinn, DQ, LLC
Retail - Award presenter: Nicole Fischelis; Winner: Fraser Conlon, Amaridian
Women's Apparel - Award presenter: Carolina Herrera; Winner: Lyn Devon, Lyn Devon LLC

By the way, the event was sponsored by TARGET, Cosmopolitan, Solstiss/Bucol, and the crystal Awards were generously provided by Movado.

Alas, while attendees were not given Movado goodies as table gifts, we were treated to a wonderful luncheon and all of us did receive a fabulously oversized laminated tote bag printed all over with a colorful, pop art, vintage inspired collage from Target. (This will certainly come in handy especially for those of who will be attending the upcoming New York Fashion Week and will be in need of something roomy and lightweight to carry around notes and personal affects). And inside, was a cooly packaged lipstick "Glamorous" from Target's Sonia Kashuk, in a wonderful shade of vibrant pink -- a reminder that spring is just around the corner.

--Marilyn Kirschner

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Sean John Revving Up for the Big Time

(New York, January 24, 2007) In his first stab at fashion accessory licensing, Sean John, aka Puff Daddy, America’s biggest rap mogul, is revving up for the big time in fashion retail. For a start, he maintains the PR company, Paul Wilmot Communications, to handle the press preview launch of his eyewear line. Cocktails at 1710 Broadway was very tame with the PR reps efficiently answering questions; focus was on the design and wearability of Sean John eyeglass frames and sunglasses.

Soft sculpted and sleek

Designed for comfort, durability and functionality, the Sean Jean Spring 2007 Collection line of ophthalmics and sunwear is fashionable, light and accentuated with interesting details. The styles and shapes are universal, contoured to fit any facial structure. The newest technology was used in making the frames lightweight with practical elements like bendable handles and adjustable nose supports. Most noticeable are the many different versions of the logo, which was prevalent; they were in embedded studs, debossed, etched or lasered into the lens. This is probably a resonance of Sean John’s many personalities and careers or the many names we have come to know him by (P. Diddy, Puff Daddy, Sean John Combs). The designer’s love of automobiles is reflected in the details of the some styles pictured below.

Car window detail on the handles

Vented design detail reminiscent of vintage 50’s car

The 52 piece collection had 2 stories based on a theme of dynamism: a modern look with soft sculpted shapes and a classic look which was sleek but fluid. Dual colorations and luxurious treatments like the earth tones and wood effects give the eyewear line a sensual and sophisticated allure. In the sunwear line, there are 31 styles to choose from (14 for men, 11 for women, 6 unisex), priced from $125-195. There are also 21 optical styles (13 for men, 13 for women and 3 unisex) ranging from $150-200. All 52 styles are available in 3 to 5 colors to match different skin tones. The line will be in 1300 major stores across the country in March 2007.

The Aviator

Dual tones with wood effects

Robert Schienberg, Senior Vice President of Global Communications & Advertising of Marchon, (eyewear makers and distributors for Calvin Klein, Michael Kors, Fendi, Nautica, Coach), stated that Sean John was ‘hands on” in the creation of the line. True to his reputation as an astute workhorse and jack-of-all-trades, Sean John Combs was involved in endless meetings of proportion and style selection for the year and a half that it took to design the whole collection. When asked who the line was designed for, Mr. Schienberg said, “Sean John designed a lifestyle. He designed for the everyday person who goes to work, to a party, to the beach, etc.” After launching a menswear line in 1998 and women’s clothing line in 2003 and receiving various fashion awards, Sean John is successful in warming up the engines in his first try at fashion accessory design. He is on his way to claim his piece of the fashion licensing business.

Sean John ad in Times Square

The real test is when you ask the models if they love the sunglasses they are modeling. In this case, the models were enthusiastically quick to point out their personal favorites. Guests were treated to a fitting session where they could chose a style and walk out with their choice, wrapped in a neat brown suede pouch. Leaving the Sean John headquarters on Broadway and 54 Street at night, even if I put my newly acquired sunglasses on, it is hard not to see the glare of his celebrity because Sean John’s picture with his signature look of dark glasses is auspiciously on the Jumbo Teletron at Times Square.

-Anna Bayle

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

NY Fashion Industry Video Report

The January 2007 video is reported by our editor-in-chief Marilyn Kirschner. She discusses the meaning of "chic" and "modern" -- what they are, and what they are not.

This report is the longest running, regularly scheduled streaming video covering the New York fashion industry on the web. To access the video click

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Ford Supermodel of the World Contest

The Winner: Sanne Nyjhos of The Netherlands

(All photos by Randy Brooke for

Ford Models announced the winner of their yearly Supermodel of the World contest last night, January 17, 2006, at a fashion show held at Skylight studios at 275 Hudson Street.

First Runner-up: Viktoryia Makhota of Belarus

Sanne Nyjhos of the Netherlands took the edge from Viktoryia Makhota of Belarus in a tight race for the $250,000 modeling contract. The panel of judges consisting of Eileen Ford, Katie Ford (CEO) and a team of managing agents in the New York office, covered their bases and announced more runner-ups than the usual 2 from the 45 finalists representing their countries. Second runner up was Marie Louise Korsager from Denmark, followed by a brunette with blue eyes, Vanessa da Cruz from Brazil and Kate Somers from Canada.

Second Runner-up: Marie Louise Korsager of Denmark

The fashion show, sponsored by G’Day USA’s Australia Week (Fashion Designers Association of Australia), featured 7 up-and-coming Australian designers ((Toni Matecevski, Le Grew, Kylie Zerbst for Obus, Gail Sorronda, Ruth Tarvydas, George Wu and Alvin Fernandez for Ael’kemi.) The fashion show opened with 8 aborigines flown in from Sydney, moving to the primal sounds of their native music. After the show, the beautiful Ford model/actress, Patricia Velasquez, took center stage to announce the winners.

Third Runner-up: Vanessa da Cruz from Brazil

The fashion show and party after the show, ably handled by the PR firm, Laforce+Stevens, had the guests drinking ‘everything Australian’ (wine, vodka, etc.) In full force was the Ford family of models including Carmen Dell’Orefice, Crystal Renn, Juliana Imai, Cameron Russell and past winners: Katya, Chanel Iman and Camilla Finn. The guest of honor was John Olsen, the Australian Council General. Guests’ goody bags were hair products from the other sponsors, Westfield and Nexxus Salon Hair Care.

Fourth Runner-up: Kate Somers from Canada

Asked about Ford’s position on the recent health guidelines set by the CFDA regarding ultra thin models, Katie Ford exclaims, “We love the guidelines!” This is not a surprise as Ford is known for its strict handling of models. Craig Lawrence, one of the judges and a women’s division agent at Ford, “We have been speaking to the models about drinking and asking the designers to have healthier fare backstage for the models besides champagne. In fact, nutritious meals from NuKitchen is being served to the contestants for the duration of their stay in New York.”

Eileen Ford, second from left and the model Carmen Dell'Orefice, third from the left.

The Ford modeling agency, a fashion institution, is in their 60th year this coming October. With six decades of providing the fashion world with the “clean” look - healthy, wholesome, all-American look (Christy Brinkley, Cheryl Tiegs, Christy Turlington, to name a few), this blue chip modeling agency continues that tradition in their choice of winners for the 26th Supermodel contest. Eileen Ford, the ultimate ‘den mother’ of fashion models, resplendent in a red satin suit, looked proud and pleased with all her children.

-Anna Bayle

Additional runway photos: picture 1 picture 2 picture 3 picture 4 picture 5 picture 6

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Beauty is as Beauty Does: The Changing Face (and body) of Fashion

Is ugly the ‘new’ pretty? Is chubby the new skinny? Along with ushering in a brand New Year, are we also ushering in a new standard for beauty? Not only has the year begun with more and more (quite deserved) attention being focused on the problem of unhealthy, unnatural, and life threatening skinniness (especially in terms of the fashion industry, emaciated models, and the way in which their impossible to achieve ‘look’ influences and impacts on the public who looks up to them and seeks to emulate them). But perhaps we are ushering in a new, far more forgiving aesthetic that will have far reaching impact.

Not only is the fashion world being pressured to rethink their aesthetic in terms of body weight, but following the recent Golden Globe Awards and the crowning of ‘Ugly Betty’ and its star America Ferrara, much has made of the fact that ‘Ugly’ is the new ‘Pretty’. A recent ABC News article that appeared online, “America Ferrera Makes ‘Ugly’ Beautiful”, observed, “America Ferrera has made it cool to be "ugly." The Golden Globe-nominated actress has won fans and accolades for her role in the hit ABC show "Ugly Betty." She recently told ABC News' Robin Roberts that she couldn't be happier about her Golden Globe nomination for best actress and for best show.

"We've worked so hard, and now we can celebrate it together," Ferrera said. "It is a wonderful cast and crew and show to be on. Everyone is so excited." Though some people were appalled by the show's title when it first came out, Ferrera's confident that viewers now get the message that "ugly" isn't meant to insult.

"I think we knew the title would be a little jarring. But once you see it, then you know," she said. "You get it. You know there's irony in the title and it's a commentary on the definition of what ugly and beautiful is."

That said, no title was ironic and more ‘right on’ in terms of acting as a commentary on the definition of what ugly and beautiful is, than “Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women”, written by Michael Gross. But regardless, all of this new awareness and ongoing debate couldn’t have come at a more perfect time since New York Fashion Week and the international round of showings are approaching in the near future.

In fact, it seems that that the eyes of the world (especially the fashion world) will be more focused on and interested in the weight and health of the models than the fall 2007 offerings being proposed by designers. Of course, it should be pointed out that the fall winter season is not necessarily the best indicator of models’ body weight since the clothing is by very nature, covered up, layered, and quite forgiving, so protruding collarbones, bony knees, and rail thin arms are far easier to be hidden under wrap (literally). So the true test will really be in September, for the spring 2008 shows, when the models will be strutting their stuff (or lack thereof) in bikinis, short shorts, minis, and strapless dresses.

-Marilyn Kirschner

Sunday, January 14, 2007


Once again, our Editor-in-chief Marilyn Kirschner is a central focus in Bill Cunningham's "On the Street" column in this Sunday's Styles Section of The New York Times. She was photographed by Bill last month at the Nan Kempner exhibit opening gala.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Ralph Rucci's ‘Weight’ Issue

Ralph Rucci's "Infanta" gown suspended from ceiling

As we begin the New Year, it seems there’s positively no escaping the ‘weight’ issue --even when the word is not used in conjunction with body weight. Case in point, last evening, hundreds of guests, including Fern Mallis, Robert Ruffino, Harold Davis, Marylou Luther, Freddie Leiba, Judy Licht, Marian Greenberg, Amy Fine Collins, Deeda Blair, Iris Apfel (still the coolest one in the room, clad in a black Ralph Rucci tunic and ‘old’ Gucci feather trimmed pants), turned out to honor the couturier Ralph Rucci and celebrate the new exhibit at the Museum of FIT: “Ralph Rucci: The Art of Weightlessness” which runs through April 14th. The title, referring to the couturier’s unbelievably weightless yet structured designs, can be attributed to an article written by Suzy Menkes, in which Mr. Rucci observed, “The whole idea is to take the structure, completely tailored with all the propriety of a suit, but make it weightless.”

The over 100 extraordinary pieces, a mix of ready to wear and haute couture, spanning the designer’s 25 years in business, were effectively displayed in the museum’s vast downstairs galleries so as to show them off to their best advantage. Many pieces were suspended from the ceiling and seemed to be floating (as if to emphasize the ‘weightlessness’ of them) and Mr. Rucci’s own artwork and collectibles were exhibited alongside the items that they were inspired by.

Art has always figured prominently within the Rucci aesethetic and unsurprisingly, the “Art Influence” group, which included a quartet of gowns from spring summer 2006 haute couture (“The Four Seasons”) inspired by Cy Twombly’s paintings and an divinely graphic Infanta and shawl, dubbed “Frances Bacon” from spring 2002 ready to wear, were among my favorite pieces. Having said that, I also loved the black wool crepe “vertebrae’ dress, the ‘tortoise shell’ coat, the Japanese Scholar print coat and dress, the Noh evening gown and jacket, the painted evening gown, the crocodile pieces, etc. etc.

Speaking of gowns, while skinny jeans, leggings, and short little party frocks may be the popular way to dress these days, there’s no denying the drama and impact of floor length. This was very much apparent throughout the exhibit, as the long gowns undeniably stole the show, and the ‘Infanta Ballgown’, (referred to as “Ralph Rucci’s most spectacular garment”) was very much the center of attention.

Museum Director Dr. Valerie Steele in a green Ralph Rucci gown

And this fact was also exemplified by many of the well heeled guests (loyal Rucci fans and customers) who turned out in a variety of dramatic floor length dresses and coats, including Deeda Blair, Tatiana Sorokko, Amy Fine Collins, Coco Mitchell (the designer’s long time fitting model), his press director, Vivian Van Natta, decorator Charlotte Moss, and FIT’s Museum Director Valerie Steele and its Deputy Director, Patricia Mears.

-Marilyn Kirschner (article & photos)

Friday, January 12, 2007

Bloomingdale's & Mentoring USA Celebrate National Mentoring Month

Bloomingdale's store windows featuring PS 59 students artwork- photo by Robin Platzer

Bloomingdale's and Mentoring USA celebrated National Mentoring Month this week with the unveiling of special windows at Lexington Avenue and 60th Street on Thursday featuring the artwork of children of nearby elementary school PS 59. This is the sixth year Bloomingdale's has partnered with Mentoring USA, the city's largest site-based, one-to-one mentoring program.

Michael Gould, Matilda Cuomo, and Dwayne Clark from Broadway's "Tarzan" - photo by Robin Platzer

Former New York State First Lady Matilda Raffa Cuomo, Mentoring USA's founder and chair, and Bloomingdale's chairman and CEO Michael Gould hosted the event to kick of January as National Mentoring Month. The event was attended by children of PS 59 who are participants in the program as well as their parents, teachers and mentors. The store's connection to Mentoring USA is a personal one -- many Bloomingdale's employees have worked as volunteer mentoring the children at PS 59 for that past eight years. Currently more than 80 executives are participants in the program.

Michael and Matilda with the kids in front of store windows - photo by Robin Platzer

The store's chairman and & CEO Michael Gould joined Cuomo for the unveiling of the windows which featured the artwork of PS 59 students. Afterwards, the children and their mentors were treated to a breakfast at the store's Showtime Cafe and a performance by Dwayne Clark currently appearing on Broadway in "Tarzan." Gould explained the store commitment to mentoring saying, "You do things in life for other people but you also do things for self enrichment. Mentoring is one of those rare experiences where you can achieve both and be part of the greatest kind of enrichment -- helping a child."

"We are so thrilled that Bloomingdale's has continued to supporting the children and Mentoring USA with such a strong commitment," said Cuomo. "There are so many things children can learn from successful executives. We all have busy lives but taking the time to spend with a child is an investment in the future."

The theme of the window at Bloomingdale's is "Welcome to the Mentoring Garden" featuring portraits drawn by PS 59 students of their mentors.

"It's lovely because it emphasizes the way young minds are cultivated with healthy doses of inspiration and understanding," said Cuomo. "Today, that's more important than ever."

Sunday, January 07, 2007

CFDA "Cop-out" Over Thin Model Controversy

Diane Von Furstenberg, facing her first major issue since assuming the role as the new president of the CFDA issued the following statement regarding the "too thin model controversy": "It is important as a fashion industry to show our interest and see what we can do because we are in the business of image...But I feel like we should promote health as a part of beauty rather than setting rules."

So, after a meeting with industry leaders that included Anna Wintour and several members of her staff (what happened to representatives of other major fashion publications?), health professionals including a nutritionist, psychiatrist, physical trainer, model agency booker and a representative from the pr firm KCD, the best this group could come up were some non-binding "guidelines" for designers that included providing more nutritious food backstage at fashion shows, scheduling fittings earlier in the day for young models, and encouraging them to get more sleep?

The CFDA recommendations fell far short of Madrid's banning models who have a body mass index of less than 18 and the recent "manifesto" by the Italian Chamber of Fashion that proposed models should hold a license issued by a panel of health experts and city officials attesting that they are in good health. And Didier Grumbach, president of the Chambre syndicale de la haute couture, has indicated that he plans no action regarding regulating the weight of models.

Perhaps the best way to approach the issue is to take the decision away from the designers who have neither the training or time to enforce standards and put it in the hands of the doctors? Why not require all models to have a recent certificate (say no more than a month before NY shows) from a doctor stating that he or she is in good health? Certainly most designers, the CFDA and even 7th on Sixth could mutually agree to enforce this minimum requirement?

-Ernest Schmatolla

(For more on the "too thin model" controversy, check out Eric Wilson's article section C page 2 in today's The New York Times)

Thursday, January 04, 2007

What’s ‘Eating’ You?

Harper's Bazaar January 2007 Issue - “Highlights from Milan” photographed by Daniel Jackson

Is it just me, or are we all collectively obsessed with food, diets, eating, body image, and body weight? We ended the year dishing (sorry about the pun) about unhealthy and unnatural skinniness, debating the issue of what constitutes ‘too thin’ (vis-à-vis models and the fashion industry), talking about eating disorders, diets, exercise regimens, losing weight, gaining weight, sharing festive recipes, reading about food, planning our menus, thinking about our next meal, and contemplating what restaurants to visit.

And here we are, just several days into the New Year, and it continues. Many of us have made resolutions to lose weight, tone up, get into better shape, and of course, eat healthy. The cover of New York Magazine boasts “Adam Platt’s Where To Eat: The Best Restaurants in Town”. But it seems some of us are not eating but starving,‘dying’ to be thin, and as a whole, we are generally as obsessed with what we eat as what we don’t eat. Which is not a good thing. Not only from an appearance standpoint but in terms of health, it can be downright dangerous. The headline of AM New York on January 2 was “Rail Thin” (“Women on crash diets fainting are a top cause of subway delays, MTA staffers say”), an alarming statistic that was also confirmed by an article that ran in The New York Post on Wednesday, January 3.

Harper's Bazaar January 2007 Issue - “Highlights from Milan” photographed by Daniel Jackson

In Bernadine Morris’s interview with James Galanos for the Look On-Line (“A Conversation with James Galanos”), she asked him about the current controversy today regarding whether models are too thin: “Mr. Galanos says he always liked thin models. Pat, his fitting model, was very thin and there was a problem getting other models who could fit into her clothes. The problem today, he believes, is that designers use models who are too young and who have not reached their maximum development. He certainly doesn't believe models should starve themselves, and that gangly legs can look terrible in clothes.” Indeed, but there are plenty of gangly arms and legs out there…on the Red Carpet, on the street, on the runways and staring up at you from editorials in magazines.

This brings up another point. I have always felt that to a certain degree, what constitutes as “too thin” can often be subjective, a matter of taste, and an aesthetic call. (I happen to be very thin so what I consider to be too thin may differ from someone else’s point of view). That said, the January issue of Harper’s Bazaar magnified the reality that in some cases, it is not subjective, but in-your-face obvious.

Harper's Bazaar January 2007 Issue - “Highlights from Milan” photographed by Daniel Jackson

Perhaps because the issue of unhealthy and unnatural thinness has been so much on all our minds, with the fashion world trying to regulate and uphold certain universal standards for models which must be met, I was immediately struck by images of a young model, who appeared throughout the portfolio “Highlights from Milan”, photographed by Daniel Jackson. While on some of the pages, clad in voluminous layers or covered up designs, she just looked ‘normally’ skinny (well, normal in terms of fashion models), in the images where her body was exposed (three shots in particular), she appeared to be shockingly emaciated. She was literally skin and bones, with rail thin arms and legs, and protruding collarbone. And, when you factor in that the camera adds at least 5 pounds, you may be unable to put your finger on something or know exactly what "IT" is until you see it -- these photos exemplified "IT". Indeed, a picture is worth a thousand words.

- Marilyn Kirschner

Monday, January 01, 2007

A Conversation with James Galanos

Photo by Elisa Haber, special to The San Francisco Chronicle

(James Galanos has designed gowns for such clients as Rosalind Russell, Diana Ross, Nancy Reagan, Betsey Bloomingdale and Judy Garland. He has been the recipient of numerous awards including: the Coty Fashion Awards Hall Of Fame; The Council of Fashion Designers of America Lifetime Achievement Award; Society's Stanley Award; The Crystal Ball Award from The Fashion Group, Inc of Philadelphia; The Fashion Award from the Drexel Institute of Technology; the London Sunday Times International Award; The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce Golden 44 Award; The Los Angeles City Of Achievement; a Diploma di Merito from the Universita delle arte Terme; Mayoral Proclamation, James Galanos Day. Galanos' garments can be found in costume collections around the world, and he is still making his presence known in the fashion world today)

We sat down to lunch on chicken soup and curry chicken.

In the glory days of the haute couture in Paris there were Christian Dior and Cristobal Balenciaga at the pinnacle, and of course, many lesser lights. In the United States, Norman Norell and James Galanos were their stylish equivalents. Those Americans who didn't go to Paris for their made-to-order couture ballgowns or trousseaux were content to buy Norell or Galanos ready-to-wear. The fabrics and workmanship were considered equivalent.

Except for Mr. Galanos, the above mentioned leaders are all gone though, in some cases, the name is carried on by other designers. When he decided to retire, a decade ago, he closed his doors and his business, permanently. Fashion was not going in the direction he wanted or understood. He has not been unhappy about it.

Mr Galanos has, in fact, started another life, photography. He has had several exhibitions on the West Coast, where he lives. "I had fooled around with photographs when I was a teenager," he said. "Then recently I decided to take it seriously." he bought himself a Rolex camera and after a while began to be pleased with the results.

"I'm a very conservative person," he said to me on this visit to New York. He lives in Los Angeles and recently bought a house in Palm Springs. At lunch at the hotel Pierre he was wearing a dark suit, blue shirt and dark tie. No eccentric hairdo or jewelry. He still keeps track of fashion through Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, but the bulk of his reading relates to art history and photography.

I asked him about the current controversy today whether models are too thin; Mr. Galanos says he always liked thin models. Pat, his fitting model, was very thin and there was a problem getting other models who could fit into her clothes. The problem today, he believes, is that designers use models who are too young and who have not reached their maximum development. He certainly doesn't believe models should starve themselves, and that gangly legs can look terrible in clothes."

"When I started making clothes in the 1940's, elegance and formality were the rule. Now it seems vulgarity is rampant. It's encouraged by some TV shows and interviews. I don't really like it. The clothes themselves look unfinished, "The only thing that seems new is accessories. Most of the clothes are sleeveless and strapless. People themselves look messy. I hate the hair, it doesn't look groomed. It looks unwashed. I guess the fashion is to look blown and windswept. But it seems to me the hairdressers are doing a bad job of styling."

"Everybody seems to be wearing pants all the time. And everyone wants to bare the midriff. I really don't understand the mentality. It's certainly being casual. But it has nothing to do with class. Some of the clothes look beautiful, but I don't think the designers, as a whole, have made their mark.

Regarding his latest trip to the city, "I've enjoyed the crowds and the new buildings in New York, he said, especially the Neue Galerie with its Klimts and Hans Hofmann works. I did not find the Nan Kempner exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that inspiring," he said.

Why did he decide to retire? "I had accomplished all I had set out to do. I wanted to be a designer and I won some acclaim. But the job was getting more difficult. Not the designing part, but the selling part. I had to go on the road to show my collection at the stores. I really didn't have a private life any more. I would finish one presentation and I had to go on to the next."

The first two years (of retirement) were difficult, he recalled because he had worked all his life (he will be 82 in September) But as his photography improved, he found another outlet for his creative energy.

"Untitled" - by James Galanos

Galanos still thinks of himself as an amateur in the photography field though he admits some things have turned out satisfactorily. For his exhibition at the Sorokko Art Gallery in San Francisco, he used textured paper and had all the photos framed. The idea was that the photos should be considered paintings. In his photography work, he has been encouraged by Ralph Rucci, a fellow designer who became his friend a few years ago. "He introduced me to the people at the Sorokko gallery and got my new career started," Galanos recalls.

Mr. Rucci's fashion designs also epitomize the elegant, formality that Galanos admires. Though he does not believe that the current casual trend can be reversed in short order, the case for beautiful clothes may not be entirely over.

"It's unlikely that the case for couture clothes can soon be revived," he says. "For one thing, there aren't too many stylish women around, who understand the complexities and intricacies of construction. These women certainly inspired designers. There was never perhaps more than a handful, but they were essential to the creation of lovely clothes that had more than a minute's shelf life." For himself, Galanos is not awaiting the return of those times. He has a new career!

-Bernadine Morris