Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Weighty ‘Issues’ of Fall

The big fall September fashion magazines are (yawn!) bigger (if not better) than ever. Actually, they are collectively so predictable (well, predictable in the sense that you know you will have to weed through practically the entire book before you even find the editorials, as they seem to be buried, dwarfed, outnumbered and outweighed by the hefty ads; and predictable in that the ads and the editorials pronouncing the ‘next big thing’) all look the same.

I cannot review Harper’s Bazaar or Vogue since I must admit I have not had time to sift through either. And in the case of the latter, I feel I should be hitting the gym for more bicep curls and upper arm exercises before I even try to lift it and get it home. Just kidding of course, though I’m actually not exaggerating that much. For the record, in her online blog (www.nytimes.com/style), Cathy Horyn ‘weighed’ in on Vogue, alluding to its hefty poundage and giving its content rather ‘high’ marks, though most of the responses were not so generous to say the least. What I can be sure of is that both Bazaar and Vogue will be filled with more than their fair share of expensive eye candy.

Regardless of the fact that a wearable, intellectual and practical minimalism has resurfaced this season (which was the subject of Cathy Horyn’s front page column, "Who’s Afraid of Minimalism" in last Thursday’s Style section of The New York Times), the very nature of fashion (particularly as it pertains to fall…THE season of the year) is that it implies a serious amount of ‘eye candy’. Which is why it’s hardly surprising that ‘T’, The New York Times Style Magazine Women’s Fashion Fall 2007 supplement, which debuted this past weekend, was entitled, ‘Eye Candy’ and featured a cover shot of "Candy" star, Australian actress Abbie Cornish, taken by Raymond Meier.

I found the 316 page supplement to be not only well paced, highly visual and filled with serious eye candy (in the form of bold graphics, eye catching color, and of course, great shoes, bags, accessories, fashion), but it was entertaining and filled with assorted odds and ends of information. The editors managed to take a fresh approach to the same subjects being tackled by elsewhere and included an element of surprise….though it was not the inclusion of an article about Ralph Lauren.

At a time when fashion is celebrating a look that can best be described as very ‘Ralph Lauren’, it’s not ‘surprising’ that RL (in all his glory) has been the well deserved subject of several articles, including one in September Elle where he confessed that he’s "anti fashion" because as he put it, "fashion mean’s it’s new. Throw out your old stuff, get the new stuff. Everything you did before is dead." Bravo, Ralph…I couldn’t have said it any better. For ‘T’, Guy Trebay focused on the wildly successful icon within an article, "Captain America" which included some interesting quotes and admissions, and one pretty fabulous and unusual portrait taken by Kurt Markus (he is ‘devilishly’ smiling).

And there was mention of anti Semitism, (which is not necessarily ‘new’ since it’s been pointed out numerous times that the patrician world Ralph has so brilliantly created is a far cry from the humble Bronx neighborhood where he was born Ralph Lifschitz).

But at one point, Guy quoted writer Holly Brubach who noted in The Atlantic that Ralph has been "seen by some as a play actor, a Jew pretending to the life of the landed gentry" and he revealed that the late socialite C.Z. Guest once quipped to him that Ralph Lauren "probably owed her social-cohort royalties" (yikes!)
For his part, Ralph has never shied away from this subject and has always said he was inspired throughout his life by classic things, prep school people, and their clothes ("maybe because I didn’t have it, I always reached for it"). The bottom line is that nobody "owns" classic, well bred, and patrician and nobody but nobody does it better than Ralph, who has managed to create a major business AND a universe based on upper class life and customs.

In the meanwhile, at a time when so many companies are having business problems or shutting down, the designer has plenty to smile about. He was just bestowed the first ever title of Fashion Legend by the Council of Fashion Designers of America and he will be celebrating his 40th anniversary in high style (what else would you expect?) According to WWD, Ralph will stage his spring 2008 fashion show at the Central Park Conservancy (5th Avenue at 105th street) where he will be giving a "gift", after which he will host a black tie dinner for about 500 guests to mark the occasion. Thought I’d mention that Ralph and Ricky live just blocks away…..

By the way, as I stated recently, I am completely besotted with the Ralph Lauren Rugby Shop, 99 University Place, 212 677 1895. At a time when ‘un-basic’ basics could not look better or seem more relevant, this is THE perfect place to find them. From impeccably tailored hacking jackets, schoolboy crested or non crested blazers (you can also buy crests and emblems to sew on and instantly create a ‘look’), oxford shirts (some trimmed with men’s tie fabric), wonderful sporty polos, jodhpurs, distinctive knitwear, scarves, and more, it’s all very well priced (from approximately $5 for an emblem to $750 for a man’s suit). And I can’t leave out the attentive, knowledgeable, AND fabulous looking salespeople, (right out of central casting).

And speaking of prices and fashion…I got a kick out of the article in ‘T’, "New Balance" which came with the observation, "Saving isn’t as much fun as spending, true. But once you get into the habit, what you might blow on your closet could end up netting a much prettier penny down the line".

They elicited investment advisor Andrew Fleming to pick a portfolio of fashionable alternatives "so you don’t wind up the best dressed person in the shelter". Could I possibly be the only one who noticed that on the facing page, was Tiger Wood’s ad for Tag Heuer ("What are you made of"?) Is there any person on the planet who need not be concerned with the price of luxurious items and doesn’t have to be overly concerned with saving versus spending? Quite frankly, I think the editors should have ended the magazine with this sobering column. It certainly has made me think a bit before taking that credit card out!

-Marilyn Kirschner

Monday, August 20, 2007

Style AND Substance

Brooke Astor as the next fashion ‘muse’?

It’s not exactly far fetched when you consider that fashion has been embracing (once again) a decidedly patrician, WASPy, thoroughbred, blue blooded, aesthetic that speaks of boarding school educations, old money, and privileged lives. In fact, much of it is based on an unabashedly preppy look (crested navy school boy blazers, rep ties, button down oxford shirts, jodhpurs, etc.) that could be described as very ‘Ralph Lauren’ (though he’s not the ‘Real Deal’ but a ‘Wasp Wannabee’); a look that has more recently been ‘updated’ and glamorized by Nicolas Guesquiere for Balenciaga (who is not the ‘Real Deal’ either).

But the “grande dame of society and philanthropy” who passed away last Monday at the age of 105 was the Real Deal no doubt. (Her husband’s great grandmother ‘invented’ the social register for heaven’s sake!)

Bill Cunningham devoted not one but two columns to the late Mrs. Astor in the Sunday ‘Style’ section of The New York Times. ‘Evening Hours’, began on the front page and was entitled, “She Could Have Danced All Night”, and ‘On the Street’ was dubbed, “To the Nines”. And while the subtitle on the front page read, “A Thoroughbred Clotheshorse”, no vapid clothes horse or idle “social swan” was she.

Bill insured, through his carefully edited images, many going back decades, AND his copy, that he would not only pay a joyful and personal tribute but illustrate that point perfectly. And illustrate he did.

While Bill made note of Mrs. Astor’s trademark white gloves, face framing hats, perfectly tailored suits, entrance making gowns and enviable jewels, he noted that “two of her most treasured baubles were the Medal of Freedom presented to her by President Bill Clinton and the medal she received from her beloved New York Public Library, recognizing her as an author and a Literary Lion.”

And while she certainly did not have to work, she was “booted, spurred and corseted by 8 o’clock every morning and at the Astor Foundation by 10”. She wasn’t lazy, though she could have been, and she wasn’t a snob…though she could have been that as well. As Bill wrote, “For her 100th birthday luncheon, when she was asked whom she wanted as guests, she replied without hesitation: “One hundred librarians.”

Dressing the part was simply part and parcel of the entire package. It was not the whole shebang or an end to itself. It was her giving (of both her precious time and her vast fortune) that was the stuff of legends. She did not dress up to attract undue attention or to insure that she be photographed all over the place but rather, because it was the right thing to do. She understood what people expected from a woman in her position and she did not disappoint. It was her ‘duty’ to present herself to the public in a certain way, and her ‘look was predicated on the correct sense of the ‘appropriate’.

What makes her life, legacy, and the way she treated others even more remarkable is when you consider the way so many modern ‘socialites’ (and you know who they are), appear to use the ‘veil’ of charity as an excuse to be out every night, get dressed to the nines (in borrowed frocks no less), and mug for the camera. But rather than promoting a good cause, they seem to be promoting only themselves. UGH!

And with more and more big name designers and labels underwriting charities and other causes, it’s not uncommon to see the same woman turning out in Gucci on Monday, Ricci on Tuesday, Calvin Klein on Wednesday, Donna Karan on Thursday, YSL on Friday, etc, etc….you get the picture.

I hate to be skeptical but while undoubtedly, there are some who are genuinely dedicated to giving back, doing good, and making the world a better place, it’s hard for me to believe that a certain percentage would bother to show up if the photographers, newspapers, websites, etc. were not there to snap their pictures and record it for posterity.

-Marilyn Kirschner

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

From ‘Faux Pas’ to Fabulous…how to turn life’s little ‘disasters’ into fashion ‘moments’

Everything is getting more expensive these days, and that of course, includes fashion. The high cost of fashion is a continuing fact of life and a favorite topic of discussion, most recently tackled by Cathy Horyn for last Thursday’s Style section of The New York Times. And speaking of which, in an effort to cut expenses (newsprint, etc.), The New York Times itself just reduced the width of its pages by an inch and a half. And that’s not all that’s downsizing or shrinking these days: the ‘shrinking’ suit is the ‘height’ of fashion.

This got me thinking about how little imperfections, seemingly negative situations, and even ‘disastrous’ events, can often be turned around to one’s benefit. As luck would have it, modern fashion has nothing to do with perfection in the old fashioned sense of the word and in fact, designers seem to go out of their way to celebrate imperfection, often taking great pains to integrate these "off" moments into their collections. So, if you’re interested in hearing my tips for turning life’s little disasters, accidents, and faux pas into great (or at least interesting) fashion moments, AND save money at the same time, read on.

The incredible shrinking jacket

What happens when you've outgrown your favorite jacket, or gained weight after having that baby? Of what if (thanks to your local dry cleaner or tailor) your pants (or jackets) shrink, or perhaps the hems or sleeves were shortened a tad too much? Before you decide to get rid of them or donate to a local thrift shop, just consider that jackets and pants that are shrunken one or two sizes too small have been making news for the last several seasons thanks in large part to CFDA winning designer Thom Browne. He has been proposing natty, Savile Row-worthy suits for men (that have the appearance of being a few sizes too small) since he came on the scene and this season, has started translating his aesthetic for women with his new collection for Brooks Brothers, Black Fleece, which debuts in its stores next week.

And it’s not a secret that fashion savvy women have been shopping for their downsized tailored togs in little boys departments (where prices are much lower than elsewhere).

Of course, if it’s just a case of the sleeve of a coat or a jacket being deemed too short? Well, this coming season, as has been the case for quite some time, there's no such thing as too short: ¾ length (bracelet) sleeves -- or even shorter -- on coats and jackets are de rigueur (very 40's, 50's).

Lost (g) love

While we're talking about sleeves and gloves, what if you lose just one glove?
Several years ago, fashion went completely asymmetrical and off kilter: there were jackets and tops shown with just one sleeve, or with one sleeve a different length than the other.

Even gloves were given the same treatment and many outfits were shown with just one glove. So, don't despair: go ahead and wear just one glove.

The jagged edge

How many times have you reached into your closet for a favorite tailored jacket or suit, only to realize that the edges are now frayed, and it looks tattered and mangled?

Before you get rid of it--or visit the tailor for some expensive repair work—consider the fact that historically, some designers purposely set out to create threadbare designs.

For example, back in 2003, Junya Watanabe showed elegant Chanel inspired tweed jackets and corresponding skirts, with edges purposely tattered, frayed, and threadbare. Vera Wang "destroyed tulle" as Vogue's Andre Leon Talley aptly described it, infusing her luxurious evening separates with an edge. Cynthia Steffe seemed to use a pair of scissors in order to make her sleeves and hems appear to be uneven and unfinished.

Have a pair of favorite well-worn jeans that are torn and ripped and seem to have one hole too many? If you recall, that same year, Ralph Lauren put a modern spin on couture when he paired refined vintage-inspired Edwardian jackets in dainty wallpaper prints, as well as delicate beaded tops, with torn, ripped, well- worn, faded, distressed jeans for his highly acclaimed spring/summer collection.

He even fashioned a ball skirt with a bustle from the faded all American staple!

In distress

In the fashion world, well-worn items are not an emergency call for SOS but rather, a fashion moment in the making. Routinely, vintage-inspired, antiqued, distressed, well-worn leather goods (bags, belts, shoes) and clothing have been making their way onto runways and store shelves.

I don't know about you, but I have almost thrown items out with those same attributes.So, before you head to the junk pile, please note: designers are purposely creating items that look as though they were treasures found in thrift shops, flea markets, and Salvation Army stores. The look is supposed to appear as though your new purchases are actually old collectibles and heirlooms.

Room at the top

What happens when you've recently shed those pounds and find yourself the proud owner of several voluminous jackets or coats that seem ill fitting and one or two sizes too big? Before you give it them away to your bigger sister/girlfriend/mom, keep this in mind: for many designers, bigger is better.

Yohji Yamamoto and John Galliano for Dior are just two influential designers who have traditionally loved playing with volume, and awhile back, 'room at the top' was a true fashion statement with "Thriller"-worthy blousons, sweaters that appear to fall off the shoulders, jackets, and overcoats with a mannish bent.

Just remember to keep the bottom lean: a tall boot, narrow trouser, slim skirt. You might also opt for a pair of shorts, a mini, or leggings- if your legs are good enough.

The one tip you must remember

Just keep in mind that whatever you do, do it with style and above all, confidence. You'll find you can get away with anything.

-Marilyn Kirschner

Friday, August 03, 2007

‘Cheap’ Thrill

Payless ballet flats in gold

Why pay more when you can pay less? Sounds like the slogan for Target (and it is certainly appropriate as such). But ever since Payless ShoeSource (www.payless.com) came on board, they have been winning customers with their hard to resist prices. Well, okay, so Prada or Louboutin they’re not, but where else can you find shoes for under $25 and boots for under $70 that look very similar to much more expensive versions out there?

No doubt, one has to really pick and choose in order to find something really great, but with designer collaborations like Lela Rose and Laura Poretzy, (the name behind the label Abaete), it’s gotten a bit easier. Coincidentally, both gals were just inducted into the CFDA this past week along with 28 others.

Payless Cabri boot by Abaete

And great timing because last weekend, there was an eye catching advertising insert included in the Sunday newspapers (The New York Times and The New York Post). The chic gold and white mini brochure was getting the message out, that Payless was launching their limited-edition fall 07 Collection by Abaete. Included within the group of bags, clutches, platform sandals, flats, and wedges was the most wonderful tall boot selling for $70! Called the Cabri, it immediately grabbed my attention as it is chic as all get out.

Among its features are a low stacked heel, black ‘patent’ cap toe, nickel side zipper, and (this is the best part) you get two boots in one. The over the knee boot converts by simply zippering off the upper shaft. Now, that’s what I call a good idea.

Tory Burch's 'Reva' shoe

And speaking of ‘cheap thrills’ and Payless, that is where I found a pair of black leather (okay, so they’re probably pleather) ballet flats decorated with a distinctive gold medallion that were a ‘dead ringer’ for Tory Burch’s now famous, ubiquitous and much copied ‘Reva’ shoe. But instead of being well into the 3 figures, I paid under $20. FYI, it’s also available in gold. Run, don’t walk to your nearest Payless.

-Marilyn Kirschner