So, what does one wear to a black tie gala -- Fashion Group International’s 24th Annual 'Night of Stars' to be exact-- when it’s in honor of "ten stellar honorees whose generous spirit and creativity have made a significant impact on design and culture"?
While the popular fall event, attended by more than 500 movers and shakers from the worlds of fashion, beauty, cinema, architecture, the arts, finance, and politics (yes, even Mayor Bloomberg was there) went by the title, ‘The Rule Breakers", the trend was not about breaking rules as much doing one’s own thing or simply looking pretty darn good. Short (meaning not floor length) definitely overshadowed long, and dresses overshadowed pants, but personal style has less to do with a particular style or length, and is more about choosing something that is in harmony with oneself. This was epitomized by Lauren Bacall, who turned out in her signature black pantsuit, accompanying Superstar honoree Jean Paul Gaultier, and proving one need not be a fashion victim in order to make a statement. In the end, perhaps that’s the definition of ‘rule breakers’…those who do their own thing and follow their instincts, no matter what.
Other standouts from my point of view included Anna Wintour in a full skirted ankle length floral dress (Prada?) with of course, nary a hair out of place; Constance White, in Alber Elbaz’s signature full sleeved black knee length dress (you know the dress…the one that’s been photographed everywhere ); Tilda Swinton in a black long toga like dress by Alber Elbaz for Lanvin as well; Julie Gilhart, looking very minimalist in her black dress, black opaque tights, and black suede tall boots (Tom Meier for Bottega Veneta?), Isabel Toledo in a beautiful white long sleeved dress by her own design (of course); Linda Fargo, looking glamourous in a form fitting knee length black dress, which boasted an asymmetrical one shouldered top entirely outlined with a silver metallic snake; Sally Singer, a vision in architectural white by Hussein Chalayan; and FGI’s Creative Director, Marylou Luther in a vintage Geoffrey Beene architectural black satin clutch coat.
And as for the guys….well, even though the invitation said ‘Black Tie’, interestingly (or not), many of those being honored, either disregarded the directive, or they did it their way (hey, the night is all about breaking the rules, remember?) And so, while Howard Socol and Hussein Chalayan, went traditional in their white shirts and black or dark suits and ties, Alber Elbaz accessorized his dark suit with a white shirt and his signature oversized white bow tie; Jean Paul Gaultier and Tomas Meier were monotone and tie less in their black shirts and black suits; Rick Owens was decked out in his trademark all black, via a dramatic, black sculptural coat, and André Leon Talley made the most colorful grand entrance in a voluminous red floor length Valentino couture dressing gown, thrown over a white shirt and worn with a red tie. Barneys’ Simon Doonan, the evening’s ‘host’ who practically wrote the book on breaking rules, wore a traditional dark suit, white shirt, and black tie, but added an unexpected touch with his black and white Adidas running shoes.
As for the actual awards and speeches, well, let’s just say it was a grand old ‘love fest’ on stage, a time to gush and the sing praises of those being honored. Of course, there were also some interesting words spoken along the way. After Josie Natori received the Humanitarian Award from Sandy Weill, she announced that her ultimate fantasy would " to BE Brooke Astor, or Sandy Weill if I was a man".
Vogue’s Sally Singer hailed Hussein Chalayan as a "creator of some of the most beautiful clothes" which also happen to be practical and factor in the social and political landscape. For his part, Hussein said that he’s not used to these awards since he’s always felt like an outsider in fashion ("which makes it a real honor be the recipient", as he put it). He also said that he "appreciates longevity.. which is not normal for fashion". (No kidding!)
Carolina Herrera labeled Beauty Award recipient Dr. Patricia Wexler (her friend and doctor) "A Magician", "The Magical Doctor". For her part, Dr. Wexler said she was always considered eccentric even as a child and "Barbie was my first patient…though sometimes we lost her". She also noted, "I was one of the first women dermatologists to do cosmetic procedures" and said, "Great skin is not a luxury but a necessity. It’s wonderful to have a dream and break rules."
Julie Gilhart introduced Tomas Meier and told the assembled crowd that he is "on his way to creating the single best luxury house in the world". "His designs are as understated as they are extraordinary and exhibit a commitment to craft, authenticity and integrity". "It’s all about pursuing only the best". When Tomas came up for his award, his 3 second speech, "Thank You" (the shortest one of all), met with thunderous applause, proving that one rule award winners should keep in mind, is to keep their speeches short and sweet.
Marylou Luther described the first time she laid eyes on Rick Owen’s almost all black collection ("Goth Heaven") and introduced him as "the one, the only, THE original, Rick Owens". Rick truly seemed in awe of the event, and truly surprised at having been selected to receive an award and called himself "lucky", a word that was used by several honorees during their thank you speeches.
Tilda Swinton spoke of the "transforming power of Alber Elbaz’s clothes" as well as his wonderful human nature ("he’s the Real McCoy"). When Alber came on stage, he gave one of the most heartfelt speeches, ending it with the astute observation, "Success is like a bottle of perfume; if you just smell it, it’s wonderful, but if you drink it, it will kill you". It was the best quote of the evening.
Anna Wintour introduced Corporate Leadership Award winner Howard Socol saying "he presides over the chicest show in New York…he’s a wonderful asset to the wonderful world of fashion." Howard summed up what makes Barneys different from other stores ("We don’t buy stuff. We buy great designer ideas and imagination"). He also noted that at the famed retail outpost, "Imagination and creativity are cherished. We’ve proved that we can be different AND successful. Humor is in our DNA. I’m lucky to have a job that is not a job but a gift. I’m a lucky guy." (You see, there’s that word, ‘luck’ again!)
Jennifer Hudson introduced Lord & Taylor Fashion Oracle Award recipient André Leon Talley who thanked his "friend and boss" Anna Wintour for allowing him to "oraclize".
When Jean Paul Gaultier took the stage to receive his Superstar Award from Kerry Washington, he humbly observed, "There are many superstars here. Maybe they gave it (the award) to me because I’m the oldest." Talk about a class act.
And speaking of class acts - awaiting each guest as they exited Cipriani 42nd Street, was a rather generous gift bag: a very smart looking black quilted nylon oversized tote with black patent handles and trim, made exclusively for Fashion Group by Wathne and filled with a variety of products (which also made it quite heavy). One gentleman who tried leaving with two, one in each hand, (he was stopped at the door), apparently knew what he was doing.
The bag was more than worth its ‘weight’, filled unsurprisingly, with products and goodies from the evening’s sponsors and from designers being honored. You could do a lot worse than receiving a beautifully packaged Ebel ball point pen trimmed with luggage leather, a black and white chiffon scarf from Rick Owens, eau du partum from both Lanvin and Jean Paul Gaultier ("Rumeur" and "Gaultier 2"), skin beautifying products from Dr. Patricia Wexler, gift certificates from Lord & Taylor and Madame Paulette, an Assouline coffee table book ("So Far So Goude" by Eric Goude), a bottle of wine from Ecco Domani, etc. It made me think that the letters FGI (Fashion Group International) could easily stand for "Fabulous Gift Initiative".
And a final note of praise for Margaret Hayes who was in charge of putting the event together, And for Diane Clehane who did her usual fine job of wrangling the press.