Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The ‘Spice’ of (Fashion) Life

Left to Right: Oscar de la Renta; Thea Porter; & Marc Bohan for Christian Dior

According to the Merriam Webster online dictionary, the definition of the word exoticism is: "the quality or state of being exotic". And according to WM, the word exotic means, "strikingly different: strikingly unusual and often very colorful and exciting or suggesting distant countries and unfamiliar cultures from elsewhere: introduced from another place or region - somebody or something unusual and striking: a person or thing that is foreign and unusual, especially a plant".

If you want to know how Dr. Valerie Steele, Tamsen Schwartzman, Fred Dennis, Molly Sorkin, Harumi Hotta, Lynn Weidner, and Clare Sauro define the term vis-á-vis the world of fashion, and see how its changed over the past 250 years, just head over to the Museum at FIT. The fruits of their collective curatorial talents, a new fashion history exhibit entitled simply, ‘Exoticism’, were inaugurated at an intimate press preview yesterday.

Included are over 70 looks (many from celebrated Parisian couturiers) which perfectly illustrate "the dialogue of other cultures" (in the words of Dr. Steele) and the way in which multi cultural influences and globalization have impacted on fashion. Unsurprisingly, it is highly visual, lush, rich (in gold, brocade, stones, jewels, etc.), luxurious, and filled with elements of fantasy (fantasy plays a large part in exoticism, according to Ms. Sorkin). After all, when it comes to one’s wardrobes, man, (or especially woman), does not live by bread alone and through the ages, even just a little touch of the exotic has traditionally been called upon to add interest and excitement.

The exhibit opens with a display of Indian saris from the 1940’s (worn by Princess Niloufer of Hyderabad), a Chinese dragon robe, an African kuba cloth, and a wedding kimono from the 1920’s and end with a tableau including current designs from global talents (but not exactly ‘household names’) like South Africa’s Stoned Cherrie and India’s Manish Arora.

Ensembles by Bonnie Cashin, Tina Leser, & Claire McCardell

In between there are beautiful 18th century and 19th century fashions and textiles, and designs from celebrated design exotics such as Paul Poiret, Lanvin, Yves Saint Laurent, Alexandre Herchcovitch, Lamine Badian Kouyate for Xuly Bet (Xuly Bet means "look at me"), and Dries van Noten (Dr. Steele was wearing a Dries Van Noten skirt with a Yeohlee jacket). Perhaps a bit more surprising and less predictable are ensembles by American sportswear pioneers Bonnie Cashin, Tina Leser, and Claire McCardell; each was inspired by trips to India and proof that even American sportswear can indeed be ‘exotic’.

1947 Mainbocher evening dress with sari skirt

When I asked Dr. Steele to single out the most ‘definitive’ (or her ‘most favorite’) look, she didn’t hesitate. Topping her list is the timeless 1947 Mainbocher evening dress with a sari skirt made of silk brocade, which also graces the front page of the catalogue. She also cited two glorious trios: caftans by Oscar de la Renta (1968), Thea Porter (1973), and Marc Bohan for Christian Dior (1970), which define the luxurious rich hippie look of the 70’s according to Ms. Sorkin; and a trio of Indian inspired gilded minis by Yves St. Laurent (1967), Geoffrey Beene (1969), and Coco Chanel (1960).

Gilded minis by Geoffrey Beene & Coco Chanel

Of course, the exhibit includes the all important accessories, which add just the right finishing touch. Noteworthy are a pair of lace up burgundy brocade granny boots by Tony the Shoemaker (1970), a gold fez by Stephen Jones (1980), a Russian hat, wide belt, and lace up espadrilles by Yves St. Laurent, and the master’s highly unusual and ornamental necklace from 1985 that features a mask shaped clasp that appears to spew the chunk gold, metal, glass, and ceramic beads from the mouth. It’s the sort of eccentric item not too many women would dare to wear - except perhaps the original and ageless exotic herself: Iris Barrel Apfel. Come to think of it, I could picture ‘Rara Avis’ wearing much of what was on display. Once again, proof that certain things always look good, are always relevant, and truly stand the test of time.

-Marilyn Kirschner

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Upcoming Exibition: "Blog.mode: Addressing Fashion"
December 18, 2007–April 13, 2008
The Costume Institute, ground floor

As a living art form, fashion is open to multiple readings. A vibrant reflection of contemporary culture, fashion—especially in its most avant-garde expressions—affects us through its intense visual impact. blog.mode: addressing fashion will be the first in a series of shows designed to promote critical and creative dialogues about fashion. The exhibition will present some 40 costumes and accessories dating from the 18th century to the present—all recent Metropolitan Museum acquisitions—and will invite visitors to share their reactions via a blog that can be accessed from the "Special Exhibitions" page of the Museum's website or from a "blogbar" of computer terminals in the exhibition galleries. Over the duration of the exhibition, individual costumes and accessories will be posted on the blog periodically with commentary from the Costume Institute curators and, where relevant, from contemporary designers.

The exhibition is made possible by Manolo Blahnik.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Stop the Fashion Merry-go-round, I Want to Get Off!

Yesterday I attended Fashion Group International’s Ready to Wear Collections Spring/ Summer 2008 Trend Overview from New York, London, Milan, Paris, Los Angeles, and Sydney. Spearheaded and narrated as always, by the incomparable Marylou Luther, FGI’s tireless creative director, the venue was moved from FIT’s Katie Murphy Amphitheatre back to the Time and Life Building, where it had been held for many years.

Because its high security lobby boasts an x ray machine which checks all guests’ bags, there was an unavoidable delay in starting the audio visual presentation, but the well attended and popular event was, as always, more than worth the wait. Ms. Luther is masterful at editing down, sifting through the countless trends, and highlighting those that have the most relevance; pinpointing those key elements that are the “sum and substance” of the season.

Unsurprisingly, the ‘news’ is in color, prints, transparency, looser dresses, softer pants, sleeveless jackets, jersey, chiffon, embellishment, and special occasion dressing. (I say ‘unsurprisingly’ since spring summer 2008 has already been dissected by everyone else at this point so none of this is exactly ‘new’, though Ms. Luther, as always, adds her own spin and observations, and puts it all into a fresh and interesting context)

And the ‘Best Bets’ (those items that are “most likely to succeed”…with the customer) are: 1- Color (especially citrus shades like yellow and orange); 2- Prints (Art Nouveau, Florals, Graphics); 3- The Dress (“On the loose” or “Wrap and tie”); 4- Jackets; 5- Pants (High Rise and Fluid); 6- Transparency; 7- Safari; 8- The Toga (the latter two fall under the heading, ‘Appropriation’, a new word which means, ‘referencing’ or ‘sampling’); 9- Jersey; 10- Chiffon; 11- Satin; 12- ‘Special Occasion’; 13- The ‘Statement- Making’ Shoe; 14- Handbags, specifically Chanel’s ‘re-hab’ bag which fastens around the ankle, and Richard Prince’s artful collaborations with Louis Vuitton. And while this didn’t necessarily ‘fit’ into one specific category, Marylou singled out Sonia Rykiel’s “all orange opener and joie de vivre finale of barefoot nymphs in cloud-like chiffons” because in her words, “they captured the essence of this season of beautiful dreams”. (Hey, what’s life without those fabulous dreams?)

The reason I always like attending the 12 o’clock presentation, is that there is the bonus at the end- a guest panel headed by a guest moderator talking up relevant issues and themes. This time, the honors went to Bridget Foley, Executive Editor of W Magazine, and panelists Julie Gilhart, Senior Vice President & Fashion Director of Barneys; Meggan Crum, Accessories Director of Instyle; Joseph Boitano, Senior Vice President & G.M.M. of Women’s RTW, Saks Fifth Avenue; Sarah Brown, Beauty Director of Vogue.

When Ms. Foley took her place on stage, she immediately began talking about “the most controversial element” of the season in her opinion (and one that was addressed during the presentation)…that of ‘appropriation’ (the act of referencing or sampling…taking something from someone or somewhere else). She asked the panel how they felt about this all too common practice, and if they had any thoughts on when it crossed the line to become simply ‘knocking off’.

According to Julie Gilhart, it inevitable, due to both the pressure to create as well as deadlines designers now face.

For Joe Boitano, it was inevitable as well though he felt as long as designers gave it a modern spin, a new twist, and made it comfortable, it was okay.

Ms. Foley asked if customers want the familiar or if they really prefer the new. Julie Gilhart (who seems to be on every panel these days and is always one of the most articulate and expressive) said that it’s the job of a great designer to “give the customer something new that feels familiar”.

As for the continuing importance of accessories in the market place right now, BF wondered out loud whether or not accessories are so important they have eclipsed ready to wear (“are clothes the new accessories and accessories the main event?”)

JG: “Our customer is looking for something unique and individual”.

BF: “What excites you about the season…what are they ‘keys’ of the season”?

SB: “Art and whimsy, playful individualism…learning how to express yourself through makeup.”

JB: “All the many alternatives which are available out there for the customer.”

MC: “I’m excited about costume jewelry as exemplified by Lanvin’s beautiful huge estate pieces and Vuitton’s whimsical fun pieces. The belt (from skinny to wide) is the key item.”

JG: “There’s a lot of choice for the customer; so much so that it will be hard for the customer to decide, but that’s not a bad thing.

Transparency is my favorite word….I like transparency. It was done the best by Raf Simons for Jil Sander who beautifully wrapped transparency over something a customer would normally wear anyway. The definition of luxury is changing. How do I define the new luxury? A well made product…no waste…creativity to the max!”

BF: “What trends will be difficult to sell?” (When she mentioned that prints might be THE STORY, but they are admittedly not the easiest to wear or to sell, Julie Gilhart had another point of view).

JG: “Dries Van Noten (whose spring collection was all about an explosion of mismatched florals and recently held a trunk show at Barneys) was the most successful trunk show we ever had.”
“I think Prada will be difficult this season…and extreme (high heeled) shoes”.

JB: “Transparency will be difficult. Dresses will be easy as will prints.”

Towards the end, Ms. Foley acknowledged the amazing ‘fashion moment’ in Paris that was courtesy Alber Elbaz in his blockbuster show for Lanvin.

BF: “What made Lanvin by Alber Elbaz so great this season?”

SB: “It was flattering, timeless, and filled with investment pieces.”

MC: “I’d wear everything in the collection and yes, they are investment pieces”.

JG: “It had energy. It was not only the best show of the season, but Alber’s best show”.

By the way, speaking of timeless investment pieces and the never ending, always changing, cycles of fashion, Mark Holgate’s column, “Why less is More”, which appears in November Vogue (page 198), makes a very strong case for ‘less is more’, paring down, and getting off the tiring and very expensive fashion rollercoaster. Among the several good looking, smart, chic, and fashionable women who are photographed and interviewed, the one who stands out is Aleksandra Woroniecka, a French born fashion stylist who, for the last 14 years, has affected a uniform and has enviably pared down her closets to six navy jackets, 10 pairs of lean jeans, four bags, a “pile of ballet flats”, two pendants, and a ring that belonged to her mother.

She claims she has found what suits her and will only purchase something if it “has meaning” and “will last”. More importantly, she does not feel “deprived”, and as you can see from her picture (she is wearing a Chanel jacket, and carrying a black Birkin bag), she is hardly deprived. In fact, she looks a lot better than many women who have become fashion victims and who blindly and incessantly buy without any thoughts as to how their purchases relate to their own look, body type, or lifestyle.

-Marilyn Kirschner

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Fashion Forward Event by GMHC

Peter Som designs on the runway (photos Chris Barbosa)

On November 1st, the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) presented their Fashion Forward event at the Altman Building in New York City. According to Dr. Marjorie Hill, CEO of GMHC, this was the first event of its kind for the renowned not-for–profit group, "We went out into the fashion and design industry and said we want to do a benefit that really focuses on your talent, your creativity, your business, but also your resilience in the fight against HIV. The organization is 26 years old, we were the first AIDS organization in the world, and we have never done a fashion event."

The evening included a runway show, a silent auction, and a live auction that allowed guests to bid on a four-day/three night stay aboard an El Jefe, 115-foot motor yacht. The total package was valued at $50,000.

Tim Gunn served as the master of Ceremonies for the evening. When asked how he became involved in Fashion Forward, he said "I was walking into Central Park for the AIDS walk, and I met Kenneth Cox, who is the director for special events for GMHC, and he said, ‘’Tim Gunn, can I call you? Can we do something together?’ I said ‘absolutely’, and that’s how it all began." Gunn also spoke about his new role as Chief Creative Officer of Liz Claiborne, "It is more profound in terms of my involvement with the company than I ever dreamed it would be. Bill McComb, who is the CEO… is an incredibly dynamic visionary and he’s rebuilding the entire company… and that requires taking it apart first. Every line we’re looking at in an unencumbered and fresh way and it’s all about irresistible product."

After two hours of cocktails, mingling, and silent auction bidding, attendees were asked to take their seats in anticipation of the runway show. Introductory remarks were made by Mr. Gunn, Dr. Hill, and Peter Lichtenthall, President of Bumble and Bumble, and a GMHC board member.

From left to right: Andrew Buckler, Tim Gunn, Marjorie Hill, Peter Lichtenthall and John Bartlett

Finally, the show began with looks by Perry Ellis, followed by the designs Peter Som, John Bartlett, Rag and Bone, Buckler, and Heatherette. At one point, the runway’s slippery surface caused a few models to lose their footing, but they took it in stride and the crowd responded with good-natured laughter. The finale featured a characteristically campy Heatherette bride and groom.

Departing VIP guests received a gift bag containing products from 2xist, Blue, Q, Bumble and Bumble, Iceland Spring, Kangol, Perry Ellis, Christopher Radko, and the Minnick Group at Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate.

-Rhonda Erb

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Bernadine Morris Picks Her Ten Favorite Looks

The former The New York Times legendary fashion writer picks her ten favorites looks from the Spring 2008 New York collections. Go to report and see if you agree with her.