Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The ‘Art’ful Blogger

Alexander McQueen’s ivory silk chiffon and organza “oyster dress’ from 2003

I have to admit that I immediately felt right at home upon descending the stairs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which lead down to the Costume Institute (the occasion, a Monday morning press preview of the new exhibit, “blog.mode: addressing fashion”, underwritten by Manolo Blahnik). And no, it was not because my closet holds museum worthy Worths, Poirets, Adrians, Schiaparellis, Chanels, Comme des Garcons, Diors (which account for some of the 65 pieces on display).

But rather, since I feel as though I spend almost all my waking time hunched over the computer (blogging, researching, gathering information, shopping, etc), it was the rather familiar sight, greeting you as you enter the galleries, of not one, but 8 computers set up on a bar (with their home pages set on the museum’s brand new blog,

Undeniably, everybody’s “doing it” (by that I mean blogging). Though we at the can lay claims to being one of the first fashion bloggers, if not THE first in 2002, (we formally launched in 1994), we were hardly the last. Blogging, which was initially greeted with a great deal of skepticism, and seen as an alternative, ‘underground’ movement, has gone positively mainstream. If you need proof that blogging has officially ‘arrived’, all you have to do is consider the number of fashion critics from highly regarded, decidedly un frivolous national newspapers, including Robin Givhan of The Washington Post, and Cathy Horyn of The New York Times, who routinely post chatty blogs to supplement their columns. (In fact, Ms. Horyn and Scott Schuman of The Sartorialist, will take part in an educational program featuring a panel discussion in conjunction with the exhibition, on March 30, 2008 at 3 p.m.) Even has added a blog to enable their writers to post little snippets of information.

In the press kit given to attendees, there was a note from Manolo Blahnik, who made mention of the “wonderful opportunity for people to access The Costume Institute’s collection in a way that was previously impossible”. This is now possible thanks to the “new technologies” that are now available to all of us. He also stated that he is “looking forward to seeing how the public reacts to these objects that we in the fashion industry know so well.”

And so, with that in mind, it’s hardly surprising that a renowned, iconic cultural institution, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, would eventually follow suit and offer up a blog of their own. Better late than never I say. Of course, I couldn’t resist asking Curator-In-Charge of the Met’s Costume Institute, Harold Koda, when I spotted him at the press preview on Monday morning, “What took you so long?”

Viviene Westwood lilac silk faille “propaganda” gown

As he explains, “It was Andrew’s idea (Andrew Bolton is the Curator of the Costume Institute); he came up with the idea for the blog. What we wanted was a show that focused on some aspect of our collection. And he said, “Well you know, we always talked about how interesting it is to walk from there (pointing to the galleries that held the displays for the exhibits) to our offices and to hear these fascinating comments from the public”. Unfortunately, most of the commentary that we would get from people who visit our services would be along the lines of, “Why are they in the basement?”, or “Why are they behind glass?”

“But that’s very different from what you actually hear down here. Because basically, people are very animated about clothes. Even men who have been dragged down here by their wives have something to say. And so, you routinely hear these discussions.”

“Andrew’s idea was there there is this populist approach (to fashion) but there is also something that’s been evolving on the blogs for the last two years. There’s a much higher level of consideration about clothes on fashion blogs, and it’s really evolved in the past two years. It’s a different discourse.”

“So we thought, why don’t we open up our exhibition to that? And since we already hear from the members of the press, the critics, we thought it would be more interesting to hear from people, their thoughts about the actual work. At first we considered a ‘Master Works’ representation of all the great, iconic pieces in the collection but then we decided to focus on recent acquisitions, things that are newer to the collection, and things that are relatively unseen.”

“Some of them came to the collection only because of shows, so they have been seen (one notable example is the 1888 Charles Frederick Worth court gown, which belonged to George Washington’s great great grand niece, acquired last year, which Andrew found in the Santiago Museum in Chile).”

“We decided to do it in purely chronological fashion of our recent acquisitions, so that when we posted it, people would respond to the object, they would have an idea about the work or a comment about the inspiration.”

“We want personal responses, connections to the outfits. We want the whole spectrum, not just comments from members of the press. It would be fascinating if a dressmaker wrote, “I would love to do dresses like this, but most women don’t want their waist obliterated”. I would love that comment.”

When I asked if the 65 items of clothing and accessories on display represent the most important pieces in their collection, Mr. Koda preferred to describe them as a “a survey of some of the more interesting pieces that we’ve had that we’ve acquired since 2000.”

Schiaparelli coat circa 1939

Standouts in this stellar group include a rare 1922 folkloric printed Coco Chanel chemise from her Russian period (Harold said I must read the “funny label” which Karl Lagerfeld works his way into); an arresting 1939 Schiaparelli multi colored pieced felted wool coat; a 1947 dress by Adrian covered with a Surrealist Salvador Dali print; a 1995 Jean Paul Gaultier knitted dress featuring a trompe l’oeil bikini; a Rudi Gernreich dress which boasts one zipper that spirals around; a 2007/8 Rei Kawakubo white lycra, jersey, faux leather, and rubber number which features two hands folded across the chest; Alexander McQueen’s ivory silk chiffon and organza “oyster dress’ from 2003; and Vivienne Westwood’s floor length lilac silk faille “propaganda” gown which is amazingly constructed from one piece of fabric.

According to Mr. Koda, “we have other extraordinary pieces (such as their most recent Ralph Ruccis), which we are saving for our next installation. We have equally interesting things that are not in this show and which we are saving for the next series.”

“blog.mode: addressing fashion” is only the first of what promises to be an ongoing series. The next might be, “blog.mode: fiction writers addressing fashion”, or “blog.mode” film makers addressing fashion”.

Junya Watanabe for Comme des Garcons techno couture ensemble

(FYI, when I asked how they decided upon the first outfit on display, which also graces their catalogue (a Junya Watanabe for Comme des Garcons techno couture ensemble comprised of beige polyester organza, silver polyester and cellophane panne velvet), Mr. Koda’s response was, “We just wanted something that would engage people, that would be mysterious, and would have them thinking, “what is this?” Because that’s the question people ask, “WHAT is it and WHY is it?”)

What was notable (though hardly surprising), was that the bulk of the designers represented were European, rather than American, and that’s because, according to Mr. Koda, they are planning a show “more or less focused on Americans so we’ve reserved a lot of the Americans”.

1947 dress by Adrian covered with a Surrealist Salvador Dali print

“We could show Geoffrey Beene because he gave us his archives before he died; it was not as if we took our ‘best’ Geoffrey Beene. We have many ‘best’ Geoffrey Beenes. Our most interesting Oscar we’d prefer to save, our Ralphs we’d prefer to save. Other American designers who made the ‘cut’ were Donna Karan, Yeohlee, and Kate and Laura Mulleavy who design for the label Rodarte. Their beautiful pale yellow chiffon and white satin accordion pleated dress decorated with rosettes, from fall/winter 2006, (a gift from Christine Suppes, a friend and major supporter of the young duo), has the distinction of closing the installation- it was the final outfit on display. And the youthful twosome (28 and 26 years old) also have the distinction of being the youngest designers to be represented in such an esteemed way.

By the way, the Mulleavy sisters, accompanied by Christine Suppes (clad in another one of their amazing, flower embellished dresses), were among those who turned out for the cocktail reception (held at both the Costume Institute and the Temple of Dendur) on Monday evening. Others in attendance were Yeohlee (proudly taking photographs of her stunning “Bellows” dress on display in the entranceway), Manolo Blahnik (who had several of his amazing boots on display), Diane Von Furstenberg, Arnold Scaasi, Anna Wintour, Candy Pratts Price, and Amy Fine Collins, Lynn Yeager, Mickey Boardman.

Nancy Chilton, head of communications for the Costume Institute, admitted that while this has been a fun and exciting exhibit to work on, because it was a ‘first’, it also had its challenges. Now that this has been accomplished, her next “challenge” is the upcoming blockbuster spring exhibit, “Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy”, which will run from May 7th through September 1, 2008 and will kick off in high style with a very high profile Gala Benefit on Monday May 5th. The Honorary Chairman is Giorgio Armani (who is ‘sponsoring’ the exhibit) and the Co-Chairs are George Clooney, Julia Roberts, and Anna Wintour.

According to Ms. Chilton, this exhibition promises to be a great deal of fun and is both conceptual and often literal. It’s all about using the idea of the superhero as a metaphor for fashion. As she put it, “What does a superhero do? He/she goes and changes into clothing that empowers them- and they can do anything.” And so, among the 70 ensembles culled from movie costumes, haute couture, and high performance sportswear, one can expect to find everything from the ‘S’ logo on the Superman unitard (with variations on how that’s influenced designer logos), variations on Wonder Woman, Cat Woman, and Batman ‘fetish’ clothing, and clothing made for speed inspired by the Flash.

There is no question that one of the most important aspects of fashion, is its ability to ‘empower’. In fact, this quality cannot be overstated. More on this subject later.

-Marilyn Kirschner

Thursday, December 13, 2007

"Diamond Girl"

Clad in signature all black, all the better to offset her amazing diamond neck piece (custom made for her in India), which was worn with a longer vintage diamante necklace in the shape of a tiny purse, Reem Acra mingled with members of the press as they viewed her pre-fall collection. She embodied her own design philosophy, which is all about couture like luxury (“I believe in luxury” she told me).

Shown just months before the big fall shows in February, the pre fall collections provide a ‘teaser’ at what’s to come and seem to be growing in importance as more and more designers host formal and informal presentations. This was only Reem Acra’s second pre-fall show, but it was her biggest. Shown informally on both dress forms and live models, the venue, Ms. Acra’s enviable second floor showroom in the spectacular Crown Building (at the corner of 57th Street and 5th Avenue), was deemed the “perfect place” to present her “museum worthy” 30 piece collection, since the space had previously been an art gallery. In fact, the curved motif of the tiled floors mimicked the design of the intricate embroidery on many of the gowns and provided the perfect backdrop.

Hallmarks of the collection, and ongoing themes within Ms. Acra’s oeuvre, are the emphasis on embellishments (“they ARE the prints” as she put it), and the intricate and painstaking hand work (not only exemplified by the hand embroidery but the hand dying). In fact, Ms. Acra delighted in pointing out that she creates colors that “don’t exist”, illustrated by a group of gowns in a shade of ‘jewel green’ that was indeed unusual in its depth. (Names of other colors used within the decidedly dark and muted collection were ‘nude black’, ‘blue black’, ‘grey nights’, ‘deep red’).

When I asked Ms. Acra if she had ‘favorite’ piece in the collection, she immediately pointed to the draped amethyst purple gown with an embroidered necklace and waist which seemingly the centerpiece and one of the first displays you saw upon entering the room. Other standouts, speaking volumes about Ms. Acra’s design credo, were the gold tulle embroidered gown; the chocolate silk chiffon strapless empire gown with sculpted and pleated neckline and embroidered waist; and a duo which had more than a touch of art deco (the gold lame pleated long skirt and silk embroidered tank, and the black stretch crepe embroidered strapless gown).

-Marilyn Kirschner

Thursday, December 06, 2007

“Do the Math”

Last week, I attended the Neiman Marcus Accessories Press Preview (organized by Gabrielle DePapp, Vice President Corporate Public Relations and Sandra Wilson, Accessories Fashion Director). I always look forward to this popular event, which enables members of the press to get an up close and personal look at the best of fashion accessories for the coming season. How perfect the spring viewing is, coming as it does just as the festive holiday season has gotten under way. Talk about fabulous eye candy!

The glorious hand picked merchandise ‘strewn’ around the duplex suite at the Chambers Hotel (the venue of choice) seems to mimic the fabulous store windows and luxurious displays which beacon both serious customers and window shoppers alike as they make their way up and down 5th Avenue, Madison Avenue, and 57th street. And as always, Sandra Wilson, is spirited and enthusiastic as she walks through the vignettes, espousing the luxury chain’s most important themes for the coming season, while making her own fashion accessory statement ( (this time she was clad in holiday perfect all black punctuated with a pair of enviably chic vintage Dominique Aurientis cuffs).)

So, what’s the ‘news’ for spring 2008? According to Ms. Wilson, it’s all about “equations”. “Color plus color equals spring (their major theme); color plus artistry equals spring; color plus global equals spring; color plus femininity equals spring”. As you can see, it’s not just about equations, but color - and lots of it.

Neiman’s most important color story (and everyone else’s it seems), is the entire citrus range of sunny yellows and orange (the latter of which Ms. Wilson prefers to call “coral”). This was displayed in the first vignette as you entered the room and had me silently humming the tune “Let the sunshine in” (though “Here comes the sun” works just as well). Featured were shoes from Roger Vivier and Miu Miu, and bags from Marc Jacobs, Tory Burch and Prada. Mixed in were accessories in beige (or nude), which is THE ‘new neutral’ and look particularly great as a foil against strong and vibrant color.

Speaking of color, metallic color (and pink gold) is another strong theme, as well as color blocking (exemplified by the Prada color blocked ribbon bag on display) and the entire range of pinks to purples to fuchsias (especially, the arresting use of fluorescent pink). The definitive pieces here are the Christian Louboutin bag, the Chanel cap toe ballet flat, the Tory Burch pink floral thong, the mini ‘Downtown’ red patent and mini ‘Uptown’ degrade bags from YSL, the color blocked bag from Prada, shoes from Diane Von Furstenberg (brand new this season), and Emilio Pucci.

Up the stairs, the shoes on display told another important story (artistry and ‘painterly’) which was exemplified by the open toed, open heeled oxfords and the architectural heels from such iconic brands and important vendors as Sergio Rossi, Roger Vivier, Gucci, Marni, Chloe, and 6267 (new this season).

The story unfolded on the second floor where a large bed was filled with pieces which spoke of globalization (bearing traces of India and Africa and relying on the mix of texture and color). Among the goodies in this grouping were an eye-catching 3.1 Phillip Lim striped bag, distinctive bracelets from Matthew Laurenza, Lee Angel, and Nancy Gonzales, Stephen Dweck beads, sunglasses from Oliver Peoples, shoes from Stella McCartney, and a turquoise laden pendant and cuff from Badgley Mischka’s new collection of accessories. Ms. Wilson deemed the “important short chunky necklace” and the bracelet as two very important jewelry trends going into spring. Another important trend is the medium sized bag (a very chic line up was displayed along the window sill), and Ms. Wilson decreed them as looking “very fresh” after all those huge and oversized totes.

The display set up in the bathroom spoke volumes about femininity with its emphasis on gold and rose gold, flowers and floral decorated pieces, and ruching. Standouts in this group included the rose decorated thongs from Giuseppe Zanotti, the nylon petal bag from Marni, gold bags from Leiber, Prada, and Fendi (including their new baguette re-launch), gold high heeled sandals from Manolo Blahnik, and a nude patent Dorsay pump by Michael Kors.

To sum up, this is the Neiman Marcus Accessories ‘Hit List’ for spring 2008:

Color (with an emphasis on citrus shades of yellow, coral, and orange; pinks (particularly fluorescent pink); purples; Kelly green.
Colored metallics
Color Blocking
Gold and pink gold
Beige (or nude) used as an accent against color (the new neutral)
Clear accessories used with color
Patent leather
Flowers (flower decorated shoes and bags) and floral prints
The open heeled, open toed high heeled oxford
The “important” short, chunky necklace
The bracelet
The large over sized sunglass
The medium sized tote (or satchel)
Anything in turquoise (NM loves both the color AND the jewelry)
The global view (texture and color mixing with hints of Africa and India) as it pertains to bags, shoes, jewelry, scarves

And speaking of ‘doing the math’….this year Neiman Marcus is celebrating their 100th anniversary and to mark the occasion, attendees to the accessories press preview were given something to remember the date by: Neiman Marcus’s famed oversized chocolate chip cookie with the ‘secret’ recipe attached (I guess it’s not a ‘secret’ any more); and the commemorative coffee table “Neiman Marcus Pop Up Book”.

-Marilyn Kirschner

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Oscar’s ‘Garden’ of Earthly Delights

“The flowers that bloom in the spring, tar la”….It did not take a rocket scientist to deduce that flowers, which literally bloomed all over spring 2008 runways, would later find their way into the following fall season. After all, in a season of prints and patterns, flowers of every variety and transformed into all colorations, were THE biggest story (in both ready to wear and accessories). They were certainly the big news at Balenciaga where Nicolas Guesquiere made florals look ‘of the moment’, ‘hip’ and ‘cool’ owing to their abbreviated, sculpted, and molded incarnations.

With that in mind, I was hardly surprised that Oscar de la Renta’s pre fall lineup, shown formally yesterday afternoon at 583 Park before a crowd that included members of the press, retailers, and social figures (including Glenda Bailey, Hal Rubenstein, Linda Fargo, Aerin Lauder) would be replete with blossoms. After all, the print and color loving designer known for his ultra feminine oeuvre, has already shown his signature ethnic inspired Ikat prints for several seasons already and florals are not only a change of pace for fall, but certainly in keeping with his aesthetic. And Oscar’s joyful buds, like those at Balenciaga, looked imminently modern thanks to the shape and structure given to the silhouettes. No soft and droopy flowers here.

There were florals for day, florals for evening, floral brocade jackets shown with full knee length skirts in contrasting fabrics, short floral dresses, floral dresses shown beneath embroidered floral jackets, and floor length floral trimmed gowns. Oscar opened his 63 piece show with a brightly hued (in exuberant shades of green, blue, yellow, and red) floral cloque brocade jacket shown over a soft knee length black tweed skirt, and closed with a finale which included dramatic gowns featuring floral silk faille panel prints. In between, there were floral silk zibeline and floral silk faille panel print cocktail dresses (one in particular that stood out was a knee length strapless dress trimmed with black patent embroidery), abstract tulip silk zibeline dresses (some covered with embroidery), and dresses with multicolor floral embroidery shown under embroidered jackets.

Other themes (which unsurprisingly were all very ‘Oscar’ in mood and tone) included hits of strong color (lacquer red, emerald green and fuchsia) sometimes mixed with black for both day and evening, smart suits (many in neutral toned tweeds), distinctive knitted jackets and sweaters (including a range of cashmere and silk cardigans that were richly embroidered), and of course, brand new takes on that popular LBD (many of which were done in silk faille, silk satin, or brocade and trimmed with black velvet or black satin bows). When skirts or dresses were knee length, the leg was encased in thick shiny black opaque hose and the high heeled shoe, boot, or sandal was also black (which further lengthened the leg).

-Marilyn Kirschner