Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Memorial Celebration for Clay Felker

(Photo: The New York Times, Paul Hosefros)

Last night, at the New York Society for Ethical Culture, a memorial celebration was held for the late and great magazine editor Clay Felker. It was hosted by his wife Gail Sheehy and New York Magazine. Over 500 of Clay's friends and past co-workers attended a two hour tribute to the man who was referred to as "The founding father of the new journalism"; a visionary editor who was widely credited with inventing the formula for the modern magazine.

David Frost was the "Master of Ceremonies" and he introduced to the audience a number of Clay's friends who spoke glowingly about the man and what it was like to work with him. The speakers included Adam Moss, Milton Glazer, Tom Wolfe, Gloria Steinman, Leslie Stahl, Tom Baer, and Michael Kramer among other well known personalities.

I knew Clay from my days back in 1985 when I was marketing director for The East Side Express, a weekly newspaper that was published in Manhattan and was edited by him. It was an experience I will never forget. I was amazed at Clay's ability to surround himself with the most talented and creative editors and writers in the industry. Many of the same writers who worked on that newspaper went on to make even bigger names for themselves in other magazines.

Clay was especially fond of working with and inspiring young writers. He had a wonderful gift for motivating them to believe in themselves and their abilities. He was a great teacher who taught for many years at UC Berkeley. In his honor, the Felker Magazine Center at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism was established.

In an especially bittersweet and moving moment, the singer Judy Collins sang "Amazing Grace" to end the tribute. Then, led by the music of David Ostwald's Louis Armstrong Band, we all marched out of the hall and on to the street.

-Ernest Schmatolla

Thursday, September 18, 2008

“Rucci Recognized”

“Ralph Rucci: A Designer and His House” is a new documentary film directed by David Boatman, paying homage to the great designer. The film, presented by Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia in association with the Sundance Channel, will air on September 22, 7 pm et/pt. However, a lucky group of people (including this writer) had the privilege of a special viewing Tuesday night at the MOMA. The auditorium was full of Rucci aficionados including Martha Stewart (who narrates the film as well), Coco Mitchell (Ralph’s muse, who also stars in the film), Fern Mallis, Deeda Blair, Amy Fine Collins, Joan and Sonny Kaner, Pamela Fiori (Town & Country), Patricia Mears (deputy director, Museum at FIT), Essie Weingarten (essie cosmetics/nail care), Jan Calloway, Lynne Zydowsky, Judith Hoffman and Barbara Hackett (Chado clients), Patrick McDonald and even Miss J from America’s Next Top Model. Mercedes-Benz, Sundance Channel, and Martha Stewart executives were also in attendance.

I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Rucci before we all settled into our seats, and he couldn’t have been more gracious and down to earth. Displaying the same graciousness and humility throughout the film, Rucci never once raises his voice -- even when the noticeable look of angst appears on his face after counting and recounting only 48 of the 49 pieces in a collection he brought to Paris. He is seen moments later sitting on the ground surrounded by a spattering of Polaroid’s, sorting through one by one until he proclaims, “Here it is. This is the one that’s missing,” and the 49th dress is found and happily reunited with her 48 friends. It is this steady focus and determination that has enabled Ralph Rucci to persevere through decades in the finicky and unappreciative world of fashion. It is only recently, after years and years of providing women with the most beautiful clothes in the most expensive fabrics and elaborate treatments, Rucci is receiving the recognition he merits. In the film, Rucci compares himself to the writer, James Baldwin, stating that he had to go to Paris in order to gain any attention in the U.S. That is ridiculous, when one considers that Ralph has been selling clothes and connecting with women for years. “There are actually women who buy these clothes,” says Rucci. “We are not doing all this to sell nail polish,” he adds (this is quite possibly my favorite quote in the film).

It’s clear that Ralph Rucci is in a class by himself, and the opinion is unanimous in that it is important for the U.S. to have a designer of his caliber. Couture in New York is not up to the old standards. The film depicts beautifully (although it can only capture a small amount) how meticulous and detailed Rucci is in his efforts to produce the finest couture pieces possible. “Not since the great James Galanos has the U.S. seen a designer of this level,” says CeCe Cord in the film. Glenda Bailey says, “He has the precision of an architect and the artistry of a painter.” And, Cathy Horn is quoted, “He is reminiscent of Balenciaga.”

Again, this well directed film faces the impossible task of condensing into a 45-minute journey what actually requires months to accomplish. One cannot fathom the dress that took 1,000 hours to complete, with its 140 meters of fabric manipulated into intricate fluting detail with black water pearls set in between the grooves. It is unbelievable. Mind blowing can only describe the tasks that Rucci and his team tackle. Who else does this? Even Rucci himself refers to a dress with ostrich feathers delicately layered over beaded fabric sparkling through, as “totally insane.” I am in agreement with this statement, as it takes me an hour to blind stitch a simple hem. I can feel my fingers cramping imagining the tedious, painstaking hours of labor required to complete just one of Rucci’s masterpieces.

Rucci never fails to credit his talented team helping him along the way, nor does he forget his great inspirations and mentors. He calls Balenciaga his prophet and is motivated by the almost religious devotion Cristobal had toward couture. He remembers his first employer, Halston, fondly. And of course, he speaks of his idol, James Galanos, who after meeting at a trunk show in L.A. became a close friend. Galanos, has in turn, become a great admirer of Rucci and is quoted in the film stating, “My career now is to follow Ralph Rucci.” Paris adores him. The Parisian couturieres guided by the detailed sketches, finishing his works of art, praise him, comparing him to legends they’ve worked with in the past (Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld, YSL and Givenchy). Why, then, is Ralph not a more widely recognized name? No matter, he has carved out a niche for himself and is respected not only by his peers but a sizeable clientele as well.

This very enjoyable documentary offers a glimpse into Rucci’s genius. I found myself cheering inside for Ralph’s success. Perhaps it’s the Pennsylvania girl in me sharing a sense of camaraderie (Ralph hails from Philadelphia), or maybe I can relate on some level to his struggle, or it could be that I just love to root for the underdog. Whatever the case, it is a triumph that Ralph stayed true to his vision and pushed onward relentlessly until finally breaking through. He managed with tenacity, passion and determination to create his own world. How, after all this time, did he achieve this feat? Ralph sums it up best in the film by stating that “The consistency of couture is the marriage of the designer’s vision with the house.” He further explains, “This requires a staff which has been a part of the establishment for a long time, working in unison…and that is why it’s called CHADO.”

-Stacy Lomman

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Michael’s ‘Back’

Michael Vollbracht took us far from the maddening crowds of the Bryant Park Tents, and the hectic schedule of New York Fashion for that matter…to launch his first solo ready-to-wear collection since ending his stint as creative director of Bill Blass (1999- 2002). While the talented ‘Renaissance Man’, who has made a name for himself as a fashion designer (he won the coveted Coty Award in 1980), author, painter, and illustrator, selected the famed Wally Findlay Gallery as the venue of choice for 3 showings yesterday, that did not mean the collection was to be filled with art-to-wear. In fact, the only exuberantly hand painted item (a signed vintage Michael Vollbracht scarf), was not shown on the runway, but worn by one of the guests, over her suit.

Instead, the elegant paintings on exhibition mirrored the colors and mood of the 24 piece collection (which will be available exclusively at Saks Fifth Avenue) and proved to be a celebration of “the power of the flower”. As Michael’s program notes said, “if you look closely, you will see them woven into cotton damask jackets or embroidered on silk gingham skirts. There are flowers called “Paola” and “Wilton”. Some are jeweled, and one is a jewel and some too faint to notice. Some in the collection are at the breast, one in the hair, some at the waist - all from the heart”.

Not only was this obviously a labor of love but it happened to be a fitting tribute Michael’s good friend, the late Bill Blass (MV not only designed for the house of Blass but he spent a lot of time with Bill at his Connecticut country home, pouring through archives and collaborating with Cathy Horyn on his memoir, “Bare Blass”, which was completed two weeks before his 80th birthday and six days before his death on June 7, 2002). In a sense, it was it was the most ‘Bill Blass’ collections he has done.

Not only did lifelong Bill Blass friend and celebrated client Nancy Kissinger, show up, so did Harold Davis (the veteran fixture at the house of Blass for many years), and iconic All American model Karen Bjornson, who not only modeled for Mr. Blass, but was a fixture on Michael’s runway when he designed for the label (fyi...she was clad in a Michael Vollbracht for Bill Blass python jacket and looked amazing). Other fashion notables who attended the presentation were designer Carolina Herrera (looking chic in spectator black and white), Coco Kopelman (wife of Ari, CEO of Chanel), and Jamee Gregory.

While there were hints of the exotic (India and the Far East) throughout the line (as there have been through many others during Fashion Week), the influence of Bill Blass could be found within the low keyed colors, the quiet, often subtle details, the all American, Connecticut inspired, napologetically waspy spirit (some of pieces were given names like “Wilton” cotton “Connecticut” jacket; “Donna Reed” shirtdress and non aggressive, often low heeled or sporty shoes were used), the offhanded mixing of day and night, and especially, the use of grey flannel (a traditional Blass ‘signature) which not only turned up as a knee length coat embroidered with black chrysanthemums which was shown over a gold silk cutaway shirt, but in the finale: a one of a kind “Button” wedding coat with beige silk plaid lining worn with a matching wrap blouse and grey wool flannel trousers.

-Marilyn Kirschner

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Show Notes from Bernadine Morris

Ralph Rucci

Ralph Rucci Spring 2009 Collection (All photos by Frazer Harrison)

The final event at the New York spring fashion shows was the thunderous applause and standing ovation for Chado Ralph Rucci, the final event on the calendar. It was a fitting response to the elegance and artistry of a collection that embodied the finest expression of dressmaking that has been seen in the New York tents--or perhaps anywhere. It gave prestige and honor to the week of shows.

For the last two seasons Mr. Rucci, an American born in Philadelphia, showed his clothes in Paris. Now, he declared, his New York workrooms could handle the intricacies of his style. He also skipped the couture segment of his show. Everything could be made ready-to-wear. He joins the pillars of American fashion, Norman Norell and James Galanos, in producing clothes that could be bought off the racks and not be made to order. It is a magificent achievement.

A recurring theme in this collection is the combination of thick and thin fabrics in ways to provide decorative effects. Varing patterns in the body of the clothes, a thin band of sheer fabric at the hem--these are some of his ideas. Jackets have sheer inserts to lighten the look for spring.

The basic shape is a small, snug bodice joined to a full sweeping skirt. It is a shape that is easy to wear for many women. There are also full kimono-like styles and narrow pants. But the bouffant dresses look like the winners.

Other techniques are the use of pleats, tiers and the occasional splash of glitter as in a black dress with a gold Mondrian design or a gold-beaded bolero. Seaming that makes its own pattern of mind-bogling intensity.

Most clothes are in white, beige or taupe, but there is a selection of wear-forever black dresses and a striking cerise or coral dress. Welcome back, Rucci.

Ralph Lauren

Ralph Lauren 2009 Spring Collection (Photos: Firstview.com)

Another excellent collection was presented by Ralph Lauren, who also received a standing ovation on the last day of the shows. The Lauren clothes were modest, good-looking and, as usual, wearable. Indians, a recurring theme throuhout the years, turn up again, but not the American kind.

These Indians are from the East, and their clothes involve gold turbans, full dhoti skirts or pants, with some safari suits thrown in, all crisply tailored and mostly white. The collection is filled with tasteful, wearable clothes that have their own impact on fresh American clothes.

Calvin Klein

Calvin Klein Spring 2009 Collection

Calvin Klein was lucky in his choice of a successor. Francisco Costa clicked almost immediately. The Halston and Bill Blass collections were not so fortunate. Several designers have failed to keep those collections going. Mr. Costa managed to keep the Calvin Klein spirit alive with clothes that were gentle, wearable and contemporary. Now he's trying something new. The key word, probably, is square. Seams are squared off, not clinging to the body. Sleeves are also squared, away from the arms. The shape is boxy.

Is this the look of the future? Are slithery, body-hugging clothes a part of fashion's past? Mr. Costa obviously thinks so. Instead of familiar bone buttons, he has foumd things like lucite. This adds to the architecture image. Certainly the path Mr. Costa has taken is a momentous one. It goes beyond raising or lowering hemlines or waistlines. Perhaps the closest to compare it with is Chanel's freeing women from corsets back in the early 20th century. In retrospect that doesn't feel as dramatic as dressing women in boxes.

To many in the audience, the look was decidedly strange. Will it turn out to be accepted? It is hard to say.

Donna Karan

Donna Karan Spring 2009 Collection (Photo: Firstview.com)

Donna Karan has long been one of this country's favorite designers. This season she too has a leit motif. She has done it before, but this time her favorite motif is draping. It is the opposite of the Costa squared off box.

It is all soft and flowing and she has learned how to do it to reveal legs and chests and give the clothes a seductive look. Some dresses are long, some short. Some are touched with glltter. Most everthing is draped to one side, which adds to the intrigue. Colors are the usual pale shades with an occasional shot of lime or sea green.

The Donna Karan collection is for the more sophisticated woman while the DKNY is for the younger and swingier. There is not much overlap. The more sopisticated styles are often of jersey or other fluid fabrics and flow over the body. They call for earrings, jewelry and even satchels to complement the look. Embroidery adds o the glamour. Jackets and coats are added to the draped dresses to create a complete ensemble. There are even pants to provide some diversity.
The ‘Sheer’ Genius of Ralph Rucci

Ralph Rucci Spring 2009 Collection (All photos by Frazer Harrison)

After showing his ready-to-wear and haute couture in Paris for the last two seasons, Ralph Rucci returned home to a familiar time and place: the 6 pm time slot on Friday evening, officially closing New York Fashion Week. And how fitting, because he is undeniably in a class by himself (in fact, he was chosen as the Mercedes Benz featured designer for New York Fashion Week). While RR has traditionally shown ready-to-wear and couture back to back, this time, he opted only for the former; yet in his hands, given the amazing level of technical mastery, architecturally complex construction methods, workmanship, painstaking attention to detail, and artistic expression, the results were the same.

Ralph Rucci is highly consistent and does not change for change’s sake…or because of pressure from the outside but rather pressure from within: to perfect, hone in, and fine tune his craft. It’s all about continuity, and evolving from one season to the next, and this time, the emphasis was on experimentation with texture (sometimes to a 3-D effect), transparency, and the use of sheer fabrics (horsehair and organza were inset into the seams, and silk tulle was used as a base throughout). Sheer insets decorated a black jersey tube dress, a mesh shell was shown with wide black hopsack gazar trousers, and a black wool crepe cutwork jacket was shown over a black silk tulle full skirt.

Ralph seems to be taken with the idea of creating back interest thereby adding the element of surprise. This was illustrated by a black mohair ‘smoking’ which looked chicly sedate from the front, but was anything but when you saw that back of the jacket was transparent. Along those same lines, a floor length white silk crepe tube with a self braided belt looked elegant and serene until you happened to notice (and it would be hard not to) the fringed silver mylar cascading down the entire back (how would one actually sit in that?) Speaking of which, silver mylar was another recurring theme, and showed up for day as a duo of raincoats (one knee length and fitted; the other ¾ length and shown over white trousers). Paillettes may be used on other runways, but they never look the same in Ralph’s hands. Geometry has always figured into the Rucci oeuvre, and this season, he took the math to a new creative level, decorating black, white, and light taupe silk crepe dresses with geometric panels comprised of paillettes.

Black paillettes were transformed into an evening ‘tailleur’ (comprised of a cardigan jacket, floor length skirt and sheer black top); the use of matte paillettes had astounding results when used on fishnet, resulting in a ‘simple’, long sleeved form fitting gown; and let’s face it, who else but Ralph could use matte gold paillettes and beige puckered silk chiffon to create a soft skirt suit with the effect of tattered tweed? Madame Chanel would have undoubtedly approved.

And by the way, this couldn't be timelier, since the highly anticipated three hour movie, 'Coco Chanel' starring Shirley MacLaine, airs tonight on the Lifetime channel.

-Marilyn Kirschner

Christian Francis Roth: “Too Cool for School”

Christian Francis Roth Spring 2009 Collection (Photos: JP Yim)

Spring 2009 signifies the return of fashion’s boy wonder of the early nineties, Christian Francis Roth. Apparently, Francis (as the new label is known), doesn’t “give a damn about his bad reputation” as Joan Jett’s rebellious tune pumped through the speakers at the start of his presentation yesterday. Held in St. Patrick’s Youth Center downtown, one quickly sensed that Roth’s “comeback collection” drew inspiration from NYC school kids; i.e. gossip girls, preppies, downtown hipsters and the like. Forty ensembles were broken up into groups (or “cliques” if you will), and girls stood in a posse by the entranceway of the space (which seemed to be a gym) arms folded, hands on hips, exuding aloof attitude and lack of concern.

The first “clique” to strut their stuff, clad in a fusion of madras patchwork paired with Navy, looked like a pack of misbehaving Catholic school girls. This group was comprised of shrunken blazers, tiny shorts, a sexy little vest baring a lot of skin, and an adorable pleated mini skirt embroidered with faux safety pin closures. Brightly color blocked tank dresses and T-shirt dresses in jersey bounced through the gym next, followed by a nautical flag printed sundress, cotton Bermudas and pique polo dresses, one of which (cleverly named the “Accost”) was branded with an oversize embroidery on the left chest.

Succeeding the nautical theme, girls donned a gallery of artwork displaying charmeuse dresses with spray painted and appliquéd graffiti, and an adorable pleated baby doll dress printed with the NYC subway map. The final clump of ensembles channeled the elite upper crust and its black tie affair charm. Dresses in grey cire cotton and black taffeta were detailed with ruffled trim, a white tuxedo bib and bow ties. Additional bow ties were directly inked onto the models necks forming perfect little triangles joined oppositely at a point. One girl wore a black top hat with a blonde hair extension tied around acting as the band. Another wore a black, shiny streamer pom-pom hat (a cute way to add some school spirit).

Roth’s humor and creativity were ever present and I loved the way he previewed his collection in terms of carrying out the theme. It really felt as if the models were a bunch of school girls hanging out after class, while we happened to be privy to a little glimpse of their world. Though humor was used throughout, the pieces weren’t all quirky. Pants, shorts, skirts, vests and jackets were tailored beautifully and fit well, preventing them from appearing too “tween.” Classic styles such as a denim trench and denim shirt dress were livened up with red topstitching, and a short army green cotton jacket sported an elastic cinched waist in back, along with orange topstitching. The bias cut, chevron dress was very grown up, but Roth kept it young by fitting it tight to the body and hacking off one arm, creating an asymmetrical look (another ‘trend’ that seems to be in the air for Spring ’09).

After a fairly long hiatus from designing his own label, Francis’ point of view remains intact. His style is (and was) young, flirty and playful. The clothes are not for the demure, the self conscious, or the uptight. Rather, they cater to the bold, confident woman (young woman), who craves attention and strives to be individual. Welcome back Francis, school’s in session.

-Stacy Lomman

Friday, September 12, 2008

Vera’s ‘Chain’ of Command

Vera Wang Spring 2009 (Photos: by Frazer Harrison)

Vera Wang is nothing, if not consistent. She has finely honed and perfected a personal, and highly identifiable look and one that evolves rather than abruptly changes with the wind each season. As such, she represents one of a handful of designers whose work can immediately be identified (among the others are Ralph Rucci whose highly anticipated show will put the perfect finishing touch and exclamation point on New York Fashion Week this evening).

Vera Wang Spring 2009 (Photos: by Frazer Harrison)

Her by now legendary signatures, which were all in force on the Bryant Park Tent runway yesterday morning, include a reliance on black, navy, gray, and an admittedly ‘mousey’ neutral color palette (enlivened only with hits of color here and there), clean architectural and sculptural shapes, experimentation with cut and volume, stiff couture like fabrics such as gazar, organza, and taffeta, creative layering, an abundance of cardigans, streetwise leggings and t shirts, and of course, the artful expression (which is not only evident in her hand painted fabrics, but in the overall look and feel of the collection). And of course, the amazing ornamentation, which has, in the past few seasons, focused on large, statement making, necklaces.

One of the consistent themes throughout Vera’s spring 2009 collection, which was dedicated to the amazing personal style of Niki de Saint Phalle, was the use of massive, crystal ‘motorcycle chains’ in a variety of shades and finishes. They appeared as necklaces, belts, bracelets, and found their way onto bags. Just when you thought chains couldn’t get any bigger and more pronounced, they have (come to think of it, I think they weighed more than the models themselves).

Naeem Khan Spring 2009 (Photos: Scott Gries)

The shine and bling factor was so high at Naeem Khan, which directly followed Vera Wang (not only on the runway but in the audience as loyal fans paid homage to their favorite designer by wearing his beaded, shiny gold pieces), that one could have used sunglasses. The designer dedicated the collection, dubbed ‘Orient’, to exotic style icons Diana Vreeland, Loulou de la Falaise, DD Ryan, Babe Paley and Tina Chow and he is not alone in his embrace of the Far East. While he chose to open the show with a very chic ‘China’ white silk jersey one shoulder draped gown, what followed was an explosion of exuberant color, floral patterns, and ornamentation, much of it with a decidedly Oriental flavor. Among the standout pieces were the red peony and pink cherry blossom ¾ sleeve embroidered kimono style coat and dresses (long and short including one with an origami pleated bustier); the orange/red great wave embroidered kimono sleeve coat shown over a matching mini dress; the coral and red beaded silk georgette draped halter gown with an amazing back; and a duo of satin show stoppers: the red satin halter gown and the orange satin ‘byzantine’ gown, both with heavily jewel encrusted collars, obliterating the need for any other accessories. But the outfit that got the most applause from the audience (and his following is comprised of some of the most photographed social butterflies in town) was a simple white silk jersey t shirt shown with gold sequined embroidered wide cuffed trousers, which I instantly thought would look as amazing, if not better, worn with a black tuxedo jacket.

Anyone who knows Zang Toi, knows that he is as passionate about cycling as he is about creating, and he possesses a generous spirit that has moved him to find ways to give back. His “fun afternoon of fashion, auctions, and a special performance by a celebrity guest (talented Julian Fleicher & Band)” as the invite promised, took place at Daniel, on East 65th street, and while the spring 2009 collection was the ‘main event’, it was not necessarily the only, or most important part of the afternoon.

There was a live auction of 9 items, the proceeds of which will benefit the Lance Armstrong Foundation (the 7 time Tour de France winner and cancer survivor is a friend and often, cycling companion of Zang’s). Included was a private bike ride with cancer survivor and 7 time Tour de France winner, Lance Armstrong, (which fetched $9500), the legend’s autographed candy red Trek 7.3 FX 20” men’s bike (which sold for $5000), and a framed Livestrong Jersey in the foundation’s signature yellow and black racing colors, donated by Zang Toi himself (this went for $8000).

The chic 26 piece spring collection, a very urbane study in black and white with accents of pink, was filled with chic tailleur, knockout coats, silk/satin gowns, and unusual combinations of lace and plaid (my favorite was the black and white boucle plaid floor length ‘diva’ skirt shown with a long sleeved white silk chiffon jewel neck top pieced with black Chantilly lace on front and on the cuffs). It ended with 4 show stopping pieces that bore beaded, sequined, and mirrored facsimiles of iconic New York buildings: the Crown Building, the Hearst and Time Warner Towers, the No. 9 building, and the finale, a dramatic white floor length cape whose back was covered with a black beaded New York skyline. Considering the date, (9/11), this could not have been a more fitting way to celebrate the spirit of New York.

-Marilyn Kirschner

Reem Radiates

Reem Acra Spring 2009 (Photos: Frazer Harrison)

Rich, saturated jewel tones and soft, iridescent metallics paraded down the runway at Reem Acra on the penultimate day at the tents. Colors given names such as “Cobalt”, “Garnet” “Flamingo”, “Sunshine” and “Clover” (a bright emerald) indicated inspiration from the Far East, as did the luminescent jacquards. Other clues revealing the Eastern vibe were lovely water color, sumi ink style prints, and the golden jacquard jacket with mandarin collar and frog closures (worn with tonal charmeuse pants).

We should all be grateful that the talented Ms. Acra (whom started her career as a wedding gown designer and embroidery artist) crossed over to evening and daywear, as each piece was more spectacular than the next. Garments were jewel encrusted, dramatically beaded, ornately embroidered and “littered’’ with paillettes. Sunburst pleating was used throughout in skirts as well as dresses. A magnificent dress in a color Reem called “Sunshine” (how appropriate), neatly gathered the pleats together on one shoulder, then dropped a large section of the pleated fabric to the floor, emulating the rays of the sun.

Reem Acra Spring 2009 (Photos: Frazer Harrison)

Volume played a large part in the show as well, though garments never appeared heavy due to the light and airy nature of the fabrics. This was illustrated through sheer, iridescent cross dyed (and solid) chiffon caftans, and full, billowy pieces in translucent jacquard. Perhaps one of my favorite pieces of the collection was a pale blue and gold shimmering jacquard with embroidered cuffs. The dress’ V neck plunged all the way down to the belted waist, and the sleeves and skirt were so full, it looked as though it were a hot air balloon becoming inflated.

Of the forty looks comprising the collection, Acra only showed four pants; one of which was part of a ½” width, black and white stripe double breasted suit. While clearly the “odd man out” it was still a gorgeous suit! Long belted jackets with top collars and shirt dresses also made an appearance. Accessories were limited, however a twisted rope belt with (what appeared to be) an enamel and crystal closure, secured the waist of many looks. Shoes were kept simple so as not to distract from the glamorous pieces, and models glided in colored snakeskin high heeled mules or silk embroidered slippers.

Finding fault with this Spring ’09 presentation was impossible. Ms. Acra certainly knows her customer, and remains true to her own philosophy -- appreciation for the traditional and classic with the modern fashion needs of today’s stylish woman.

-Stacy Lomman

Custo Barcelona

Custo Barcelona Spring 2009 Collection

At the previous Fashion Week in February 2008, Custo Barcelona created a surprise with a somewhat gothic runway show performed under dimmed lights with an almost spiritual procession of models whose cadence slowed as the show neared the end. This time around, the highly creative Spanish designer takes us in a whirlwind tour of colors, patterns, appliques, lames and patchworks. It was an upbeat mix of a decidedly very iconoclastic fashion sense.

Metallic fabrics dominated the show, as seen in hats, jackets, pants and skirts, a reminder of the ever strong metallic effect. In recent years, these fabrics have steadily gained ground to become strongly enmeshed in the every day life: while silver and gold were once unseen outside of fancy parties and entertaining affairs, it now is everywhere, just as any other type of fabrics : Mr Barcelona embraces the use of silver and gold finishes fabrics with a great exuberance as seen in the runway show. Most of the designs gleamed from the use of fabrics or beading, with contrasting fabrics blending beautifully together a a result.

The show was carefully and precisely orchestrated: greens and cerulean blues dominated at the start, abruptly interrupted by bold and daring men's suits in all sorts of colors and fabric patterns: from a boldly and colorful striped suit to another one all in black and white with a flowery pattern, the suits were also about the call many designers make for bolder and more diversified men's fashion styles.

The women's line was extremely colored, with neon and sorbet colors taking the first step followed by cerulean blues, greens, then pinks, oranges, purples... life as seen by Custo Barcelona is all about bright and cheerful colors.

As seen in other collections this week, the most prominent details were about the waist, cinched at most times, and adorned with bows in the back on some designs, a reminder of the predominance of the Far East for the next spring-summer season.

Custo Barcelona Spring 2009 Collection

The designer surprises and enchants with his skillful placement of contrasting fabrics and patterns to create an always stunning effect. What could look as tacky and "unmatched" (read ugly) with other designs is simply beautiful when it comes to the clothes Mr Barcelona creates. Appliques, lames, beaded fabrics abounded in this collection, yet each and every design had its own sense of minimalism: the genius of this designer is in his excellent choice of fabrics paired with a strict and relatively simple tailoring of the clothes. The result is a rich display of clothes that are not overwhelming to live with, and at the best, be dressed with.

- Muriel Geny-Triffaut

Zac Posen’s Night of Stars

Zac Posen Spring 2009 (Photo: Isabelle Erb)

I arrived to check in for the Zac Posen Spring 2009 show on Thursday night prepared for the usual experience: long waits, being herded from one holding area to another in order to reach my seat. Much to my surprise, there was very little waiting time at all, the crowd flowed smoothly, and I was able to make my way into the tent in record time. This allowed me to settle in comfortably to enjoy all the pre-show festivities.

The parade of VIPs began almost immediately. A woman seated behind me emarked, “This show has real celebrities.” At that moment, the crowd began to cheer as tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams arrived. They were followed closely by Jada Pinkett Smith and Claire Danes. The Williams sisters were installed front and center on one side of the runway, directly across from Suzy Menkes of the International Herald Tribune, and seated quietly in the third row behind her, Miss J from America’s Next Top Model.

Zac Posen’s spring collection was a study in contrasts. There were peach sorbet colored dresses with metallic accents (perplex plating), and suede biker jackets layered over chiffon. Sheer leopard print dresses were presented in delicate colors like lemon and pistachio lipstick.

(Photo: Peter Michael Dills)

Some of Posen’s most appealing looks included a pastel biker jacket paired with a feminine flared skirt and a figure flattering ribbon dress that had just the right amount of sparkle. I was somewhat less enamored of his combination of a suede biker jacket shown with a loose top and capris and the short shorts and bikini top seemed rather out of place here.

There were several adorable bags in a variety of styles (drawstring pouches, totes, oversized clutches). I also liked the peep toe, sling back shoes with colorful contrasting heels. These looked appropriate with both day and evening looks.

The collection of gowns that closed the show varied from the sexy, navy starry night fringe gown to a black strapless look with an empire waist and an asymmetrical loose skirt. The most striking was the black and white silk Alhambra gown that worked surprisingly well in its unique color pattern.

-Rhonda Erb

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Michael Goes ‘Dotty’ for a ‘Platform’ for Change

Michael Kors Spring 2009 Collection (Photo: Frazer Harrison)

Anna Wintour may casting her vote for delicate, pointy toed shoes with thin spindly heels (the sort made popular by Manolo Blahnik, her particular shoe maker of choice), and hoping against hope that heavy shoes will disappear (I would love to see Anna wear platform booties just once), but from the look of things (as the spring collections come to an end), they are very much here to stay. While there are always different options and choices out there, and no one specific way to go, it seems the platform shoe with a chunky heel (whether it is a sandal, lace up bootie, or rope soled espadrille) is still very much a popular choice with designers, who have been using the style to impart a sporty, casual, natural, and grounded aesthetic.

(Photo: Frazer Harrison)

They were certainly in evidence at the upbeat, sporty and athletic collection shown by Michael Kors yesterday morning and, in fact, an exaggerated platform sandal in white or black were the only shoe he used. Other accessories which successfully carried out the sports theme were oversized white gleamy visors, aviators, and his always amazing, oversized, statement making bags (which I personally coveted). The collection, which referenced Malibu and Portofino, was very signature and pure Michael through and though. And that ain’t bad. With the optimistic and energetic Beach Boys soundtrack (“Good Vibrations” kept playing over and over) the models (gals and guys) strode down the runway looking so healthy and fabulous…it would be impossible to NOT want to look like them.

(Photo: Frazer Harrison)

What I loved about the collection was its consistency from beginning to end (the sports theme continued into evening, where Michael proposed a jersey scuba gown, a black cashmere t shirt worn with a gunmetal crushed lame track pant, or perhaps a silk faille anorak) and the fact that it didn’t resemble anything else thus far: there was nary a floral, a ruffle, a peplum, a piece of lace, or a piece of chiffon in sight. Instead, there was neoprene, cashmere, silk marocaine, gingham poplin, gingham faille, sailcloth, tech madras, jersey, stretch merino and crushed lame. There were graphic bold regatta stripes, checks, plaids and especially dots, large polka dot appeared on tops, on swimsuits, on dresses, and often, on matching bags. The forever chic combination of black and white or the nautically inspired navy, white, and red couldn’t have looked better and Michael offered both an eased up, slouchy, often voluminous silhouette as well as something narrower. Swimwear was knockout (graphic swimsuits with surf shorts, banded bikinis), and the runway was filled with items like cire windbreakers, lame t shirts, silk marocaine pullovers, crushed habitai track suits, scuba jackets, as well as some great dresses including one knockout in navy and crimson striped stretch wool featuring an arrestingly cut out back that resembled a ladder (hence the name: the ‘ladder’ dress).

Philip Lim Spring 2009 Collection

I must say I loved 3.1 Philip Lim which was very creative, individual, and all about a youthful, eccentric glamour and a ‘different’ sort of beauty: hair was pulled back into severe buns (often to one side), and reading glasses with unusual frames, were often used to accessorize, along with Christian Louboutin’s sculptural, often colorful shoes. The bullfighter served as inspiration and a Spanish theme was more than vaguely in evidence, as illustrated by such items as a fitted antique white linen matador vest trimmed with gold ribbon embellishment worn over a short sleeved antique white blouse and black ‘fold back’ trousers, a cropped black ‘conquistadora’ leather jacket shown with a taupe organza ruffled mini, a black Mantilla fringed bateau neck sweater worn with a parchment fold over middy skirt, ‘castanet’ adornments which found they way onto organza tanks as well as cummerbunds, and two sculptural ‘ole’ zipper dresses…one in black silk organza and one in pink. It was all about offhanded mixes (masculine vs. feminine, hard vs. soft, day vs. night, opaque vs. sheer). Couture like peplums encircled more than a few waists and ruffles showed up on organza and leather jackets, organza blouses, trimming a chiffon trench coat, and cascading down the back of a floor length dress. Speaking of which…the idea of back interest (arresting cut outs, details, etc.) has been a recurring theme at the spring 2009 shows, and that’s perfect especially when one makes their way on the red carpet (it guarantees you will be photogenic from every angle).

Oscar de la Renta Spring 2009 Collection (Photo: Firstview.com)

And speaking of the red carpet, Jennifer Lopez made her late entrance into Oscar de la Renta’s show just as the 62 piece collection was to begin, and she looked quite fabulous (wearing the designer’s black strapless dress). Undoubtedly, she was there to scope out selections for upcoming red carpet events and it was not a stretch to imagine the megastar wearing several glamorous evening gowns, including the avocado floral print gown with vinyl embroidery, the graphic white silk faille peplum gown with navy Harlequin embroidery, the silver and pale pink brocade strapless with a mermaid skirt, and the finale: a strapless silver ‘maco’ bead embroidered gown that looked like liquid silver, accessorized with a massive silver collar (silver was a theme throughout). In addition to silver, this season, Oscar is making a case for statement making necklaces, color blocked swimwear, crochet and lace, florals, ikat embroideries, and cherry prints (at least I think it was a cherry, it was hard to see details as I was sitting up in the balcony since they scaled down on the seating downstairs and had to add another section upstairs).

-Marilyn Kirschner

Douglas Hannant’s Rooftop Garden Party

Douglas Hannant Spring 2009 Collection (Photo: Isabelle Erb)

Members of New York’s social set mingled with prominent VIPs of the fashion press, as Douglas Hannant hosted a rooftop garden party for the presentation of his Spring 2009 collection. Nina Garcia of Project Runway arrived with E-Bay’s Constance White. Ivana Trump was also in attendance. In fact, so many heavy hitters filled the narrow space high atop Manhattan’s Roosevelt hotel, that photographer Patrick McMullen was hard pressed to shoot them all before the show began.

(Photo: Isabelle Erb)

As the guests settled into their seats, some were lucky enough to be seated in the shade, while others had to endure the blistering rays of the sun. No matter, Douglas Hannant knows his customer, and the audience was immediately delighted with his first offering: an elegant slip dress with lace insets in blush silk, replete with a wide brimmed hat. It was an outfit that was picture perfect for the garden setting.

(Photo: Isabelle Erb)

Hannant knows how to flatter the feminine form, whether he is showing a crisply tailored white pant suit or a ballet inspired black micorsequin tweed dress with a tulle skirt. He even manages to incorporate a sporty racerback into a buff floral print dress that is the epitome of a garden party frock.

To complete his collection, Hannant offered a selection of gowns in frothy colors like powdered blue and lavender. Each piece was an eclectic mix of intricate detailing accenting an elegant, ladylike shape. The lavender silk organza ball gown had a skirt so voluminous that it seemed to be inflated. It featured a substantial amount of ruching just along the hemline. In contrast, the powder blue/ pewter strapless gown was form fitting with an elaborate pattern of ruffles covering the entire length of the dress.

After the show, attendees quickly made their way through the maze of hallways from the roof to an elevator or stairwell to reach the main floor. Each guest received a bag filled with various cosmetics and a congratulatory note from Barneys New York which read: "Congratulations Douglas Hannant on another wonderful showing of true American luxury."

- Rhonda Erb

Anna Sui’s Spanish Sunset

Anna Sui Spring 2009 Collection (Photo: Isabelle Erb)

Upon entering the Tent at Bryant Park, on Wedensday night, for the Anna Sui show, one immediately noticed that the runway was bathed in a deep red light and an imposing image of the sun dominated the room. This was just an inkling of what was to come as Sui wowed the crowd with a Spanish themed presentation of her Spring 2009 collection.

Right from the beginning, Sui introduced an ensemble that featured a lively mix of stripes and dots as the first model marched down the runway to the strains of a hard-driving Latin beat. The music set the mood throughout the show, lending just the right amount of playfulness for each outfit.

(Photo: Isabelle Erb)

I was immediately drawn to the richly colored palette of Sui’s collection. The brightly colored dresses in turquoise, teal, lime, or tomato prints made me think of summer cocktails by the pool, while the more subtly colored pieces in khaki or olive evoked more of a desert like feeling. Still another aspect of the designer’s theme was represented by the predominately black, and/or white pieces, like the sun panel print linen hooded dress.

(Photo: Isabelle Erb)

Anna Sui accessorized many of her looks, like the Rose foulard daisy border print romper, with roomy square bags with long shoulder straps. There were also a number of colorful totes in vivid patterns of red or yellow. She showed several interesting styles of footwear, ranging from gold patterned boots to ornately decorated ankle strap sandals that were anything but ordinary.

Near the end of the collection, I liked the pairing of bikini tops with vibrant print, swingy dresses, to create a look that was at once feminine and edgy. Sui closed her show with two looks that featured bolero jackets. One of the models wore a hat reminiscent of a matador’s.

The audience seemed energized by Anna Sui’s Latin inspired show. It provided the perfect respite for fashionistas after a long day in the middle of Fashion Week.

-Rhonda Erb

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

“Naughty Narciso”

Narciso Rodriquez Spring 2009 collection (Photo: Firstview.com)

Ooh la la! The subtle implication of bondage played a role in Nariciso Rodriguez’ runway presentation of Spring 2009 last evening on West 26th Street. Strapping and taping details spiced up the otherwise demure pieces in what manifested into a very cohesive show.

Though the scene was not as chaotic as Monday’s Marc Jacobs frenzy, the show attracted a sizeable number of “A-listers” including; Jessica Alba, Julianna Margulies, Gwyneth Paltrow, Debi Mazar (of HBO’s “Entourage”), Isabel Toledo, Kelly Klein, Hal Rubenstein, Linda Wells, Glenda Bailey, Hamish Bowles and Andre Leon Talley.

Mr. Rodriguez’ show was one of the most successful of fashion week thus far highlighting elegant, understandable styling. Represented by impeccable tailoring, clean lines, sculptural shapes and pared down prints and color, the pieces were unmistakably Narciso. Garments were complex and well thought out, but never overworked. Fabrics consisting of natural fibers such as cotton, linen and silk, were kept to a minimum, further contributing to the tightness of the collection. While black and white were the staple colors, Rodriguez livened it up by introducing an acid yellow, linen dress, followed by dusty aqua, cayenne, coral and a touch of bright red and green toward the end. Black and white graphic prints in linear and small geometric patterns, also offered a break from the slightly solid assortment.

Yet again this week, the shape was streamlined with emphasis on the waist and shoulder. Rodriguez featured jackets sans lapels, opting for open squarish and angled V neckline shapes, or stiff stand type collars. Proportion was balanced using skinny pants to counter wider shoulders, and dresses demonstrated fuller skirts to off-set body conscious tops. Rodriguez played with asymmetry and shape, many times adopting a body wrapping technique, suggestive of Azzedine or Leger (perhaps due to the resurgence of the label). Models were bandaged like mummies in solid columnar dresses with one long sleeve (and the other side bare armed). Another asymmetric (and particularly interesting) dress in black and white knit looked as though two balls of yarn attacked the model winding feverishly around till she was trapped. Skin was revealed through forbidden, angular cut outs, and backs were provocatively exposed in different variations creating a sense of risqué.

Zippers appeared on a vast number of outfits, mostly set in the back of dresses (with taping exposed). They were attached to fabric chocker collars acting as an adjoining metal hitch to the rest of the garments. Jackets also turned to the zipper to preserve the linear theme, skipping buttons which may have otherwise created a distraction. Contrast taping delineated seams and crisscrossed over waistlines eliciting an awareness of restrain and constriction.

Although the collection accented the idea of restrain; it also aroused a feeling of overall ease. Perhaps it was due to the fact that Rodriguez set pockets into every look, allowing the models to comfortably saunter down the catwalk. Or, maybe it was the comfortable fabrics or the body grazing, flattering silhouettes. Whatever the case, one thing is certain; women will want to wear these clothes. And after all, isn’t that the point?

-Stacy Lomman

Monique’s ‘Platform’ for Change

Monique Lhuillier Spring 2009 collection (Photo: Scot Gries)

Monique Lhuillier’s spring show, dubbed “Luxurious Tropical Island Chic” was inspired by “sandy walks on the beach” during a recent island vacation, and referenced nature, which is figuring to be a consistent theme throughout the collections thus far. The color palette consisted of sand tones, fossil whites, sea blues and sun yellows and there were wave prints, basket patterns, golden wheat stalks prints, and straw braiding. In addition a casual, laid back islandy, vacationy vibe carried all the way through thanks in large part to Bruno Frisoni's platform sandals, a cross between an espadrille and the Cork-Ease (remember those?) and the only shoe used on the runway. Offered in luggage brown and bronzey gold, they were the perfect neutral and were paired with everything: stiff dark denim lean pantsuits, jewel encrusted denim dresses, gazar trench coats, pearl embroidered short sleeved costs, chiffon, organza and illusion lace cocktail dresses, heavily bejeweled jeweled shifts and tulle ballgowns. While they may not be for everyone, they were a nice unexpected surprise and far less predictable than say, high heeled stiletto sandals. My vote for the ‘coolest’ dresses are the knee length ‘Taj’ jeweled embroidered halter cocktail dress outlined with black and the gold silk chiffon embroidered cocktail dress with a low draped back.

Betsey Johnson Spring 2009 Collection (Photo: Scott Gries)

It’s a given that Betsey will break up the week and the day with a fun party/fashion show which celebrates life and speaks to the little kid inside all of us; you know, the one that doesn’t really want to grow up, just like Betsey, who manages to stay forever young (it’s obvious her granddaughter Leyla, is the apple of her eye and will keep her forever young). In that respect, it’s one of the most consistent shows during Fashion Week with its kid’s birthday party exuberance and wide eyed innocence, providing the perfect excuse to stop, take a breath, and realize that, business aside, fashion is not exactly rocket science, doesn’t cure cancer, and is basically, superficial and fun. The show could easily have been called ‘Petticoat Junction’ because there were endless hooped skirts (long and short), often tiered and shown with petticoats to exaggerate their fullness, plenty of ruffles (ruffles upon ruffles), eyelet, rose prints, ginghams, and nightgowns. Just when it was all getting a bit too sweet and frothy, thankfully, out came a sober group in black (a romper, a fitted military jacket, a cutaway jacket with tails). Another nice surprise were the chic Chanel inspired white quilted patent bags: one with a gold chain and the other with a top handle.

Dennis Basso Spring 2009 collection (Photo: Frazier Harrison)

The PETA protesters were out in force right before Dennis Basso’s spring collection, but they really didn’t need to waste their time - given that Dennis showed very few furs. This proved to be unfortunate because the ready to wear (full sleeved mousseline blouses, knee grazing day dresses, chiffon gowns, floral jacquards and floral prints) was rather ordinary at best, the layering and proportions looked clumsy, and the colors were off. The most successful idea was the use of lace in combination with Russian broadtail and alligator (one grouping in white was notable), and an abbreviated camel alligator vest shown with a silk taffeta batik plaid dress was chic. But those special pieces were few and far between and in a sea of dowdy prints, the pieces that looked the best were the simple black dresses. But do we really need to go to Dennis Basso for simple black dresses?

Vivienne Tam

Vivienne Tam Spring 2009 collection (Photo: Isabelle Erb)
"In the Garden With Yves"... "Peonies open quickly after spring rain, chiffon petals unfurling, Voluptuous blossoms swoon heavy on silk stem, sap rising in teardrops glistening on crisp taffeta."...
The above extract is of a poem written by M Huang and submitted to the guests attending the runway show of Ms. Tam, it resounds to the beat of this fascinating collection.

Vivienne Tam showcased a collection using a mix of materials - some of humble origins like stiff cotton duck along with luxurious silk and gleaming florals. Of course, peonies were the stars of the show : of the 39 designs featured, I counted 20 whose description include the word "peony" in it.

(Photo: Frazier Harrison)

The show was all a perfect and well balanced exercise of design for
clothes for every and any occasion: Ms. Tam succeeds in offering unique
and outstanding designs that can respond to the demands of different
lifestyles. INES, a wool pinstripe suit is a perfect rendering of
efficient design for the working woman coupled with the sexiness and
allure that makes one feel well, just that - one and not another.

(Photo: Isabelle Erb)

The designer's talent resides in her strong sense of balance. What is
vibrant should be vibrant. Long, flowing dresses adorned with florals
are reminiscent of a delicate spring. As a surprise, other florals
with bold colors and stronger tailoring create a different mood linked
to the rich and complex Chinese culture. Ms. Tam excelled with the
finely pleated floral dresses as well as the ones with red tones that
made for a very alluring and exotic look.

In contrast to many designers, she barely cinches the waist. She
wants the fabric and the adornments to create the structure of the
whole design. As a result, everything seems weightless and easy to wear. A
very important consideration for the woman of today's world. The
designer artfully exploits the fabric to become the reason for the
design. The beads that weigh dresses are precisely scattered for a
very special effect. A beautiful wrap dress in a purple jersey shows
the detail of a different pleating technique on the overlapping side
of the dress, creating interest and bringing a clear sense of style.

(Photo: Isabelle Erb)

From suits and jackets to dreamy dresses, the result is a delightful
journey to a land where the designer artfully blends East and West and
offers us a collection that "makes sense": from a chic and
effective working woman during the day, to a elegant and
glamorous one at night, all desires are filled in a delightful way:
hence the diversity of the collection, where wildly colored florals
collide with strict and reserved dresses.

- Muriel Geny-Triffaut