Friday, January 30, 2009

On the ‘Rise’

Fashion Group International presented its 12th Annual Rising Star Awards yesterday, sponsored by Bebe and InStyle, at the Rainbow Room (with those breathtaking views). In her welcoming address, Margaret Hayes, President, The Fashion Group International, stated that Eight Rising Stars (eight “outstanding individuals”), are “recognized for their innovation, creativity, and accomplishments”. The 90 – 100 nominees are selected by approximately 100 people (FGI members) who vote, using a “numbered scale” and the winners are chosen by their “numerical score”. Ms. Hayes pointed out that the vote “represents a microcosm of the consuming public” and as such, is a good barometer of “future success”. She also added, “You are all to be commended” for this is a “unique, distinctly difficult economic climate.”

Speaking of which, it was noted that young Jason Wu, (who has practically attained ‘rock star’ status ever since his white gown was selected by the First Lady as the gown of choice for the Inaugural Balls), and winner of the Rising Star Award for Women’s Apparel last year, was in attendance, giving interviews, answering questions, lending his support and further validating the importance of the Awards (not that they needed validating of course).

The keynote address was delivered by Tory Burch, who won this award in 2005. She launched her eponymous company in 2004 (it all started with a $6 vintage caftan she found in a flea market) and it quickly became a widely successful lifestyle brand. Built around the idea of affordable Classic American Sportswear mixed with Tory’s own very apparent eclectic aesthetic, it has reached cult status, amassing a huge and loyal following along the way. As Ms. Burch admitted, “When I won this Award 4 years ago, it was one of the break through moments of our business” but she also warned the nominees that today’s climate represents a “bigger challenge than ever for those opening up their own businesses”. She even admitted that early on, she kept asking herself, “Does the world really need another fashion company?” But as she quickly found out, apparently it did.

Her list of the most important qualities that must be present in order for one to be successful:

“You need confidence and a strong point of view”
“You must have a complete vision, a strong sense of what the product will look like from the packaging to the furnishings (every detail must be precise and perfect)”
“It’s all about the product; you must focus on the product (“in this climate, that will be even more and more important”)
“I always try to think if I will wear a product. If I’m on the shelf about something, it’s edited out.” (It doesn’t hurt that Tory is a great looking gal with tons of personal style, an avowed fashion a ‘holic’, she looks amazing in her clothes and she is a walking embodiment of her collection)
“I always listen carefully to my customers - the women who wear my clothes”
“Most importantly the best advice I got from my parents: “keep it all in perspective. Put your family first and then everything else will fall into place.”

The winners in the eight award categories are as follows:

Accessories Presenter: ANN WATSON
Natalia Barbieri & Jennifer Portman - Bionda Castana
Eileen Shields - Eileen Shields, Inc.
Stephanie Owen - Elizabeth Cole Jewelry
Claudia, Laura, Alejandra Laviada - Pantera
Satu & Celeste Greenberg - Tuleste Market, LLC
Winner: Claudia, Laura, Alejandra Laviada- Pantera

Beauty/Fragrance Corporate Presenter: AMY SYNOTT
Marypierre Julien - Givaudan Fragrances
Juliette Karagueuzoglou - International Flavors & Fragrances
Katie Lucas - Avon Products, Inc.
Julie Birns - Prescriptives, Estée Lauder Companies
Winner: Julie Birns- Prescriptives, Estee Lauder Companies

Beauty/Fragrance Entrepreneur Presenter: JANE LAUDER
Cathy Gins - Aromawear LLC
Jessica Dunne - Ellie D Parfume
Tom Wilscam - Hommage
Janet League - Katzin - Sphatika International, LLC
Gerd Schwarzkopf - PHCP, Incorporated, Professional Hair Care Products/Mensgroom
Winner: Cathy Gins- Aromawear LLC

Home/Interior Design Presenter: CHRIS MADDEN
Claudia Kalis - CK Designs
Jaimie Chew - J. Chew Porcelain
Wayne Ludlum – Vestalife
Winner: Wayne Ludlum- Vestalife

Fine Jewelry Presenter: PAUL MORELLI
Ariane Zurcher - Ariane Zurcher Jewelry
Danielle & Jodie Snyder - Dannijo
Darcy Miro - Darcy Miro Metals Shop
Ivanka Trump - Ivanka Trump
Stephanie Albertson - Stephanie Albertson Jewelry LLC
Winner: Ariane Zurcher- Ariane Zurcher Jewelry

Men's Apparel Presenter: ALEX BADIA
Carlos Campos - Carlos Campos
Anthony Keegan - Commonwealth Utilities
Michael Leen, Matteo Gottardi and Hamid Johannes Mahmood - Operations
Prince Williams 3rd - Prince Williams Designs

Winners (it was a tie): Carlos Campos- Carlos Campos, Anthony Keegan- Commonwealth Utilities

Alexis Maybank - Gilt Group
Hicham Benmira & Brian Cousins - Hollander & Lexer
Alexandra Adame & Nikki Fontanella - The Dressing Room Boutique & Bar
Winner: Alexandra Adame & Nikki Fontanella- The Dressing Room Boutique & Bar

Women's RTW Presenter: PHILLIP LIM
Annebet Duvall & Stephanie Doucette - Doucette Duvall
Gustavo Cadile - Gustavo Cadile
Ina Soltani - Ina Soltani
Christian Cota - Christian Cota, Inc.
Sue Stemp - Sue Stemp
Michalyn Andrews - Trasteverine
Yoon Chang & Je-Won Hwang - Whiste & Flute
Winner: Christian Cota- Christian Cota, Inc.

-Marilyn Kirschner

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Arthur McGee & Me

The designer Arthur McGee

I was completely intrigued when awhile back, I received an email/invitation from the Press Office of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, inviting me to a luncheon at the famed institution on Monday, January 26th. The occasion, an apparently long overdue “Tribute to Fashion Designer Arthur McGee”, hailed as the “Dean of African American Designers”. According to his website,, the Detroit born 78 year old is the “grandfather of fashion designers of color, pioneering the way for them to enter the Fashion Industry on Seventh Avenue, and to start their own companies through his example”.

Mud cloth rompers

While I consider myself a seasoned ‘pro’ with years of experience within the fashion magazine world, I must admit that I was really not very familiar with the name and had never met the man (as far as I can remember). I was further intrigued after reading his impressive biography, chronicling his many contributions to the world of fashion. Among them: he was head designer for two all American classic labels, Bobbie Brooks in the 50’s and Collegiate Boston; he counted major stars and celebrities as loyal customers (the list includes the late Lena Horne and Sybil Burton, Mrs. Harry Belafonte, Stevie Wonder, and Cicely Tyson - who was present and addressed the seated guests before lunch); he was an inspiring mentor to countless fashion students (including those at FIT) and famed designers, including Elena Braith (Aziza Braithwaite Bey) who was credited by Harold Koda as being the “engine that drives this event”, and the late Willie Smith. The latter was of particular interest to me as I was fortunate enough to have been his editor when I was at Harper’s Bazaar.

Shirt dress

Nancy Chilton, head of Press for The Museum’s Costume Institute, told me this would be a sit down lunch for approximately 100 people and she promised it would be “lovely and inspiring”. Well, it was certainly that and more. And what an upbeat, lovely way to start the week! The 4th floor Board of Director’s wing, served as a rather intimate venue, and you could literally feel the love and warmth radiating through the rooms. Before sitting down to lunch, guests enjoyed cocktails and could mill around the adjacent ‘terrace’ room which boasted dramatic skylight windows overlooking Central Park (I wouldn’t mind moving in there). It was there that dress forms, clad in a well edited retrospective of Arthur’s work though the years, enabled attendees to get a quick glimpse at his design aesthetic (“classic with a twist” is how he put it). Indeed, the clothing, which ran the gamut from play clothes to evening and everything in between, seemed ageless, timeless and could easily have been the work of a creator in 2009. Of particular note was a gray pinstriped jacket whose top was completely encrusted with pearls and beads, a chic as all get out tiny checked funnel necked, belted raincoat with gathered back, and the African mud cloth shirt dress and abbreviated romper which Cicely Tyson admitted she owned and loved.

Before the lovely lunch of composed salad and warm chicken breast, The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Chief Audience Development Office, Donna Williams, addressed the assembled crowd which included Andre Leon Talley, Hamish Bowles, Susan Taylor (editorial director of Essence), Amy Fine Collins, designers Stephen Burrows and B. Michael, EBay’s Constance White, Lynn Yaeger, and Audrey Smaltz. But while many faces were familiar to me, this was not exactly a typical fashion crowd with all the ‘usual suspects’ and so there were many more that were not. I really enjoyed chatting with guests and table mates who I had not crossed paths with before.

Belted raincoat

Ms. Williams was followed by Thomas P. Campbell, Director, (I guess one can describe this as a ‘coming out’ party of sorts, since he has just taken the place of the recently retired, legendary Philippe de Montebello). Next up was Harold Koda (Curator in Charge, the Costume Institute), who took the conversation to another, somewhat political level, alluding to the often neglected exclusionary aspect of the fashion industry with his observation, “there is a changing definition of what constitutes American fashion”. Let’s give credit where credit is due. It’s a good thing”. Then came Richard Baker, Chairman, Lord & Taylor who said that the iconic chain, established in 1826, (the oldest in history), has long built its reputation on “signature American Style”, and was a major force behind Bobbie Brooks, the label which was headed up by Mr. Mc Gee. He spoke of Arthur’s “pioneering spirit and talent which has inspired many in the fashion industry and lauded him for showing how to “expand boundaries and move fashion forward.”

Last but not least, Cicely Tyson, looking great in a tailored pantsuit, personalized the whole event. She spoke of how touched she was to hear the Met would recognize Arthur with this tribute and lovingly spoke of Arthur’s designs as being “more than just clothes…they were a part of me”. “His clothes seemed so free…when I wore them I always felt like I was floating”. On a personal level she added “I’ve always loved him because he is so honest and so kind”.

Pearl & bead encrusted jacket

After lunch and before coffee and dessert, there was a video screening filmed interview with Arthur Mc Gee which had the guests laughing out loud with his remembrances and recollections. Highlights included his admission that his mother always served as his inspiration (he began making hats for her as a young boy); that he was once told “there were no jobs for black designers” (after which he opened his store in the Village and immediately sold 8 – 8 things to Sybil Burton); upon going to fabric stores in search of fabrics…he was often asked, “Where’s the designer?” (He told them proudly, “I’m the designer”); when asked by his bosses to “make something new”, he obliged literally by creating a “sweater with three sleeves”. Most importantly, his roots have never been far behind because it is the way he “took African fabrics and turned them into classic things” that is at the heart of his aesthetic. As for his design “inspirations”…he read something Coco Chanel once said about the meaning of style, and mentioned the hallowed names, Claire McCardell and Adrian.

I couldn’t help but savor the moment, reflecting on how symbolic, fitting and timely was this tribute to an African American designer (who spoke so candidly about overcoming prejudice and discrimination to become a force to recon with), following on the heels of our recent and historic inaugural of Barack Obama. But at the same time, I couldn’t help but think how wonderful it would be if we were truly ‘color blind’, and not feel at all obliged to describe a designer as African American or to take note of his color or ethnicity. And with the formal installation of our first African American President, I think we all believe this is a more attainable, realistic goal than ever before. Anything is possible!

-Marilyn Kirschner

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Holy ‘Toledo’!

What a day! Barack Obama stepped into history yesterday, as he was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States and his wife, Michelle stepped onto fashion’s stage, making her official ‘debut’ as First Lady. In the process, she gave the American fashion industry a much needed shot in the arm with her selection of Isabel Toledo’s pale gold coat ensemble as her choice for the daytime inaugural ceremonies and Jason Wu’s white chiffon one shouldered gown for the balls that followed.

Regardless of how you felt about her choices (and there’s already been a lot of talk), what is undeniable is that her endorsement of two labels that are not exactly household names (though it’s obvious that will change from now on) is bold and quite telling in terms of her style future for the next 4 years (and beyond). Taipei born 26 year old Jason Wu (no more, Jason ‘who’?) and Cuban born Isabel Toledo (a designer Michelle Obama has chosen for public appearances before) are almost unknown to the general public (CNN’s Campbell Brown admitted to fashion correspondent Robert Verdi that she was not familiar with the name), but both are well respected within the fashion world. Ms. Toledo is especially revered and worshipped: she has been honored with the Cooper Hewitt’s Design Award in 2005, was the recipient of the Couture Council of FIT’s 2008 Fashion in Artistry Award, and will be the subject of the Museum at FIT’s exhibit, ‘Holy Toledo! Isabel Toledo and the Art of Fashion’, this coming spring.

The empire waist knee length textured pale gold coat, (which was actually gold lace overlaid onto wool lined in pashmina), featured a slightly shorter matching sheath underneath, adorned with a bejeweled neckline. I, like others, did think it was a trifle dressed up, a bit more ‘cocktail’ than 11 AM, and perhaps a bit too ‘Mother of the Bride’, and I might have preferred something else for this day. I was actually hoping for, or expecting something highly sculptural and ultra sophisticated and chic.

Having said that, with all this talk about ‘Recession Chic’, and what to wear and what not to wear these days, I dare say the one place you don’t want to see ‘Glunge’ (glamour plus grunge), is on the First Lady. (Who wants to see dull, dour, and depressed? The Obamas are the new ‘American Royalty’ after all). The yellowy gold was a flattering hue which beautifully complimented Mrs. Obama’s complexion, and accessorized with pale green leather gloves from J.Crew, it was an unexpected, welcome respite from all the black these days. (Though I would have preferred tall suede boots instead of the pumps and bare legs she chose, which looked a bit spring like for the cold winter day). And one can argue that the sunny happy shade was also symbolic of the fresh optimism that comes with the Obama Presidency.

As for the white Jason Wu gown, while some expressed their disappointment, (some ‘experts’ expected something halter styled and jewel toned), I liked it and my first impression was that the First Lady looked beautiful, fresh, soft, and very youthful. (For the record, I do think she would have looked amazing in something architectural by Ralph Rucci). Of course, it doesn’t need pointing out that Mrs. Obama is a great looking woman who is enviably statuesque, has great carriage, impeccable grooming, and oozes with confidence. And she has intuitive personal style. Her own personal style. Basically, it is almost impossible for her to not look good. She even looks regal in flats. I loved the black flat over the knee boots she wore with her purple dress and short black coat last Saturday. Accessorized with purple leather gloves (the coat had bracelet length sleeves), the look was modern, effortless, and chic and could have easily been her Inaugural outfit. But enough second guessing!

For the record, I was not one of the many critics of that now famous (or infamous) red and black Narciso Rodriguez dress, which she wore on election night. While in retrospect, it may have not been the most flattering dress (and undoubtedly it looked better in person than on television), I think it proved that she is above all, bold, her own person, has her own style, is not a carbon copy of anyone else, and happily will experiment and take risks (a fashion world’s dream). And she is only human. Oh my gosh…who among us (even the most style-celebrated) can claim to have never tried something only to have realized it was probably not the best choice? At least she didn’t look like so many First Ladies before her, who have no taste, no style, no sense of drama. Which brings me to the fabulous and always timely Diana Vreeland quote which perfectly describes my thoughts on said subject: “Bad taste is better than no taste”.

I also loved the way her black and red dress perfectly coordinated with the girls, Malia and Sasha, that evening. Speaking of whom, are they not the most adorable (and poised) young ladies? And what little budding fashion plates they are! Who could help but notice how chic they looked in the little white coats they wore last Saturday, as the family made their way from Philadelphia to Washington via train, or in their widely belted custom made J. Crew (Crew Cuts) bright coats with contrasting scarves on Inauguration Day? What a great looking family! While daddy, who is already being hailed as a ‘cultural icon’ in the manner of Nelson Mandela, certainly has more important things on his mind than clothes or fashion (he will be busy ‘fixing’ the world), his three gals will be a joy to watch and will no doubt, serve as inspiration for many.

-Marilyn Kirschner

Thursday, January 15, 2009

"Spring Forward”

The Italian Trade Commission supported the presentation of Spring/Summer 2010 Trends for Moda In, Ideacomo and Prato Expo Tuesday morning (all three host Italy’s finest yarn and fabric manufacturers – spinners, weavers, knitters). Approximately 150 fashion forward guests attended the lecture, slide presentation and breakfast held at Cipriani – Rainbow Room (30 Rock). The overview also included a display of four panels of swatches, prints, accessories and trims representing the themes proposed for Spring/Summer 2010.

Extremism is the buzz word influencing the next season of design. According to trade observers, analysts and sociologists, customers need to be stimulated and enticed during times of economic hardship. Normal is boring. "Maximalist minus (no, it's not a muscle in the body) and minimalist plus are the two main currents driving Spring/Summer 2010,” says Angelo Uslenghi (Trends Committee Coordinator and Forecaster). To further explain; decorative, maximalist looks possess subtle undertones while sober minimalism becomes energetic due to the contribution of organic or advanced techno product. There are no in-betweens going forward. Shoes continue to ‘climb to new heights’ with heels stretching up to six or seven inches! Sorry girls, it seems as though we need to persevere for the sake of fashion. Or do we? Angelo insists that flats, on the other end of the spectrum, will be equally important. Opposites attract in Spring/Summer 2010 and as well all know, the ‘High/Low’ has been working for some time now (think Isaac Mizrahi/Target – not to mention H&M/Lagerfeld, Rei Kawakubo, etc.).

Uslenghi and the Creative Team focus on four major themes for S/S 10: TECHNO ESSENTIALITY, LIGHT RICHNESS, CHIC DYNAMISM and DÉCOR SHOW. These four themes encompass simplicity, complexity, modern activism and fantasy. They play with opposites such as: Fragility and Force, Naturalness and Technology, Moderation and Excess. Some trends and highlights to look for are: mixing, matching and fusing of different motifs, patterns and treatments; suave, sophisticated “new vintage”; chic and “kitsch”; refined Afro/Indian American culture; handmade aspect; kaleidoscope; tailored and elegant gypsy/Bohemian; elaborate, creative accessories.

Fabrics and treatments are most important and help to convey the stories and trends of the season. Silky filament yarns (Cupro will be key) play a big role, as do natural vegetable fibers such as linen, cotton, jute and bamboo. Translucent, sheer fabrics and burnouts coexist with silicone and wax treated cloth. Colors range from fragile and acidic neutrals like absinthe, ice blue and porcelain to rich orangey browns and rusts. Eco-friendly khakis, military greens will make a statement, as well as passionate reds and energetic yellows and turquoise.

-Stacy Lomman

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Luncheon Honoring Arthur McGee

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is celebrating the legacy of fashion designer Arthur McGee with a luncheon on Monday January 26 from 12Noon-2:30PM with remarks by Cicely Tyson.

Born in 1933 in Detroit Michigan, Arthur McGee began his fashion career at the age of 18 when he entered a scholarship contest sponsored by the Traphegen School of Design in New York, advertised in a local Detroit newspaper. Inspired by his mother who often created her own fashions, Arthur submitted the winning design and set his course for Manhattan.

Mr. McGee went on to study a the Fashion Insititute of Technology (FIT) where he honed his skills for millinery and apparel design. He began working for the American Couturier Charles James while a student at FIT and later produced his own designs while pursuing employment in New York's apparel industry.

In 1957, Mr. McGee became the first African-American to run the design room of an established Seventh Avenue apparel company, Bobby Brooks. His remarkable talent and the broad appeal of his work transcended racial barriers, selling to such stores as Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale's, Henri Bendel, Bonwit Teller, Bergdorf Goodman, and Lord & Taylor. He opened his first store in the early 1960's on St. Mark's Place in New York City where his clients included Cybil and Richard Burton and Arthur Mitchell of the Dance Theater of Harlem. He became the designer of choice for many celebrities, including Lena Horne, Cicely Tyson, and Stevie Wonder.

Known as the dean of African-American designers, Mr. McGee mentored many young talents, including Aziza Braithwaite Bey (Elena Braith) and the late Willie Smith, paving the way for designers of colors. For more about the designer visit his website at

For inquiries about the event email Donna Williams: