Thursday, April 30, 2009

Trying 'Times'...

You've got to be kidding! I was left speechless and dumbfounded after reading Cathy Horyn's front page Thursday Styles article, "You're Choosy. So Are We", which was alternately offensive, insulting, and insensitive, as she recorded her collaboration with three high profile stylists (two of them with high fashion magazine backgrounds) on hunting down "age friendly looks that are worth the investment, and "chic pieces for the 40-plus customer". Do you mean to tell me that the best they could do was to come up with an assortment that included such pricey items as a Miu Miu cotton poplin shirt for $925, a Lanvin/Acne denim trench for $1360, Vera Wang cotton stretch pants for $995, Martin Margiela platform sandals for $745, a Rick Owens washed leather jacket for $3,025, an Alaia zip-front cotton dress for $2600, and a L'Wren Scott blouse for $1655?

From my point of view, most of the pieces and looks were rather unremarkable and unexceptional, especially when you factor in the hefty price tags and designer labels. With all the great looking and moderately or inexpensively priced clothing and accessories options available to everyone these days (and yes, for all ages), Cathy & Co could have done a lot better providing more of a service to their readership.

While I did like the timeless Michael by Michael Kors trench for $200, trenches are literally all over the market, and many are available at half that price. And though I agreed the Barneys New York A.L.C. draped jersey dress looked more expensive than its $473 price tag, and thought that was a 'steal' if you were looking for a glam evening dress, the $3,025 little pale gray leather bomber by Brunelllo Cucinelli was a joke, and too closely resembled a $30 heather gray cotton sweatshirt hoodie from the Gap (in the photo, anyway). Just the thing for a recession, no? (NO!)

And puleeeease...gladiator sandals are SO last year! Haven't we seen enough of them by now? And do we really need to see a pair from YSL that are priced at about $800 when there are hundreds of designer knockoffs these days that look the same and are priced so much lower? Oh and, by the way, speaking about sandals and footwear in general, Ms. Horyn keeps talking up the over 40 factor, and what is age appropriate or not. Well...what about those dames who are over a 'certain' age, with less than perfect teenage feet? You know...bunions, corns, calluses, etc. And do I really have to mention, that in these 'hard' times, not everyone can afford to pamper themselves with a weekly or monthly pedicure (and not everyone is a magazine beauty editor who by definition, gets lots of freebees)...Need I say more? Why do fashion magazines and designers, insist on showing those god awful, hookerish sandals? What is wrong with showing some attractive shoes that are not necessarily dowdy and overly ladylike, but still cover those feet?

As a former fashion editor at Harper's Bazaar, I can attest to the fact that spending some time in the fashion world, especially within the rarefied walls of a fashion magazine, can do funny things to alter one's perception and, after awhile, it starts playing tricks on one's sense of reality, particularly where prices are concerned. But really, at this moment in time, does anyone with a brain really have to question out loud if $1400 on a print silk dress is "expensive or not" (Ms. Wolf admitted it was a "good buy" as well as a $2100 metallic leaf patterned Marc Jacobs coat).

I'm glad Ms. Wolf is fortunate enough to have the luxury of obsessing over the stitching and edging of a t-shirt, which explains why she is willing to personally forego the $15 Topshop t's in favor of her beloved $80 James Perses but, let's face it, the same little details that magazine editors typically obsess over tend to elude the rest of the world. Especially nowadays, when the average woman has more important things to worry about, like being able to feed one's family and afford the necessities of life. And really, at this economic juncture, including those kinds of quotes in the article seemed to show a complete lack of sensitivity on the part of the powers that be at the Times, and they would have been wise to edit them from the article.

-Marilyn Kirschner
Cathy Horyn: 'You're Choosy. So Are We?'

Anyone read Cathy Horyn's column "Your Choosy. So Are We." in today's 'ThursdayStyles' section of The New York Times? What world does she live in? The column is about stylists shopping for mature women who are buying less but not cutting back on quality - - $3500 bomber jackets, $690 scarf, $2600 dress, $995 pants, and on and on.

"Choosey" is not the word, "Stupid" would be a better fit. Like a mature woman has to spend that kind of money on over priced designer clothing that will most likely end up at Loehmann's? Does she really have to spend $3,025 on a Rick Owens washed-leather jacket and a $1655 L Wren Scott silk tie blouse to think well of herself? Where does quality end, and conspicuous consumption begin?

We really wonder if it was meant to be taken seriously, or is the article just a pay back to some of their advertisers? At least that would make sense. We sent a note over asking Cathy just that. Let's see if she will even dignify us with a response! In the past, she has refused even to speak to any of our writers and has declined our request for interviews.

-Ernest Schmatolla

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Bling, Blam, Bloom

(All photos courtesy Swarovski)

Swarovski has got it going on for Fall/Winter 2009. Think about a most bountiful, beautiful, and often-times seductive and sexed-up array of generously encrusted crystal jewelry, handbags, watches and the like, all of which debuted at the company’s recent event in an airy, spacious, flower-and-tree-laden, penthouse space in NYC, and you will get the point intended.

Going under the aptly named theme of “Nature Reloaded”, every collection here, from the gigantic and haute couture to the prettified and pret-a-porter, made its own definitive statement for the type of big style, big glam and lollapalooza effect, which so very many Red Carpet celebs and real people, too, have come to love and look forward to from Swarovski over the years.

First on the docket came the ultra pricey, say-it-loud and never low-key Daniel Swarovski collection, which is celebrating its 20th Anniversary in 2009. This is a serious, ultra-glam grouping, which under the creative guidance of Rosemarie Le Gallais and the artistic direction of Nathalie Colin, showcases 20 heavy-duty handbags (precious little clutches and evening styles), 20 super-shiny pieces of jewelry (huge cocktail rings and over-the-top necklaces), and a gaggle of covetable watches, many rendered in true, old-world, dressmaker details of woven, lace and braided effects.

The pieces work generally due to the fact that mostly everything here possesses a strong form of art deco noblesse oblige, in terms of requisite shapeliness, form, design creativity and workmanship. Most noticeable and most true to the couture feeling of Daniel Swarovski, though, is the overall black, gold and silver color pallette, used across the line. While it is summarily expected that chic colors such as these would be chosen for the collection, it is also obvious that the use of other colors, such as brights or mixtures of one-off tones, might have made the pieces appear too garish and cheap, which surely was never what Daniel Swarovski had in mind for any of his pieces, beginning with the first collection back in 1989.

Moving on to the main Swarovski pieces, Nathalie Colin re-addresses nature, while taking a hard look at several strange and enchanted stories, such as “Reptile Tectonic”, “Hypnosis”, “Purple Blossom” and “Enchanted Microcosm”. Moving into netherworlds such as eclectic geometry, hypno florals, and dreamy worlds, individual groupings tell their particular story by way of jewelry and accessories, worked around a cool mix of seductive crystals and an eclectic color story of lovely pales, richest goldens and shimmery darks. All in all, who cares if scary snakes and plumped-up stones are the order of the day? In the end, just about everything that Swarovski is serving up is all good and good enough to be voluptuous and covetable.

One of the more memorable parts of the Swarovski line is the fun, whimsical and fantastical “Enchanted Microcosm” section. This grouping stays in the viewer’s mind, simply because the pieces play around a magical kind of forest and fairy story, which, for the most part, does not take itself too seriously. Of special note here is the return of the thoroughly joyful and multi-colorful “Elvis”, “Erika” and Bat” and “Cat” characters, seen this time around, popping up across an array of “insect” and “butterly” pendants, as well as “good luck charm” cell phone accessories.

While the Daniel Swarovski and Swarovski collections in their entirety do a nice job of presenting their “Nature Reloaded” stories, each in their own different ways, it is true that the lion’s share of each collection ties together well. And that is the way jewelry and accessory collections are supposed to work, especially when considering the fact there really is something for just about every jewelry lover in each line.

Obviously, Daniel Swarovski’s big, showy, extravagent baubles, which break in August 2009 at four of the company’s American boutiques, are never for the faint of heart, and that is totally cool. On the other side of the coin, the more accessible, affordable and generally more wearable Swarovski pieces have their place for those who may not necessarily be or might never have the desire to be, the debutante, celebutante or “It” girl of the moment. Available also in August, this part of the line will be in all of the company’s stores and online at

– Adrienne Weinfeld-Berg
Tie Me Up. Tie Me Down.

Model: "Perception"

It is always neat when a new designer in town, especially a town such as NYC, creates an interesting new line of something or other. In this case, the new designer in town is a professional salsa dancer (yes, that is correct) by the name of Burju Perez, and her new collection of dance-inspired (of course) shoes, just launched during an event held at Nest Nightclub, of all places.

Model: "Chic"

First for the good news. Taking her repertoire into what some might see more as a fashion zone vs. a shoe line geared more for the international dance community, Perez has created a myriad of styles, worked up mostly in a nice complement of styles and colors. Much of this grouping could equally well on any catwalk, on any stylish woman, man or child, or further to the point, really well for a bride, groom, maid of honor, ring bearer, flower girl or flower boy, if you will.

Model: "Sleek"

According to the designer (and the PR people at the event), while the shoes are mostly available as is at select international stores and on the company’s website – – online shoppers have the chance to have their every shoe fetish fulfilled, which could mean changing and customizing the shoes in question to be just what the buyer really, really wants. According to budget, naturally, most, if not all of the shoes in this collection can be re-worked, modified, or whatever – keeping the basic design in-tact - to include desired color (single and combinations thereof), glitz factor (beading, trims, et al; for those who want more, more, more), and heel height. While the shoes range from 1 ¾” to 3 ¾”, there are always customer who opt for the more and, or the less. For this editor, the less seems the most right and the most comfortable, which translates into a very chic feeling for the capsule menswear grouping, which just looks so fresh and modern here.

Model: "Eyecandy"

Also for this editor, while some of the collection did bring to mind what an actress or actor might wear in a Pedro Almovadar film, there are still enough cool choices – the as is shoes or the specialty custom pieces - to please many of the more hard to please out there in shoe-land. Most things considered, Perez is to be complimented on her new line.

Now, for the bad news. Nest Nightclub is one of the worst – if not the worst – location to hold a special event, especially for a launch of a collection of anything which is geared to members of the fashion press. But wait, there is more, and this is where things really went from bad to worse. This event was an open event, which simply means that the public was invited to attend, although most of these people, whose names were on another list aside from the PR press guest list, were huddled into a separate, downstairs area, generally away from the editors, photographers, stylists, et al, who were in a separate space upstairs.

Arriving press guests were first “greeted” at the door by a disinterested and quite surly bodyguard, before being handed over to a very young PR woman, and then herded up a long, dark staircase, to an over-heated, crowded space, which the PR people were calling a “Private Press/VIP Meet & Greet” area.

Making matters worse – could it get worse? The answer is yes, and it did get worse from here on in - was that the PR people were handing out drink tickets - one to a customer, mind you – which meant that even if anyone was lucky enough to get the gratis glass of wine from the totally understaffed bar, the one gratis drink was all that any ticket holder was going to receive, unless of course, a cash bar drink was desired from then on.

Then, there was the “Custom Shoe Fitting”, which had frazzled, young, female “fitters”, running around like chickens with their heads cut off, trying desparately to attend to the needs of the clamoring, invited guests (and who knows who else), wanting to try on the shoes, so that they could then use the discount coupon (20% off the regular purchase price online) in the goodie bag, just in case that person wanted to indeed order the shoes.

With the obvious preparation that went into this launch, and all of the sponsors who participated in it, the whole shebang could have been executed so much better, in order to simply achieve the main goal of hyping the shoes to the fashion press who attended. Sometimes, that old adage, less is more, really does come into play, especially when considering a launch event such as this one.

– Adrienne Weinfeld-Berg

Monday, April 27, 2009

‘Snap’ Judgements

A week has gone by and we (and I mean all of us) still can’t stop talking about Susan Boyle and weighing in (sorry about the pun) on our fascination and obsession with beauty, and the notion of judging a book by its cover. This was even the cover story of the Sunday Style section of The New York Times yesterday, “Yes, Looks Do Matter” by Pam Belluck. As Ms. Belluck observed, “for more than a week now, people on both sides of the Atlantic have been using the story of Susan Boyle as an example of just how shallow we’ve become” and she went on to discuss why our “brains persist in using stereotypes” and we continue to make snap judgments based upon looks (something which has been described as “only natural” and human nature, even by Ms. Boyle herself).

Coincidentally, as I turned the pages to continue the article, I happened upon ‘On the Street’, Bill Cunningham’s weekly column. (click here to go to his video column). For over 30 years, the legendary photographer has defined (or rather, redefined) fashion, style, and beauty through his lens (giving new meaning to ‘snap’ judgment), and as I glanced at the images of the diverse group who made the pages this Sunday, I couldn’t help but think how influential Bill has been, and how large a role his column has played in shaping our collective perceptions or misconceptions on those subjects. While admittedly, this group, like all the others, might seem to have little else in common, what binds them together each Sunday is that they possess an element that is the thread in Bill’s column.

His 'Evening Hours' column is all about chronicling names and faces of those revelers who attended high profile events and soirees around town, the ‘On the Street’ is a true collage (in every imaginable way) representing a cross section of life. Bill has the youthful energy and curiosity belying someone decades younger, and is the furthest thing from a snob: he does not search out or photograph the genetically blessed or socially connected. In fact, it’s quite the opposite it seems. BC puts his encyclopedic knowledge of fashion, innate taste, and great natural instincts to use in the most democratic way, finding the extraordinary within the seemingly ‘ordinary’ and giving equal time to labeled and non labeled items, depending on the thrust of the article.

While he has in the past, devoted his pictorials to say, a certain Chanel jacket, Hermes bag, or Burberry trench, more often than not, he is seeking a democratic cross section of items, at all prices, to more effectively and fairly make his point. Or in many cases, he is zeroing in on the finely tuned details that would elude most of us, but which capture his imagination (the arrestingly interesting back of a coat, the dressmaker/ couture like pleats of a dress, the way a belt is tied, etc.) So too with his subjects: he photographs everyone from babies to octogenarians (and not only the Iris Apfels and Brooke Astors of the world) and everyone in between, as well as dogs, cats, flowers, birds, etc. Anything that he finds beautiful and captivating.

And so, photogenic, young, beautiful, fashionable, tall, thin, social/fashion fixtures and celebrated clothes horses (snapped while attending fashion shows, charity balls, high profile openings), are routinely juxtaposed next to unsuspecting ‘civilians’ (of varying sizes, ages, weights, heights, ethnicities, social classes, sexual preferences), who Bill discovered ‘doing their thing’ at street fairs, city parades, or as they ran errands about town. Very often, there are no ‘glamour pusses’ at all (just ‘average Joes’), and celebrity subjects are not automatically given more space time because of ‘who’ they are. For example, in this week’s ‘In the Air’, the picture of fashion star, French Vogue editor-in-chief Carine Roitfeld, is not as large as the one of Marjorie Stern, the designer coat collector who is not a fashion insider, but a woman who works on 5th Avenue, and who has caught Bill’s eye.

I remember several years ago when python and snakeskin were the height of fashion and ubiquitous on all the runways. All the designers, from Miuccia Prada to YSL were showing snakeskin coats, jackets, pants, etc. and in his column spotlighting the trend, Bill not only used photos he had taken of editors at the Spring shows in New York and Paris, many wearing designer duds, but showed a young man, (I believe he was a reveler in that year’s Puerto Rican Day Parade), whose naked torso was wrapped with a real snake. It's not just about celebrating or rewarding the fortunate few who can spend well into the 4 figures for an item, but the ones who are individual, creative, and ingenious. I suppose one call Bill the original 'High/Low' guy: a true precursor of what would come. And how relevant, particuarly in these hard economic times!

And talk about not being a snob and being completely democratic, (Bill is not ‘star struck’ and celebrities are not of specific interest to him). In fact, when I interviewed him for our 'Masters of Fashion Video Series', he said that what interests him are women who dress themselves and who buy their own clothes, not socialites and actresses who are given things to wear by their publicists. To wit, during Fashion Week several years ago, as I made my way to my seat at the Tent in Bryant Park, the photographers were making a mad dash to snap an attendee in the front row. Bill asked me who it was, and because I couldn’t see the person, I didn’t know. Well, he went over but quickly came back. In that time, I realized who the celebrity in question was and told him (she will remain secret). Unimpressed, he shrugged and smiled, saying, “It doesn’t matter…she didn’t have any style anyway.”

-Marilyn Kirschner

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

In the Market Report

I’m A‘muse’d

While there has been a growing trend towards a more democratic inclusion of diverse ethnicities, races, body types, and ages with regards to the definition of beauty, runways and fashion magazines are still the province of those impossibly genetically blessed creatures that seem to inhabit a different world than us mere mortals. And next month, they will be celebrated in all their muse - like glory, in an exhibit, “The Model As Muse: Embodying Fashion, mounted by the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute,, May 6 – August 9th, 2009.

For sure, the attending gala, which is long considered to be the Party of the Year and will be co-chaired on May 4th by Anna Wintour, Marc Jacobs, Justin Timberlake, and Kate Moss, is always filled to the rafter with divine looking A list celebrities, megastars, social fixtures, fashion designers, and models. As for the latter, I would imagine they will be out in record droves since they are the focal point of the exhibit itself (organized by Harold Koda and guest co-curated by Kohle Yohannan), which seeks to explore the relationship between “high fashion and evolving ideas of beauty”, with a focus on “iconic models of the twentieth century and their roles in projecting and sometimes inspiring, the fashion of their respective eras.” Indeed, in addition to Kate Moss, other models that will be featured include such icons as Suzy Parker, Dovima, Jean Shrimpton, Twiggy, Jerry Hall, Gisele Bundchen, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Veruschka, and Lisa Fonssagrives. Unsurprisingly, supermodels past and present are being celebrated in the May issue of Vogue, which also features a select group of 9 “Faces of the Moment” on its cover.

We live in a youth obsessed, beauty obsessed, and thin obsessed culture. And while thankfully, certain things have changed, even within the hallowed (or should I say, hollowed) walls of the fashion world, where those very traits have traditionally been revered and worshipped, things haven’t changed that much. On the job front, while there is no substitution for talent and ability, looks can get one through the door, especially in fashion, where one’s outward appearance undeniably plays a big part.

On a personal level, early on, as a young fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar, I was made very aware of the premium put on one’s looks, and felt that I was always being scrutinized and ‘judged’ on those merits. Obviously, looking attractive, being well groomed and stylishly dressed was a factor in my initial hiring, and it was always rather obvious upon meeting a fashion designer (and I’m referring to bold faced iconic names who I had the privilege of covering), that I was literally being scrutinized from head to toe . I could literally follow their eyes as they ‘sized’ me up, and felt their approval of my entire package, was tantamount in winning their acceptance and trust. I’m not saying this is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’; it is human nature, very understandable, and I am simply telling it like it is. I’d venture to say that most of us are guilty of ignoring the sage old adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.“

But all that apparently changed last week (well, temporarily anyway). Why? In two words: Susan Boyle, the pudgy, ugly duckling, unfashionable, 47 year old Scottish spinster who admits she has never been on a date, has never been kissed, and had everyone chuckling in disbelief when she walked onstage before her audition for ‘Britains Got Talent’. As soon as she opened her mouth to sing, “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables, her talent and beauty from within was undeniable.

And so, if you have been living in a cave these past few weeks, or have not had a chance to view the complete performance yourself, where you also get to see the smirks on the faces of the judges and those in the audience quickly turn to wide eyed disbelief and adoration, here is the link: Click to play video. Keep it in mind and perhaps you will be less harsh on yourself as you look in the mirror and find yourself having a bad hair day, discovering a few more gray hairs and wrinkles, and feel down because you can’t seem to lose those extra pounds. It is what’s inside that counts and beauty is truly from within.

-Marilyn Kirschner

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Michelle’s High ‘Card’ Diet

Argyle Cardigan by Junya Watanabe

The political pundits might be weighing in on the merits of President Obama’s recent 8 day European tour, and whether or not he accomplished what he set out to but, by almost all accounts, Michelle Obama’s official fashion ‘coming-out party’ was a resounding success. Even if you don’t agree that the First Lady has formally solidified her place as a bonafide fashion icon (and I would think you’re in the minority), you can’t deny that she gets an A+ for effort.

And even if you didn’t love each and every thing the First Lady wore, and disagreed with some of her choices, you have to hand it to her -- she is bold, experimental, takes risks, and exhibits an enthusiasm and exuberance that belies her relative inexperience with regard to fashion. Hey listen, she is relatively ‘new’ to all this, not having been a child of privilege where clothing and style were part and parcel of one’s world, and not having spent all of her waking moments immersed in fashion.

Black and white dress by Isabel Toledo

While she gets my ‘thumbs up’, that is not to say I don’t have my criticisms. And since everyone else seems to be weighing in on the subject, I thought I’d add my two cents. I had mixed feelings about the dress she wore to meet Queen Elizabeth (there was a lot of discussion about this), and I must admit I was actually surprised to find out that the black and white dress (featuring a white fitted tank top and black full knee length skirt), was designed by Isabel Toledo, who is known for her sculptural designs and innovative use of fabric. Though it looked chic and classic with Mrs. Obama’s pearls, and beneath the Jason Wu black satin ‘Opera’ coat she wore when arriving at the Palace, my overall impression was that the dress itself looked too much like a black skirt paired with a Hanes cotton undershirt (in other words, a bit too casual and not luxe enough). A better choice for the occasion would have been the Thakoon custom-made, mismatched floral coat and dress ensemble she wore when the First Couple arrived in Strasbourg. It featured a black and hot pink floral silk satin knee length coat and fitted short sleeved bateau neck dress in the reverse floral (pink with black), which made it interesting and special.

Custom made mismatched floral coat and dress ensemble by Thakoon

Another criticism, is that I’m sort of distracted by her rather nondescript footwear; and I actually think the J. Crew green leather pumps which she wore on Inauguration Day, to go with her Isabel Toledo ensemble, almost ruined the outfit. They certainly didn’t add anything.

Ensemble by Isabel Toledo

For someone who obviously puts a lot of effort into her clothing choices and accessories, the ‘special occasion’ shoes are not up to par. They basically all look alike: unremarkable black pointy toed kitten heeled pumps (she is taller than most so I’m sure she wants to wear low heeled shoes just to be politically correct and not overshadow everyone including her husband). Still, boring pumps are really unacceptable or, rather, unnecessary these days since footwear ‘rules’ and the one easy place to add a touch of unexpected whimsy to any outfit is with shoes. Plus, one can easily find amazing shoes with a variety of heel heights (at all prices), especially when you have resources, connections and the title of First Lady of the United States.

Believe me, I am hardly suggesting she goes out to buy gladiator sandals, platform booties, or those disgustingly aggressive, hookerish platform sandals that are not only all over the runways, but all over on the streets. Not only do I find them ugly, unflattering and distasteful, but they look uncomfortable, unwieldy, and belong on the ‘street’ if you know what I mean. I don’t get them at all. What I’m proposing are gorgeous, elegant, chic, and feminine shoes with a little verve, spirit and personality (a T-strap, a D’Orsay pump, a Chanel cap toe, something with a ribbon bow across the vamp, a mod buckle, a flower decoration, or something in a pale metallic or strong color), which would put the exclamation point and finishing touch on the First Lady’s wardrobe. Mrs. Obama seems to favor shoes from J. Crew where, if you click onto, you will find a number of interesting and distinctive sandals and pumps in a variety of heel heights from flat to high. Of course, there’s always the masters, like Manolo Blahnik, Christian Louboutin and Roger Vivier, whose inspirational footwear is available the world over, and whose flat and low heeled shoes are as distinctive as their towering heels. One need not sacrifice style for comfort.

But hey, this is just my opinion, it is all subjective. Besides, nobody gets it right all the time. Even seasoned fashion pros like Anna Wintour and Carine Roitfeld stumble now and then (and how!). Don’t forget, Diana Vreeland once said, “Bad taste is better than no taste”. At least she’s an apt pupil and is obviously having fun with fashion. When is the last time we saw that in the White House? Let’s give her a hand for daring to break the mold and for presenting herself in a way that is such a glorious and welcome departure from First Ladies of the past, whose often ill-fitting, stereotypical wardrobes may have borne well-known design labels, but they were completely bland, unflattering, predictable, and forgettable.

What is most appealing is that one never knows what to expect from Michelle; her choices are sure to surprise, and she is willing to think out of the box. And though Michelle Obama is not a fashion pro (the brilliant Harvard Law School grad has more important things to do than spend hours a day planning her wardrobe or thinking about what she will buy next...LOL), you wouldn’t know it from the roster of designers she chose (not just American, but French, Italian, Japanese) and the creative way she mixed it all up with the aplomb of a seasoned front row celebrity editor. Quite frankly, her 8 day photo op, looked as though it could have been styled for an editorial in Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar.

What I also found interesting about the outfits Mrs. Obama wore to accompany her husband to Europe, was that they were the furthest thing from boring, humdrum, obvious, and predictable. It’s all about bold choices, bold statements, and tweaking the classics for the First Lady. She is not cookie-cutter in any way and nothing about her (as well as her family and their new found world position) is ordinary or run of the mill, including her fashion persona. In addition, each and every one of the ensembles was modern, relevant, and-of-the-moment, yet classic and untrendy enough to not be off-putting. And they had obviously been painstakingly put together in order to perfectly coordinate with each event. While there was much variety in terms of style, silhouette, color, and pattern, everything was in complete harmony with the First Lady’s personal style, and appropriate for each specific occasion.

What could be more ‘schoolish’ than an argyle cardigan, which she wore when she visited the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School in London? Aha. But there was nothing remotely banal or ordinary about the offbeat mismatched sky blue, maroon, navy, black, and white argyle cardigan designed by avante garde Japanese designer Junya Watanabe, (one sleeve was plaid one was solid, and half the front was plaid and half was solid), which she worn over a teal Jason Wu full skirted dress. And, when she visited Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centre, there was no way she would not put a smile on the faces of the young patients, in her sparkly cream cardigan and aqua pencil skirt by J. Crew.

Black dress by Azzedine Alaia

For dinner in Baden Baden, she went for that perennial standby -- a little black dress. But she upstaged everyone, including the First Lady of France, in her divine and flattering Azzedine Alaia black dress with fitted torso and full skirt, and the designer’s cropped short sleeved black cardigan. To tour Prague, she selected the always appropriate combination of black and white, using a white bow blouse by Moschino, which was worn beneath a black Alaia cardigan and paired with a Michael Kors black pencil skirt. This was belted with her favorite Alaia black studded belt. Once again, scale is everything and you’re not going to find Michelle in a run-of- the-mill garden-variety pussycat bow blouse. Leave it to the First Lady to find the biggest, ‘baddest’ bow out there. Of course, thanks to her enviable height, she can get away with it. Unsurprisingly, perhaps the most effective ensemble, in terms of simplicity and modernity, was the fitted black sleeveless Narciso Rodriguez dress, worn under a cropped Alaia cardigan, upon arrival in Prague earlier in the day. It showed off her stunning athletic form in the most appropriate and subtle way, but made quite a statement all the same. Yet, once again, I couldn’t help but think how much the minimalist all black outfit cried out for black and white spectator pumps, rather than the plain black leather shoes she opted for.

White bow blouse by Moschino and a black pencil skirt by Michael Kors

But do you know how I gauge a true fashion star? It’s someone who looks great all the time, not just for evening soirees and special occasions. And just a few days before Easter, they showed Mrs. Obama with her daughters on television planting their White House Garden, looking not only appropriate, but gorgeous and stylish in her brick red nylon anorak, skinny jeans, and hip athletic trainers.

Fitted black sleeveless dress by Narciso Rodriguez

In the meanwhile, there have been comparisons between Michelle and the late Jacqueline Kennedy (understandable because of her straight bob, her love of chic sleeveless sheaths, and an embrace of a rather classic look), but am I the only one who sees more of Anna Wintour than Jackie O, with her love affair with sleeveless shifts, full skirts, offbeat color and pattern mixes, and of course, cardigans (a long time Anna Wintour favorite)?

In her column for The New York Times, (The End of ‘Wife Wear’, April 6), Suzy Menkes observed that Michelle Obama’s embrace of the cardigan “is a signal that powerful women no longer need to prove their strength by dressing shoulder to padded shoulder with men” (the only jacket that the first lady wore in Europe was taut, short and again from Alaïa). From my point of view, that is somewhat besides the point. The First Lady is undeniably great looking with her radiant smile and perfect grooming but, because of her toned, athletic 6 foot frame, I don’t think the power suit would necessarily be a good choice for her. It might come across as looking a bit too hard edged and aggressive. And she knows it.

Let’s face it, Michelle doesn’t need clothing to empower her, give her an air of confidence, or impart a strong imposing stature. The choice of the cardigan softens her, becomes her, and completely suits her. And that is really at the heart of the matter. All her choices, while varied and often seemingly unconnected, are connected in that they reflect her own personal style, tap into her different sides and fashion personas, and become her.

Speaking of Michelle’s high ‘card’ diet. It is ironic that considering the broad shouldered power jacket from the 80’s has made a comeback and was the hit of the recent runways the First Lady has been playing up the soft, versatile, accessible, and often inexpensive cardigan for all it’s worth. And great timing, taking into account the state of our economy and the way we are all trying to save money and still look great.

Sparkly cardigan with the pale blue skirt both by J. Crew

What she has single-handedly done to revive the ‘lowly’ cardigan (not to mention J. Crew, is the stuff of legends. I’m sure this has put a smile on the face of many a sweater vendor, including Lynn Hiriak whose company is an homage to the iconic wardrobe staple and is called appropriately, Cardigan (http://www.cardigannewyorkcom/). You can bet this will have an impact on the consumer and the marketplace. Unsurprisingly, it already has. The Today Show’s Ann Curry has long been a jacket girl (usually favoring a smart black fitted jacket for her on air appearances) but, last week, I noticed that she began wearing sweaters and especially, cardigans, over her crisp white shirts.

And in the online audio video slide show of Bill Cunningham’s ‘On the Street’ column this past Sunday, “Greatest Show”, Bill made mention of the return of the cardigan sweater, describing one young woman clad in a cardigan over a short breezy dress as being the “epitome of high style”, and noting this is something that we will be seeing more of as we head into spring.

- Marilyn Kirschner
-Photos via

Thursday, April 09, 2009

HBO’s Alabama Connection

It was all fun, T-Shirts and a Sopranos wine and water bar at The HBO Shop in New York City recently, when Natalie Chanin, designer and founder of the clothing company, Alabama Chanin, previewed her limited edition, too cute collection of hand-decorated T’s for women and men.

In an obvious, albeit smart way to capitalize on the popularity of many of its current and past shows to lots of shoppers in the store, HBO hooked up with the designer to create a nice variety of recycled pieces from some of HBO’s past collections, featuring logos and key themes from the company’s pop-culture shows such as Entourage, True Blood, Flight of the Conchord, Sex & the City and The Sopranos.

T-shirts and TV shows aside, it is equally smart that HBO hitched its star to a designer such as Chanin, whose store and editorial credits include Barney’s, a 2005 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Funds Awards nomination, features in WWD, and a 2009 fall collection Fashion Week runway show.

OK, so it is all good with this new collection at the HBO retail store, right. Well, maybe and maybe not, because there might just be a bit of a catch here. Now, while the pieces are fresh and au courant, the price-points seem to be just a little bit off kilter and out of whack, especially considering the hard economic times in which many of us are living right now. So, no matter how much someone might like and relate to those HBO shows; ditto for one of Chanin’s cool and artistic T’s, the question that begs to be answered is whether or not the $65 or $85 price-tag hanging from the garment, is really worth it. As the old adage goes, only time will tell.

-Adrienne Weinfeld-Berg

Monday, April 06, 2009

I Am A Very Stylish Girl

Many in the fashion industry, and lots of shoppers, too, no doubt, have traditionally looked to Kate Spade for cool handbags and accessories. But, now that the company has just introduced a totally cool and quite groovy clothing collection for Fall 2009, it would seem apparent that more than just a few Kate Spade afficinados will cast a sharp eye on lots of these new looks. After all, most girls wants to be very stylish, and judging from what the fashion press saw in the showroom during this informal presentation, that thought might not be too hard to achieve.

Taking much inspiration from vintage and retrospective clothing across the board, the Kate Spade design team served up a hard-to-miss Mod theme, which embraced, for the majority of the pieces on hand here, a mix of wildly colored and black-and-white pieces that could work equally well in modern times as they could when worn by a fabulous “bird”, cozying next to Austin Powers in a Union Jack emblazoned, English sportscar.

Targeted obviously to the young, hip, and thin girls out there, who like to shop at Kate Spade stores, as well as Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus, where the collection will also be sold, this line has its place because it is basically intelligent and well thought out.

Thankfully, the designs in this line do not seem to be focused on the same-old, same-old, re-hashing of American Mod, which has been the story from too many designers of late. What makes this collection so much fun and so real is that most of the pieces definitely appear to be zany, wicked and wild; the sort of old-school, kicking it up, and anything goes Mod that so many in the fashion industry remember with a smile, a wink and a nod to their crazy youth. Maybe the majority of the collection works so well because the designers actually wanted the collection to be the kind of authentic, European Mod that comes straight up from London, Paris and Rome. Or, maybe what was in their creative minds on the whole was a broader type of Mod that is coming from anywhere those who see this collection, want it to come from. And, that is perfectly fine.

On the high note of this line, there are the whimsical and bright, little dresses, sequined and patterned mini skirts, classic-with-a-twist, double-breasted “Stewardess” coats, cropped, furry, fun accouterments (wraps and jackets, mostly), wildly patterned bow-tie blouses, super- embellished shifts, and the like. Moreover, the clothes look really neat when shown with signature accessories, such as subdued (or wild and out there) buckled, flat shoes, hot red tights, youthquake-style hats (the nifty bucket hat is just right), crazy , layered all over jewelry (bracelets and necklaces, for example) and the de rigeuer handbag (small or big, it does not really matter, because all of the handbags, especially the “Owl” looks work so well).

However, there are some problems, albeit small problems, with some of the pieces in the line, which can take away from all of the fun and zest of the overall collection. There are some low-points, particularly when it comes to a few drab jackets, pants and vests, predominently done up in unnecessary and boring blacks and greys; ho-hum colors which really are out of place with everything else that is happening here. Trying hard to give more life to this part of the line are some of the accompanying pink and white under-pieces, some of which seem to be wanting to break out and join their more whimsical counterparts elsewhere in the grouping. Well, that just did not seem to happen at all during the presentation, and when it did not happen; well, that was just too bad.

– Adrienne Weinfeld-Berg

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Conversation with Francisco Costa”

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Museum at FIT presented a peek “Inside the Designer’s Studio” with Francisco Costa on Monday evening. Luckily, the museums chief curator, Dr. Valerie Steele, interrogated Mr. Costa rather than James Lipton. FIT’s Katie Murphy Amphitheatre was packed with students looking for inspiration and advice from Calvin Klein’s successor. A shock of reality hit me when I suddenly remembered the last time I was inside that venue – to see Gianni Versace. I was a student at that time and felt as much hope, excitement and awe as the students that awaited Francisco Costa.

The stage was set with two simple chairs and a long table covered in a white cloth. The table supported two microphones and a plain vase holding three or four dozen white roses. Minimal. Elegant. Very Calvin Klein. A video screen showcased the Spring 2009 runway collection until Mr. Costa and Dr. Steele entered and exchanged greetings.

Costa spoke of his Brazilian heritage and the influence of his mother who was a dressmaker. He talked about putting on fashion shows for charity as a young man in Brazil (once using his dentists daughter as a model), and he “bragged” about the burgundy safari suit he made himself to attend an important function at the time. After High School, in 1983, he moved to Rio and from there to New York in 1986. At the time, Costa didn’t speak a word of English so he enrolled in classes at Hunter College to learn the language all the while taking evening design courses at FIT. Apparently, he had learned enough English to read a flyer on FIT’s bulletin board for a contest sponsored by IdeaComo. He entered and was selected as one of fifteen students to receive a scholarship.

From that point, Costa has led a busy, and sort of, charmed life. Fresh out of school, he landed a job with a dress company but was quickly swept up by Bill Blass. He migrated to Oscar de la Renta in 1993 and created a line called “Pink Label” while he was there. In 1998, he moved to Italy after being recruited by Gucci where he collaborated with Tom Ford on the well-known Cher-inspired collection. In 2002, love brought him back to New York. The distance was difficult on his long term relationship and Costa joked, “I either had to find a new job or a new boyfriend.” Klein’s partner, Barry Schwartz contacted Costa, set up an interview and Costa joined the company as Senior Designer. In 2004, after Calvin’s retirement, he took over the role of creative director. He went on to win the CFDA’s Womenswear Designer of the year in 2006 and again in 2008. His modesty surfaced again when he said, “I thought that the first time may have been a fluke and felt more validated after receiving the honor a second time.”

Francisco Costa is a gentleman. He is a soft spoken and humble man who is genuinely grateful to his mentors, supporters and his alma mater (FIT). He absolutely loves what he does for a living and reiterated that fact many times. After he answered questions for anxious audience members, Dr. Steele asked him where he saw himself in the next five or ten years. “Hopefully, still doing this. And more of it,” Costa replied.

-Stacy Lomman