Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The New Kid On The Block: JCPenney in NYC

All photos: Isabelle Erb

Last week, JCPenney gave the press a sneak peek at its new Manhattan store, located in the bustling Herald Square shopping district. The 153,000 square foot retail establishment occupies two levels in the newly renovated Manhattan Mall complex at 33rd Street and Sixth Avenue. The store marks a milestone in the history of the 107 year-old retail chain, which operates more than 1,100 stores nationwide. Although JCPenney has long been a presence in the boroughs of Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx, they have never before had a store on the island of Manhattan.

Touch screen for customers to search, select, and purchase items.

The Herald Square area is a crossroads of sorts for local residents, business travelers, commuters, and tourists, due to its proximity to the subway, the PATH train, and Penn Station. The JCPenney store has been designed for the shopping convenience of the more than 250,000 people who pass through this area each day. It features such amenities as an electronic queuing system, similar to that of Whole Foods, which will direct customers to its 95 point of sale terminals, and keep them informed of estimated wait times. Each register will also provide access to and its extended selection of merchandise. In the home section, customers can search the company’s extensive inventory with the help of a large touch screen that allows them to make a selection, purchase the item, and print a receipt which is then taken to a register to complete the transaction.

Two new exclusive JCPenney brands will make their debut at the Manhattan location. Cindy Crawford Style is a collection of home furnishings and accessories including items such as bedding, rugs, and table top pieces with prices beginning as low as $9.99. In the menswear department, Joe Joseph Abboud will offer sportswear, tailored clothing, ties, and outerwear described as “neo-traditional” in style.

Sephora Boutique

On the store’s upper level, a 2000 square foot “ store-within-a-store” Sephora boutique has been installed. This is one of many Sephora shops located in JCPenney stores throughout the country in what has proven to be a mutually beneficial retail partnership.

JCPenney will hold the official grand opening of its New York store on July 31, in Greeley Square Park. The ceremony will feature a fashion show and remarks by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

- Rhonda Erb

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

DVF Goes to ‘Town’ (Hall, that is)

Yesterday morning, CFDA President Diane Von Furstenberg presided over a Town Hall Meeting held at FIT’s Katie Murphy Auditorium. It was part ‘cheering section’ and part, ‘fashion call to arms’ (Who can forget that now famous mantra, “Can’t we all get along?”) With a large screen emblazoned with the words, “New York Fashion Week- Looking Forward” serving as a backdrop behind both Diane and the organization’s Executive Director Steven Kolb, (who stood together on the stage), it was obvious what the topic du jour would be (not that there was any question about that at all).

This event came about not only as a way for DVF to start an important dialogue and make things happen, but to help the designing woman effectively “process all the thoughts” that have come into her head beginning last October, when “things went really bad”, prompting calls to retailers in a frenzied attempt to find out what was going on and to see “what we could all do”.

“I always try to look for the light at the end of the tunnel” she said. “Last October, things went really bad. Everybody went too far. Everyone was too greedy and thought the party was forever. All of a sudden, it was too much of everything. Everything went too far”. (Among her remedies?: “Reduce offerings and create the demand. A better product at a better price equals more value.”)

Among those influential fashion heavy hitters in attendance (editors, designers, retailers, publicists, etc.) were WWD’s Executive Editor Bridget Foley, Donna Karan, Fern Mallis, Stan Herman, Neiman’s Roopal Patel, KCD’s Ed Filipowski and Julie Mannion, the designing duo behind Proenza Schouler, Betsey Johnson, Marylou Luther, Dennis Basso, Conde Nast’s Jonathan Newhouse, Vogue’s Sally Singer, Candy Pratts Price, Andre Leon Talley, Virginia Smith, and last but not least, Anna Wintour, (whose conceptualization of “Fashion’s Night Out”,, a CFDA sponsored, global shopping event which will kick off New York Fashion Week on September 10th, received kudos from all).

After her quick greetings and open remarks, the ‘Type A’ personality multi-tasker got right down to the sobering business at hand. She admitted having been up since “3:30 this morning”, and wasted no time in highlighting the pressing issues that have been tantamount to her and everyone else in attendance. The dialogue and discussions to follow would center on the concept of ‘trade vs. consumer’, the never ending seasons, the issue of markdowns and discounting, the relevance of fashion shows (who are they for and are they necessary?), and how to make New York Fashion Week the best in the world.

Since the session was only an hour and a half, Steven Kolb diplomatically asked those who would be called upon to make their feeling known, to keep their words as brief as possible. He also promised an email address to go to,, for those who wanted to make their thoughts, comments, and suggestions, known.

These are some of the highlights of the session:

DVF: When you’re in the midst of a Tsunami, you can’t change everything all at once.”

“There has to be a balance. We live in a world of immediacy. Sell a little bit of ‘wear now’ and a little bit of fall. We should ship less but more often.”

“The issue is trade versus consumer.”

“Retailers are not the end. Nor is the press. They are all a part of the distribution. We all have to support each other so we can survive. It’s important that we’re all together. We’re not enemies; we’re friends.”

“I want to make New York Fashion Week the best fashion week in the world. Part trade, part consumer. We can’t fix everything all at once and we need each other and shows are relevant. We will work together and work with the city. We all have to vote for Bloomberg. ‘Fashion Night Out’ will begin this. There should be a Fashion Week that is trade, and a Fashion Week that says, “SHOP”! We have to drum up excitement and create momentum. Lincoln Center promises a dynamic Fashion Week. We should look at the positive and build on the positive.”

Donna Karan: “The final answer is the consumer. She is now completely confused. It’s no wonder she’s saying “enough”. We have to focus on the problem and find a solution. The clothes in the stores are not the clothes that are in season. We have all these pre season seasons.”

Ed Filipowski: “Having 4 or 5 seasons a year makes it very confusing.”
“The media landscape has changed and pr people have to adapt at the changing times.”

Sara Easley (co-owner, Kirna Zabete): “It’s all about the economics of supply and demand. There’s been too much supply and not enough demand. Also, designers have to edit their collections better.”

Betsey Johnson: “I’d love a show at Madison Square Garden. I’m lucky because I have a retail operation. What I’m seeing is more spending on incredibly unique things that are as seasonless as possible, and where prices are down.”

Stan Herman: “I think the shows are relevant; they are what put us on the map!”

Sally Singer: “The big problem is the incredible overproduction and overstocking. Produce a little less and the consumer will feel more confident about the value she’s getting.”

Fern Mallis: “This discussion is absolutely relevant and important. The shows began as a press vehicle and they succeeded well past our wildest expectations. It wasn’t fashion’s fault people stopped shopping. It was Wall Street’s fault. Nobody in this room probably needs one new anything but that’s not the point. It’s the job of the designer to create dreams and items that become desirous by the consumer.”

Anna Wintour: “There is a deep psychological block on the part of the consumer NOT to buy, but we all need your help for “Fashion’s Night Out”

“Could someone lead a committee that regulates discounting and makes rules about discounting? I know that’s a tall order but can’t there be an agreement about everybody discounting at the same time?”

--Marilyn Kirschner

Friday, July 24, 2009

Town Hall Meeting About the Relevance of Fashion Week?

CFDA Director Diane von Furstenberg is hosting a town hall meeting to discuss the future of fashion week. We are guessing she might be pushing to change the nature of the New York shows from trade to more consumer oriented. Whatever the purpose, something is surely up. The meeting will be held Tuesday, July 28 from 9AM-10:30AM at K. Murphy Auditorium, FIT - 7th Avenue & 27th Street. Inquiries:

-Ernest Schmatolla

Friday, July 10, 2009

Designs On Society: Fashion & Politics

Left: Design by Thakoon Center: Design by Jason Wu; Right: Jean-Charles de Castelbajac’s sequin mini-dress, which pays homage to Barack Obama

All photos: Caroline Erb

'Fashion & Politics', the current exhibition at the Museum at FIT, explores the relationship between fashion and the ever-changing political and social climates since the nineteenth century. The more than one hundred costumes, textiles, and accessories on display reflect not only overt political themes, like the white cotton “Ike” print dress, circa 1956, but also purely cultural movements, exemplified by the liberating “Aesthetic” dress silhouettes of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Since the exhibition is arranged chronologically, it provides a visual timeline of the social and political development of the first half of the twentieth-century. Rising hemlines and increasingly functional women’s garments culminate in two sharply contrasting WWII looks: a denim “Rosie the Riveter” factory jumpsuit and a sleek W.A.V.E.S. uniform designed by American couturier, Mainbocher, for the U.S. Navy.

Silk faille cocktail dress

The postwar 50’s saw a return to more conservative women’s fashions due to the rise of suburbia and the popular belief that women should abandon their wartime independence in favor of more domestic roles. The silk faille Saks Fifth Avenue Cocktail Dress, circa 1953, was perfect for chic at-home entertaining.

Of course, the 1950’s also witnessed the rise of the teenager as a cultural force and as the second half of the twentieth century unfolds, fashion becomes increasingly explicit, addressing such issues as communism and environmentalism. The most recent pieces in the exhibit reflect the current obsession with politics and social change, including Jean-Charles de Castelbajac’s sequin mini-dress, which pays homage to the designer’s fascination with Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign.

Fashion & Politics will be on display in the Fashion and Textile History Gallery at The Museum at FIT until November 7, 2009.

-Rhonda Erb

Monday, July 06, 2009

“Message to Michael”

It was reported in the Technology column of the Business Section of The New York Times on Friday, July 03, that there were “9.98 million queries for the terms “Michael” and “Jackson” across the top 25 search engines and news and social media sites in the week that ended June 27th” (Barack who?). In addition to the constant 24/7 coverage on the heels of Michael Jackson’s untimely passing, there have been countless debates as to whether the media has gone too far.

All too often, the fascination with celebrities (in life and in death) is undeserved and uncalled for. But in this case, I think the interest is completely understandable since the unique, one of a kind, philanthropic, gender bending record breaker, who constantly pushed the envelope, broke down barriers, and united us with his music, was unlike any other entertainer. I have found myself thinking about Michael a lot (it’s been impossible not to, after all)…and though I thought I was familiar with his accomplishments, upon hearing and reading about his enormous contributions, it began to really sink in just how talented, unique, and influential he was. Actually, 'Thriller', in addition to tracks of his other iconic recordings, has provided the perfect, energetic sound to accomany me on my morning runs.

The master showman was a true contradiction in terms: he was seemingly black and white, masculine and feminine (the original ‘metro sexual’?), strong and delicate, outgoing and shy, young and old (upon his passing, Paul McCartney referred to him as a “Man-Child”). And while he wanted to be a good will ambassador for the world through his philanthropy and good deeds, and yearned to reach billions through his music, he was eccentric, enigmatic, and remained private.

And let’s not forget about his extraordinary talent. He was not only a prolific songwriter, but an amazing performer, whose dance moves defied physics and gravity. He has been called “the greatest musician in generations”.

He was a bona fide fashion icon who was constantly being named as inspiration by designers; his look was always copied and was used as a point of reference. To wit, every time the 80’s come back (which is almost every season it seems), and a strong shouldered leather bomber comes down the runway, it is immediately dubbed “the Michael Jackson Thriller” jacket. Michael’s sense of fashion like everything else, was trailblazing, directional, and highly influential.

Long before Carine Roitfeld, and countless other fashionistas, pushed up the sleeves of their tailored blazers; long before Thom Browne shrunk and cropped his men’s’ pants; long before Kate Moss put skinny jeans on the fashion map; long before the market exploded with glittery hosiery; long before fall 2003, when so many designers showed statement making gloves, they became the must have accessory of the season; and long before Andre Leon Talley marched into fashion shows clad in highly ornamental and embellished military Sgt. Pepper inspired outerwear (looking as though he were the self professed Commander-in-Chief of the Global Fashion Armed Forces); there was Michael Jackson, putting his own indelible stamp on these trends, and many more.

And speaking of the military connection, military themes have always been popular with designers through the years, but perhaps even more so these days. While Michael notoriously changed his personal appearance through cosmetic surgery, he was highly consistent in his fashion persona. More often than not (especially in the later years), the basis for his look was predicated on the correct formality inherent in a military uniform and in fact, many of his most memorable, signature looks revolved around an extravagant, elaborate, lavishly decorated, embellished jacket (complete with armband no less), which took its cues from highly decorated military uniforms. If these rather over the top, customized pieces also resembled something one would expect to see on a member of the royal family, that shouldn’t come as a surprise, since MJ was the self anointed ‘King of Pop’. He paid excruciating attention to every detail, no matter how small and he understood that his appearance, and of course, his clothing, played a large part in the image he was projecting. (Coincidentally, in celebration of the life and work of Michael Jackson, The Grammy Museum in Los Angeles,, is sharing a collection of Jackson’s most “iconic wardrobe pieces” including some of the aforementioned jackets, the famous jeweled glove, and the white Hugo Boss suit he wore on the cover of Thriller).

Balmain Spring 2008 Collecton (Photo:

By the way, as I was watching images of the late MJ on TV recently, one jacket in particular immediately brought to mind Christophe Decarnin for Balmain’s ubiquitous creation for fall 2008 - you know the one, it was literally photographed in every magazine, was seen on many celebrities (fashion and entertainment), and was touted as being one of the must have pieces of the season. In her online review of Balmain for, Sarah Mower described the “rock-chic fabulousness” of the collection, and gave special mention to the “Drummer-boy Michael Jackson jackets with the frogging picked out in crystal”.

3.1 PhillipLim Spring 2008 collection (Photo:

Similarly, I couldn’t help but think how very ‘Michael’, 3.1Phillip Lim’s gold embroidered ivory vest, worn with white blouse and black cropped pants, (his first look out for spring 2008) was.

Pea Jacket by Aimee Cho for Gryphon New York

If you’re like me, and have a penchant for classic yet special pieces (which are decorated or embellished and as such can be considered as ‘Jacksonesque’, yet remain un costumey), you’re in luck because more than a few options abound. Some of my favorites are by Aimee Cho for Gryphon New York. The former Fashion Writer for Vogue Magazine, who has amassed quite a cult following and counts former boss Anna Wintour as one of her fans and clients, is known for her vintage inspired takes on military staples like trench coats, pea jackets, army parkas. Included is a double breasted navy wool pea jacket with gold dome buttons and gold bullion embroidered armbands, a short tan trench decorated with gold nail heads, and a black wool and cashmere boyfriend blazer with gold bullion embroidery. As for the latter, remember to push up the sleeves and you’re ready to go! Contact for more information.

- Marilyn Kirschner