Monday, November 30, 2009

Water Is The New Expression Of Luxury

(Photos courtesy Swarovski)

For Spring/Summer 2010, Swarovski takes an "Out Of The Blue" approach to jewelry and accessories, the majority of which are whimsical and opulent at the very same time. As Nathalie Colin, the company's Creative Director explains, "water is the new expression of luxury in a world where increasing efforts are being made to protect the environment. I wanted to explore this theme with this important seasonal collection, the second part of the 'Beyond Nature' trilogy." Keeping to this candid observation, the current collection focuses on bio diversity and marine life, via aquatic-themed pieces, featuring a myriad of multi-colorful crystals, in tandem with new materials, emphasizing changing reflections of the water's surface.

The "Beauty Drops" grouping consists of sensual and fluid pieces, such as the "Liquid" necklace, featuring a long chain, highlighted by droplets of crystal, accentuated with a large, cut crystal in a flowing, rhodium-plated casing. "Another piece in this grouping, aptly dubbed "Levity", brings to mind a very sexy, jellyfish, all done up in coral crystals, set against a long chain, playing in the ocean's waves. Pieces within "Marina Blue" take inspiration from the beauty of life enveloping the coral reef, by way of the kinds of blues and reds generally associated with shells and corals. Long, languid necklaces, with aqautic names, such as "Lagoon", and larger-than-life, "Ginseng", "Opaline", "Lazy", "Louise" and "Look" cocktail rings, many showing the company's exclusive Pointiage (TM) technique, all mix and match together, in eclectic and different combinations of beautiful crystal color palettes and silhouettes, totally reminiscent of exclusive cruise holidays, right along with ocean life on top of and under the deep blue sea.

The "Sea, Light and Fun" assortment gives way to a fabulous sea filled up with more than just a few playful and eclectic creatures. Proving that more is more and layering, layering, layering is good, better and just plain best, there are playful "Elvis" and "Erika" pendants, rendered in the Pointiage (TM) setting, and playing up the idea of a sweet crab and a gracious water droplet, covered all over in coral or blue crystals. The "Charmed" bracelet, which seems to bring about a "good luck" aura in its own right, features abundant charms, with names such as "Crab", Octopus" and "Red Fish".

Moving along with the water story so prevalent this season is the "Lychee" fish pendant, rendered in both large and small sizes, with clear, crystal huge eyes, a small, mobile tail, rounded form and asymmetric fins. The quirky fish also appears in a matching ring and bracelet. Honing in on the idea of the riches of underwater treasure, there are abundant groupings, such as "Nirvana Flash" (ring) and "Laser" (necklaces, bracelets and hoop earrings), each of which incorporates light and sparkly crystal hues, such as red, blue, yellow, white and black, alongside bountiful, summertime fruit shades, such as lemon, yellow, raspberry pink, and clear crystals.

Moving into another kind of fantasy realm is the “Alice In Wonderland” Disney Collection 2010, showcasing an array of rings, earrings, bracelets, fanciful necklaces and charm pendants. In this grouping, the “Flower Garden” wrapped necklace is utterly cool for every “Alice”; ditto, the “Red Queen”, “Mad Hatter” and super-cool, “Cheshire Cat” pieces.

Swarovski obviously loves its jewelry, but there is another kind of good accessory story going on here, as well. Addressing this genre, there are sparkly, little bags and wristlet pouches with names such as “Glam”, “Las Vegas”, “Glitz”, Gala”, “Power”, “Lolita” and “Libertine”, along with lots of nifty accessories, such as “Happy” and “Lucky” key rings, mobile phone items, bag charms, coin Purses, billfolds and wallets.

Summing up the viewpoint of the new collection across the board, it is a safe bet to say that the company, which nearly always manages to step outside of the box with each new collection, certainly manages to stay true to its current design message of nautical, water and lots of sophistication and whimsicality.

Just about everywhere across the current grouping, the pieces manage to stand on their own, and cohabit obviously well for their individual stories; i.e., living the luxury life, youth, spirit, wellbeing, exoticism and light-heartedness. Or, to put it another way, en francais, "voici á beaucoup de joie de vivre et les belles filles dans l'ègalement belle bijouterie et les beaux accessoires cette saison".

- Adrienne Weinfeld-Berg

Friday, November 27, 2009

Better Bets

Holiday Shopping Guide

Rhonda Erb's popular shopping column begins a new season with her pick of the newest and most interesting electronics that would make perfect gifts for the holidays.

Click here for her latest column.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Victoria's Secret Show

Our photographer Randy Brooke was once again shooting the Victoria's Secret show. He sent us over a number of great looking photos from last Thursday's show for our readers to enjoy. Go to photo library to view the images.

Monday, November 16, 2009

FGI’s ‘Consumer’ Report

Fashion Group International held its spring summer 2010 ready-to-wear collections trend overview this past Friday, November 13th. For those who attended, like me, the date proved to be anything but ‘unlucky’. The event was not only informative, but unabashedly consumer oriented, and consumer friendly, and indeed, the consumer seemed to be on everyone’s minds (understandably so; since he/she holds the purse strings, right?)

First off, FGI President Margaret Hayes made her brief welcoming comments, adding her upbeat observation, “The good news is the economic recovery.” Then, as usual, Marylou Luther, FGI’s Creative Director, did a fantastic and exhaustive editing job; putting it all together and narrating the wonderful audio visual slide report, which details the most important trends for the upcoming season, as seen on the recent runways; the best of the best in every category (ready-to-wear, accessories, and beauty). She did it as only she can, with humor, wit, puns aplenty, and even whittled the trends down to “140 characters or less”: Squeeze/ease; Thighs /knees; Goth/froth; Drape/shape; Reality/romance; Transparent/apparent; Undies outed/utility touted.

But perhaps the most relevant ‘trend’ right now, according to Ms. Luther, is the way in which the clothes are “communicated”, and the fact that designers are becoming “more connected with consumers: some directly, some indirectly via in store videos.”

Exemplifying this ‘direct’ route, was Alexander McQueen, who stated that this season, he wanted to give consumers an “unfiltered view of what goes on at a fashion show” (which is usually reserved for members of the press, retailers, and celebrities). And thanks to Internet technology (for spring 2010 he collaborated with Nick Knight of, this became a reality, as “29,000 hits in one second crashed the online show briefly”.

The emphasis on engaging and attracting the customer, continued with the lively panel discussion which followed the noon time presentation. Comprised of committee members who are among the most highly regarded professionals in their fields, it’s a balanced mix of retailers and members of the press and this time they were:

LINDA FARGO, SVP, Bergdorf Goodman
LINCOLN MOORE, V.P. & DMM Handbags/Accessories, Saks Fifth Avenue
CANDY PRATTS PRICE, Executive Fashion Director,

The guest moderator was Donna Karan, who was introduced by Ms. Luther, referring to her as “fashion’s favorite agent of change”. ML also pointed out that the award winning multi tasker, who has received countless accolades and honors, has the distinct honor of being the first American designer to have been given the Fashion Group International’s Super Star Award during the organization’s annual Night of Stars back in 2003.

Unsurprisingly, the outspoken designer wasted no time in getting to, what for her, is the most important and pressing issue facing the fashion business; in two words: The Consumer. As she put it, “Fashion changes so quickly, but where is the customer in this?” “As a designer, it’s all about inspiration, but the consumer is the end result. How do we communicate to the consumer”? And so, the groundwork was set for the panel discussion which followed.

When Ms. Karan asked Linda Fargo, “How would you like to be the conduit for change”?
Ms. Fargo answered: “I’ll commit to join Donna in her campaign for ‘Buy now, wear now’. That’s what needs to be re-evaluated. Selling clothes closer to when she’s going to wear it”.

Donna was thrilled, saying it was “the best birthday present anyone can receive”, and “it’s not even my birthday!” (Donna, among others, has long been outspoken in her belief that the consumer is ‘confused’ thanks in large part to all the information out there, in addition to all the seasons being ‘thrown’ at her at one time. She also believes strongly that the clothes on the selling floor, should be in tune with the season. In the same way it’s healthy to eat ‘fresh’ food in season, it is healthy and a good idea to buy clothes ‘in season’.)

DK then spoke with Jane Larkworthy about the idea of beauty, (which she admitted is an ambiguous notion for her). “Is it inner beauty or outer beauty we’re talking about?” she asked. And as for the runway beauty trends, how are they relevant for the consumer?

JL said she was pleased to see “so many gorgeous looks”. “There was a lot of thought and effort put into the beauty looks this season”. But Donna quipped: “Where is the ‘us’ in all of this?” “How do we talk to the customer who’s not a beauty or a model?” JL replied that she sees the runway beauty trends as being a point of inspiration for the ‘average’ woman out there. She may not be able to or want to follow the trends literally, but she can be ‘inspired’ in some way.

Then Donna asked Lincoln Moore: “Lincoln. How would you like us as an industry to be getting together? What is your wish list for the holidays?”
LM: “We need to retrain our staff and talk to the customer about the value of the product, not just the brand. Developing a personal relationship with consumer is the key thing. It’s about more intimate affairs. The relationship between the customer and the designer. Having a vendor relationship is imperative.”

When it came time to ‘interview’ Ikram Goldman, (the revered Chicago retailer who is all but single handedly responsible for collaborating with and dressing the First Lady) Donna could not contain her adoration.
DK: “You’re probably one of THE most influential people in fashion. Thank you! I applaud you for taking a huge challenge and working with Michelle Obama. What is it like to be that retailer?”
IG: “Success is based on the service we give. The sales and special sales (offered elsewhere) are hard on small stores like ours. I try to ignore what happens with other stores. I encourage our employees to love and sell what they believe. It’s important to educate the sales staff to educate the consumer. They have to make the consumer understand that it’s okay to spend a lot of money now, on quality items that will last forever. It’s not buy now, wear now, but buy now, where forever.”

Last up was Candy Pratts Price, who Donna has known for years, dating back to the time she worked her visual wonders at Bloomingdales.
DK: “Candy has love and a passion for fashion (Let’s face it. We wouldn’t be here if we weren’t all obsessive, compulsive.”) Then, she asked her: “How do we instill desire and get the customer to shop?”
CPP: “We have to pay attention to the customer. We need to entertain the customer, as Marvin Traub did.”

At this point, other retailers on the panel chimed in about how to best ‘entertain’ or engage the customer. Ikram Goldman admitted that she tries to give her sales staff “surprises.” “I ask designers to make special pieces for me.” (The notion of ‘surprise’ would surface again as you will see)

As for all the information available to everyone out there, (thanks to the internet), Donna asked: “Is too much information to much information? Is it too much too soon?”
CPP: “I don’t think it’s a negative. A learned customer is a good customer” (This immediately brought to mind the advertising slogan for Syms, “An educated consumer is our best customer.”)
DK: “The Internet is our communication tool right now. But for me, it’s a double edged sword”. But then she re-phrased it, saying “It’s not the information but the timing of the information (that’s problematic)”.

At this point, Donna brought up the endless seasons, the hype that goes along with the large fashion shows, and the markdowns. She admitted, “Resort, without all the hype, is one our most successful sell through seasons”, whereas “the buy on spring is so small.”

This prompted Linda Fargo to immediately exclaim: “Donna, we LOVE all our pre-collections!”

Without skipping a beat, Donna answered: “What if ‘pre’, without all the hype, hullaballoo, and all the markdowns, WAS the collections?”

At the end, Donna asked the audience if they had any questions or comments. InStyle’s Hal Rubenstein was one of several who wanted to make his feelings known. “The most important way to ‘seduce’ the customer and get her (or him) excited about shopping, is to offer an “element of surprise”. “You have to keep surprising the customer. Take your passion and your intelligence, and seduce the customer.”

-Marilyn Kirschner

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Bonjour a toi, Mademoiselle Ann Taylor

(Photos courtesy Anne Taylor)

In case any of you out there in fashion-land have been living under a rock or visiting a far-off Galaxy, you have heard about and most probably have seen the big, bold change-about in the look and feel of Ann Taylor’s collections (clothing and accessories, of course). No more is this change more apparent than across the Spring 2010 clothing and accessory groupings, the majority of which are clearly styled and priced for the masses across the country, many of whom love to shop at Ann Taylor’s stores, and see and buy pieces that can work across the wardrobe in a laissez-faire, French way. Keeping to this point, everything across the clothing and accessories groupings is quite fresh and pert, with a definitive, European-themed, BCBG aura, in feeling. The point is proved in a vive la différence way, via a trendy shift in style, shape, silhouette, color and the like. Think about words such as “through a rose tinted lens” en francais, if you please, and you get the picture.

The majority of the clothing, per se, is very pretty, soft and fluid, with an all-about-the-girl story, from day right into evening. Blurring the lines between edgy and classic, an abundance of separates and dresses run wild. There are deconstructed and shapely trenches, toppers and short coats, with all kinds of easy-going, generally affordable pieces for sportive, work and glam occasions.

Across the collection of wearable clothing that appears to look as super on a size 12 or 14 as on a size 2 or 4, there are accouterments of choices, such as floral-inspired palettes, watercolor-infused prints and patterns, the majority showing an eye for drape and detail that looks to come straight from the most haute couture, designer runway. Speaking of a designer runway, there are the sensuous, flowing gowns, most notably in blackest black; some in white and ivory - the black creations look best - with lots and lots of fine details. European in feeling, and perfect for any big-time celebrity in the house, these special-event pieces could certainly have their moment on the most lavish Red Carpet in New York, Hollywood and anywhere in between.

A favorite Ann Taylor moment for this editor is the vintage-like, Riviera grouping, which brings to the eye and mind a sea of Oceanic blues, dotted with crisp memories of black and white; picturesque shores of beautiful Monaco, Cannes and St. Tropez, as they were in their heyday, circa 1920. Across this grouping, the silk fringe jacket, ribbed tank, tropical wool signature pant and skinny belt express the mood, along with the uptown pleated dress and embellished grosgrain belt; wavy petals cardigan; darling dot tiered dress and reverse bow jacket, teamed with silk Habotai hazy dot top, pencil skirt and skinny belt.

Moving on to the new crop of accessories, which are presented under the umbrella of “Covetables”, the r’aison d’etre for these items, according to the Ann Taylor catalog, is: “little things we simply can’t live without. Beautiful, opulent, sumptuous, sparkly, couture-inspired pieces that transform an outfit from ordinary to extraordinary.”

OK, some of this may be a bit heady and over-the-top, but the jewelry really is great, and in some cases, definitely outstanding and desirable, especially when tossed on this way and that; mixed up and layered one over the other in short and long variants. Favorites here are huge sunburst necklaces, pyramid and pave disc necklaces and pearls over pearls over pearls with an authentic look of that well-known and highly desirable, double-logo, French designer’s antique pieces, Another cool thing about the jewelry is that the highest price point for any piece is a mere $198. Talk about investment dressing on a shoestring.

Adding on to the big fashion at a price message are skinny ruffled and metallic sheer luxe scarves and shawls; lots of couture-inspired shoes, ranging from sexy, high heels to perky, ballet flats; a myriad of buttery, textured totes, clutches and big handbags, and last but not least in any good collection, skinny belts in black leather, black and granite patent, and exotic ash.

- Adrienne Weinfeld Berg

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Museum at FIT’s Best ‘Dressed’ List

Ralph Rucci, Infanta gown in graphite gray duchesse satin, Fall 2004. Photograph: William Palmer.

The art of dressmaking (specifically, the mix of “technical ingenuity and artistic excellence” with a focus on craftsmanship, construction, and the use of techniques “only Americans could have come up with”), is at the heart of American Beauty: Aesthetics and Innovation in Fashion, the Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology’s latest exhibition which opens to the public on November 6th 2009 - April 10, 2010, Curated by Patricia Mears, the deputy director of the Museum at FIT, it also has the distinction of being the first one of its kind

Ms. Mears likes to refer to herself as a “throwback” in that she is admittedly most interested in and drawn to the “craft” and “connoisseurship” of fashion. That was very apparent as we chatted, while taking a walk around the gallery, which was given an effective, ‘makeover’ by Charles B. Froom, whom we interviewed in our Master of Fashion Series (“We wanted a very clean gallery, a mid century aesthetic…because the exhibit is all about construction”, Ms. Mears said).

From left: Claire McCardell, Jessie Franklin Turner
& Valentina

The approximately 75 outfits on display (“this is not a retrospective” she said), culled from 25 American fashion designers (including the Mulleavy sisters of Rodarte, Adrian, Bonnie Cashin, Costello Tagliapietra, Maria Cornejo, James Galanos, Halston, Elizabeth Hawes, Charles James, Charles Kleibacker, Claire McCardell, Norman Norell, Rick Owens, Ralph Rucci, Isabel Toledo, Pauline Trigère, Valentina, Yeohlee, and Jean Yu), represent a broad spectrum of fashion, are quite varied, and date from the 1930’s to the present (the oldest is a dress by Jessie Franklin Turner from the 1930’s and the most recent is a trio of Rick Owens furs from spring 2010). And because the ‘beauties’ selected were displayed without regards to a timeline (different decades mixed together), it made a strong case for timeless fashion, and was further proof that brilliant, well thought out design always looks modern and does not have an expiration date.

Left: design by Isabel Toledo; Right: Charles James

In fact, in many cases, without looking at the name of the designer, or the date, it was hard to tell which was the older piece, and which was the more current. This was exemplified by the following: a Charles James taupe silk crepe dress from 1951, displayed next to an Isabel Toledo dress from fall 2005; a Chado Ralph Rucci infanta from fall 2004 which was besides a Charles James gown from 1953; a Chado Ralph Rucci cream hand knotted silk jersey gown from spring 2003 which was next to a Galanos gray silk jersey from 1970; a Narciso Rodriguez ivory coat from 2006, which was right near a Pauline Trigere cream wool coat from 1969; and Yeohlee’s black and white silk “Eye of Shiva” skirt from spring 1997, displayed next to Pauline Trigere’s plaid cape and dress, 1977, and the designer’s graphically patterned coat and dress, 1954.

In addition to the featured items being connected to one another by virtue of the fact that they have been “created by designers who utilized the craft of dressmaking as the point of departure to create beautiful, wearable objects," they also have a certain “primitive, elemental quality” in common.

Center: Yeohlee striped skirt; Right: Trigere plaid; Left: Elizabeth Hawes

When I asked the curator if she had a favorite item, a favorite part of the exhibition, or if anything in particular stood out, she immediately brought up the name Pauline Trigere. She said she knew how great a designer Mrs. Trigere was, but only began to fully appreciate the workmanship and meticulous craft that went into her designs upon closer examination of her garments (she specifically singled out the way she brought dressmaking techniques to her coats, cutting them on the bias). When I mentioned that the innovative designs of Yeohlee, (a personal favorite of mine), really stood out, Patricia agreed. She also brought up the name Halston (another designer who had several outfits on display), and motioned over to the long red ‘American Beauty Rose Gown’ made entirely of circles (16 to be exact). When I asked Ms. Mears if she named the exhibit after this dress, she said, no…coincidentally, the name had already been chosen. She also made mention of the talented Nicolas Caito, who creates the muslin runway samples for Francisco Costa for Calvin Klein, as well as the production models for leading young designers like Proenza Schouler and Thakoon.

The very modest Ms. Mears told me, “This is not a perfect show, but hopefully, it’s a step in the right direction, and the beginning of a dialogue”. (Actually, I beg to disagree: I thought it was pretty perfect). Always informative and knowledgeable, one of the most interesting points she made, is that “You have to be able to design and produce the garment in proximity together. You can’t disenfranchise. Someone who sketches the design or leaves it to an assistant, and then ships it off to be mass produced someplace else, is not making a garment with integrity”.

By the way, the inanimate dress forms on display in the downstairs exhibit, were not the only things that could be considered as ‘best dressed’. Many of the guests who attended the Opening party, looked pretty good themselves, including the museum’s Dr. Joyce Brown, Dr. Valerie Steele, and Patricia Mears, the Couture Council’s Yaz Hernandez, and some of the designers whose fashions were featured in the exhibition (Yeohlee, Narciso Rodriguez, Francisco Costa, the duo behind Costello Tagliapietra, Ronaldus Shamask, and Charles Kleibacker).

-Marilyn Kirschner
Something To BRAG About: BRAG 39th Annual Scholarship & Awards Gala

The Black Retail Action Group (BRAG) recently held its 39th Annual Scholarship & Awards Dinner Gala. The event took place at Cipriani’s Wall Street location in Lower Manhattan. BRAG is a not-for-profit, professional organization dedicated to empowering African-Americans in pursuit of careers in retail and related industries. Their programs include scholarships, college chapters, internships, and executive development workshops.

Magic Johnson receiving award

This year’s gala was attended by retail industry executives, celebrities, members of the press, and students from schools served by the BRAG organization. The evening began with a cocktail reception, during which time guests had the opportunity to peruse the silent auction, prior to taking their seats for dinner.

The Award Winners

The first speaker for the evening was BRAG President Gary L. Lampley, who spoke about the significance of the event’s theme: the power of change. He refered to the current transformation of the global fashion industry and encouraged viewing it as a catalyst for positive change with regard to diversity and inclusion.

Actress Malinda Williams served as the gala’s Mistress of Ceremonies and presented the awards to each of the BRAG honorees. They included:

Colin and Latisha Daring, Co-Founders of the Brooklyn Boutique, Pieces Incorporated. Their advice:" never lose sight of your passion".

Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn, who was unable to attend but was represented by Best Buy’s John Thompson. He commented that “There is no greater civil right than the right to education.”

Richard Dent III, Senior Vice President, Chief Operating Officer, & Co-Leader of Victoria's Secret Pink. Dent acknowledged the fact that, “God won’t care how many panties and hoodies I’ve sold, but who I have helped.”

Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Chairman and CEO, Magic Johnson Enterprises, who attributed his success to knowing his customers.” The former NBA athlete raised $10,000 for BRAG in approximately ten minutes with an impromptu live auction of his LA Lakers court-side seats.

Shawn R. Outler, Group Vice President, Multicultural Merchandising and Vendor Development, Macy’s Inc. She explained that she learned about strategy from her sisters, “because when you have four girls in the house and one bathroom, you’ve got to have a strategy.”

Stephen I. Sadove, Chairman and CEO, Saks Inc., who declared that, “Department store retailing isn’t dead, department store retailing is waiting for innovation and that is what is going to drive the growth of our company.”

Constance White, Fashion Expert and Style Director, eBay. White remarked that she was lucky enough to get a break when she needed one and encouraged those in a position to help others in a similar fashion, to do so.

At the conclusion of the presentation, guests were invited to enjoy after dinner dancing. As they left the venue, each was the recipient of a bag containing gifts from Lord & Taylor, Victoria’s Secret, The Children’s Place, and others.

Rhonda Erb

Monday, November 02, 2009

East Meets West: Blanc de Chine Spring/Summer 2010

It is a testament to the enduring popularity of luxury brand Blanc de Chine that loyal admirers braved one of the rainiest nights of the season to attend their Spring 2010 Runway Presentation. The much anticipated event took place in their ultra-chic New York store, located on Fifth Avenue. Guests had an opportunity to unwind prior to the show at a cocktail reception held on the boutique’s first floor. Just before 7:30 event producer Patty Hughes guided everyone up the grand staircase to take their seats for the runway show.

With Real Housewives star Alex McCord and her husband Simon seated front and center, the show began with sheer black ensembles for women that conveyed an air of graceful sophistication, in keeping with the theme of the collection: “The Refinement of Ming Elegance.” These looks were free from any ornamental details except for the occasional pleat or tie belt.

The classic Ming Dynasty styling continued with mandarin collared jackets for men in neutral tones of blue, black, tan or gray. These were shown with white, round neck, cotton button down shirts and simple black, Zurrer pants.

There was more variation in the women’s collection with dynamic looks featuring halter tops, harem pants, and even a sequin jump suit. These pieces stood out in bright shades of purple, blue, or silver.

Two of the most interesting designs were the black Qi Pao gown and the short black dress with sheer sleeves. Each had a detachable zippered bottom to allow the wearer to creatively mix and match tops and bottoms.

At the conclusion of the show, guests made their way downstairs and each was given a black Blanc de Chine gift bag as they exited the store into the cold, rainy night.

-Rhonda Erb