Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Perfect Mix of What Your Best Friends Tell You & What a Style Authority Can Show You

The salt & pepper pearls tee, faux fur trimmed vest, oversized houndstooth pencil skirt, leather satchel and suede lace-up bootie, styled by Alia Ahmed-Yahia

Hosting a viewing preview event – complete, of course, with de rigueur cocktails, finger food and a good-bye gift of a fun, signature, cloth tote-bag, containing a look-book and a sparkly, oversized, jeweled cuff, nestled in a velvet pouch - of the new Fall 2010 clothing and accessories collection, along with an after-party at The Bowery Hotel in the now trendy, downtown area of New York City, LOFT recently introduced editors and assorted guests to its current collection and nouveau “Style Studio” concept.

During the actual viewing, guests were packed in cheek to jowl, where depending upon that guest’s individual pleasure, it was just about possible, to catch a peek at what was going on, in terms of actually seeing the pieces, either as a still-life tableau, on stylized mannequins, throughout the entire length and breadth of the room, or via a looped, video fashion presentation, shown on a huge screen, at the front of the area. Either way, LOFT managed to get the point of the evening’s festivities across to the crowd.

Beaded necklace camisole with flower, ruffle collar anorak,herringbone short, leather lace-up bootie

Nearly always keen on doing things in different ways, the company this time, debuted not only its new line, but also hyped its “style by community” collaboration with high-profile fashion stylists, Tina Chai, Kate Young, Joanne Blades and Alia Ahmed-Yahia, who were brought in, according to the company’s look-book commentary, “to work with the LOFT fall collection to create versatile looks from 10 fashion-forward fall essentials … where diverse style personalities come together to create looks that women relate to, connect with and derive inspiration from.”

Graphic tee, fitted motorcycle jacket, striped mini skirt, suede bootie

Standing by for the most part what everyone set out to do, the company and the fashion stylists managed to pretty much make the mixtures work. When everything gelled, and all of the components meshed, the result was interesting and cool. On the contrary, when the look was simply too plain and not jazzy enough, the result was just too simplistic and rather underwhelming, which is not what one might hope to expect from this type of partnership between a company such as LOFT and fashion stylists the ilk of Chai, Young, Blades and Ahmed-Yahia.

But, in the end, what really matters, aside from what does or does not work on a mannequin or in a fashion video during a crowded press presentation, is the fact that the company’s main objective of showcasing its “Style Studio” concept, does indeed score points for hitting the mark, and coming across to more than just a few of the jaded editors in attendance at this event, as something quite interesting, novel, fresh, and unique.

Beaded necklace camisole with flower, Faux fur trimmed vest, wool pencil skirt, felt fedora, gold and black angular necklace, suede gem belt and over-the-knee riding boot, styled by Tina Chai.

Addressing the best of the new collection, which coincidentally, prices out quite modestly for what it is worth, especially when considering the high fashion quotient on display, there are some really winning, stand-out items within the line. Added to this fact, and considering the tough, economic times in which we all continue to live, LOFT states that it continues to understand and know what its customers want. In this vein, the company and its fashion stylists have put together some good-looking, saleable, wearable options within a framework of the “Style Studio” setting; representing a smart marketing tool, which just might have a chance of impacting well enough with shoppers, to grab their attention and get them to open up their pocketbooks and make the purchase.

- Adrienne Weinfeld-Berg

Friday, April 23, 2010

Ralph Rucci Hosts a Benefit for Positive Exposure

Several hundred supporters of the charity Positive Exposure an arts, education and advocacy organization that works with individuals living with genetic differences, were treated Thursday at Ralph's showroom with cocktails and hors d'oeuvres, silent auction, and a film preview of the trailer from Kartemquin Films documentary on the charity.

Rick Guidotti, founder and director spoke passionately and at length on the how and why he started the charity. Rick is a former New York fashion photographer who has devoted the last 12 years in developing cross-sector partnerships with health organizations and educational institutions supporting Positive Exposure's use of the visual arts to significantly impact the fields of genetics, mental health and human rights.

Positive Exposure conducts Self-Esteem/Self-Advocacy photographic and interview workshops in collaboration with people living with genetic conditions. Positive Exposure also presents diversity workshops and portable, sustainable educational and human rights programs and multi media exhibitions for physicians, nurses, genetic counselors, health care professionals-in-training, universities, elementary and secondary schools, legislators and the general public.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution"

Marie Antoinette on the day of her execution makes her final fashion statement (William Hamilton c. 1794)

Last night at Fashion Institute of Technology's K. Murphy Amphitheatre, historian Carolyn Weber gave a lecture centered around her book "Queen of Fashion" (book signing followed). With obvious passion regarding her subject, the Queen of France, wife of Louis the XVI, Caroline crafts a fascinating story about an important part of history: how Marie Antoinette's sense of fashion and her willingness to break the rules of etiquette may have been one of the main factors for her ultimate demise.

Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, was born Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna von Habsburg-Lothringen in Vienna. Her coming to France was mainly a political manoeuvre to establish better relations between Austria and France. Shy at first, Marie Antoinette had a hard time getting accustomed to her new surroundings. The obvious discontent of many among the aristocracy for an Austrian-born Queen was no help either. Her first seven years at the Court of France were also marked by the complete lack of intimacy between she and her husband. To distract herself from the loneliness and boredom she endured, Marie Antoinette took to gambling and...clothing. By tradition, she was expected to spend time and money on her attire, and she took to the role with incredible enthusiasm.

Her growing fondness for beautiful dresses and the wish to stand out as the most important woman in Versailles saw her sport more and more beautiful clothes, long trains made of countless yards of silk, intricate ladders of thread and lace in the front corsage, panniers (the style had emerged at the Spanish royal court about a century earlier but was still in favor) on each side of the dress to lift the sides of the dress to the level of the hips and contrast even more with the extremely fitted corset which made for the tiniest waists ever possible (with countless accounts of broken ribs, fainting due to lack of oxygen, etc).

As Caroline Weber writes "Unlike previous queens of France, who had stayed hidden away at their husbands' court, Marie Antoinette scandalized her fellow courtiers by making weekly trips to Paris, which was eighteenth century Europe's undisputed capital of style. There, she met some of the city's most celebrated designers, whom she enlisted to outfit her in a variety of eye-catching, experimental ensembles..."

Rose Bertin was Marie Antoinette favorite designer, always coming up with intricate swags and folds of fabric which brought the limits of the weight of fabric one could carry around to the maximum limit. At the height of her spending craze, Marie Antoinette was known to have had nearly 300 dresses made annually for her various social engagements.

It is said that the ceremonial dressing stage took almost two hours. First came the slip (there were no underwear as we know it), made of cotton, then the cage that would hold the skirt part of the dress, and then corset, the tightening of which was the longest part of the entire process. Finally, the dress was slipped over the head down to its final placement. A time consuming and strenuous chore that had to be repeated more than once a day.

One of the "greatest" innovations brought to the court by Marie Antoinette was her newfound enthusiasm for the "pouf" an elaborate construction made of a pyramidal-shaped structure on which the hair was attached (Monsieur Leonard is the credited inventor of the "pouf"). Along with it were added more natural hair, jewelry, feathers, complete scenes of lifelike people, ships, houses... you name it. Anything that could hold on top of a pouf would be placed there. Above is a picture of an incredible "pouf" made of a ship floating on top of the Queen's head. It was so tall that it had to be taken down so that she could enter the doorway to the place of the party she was attending. Afterwards it was reconstructed once again!

Never before had a Queen been such the center of attention. Everyone from all classes of the society waited for the new dresses to be seen and described, sketched, painted, to simply copy as well as could be what the Queen was wearing. Her love for fashion had a strong economic influence: just by herself, she kept about 200 people employed in various industries related to the making of her dresses and her hats and poufs, not to mention her gloves and shoes. She may well be the first public figure to be talked about as much as we currently talk about celebrities of all kinds. She was watched, copied, emulated. Her eagerness to be and feel different showed through her fashion choices. She was daring all etiquette codes when she first introduced the pouf. However, this lead to an enduring craze for the confection, despite many reports of very painful migraines from having to wear such heavy contraptions for hours.

If at first, the common French people took a genuine liking to the Austrian, as years passed and her excesses became known, the mood changed. She was quickly nicknamed "Madame Deficit".

When she took a new interest into farming and started spending more and more time at the Petit Trianon, her entire wardrobe expanded to include simpler dresses with billowing and delicate front corsages. The fabrics were solid colors, with little sheen to them, and the hats were made of straw, with a single one-colored ribbon adorning them. Her most dramatic move was to abandon the panniers altogether for easy skirts that fell in place simply and, most importantly, were comfortable. The new simplicity was seen as scandalous, even sacrilegious. It created an uproar among the aristocrats as well as the common people.

It seems that Marie Antoinette's fashion and lifestyle's excesses and displays were triggered mostly to fight boredom in a place where she didn't feel she belonged, but they only made her an unpopular queen to her subjects. As for the courtiers at Versailles, they took a major dislike to her favoring a very small circle of people who were the only ones having direct access to her. All in all, Marie Antoinette was isolated and disliked, a sad result for a woman who had once wished to be loved by all.

Marie Antoinette awaits execution (Pen and ink by Jacques-Louis David, 16 October 1793)

On the day of her death, Marie Antoinette was forbidden from wearing her black dress (she was a widow). She took it upon herself to make a final fashion statement. She slipped on a plain, austere white dress (a flagrant dare to the "Republicains" since white should not be worn without the patriotic colors red and blue) and was brought to the place where the guillotine awaited her. The simplicity of her dress was a striking contrast to what most watching her being brought to her death had expected. The most hated "l'Autrichienne" looked so fragile and innocent, nothing like they had envisioned. Silence accompanied her until her head fell into the basket.

When the people of the street stormed Versailles and the private quarters of the Queen, first torn into shreds were the magnificent dresses that had made her so popular and so famous in the beginning. Along with it, all mirrors were broken, while the furniture was left untouched: a clear symbol of the populist resentment for a woman accused of having failed the entire kingdom with her extravagances and uncontrolled spending. If Marie Antoinette can be described as the precursor of all fashion leading figures, she is also literally one of the first fashion victims.

-Muriel Geny-Triffaut

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A ‘FIT’ing Tribute

This has been Holocaust Remembrance Week and in commemoration of the solemn occasion, numerous events were held all over town. The Fashion Institute of Technology marked their Ninth Annual Holocaust Commemoration (sponsored by the organization’s Diversity Council), by ‘fit’ingly inviting famed handbag designer and Holocaust survivor Judith Leiber and her husband, the celebrated modern artist and World War 11 G.I. Gerson Leiber, to speak at Katie Murphy Amphititheatre on Tuesday afternoon. The Leiber’s biographer, Jeffrey Sussman, who penned ‘No Mere Bagatelles’, was on hand to read portions of his book and ask the remarkable duo questions (he also signed copies of the book afterwards). FIT President, Dr. Joyce Brown, kicked things off by addressing the assembled crowd and presenting the accomplished Leibers (she hailed Mrs. Leiber as a “creative genius with a pure appreciation of beauty” and Mr. Leiber as “one of the country’s most distinguished modernists”) with the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Among the topics covered: how Judith Leiber (born Judith Peto in 1921, Budapest, Hungary) survived and thrived despite unspeakable conditions under the Nazi and Russian occupations; how she got her start designing bags even though she studied chemistry in school in London; what life was like in the ghetto; working at home and making bags for her mothers friends; how she and a friend saved her father from a concentration camp; how she met her future husband (Gerson was a young G.I. stationed in Budapest and it was love at first sight when he first saw Judith) and married despite her parent’s objections (they didn’t know how Gerson would be able to support her); coming to America and working as an assistant to Nettie Rosenstein, then moving on to Koret, and finally Morris Moskowitz before starting her own business (Gerson told her, “You are not going to work for those schnooks any more - you’re going into business!”).

At the end, there was a Q & A (many FIT accessories students, presumably Judith Leiber wannabees, were in attendance). Among the questions asked was advice for succeeding as a successful handbag designer. As Mrs. Leiber put it, “You’ve got to start with a good pattern. If it’s not good, throw it out”. (For his part, Mr. Leiber credited his wife’s success to the fact that even from the beginning, they only used the “finest Ohio calf leather” and spoke of her “beautiful shapes that are never vulgar”). At one point, she was asked the price of her earliest designs (the highly coveted and collectible treasures carried by First Ladies and world class celebrities now cost well into the thousands). “$39.50” she quickly recalled. “Whose bag are you carrying”? someone asked, referring to the chic timeless structured black bag she carried to compliment her black pantsuit and crisp white blouse). To the delight of the audience, she replied: “Mine. I only wear my own bags”.

What came across loud and clear during the hour long proceedings, is Mrs. Leiber’s wisdom and sense of humor; how focused, motivated, confident, passionate, and determined she was from the very beginning (she knew exactly what she wanted, she had a vision, and she set out to make it happen); how strong was her desire not only to succeed, but to shine; how modern she is (her youthful spirit and energy knows no bounds); and the obvious admiration, love, and devotion the Leibers have for one another (married 62+ years and still going strong).

-Marilyn Kirschner

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Under The Deep Blue

(All photos Swarovski)

Using the phrase, “modern vision of luxury”, to describe its Autumn/Winter 2010/11 signature crystal jewels and accessories, the Austrian-based Swarovski Company and its Creative Director, Nathalie Colin, extend the story of the prior collection’s “Beyond Nature” trilogy, which then brought crystal into the realm of refined, mineral-inspired formations. Moving on from there, the story is now about natural elements, frozen water, clouds, wind and silence, all of which take shape throughout themes such as “Nordic Dream”, Liquid Dream” and Dream Box”.

Across the board, there is a focus on vintage shapes, cool tones that range from shades of Nordic blue to palest grey, and the refinement of crystal beading techniques; co-joined with more of a fantasy story of mystery, silence and serenity, inspired apparently by the frozen waters of Nordic landscapes. Heady words, maybe, but for this editor, viewing the entire collection, set within the gallery-like ambience of an open, light, white, space, at The Fuller Building on Madison Avenue, the feeling, in many cases,, comes across as honest and truthful, delivering, for the most part, on its promises in an instant and purposeful way.

Interestingly, and obviously with an eye set upon capturing and captivating a much broader share of the mass marketplace via gems and accessories at affordable price points, a good number of pieces within the new line, hearken back to the design feeling of the exclusive, hand-made, haute couture aura of the iconic, Daniel Swarovski collection, launched in 1989, only now, beginning in 2010, sans the high price tags. In keeping with the Daniel Swarovski attitude, these pieces will continue to retail only through Swarovski international boutiques.

The jewels and nearly everything else shown during the presentation, basically do what they are designed to do; i.e., focus on clean, minimal lines, in order to obviously allow the star of the show, the crystal to shine on through. According to Colin, whose aim for this collection was to go directly back to basics, “each piece is an expression of inner luxury and revisits the most essential value of today - the purity of the soul. Here, crystal is imbued with the reviving, purifying and sensual virtues of nature’s most powerful elements, such as water in all its forms.”

With all of this being said, the majority of pieces within the collection are refreshing and lovely. But, there are certain themes, such as the Montecristo; Maniac; May; Meteor;, Milady; Glamour; Hyacinth groupings; Molly necklace, Midnight, Allegro, Power, Kiosque and Mythic Bags, Moonshine and Majesty Ring, Majesty Cuff, and Mellow Scarf Necklace, which seem to take their inspiration straight from specific historical and references, the majority of which are memorable for their attention to opulence, luxury and fashion.

It is easy to see that the design elements incorporated into many of these pieces appear to take their definitive influences from the periods of grande Art Deco style, as well as the lavishness of The Tudors, especially when taking into account, the 1500’s, English King Henry the Eighth’s preoccupation with all things stylized and beautiful, not only for himself, but for many of the female and male gentry, with whom he surrounded himself, during his reign. Additionally, there are those pieces within the collection which portray the fragile charm of the Parisian nobility, most notably during the time of Marie Antoinette, when she, the Dauphin, and the ladies and gentlemen of the French Court, adorned themselves in the most sumptuous clothing and jewelry, simply to spend luxury time at the lavish palaces of Versailles and Le Petit Trianon.

Keeping in mind that Swarovski customers always look for something extra and different, aside from the main pieces, the company offers shoppers more crystal-embellished items, such as chunked-out and colorful, sport and dress watches, with cool names, such as “Octea Sport”; “Octea Lady”; “Dresstime”; “Piazza”; “Rock ‘n’ Light”; “D:Light”. Last but not least, there is Christmas jewelry, Active Crystal LED and computer accessories; all kinds of cute bracelet and bag charms, mobile phone accessories, key-rings, small bags and small leather goods.

– Adrienne Weinfeld-Berg

Thursday, April 01, 2010

A ‘Jackie’ of All Trades

Jackie Rogers (www.jackierogers.com) has had quite a storied life. She’s been a big band singer, Hollywood starlet (she inspired Fellini to write a part for her in "8 1/2"), model, and design assistant (she not only modeled for Gabrielle Coco Chanel but was eventually hired to work in her atelier in Paris). And she has the legendary designer to thank for, among other things, her appreciation of luxury, modern simplicity, classic elegance, and the foundations of menswear; her desire to enhance, not constrict the body; her belief that it is “style”, not “fashion” that is important; her love affair with black and white, graphic houndsooth patterns, and ethnic Chinese design. All of which were there within the well edited 27 piece collection she presented in her chic Madison Avenue boutique where guests were treated to Mimosas.

It also included the launch of her menswear collection which was all about chic luxe ‘sportif’ elegance (FYI: Ms. Rogers actually began her design career as a menswear designer).

The color palette relied on black, black and white (which looked especially good in oversized hound’s-tooth checks), camel (there were several chic camel coats and tunics which were mixed with gold lame or leopard prints), and brilliant color accents (orange, lime, hot pink) which were a wonderful uplifting surprise. The overriding silhouette was decidedly leggy with short (but not too short), narrow, above the knee skirts, charmeuse dresses, and abbreviated shifts. The models’ legs were always encased in opaque black tights, and black high heeled booties, or pumps, were the order of the day (platforms were on view but they were not as exaggerated as on other runways and the shoes were sexy but elegantly so, rather than ridiculously over the top). And naturally, Ms. Rogers did not forget pants; a number of pant silhouettes appeared throughout: wide legged pants, skinny pants, menswear trousers, tapered ‘harem’ pants, jumpsuits, and there was even one black patent leather short. Fabrics ‘spoke’ to the luxury quotient: cashmere, suede, snakeskin, velvet, gold lame, and leopard printed fur.

As for the Oriental ‘connection’, that came by way of ‘Chinese’ inspired details like floral appliqués and appliquéd shoulder details, ‘Manchurian’ collars (there was one ‘Manchurian’ coat), several tunics (which were mostly short but one dramatic version at the end in black lined in hot pink was floor length), and the abundant use of charmeuse.

By the way, speaking of Chinese, I just thought I’d mention that this is the Year of the Tiger on the Chinese calendar, (which is ironic considering Tiger Woods’s year thus far).

-Marilyn Kirschner