Sunday, December 11, 2011

Marilyn Kirschner in Bill Cunningham's Column

The New York Times December 11  On the Street Column
(Click for full size version)

We have lost count how many times our editor Marilyn has appeared in one of Bill's columns. Bill has always treated her as one of his "muses".

-Ernest Schmatolla

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Better Bets - by Rhonda Erb

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Thursday, December 08, 2011

Ralph Rucci Book Signing Party

Friends and admirers cueing up to receive an autographed copy of the book.
Ralph is at the top left of the picture.
(click on images for larger view)

Ralph Rucci is truly unique and stands alone in the world of fashion. An exacting perfectionist (and I mean that in the best possible way) who applies a painstaking, almost excrutiating attention to detail (every single detail), he has a finely honed, singular and signature aesthetic that reflect the passions and loves of his life.

Thanks to his beloved world travels (to oft times exotic locates), he has emassed an enviable treasure trove, collected along the way. This includes important works of art and sculpture, some produced by his own hands (as an accomplished artist and sculptor himself, he has had a number of one man shows under his belt). Each and every one of his influences have been exhibited in every facet of his life, in a daily basis: from the way he lives, to the designs he creates. His environments (a fabulously appointed apartment on the upper east side and a fabulous soho atelier), are a testimony to this. Which is why, he was the perfect subject for the just released photographic autobiography, 'Autobiography of a Fashion Designer: Ralph Rucci', Ralph Rucci, photographs by Baldomero Fernandez, book design by Matthew Egan, published by Bauer and Dean ( ). With 288 pages, it is 11 1/4 X 11 1/2, includes over 250 pages of color photography, narratives behind twenty objects Rucci has collected in his lifetime, brief descriptions of Chado's couturier techniques and staff portraits.

According to the publishing house, "he was chosen to represent fashion designers because of his unique approach to his trade. Rucci stands alone in the New York fashion scene for his attention to detail and couturier techniques. The amount of handwork involved in each finished garment is notable. As with the pattern books, the idea behind this series is to inspire the highest quality of handcraftsmanship.

Inside Ralph's workroom

We were inspired to publish an autobiography series that looks at different trades through the eyes of one practitioner. Autobiography of a Fashion Designer: Ralph Rucci is the first in this series." FYI, this book was inspired by Sol LeWitt's Autobiography (1980), during the course of which, every aspect of the artist's life and home, was captured through a descerning lens. Similarly, photographer Baldomero Fernandez takes us into Ralph's private world: his closets, his possessions, his artwork, the workrooms in his soho atelier, the sketches, the bolts of fabric, and some images of the finished product (images of models who walked the runway during the course of several recent shows are captured not on the runway, but in candid shots taken in the hallways of the atelier).

Ralph's inspiration boards

It was also quite fitting, given that Mr. Rucci is known for his sculptural, architectural designs, that the venue for the book signing party on Wednesday evening, was the unique and quite fabulous Paul Rudolph House (Mr. Rudolph, who passed away in 1997, was one of American's leading architects in the 50's and 60's). As Mr. Rucci signed copies of the $195 collector's item, he faced a glass wall leading out to a lush landscaped garden, and was surrounded by art, photography, and sculpture. Invited guests (including Marylou Luther, Steven Kolb, Georgette Mosbacher among others) milled freely around the 4 levels of the townhouse, nibbling on hors d'oeuvres, enjoying a glass of wine, and petting one adorable little bunny rabbit who had his own pet bunnies.

Items Ralph has collected over the years

By the way, when I received an email saying that due to the "overwhelming response" , the party had to be extended by one hour, I was hardly surprised, since Ralph is not only well respected and revered, but has legions of loyal fans. And I was certainly not one bit surprised, that many of those who showed up, were of course, clad in something black (what else?) by Ralph Rucci. I was lucky in that I had the perfect thing to wear, considering the weather was wet and warm: a Ralph Rucci textured black raincoat that looks like a fabulous evening coat, and is so special and superb, it never fails to elicit compliments whenever I wear it.

- Marilyn Kirschner

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Oscar de la Renta Pre-Fall Show

What is Black, White, & (Garnet) Red All Over?

Oscar de la Renta Pre-Fall 2012 Collection
(All photos

This is obviously the most festive time in New York but, let's face it, the results can be more tinseltown and tawdry than anything else. That said, nowhere is it still more luxuriously and elegantly festive than on Park Avenue, so I suppose it was fitting that Oscar de la Renta showed his luxuriously and elegantly festive pre-fall 2012 collection, a study in black, white (ivory really), and garnet red (down to the model's nail polish), at 583 Park Avenue yesterday at 12 Noon.

While Oscar has been using his relatively new 42nd Street showroom for his formal shows, he wisely went back to the beautiful, elegant, and quite stately space at 583 Park Avenue. He also changed the seating so that it not only better resembled a runway space, but making 4 sections of three rows guaranteed that all the guests would have a good view of the 58 piece collection.

Of course, pre-fall is a growing "season" and more and more designers are staging formal or informal presentations for members of the press and buyers. Just a few months away from the "real deal" (Mercedes Benz Fashion Week begins February), it is always timed with the advent of the holidays, and there is no other designer whose unapologetically dressed-to-the-nines and whose luxurious aesthetic is so in sync with this season than Oscar de la Renta.

Basically, the collection was chock-a-block with ODLR's signatures and trademarks which his customers have come to know and love. There were the beloved tweed skirt suits, and mixed media tweed dresses; the beautiful blouses; the decidedly dressed up cabled cardigans and knitwear; the statement making coats; the gorgeous embroideries; the sequins; the patchwork; the use of lace; the luxe fabric, pattern, and texture mixes; the butter soft leathers; the art inspired bold color blocks and abstract prints; the perfect little black dresses (many shortened to above the knee) and entrance making gowns in platine, gold, and bronze.

Almost everything was accessorized with MAJOR bijoux: there were earrings, rings, necklaces, brooches, made of Russian gold, amethyst, garnet, topaz, crystal; black and white enamel bangles; jewel encrusted clutch bags and bejeweled crocodile equestrian belts. Patricia Underwood's jaunty hats added to the mood. But perhaps the most fun idea was Oscar's witty interpretation of traditional waspy menswear staples: they might have looked like a tasseled loafer or a traditional Belgian loafer (complete with contrast piping and demure bow) in front, but in the back, there was the surprise of seeing an ultra feminine high heeled mule.

Other nice surprises: Black and ivory, always a fashion insiders' favorite combo, looked especially effective thanks to the employment of interesting and graphic combinations; a terrific ivory and black patchwork wool cloque coat utilized the technique of trompe l'oeil, which gave it the appearance of a jacket and skirt in the back; drop waists appeared on a number of dresses and skirts; furs were used rather sparingly (for Oscar, anyway!). And when they showed up, they had a sportif feeling, exempflied by a cafe au lait raccoon hooded shawl and a golden fox knit hooded vest with functional pockets (by the way, it was so warm yesterday, most of the show attendees - including Anna Wintour, were not wearing furs)

There were sporty and casual cabled sweaters, cardigans, and hoodies looked anything but (how about a gold cabaret sequined knit hoodie shown over a platine sequin and tweed embroidered dress, anyone?); unusual, unexpected combinations abounded (a bronze rustico jacquard embroidered 3/4 coat was 'thrown' over a clemetine silk taffeta pleated midcalf dress); and a group of relatively simple and supremely graceful crimped pleated gowns in coral, pink, and black, plus a black silk crinkle chiffon cascade gown, proved that yes, simplicity is still the definition of sophistication.

In the meanwhile, later this morning I am attending a press preview for "Joaquin Sorolla & The Glory of Spanish Dress" at the Queen Sophia Spanish Institute ( ), hosted by Oscar de la Renta & Inmaculada de Habsburgo together with André Leon Tally. I'll be curious to see how the designer's recent work was inspired by what is on display.

-Marilyn Kirschner

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Lookonline Celebrates 17 Years Online

The Godfather of Fashion Websites

Front of original invitation to the launch of  December 1, 1994 is the longest running online fashion publication in the world. Before there was,,,,,,, and even, there was us. We have not always garnered the attention, funding or the notoriety of other fashion sites, but those in our industry who have followed Lookonline's development over the years, know we helped pioneer the use of the Internet in providing real-time coverage of fashion events, regularly scheduled video reports, fashion blogging (DFR: Daily Fashion Report has been in blog format for almost 8 years and is recognized as the first fashion blog), market reports, editorial cartoons and original runway and event photography long before there were sites like or Fashionweekdaily.

Since our official launch was on December 1, 1994 as a BBS dial-up service (does anyone even remember what a BBS service is or was?), the Lookonline has been online "officially" for 17 years. However, we were already a BBS service by subscription in early 1993 (our first subscriber was Harper's Bazaar), and it was not until December of 1994 did we began publishing a website (hosted first under another domain name) in addition to our BBS site. Then, in early 1995, we discontinued our BBS service and concentrated on developing our website using our own domain name ''.

For the record, our official launch was as a party/benefit called "CyberTaste" for the "Charge Against Hunger" program from American Express and Share Our Strength on December 1, 1994 (see above copy of invitation) The event was held at Sony Plaza at 550 Madison Avenue in New York. Over 850 members of the public and a small group of press (WWD did not show up) attended the opening that featured 13 chefs from top New York restaurants serving their signature dishes; a designer auction, wine tasting, desserts, and a live 20 man jazz orchestra. According to officials at Sony, it was one of the largest, if not the largest event ever held to that day at the Sony Plaza's Atrium. (Rhonda Erb put the whole event together for us). Major sponsors for the event included American Express, Food & Wine Magazine, Tourneau, Romana Sambuca, Coca Cola Bottling Company of NY, Georgette Klinger, Colorite, and Sony Plaza.

 I want to personally thank (again) our many contributors who, over the past 17 years, helped support our site. First and foremost my editor-in-chief, Marilyn Kirschner, whose fashion expertise, wit and determination has set the tone for our editorial coverage; senior editor Bernadine Morris, who lent her name, expertise and a guiding hand for many years. Also special mention goes to Randy Brooke, an exceptional photographer who was always there when we needed him; Diane Clehane for providing us with first class coverage of major fashion and entertainment events, and Rhonda Erb for special reports and her wonderful shopping column Better Bets. Also special thanks goes to Susan Sommers for her timely suggestions; Adrienne Weinfield-Berg and Stacy Lomman for their special reporting; Isabelle Erb and Muriel Geny-Triffaut for their contributions, and finally a real thank you to Grace Mirabella for hosting our first three 'Master of Fashion Video Interviews'.

Of course a special thanks goes to my wonderful wife Deborah Brumfield, without whose constant support and encouragement nothing would be possible.

-Ernest Schmatolla

Yeohlee in Conversation with Valerie Steele

Yeohlee's Practical Magic

Yeohlee talking with members of the Couture Council

In this day and age -- not to mention this special time of the year-- it seems that everything is bigger, more in your face, and more excessive. Gaudy lights are all around; there's the 74 foot, 12 ton Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center; the over-the-top auction of Elizabeth Taylor's estate at Christies (, complete with baubles the size of tennis balls; and Lady Gaga's attention grabbing, "look at me" windows at Barneys New York, just to name a few. But it's reassuring to know that those things that don't hit you over the head, are smaller scaled, more subtle, and less flamboyant, can be just as rewarding and appealing - if not more so.

Yeohlee black cape

Case in point, Thursday's private presentation and conversation with Dr. Valerie Steele and Yeohlee Teng, an intimate gathering held at Yeohlee's chic, small jewel of a shop at 25 West 38th Street, just off 5th Avenue, which was sponsored by the Couture Council of the Museum of FIT. Everything about Yeohlee's year old 1400 square foot retail space (where she moved her offices, design room, and workroom to be conveniently situated upstairs) speaks volumes about her aesthetic, which is about as far from over the top or excessive as can be, but hardly lacking in drama or magic nonetheless.

The hour long event, which was immediately followed by a luncheon hosted by Couture Council board member Michele Gerber Klein, was first and foremost a shopping event, and invited guests (like WWD's Bobbie Queen and 1st dibs' Clair Watson) could walk through the store, try on selections from the fall 2011 collection (a study almost entirely in black, white, and gray), and place orders (30 % of all proceeds yesterday went to benefit the Museum at FIT). I was especially drawn to several jackets and coats, one fabulous black cape, two black hand knitted caps, and what has to be the chicest, most perfect black leather messenger bag on the planet.

Valerie Steele in her favorite Yeohlee coat

At one point, there was an intimate one-on-one conversation between Yeohlee and Dr. Steele, who was of course, decked out in her favorite Yeohlee black coat with signature crescent bottom (she was animated as she spoke about why she loves this, as well as her other cherished Yeohlee pieces that she's collected through the years). FYI, I have the same awesome coat in a slightly different fabric (mine is waterproof nylon), and I couldn't resist having the chance to tell everyone how I not only wear it as outerwear, but have turned it into a fabulous skirt. Talk about 'practical magic'.

Forever chic black & white

Yeohlee is an award-winning, well-respected designer, who is perhaps best known for her innovative, beautifully fabricated, smart, well-thought-out, geometric, architectural designs that place a premium on function and practicality, and always keep the urban nomad in mind. During the course of her conversation with Dr. Steele, she reflected on her work, her inspirations, and her passions, referring to her clothing as "intimate architecture which can effect how you work and how you traffic through your space". She also spoke about the "romance between the designer and the fabric" and admitted that her "core philosophy: is "wear it to death" (it helps "justify the cost"). She also reflected on the cape that initially put her on the map in the early 80s. When Dawn Mello, then Fashion Director of Bergdorf Goodman, saw it she immediately featured it in the store's fall catalogue. How fast did they produce more? "We cut the order to the Flight of the Bumblebee," Yeohlee deadpanned.

Patricia Mears with Yeohlee jacket & bag

Other loves? "I have this affection for one size fits all, unisex clothing that is weightless and packable". The Museum at FIT's deputy director Patricia Mears, also clad in a Yeohlee jacket, (an enviably chic hybrid of a bomber and baseball jacket) opined, "there's no place you can't wear this jacket". She spoke of the first time she met the innovative designer, spoke of her love of that now famous Urban Nomad exhibition, and said that they "both share a love for the construction of clothing". As she put it, "There aren't a lot of designers who know how to make a garment from beginning to end".

So, what's on the horizon? Yeohlee said, "I like simple. The next phase is lasering. I'm lasering in order to make fabric really flat. What seems simple is really not simple". I then asked, (since the fall collections are just a few months away), what Yeohlee is working on for fall 2012. She said she is "exploring color, texture, form, and density" (she is "loving fabrics that have a lot of density"). And as always, "I'm having a conversation with the circle...I can make endless clothes with that concept," she offered. Most importantly, long an active and outspoken proponent for Save the Garment Center, she is passionate about "Made in the USA, Made in New York, Made in Midtown" (which is how she put it). And, she not only talks the talk, but walks the walk. Yeohlee is the first designer store to open in the District and it is a testament to Yeohlee’s commitment to the neighborhood. (Though she did admit that her fabrics will continue to come from all over the world and not just Europe).

Speaking of fabrics, it's literally all about fabrics for this designer and Dr. Steele reminded us that Yeohlee was the first to put Teflon on a white blouse in order to make it practical. Yeohlee's response, "The real unsung heroes are the ones who make the fabrics".

She then continued, "It's not just about price, It's about magic". "The fashion industry should be as important as the film industry in New York". Clothes ARE important! It's all about clothes. We all need to wear clothes. We all need to be covered and to be protected by our clothes." At that point, I couldn't help but recount to those in attendance, the famous ad for Barneys New York that aired on television quite awhile back. It's shot in black and white, presumably showing a very young Barney Pressman on the Lower East Side at the turn of the century. He is sitting on a stoop and a few of his young friends asked, "What are you going to do, Barney, when you grow up?" Without hesitation, the entrepreneurial youngster answered, "I don't know, but we're all gonna need clothes."

-Marilyn Kirschner

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Book Review: New Chanel Biography

Coco Chanel: An Intimate Life
by Lisa Chany
Buy at
(Viking Press: A member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.)

"I am scared only becoming bored" - Coco Chanel

Andre Malraux proclaimed: "Chanel, General de Gaulle and Picasso are the three most important figures of our time" ( A very French view!)
As perhaps the most influential fashion icon of the twentieth century, Chanel was, in the words of the author, "...the absolutely personification of the modern woman" whose struggles with fame and personal emotional fulfilment was truly the stuff legends were made of.

Dmitri Pavlovich with Gabrielle, c 1920

This well researched and richly documented book uncovers in over 400 pages with 59 photographs some new information and insights about Gabrielle Chanel. The author goes further than past bios to explore beyond the myth and "discover" more about the real woman. Drawing upon newly obtained love letters, journals and the Chanel archives, Lisa Chany discusses Chanel's humble childhood raised in a French orphanage to her world wide fame and notoriety. Her professional and romantic passions tied her to some of the most celebrated men of the century - Picasso, Stravinsky and Dali.

Chanel with Winston and Randolph Churchill, c 1928

Chany attempts to settle once and for all the truth about Chanel's decade-long drug addiction, her bisexuality, her famous love affair with the Russian Duke Dimitri Pavlovich, and her controversial relationship with the Nazi spy Hans Gunther von Dincklage and the problematic question of Chanel's collaboration with the Nazis. And while Hal Vaughn recently made the case that Chanel herself was a Nazi spy, Chaney finds no evidence to support that view, and she paints a very different picture of Chanel during that tumultuous period. There is also more about her complex relationship with Arthur Capel. the man who helped set up her empire. Capels love letters were given to Chaney by his family and have never been seen by any previous biographer.

Chanel with Salvador Dali, c 1938

But what comes across most about the biography, is just how extraordinary a woman Coco Chanel was - up and beyond being a great fashion designer. In fact, her talent as a couturier mirrored her greater genius in living a life that was, by every account, as complicated and flamboyant as it was daring.

About the Author: Lisa Chaney is the author of Hide and See with Angels: A Life of J.M. Barrie, a biography of the creator of Peter Pan. She has taught at Oxford and presented programs for British TV and radio, and writes for newspapers and magazines. She lives in York, England.

- Ernest Schmatolla