Thursday, September 06, 2012

The Couture Council Award Luncheon

The "Oscars"

Sarah Jessica Parker in Oscar de la Renta with Oscar de la Renta
(Photo: The New York Times)

There are many opinions as to whether or not Lincoln Center is the perfect centralized location for Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. What cannot be disputed is that the Couture Council of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) has made noble use of New York's grand iconic cultural epicenter: it has been the venue of choice for the last three Artistry in Fashion Award benefit luncheons.

Dr. Valerie Steele (left) and guest wearing Oscar de la Renta

The highly anticipated and sold out event, now in its 7th year, has indeed become a veritable tradition, and literally heralds the arrival of Fall Fashion Week. Past recipients are Ralph Rucci, Alber Elbaz, Isabel Toledo, Dries Van Noten, Karl Lagerfeld, and Valentino, and the 2012 honoree is Oscar de la Renta. (It's worth pointing out that Mr. de la Renta is only the third American designer to be so honored). Dr. Valerie Steele lauded him as a "true fashion superstar who has long served as one of the greatest ambassadors of American style. His clothes, which draw on the heritage of Spain and the French haute couture, as well as on the dynamism of contemporary New York high fashion, convey a sense of luxury and drama that have earned him acclaim throughout the world.”

Alexandra Lebenthal wearing Oscar de la Renta

 And much of those aforementioned elements were on view midday Wednesday, as out of the approximately 600 guests (most of them women) who descended upon the David H. Koch Theatre to honor the legendary and beloved designer, many were wearing one of Oscar's designs, (both past and present and actually, it seemed to be more of the former). Among them, Eleanora Kennedy and Alexandra Lebenthal, Co-Chairs of benefit luncheon, Dr. Valerie Steele, Dr. Joyce Brown, Liz Peek, Sarah Jessica Parker, Jamee Gregory, Hilary Geary Ross, Anna Wintour, Fe Fendi, and Diana Taylor, Mayor Bloomberg's gal pal (I asked Mayor Bloomberg, who was there to present the Award to Oscar) if he was wearing something by the man of the hour, and he laughed and said he was not. By the way, it's a good thing Roger Federer was not scheduled to play tennis at that same time, because I bet it would have been difficult for Anna Wintour to decide which event to fore-go.

Guest wearing Oscar de la Renta with Iris Apfel

When the well turned out guests including Donna Karan, Iris Apfel, Amy Fine Collins, Carolina Herrera, Isabel and Ruben Toledo, the Bush sisters, Diane Von Furstenberg, Peggy Segal were not wearing ODLR, they were clad in their own designs, or latest and the best: Chanel, Alexander McQueen, Valentino, and Prada. I was actually surprised to see only one woman wearing Miuccia's graphic geometric pants ensemble, which has almost become a symbol of the season. After all, as the first major fashion event after Labor Day, it has the feeling of the first day of school (in the fashion sense of course). And that means getting right into the season and getting back to business.


Fe Fendi wearing Oscar de la Renta with Kenneth J. Lane

After a welcoming address by Eleanora Kennedy and Alexandra Lebenthal ("We are inching toward an unheard of one million", is how Mrs. Kennedy described the money raised thus far), Liz Peek made her remarks, followed by Dr. Joyce Brown, President of FIT (she spoke with delight about the "amazing turnout" and hailed the event as "so over the top"). The highlight was undeniably Mayor Bloomberg, a good friend of the designer and a good friend of New York's fashion business. He was self deprecating, funny, and entertaining, and had the crowd laughing out loud several times. While he acknowledged he owns just two pairs of shoes (which he alternates), and is not necessarily thought of as a "fashionista", he said, "whoever picked me for this honor, knows their stuff. Whoever picked the winner (Oscar de la Renta), knows their fashion".

Chiu-Ti Jansen wearing a vintage Oscar de la Renta dress from the 60's

 When he mentioned the words "dazzling, elegant, charming", he initially joked that he was speaking about himself ("Someone has to give me some credit" he said), but then of course, he started talking about Oscar de la Renta. He got a big laugh when he observed that Oscar's evening gowns have "graced more Red Carpets than Meryl Streep". He quickly added "I won't divulge whether or not I've worn any".

He called ODLR a legend, and said "I'm his biggest fan".

He referred to him as the "Little Black Dress of high fashion: he never goes out of style."

"Oscar has made our city better and not just better looking" and he spoke about his generosity and his charitable work.

"Class and elegance describes both Oscar's designs, and the man", he said. And then he bestowed the Artistry of Fashion Award, at which time, Oscar came up to the podium.

He called himself a "very lucky man". "I live in the best country, the best city, and we have the best Mayor in Mayor Bloomberg".

"I love what I do. Fashion is not about what I DID but what I'm doing NOW".

"Thank you all for being here. There are too many people to thank (it would fill up the room) but you know who you are".

"I've been at it for 50 years and I'm still learning my craft. I love a challenge."
Speaking of his learning, honing his craft, and challenges., Oscar will have a chance to show what he has learned next Tuesday, as he unveils his spring 2013 collection, and will again have the challenge of wowing the international fashion community (THE most difficult critics in the world!)

- Marilyn Kirschner


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