Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Fresh Pitcher of Summer Fashion Kool-Aid

Ballerina Ultima & Rouge Louboutin

Christian Louboutin Nails it: Oh, Mr. Louboutin... I've read that you are a delight in person. I've clearly never had the pleasure of meeting you but if I did I'd ask you these two questions. 1) Why do you make your shoes so beautiful yet so narrow and spiteful? 2) Whatever happened to that legendary assistant who was polishing her nails at work? In most places, tending to one's own manicure would probably result in being fired but in this case, she (I'm assuming it was a woman) became your muse; your inspiration to literally and liberally paint the soles red. We've all heard about that fateful day in 1993 when you turned to the bottle (not of alcohol but of red nail lacquer) and created the iconic sole which became the "soul" of your footwear. Therefore, I can't help wondering if she was fairly compensated for her fortuitous workplace faux pas? At the very least, she should get a new bottle of your nail polish.

Christian Louboutin gets the point

"The red sole was born from red nail polish. I am giving back to beauty what the shoes took from the nails many years ago" says Mr. Louboutin.  And what a nail polish it is! It's an objet d'art in an architectural molded cut glass bottle inspired by "classical balustrades found in European buildings." The cap is a towering seven inch calligraphy inspired cap with a flash of red on the underside and modeled after the heel of the Ballerina ULTIMA, at 7 inches tall the highest shoes the company ever made. The accompanying David Lynch directed video includes a pink Antonio "Gaudi-esque" tower as well as many images calling to mind a trip to Barcelona and the Picasso/Miro art that is abundant there. This is not the polish that you slop onto your nails as you run out the door; it must be applied languidly and in a sexy and decorous manner, preferably while lounging in a silk robe and fishnets. Mr. Louboutin's background designing for the Folies Bergere and in burlesque is also evident throughout the video. View it here at  http://us.christianlouboutin.com/us_en/

The Pops

The line debuts with Rouge Louboutin at Saks, Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus and Sephora.com, however more colors including Pops (bright colors), Noirs (dark colors) and Nudes (self-explanatory colors) will be launched in August. Mr. Louboutin apparently gives suggestions for which colors pair pedicure and shoe well and which shape toes deserve which colors (short toenails should be kept in neutrals). The formula of the polish promises to be "chip-proof" but unless it comes with a manicurist I'm going to assume that its $50 price tag is for the" packaging "(Mr. Louboutin doesn't like that word so make that its "presentation"). To further the tie-in I've read that the polish is to be sold in the shoe department. I spied a display on the ground beauty floor of Saks last week one day after the launch with just the mini model of the black stiletto, leading me to believe that the polish had flown out already, whether to the upper echelons of the shoe floor or into/onto customer's greedy little fingers (and onto their toes).

Who "Nails it" on Project Runway? PR is back (Thursdays at 9 p.m. on Lifetime) and I've certainly missed the "gang" of Heidi Klum, Nina Garcia, Tim Gunn and Zac Posen (although I really miss Michael Kors who's gotten too big, since he went public and is worth billions to do this little reality show). I guess the remaining judges were told to up the ante and the result was one of my favorite show comments of all time: Nina's "WTF" moment. Spoiler Alert: Upon seeing loser Jefferson's unflattering and poorly made "bib" crop top and "diaper" short, Nina almost cried like a baby and was reduced to a monosyllabic yet well put "W. T. F?"

On the winning side, the judges seem to be "drinking the Kool-Aid" which is supplied by Sandhya Garg. Her "unusual silhouettes" as well as a "I have not seen anything like this. You surprise me" from Heidi, has the other contestants (and myself) collectively SOH (shaking our heads). Sandhya admits that her creations "Look very different from what everyone else has done. I have my own voice." That voice apparently told her to send a long sleeved sheath dress in a ditsy printed floral which she partially over-dyed at the bust line in what looks to be a vat of red Kool-Aid, then intentionally frayed the hem line and sleeve, piped the zippers in green and purple and cut open flange/flaps at the shoulder line exposing part of the upper arm; down the runway to the judges accolades. Yeah, I don't get it either but it's only week one. I will reserve further comment until I see how this plays out because on Project Runway, one never knows.

Western fringe Kimono for the young set

It's Not Easy Being Boho Chic: What's one of the hottest looks on the music festival scene this summer? If you said "kimono" you'd be right. If you said "fringed kimono" you get extra points.  Often what looks cute/ fresh/edgy on a Millennial at Bonnaroo should almost certainly not be worn by a Baby Boomer on the streets of NYC, either because it will show way too much skin/be entirely inappropriate or even worse, it will look frumpy. The kimono can easily skew "frumpish" on an "adult" if not done right. The PYT's my daughter's age will pair it with a crop top and a pair of cut-off Daisy Duke's and lace up ankle boots or gladiator sandals. I recently wore my colorful slightly Southwestern-vibe kimono with cropped pants, a printed silk tank and wedge sandals and it felt neither junior nor granny but kind of current.

Grandma's couch?
(click image for full size view)

I recommend staying away from a floral pattern which could go "mumsy" on anyone over the age of 22. I thought I was rocking it until I was ordering lunch and found myself literally unable to move -- the looped fringe at the bottom of the garment had become entangled on a display rack of potato chips as I passed by. As the day wore on I had several other "close encounters" including a few with the grommets on my purse as well as an entanglement from my keychain as I reached into my bag. My suggestion: If you do try a kimono, beware of the "lunatic fringe" (especially important if you are a festival goer)!

Mary Alice Stephenson Glams4Good

Beauty is as Beauty Does: A great case in point is Mary Alice Stephenson, fashion and beauty expert for over 20 years and founder of Glam4Good. The former assistant editor to Anna Wintour who became Fashion Editor at Harper's Bazzaar has made a career out of styling stars for magazine covers and for the red carpet who decided to put that experience to use for a greater philanthropic purpose. She works with non-profits, women's organizations, veterans, cancer survivors, homeless shelters and the Make-A-Wish foundation "using fashion to help heal and empower." Ms. Stephenson's goal through her makeovers; using high-fashion donations of clothing, shoes, accessories, cosmetics and the help of expert makeup artists and hair stylists; are to show the "everyday hero" that they are as beautiful outside as inside. "Fashion is this glamorous armor that we have and it doesn't deal with serious, serious things in life but when you feel good and you look good you're far more able to deal with difficult things" she has said.

In the past year she's worked with over 3,500 women and 18 non-profit organizations including veterans and wounded warriors from Afghanistan, yet she claims that no one has ever said 'no' to her and the glam squad. She was also involved in donations for Hurricane Sandy victims and this past May gave 70 women prom makeovers. It's so thrilling to see how Ms. Stephenson is every bit as excited to give these girls the experience as they are to receive it. Watch the very inspiring clip: play video.

-Laurel Marcus

Thursday, July 24, 2014

FGI Frontliners: "Jewelry, Rich &, Rare

Photo: Laurel Marcus

Last night I attended the FGI Frontliner event  "Jewelry, Rich & Rare: International Museum Exhibits Offer Collectors and Connoisseurs a Fresh Look at Precious, Vintage Pieces" at Bonhams Auction House (580 Madison Avenue). With a name like that I had no idea what to expect nor it seemed did anyone else around me but since three of the most iconic jewelry houses of our time were referenced in the press release and I was quite familiar with two of the three (see past article about Christies), my interest was piqued. As we sipped champagne at the Preciosa underwritten event, we speculated amongst ourselves. (Yes, it was a thirsty, friendly, albeit jewelry hungry, predominately female crowd).

Left to right: Margaret Hayes; Sarah Coffin; Mark Emanuel; 
Jane Adlin & Susan Abeles
(Photo: Courtesy FGI)

Since there was a moderator (Susan Abeles, VP, Bonhams Jewelry US Director) as well as some esteemed panelists (Jane Adlin, curator, Jewels by JAR, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Sarah Coffin, Curator, Set in Style: The Jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels, at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum and Mark Emanuel (Co-owner of David Webb) it would obviously be a discussion of some sort. Would they show actual jewelry? While no actual jewelry was on display, there was a slide show running in the reception area. Audience members who were there to see heavy metal and sparklers would have to content themselves with the few audience members (myself and Mark Emanuel's girlfriend Robin Katz among them) to satisfy their jewelry craving for the evening. For the record, I trotted out a few of my amazing recently inherited David Webb pieces and barely escaped unscathed as several women practically ripped the vintage necklace off of my neck.

Laurel wearing her David Webb pieces

According to FGI literature the name "Frontliners" describes" industry leaders discussing topics that move the industry forward in an intimate, interactive panel setting." Ms. Abeles had a number of questions which the panelists took turns answering and applying specific knowledge culled from their varied experiences either with the curation process of the above mentioned exhibits or by being an owner of a jewelry brand. First off, the panelists were asked about where the inspiration for an exhibit comes from. Ms. Adlin remarked that "Every show starts with an idea and the idea can come from walking down Madison Avenue. Something catches my eye and I take it to the next level." In terms of the JAR (renowned jewelry designer Joel A. Rosenthal) exhibit (November 20, 2013-March 9, 2014) a friend of Mr. Rosenthal's approached curator-in-charge of The Costume Institute Harold Koda who referred him to Adlin. Upon receiving the opportunity to display these "elusive and hard to find gems" Adlin admits "we just said yes and then had to backtrack and figure out if we could do it or not." Sarah Coffin spoke of her experience with the 2011 VCA show ("they were very cooperative in allowing me access to their archives and also their drawings") but the exhibit and companion book had to be cobbled together in a little over a year due to the Museum's current renovation (it's scheduled for a grand re-opening this December).

Audience at event

Emanuel was asked if he had witnessed a surge in sales after Webb jewelry was featured in a museum exhibit. An interesting discussion of how museums influence commerce ensued: "a buzz follows museum shows" is how he put it. After an exhibit you could see a considerable "bump" but added that speaking from his position as an owner for approximately three years (since 2010 when a partnership to purchase the company was formed) Webb jewelry experiences "a great deal of commerce before, during and after the show." He spoke of a 1962 Herald Tribune article in which the designer wrote "why not hang gems in a museum" and it became a "Cri de coeur" lifting the stigma related to a jewelry exhibition. Jewels started to become known as another form of the decorative arts rather than being thought of as just an embellishment. Consequently there have been more jewelry exhibitions in the last 10 years than ever before which has created a "snowballing effect." "The MFA in Boston is one of the few museums to have a dedicated curator for jewelry," he added and mentioned that Europe now has the most jewelry curators due to the more intense focus on royal jewels. He mentioned the Munich Museum, Dresden Museum and British Museum as having the most jewels handed down by royalty.

Panel discussion

Another question was asked about whether a museum targets a specific customer when considering a particular exhibit. Adlin remarked that there is "Not a target demographic but will it draw people in?" Then perhaps defending herself against some of the particularly scathing press reviews of the exhibit she added, "I knew the JAR show would not be critically acclaimed but would be a success." She recounted how she has to do a whole thesis on why she's doing a show which goes to committee three times. "I want to open up the eyes of the general public from the hip hop types to the Exchequer of Britain that I'm taking on private tours." Emanuel also came to her defense, "The exhibit was extraordinary in every sense. We'd rather have Beethoven's own works than interpretations, " he said alluding to the criticism that the exhibit was totally driven by Mr. Rosenthal himself. "An opportunity for the museum to have an artist like JAR to supervise and make an imprint on his own exhibit is just extraordinary and unique."

How does the advent of financial downturn and our more casual lifestyle affect the jewelry business? Emanuel recalled the early '90s when David Dinkins was mayor and the city was in trouble. He mentioned that the company tried to "reduce in scale" but soon gave up on that idea because it "ran against his nature." David Webb himself died in 1975 at only 50 years old of pancreatic cancer so obviously Emanuel was referring to the company not the individual. He adds that the company "figured out adaptations" while "staying true to one's DNA. If it is beautiful and extraordinary work, people will buy it." Emanuel also spoke of the sociological effect of jewelry as an "ode to women" since women wear it as they reach their peak economically. "Women and their daughters are the ones who 'oohed' and 'aahed' at the exhibits and they are a force to be reckoned with," he adds.

When an audience member asked a question about who lends jewelry to various exhibits, Coffin mentioned that she had three male lenders who collected jewelry that their wives either seldom or never wore. She spoke of women who collect it for themselves including Elizabeth Taylor, although some of her jewels were gifts from Richard Burton, and the Duchess of Windsor; both women had strong viewpoints when it came to their jewelry. The subject of the IRS also reared its ugly head as Coffin mentioned that jewelry on loan will often not carry the name of the lender but will say courtesy of a "private collector." Some are so concerned about Uncle Sam that they do not allow their names to appear even in the museum's database and are referred to with a number instead; quite Orwellian.

As for what's next in museum exhibits Adlin spoke of the Met's 17 different curatorial departments and "how they want to grow their jewelry department or not is up to them." She mentioned that she's "very excited" for an upcoming Met exhibit encompassing a look at the history of jewelry including five curators. Coffin mentioned that when Cooper Hewitt reopens they will have jewelry mixed in with other design objects. Emanuel spoke of a recent exhibit at the Norton Museum in Palm Beach "a historic place for the brand" adding that "David Webb is a small organization and it took quite a bit out of our assets so we're taking a breather" however he did promise a show in New York.

Lastly, they spoke of jewelry as an art form as compared to traditional art on canvas. Emanuel said that an art sale could bring in as much as a half a billion dollars whereas a jewelry sale would top out at about $60 million. "People try to estimate the intrinsic value of jewelry (they like to figure out how much the stone is worth and the gold etc.) whereas there is no restriction on canvas. Clearly design adds to the value and the substance of the whole."

- Laurel Marcus

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

In the Market Report

A Cross To Bear

Vintage Chanel gripoix glass cross pendant 

I must confess: I have an affinity for crosses that borders on the obsessive, going back as long as I can remember. And while I recognize and appreciate their obvious religious symbolism, since I am Jewish, it is about spirituality rather than religion; their iconography; and of course aesthetics -- namely, their classic lines and innate symmetry. I personally gravitate towards Maltese and Byzantine crosses: specifically, hard to find vintage Chanel gripoix glass cross pendants, and anything from Verdura (www.verdura.com). The storied house was established in 1939 by Fulco di Verdura, a Sicilian duke who began his career as Coco Chanel’s head jewelry designer. Verdura’s Byzantine cuffs were sartorial signatures of both Coco Chanel and Diana Vreeland, both of whom literally armored them to their wrists, and they are at the top of my bucket list.

Diana Vreeland wearing her Verdura Byzantine cuffs, photographed by Horst P. Horst, 1979 

In addition to iconic vintage pieces, I must make note of two notable collections, which specialize in bold, unique, statement making cross pendants, and they appeal to me for different reasons. Darren Manes, a talented, painter/artist who has a graduate degree in architecture, creates one of a kind Byzantine and Maltese cross pendants which are punctuated with large stones and are hand crafted from vintage component pieces. They range in price from about $575 to $650 and have the ancient look of something one might unearth during the course of an archaeological dig. They are only available through Sheri Weiss, Sheri’s Vintage Collections, Showplace, 40 West 25th Street, N.Y. 10010, Gallery 30 (rubylane.com/shops/boobearsbaubles; email: sew125@aol.com).

Verdura Maltese cross hinged stone cuffs 

In a very different vein is the clean, minimal modern, feminine simplicity of Lisa Jackson’s LJ Cross (www.ljcrossny.com), which launched this past February at a cocktail party held at Phoenix Rose, 944 Madison Avenue, where they are sold exclusively. It was hosted by Marcia Mishaan, Patrick McMullan, Marisa Noel Brown, Helen Shifter, and Dayssi Olarte, and among the guests were designers Tory Burch, Nicole Miller, Dennis Basso, and Vera Wang. FYI, Vera and Lisa, who share the same “modern design aesthetic”, have been best friends for over 20 years (she was actually Vera’s interior designer), and Vera is one of Lisa’s biggest fans and supporters.

Darren Manes cross pendants

Lisa, who had her own successful design company where she designed furniture, was inspired to do crosses because of her late brother Stephen who “had the chicest style and always wore multiple crosses” and she sees the cross symbol as being “less about religion and more about a peaceful harmony she hopes will unite people”. Fashion forward and innovative, her crosses (which can be described as both girlie and cool) are comprised of 18K white, yellow and rose gold (she especially love diamonds) with prices ranging from $1,200 to $50,000 (depending on the material used and the scale). For more information, contact Tony Lucinacci, Sales Director, tony@ljcrossny.com, 212 433 1905.

Lisa Jackson attends the Parrish Art Museum
 summer gala 2014

In the meantime, Lisa proved that she is in fact, her own best advertisement. She attended the Parrish Art Museum Summer Party in Southampton a few weeks ago and clad in her signature New York minimalistic all black style, her only accessory was her XL Silver Quartz Cross at the Parish necklace (the retail price is $15,000), and it truly stood out. There is no more effective way to show off a great piece than to wear black. Speaking of which, while wearing a beloved accessory should theoretically bring one great pleasure, it’s hard NOT to associate black and crosses, with death and mourning.

"Death Becomes Her A Century of Mourning Attire"
(Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art)

And coincidentally, that is precisely the subject of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s upcoming Costume Institute Exhibition (their first fall installation in 7 years). “Death Becomes Her, A Century of Mourning Attire” October 21, 2014 – February 1, 2015, “will explore the aesthetic development and cultural implications of mourning fashions of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries”. Organized chronologically from 1815 to 1915, approximately thirty ensembles (including mourning gowns worn by Queen Victoria and Queen Alexandra, many of which are being exhibited for the first time), will reveal the impact of high-fashion standards on the sartorial dictates of bereavement rituals as they evolved over a century.

Given fashion’s ongoing obsession with black and Victoriana, I predict exhibition will be a big hit: let’s face it, many fashion followers who only wear black look as though they are in perpetual mourning.


-Marilyn Kirschner

The Daily Bet

Fossil 1954 Fragrance For Women

Fossil’s first fragrance for women is a blend of citrus, floral and spice, with notes of mandarin blossom, rose and white freesia, juniper berry, pink pepper and ginger topped off with Texas cedar.  It’s fresh and feminine but not too sweet.

Available August 14th at: http://www.fossil.com/ $60.00

Navy BB Stars Kids’ Shoes by Bailey Berry

Little feet will stay cool and comfortable in these adorable shoes made of recycled materials.  Each pair comes with four different Reversa Strap designs that can be worn in a number of different combinations. A children’s bracelet and reusable mesh bag are included.  Designed for kids 1-8.

Available at: http://www.baileyberry.com $28.00

- Rhonda Erb
(Visit the new "Better Bets" at http://betterbetsny.tumblr.com/)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Summer Fashion Kool-Aid: Part III

Gallery of Fashion (T)errors
(Click on image for full size view
of each cartoon)

Just Say No To The Final Sale?: I don't know about you, but it takes me about halfway into a season to figure out what to wear, so I'm just hitting my summer stride. Fortunately (or unfortunately) that discovery tends to coincide with sale season making me an easy target for the bait: the dreaded fashion mistake purchase. Apparently it happens to the best of us according to Meenal Mistry who wrote an article in the weekend edition of the WSJ entitled "Oops, I Did It Again" and known as "Five Ways to Avoid Shopping Mistakes" online. (See Article) I'm wondering if Britney Spears knows about that for two reasons.

One is the obvious appropriation of her song title and the other is because Ms. Spears (who I love dearly) aside from when she is onstage and is trashy chic, always looks as if she shopped the sale rack at Kmart during a major clearance 15 years ago. If that's the case at least she's not out a lot of cash as Ms. Mistry is with the purchase of a tragic pair of marked down Celine tuxedo pants with an odd fit. They are unfixable by a tailor due to their strange proportions; overly big waist coupled with overly tight legs.

"Fashion Don'ts" - Courtney Love

The article categorizes the main "boo-boos" we all tend to make when confronted with a "too-good-to-be-true" sale and details how these mistakes make a great teaching opportunity so as not to become a repeat offender. On the other hand, she also says that "missing out on something great is a mistake" so how do you tell the difference? Her best advice: "Believe in love at first try" is a good one; anything that has difficulties in the store will only become more pronounced when you get it home. She encourages you to think of your best fashion purchase, how you felt when you found it and set the bar there.

CDG jacket

Also, sales themselves can be suspect: the odds of something great from a major designer fashion house being marked down over 50% are zero according to the article. My own personal experience is that if you are somewhere out of the way (read NOT NYC) you can sometimes find a good deal on an item that no one in let's say the ATL would dare wear still languishing on the sale rack. Even on Madison Avenue in Manhattan I've lucked out recently scoring an unworn tags-still-attached Comme Des Garcons blazer with weird rosette/origami embellishments at more than 70% off including the 20% off sale that the entire store was having. Granted, it's not the sort of piece you wear every day but, if you want statement making it's got that covered! I'm definitely thinking Fashion Week worthy...

Refashionista "reforms" Nun dress

ReFashionista Inspo: Not sure how I'm so tardy to the party but the Refashionista just came on my horizon aka Jillian Owens from Columbia, South Carolina. Upset with the current trend for "fast fashion" and disposability of said items, Ms. Owens decided about four years ago to use garments that she found in a local thrift store for $1 or things donated from friends and repurpose them into fashionable and wearable items. She then puts the made over item on her blog, wears it once, and then donates it to a women's shelter -- how amazing is that? She is incredibly creative and will not hesitate to pick the most heinous garment and by sewing, dyeing and tweaking (sometimes making an entirely different garment out of it as in a skirt could become a top) she will make it fashionable.

She appeared on Rachael Ray in July 2012 and remade a studio audience member's pink poufy prom dress (a "Pretty In Pink" moment?) into something "wearable for every day" and it's killing me that I cannot find the clip of the reveal anywhere. In the meantime, her blog is endlessly entertaining and I only touched the tip of the iceberg on it with her most recent entries. It's a little Project Runway without the trip to Mood, the infighting with the other designers, or Tim Gunn. Ms. Owens' tone is fairly irreverent which keeps it interesting. Check it out here: http://refashionista.net/

Cast of B.O.R.N. To Style

"What's On The Telly?": No, it's not a penguin but, Monty Python reference aside, there are some great July happenings in TV land.  First of all, Project Runway is back with a new season on July 24 and I can't wait! Need my PR fix ASAP! In the meantime, I've pre-watched online a new show on FYI, Network (formerly Bio channel) called "B.O.R.N. To Style" which premiered July 15 (Thursdays at 10 p.m.) It's another show about stylists (I was a fan of Lifetime's "Million Dollar Shopper" when it was on last summer) however the action on this show takes place in a brick-and-mortar local vintage store on West 125th Street in Harlem. B.O.R.N stands for borrowed, old, refurbished, new and the nine year old store is " part hangout, part boot camp, part advice shop." (See video)

Owned by the ebullient Jonathan Bodrick described as a "father figure" as well as "Attila the Hun mixed with the fairy from Cinderella" and featuring stylists Latino JJ Langan, Southerner Brandon Hood. Assistant/Jonathan's godson Devin Stokes; Jonathan's 11 year partner/lover Terry Artis as well as makeup artist and the "only anatomically correct girl"( according to JJ), Kristen Brown constitute the rest of this lively crew. This half-dozen crack-wise and smart at first impression--in fact, if you've read my recount of the Met Costume Gala where I was standing near a group of gay men who were sharp with the one liners, then this is like flashing forward about a decade or so with them.

Jonathan, JJ and client Alison

While not necessarily catty, these men are slinging the zingers and bon mots with amazing alacrity. Some examples are more straightforward including Jonathan's "Fashion is more than what you wear...it's an attitude," or "The closet is the window to the soul," as well as "good fashion begins with your undergarments." As he explains when styling one of the two clients (both singers incidentally) featured on this episode for a fashion shoot, "This isn't my first runway." In one scene with JJ and Jonathan heading to see a client on a snow walk through Brooklyn they question whether they are in Williamsburg or Bushwick. "I don't know, I think it's the same. The neighborhood has changed," Jonathan says.

The quips mostly fall to JJ and Brandon with his southern inflection, who when referring to Devin's lateness to the photo shoot styling says "Sometimes that boy is about as useless as a screen door on a submarine." Upon seeing a wall sized prop of a gun in a client's Brooklyn apartment Brandon utters "We need to shoot her with a fashion bullet." Upon coaxing and cajoling the picky Pharrell discovered singer Maxine Ashley who likes to dress "boy" into some fishnets and a sequin bodysuit while retaining her "edginess" he shows his approval with "It's about to get severe up in here." During a bra fitting for client Alison (a boyish Blondie/Debbie Harry aspirant who previously only owned and wore sports bras) JJ exhibits disbelief that anyone wouldn't want to show off an asset: "If I had boobs, everyone would know!" he proclaims. During the stressful photo shoot when an outfit isn't quite working he offers: "Although I do trust Jonathan's aesthetic, there's a fine line between genius and madness and that line gets crossed way too often." Since this was only the first episode of the season I'm wondering if the repartee will stay snappy all the way until the finale.

Alison as a rock star

Also of note, as opposed to "Million Dollar Shoppers" there is no mention of retail prices so far in this show although high-end designers names are constantly dropped, making me wonder if Alison's Stella McCartney pants outfit was a gift or a show loaner? Previously oversized-sweatsuit-wearing rock band lead singer/ Metropolitan Opera dancer Alison glows as she describes her glam moth to "butterfly"-like transformation. She went from looking like a " homeless boy to looking like a rock star!" so all's good in the hood! "I feel like a more vibrant version of myself," she adds in perhaps the most empowering statement. This episode definitely had a gender bending aspect to it which brings the song "Lola" by the Kinks to mind about. For a new take on this concept, check out the Jenny Lewis video which recently went viral online called "Just One of the Guys" starring Kristen Stewart, Anne Hathaway and Brie Larson in drag. (Play Video)

If nothing else, Jenny's suit is all kinds of awesome.

- Laurel Marcus

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

In the Market Report: On the "Dot"

Vionnet Fall 2014 Couture

Notwithstanding the fact that I recently wrote a blog about turning 65, there are thankfully not too many events I go to where I feel as though I am the oldest person in the room. Such was the case (well, almost) last Thursday evening when I attended the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Young Members Summer Party (www.metmuseum.org), for members between the ages of 21 and 35. I say ‘almost’ because I immediately spotted the venerable and ageless Bill Cunningham, doing his ‘thing’, and while HE claimed to be the oldest person there, I pointed out that in actuality, that honor belonged to the ancient Egyptian mummies who inhabit the first floor/

The evening (called from 7:30PM – 11:30PM) was a celebration of art, fashion, and music. Cocktails and hors oeuvres were served; there was dancing (with music provided by the Antoine Drye Jazz Quartet); and private viewings of Charles James: Beyond Fashion and the Roof Garden Commission: Dan Graham with Gunther Vogt (weather permitting). Luckily, the weather WAS permitting, and suffice it to say, that is where most of the guests (approximately 1300 were in attendance) gathered to enjoy the spectacular city and Central Park views at sunset. Including the dashing eligible bachelor Nick Loeb, who, fresh from his split with Sophia Vergara, was apparently more interested in finding a "substitute" for his bodacious ex, than checking out the voluminous Charles James ball gowns (alas, that gallery was almost empty when I checked it out).

 Marilyn and two girls wearing the marimekko polka dots

Indeed, the evening felt like a "mixer", with New York and the Metropolitan Museum of Art as a fabulously seductive backdrop, and that was precisely the tone of an article that appeared in The New York Observer, July 11, written by Alexandra Sternlicht, (“Appreciating art, fashion and macaroni balls with young New Yorkers”). When asked what the objective of the evening was, one 21 year old man said he was “trying to find a wife out there”, and another actually admitted “I’m trying to get laid with a girl who appreciates art”, as he watched the sun set over Manhattan. Oh well. So much for high minded culture.

Marimekko for Banana Republic Kivet Patio Skirt

In any event, the dress code was ‘summer chic’ (better known as “anything goes”), and that was certainly the case. There were  lbd’s and lwd’s (some so abbreviated they resembled swimsuits); flowing maxis; bi level slip dresses; garden floral printed cocktail dresses; a smattering of Clover Canyon’s vibrant digital prints; graphic black and white stripes; and polka dots. As for the latter, perhaps the biggest coincidence was that several guests (including moi), showed up wearing versions of Marimekko’s iconic black & white Kivet circle print (designed by the late Maija Isola), which had been translated into different pieces for Banana Republic. The collaboration, a limited edition capsule collection which launched in May, was wildly successful, with most of the pieces selling out in pre order before hitting the website or the stores. In fact, for many, the only way to get the patio skirt, was through EBay, where wily sellers doubled or tripled the price in some cases (the skirt was initially priced at $98).

Louis Vuitton Resort 2015 

Like leopard prints, polka dots (from teeny tiny pin dots to oversized circles) are perennial favorites with both designers and customers alike, and they seem to reappear after they’ve been absent for a while. Even though there is always a playful element to them, depending on the size, scale, and the way they are used, they can be sweet or sultry; retro or futuristic; dowdy or daring; childlike or grown up; edgy or classic; sophisticated or silly. Speaking of silly, who could forget that December 2013 WWD cover featuring George Clooney in black & white polka dots, the theme carried on to the background? It puts a smile on my face whenever I see it (or think about it).

Rei Kawakubo glassed elevator covered in polka dots at the Dover Street Market

There is an undeniably strong connection between the arts and polka dots and some creators are so obsessed with them they have become their signatures. To wit: Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, long obsessed with dots, collaborated with Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton for an eye popping fashion project in 2012. And Rei Kawakubo is so obsessed with polka dots, prominent black ones teasingly decorate the glass elevator in her Manhattan Dover Street Market outpost.

Ralph Lauren Resort 2015 Collection

They have also turned up on a number of collections for resort 2015. At Ralph Lauren, (a chic study in navy, white, and gold, with nautical undertones), one of the main themes was large polka dots; they were sometimes mixed with stripes, and they even covered his chic satchels. At Fendi, they were made of shearling and had a 3d effect. For Nicolas Guesquiere’s second outing at the helm of Louis Vuitton, they appeared as cut out circles on several tops and he covered a chicly tailored navy pantsuit with white circles. For his Demi-Couture Collection for Vionnet, shown during the Haute Couture collections in Paris last week, Hussein Chalayan designed a black mink collarless jacket emblazoned with a pronounced white circle on the front.

Fendi Resort 2015

It seems like everyone’s going dotty these days, including the always fabulously dressed. Last month, I spotted Iris Apfel at the FIT Foundation Gala at Cipriani 42nd street, wearing a vintage two piece long dress in black chiffon covered with large silver coin dots (she continued the theme with her polka dot covered bangles). Several weeks ago, at a party at the Whitney Museum in celebration of the Jeff Koons Retrospective, China Chow wore Stella McCartney’s wonderful asymmetrical charcoal gray dress covered with large white polka dots from her pre fall 2014 collection. This past Saturday, Lisa Perry attended the Parrish Art Museum’s Midsummer Party in Watermill, wearing a long ivory silk halter dress of her own design, printed with green, aqua, and orange circles, and navy and yellow rods. It reminded me of one of Wassily Kandinsky’s abstract paintings, which is not surprising, considering that Lisa has always been inspired by art for her collections, and she and her husband Richard, are renowned collectors of modern art masterpieces.

- Marilyn Kirschner

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Viewpoint: Fifth Avenue or Mall of America?

Last October I accompanied my husband on a business trip  to  Chicago where we stayed at a hotel directly off of Michigan Avenue aka the "Miracle Mile." At first it was amazing to me that so many huge chain and higher-end department stores were all within walking distance. Several of the stores were just cavernous, flush with seemingly wasted acres of space between racks of clothing, no doubt due to rents being a good deal less expensive than in the Big Apple. That night at dinner I recounted my retail observations to a native Chicagoan in our group who shook his head disparagingly. "Yeah, but It's not New York," he chuckled.

Recently, while briskly pounding the pavement of Fifth Avenue on our very own "Miracle Mile" between 50th and 59th Streets, I decided that if our friend were here now, he'd see that as of late, even New York isn't New York. To begin with, I have a love/hate relationship with the aforementioned stretch of glorified real estate. In fact, since I became a New Yorker 25 years ago, wild horses could not drag me to the "tourist central" between Thanksgiving and New Year's. I always breathe a huge sigh of relief in January at the thought of reclaiming my city from the hordes of "looky-loo's" who descend like locusts around the holidays. They tend to come back in the spring and summer months, stopping for photos and clogging the sidewalks in front of Tiffany & Co., the Apple store, FAO Schwarz, not to mention Abercrombie & Fitch where a line of wide eyed tweens and parental units often snakes out onto the sidewalk, wrapping around the building thereby exposing the noxious fumes of toxic cologne that is piped in through the air ducts and out on the bare-chested male models.

Saks Fifth Avenue store

Like the proverbial woman past her prime, the stores have "let themselves go" often to the highest bidder and just as often it has destroyed their character. Last year Saks Fifth Avenue had its moniker officially shortened to Saks and was acquired by Hudson Bay Company (HBC) a former Canadian company that had already purchased Lord & Taylor. Saks is to be the jewel in their crown, their classy trophy wife however the quality of the merchandise has truly suffered and the sales staff seems mostly ill trained and surly. It appears as if the playing field is in the process of being leveled and while Saks still carries many more exclusive designers, L & T has been brought slightly up market creating more overlap where there used to be little to none.

HB bag

Meanwhile, another iconic store, Henri Bendel is undergoing a downsizing and reorganization of its own. Bendel's had a storied history until it was bought in 1985 by L Brands of Columbus, Ohio (formerly owners of The Limited) to add to its portfolio of Victoria's Secret, Bath & Body Works, and La Senza (a Canadian brand) stores. Again, this was to be their luxury holding; the Fifth Avenue flagship as well as 28 stores in malls across America. In 1990 the store was moved around the corner from 10 West 57th Street to 712 Fifth Avenue into a much larger landmarked space complete with soon-to-be discovered Lalique windows. Initially some of the Bendel concepts including the designer Open-Sees for hopeful unknowns to show their wares and perhaps garner a trunk show at the store, were still in effect. Although fewer and more far between than before, one could still find interesting clothing that couldn't be seen everywhere else.

Eventually that dwindled and in 2009, Bendel's went with an only accessories format introducing a line of Henri Bendel handbags and other items while still carrying third-party merchandise such as designer costume jewelry, sunglasses and the visiting trunk shows. Recently, it was announced that further changes were in the air as all third-party cosmetics, jewelry, fragrances and accessories would be discontinued in order to focus only on the HB line of products. In its heyday the store boasted five floors of retail including a hair salon. It was cut back to two floors with "Rent The Runway" leasing space on the third floor. With the newest adaptation, only the main floor will be in use by Henri Bendel. Their lease is up in February 2016 and it will be interesting to see if the Bendel brand is a viable concept that can work over the long haul. It's worth noting that the mall stores only sell the HB branded merchandise and none of them have been closed so perhaps Bendel can trade on their iconic name outside of New York. After the change-over I would be surprised if any New Yorkers frequent the store as I have yet to see anyone locally flaunting a HB bag. Thank goodness Geraldine Stutz who ran the West 57th Street store for 29 years is not around to see what they've done to her "once-the-epitome-of-chic" brainchild.

Juicy Couture

Also on Fifth Avenue until recently was Juicy Couture, a brand which had a distinct rise and fall. No one can forget the terry cloth bling encrusted sweatsuits with writing on the butt, which came to characterize an entire decade (the 'OO's) of Hollywood starlets, junior high school girls (I finally got rid of at least a dozen of the zip up sweatshirts that my daughter wore daily, many purchased at full price, ugh!), as well as older women in suburbia or at the gym pre-Lululemon. The company had been sold to Liz Claiborne (now Kate Spade & Co.) in 2003 by founders Pamela Skaist-Levy and Gela Nash-Taylor (see my previous article about this) who walked away with $53.1 million yet recently told the Huff Po "It's Been Painful to Watch the Brand Fail." I saw the writing on the wall (or actually in the window) when a 60% off sale sign appeared in early spring before any other stores were having their seasonal clearance. All North American stores are closing yet Kohl's will feature the brand as well as several international stores. I don't know the status of the now shuttered Fifth Avenue location but would not be surprised to see a Kate Spade boutique in its stead assuming there's still time on the lease.

Intermix on Madison Avenue
Lastly, I am watching a chain of stores not yet represented in the upper Fifth Avenue locale (they have one on 21st and Fifth) namely Intermix which was purchased by The Gap at the end of 2013. They have recently completed a renovation of the store closest to me (Madison and 78th) and seem to be putting a good deal of money into the brand. Merchandise seems to be holding steady (still wickedly overpriced and usually available elsewhere) although there are definitely more sales promotions. Service issues can't be generalized on however; the last time I shopped the uptown store the "sales-sphynx" could not be bothered to show me the merchandise I inquired about and directed me with a sweeping hand and a "It's over there" wave. I walked out and decided to give the Meatpacking District Washington Street store a whirl and surprisingly received no snooty attitude. In fact, the sales staff couldn't have been nicer!

In a soccer analogy,(thanks World Cup): although mass market retailers seek to add profitable higher-end specialty stores as a goal, quite often they can't seem to keep their eye on the ball long enough to kick it in.

- Laurel Marcus

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Fashion Group's Tastemakers Series at "21"

Taster’s Choice

Rose Marie Bravo, Michael Gould & Margaret Hayes

One of my favorite Fashion Group International (www.fgi.org) events is their relatively new "Tastemakers Series", an informative, lively, and entertaining one on one conversation between two highly successful legends, at the top of their fields in the world of fashion or beauty (designers, company CEO’s, publishers, etc.). It’s akin to getting into the heads of those who are at the head of their classes, if you will, and as such, it’s guaranteed to be insightful and inspirational. And you know it will be tasty, because it is always a breakfast or luncheon held at an iconic Manhattan dining spot (Le Cirque, “21”, etc.). I always walk away having gained valuable insight and having learned something I didn’t already know. And that was certainly the case on Tuesday, when I attended the latest installation, a breakfast at “21”, featuring a conversation between Rose Marie Bravo, CBE, Retail and Brand Consultant, and Michael Gould, who after 22 years at the helm of Bloomingdales (he served as Chairman and CEO), stepped down in February, in order to relinquish the role to Tony Spring.

FGI President Margaret Hayes made her welcoming remarks and told everyone to enjoy their “lovely and speedy breakfast”, ‘allowing’ everyone 20 minutes to eat (she is always mindful of getting everyone to work on time). She then introduced Rose Marie Bravo (who she referred to as the “Barbara Walters of Fashion” and who, among other things, literally turned Burberry around) and Michael Gould, and reminded us of how many things they both have in common. “They share the same family values; a faith based ideology and philosophy (even though they are of different faiths); a commitment to their respective universities; both are products of the A&S Management Executive Training Squad, THE platinum in retail and management in its day; both share a background in the beauty business; they both ran retail institutions and global brands; they are both merchant CEOs; and they were both great competitors during a certain period of their careers.”

Rose Marie said she was especially thrilled to have this opportunity to sit down with her “good friend”, especially so soon after he stepped down from Bloomingdales. “Who lasts 22 years? Not even Jack Welch!” she exclaimed. She praised his “amazing career” and hailed him as an “inspirational leader, an “extraordinary brand builder”, and a “gallant philanthropist”. She recalled their first meeting when she was in her early 20’s and they were both at A&S “Here was this young maverick that was quickly moving through the company and kept getting promoted”.

Here are some of the highlights:

RMB: “What do think is the secret to your success? Why did you survive that long?”

MG: “Culture trumps all. The culture of Bloomingdales trumps all. What IS Bloomingdales? It is all about the culture. It’s not a typical department store.” (At one point, he actually referred to it as a “Mall; an exciting mall but a mall”). “Marvin Traub, who stepped down in 1991, created an incredible store. It’s all about building on Marvin’s legacy”. “It’s not as high end as Neiman Marcus, or as mass as Macy’s. You can’t try to be something you’re not. We can’t be Neiman’s or Macy’s. It’s about having a balance”. “It’s about accessible, not affordable luxury”. “Bloomingdales is a place of excitement. When I came aboard, the level of service was an abomination. It has drastically improved. It’s not just about product anymore”.

RMB: “What is the key to your success”?

MG: “I always knew I wasn’t the smartest person in the room, but I surrounded myself with the smartest people”.

RMB:  “What secrets about longevity can you give this room?”

MG: “What makes Sammy Run? My biggest fear was failure. Life is all about self-discovery, challenges, and growing as a person”.

Michael spoke at great length about Nelson Mandela’s inspirational book about leadership, “Mandela’s Way: Lessons on Life, Love, and Courage”. He has given it to summer interns at Bloomingdales, and he strongly urged everyone to read it (it’s already on my Kindle). He spoke about one chapter in particular, “Have a Garden”, which he especially loves, because it’s a metaphor for finding what you love, what you feel passionate about, and making it grow.

“The book talks about what our role is: a need for connection. Everyone has a strong emotional, social, and professional need for connection. This is a book about connecting, seeing and understanding the Big Picture”. As he succinctly put it, vis a vis the retail landscape: “it’s not about how many mascaras you sell. It’s about connecting to the people you are selling to”.

RMB: “What is your favorite chapter in the book?”

MG: “Know your enemy”, which is the key to being successful. “Know how to put yourself in other people’s shoes.”

At one point, after Rose Marie had given Michael some big compliments, he joked “it sounds like a eulogy” to which everyone laughed.

RB: “Why do you love the beauty business?”

MG: “Beauty gives the store a different level of energy and a personal presence. It’s all about the excitement on the Main Floor, the vibrancy, the energy, and the interaction”. “But we all know color and treatment are the future, not fragrance.” He also admitted that “Sephora is genius at what they do.”

RMB: “When do you know it’s time to move on?”

MG: “Sometimes someone tells you it’s time” (that got a lot of laughs from the audience). “When you stop growing, it’s time. When the person you hired is ready to be President, you move on. There are new challenges to face. Basically, sometimes you just know when it’s time.”

- Marilyn Kirschner

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

In the Market: Diana Broussard

"Locked" Up

Diana Broussard

I remember meeting Diana Broussard for the first time. It was the FIT Couture Council Summer Party (August 17, 2011) at the Boathouse in Central Park. She stood out in a room filled with well-dressed guests because she was the only one wearing a simple off white sleeveless sheath screen printed with a giant black mosquito. It was not only unique and witty, but quite apropos, since the indoor/outdoor party (held on the water on a muggy summer night), was buzzing with pesky mosquitos; by the time I got home, I was covered with mosquito bites.

Peter Hidalgo mosquito dress at Diana Broussard

I inquired about the design and she told me the dress, ($600, by Peter Hidalgo), was an exclusive for her eponymous boutique, Diana Broussard, 22 Christopher Street, 646 336 6365, (www.dianabroussard.com). I subsequently mentioned it in my blog, “Don’t Bug Me”, which was all about insect themed fashions. But it was not until about one month ago, that I actually visited her wonderful store.

Diana Broussard Lochetta of Love 

Right before Memorial Day weekend, Erica M. Blumenthal featured two of Diana’s signature Lochetta of Love Plexiglas and resin chain and lock necklaces, $375, in her column, “Browsing”, which ran in the Thursday Styles section of The New York Times on May 21, 2014. Inspired by the love locks that couples fasten to the Pont des Arts bridge in Paris, upon which they throw their keys into the Seine (as a romantic gesture to seal their love), they immediately ‘spoke’ to me as they are right up my alley: statement making, bold, tailored, sporty, and distinctive without being fussy or precious (no bling!). They have that streetwise ‘punk’ thing going on, and while I would not label them as unisex (I don’t think my husband and I will be sharing them any time soon LOL), they do have that masculine/feminine, boy/girl element; and I deem them to be instant classics. I decided I had to check them out in person. Oh, the power of the press!

FYI, coincidentally, at the beginning of June, it had been reported that police were forced to remove visitors from the famous Parisian footbridge after 2.4 metres of railing collapsed under the weight of the heavy locks. http://www.usatoday.com/story. Thankfully, Diana’s versions, as light as could be, are guaranteed not to weigh anything down. In addition, the interchangeable locks actually work, and show up on her necklaces, bracelets, and leather high tops.

Diana Broussard Boutique
Diana Broussard’s shop is an approximately 900 square foot gem perfectly situated on a chic, quiet street in the West Village, far from the maddening crowd (my personal favorite part of Manhattan), and it has a very distinctive personality and flavor, not to mention a unique, individual point of view. Its Diana’s sophisticated point of view to be sure, and it speaks to her informed, finely honed aesthetic.

She certainly has quite the impressive resume. She served as design director of collection accessories at Calvin Klein, moved to Paris where she worked at Christian Dior as director of footwear and leather-goods preparing the pret a porter shoe collection under John Galliano, then relocated to London and Florence where she joined Gucci, designing men’s and women’s shoes. She started her own line (under her name), geared for the “chic urban woman with a modern, understated sense of style”, and in 2007, she opened the Diana Broussard boutique (Sonia Fernandez is the Boutique Manager and Stylist, and Hitomi Hirose works in Sales and Design).

Diana Broussard Stelle orange velvet smoking slipper with Nate chain

Her design collections, which make use of the finest materials and celebrate the art of fine craftsmanship, encompass shoes (including chic flat pointy toed ‘smoking slippers’ in leather and velvet, and sporty lace up leather high tops, $277 - $395), and jewelry (necklaces, chokers, rings, bracelets, cuffs, earrings). In the case of the latter, her calling cards are her use inventive use of Plexiglas, resin, and metal. Her hands down best seller is the $275 Nate chain (and for good reason), and each season, she adds new finishes and colors to this, and to her equally popular Nathan chain ($250), and Lochetta of Love bracelet and necklaces (priced from $230 to $475). Whenever I wear the pieces I already own, I am always complimented, and I feel as though I am destined to be a collector. I have to admit that for fall, I am especially obsessed with the newly introduced camel color (nothing could be chicer than camel and black, and I surmised it would be perfect worn over a black turtleneck and under a camel hair ‘boy’ coat).

Diana Broussard Lochetta Love Long Necklace
 in black with gold chips

Other favorites: the Anelli chain necklace in matte gold or matte palladium, $510; the Logo Chain Choker ($295); the Nathan and JoJo Alphabet Necklaces (which feature gold- plated brass calligraphy gemstones with the lettering cast from 18th century French letterpress molds, $500 each); the sexy minimalist Angela necklace made of gold- plated brass, $350; the Venus in Pearl choker, $295 (which I recently featured in a blog about minimalist pearl necklaces); and the statement making wide Chuck cuffs in silver and gold metal, $350 (I love the textural braided chain effect).

Inside Diana Broussard boutique with artwork
by Kevin Fey on the wall

Diana explained that the inspiration for her store was drawn from a Milanese palazzo, “a mix of old and modern and furniture not crowding the main room; big important art on the walls”. The price range is $95 - $1200 for accessories and jewelry; $750 - $13,000 for art. 85% of the merchandise is comprised of her own label. She admitted that she “loves carrying Peter Hidalgo’s minimalist dresses as they are modern and look great on everyone…most importantly, they give my necklaces a place to ‘live’ and enable women to more quickly visualize themselves wearing one”.

Sonia Fernandez and Hitomi Hirose with Steve Pyke's photographs
 behind them

As for her design ‘heroes’: Geoffrey Beene, YSL, Claire McCardell, Roger Vivier (“in his formative years”), and Bernard Rudofsky (the late architect, curator, critic, exhibition designer, and fashion designer who wrote “The Unfashionable Body” and “Are Clothes Modern? An Essay on Contemporary Apparel”). She herself wears “a mix of Peter Hidalgo, Jil Sander Navy, Carolina Herrera (for blouses and tops to mix with Theory pant suits), a bit of Carven (recently), Sandro for camisoles, and Sportmax for a quick work dress”. As she explained it, “I need clean uniforms - nothing too frilly”. She does not shop online because she needs to “feel the fabrics and see the quality” and she frequents the New York flea market (“not for just one thing but for something for the house, like modernist porcelain”).

When I inquired if she was working on anything interesting for the future, she said: “Bags are arriving SOON to the store in July, and the secret, my first perfume!!” (Well, it’s not a ‘secret’ anymore and it will be called Diana Broussard). She is recently back from Paris, where she put the finishing touches on the packaging with La Maison Detaille with whom she is working on this collaboration. “It will be released hopefully for Paris fashion week. One Parfum and one soap to start...a dream!” (I was told the scent was “unisex”).

Does she have a favorite accessory in her store? ” I love them all or they can’t live in the store.” Why did she select the West Village as a location? “By chance I was walking by, saw the empty space, and just decided to take it.  It is also walking distance to my home...spoiled I know”.

 - Marilyn Kirschner