Friday, October 31, 2014

New York Fashion Cool-Aid™: Profiles in NY Fashion

Carole Garber

Carole Garber

I recently had the pleasure of meeting two individuals who, while not youngsters, exemplify the meaning of style at any age.  They are both from the 'hood,  ie. my 'hood -- the UES of Manhattan. They each pack quite a visual punch as they make their way around the city. If you see either of them after reading this article make sure you say "hello" because, in addition to looking so damn good, they are two of the nicest people that you're likely to encounter.

The daffodil yellow hair has given Carole Garber her trademark although she has, on occasion, been mistaken for Lady Gaga; as well as her Twitter handle and moniker of YellowGarb.  Like the trendsetter that she is, her hair has been this color for almost seven years and so precedes the current fashion of unnatural tress hues. Originally from London, she still retains her English accent,  her slightly loopy but engaging persona (her background in theater is evident) and most importantly what she calls her "instinct."  She began her career at the tender age of 15 when she was scouted at school for an internship at the venerable British haute couture institution known as "The House of Worth."

"I WAS Eliza Doolittle but I spoke nicely. Didn't have the Cockney accent." she recounts. There she met her fashion inspiration in the form of Madame Barry, a holocaust survivor who always dressed impeccably and carried a small Hermes bag of baby crocodile (the smallest part of the crocodile apparently, not a baby reptile) and matching shoes. She would add a dash of color in the form of an accessory which made an impression on the young Miss Garber. At Worth, Carole met many of the royal family, learned to curtsey and to help select gifts for them to give to family members from the luxury boutique Asprey. "Everyone's family had a royal crest or family coat of arms and I would help them with their purchase. I was the only girl not from royalty. Once I was asked 'What kind of Rolls does your daddy have?'" (Her father was a taxi driver). "'He has a Rolls Cannardly'" she quipped. When they asked what that was she answered that it "cannardly get up the hill" which works quite well with her accent but perhaps not as well in print. For Carole the fashion seeds were "sewn" as she learned pattern making on muslin, was sent on button buying expeditions, as well as how to style for fashion shows. She was a real life Cinderella invited to the Hunt Ball; instead of a pumpkin coach she had her dad's black taxi.

At 19, Carole moved to Montreal, Canada far away from her loved ones which was difficult.  She started a clothing business and then became more interested in accessories especially fur for her mainly French clientele. She would buy items that struck her as interesting in a flea market, vintage store or art show and change them around or embellish them to make it her own handmade one-of-a kind piece. She had a line of handbags known as Carole bags and came to NYC on an open call for Henri Bendel however she had missed it by one day. After handling the situation the only way she saw fit at the time (she burst out crying in the middle of Bendel's) when a miracle happened. "At the worst times, the best things happen to me." she now says.  The person comforting her was none other than the accessories buyer and they signed her up on the spot. She later included hats, some jewelry and scarves in the line.

Since then she has settled here, married the " man of her dreams" 18 years ago (husband is Stanley Jay Friedman, a world renowned furniture designer who, she proudly tells me, just won a Pinnacle award for his modern designs. Now (in her 60's) she sells unique accessory designs that are handpicked and curated from mostly European sources including knit necklaces made of crushed glass (they sparkle) from Lara Knutson, industrial Neoprene jewelry and Neoprene bag, woven and braided rubber necklaces and bags, clutches made of shell, skins or woven straw (Marjorie Renner from Paris), wood scarves by Jianhui London (so cool), scarves, hats, cufflinks etc. at trade shows, through corporate vendor programs (Pepsico and Pfizer are two) as well as being a stylist. She enjoys contributing in a philanthropic manner and cites a children's charity that she has been involved with as well as being involved in the mentoring of young girls. She says she finds it thrilling to help a woman by buoying her spirits up with a new and rare accessory.

"I just love anyone of any age who loves to dress up."  Carole had told me over the phone before we met. Her outfits are always well thought out and always changing.  She showed me how she can go from day to night with just a change of accessories that she carries with her. Her style icons/inspirations are Victoria Beckham, Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood, the Duchess of Cambridge although she's not a designer, and the recently deceased Oscar de la Renta as the only American of the bunch.  Who would she love to style? Pharrell Williams. She has saved all of her Azzedine Alaia knitwear from back in the '70s ("I was Carnaby Street...") which she still wears but will shop at Zara, H&M, as well as Karen Millen and Ted Baker...hmm can't help noticing that her last two are Brits. Other influences: old movies from the '20s, '30s or '40s, Instagram which she recently joined and now "loves" and follows Vogue editor Suzy Menkes, the Apple store (where they taught her everything about computers that her family members wouldn't). What doesn't influence her: although she spends time in a lake house in Connecticut  "I don't love wearing jeans." she admits. She also doesn't do the new activewear category, or online shopping. "I'm trying to get women to go back to the stores." she explains.  Favorite items to wear are dresses which she thinks of as a blank canvas ready to be loaded with accessories. She encourages women to know what shapes look best on them but to still experiment and to wear white! Above all she doesn't follow trends and will wear what she likes!

"Most people are comfortable looking like each other" she remarks. "But I like to stand out."  

Mission accomplished, Carole!

Gerald Glaser

Photos Laurel Marcus

Since we don't do much with men's fashion, it seemed like a good time to change it up a little and feature a gentleman who has a very dapper, yet creative sensibility. Gerald Glaser, a remarkably spry 88-year-old who could easily pass for 20 years younger, turns himself out everyday complete with jacket, dress shirt, pocket square, and except on his most casual days, a tie. He will vary between a dress shoe and a colorful Converse sneaker (he has eight pairs in different colors) which he discovered for comfort when he had a toe injury, but stuck with for style.

After serving in the Air Force during WWII he graduated from NYU with a Journalism degree. He got married, moved to Stamford, Connecticut and formed Grafiko, an advertising agency whose clients included, Electrolux, Parade Magazine and various perfumes and raised a family. He moved back to the city 17 years ago and for the past eight years has been employed at his stepson's software development firm as operations manager. He is in great physical and mental condition and runs early every morning as well as regularly goes to the gym. Although his style was always more formal than others; he was the only one in a jacket and tie in his NY School of Printing vocational high school photo; he admits that he was not always in such top physical shape. The Brooklyn native remembers the turning point. "It was 48 years ago, I was 40 years old," he begins. "I had to write copy for an exercise machine that did this." he moves his arms in and out like an accordion."I got the idea to hire Mohammed Ali who was out of work at the time since it was during his period as a conscientious objector. It was in the early '70s and he lived in Cherry Hill (N.J.) at the time. He also promoted his own line of shoe polish so I thought he might do it." For a $1,000 fee, Gerry had the privilege of standing next to Ali while he demonstrated the product. "I felt like a pipsqueak. I was dressed like a schlemiel and was heavier then with no mustache. The next day I joined the Y." he recalled.

Gerry's current and second wife Mary, was a model whom he met when she came to his ad agency seeking a modeling job. They recently celebrated their 26th wedding anniversary. This article is not Gerry's only modeling stint however. When he was 23, he met a guy on the subway who was studying him and his every move. Feeling uncomfortable and finally reaching his stop, Gerry got off the train only to be followed by the man. It turns out that he was an artist working for Sports Illustrated and was observing Gerry as a potential artist's model for a bullfighting feature. He hired Gerry to pose in full bullfighting regalia for the sketches (he had to make do with a pretend cape) because he thought he had the right look and proportions for a matador.

As far as his style inspirations, Gerry claims to really like the windows in the Men's Store at Bergdorf Goodman. The eclectic display is how he aims to dress, he added. He claims to have been a big Daffy's shopper who rarely wears a matched suit, preferring to pair stripes with plaid in similar colors so that only the very mindful realize that he is suit-less. One day he did accompany his stepson to Bergdorf's for a wedding suit. They were in one of the designer's enclave and his stepson was being fitted while Gerry appraised a bow tie for himself. He asked how much it was and upon hearing that it cost $135, put it back. Upon returning home, he noticed that the bowtie was wrapped up with his stepson's purchases as a gift from the store.

Like Carole, Gerry also doesn't wear jeans or activewear. "Casual to me means I take my tie off." he said. He buys his ties from a pushcart on 23rd Street near his office for $5. He wears only solid color ties and estimates he has around 200 of them. He always has a vibrant pocket square, cufflinks and colorful, sometimes patterned socks. The day I interviewed him, his eggplant colored socks perfectly matched his Converse footwear and I guessed it; purple is his favorite color. He is a doting grandpa who, when she was younger, used to walk his granddaughter to school. In order to liven up their perambulating conversations he had her discuss all the things that she was interested in. By the end of the semester, he had a book bound and published based on these subjects including tigers, Christmas trees, Tai Kwon Do and entitled it "Mikayla and Her Purple Grandpa."

Whether you call it "Advanced Style" as Ari Seth Cohen does in his blog and recent documentary film or just local folks looking good in the 'hood, both Carole and Gerry fill the bill. Just don't ask them to do grunge.

-Laurel Marcus

Thursday, October 30, 2014

In the Market Report: "Catching Fire"

Pauline Trigere gown circa 1992
Photographed by Ernest Schmatolla

The late great designer Pauline Trigere was known for her love affair with red and she once famously stated, “When you’re feeling blue, wear red”. When the legendary designer Valentino Garavani staged his farewell haute couture runway show in Paris, (January 2008), he took his final walk down the runway accompanied by models, all wearing the same lipstick red chiffon gowns. Lipstick red, his signature color, had become so closely associated with him; it was used for the name of the company’s diffusion line, Red Valentino, which is geared to a younger customer. Red has been and continues to be beloved by many fashion designers, not the least of whom is Rei Kawakubo whose unforgettable red wool felt coat from fall 2012 might just be the best red coat of all time. Most recently, she made a statement with her disquietly beautiful Blood and Roses collection for spring 2015, played out almost entirely in different shades of red.

Valentino in a sea of lipstick red chiffon  spring 2008 haute couture

While one tends to see lots of women wearing red in February (timed with Valentine’s Day), and of course, around the holidays (they don’t call it Christmas Red for nothing), its presence in October is far less obvious, predictable, and clichéd. In fact, it’s almost natural and organic: as though the red hued wearers are channeling the beauty of nature as exemplified by the fiery sunrises and sunsets, and changing leaves. Red is definitely a color that is meant to be noticed; it’s almost impossible to just fade in the background when you wear it.  Tennis champ and fashion lover Maria Sharapova, (in discussing how she liked to stand out from the crowd from the time she was a little girl) perfectly summed it up: “When the invitation says black tie, I wear red.”

Giovanna Battaglia in her Comme des Garcons red felt coat

While she may have been referring to the color metaphorically, from the look of things, many women are taking it literally. Indeed, the common sartorial denominator which has linked many of the town’s most high profile social fixtures and gals about town as of late, is their wholehearted embrace of red (from orangey tomato red to blood red). And the ones that really stand out, are doing so by wisely letting the strong shade speak for itself; opting for unfussy, sleek lines and minimal styles, and foregoing unnecessary tchotchkes (over the top accessories and jewelry).

Rosarion Dawson in red Valentino with
Valentino designers Maria Grazia Chiuri & Pierpaolo Piccioli

The week before last, the American Ballet Theatre held its 75th anniversary gala (sponsored by Lanvin and Piaget), at Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theatre. Coincidentally, it was dubbed the “Scarlett, White and Blue Gala”. While the word Scarlett was actually used as an homage to Liam Scarlett (who produced the show stopping “With a Chance of Rain”), rather than the color, several women nonetheless heated things up in red (Julia Loomis was a standout in her amazingly cut ruby satin gown). And the color was carried out in the décor, table settings, and deserts (there were even red hued macaroons).

Brooke Shields with John and Patty McEnroe
(Photo: Lieba Nesis)

At the Valentino sponsored OAFRICA Charity Gala at the Pierre Hotel, Rosario Dawson and Zani Gugelmann both wore something in red by Valentino (the former opted for an elegant covered up gown; the latter, a sexy plunge front jumpsuit). At the World Monuments 2014 Hadrian Gala at the Pierre, Amy Lemons-Sutton and Becky Kendall were among the guests who arrived in red gowns. At the 2014 Alzheimer’s Association Rita Hayworth Gala held at the Waldorf Astoria, its Grand Ballroom’s chic black and white marble floors turned out to be a perfect graphic backdrop for the arrival of red clad guests like Muffie Potter Aston, Somers Farkas, Lise Evans, and Brooke Shields (her deep v neck gown could best be described as an orangey tomato red). For Traditional Home Magazine’s 25th Anniversary Gala at 583 Park Avenue this week, Barbara Walters wore a tailored red wool skirt suit.

Muffie Potter Aston and Dr. Sherrill Aston  at the Alzheimer's Benefit

Unsurprisingly, several fashion magazines’ November covers are awash in red. A red lipped, Anne Hathaway, photographed by Alexi Lubominski, blows kisses from Harper’s Bazaar’s cover wearing a strapless red tulle confection by Giorgio Armani. And proving red is not just for brunettes, Cameron Diaz graces Marie Claire in a body hugging strapless red dress with the cover lines, “Look Sexy Now! Rules for a Hot and Happy Life”

- Marilyn Kirschner

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Fashion Kool-Aid: Helena Rubinstein Exhibition

Beauty Is Power at The Jewish Museum

Helena Rubinstein by Man Ray c. 1924 Gelatin silver print
(click images for full size views)

Can you imagine holding a 50 year grudge against someone that you've never met and never spoken to? I confess that I've long been intrigued by Helena Rubinstein (1872-1965) and her cosmetics empire even though I was about a decade too young to wear makeup when she died. Even at that tender age I was somehow aware that she and Elizabeth Arden, two women at the head of major companies when that was a rarity, were in a heated competition for women's loyalty as well as their disposable income. Madame as Ms. Rubinstein was called, was small (4'10"), and Jewish; Miss Arden was taller and Waspy. They both left their native lands (Krakow, Poland and Ontario, Canada) and are both credited with having pioneered the usage of makeup in turn-of-the-century America by women of the middle and upper classes as it was formerly exclusively worn by actresses and hookers. They both changed their names; Chaja Rubinstein and Florence Nightingale Graham were the names they were born with. They also both adopted a pseudo-scientific approach to skincare working in their labs (Rubinstein called it her "kitchen") to create (or reformulate) their individual creams and potions. Although Madame was 14 years Arden's senior, they died within one year of each other. They were both betrayed by their husbands: Rubinstein's first marriage was to a philanderer, her second husband 23 years her junior and of quasi-royalty, pre deceased her; when Arden's 24-year marriage dissolved her ex-husband went to work with Rubinstein's company or for "That Woman" as Arden would say.

Portraits of Helena  Rubinstein

Another confession: none of this is even touched on in the Jewish Museum's new exhibition "Helena Rubinstein: Beauty Is Power" (a tagline from one of her early advertisements) although it was mentioned in the press breakfast and will be the focus of a program on December 4 with a screening of "The Powder & The Glory," a 2009 documentary on the subject of the feud. The exhibition runs from October 31 until March 22 and is the first time a museum has turned its focus on the cosmetics entrepreneur and art collector. Not to worry though, the Jewish Museum has done a more than credible job showcasing the life and times of HR and I found the exhibit quite fascinating. Rubinstein, a woman so ahead of her time liked to say "There are no ugly women, only lazy ones." She herself was no great beauty but someone who knew what she liked, be it clothing, jewelry, art or design. A great proponent for non-conformity and uniqueness of the individual she believed that one's identity is a matter of choice. "She offered women the ideal of self-invention--a fundamental principle of modernity." according to Curator Mason Klein. "If latter-day feminist debates have focused on cosmetics as objectifying women, they were seen in the early twentieth century as a means of asserting female autonomy. By encouraging women to define themselves as self-expressive individuals, Rubinstein contributed to their empowerment."

Series of portraits of Helena Rubinstein done by Pablo Picasso

The exhibition culls together all facets of Rubinstein's life including her collection of rare art featuring works by Pablo Picasso, Elie Nademan, Frida Kahlo, Max Ernst, Leonor Fini, Joan Miro, Henri Matisse as well as thirty works of African and Oceanic art. Previously labeled strictly Ethnographic objects, Rubinstein considered them as fine arts and mixed them in with her "true art" pieces. Also featured are her beloved miniature period rooms, jewelry, and clothing designed by Christobel Balenciaga, Elsa Schiaparelli and Paul Poiret. Other items displayed are vintage advertisements, cosmetic products and a promotional film reel that is not to be missed. Rubinstein commissioned many portraits by well known artists and while they are scattered around including a series of sketches from Picasso, and an Andy Warhol, the most telling of the collection are featured on one wall which is a focal point. In order to please Madame, many of the artists painted her as much younger and more attractive than she really was as is evidenced by a Marie Laurencin painting of Rubinstein at 62 resembling a youthful Indian maharani. Towards the end of her life, two portraits that were painted in 1957 when she was 87 were an exception to that rule, yet one in particular received critical acclaim.

House of Balenciaga, silk evening ensemble c. 1957

English painter Graham Sutherland's portrait entitled "Helena Rubinstein in a Red Brocade Balenciaga Gown" (the gown is on display too) showed her looking "hawk-eyed, in a royal-red Balenciaga gown, her talon like fingers adorned with jeweled rings." Her shocked reaction to what she described as the "incredibly bold domineering interpretation. Look at a witch!" She later admitted that "the picture grew on me" perhaps after being praised by The Tate Gallery. The other 1957 portrait by William Dobell was possibly never seen by Madame and that would be a good thing. If she didn't care for the Sutherland portrait she would absolutely detest this one as it shows her as an "aging warrior, a stout, ruthless, melancholic Genghis Khan, eyes fixed on the past, colossal and mythic." In short, she looks like some kind of a monster. What I found quite interesting is that in all other portraits she is showing her left profile, in this one she is facing right; something that I'm sure the artist did intentionally as she must clearly have favored her left side.

Collection of African and Oceanic Art

There are many stories to be discovered in the exhibit and interesting anecdotes which show Rubinstein's character. After leaving Poland to avoid an arranged marriage, she journeyed to Australia to stay with her uncle. There she discovers Lanolin (a sheep byproduct) and adds it to the cream that a Polish doctor had given her mother and that she and her family of seven sisters swear by. Rubinstein sells the cream to the sun parched Aussie women easily and inflates the price because "women won't buy anything cheap. They need to have the impression they're treating themselves to something exceptional" as well as claiming that the cream contains rare plants from the "Carpathian mountains."

Promotional films 

Rubinstein is widely hailed as the inventor of the still used buzzwords "problem skin types" which her salons in Paris, London, Rio de Janeiro and eventually New York would diagnose and treat. The salons were not only about skincare however as they took the whole woman into the picture and advised on diet, exercise and were the first to counsel on the benefits of avoiding too much sun exposure. Rubinstein invented the first automatic mascara "Mascara-Matic opens like a pen" in 1957 containing her previously developed first waterproof mascara.

A Life magazine feature from 1956 in her apartment at 625 Park Avenue wearing a pearl-embroidered Balenciaga dress.

In 1941, wanting to rent a triplex apartment at 625 Park Avenue, Madame was told that the building did not rent to Jews.  She instructed her accountant to buy the building, no matter the cost, at which point she set to decorating all twenty-six rooms in a different manner.  The top floor of her triplex became a private art gallery. She worked with many of the most famous interior decorators of the day including David Hicks and Donald Deskey who had decorated the interior of Radio City Music Hall. By mid-century she owned homes in London, Paris, New York, the south of France, and Greenwich, Connecticut. She also appointed her salons with her varied collections in artwork as well as in decorative arts. An astute businesswoman who bought back her business after the stock market crash at a profit from Lehman Brothers because she didn't like their mass marketing, she was also very charitable. The Helena Rubinstein Foundation which funded many programs for women and children (think the PBS announcement at the end of Sesame Street stating that "major funding for this program" had come from the Helena Rubinstein Foundation).

This pearl necklace was purchased in 1908 by Rubinstein during a honeymoon fight with her husband.  It set a pattern of what she termed "quarrel" jewelry.

You might think that a woman as diminutive as Madame would need to show restraint in her manner of dress and particularly her taste in jewelry but that was contrary to her style.  She favored untraditional clothing designers particularly those of Poiret and Schiaparelli including modernized versions of historical costumes several of which are on display. To continue her flair for the dramatic, her jewelry tended to the extremely outsized. "Since I am quite short, I feel that these accessories, combined with my clothes, give a definite identity...Although I no longer need the added courage the handsome jewelry once gave me, it was not easy being a hard-working woman in a man's world many years ago." Amen,'s still not that easy. One final note: Curator Klein, a rather tall man, admitted to having tried on Madame's large pearl choker. He found the weight of it crushing and wondered aloud how someone of her size could have carried it.

For more information:  The museum is located at 1109 Fifth Avenue at 92nd St.

- Laurel Marcus

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The YUE Third Anniversary Gala - A Step Forward For The Asian Community

The award winners and presenters Mike Albanese, Lang Lang, Shirley Young, Chiu-Ti Jansen, Yue-Sai Kan, Zang Toi and Hutch Hutchinson
(Event photos: Lieba Nesis)

YUE, the Chinese-English bilingual quarterly magazine held its third anniversary gala this past week to celebrate its success as a magazine that serves more than 60,000 readers with the median salary of the average reader being one million dollars. The event was held at the Harmonie Club and featured the elite in Chinese society including: esteemed designer Zang Toi, famed pianist Lang Lang and well known architect Chien Chung Pei. Chiu-Ti, the co-owner (with Observer Media) and publisher of YUE, regaled the crowd in a sweeping black Zang Toi gown with her hair in an elegant updo. Chiu-Ti has a style that is continually evolving and this night her look was perfection (I am slightly partial as I chose her as a style subject for my fashion column). Chiu-Ti, the master of ceremonies, introduced all of her illustrious friends and humorously commented that if you meet your husband at a YUE event you should give her credit but that if you were married you should not be perusing the crowd to find your soulmate. This had some married men in the crowd, especially the ones accompanied by their wives, laughing uncomfortably.

Chiu-Ti informed me that Chinese women used to be perceived of dressing like "country bumpkins" but this crowd was bumpkinless; appearing in sequined gowns, heavy jewelry, and edgy tuxedos this was the "it" Asian crowd of New York, and the throngs of Chinese media present confirmed this. Numerous awards were presented, but that was not the point, this event was all about Chinese people saying we are here to stay and we are proud of our heritage. This event was also intended to highlight prominent Chinese philanthropists despite society's perception that the Chinese are preconditioned to be thrifty. Events like these are pivotal in counteracting the racial stereotypes associated with being Asian, so that the lack of diversity on fashion runways and in fashion magazines, can be replaced by an acceptance of beauty in all shapes, colors and sizes.

Zang Toi and Cherry Wong

Zang Toi, a renowned Malaysian designer, who just celebrated his 25th anniversary at fashion week this September, delayed his Alabama trunk show to support his close friend Chiu-Ti on this important evening. Zang, who is 53, described arriving in the United States 33 years ago with just $300 in his pocket. His humble demeanor and omnipresent smile make him a darling of the New York social set and a Toi gown is one that bespeaks elegance and opulence. Zang's youthful good looks are genetic gifts which he primarily attributes to his mother, who he says is 87 but looks like she is 55. Zang opened his atelier in 1989 and recounts Anna Wintour immediately featuring him in the "New Faces" March 1990 Vogue issue. One of the most magical moments for Zang was when a photographer presented him with a cake at the Mercedes Benz tents in September to honor his 25 years in fashion.

Lucia Hwong Gordon and Zang Toi

Zang recently started a cheaper line called "Zang Toi Closet" which has a price point of $600 to $2800 and is being carried at Saks and Nordstrom. Zang says he is fortunate that so many husbands love their wives in his clothing and he is even dressing men in custom made tuxedos and suits; a schedule so busy he is lucky if he gets 5 hours of sleep. Zang does not have a publicist and has had the same office manager for the past 24 years by keeping his staff joyful with his motto of, "happy family, happy house." To counteract Zang's love of sweets and pork he jogs one hour 6 days a week.

Lang Lang and Chiu-Ti Jansen

As Zang left to introduce the next award winner, I spoke with Lang Lang, the famed classical pianist who has entertained Obama, Sarkozy, Putin, and Queen Elizabeth and yet continues to perform for disadvantaged rural communities. Lang Lang has set up an international music foundation to "inspire the next generation of classical music lovers and performers." He enjoys playing music because it takes human beings to a "happy place" and makes life better. Lang Lang, also has an appreciation for fashion and recently gave his one of a kind white silk and diamond Armani suit, which he performed in at the 2014 Grammys, to the Grammy museum. He used to wear primarily Giorgio Armani and he now dresses in Louis Vuitton. In order to facilitate his playing of the piano, Lang Lang has worked with Armani and Louis Vuitton to custom make jackets with shorter sleeves and with Nike and Adidas to design comfortable shoes. He foresees starting a fashion label in the future and in January is launching a men and women's perfume called "Amazing" in Europe.

Chien Chung Pei and his wife Beatrice

The success of Asians in the fashion world has been astounding, with numerous Asian designers such as Phillip Lim, Alexander Wang, Jason Wu and Zang Toi dominating fashion week.  However, no Asian model has ever graced the cover of American Vogue or any other major American fashion magazine such as Bazaar or Elle. When Fei Fei Sun appeared on the cover of Vogue Italia in January 2013 this was considered a major milestone; however, in the picture she is made up to camouflage her ethnicity, with heavy makeup masking her racial identity. Asian models and actors fail to achieve the fame of their American counterparts despite their beauty and talent.

Liu Wen

In August 2013, Liu Wen, who has contracts with Estee Lauder, Calvin Klein and Hugo Boss, became the first ever Asian model to make Forbes annual list of highest paid models - this is too little too late. Recently, a report was released that revealed that in an analysis of 151 fashion shows in New York, Milan and Paris, Blacks and Asians made up only 6.8% of castings. The world's most avid clothes shoppers are Chinese, with their annual clothing expenditures expected to reach $341 billion by 2018, and yet this group is highly underrepresented in a field they are heavily supporting. It is time for Asian Americans to demand that Hollywood and the fashion industry give the Asian community the opportunity to flourish. Moreover, the increased exposure of Asians to the global community will benefit society as a whole by changing our parochial conceptions of conventional beauty.

- Lieba Nesis

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Fashion Kool-Aid: Editorial

You Call It Vintage, I Call It Garbage

One woman's trash may be another woman's treasure however stepping out of the Manhattan Vintage Show this weekend and trying to clear my head of the overwhelming stench of camphor, I pondered whether the title of "vintage" was an accurate one. Suffice it to say that my "ick" factor and my gag reflex were both on high alert. While the term "vintage" by definition, assumes a minimum of a 20-year-old piece, I would argue that mottled, moldy fur coats, scratchy "steel" wool suits, and labels such as Linda Allard for Ellen Tracy do not, at least IMO, vintage make. Goodwill pile yes, vintage no. Vintage implies something aged to perfection; therefore the quality needs to have existed in the first place and it must have been preserved well. A bottle of Thunderbird in twenty years will just be an even more putrid version of its original self; years will not have turned the swill to Chateau Lafite Rothschild, nor the virtual vintage sow's ear into a silk purse.

I admit I am far from knowledgeable about vintage in general and have really only purchased three items of bona fide vintage (all last year for the occasion of the Patrick Kelly show at the Philadelphia Museum of Art). One, an amazing black leather, huge- shouldered peplum jacket with silver Eiffel Tower zipper pulls at the sleeves and front closure, was actually discovered last year at this same Metropolitan Pavilion show. The others were purchased from a private dealer who specializes in high-end designer items and sells to upscale boutiques. Perhaps the difference between what my father would term the "rag pickers" and the more particular collectors is at issue. Certainly that is indicated in the price point as well as the pedigree. It just offends discernment to see items of clothing and accessories that I lost track of/gave away/kicked to the curb or that I remember seeing on others in the '80's and even the early '90's that are now considered vintage-worthy by virtue of age rather than provenance.

You may wonder (as I know I do) where this stuff has been sitting for the last two or more decades? Has it been in someone's dank and mildewed basement or stored in a trunk in an attic also in less than ideal conditions. Has it been sold as part of a loved one's estate or by its onetime owner or was it passed around like the neighborhood floozy. Was it well-worn and then discarded or was it one of those impulse (by that I mean "mistake") purchases that never quite lived up to its promise and was eventually given away or sold on consignment. Speaking of consignment, I seem to do better with newer items at a resale or consignment shop such as Roundabout's newest shop near 83rd and Madison. There you can find items of various ages, some from last season with tags on them (I believe stores such as Saks and Bergdorf's send items here if they are not sold at a last markdown or consolidation sale, or perhaps they came from customers who bought them there but never wore them). I have also seen older items, all of a recognizable and usually covetable designer and while I occasionally detect a whiff of perfume which is bad enough there is rarely any hint of those dreaded and aforementioned mothballs.

Which brings me to the question: at what point do older items of apparel receive the odiferous camphor treatment? Is it the equivalent of a woman going in to get some " work" done to stave off decay and ruin? For someone with compromised upper respiratory faculties, this alone can put me off my game. Isn't there another preventative to louse infestation than to send one's own sensibilities reeling from the foul atmospheric conditions? A dry cleaner will tell you that moths are attracted to perspiration left in clothing and by merely dry cleaning an item you get rid of the moths' temptation. I can see how it may be expensive or otherwise prohibitive to dry clean a woolen garment particularly if there are decorative or delicate embellishments on it but many items are not wool and should not/do not need to be subjected to mothballs. Case in point: one of my actual vintage purchases was a stretch velvet dress which retained the nasty stench no matter how much I tried to air it out until I paid for special cleaning.

Perhaps vintage accessories are less of a minefield. After all, there is no problem of stench with a piece of often delaminating gold plated metal jewelry, a chain belt or perhaps a handbag. Maybe, it's just me but I would forget about footwear. To quote Alicia Silverstone aka Cher in the "vintage" '90s movie "Clueless" when talking about retaining her virginity: "You see how picky I am about my shoes...and they only go on my feet!"

Manhattan Vintage Clothing Show is from 11-6 p.m. today at Metropolitan Pavilion, 125 West 18th Street

- Laurel Marcus

Friday, October 24, 2014

Fashion Group 31st Annual International Night of Stars

Peter Copping and Marc Jacobs
(All photos Lieba Nesis)

Last night, I attended Fashion Group International’s 31st annual "Night of Stars".  Cipriani Wall Street was filled with stars from the worlds of  music, entertainment, business, beauty, and. of course, fashion. But the real star of the evening was the beloved designer Oscar de la Renta who passed away on Monday and continues to be in everyone’s thoughts and on their minds. And in what has to be the most fitting coincidence (either that or the folks at FGI are prescient), Peter Copping, Oscar’s successor, was there being honored as a Fashion Star (along with Joseph Altuzarra, Sarah Burton, and Brunello Cucinelli; with the Superstar Award going to Diane Von Furstenberg).

Giovanna Battaglia and Stefano Tonchi

Of course, when these awards were announced months ago, Peter was working as creative director at Nina Ricci in Paris. Who could foretell that he would subsequently leave his post and that Eliza Reed Bolen would make the formal announcement on Monday, October 20th, the day of Oscar’s passing, that he was named as Oscar de la Renta’s successor (Oscar made this selection himself).  And how fitting that the overall theme of the evening was “The Protagonists”, which translates from ancient Greek to mean, “one who plays the first part, is the chief actor or main character, central primary personal figure; the leading character, hero or heroine of a drama or other literary work; the first actor in ancient Greek drama who played not only the main role but also other roles when the main character was offstage”.

Debbie Harry with award winner Glenda Bailey

Let’s face it, the world of fashion is always rife with Greek dramas: (there are those never ending revolving doors, with designers taking on many different roles), and this is just one example of it coming to life. In any event, it was obvious that many people were eagerly waiting to catch a glimpse of the man of the moment as he arrived on the red carpet (many did not even know what he looked like; but as I pointed out to a fellow guest, that will all soon change), and we were all curious as to what exactly he would say when he received his award. Before a wonderful dinner of filet mignon and Chilean Sea Bass (and prior to host Simon Doonan telling the crowd that he was on a mission to “liberate everyone” and then went into a hilarious bit about the time he hired a Queen Elizabeth lookalike to attend the opening of Barneys in Soho), FGI President Margaret Hayes took the stage to make her welcoming remarks and wasted no time in honoring Oscar, a “true gentleman”. She talked about how much he loved life and lived it with a purpose; how he was only one of three American designers to design haute couture in Paris, and observed that he was a mentor to many people in the room. “His mission was to make women look beautiful”.

Linda Fargo

When Marc Jacobs took the stage to give the award to Peter Copping, he noted that when he met Peter in 1997, he “knew he would be part of his team” (at Louis Vuitton in Paris). Marc positively effused about the designer, talking about his creativity, how he valued his opinions and his work ethic. When Peter announced to Marc that he was leaving to go to Nina Ricci, Marc said it was Louis Vuitton’s loss, and Ricci’s gain, and “he put his own unique stamp on that label”. “I’m thrilled to have Peter here in New York where we’ll be seeing more of him.”Upon taking the stage, Peter said, “I’m excited about this new challenge. But it’s obviously a bittersweet moment with this week’s events. I want to thank everyone for their support. I’m sure Oscar will be my guardian angel.”

Diane von Furstenberg and Karen Elson

Karen Elson took the podium to give Diane her Superstar Award, and described her as cool, sexy, “the epitome of foxy”. “She’s a powerhouse, a woman of extreme depth. I’ve not met a woman like her. I am constantly in awe of her. She is a mentor to so many and a massive force in philanthropy. She has shaped and paved the way for us all.” She asked people to stand to honor her and then Diane said, “This is what happens when you get old. People stand for you.” She talked about how fashion is a family, and observed, “We may look frivolous, but are also philanthropic.” She then began talking about her good friend Oscar de la Renta and her tone changed immediately. With tears in her eyes, she explained how she and Oscar always shared Saturday Night chicken dinners in Connecticut (where they had homes nearby), but that two weeks ago, it became more difficult for him to do so” and it was the last time she saw him. She began tearing up as she talked about how “he loved life, beauty, flowers”. “He was the best gossiper and he was mischievous.” “The only fitting tribute is to love life”. Then addressing Peter Copping, she said, “Oscar was very proud when he told me he chose you.”

Katie Couric and Lisa Paulsen

By the way, the best speeches were those that were short, sweet, and to the point, but the award for the shortest speech of the night, has to go to Sarah Burton. The famously shy designer quickly thanked several people including stylist Camilla Nickerson “for her inspiration”. Andrew Bolton, who presented the award, talked about how he met her in 2010 when he was working on the Alexander McQueen exhibition. He praised her “deep respect for craftsmanship and her technical brilliance” and noted, “She doesn’t design for herself which is unusual for a woman”. “Sarah isn’t channeling the McQueen DNA, she IS the McQueen DNA.”

Joseph Altuzarra and Michelle Monaghan

Actress Michelle Monaghan gave Joseph Altuzarra his award saying “he oozes sex appeal” (“both he and his clothes”) and praised his inherent goodness, eagerness, and optimism. “He is a legend in the making.” She recalled wearing his “incomparable leather fringe dress” to the 2014 Met Ball and said she felt like a “kid in a candy store.” When Joseph took to the podium, he remarked that it was only four years ago that he received Fashion Group’s Rising Star Award. “I feel incredibly blessed to be here tonight.” He then thanked his wonderful team and his husband of “5 days” for “supporting and loving him”. Brunello Cucinelli spoke almost entirely in Italian when he accepted his Fashion Star Award from Richard Story.

Mary J. Blige, Elie Tahari

There were performances by New York City’s Gay Men’s Chorus and music was provided by Brian Newman; best known for his collaboration with Lady Gaga. Speaking of musical legends, Debbie Harry was there to present Glenda Bailey with the Lord &Taylor Fashion Oracle Award and Mary J. Blige gave Elie Tahari the Brand Vision Award. Isabella Rossellini gave the Sustainability Award to Roger Schmid for Natura; Susan Kaufman gave Fossil’s Tom Kennedy his Corporate Leadership Award; L’Oreal’s Carol Hamilton received the Beauty Award from the team of Viktor & Rolf (their fragrance Flowerbomb is one of the top selling fragrances in the U.S.); Domenico De Sole gave William Sofield the Interior Design Award; and Katie Couric honored Lisa Paulsen with the Humanitarian Award. FYI, when Katie arrived on stage, she was unimpressed with the crowd’s rather unanimated welcome. “You could do better than that” she chided. “Come on, wake up!”  The self-effacing communications star said “This is such a swanky affair”. “I never know quite how to dress for these fashion events and so I turned to my good friend Carmen Marc Valvo to make my dress”.

Some random quotes gathered by Lieba Nesis during the evening:

Elie Tahari - What are you most looking forward to? "Seeing your dress and sharing the love with everyone".
Diane von Furstenberg-Are you excited for the award? "I am really sad about Oscar". 
Wes Gordon-What are you looking forward to tonight? "I am looking forward to seeing Diane get her award." Did you know Oscar? "Yes I interned for him for two summers and he came to my first presentation.  He always made women look beautiful and If I could be one tenth as good as him I would be happy."
Jane Seymour-What was the most amazing thing that ever happened to you? "Being honored by the Queen of England-it was very ceremonious." Who are your favorite designers? "Pamela Roland, Herve Leger, and Valentino.  I usually wear colors because they look better on camera." What do you think of the way young stars dress today? "They all feel the need to look like pole dancers and I don't do that, I like to wear classic couture." Would you do plastic surgery? "No, I would rather play women my own age and besides fillers make people look like chipmunks.  I am comfortable with the older version of myself." What is date night like for you and your husband? "Well he is currently dating somebody else so I don't know. Yes we are getting divorced and I have a boyfriend-can't tell you who."
 Peter Copping- Why do you think Oscar chose you? "We share a lot of things in common and I can't wait to be in NY with all the great energy-Paris is like living in a museum." Will you stick to evening wear and what about designing for the red carpet? "We will do day wear and evening wear a whole range of things - but primarily evening wear. I don't want to dress too many celebrities for the red carpet I want to just nail one look and stick with that - and I can't say who I will be dressing yet."  
Selita Ebanks- What are you looking forward to tonight? "Just came here to see all the beautiful people" - spoken like a true Victoria's Secret model!

It was all over when Simon told everyone they could go, and then it was a scramble to retrieve coats and umbrellas, and the very large and very heavy gift bags, which are always filled with wonderful goodies. Included this time was a Lord & Taylor gift certificate, Nina Ricci’s Bougie Parfumee, a cashmere scarf from Brunello Cucinelli, a handsome watch from Fossil, a Brian Newman Live from New York City CD, a black and white chain patterned nylon zippered bag from Diane Von Furstenberg, and a bottle of Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio.

- Marilyn Kirschner

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The ABT Fall Gala-Celebrating 75 Years of Excellence

The young dancers
All photos Lieba Nesis

The American Ballet Theatre held its 75th Anniversary Gala at the David H. Koch Theatre on a night of inclement weather, so it was fitting that the second piece by Sergei Rachmaninoff was called "With a Chance of Rain." New Yorkers must be commended for their devotion to the arts as they come out in droves, regardless of the harsh climate. This evening was no exception with movie stars, socialites, fashion icons, and plain old billionaires joyfully attending this happening.

Joy Marks, Jean Shafiroff, Fe Fendi principal ABT dancers Maxim Beloserkovsky, Irina Dvorovenko & Cory Stearns with Chiu-Ti Jansen

There were many notables in attendance including: celebrities Alec Baldwin, Chris Noth, Sonja Morgan, Taye Diggs, Nigel Barker and Star Jones; socialites Fe Fendi, Jean Shafiroff, Chiu-Ti Jansen and Joy Marks; CNN president Jeff Zucker whose wife Caryn co-chaired, sitting with ABC correspondent Deborah Roberts; designer Christian Siriano and style icon and Vogue editor Hamish Bowles, accompanied by famed artist Anh Duong.

Susan Fales-Hill, Bettina Zilkha, co-chair Caryn Zucker & Deborah Roberts

This was a multifaceted crowd who can afford to take advantage of the cultural offerings of New York. The lead sponsor was Clinique with supporting sponsors Piaget and Lanvin, and a bag with Clinique moisturizer and lip gloss was distributed at the end of the evening. This year's theme was red, white and blue with the red changed to Scarlett in honor of choreographer Liam Scarlett, who produced "With a Chance of Rain."

The first act featured young dancers from the American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy School accompanied by young ABT apprentices and members of the ABT studio company. These fresh faces dazzled the crowd with their precise movements and spirited energy. The choreography, by Alexei Ratmansky, included an illusory mirror, with dancers magically mimicking each others's movements. The next piece was "With a Chance of Rain" which was sexy and provocative, the antithesis of the kid friendly opening. The female dancers clad in simple light blue and grey skirts and shorts were joined by men in grey allowing the unadorned lines and movements of the dancers to take center stage. The music by Rachmaninoff, played by piano soloist Emily Wong, was haunting and sparse. The scanty costumes, music and stage sets, wowed the ballet purists in the audience. However, this was a surprisingly risky move for Kevin McKenzie, the artistic director of ABT, who usually awes the gala crowd with elaborate outfits and staging.

Hamish Bowles, Anh Duong and principal dancer Marcelo Gomes

This ballet by Liam Scarlett was spellbinding, with a bare-chested Marcelo Gomes, muscles protruding from every ounce of his flesh, captivating the audience with his bold movements and sinewy physique. The pas de deux between Gomes and female dancer, Hee Seo, was passionate and erotic and Gomes even joined James Whiteside for some man-on-man partnering. Misty Copeland, another ballet star with a perfectly proportioned body, joined this act providing enough eye candy for the male and female audience to last a lifetime. The next pieces were executed thoroughly with a purple light illuminating the stage and female dancers in black and grey ensembles with yellow and pink ribbons on the bottom partnered with black and grey jacketed men. Once again the unembellished costumes and staging left me hungry for a classical ballet extravaganza.

Co-chair Sutton Stracke, principal dancer Misty Copeland, and Star Jones

While the ballet itself may have been simple, the decor where the dinner took place was elaborate. There were red streamers hanging from the ceiling and beautifully decorated tables with red tablecloths, roses and masks at each setting. The 2nd floor of the Koch Theatre is a magnificent venue because the expansive view of Lincoln Center highlights the grandeur of the evening. Anne Tatlock, received a leadership achievement award and spoke of the preeminence of Kevin McKenzie who has a keen eye for recognizing young talent and will successfully march ABT from 75 to 100 years. The importance of the Jacqueline Kennedy School as a feeder to ABT was emphasized and the young guileless dancers took pictures and won over the adoring crowd.

Eva Johansson in a Siriano dress, and Christian Siriano

They then announced that the dinner had raised more than $1.4 million.  On that note, the DJ began to play tunes while the amazing dancers and crowd boogied and socialized. Christian Siriano, who was accompanied by 2 women wearing his designs, told me that his 5-year plan was to design ballet costumes, but he was currently too busy with a new perfume fragrance launch. Siriano whose label is carried at Nordstrom's and Neiman Marcus lamented the death of Oscar de la Renta who was a great inspiration for him and all young designers. He said that the longevity of Oscar's brand was noteworthy and he was a role model for many in the fashion industry. As I turned around I spotted Alec Baldwin and his wife Hilaria engaging in a romantic embrace. Alec enumerated the designer of his wife's dress (Carmen Marc Valvo), jewelry, shoes, and hair (Warren Tricomi). On a more serious note, Alec said he was "anti-censorship" when it came to the arts. Alec has softened up since his nuptials and slimmed down, looking every inch the movie star in a tuxedo and slicked back hair.

Alec and Hilaria Baldwin

As the evening came to a close I bumped into Cory Stearns, a principal ABT dancer and a muse of Zang Toi. Cory, who was wearing a custom made Zang Toi tuxedo pronounced that dancing was "very tiring." Cory confessed of the vulnerability he felt in performing with the fear of mistakes and resulting humiliation omnipresent in his thoughts. This was a brutally honest assessment from a talented young dancer, and that is why I love the ballet-it allows us to feel in ways we never thought possible.

-Lieba Nesis