Monday, December 08, 2014

Lookonline's 20th Anniversary Party - An Ode to an Iconoclast


Ernest Schmatolla, publisher Lookonline.com
(Photos: Lieba Nesis)

I am sitting here at my computer, trying to figure out how to write an article on the 20th Anniversary party given for Lookonline.com by the publisher Ernest Schmatolla. A host of feelings come over me and I am inexplicably unable to articulate what the site means to me or others, in a world replete with hordes of bloggers and fashion experts. What do I say about Ernest whose site struggles to gain legitimacy in a universe where age and expertise is devalued and youth and connections are rewarded. I met Ernest two years ago at a Ralph Rucci show where he kindly told me to, "Get the hell out of his seat!" and the rest is history. After graduating Harvard Law School I thought the world was open to me; and there I stood at a fashion week event recuperating from an unpleasant divorce that left me wondering how I would occupy myself professionally.

Marilyn Kirschner, editor-in-chief

Enter Ernest who asked me to come write for his fashion website. My first response was now tell me your real name, but after googling him numerous times I realized he was indeed legitimate. In a world that is consumed with celebrity and glamour Ernest stands alone as the purveyor of the "truth" and a ruffler of feathers (my own included). He takes unpopular positions and suffers financially for it, but he always says "I did not come into this world to be liked" and he holds true to this motto. He has criticized fashion powerhouses KCD and Diane von Furstenberg and remains unapologetic for his unpopular stands. And yet this party was testament to the fact that, despite his brutal honesty, he remains a bastion of integrity for those who have had the joy of parrying with him over the years. Ernest is the type of person worthy of a short story, but putting pen to paper would never adequately capture the uniqueness of this man.

Laurel Marcus

The party took place in his modest apartment on East End Avenue from 2PM to 5PM with french champagne and delicious hors d'oeuvres from babeth's feast. Ernest had been preparing for this party for months, and while he was proffered a host of elegant venues, he chose the most meaningful one - the home where he and his wife, Deborah Brumfield, have lived for the past thirty-seven years. Deborah, a remarkable woman who ended her job with the Fashion Calendar after working there for thirty-three years, remains by his side with loyalty and passion. She herself is reticent and prefers to keep a low profile and stick to volunteer work in her church. However, when it came to describing Ernest's ardor for the site, Deborah perked up and enthusiastically spoke of his great pride in the site, waking up at 6AM every morning to tend to his blog and watching it grow with the love a parent might feel towards a child. "It's the reason he wakes up in the morning," Deborah said emotionally, "money has always been secondary to him; it's his integrity that drew me to him, and it continues to guide him through his life."

Lieba Nesis

Marilyn Kirschner, the editor-in-chief of Lookonline for the past eighteen years reiterated this sentiment when she spoke about Ernie's desire "to speak the truth" even when it was unpopular. Marilyn, who was a senior editor at Harper's Bazaar for twenty four years and considered a fashion icon, found herself between jobs in 1996 and came to work for Ernie after he beseeched her to document her love for fashion. Marilyn spoke of Ernest as someone who lives up to his name, preferring to remain honest and unpretentious without ever selling out for materialistic concerns. She also lamented his stubbornness which leads him to make decisions that are sometimes economically imprudent. A highlight for Kirschner was when Ernest convinced fashion legends Grace Mirabella and Bernadine Morris to contribute to the blog. Marilyn appreciates the immediacy of a blog, as opposed to a magazine where the fruits of one's labor has a lead time of two to three  months.

Udor & Susan Sommers

The history of Lookonline is interesting as it involves a number of people who still remain loyal friends of Ernest and Deborah. The launch party which was held at Sony Plaza in 1994 for over 850 people, was organized solely by Rhonda Erb who still remains a contributor to the site. Rhonda recounted how groundbreaking the idea of a fashion blog was at the time, and how Ernie's dedication gives him the strength to keep chugging along. Ernest who started off as a fashion photographer decided he wanted to delve into the world of fashion and asked his friend Susan Sommers to help him start a column. Susan, who was a fashion writer at the time for The Daily News, became the editor of his site and told him to call it Lookonline because she told me, "fashion is all about your look."  Susan who was at the party had a great ''look" wearing a Rick Owens jacket and high-end costume jewelry. She left Lookonline when she became frustrated with the inability to "monetize" this highly regarded column.

Katlean De Monchy & Stacy Lomman

Stacy Lomman, a professor at FIT and a couture designer, who wrote for the site in 2008 and 2009, spoke of Ernest as a "true friend" who is a good person in an industry with a lot of difficult people. Stacy, praised Ernest as a man with no agenda except to write about fashion and to do it well. Similarly, Laurel Marcus, who joined the site in 2013, met Ernest at the neighborhood supermarket and said her favorite and least favorite thing about Schmatolla was his impetus to tell it like it is. Marcus, was appreciative to Ernest for getting her back into journalism and giving her places to wear all her fabulous designer clothing.


Buddy the "copy cat" guards the original launch  invitation
(Photo: Rhonda Erb)

 Ernest, while walking around offering guests dessert mini tarts, told me that it "was not about how many people he reached, but rather the quality of his readership" that set his site apart. The readership of Lookonline consists of almost every major fashion editor in the industry; an illustrious group whose numbers have grown over the years. Moreover, the site as a whole continues to expand with readership up almost 80% since 2012. Ernest's face lit up when he talked about the incipient stages of his site where he contemplated calling it "FashionNet" except he feared people might confuse it with a hair stylist. Ernest's caustic humor sometimes leaves me angry and this evening was no exception. As I left the party, after running around to record the afternoon's events and photograph the participants, he commented on how "big" I had gotten and how "well I carried my weight." Just as I felt the anger stirring inside me, I saw a smirk appear on his face. That is why Ernest remains a fashion iconoclast; he knows how to aggravate his constituents, and he does so unapologetically. And with that, I left his apartment wondering why I still found his roguishness so charming.




- Lieba Nesis

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