Thursday, August 31, 2017

In the Market Report by Marilyn Kirschner

A Conversation with Ralph Rucci

Ralph Rucci at home
Photo Marilyn Kirschner
Click image for full size view

The big topic of conversation leading up to NYFW, (Sept 7-13), has been the New York to Paris exile of some of New York’s most talented creators (Proenza Schouler, Rodarte, Thom Browne, Joseph Altuzarra), and the gaping hole it’s left in the calendar. But the most pronounced ‘hole’ for me, has been the absence of Ralph Rucci, a true artist in every sense of the word; a man obsessed with perfection, precision and luxury, and as close to a true couturier in the French tradition as we have on our soil (in 2002, he became the first American in more than 60 years to be invited to show in Paris by the French Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture). His last formal runway show in New York (for spring 2015 ready-to-wear), was held on September 16, 2014 and a few months later, on November 19th, he announced that he was walking away from the 33 year old couture fashion house he founded. He thereby gave up the reins to investors and was no longer able to use his name on a fashion collection.

But of course, you can’t keep a creative genius down. He staged a fashion week comeback in February 2016 with a new collection called "RR331" (his initials plus the number of steps in the Japanese Chado tea ceremony). To mark his return, Rucci took over a space on the far west side of the city, turned it into an art gallery where his large-scale abstract paintings in black, white and gold hung on the walls behind his fashion. And he’s not exactly been idling the time away. He’s been quietly creating made-to-order for a loyal clientele who seeks out the meticulous attention to detail and superb craftsmanship that have come to define his work.

At the age of 60, he is filled with emotion and passion, has very strong opinions, has a lot to say, and is not afraid to say it. And say it he did during the course of an interview I conducted with him at his elegantly appointed terraced penthouse apartment on the Upper East Side. He refers to it as an “evening” apartment and it is assuredly dark, inviting, and sexy. I guess you could say that it’s Ralph’s idea of a ‘man cave’: fabulously chic and perfectly curated, it is filled with beautiful, highly personal and very meaningful objects.

For the occasion, the designer was wearing one his many white custom made shirts and crisp khakis, accessorized with an Elsa Peretti belt and cufflinks, punctuated perfectly with Rick Owens graphic black and white sneakers. The interview was purposely timed with the advent of NYFW which kicks off with FIT’s annual Couture Council Artistry in Fashion Award Luncheon on Wednesday. Thom Browne is the 2017 recipient and in 2006, Ralph Rucci was the first designer to be so honored. Boy did they get that right! In 2007, he was also honored with a solo exhibition, “Ralph Rucci: The Art of Weightlessness” at the Museum at FIT.

Rucci has been the subject of other retrospectives, notably The Costume Institute of the Kent State University Museum (2005-2006), The Costume Institute of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2007), and The Phoenix Art Museum (2008). Among his awards: the 2008 Fashion Design Award from the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, the Pratt Institute’s Icon Award in 2009, the SCAD Andre’ Leon Talley Lifetime Achievement Award (2012), and an Honorary Doctoral Degree from The Drexel University College of Art and Design (2015).

He is the subject of two beautiful coffee table books: “Ralph Rucci: The Art of Weightlessness” written by Valerie Steele, Patricia Mears, Claire Sauro, 2007; “Autobiography of a Fashion Designer: Ralph Rucci” text by Matthew Egan, photography by Baldomero Fernandez, 2011. He is also the subject of two films: “Ralph Rucci: A Designer and His House”, 2008; “A Quiet American: Ralph Rucci & Paris”, 2012.

Ralph at home
Photo: Marilyn Kirschner

The Conversation:
Marilyn Kirschner: Tell me what you’ve been doing lately?
Ralph Rucci: "RR331" is my corporation and my label is my name; my signature iconic iconographic symbol of me and what I represent. When I showed that group of clothes in Feb 2016 I did not know if I wanted to introduce ready-to-wear or couture and I let it unfold itself. I have always made haute couture in a ready-to-wear category. So what I have been doing for past three years is made to order (suits, coats, cocktail dresses, etc.) The big request is for me to make a painting and to have it screened on double face wool and made into a coat and a dress. It’s a mix of my art and my couture. It’s all made in my old factory in the garment center and I use the workroom of Nicolas Caito, the French patternmaker who is credited with raising the level of technical craftsmanship in American fashion to a level only seen in Milan and Paris. I am putting together a spring couture collection which I will show in New York in November. I am still in the process of figuring out the venue but I am hoping for a commercial space in one of the new tall buildings in midtown.
MK: I am really looking forward to that!
RR: It will be quite beautiful, done in ivory, black and puce. I am obsessed with puce, the strange color that nobody knows what to do with.
RR: What I want is my work covered for a younger audience to see; young, youthful clothes made-to-order, the way Galanos and Norell were covered. The way Halston made-to-order was covered. I make clothes for women in their 20’s and women in their 80’s. Age is not an issue. Age has been one of the most crucial detracting points in American fashion industry.
Unless it’s covered, you don’t exist. And in this system it’s important to have coverage. And I don’t understand the INSANITY of a publication like American Vogue that I admire so much, not covering my work. I don’t understand. I don’t understand because it’s equivalent to academia. If a student is really important, they will be accepted by Princeton, Yale, Harvard so they can start their career and lives with these extraordinary institutions. The Ivy League in American fashion is American Vogue. And whether we like it or not, the approval of American Vogue is factually essential. And I’ve never tasted that and I’ve accomplished so much in my life and my career and all over the world people receive me except in my own country.
In my life I have always aspired to be the very best I can be. My career was built on technique; using the best of everything. I did not enter this profession because I wanted to be wealthy. I didn’t choose this profession. Because I’m a spiritual person, I believe I am chosen. God gave me a specific set of skills and I’ve applied them in this world and I work day and night. And when I have presented these collections, I would be shocked that people were speechless, crying, out of the beauty.
When I left Ralph Rucci I took a year off and then I started on my own. When I took that year off the amount of mail I received, showing how I am seen and respected in the world shocked me. And it shocks me that I have been ignored by American Vogue. It shocks me because my work is not third tier. And what shocks me is I cannot digest the reasons because the reasons are so cruel. And personal. And it’s probably always going to be like this because I suppose embarrassment would occur. 
And why would I be telling you all this? If my lived experience can do anything to help young people, we might have a different American fashion industry. There are many young people with amazing creativity and they don’t all have to be lemmings. Also, I turned 60 this year and it was a big deal a year ago. Now I’m proud of it; proud that I am starting over a business and career at 60 when the norm is the 20’s. I’m seen as old. My goal is to have a couture business that resets and re-standardizes the American fashion industry.

MK: Speaking of which, NYFW begins next week. Do you think New York can get its mojo back?
RR: Yes, I do. 
MK: What do you think needs to happen?
RR: We need a new editor of American Vogue.
RR: American fashion is not as exciting as it was in the 70’s because the editorial hierarchies of magazines don’t have the vision that they once had. And who am I to say such a thing? I am someone who has been obsessed and possessed by fashion. I grew up and I was lucky enough to witness the unsurpassed genius of Halston. A Halston presentation was like nothing else. The word modern did not have an existence before Halston existed in fashion, and it was the touchstone of modern. In the 70’s you had two things happening: Yves Saint Laurent in France and Halston in the U.S. and you could buy from each designer and know you were getting perfection. They both had a point of view and were genius.
So today I think for journalists and editors like yourself, it must be terribly mundane to look at a blouse and pair of pants in a collection with no intellectual purpose behind it. If you’re looking at Celine it’s different. I don’t understand how these companies are permitted to show such works.
When I am asked who my favorite designer in the world, is, I always have the same answer: Josephus Thimister. How do you explain that Josephus Thimister is not designing for the house of Dior? How do you explain the house of Balenciaga? And I don’t care if you put it in print. Because I worship Balenciaga.
MK: (laughing) So I assume you’re not a fan of Demna Gvasalia?
RR: I am a great fan of Balenciaga! And he’s a mentor to many of us and I don’t understand why those in the power of running businesses would find LOGIC in a perverse upside down effect of clothes as opposed to finding a designer who understands the newness of cut and the advancement of fashion through cut and the knowledge of texture and the knowledge of fabric. I don’t understand. I am just obsessed with verification and have always been.
MK: Who else?
RR: I love Miuccia Prada. Her approach is shocking and fresh every year and I do wear Prada. All my mohair suits are Prada. I buy all my clothes at Barneys because I have a sales associate I’ve worked with for two decades who I really trust.
MK: What do you think of Alessandro Michele?
RR: I think he’s interesting and he knows a great deal about a great amount and I’m moved by him I think it’s really beautiful for women. I just have a sense about men looking uber masculine so I don’t understand the feminine approach. It’s not my taste but I like what he does. The workmanship is beautiful. People say it’s expensive. I say, it’s not expensive as it should be. And I think the accessories are fun.
MK: He struck gold. People were and are ready for that. Interesting, I always think of you as a minimalist and he’s such a maximalist.
RR: You know what Marilyn? I am a minimalist, but look at my home (which is more is more rather than less is more). We want things that bring us comfort and have a story. When it comes to clothes I love uniforms for myself but when I design I have to be broader or else you are not interesting. But there is a formula and a style that I bring to everything. But the maximal idea? Let’s just say I was drawn to what Jil Sander was doing.
MK: Who do you like in New York?
RR: I respect the diligence and commitment of many American designers but will not comment personally on their work other than to say that they all have something meaningful and important to contribute to whatever it is that "American Fashion" is and is destined to become.
MK: As a longstanding member of the CFDA, do you have any suggestions for the organization?
RR: I wish they were as supportive as they want us to believe they are. The one time I requested a meeting with the president to ask if she could use her personal relationship with the editor-in-chief of Vogue with regards to scheduling, because the scheduling was changed that year, was just a smack of reality. It was much different than dealing with the Chambre de Syndicale. When you had a meeting with Didier (Grumbach) everything got done. It was a different type of polish. I don’t go to the CFDA Awards anymore but I did love them when they were held at the NY Public Library.
MK: I agree. It felt small, special, and intimate.
RR: Yes, it was a celebration of fashion and it felt like the Coty Awards. But the CFDA had to change because it also mirrors fashion journalism. 
MK: Are you referring to American Vogue specifically?
RR: Yes, American Vogue. I say this and I get so upset talking about this because I did not chose this profession. It chose me. It was chosen for me. Fashion is such a genius profession. After all, this is the profession that houses Mme. Gres, Givenchy, Balenciaga. God gave me this ability and I kept my head down I worked day and night and I did not play politics at all, which admittedly had its pros and cons. Maybe things would have been different if I had. But I had to stay true to myself. That was not my personality and I have to live with myself. And I dream a lot.

MK: What do you dream about?
RR: I dream about Vreeland which is why my friendship with Andre (Leon Talley) is so meaningful because he is IT; the embodiment of that vision, of that connection. And he makes the connections of creativity.

MK: What inspires you these days?
RR: In developing my work I do a great deal of research. And what I study and what my books are mainly about are interiors and architecture. Specifically, the interiors of Lorenzo Mongiardino; he is a constant. Both he and Balenciaga are constant foundations for my work. The layers of decorating and the usages of trompe l’oeil and fabric techniques allow my mind to open in fashion design. And it’s been like that for many years but now even more so.
I seek solutions in interiors because when you think of couture, where do women wear the clothes if not boardrooms or board meetings? They wear them in each other’s home, so the homes reflect the couture and the couture reflects the homes. It’s more satisfying especially now, because fashion has become more banal. They can’t make the fabrics because there’s nobody there to purchase them so all that luxury winds up in the home and that’s why I am so drawn into the home.
Thank you Ralph. We look forward to seeing your spring couture collection this November in New York.

- Marilyn Kirschner

Sunday, August 27, 2017

In the Market Report by Marilyn Kirschner

“All We Need Is LOVE!”

Christian Louboutin "Dandylove" velvet smoking slipper with bold patent 'Love' applique, $945. More info/purchase

With all the ongoing violence and conflict in the world, and so much vitriol and hate being spewed as of late, you could hardly refer to this as ‘The Summer of Love’.  Ironically, this marked the 50th anniversary of ‘The Summer of Love’, a time when a small part of the baby boomer generation converged on San Francisco’s Haight- Ashbury district in an attempt to change the world.

To keep the feeling alive, and because we need love more than ever, I thought I’d do a roundup of special love themed items in the market:

Hands down my favorite, are Christian Louboutin’s Dandylove velvet smoking slippers emblazoned with the word ‘LOVE’. They are available (for both women and men), in black or red velvet appliqued with LOVE in patent leather (pictured above), or in black velvet with crystal-embellished LOVE lettering, $1095. More info/purchase

Love Moschino’s Love printed cotton pleated dress, $329. More info/purchase

90’s Versace Jeans Couture top and skirt inspired by Robert Indiana’s iconic pop art LOVE sculpture, $395. More info/purchase

Set of three framed YSL LOVE posters, 1971, 1974, 1977, $73.10. More info/purchase

1970’s Robert Indiana LOVE ring, $350. More info/purchase/

Only You 18K gold rose gold and diamond “Love Ring”, $4,867.55. More info/purchase

Georgina Goodman crystal studded LOVE black suede sandals, $995. More info/purchase

Life with Words Love ring in 14K gold, $262.89. More info/purchase

18K rose gold and diamond Love Necklace, $4624.17. More info/purchase

Vintage Moschino Cheap & Chic 42 Burgundy wool patchwork Peace, Love Crest Vest, $313. More info/purchase

Chanel LOVE, a contemporary black, red, grey, and white embroidered on luxury design box by Artist Stephen Wilson, $1500  More info/purchase

Make Love Not War, mixed media art by street artist Flore, $5000. More info/purchase

Rubem Robierb Love Changes Everything sculpture, 2017, which explores the fragility of life by contrasting the innocence and beauty with symbols of violence $9100. More info/purchase

- Marilyn Kirschner

Saturday, August 26, 2017

New York Fashion Cool-Aid by Laurel Marcus

"Imagining Diana" A New Novel Paints a Portrait of the Princess as a Middle Aged Woman

More info/order Kindle edition
Published by Metabook

Who hasn't wanted, at one time or another, to rewrite history? Like Cher sang, if only we could turn back time, either to keep an event from happening or perhaps just to have the same circumstances with a different outcome. New York Times Bestselling author Diane Clehane's latest book and first "alternative history" novel, "Imagining Diana," does just this--it illustrates what would have been, had arguably the most famous woman in the world survived the fatal Paris car crash 20 years ago this month.

"One of the best books about Princess Diana" -

August 31, 1997. In the aftermath, Diana's life is hanging by a thread in a hospital, until miraculously, the princess wakes up, from an eight day coma. She has overcome extensive internal injuries (although we never hear what they are), but has not escaped completely unscathed. She has been branded, similarly to another magical Brit (Harry Potter) with a "souvenir" of the accident -- a gash from ear to jaw line, but thankfully not on her "good side."

"The first book about Princess Diana that presents her as a real woman" - Erica Jong

Clehane weaves remarkably well between her fictionalized narrative and the cold hard facts. In her version, the accident scarred Diana (both emotionally and physically) becomes less a tragic figure and more a stable, self-actualized woman as she approaches middle age. In the first part of the book she deals with those who stand in her way such as Mohamed Al Fayed and his conspiracy theories, Charles and Camilla (Charmilla? lol), the Queen, as well as the nameless, faceless, members of the staff at St. James's Palace dubbed the "men in gray" who really pull the strings behind the palace puppet show. Clehane believes that the accident was just a bad confluence of poor planning rather than the results of a plot against the princess. "I believe she would still be alive if she had been wearing a seat belt."

Diane Clehane
Photo by Claire Buffie

Regardless of her slight disfigurement, Diana has an epiphany since being given a second chance at life. She learns to come to terms with those around her, including somehow becoming her ex-husband's best friend; creates the Princess Diana Foundation; continues her humanitarian work; produces documentaries on landmines; moves to New York and becomes engaged to American financier Teddy Forstmann, who she dated briefly IRL. Eventually she comes back to London, makes amends with "The Firm," spends quality time with her adult sons; even takes Kate Middleton under her wing, determined to help her escape some of the pitfalls that Diana encountered in dealing with the paparazzi (including, of course, the incident which almost killed her).

 As I read I actually caught myself mid-way through, experiencing a heady feeling and saying to myself "Is Diana alive?" If you can suspend disbelief long enough it's fun to consider a present day course of action for the "People's Princess": where would she go? (to a UES plastic surgeon Gerald Imber for scar revision and Botox), what would she wear?(Chanel daytime suits, Jacques Azagury evening wear), what would she eat?(Gravlax at Michael's). One modern trend she doesn't seem to engage in is social media as there is no mention of a PD Twitter, Snapchat or Instagram account.

Illustrations by Ileana Hunter
Courtesy of Metabook

"Imagining Diana" serves as one possible, fanciful scenario as its author immersed herself in everything Diana; from the written word to the countless TV specials, even to the exclusion of all else, in order to get inside Di's head. A well-versed and credible source, Clehane knows her subject inside-out having been a royal watcher for decades -- she wrote the 1998 tome "Diana: The Secrets of her Style." She has also served as a commentator on the British royal family for CNN, Access Hollywood and CBS News. The idea for the book was initially formed when she attended Diana's Christie's dress auction. "I wondered what she was thinking. What was she going to do now after the divorce? She seemed to be at loose ends." Although the author never actually met the princess she did interview her brother Charles Spencer about two years ago for his book "Killer of the King."

"I've been fascinated by the allure of the monarchy --"it's the world's most interesting soap opera-- and particularly with Diana since way back in the '80s," Clehane said in a phone interview. "She looked like anyone you could have known then, she was just sort of thrown together. Of course, she wasn't like anyone at all -- her ancestral home (Althorp) where she grew up could make Downton Abbey look like Downton Shabby. The royals saw her as just this jolly young girl who knew how to tow the line. No one knew she was going to become a global superstar!"

The book is written in three sections, beginning with the accident and ending on July 1, 2017 which would have been Diana's 56th birthday. It tells the story in "tentpole" events rather than as a constant running narrative; a device which works well to advance the tale. "At some point it took on a life of its own," said Clehane about writing her fusion of historical events and fiction."I felt a responsibility to get the historical part right.  It became more challenging after the first section which takes place at Kensington Palace during Diana's recovery. By the time I got to the third section, I had researched the wedding of Kate and Will extensively," she adds.

The second section details Diana's life in New York City. "She would have had to leave England for a period of time. In New York She would have gotten the Jackie O treatment. I think she would have been treated much more deferentially here than in England." I especially love the anecdote about how she gives a courteous photographer an exclusive photo op of her crossing the street to help him pay off his student loans. Natch, it becomes a New York Post full front page shot.

The third section highlights Diana's role with her now adult children and finally grandchildren . "I believe the lives of her sons were always her first interest. They would have pulled her back from the precipice after the summer with Dodi where she was in danger of becoming a bit of a social dilettante. Interestingly, the two boys represent the two halves of her personality. William is the empathetic one meant to be king and Harry is an open heart, looking for love. It's been very helpful (in researching the book) that the boys (Will and Harry) have been interviewed a lot recently about their work for the charity 'Heads Together.' They have been very forthcoming about mental health issues and how they dealt with (or in Harry's case, didn't deal with) the death of their mother."

"Perhaps the biggest misconception about Diana is that she was either a saint or an unhinged individual. She was a very complex person -- she loved the limelight yet recoiled under too much attention. She fed off of the public adulation instead of finding that love in one person. She was a fascinating mix of naïveté and outward sophistication." What does Clehane hope to accomplish with this yarn? "First and foremost, I want people to think it's a good story. I am so proud of this book. For those who admire Diana, it may be cathartic to read about what she might have accomplished had she lived. I think she would have been a force for good in a lot of ways particularly in empowering women and girls in various countries.

One tween girl who has been touched by Diana is the one the book is dedicated to: Clehane's daughter Madeline. I asked if Madeline was perhaps jealous of the time that her mom spent with "Diana" in the process of writing this book. "No, she was actually very interested in it and got to witness what it's like to be a freelance writer who has to go on with her daily life while writing a novel rather than being sequestered away. She actually read dialogue with me in a British accent which was really very helpful."

I must also ask -- has this book finally satisfied Clehane's Diana craving?  "I think there's more of her story to be told," the Connecticut resident answers. Stay tuned for Princess Diana: the golden years. Meanwhile "Imagining Diana" goes on sale August 29 and is available from Kindle, iBooks, Kobo and Nook. Print and audio versions of the title will follow. Click here for a video of Diane Clehane discussing her book.

- Laurel Marcus

(Publisher's note: Diane Clehane is a contributing Entertainment Editor of

Thursday, August 24, 2017

New York Summer Evenings by Jill Golden

A Far-Out Crowd Celebrates the Return of Karl Ferris Photography to the New York Scene

Are You Experienced album cover
Photo: Karl Ferris

Karl Ferris is best known as the “father” of psychedelic rock photography. A new exhibit at the Morrison Hotel Gallery reveals his singular vision with extraordinary lasting impact. Ferris’ photographs reflect not only his real-time awareness of the 60’s rockers’ iconic place place in history; but also the real, raw vulnerability of these young stars as they led the explosion of youth culture across the country and throughout the world.

On the 50th anniversary of Ferris's groundbreaking album and cover "Are You Experienced", the gallery is stepping through the looking glass into the Age of Psychedelia with an exhibition and sale featuring the works of photographer Karl Ferris, as well as Neal Preston, Joel Brodsky and other photographers represented by the gallery. Images of Hendrix, The Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers, The Doors and others will take people on a trip back through the psychedelic era

Jimi Hendrix
Photo: Karl Ferris

Ferris’ world renowned “Are You Experienced” Jimi Hendrix album cover with Hendrix’ neon back-lit afro took center stage at the exhibit. The Jimi Hendrix cover is indeed extraordinary, but it was some of Ferris’ quieter images that cut through our more airbrushed modern sensibility. Stand out shots included Pink Floyd exuding an earnest nonchalance in an early group pose on a sunny hotel balcony, as well as a grainy look at Bob Dylan in his electric phase staring with a disgruntled determination into the street. A photograph of Janis Joplin sharing a mic with Tina Turner had the everyday accessibility of a backyard concert, but the photographed-from-below angle communicates the momentous nature of their duet.

The Byrds Mr. Tambourine Man
Photo:  Barry Feinstein

Ferris was a British photographer and designer who grew up in the 50’sin Hastings, England. He became interested in art at a young age, studying at Hastings College of Art where he focused on Pre-Raphaelite painting, which later influenced his photographic style of the 1960s. After serving two years with the RAF as an aerial photographer where he worked with infrared spy surveillance photography, he moved into fashion, shooting for 19, French Mode, Marie Claire, Harper's Bazaar and Vogue. Ferris's most Iconic collection of photographs are those capturing Jimi Hendrix and The Jimi Hendrix Experience in what is now known as a "psychedelic style."Ferris's most Iconic collection of photographs are those capturing Jimi Hendrix and The Jimi Hendrix Experience in what is now known as a "psychedelic style."  The use of the fisheye lens and his innovative infrared film photographic technique created a never-before-seen effect gave Ferris his start as a leader of the psychedelic revolution and chronicler of the British rock elite.

The Grateful Dead
Photo: Baron Wolman

Peter Blachley, the mastermind behind the Karl Ferris show remembered the first time he saw the Jimi Hendrix album cover with Ferris’ groundbreaking infrared photography. “Those were the watershed years in the renaissance of American popular music – ’67, ’68, ’69,” he said. “I know because I lived them and the Ferris photo was just as exciting as the music.” Peter Blachley was clearly enthusiastic about re-introducing the excitement of those years to a downtown crowd in the very different era of 2017.

Keith Richards
Photo: Ethan Russell

The atypically eclectic crowd at show’s opening was reminiscent of a 60’s happening. Attendees who lived the rock life in the 60’s brought out their authentic retro finery, such as a black patent “Beatles cap,” enumerable embroidered blouses, and a pinstripe bell-bottom suit that could have come right out of Austin Power’s wardrobe.  Anna Sui was the designer of choice for the event’s many young hipsters. A true stand-out was Yvette Esteve’s multi-textured magenta Anna Sui cape, with rich velvet and gold brocade detailing.

Eric Clapton
Photo:  Robert Whitaker

Ferris’ evocative photos inspired a conversation among young and old about the fabulous language of that long ago time. “Far Out” was a runaway favorite expression:
“Far Out, it’s out there!” exclaimed Monica Tolentino
“Far Out, Man, it’s perfect for me too, because my mind tend to be so far out there,” added Marion Jackson.
“It means originality and being different,” said Yvette Esteve.
Eva Estime summed it up: “Far Out, I love how that expression is just so now!”
“Groovy Baby” was another great one that popped into Adam Pollack’s mind.
Paul Davis liked the simplicity of “Peace” as a universal greeting and sign-off.
Stephen Lombardo was a fan of “Make Love Not War.”
And Peter Blachley, remembered an almost vaudeville conversation with his best friend in which he asked, “What do you think of free love?” and his friend replied, “Works for me, I’m broke!”

The Morrison Gallery is located at 116 Prince Street and the Karl Ferris exhibit will run until September 10th.

- Jill Golden

Monday, August 21, 2017

Masters of Fashion Interview: Photographer Bettina Cirone by Laurel Marcus

"If you loved Bill Cunningham - You will adore Bettina" - Ernest Schmatolla

In her 10 years as a fashion model and her 40 years as a travel and fashion/celebrity photojournalist, Bettina Cirone has been both muse and master, hunter and hunted, predator and prey. In her past, she's been idolized and worshipped, as well as denigrated and defiled. As she marks her 84th birthday this month she is unable to stand up straight or get around without a walker due to repeated and devastating bicycle injuries, an occupational hazard. "I've been hit by so many cars, an Academy bus, a pickup truck, a van, taxis, a DUI driver and broken so many parts of my ribs, limbs, spine and hip. it’s a miracle I’m alive," she says. Yet, she is a true living legend who has visually recorded her extraordinary life during a very special era in history.

Bettina Cirone
Click images for full size views
Photo: Ralph Gross

A former resident of the Carnegie Hall studios along with friends and fellow photogs Bill Cunningham and Editta Sherman (known as "The Duchess of Carnegie Hall"), Bettina and Bill were relocated to the same Central Park South building where Bettina still lives. Her apartment bears a strong resemblance to Bill's former pad: floor to ceiling filing cabinets co-mingled with loose photos, newspaper clippings, books, magazines -- all strewn about in organized chaos. Unlike the late Bill Cunningham, she has company: a large Himalayan Lilac Point cat named "Kitty," (a name reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn's character Holly Golightly in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" who, seeking not to get attached, names her feline "Cat").

Isabella Rossellini
Photo copyright Bettina Cirone

Bettina and Bill used to commiserate over the fact that they had, no doubt, provided vehicles for a good number of Manhattan's bicycle messengers, each having lost somewhere around 30 purloined bikes over the years. As for Editta whose posthumous exhibit at the New York Historical Society is currently on view, Bettina was asked to sit for her in 1969 but never did, finding Editta to be "pushy, a braggart and eccentric. I did go to her 100th birthday party after I got older and warmed up to her and met her grown children. I grew to like her and value what she'd accomplished. She deserves the accolades and attention," Bettina added.

Muhammad Ali & Bettina Cirone

Perched on the edge of a folding chair, I listened raptly to Bettina's first-hand anecdotes tempered with some stark and occasionally brutal life lessons. For three and a half hours, she spoke about many things, including being one of the first women to stand shoulder to shoulder with the often inelegant paparazzi, who will literally push and shove anyone out of the way in the interest of getting the money shot. I feel like we barely scratched the surface of her fascinating experiences on both sides of the lens.

Bettina modeling
Photo: Jerry Yulsman

Born in 1933 during the Depression, Bettina was raised in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn by an overprotective mother and a father whose secret hobby was photographing his wife, friends and neighbors in the buff. Bettina was a great early beauty -- as a teen she was scouted to enter the Miss America pageant and to model for Eileen Ford who squeezed her breasts telling her she needed to lose some weight because except for them she was perfect. Eileen told her she would send her to photographers to start her portfolio. " I told her my father could photograph me and I need not go to hers, not realizing there was a vast difference between fashion photographers and my Dad’s. But domineering Mother's rule was no modeling and no moving out of the house until the age of 21 so I didn’t return to Eileen until age 27."

Robert DeNiro & Meryl Streep
Photo copyright Bettina Cirone

Starting at seventeen, Bettina worked instead at various office secretarial jobs from American Bankers Association to Harper Collins and as a United Nations guide for UNICEF all with Mother’s approval. Upon reaching the age of adulthood, she obtained a GS4 clearance and hightailed it to Japan for a position as a civil secretary for U.S. and European highest ranking military officers stationed at an airbase outside of Tokyo. She arrived at Haneda Airport, not speaking a word of Japanese, in a snowstorm that she originally thought was nuclear fallout. "Every Japanese citizen was wearing a surgical mask including my driver who purchased one for me on the road to Tokyo.  I later learned they were de rigueur to protect from frequent fatal Tuberculosis attacks in almost every family and crowds were running away from where the taxi was taking me." Clad in a big red coat given to her by her mom, bare Japanese sandals due to a broken toe she got on a high diving board in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, (a refueling and recuperating layover from 36 hours of flying through a monsoon) and a surgical mask she wore over her nose and mouth that her driver presented her with. All that topped by her voluminous mane of flame red hair, the desk sergeant at intake in Tokyo burst out laughing so hard he lay his head on his desk pounding on it at this awesome sight.

Anthony Quinn
Photo copyright Bettina Cirone

In 1955 Japan, she inadvertently got her modeling start, ending up on covers of magazines courtesy of a renowned Japanese photographer who entered her photo into a contest which she won. He had also taken candid headshots of her during the contest which ended up as a huge mural in Tokyo’s Ueno Park Museum and on covers of Japanese magazines. They became friends -- he and his wife invited her to their home where they dressed her in an elaborate four layers of traditional Japanese wedding costumes, each layer exquisitely hand woven embroidered silk sashed by colorful obi (belts) that combined on her delicate frame felt like “I was carrying an armchair on my back. Good training for my backpacking through the Grand Canyon, India and Sri Lanka with 5 to 6 metal cameras, several lenses and loads of film on my back in the decades to come. “

Givenchy & Audrey Hepburn
Photo copyright Bettina Cirone

"Women were second class citizens in Japan then. It was customary to see females walking behind their spouses carrying large packages securely wrapped as their spouses were freewheeling unhampered on bicycles in front of them. Men were always seated on trains and buses as women, no matter how young or old, stood unless the vehicle had enough seats for everyone. It was not uncommon to see a 90 year old woman carrying packages bigger than her size get up to give a 14 year old boy her seat that the boy took for granted without even a gesture of gratitude.

Grace Kelly
Photo copyright Bettina Cirone

Recognizing and respectful of my host country’s traditions, when I boarded a crowded train to Tokyo from Tachikawa I took my place standing. One elderly gentleman offered me his seat. I declined. He insisted. I declined again, he demanded I take his seat. My last denial engendered a jiu jitsu movement from him that I feared he was going to send me through the moving train’s window but I ended up forcibly in his seat. The entire train of male passengers on their way to work burst out in gales of laughter.  One couldn’t refuse the respectable demands of an elderly Japanese man no matter what.”

Catherine Deneuve
Photo copyright Bettina Cirone

“When I first visited the photographer’s Nagahama home, everything was in traditional Japanese order. The wife who prepared our meal and served us would eat at their stove while he and I ate at the cozy table warmed by the burning coals in a pit under us. My objections were to no avail when I pleaded with him to let her join us. By my third visit, both Nagahama Sans would not only be seated with me a table but they passionately argued about which was the best photo to be published and exhibited of me, reminding me of my parents loud arguments except for my parents colorful vulgarities. Tradition was broken before my eyes. He told me he always listens to her, that she was the real boss. It was another lesson I learned, that beyond tradition, people share the same values all over the world," she added.

Geraldine Page
Photo copyright Bettina Cirone

After two years in Japan where she was nicknamed "Betiko-San," she relocated to Rocquencourt, France where she did learn to speak the language fluently, continuing her work for international top ranking military officers at a James Bond-ish sounding agency called SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe). She eventually earned a high level security clearance enabling her to work on top security documents. "I was told when I attained that status after nine months of rigorous scrutiny from international and national security that I would have unlimited access to everything that the current and past President of the United States did. I had also gotten Cosmic Top Secret access to all documents that were generated at SHAPE which I traveled to daily in my stick shift Dauphine from my little house in St. Cloud, and later in my Paris apartment with a spectacular view of the Tour Eiffel."

David Merrick
Photo copyright Bettina Cirone

Unfortunate circumstances including a "Romanian screwball (boyfriend) who was beating me up," meant a return to the U.S. where she settled for a time in Key West, Florida. (The abusive ex later followed her there thanks to her mother who unknowingly gave him Bettina's address).  Of course, the most famous resident of Key West -- none other than Ernest Hemingway -- spotted her walking to the beach in her bikini one day and invited her inside for tea. She had a similar experience with Pablo Picasso in the south of France where he motioned to her to come over as she walked à la plage. (No surprise that she later became a bathing suit and lingerie model). She declined both invitations.

Anjelica Huston and Jack Nicholson
Photo copyright Bettina Cirone

However, Bettina did became friends with Hemingway's son Patrick and spent a night as a guest in the Hemingway house which she described as somewhat dilapidated and furnished like a shack -- "full of animal skins and very rustic. Patrick's small room was full of old books. Years after Papa Hemingway’s death when it became the Hemingway House open to the public, all the walls had been painted blue and white -- not at all how it was. It was redecorated in a manner so unlike Hemingway. All the books in Patrick’s room were covered in white in freshly painted bookcases. His unpainted walls were now glowing white. too. The dining room table was covered with precious china and crystal."

Kurt Vonnegut
Photo copyright Bettina Cirone 

In Key West, Bettina also met Tennessee Williams and his boyfriend Frank Merlo, along with Tallulah Bankhead. While dining in a local cafe on conch chowder with Frank she saw Tennessee eyeing up the local beach boys, however, he insisted jovially that he didn't approach them that young. Actor and playwright Jim Herlihy, who at that time had just published "The Sleep of Baby Filbertson" before he wrote "Midnight Cowboy" and other better known plays, was hosting Tallulah. They invited Bettina over for cocktails at Tallulah’s request along with her "Welcome Darlings" co-star Jim Kirkwood (who later co-authored "A Chorus Line) but she refused. "I had heard that Tallulah might have some lesbian tendencies," she said, especially since Herlihy, Kirkwood and Hemingway were all gay and the way in which the sophisticated Tallulah was eyeing me on the beach put me off. Jim was aghast that I said “no” and repeated:  “NO?!?” I repeated “NO!”

Bettina's model comp card 

At the ripe old age of 27 Bettina finally decided that she would give modeling a go. She returned to New York City and Ford Models where Eileen Ford asked why she had never followed through after their first meeting in 1952. Ten years on she was told it was too late to launch a career as a fashion, runway and beauty photographic model but not too late to become a swimsuit and lingerie model. Eileen told her that she had no lingerie clients at the agency so she joined the Wagner Agency (owned by Paul Wagner which later became Zoli). She remembers being in demand; the booking agents telling her "every time the phone rings, it's for you." Even Diana Vreeland with then assistant Polly Mellen were in her corner. Diana Vreeland sent out memos to each of her editors to ‘Use, use, use, use use Bettina.’ And so they did.

Bettina Cirone Vintage Lingerie

"I did get booked immediately for a Vogue runway show and a fur show before I decided how much easier it was to model lingerie that fell in my lap at double fee and was much more relaxing than being clothes pinned and restrained into outerwear, holding painful positions for an hour on set, under uncomfortably hot lights.  There was often no air conditioning on fur shoots in August and I would have to remain in bed from the fatigue and pains from having to hold myself in unnatural positions while telling myself to hold the position for which I was being paid $1 per minute at a time when I was previously getting only $100 for a 40 hour work week at my SHAPE secretarial job."

Eddie Fisher & daughter Carrie Fisher
Photo copyright Bettina Cirone

She enrolled in acting classes with Lee Strasberg and with Uta Hagen but never auditioned, for fear of the casting couch. She repeatedly had to fight off men whether on modeling shoots, or in her previous foreign secretarial jobs where she had horrible experiences which scarred her to this day, with two different military officers. It seems her mother's protectiveness had ill prepared her for the evils of certain uniformed men used to getting their way. Interestingly, Bettina was comfortable enough to do nude shoots for Mel Sokolsky where Ali McGraw was the stylist and then for Gosta Peterson which became a five page spread in Glamour. She also worked with Gleb Derujinksy for a twelve month Van Raalte lingerie campaign.

Faye Dunaway & Terry O'Neill
Photo copyright Bettina Cirone

Walking from her apartment on West 58th Street through Central Park to his studio at the Dakota she began snapping photos with a 35mm single lens reflex camera which she used to document some Japanese Haiku poems. These photos later ended up in both the Guggenheim Museum in 1965 and later in an exhibit at the Contemporary Crafts Museum, now the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD). A year or so later it became a photo essay for Eastern Airlines' inflight magazine. An OGGI editor sent her to a press conference with Liz Taylor, Richard Burton and Brigitte Bardot and the rest was history. "I liked shooting celebrities -- the photos are easier and quicker to sell than art and travel photos," she remarked. Unlike the paparazzi she doesn't want to shoot those who aren't willing to be photographed and prefers to shoot those who comply.

Mayor John Lindsay
Photo copyright Bettina Cirone

She met then New York Mayor John Lindsay at a club where she had accompanied a friend to see another belly dancer friend. "Lindsay had asked me to dance with him after I rejected a seat at his table. He gave me a ride home in his limo. We talked for three hours. I told him I was a photographer but didn't mention modeling. I was no less than flabbergasted when then Mayor John Lindsay offered me a lift home, then took my key from my hand and opened my door and followed me up to my apartment. I still believed he was simply being gallant and courteously seeing me to my door. Next thing I knew he was in my shower then wrapped my blue towel around him like a short sarong and proceeded to kiss me. I was fully clothed and pretty nervous. When he attempted to undress me I stopped him. It wasn't that his hunkiness didn't attract me. He was way too fast."

Valerie Caplan, Rod Steiger & Diana Ross
Photo copyright Bettina Cirone  

Nevertheless, Mayor Lindsay was instrumental in getting Bettina a job as a photographer at the Lower Manhattan Development City Planning Commission where she photographed landmarked architecture. From streets, helicopter, Coast Guard vessels and groundbreakings and openings for their archives and architectural books. "They called me 'the spy' because of my resume (and high security clearance) from SHAPE," she said of the job which she held for two years and quit despite offers to remain. She had the travel bug and had gotten assignments in Haiti, Jamaica, Italy and Ireland she couldn’t resist.

Salvador Dali
Photo copyright Bettina Cirone

She also had an interesting relationship with Salvador Dali who she met while viewing his exhibit at the same building that now houses MAD, when it was the grand opening of A&P heir's Huntington Hartford Museum. Dali followed her through the exhibit and finally asked her in French if she would pose nude for him. She replied in French that she was nothing but bones ("Mais je n'ai que des os,") to which he kissed her hand and replied "J'adore les os." They ended up working out a deal -- she posed for him and was represented as the middle figure of his Three Graces sculpture; he struck a portrait pose for her camera.  She spent time in their NYC apartment at the St Regis Hotel with his wife Gala and with artist Isabelle Collin Dufresne also known as Ultra Violet at her apartment.

Andy Warhol
Photo copyright Bettina Cirone

Through Dali she met and photographed Andy Warhol (who she says was very shy, as was she) and others who hung out as Dali "held court" at the St. Regis King Cole Room and  at La Cote Basque. She really didn't become friendly with Warhol until the '70s and '80s when she started to photograph him at events. He asked her to do a regular column with photos for his "Interview" Magazine but she was just too busy then with modeling assignments and later as a photographer. Bettina is quoted in the 2016 book "Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol: Encounters in New York and Beyond" by Torsten Otte about how she initially thought that "Andy was a Dali groupie" but later realized that there was a mutual admiration society between Warhol and Dali.

Garrison Keillor
Photo copyright Bettina Cirone

Summoned to Dali's apartment at the St. Regis to photograph him with the astronauts who had just returned from the moon landing very early one morning, Bettina  stretched out to catch a few winks on a chaise lounge while she waited for the astronauts to arrive. The next thing she knew, Dali's pet ocelot  had turned the doorknob where Dali and Gala slept. The ocelot cuddled up lengthwise on top of her, nuzzling his head under her chin. "Dali had an ocelot and a margay. One time the ocelot sh*t in the elevator and the St REGIS had to close it down," she laughingly recalled. Bettina was in the news in 2014 regarding the unfortunate incidence of the disappearance of a piece of art from her apartment that Dali had created and inscribed for her entitled "The Blue Lion," and two other works that he gave her. In 2008 she sold her copy of "Diary of a Genius by Salvador Dali" in an auction at Bonham's which featured a drawing and inscription addressed to her, before it could be lost or stolen.

Gossip columnist "Suzy" & Donald Trump cover
Photo Bettina Cirone

I would be remiss if I did not include a few anecdotes about some of the famous folk Bettina has photographed either at press events, by invitation or in their homes (see below). She even photographed Pia Lindstrom's wedding at her step sister Isabella Rossellini's house on Fifth Ave. Her work has been featured nationally and internationally in major publications including the Daily News, Newsday, People, USA Today, New York Magazine, Jet, Playboy, New York Newsday, The New York Post, Architectural Digest and American Photo. She has photographed nearly every big name celebrity in the fields of acting, music, dance, literature, politics and art. Everyone from Mother Theresa to Muhammed Ali was captured by her lens. Her one regret: she never made it to an event that she had been invited to and planned to attend to photograph Princess Diana.

Lilian Gish
Photo copyright Bettina Cirone

Lillian Gish -- "I photographed her at a premier and in her apartment. She always had her grayed hair in a tight bun and wore black clothes and outfitted very conservatively. So it was such a pleasant surprise to see her long gray hair falling over her shoulders in waves and ringlets and wearing a silk lacey nightgown. She looked like a sweet teenager.”

Joan Crawford -- "Carleton Varney (of Dorothy Draper) was a friend of Joan Crawford's. I had photographed several celebrities in their apartments for him including Pauline Trigere and Ethel Merman for Carleton. I photographed Joan Crawford towards the end of her life when I heard she never left her apartment. A butler and a maid dressed in uniforms were there but she opened her door and immediately showed me to two pristine white towels laid out on the floor by her living room window which she told me my tripod and camera gear were to be placed. She also demanded that my photog friend who had originally invited me for lunch that day asked us to put our lighting and tripod on. She told us we were not to touch anything! The lighting guy accidentally grazed the edge of her guest room orange corduroy couch with his clean khaki pants and she shrieked. We were told to take a lunch break during which time I hopped on my bike on this scorching hot day and rode about twenty blocks to the lab to get the morning film developed. When I got back I was parched so I asked her for a glass of water. She took a glass from the cabinet, filled it with tap water and the minute I took it out from her, she grabbed it away before I could take a single sip, washed it and put it back in the cabinet. She also called for total silence so that her tiny dog could relieve herself. 'Quiet! Princess has to piddle,' she screamed."

Bette Davis -- "I photographed Bette Davis at Tavern on the Green. She was holding a huge wine glass with milk in it in one hand and a cigarette in the other.  I also watched as she put 18 teaspoons of sugar in a tiny demitasse cup of coffee and somehow drank it!"

Malcolm Forbes -- "I was invited to photograph Malcolm Forbes 70th birthday celebration in Tangiers. He and I share a birthday (August 19). Of course no one knew it would be his last."

Mia Farrow -- Bettina has a large black & white photo of Mia Farrow and her children on her wall, which she shot at a tea party at the Sheraton. "I also photographed Mia and her mother (Maureen O'Sullivan). Soon-Yi (who later became Woody Allen's wife) was also in the picture with the other kids. Soon-Yi went after Woody but he was willing."

Dustin Hoffman -- "A roll of black and white film that I shot of him trying on hats in his dressing room for 'Death of a Salesman' is featured on his website." It is one of her most well-published series.

Carolyn Bessette Kennedy -- "I felt she was superficial. She reminded me of my mother."

A frequent visitor to both Regine's and Studio 54, I asked Bettina for any stories about her nights there. She mentions Halston sticking out his tongue at her, Jon Voight taking her inside to meet Franco Zeffirelli, and Warren Beatty holding her in a bear hug to prevent her from taking his photo. She once took a number of photos of Al Pacino, Gordon Parks and Melina Mercouri and sadly left the roll of film in the pocket of a dress which she took to the dry cleaners. Her David Bowie shots were mysteriously lifted when her apartment had water damage.

Bettina's work can also be seen at the Skyscraper Museum for WTC: MONUMENT, a memorial to the World Trade Center as one of the witnessing photographers that captured "the wrenching images, the fears and sorrows, the reconciliation, the extraordinary drive and devotion" following the 2001 World Trade Center disaster for Aileen Ghee's "Witnessing" documentary and "Here is New York" photograph exhibit. Proceeds benefitted World Trade Center victims through the Children's Aid Society.

The last retrospective of Bettina's work was exhibited in 1995 in Norwich, Connecticut at the New England Museum for Contemporary Art.  Curator Baird Jones called Bettina "one of New York's most durable celeb photographers." Twenty-two years later, I believe a New York City exhibition of her works is long overdue.

- Laurel Marcus