Thursday, November 30, 2017

New York Fashion Cool-Aid by Laurel Marcus

Catherine Malandrino Debuts "A Femme Francaise" at French Institute/Alliance Francaise



My first thoughts when I heard that fashion designer Catherine Malandrino was giving a talk with Kristen Ingersoll, Fashion and Entertainment Director of Hearst Magazines International, and a signing of her new book "Une Femme Francaise: The Seductive Style of French Women" at FIAF were "Oh, what is she doing after selling her company in 2013?" followed by "Mon Dieu! Do we really need yet another book on French style?"

In the interest of true investigative reporting, I decided to find out the answers to these burning questions. As FIAF President Marie-Monique Steckel pointed out there was a little event taking place at Rockefeller Center (the Christmas tree lighting) concurrently however Ms. Malandrino still has what it takes to sell out FIAF's 8th floor Sky Room.

Catherine Malandrino and Kristen Ingersoll
Photo: Laurel Marcus

Ingersoll began by asking Malandrino why she wrote this (her first) book. "I love words," said the author. "I wanted to write about the challenges, difficulties and successes -- about the special journey for a French woman." Malandrino, who started her company in New York in 1998 after having worked at Feraud, Ungaro, and DVF, added that she needed some perspective on her residential dichotomy when writing -- "a clear vision of the other side" as she calls it. "When I am in New York, they say I'm very Parisian, when I'm in Paris they say I am very American."

According to Malandrino there is a very different point of view of success in the two cultures. "Americans are all about the money, in France success equals harmony -- it's a little more complicated; Money is not the only thing that makes us happy and complete. There are different goals and a different lifestyle. The little pleasures like waking up with the sun, having my little cup of coffee, the little romance in life.

The pleasure of life is in the details -- money and success are only one part of it. Americans must learn some joie de vivre." That includes no plastic utensils or paper plates, ever -- if you must do takeout it should be served on nice china preferably with wine, a floral arrangement and candles -- no TV!

The book which I received for review, includes whimsical drawings, tips on where to dine in Paris, quotations from famous French style authorities, as well as the biographical and anecdotal details on how she grew up in the mountains of Grenoble, loving nature but longing for the big city of Paris with its chic style. In the opening pages she explains how she was obsessed with her grandmother's sewing machine and eventually her very own portable machine, detailing how as a young girl she secretly opened the seams on her mother's only Chanel jacket to learn how it was constructed and then carefully sewing it back. After confessing, rather than being angry, her home maker mother who raised her and her sisters to believe they could do anything they set their minds to, only wished that she had been there to share the experience -- Incroyable!

Photo: Laurel Marcus

The talk was accompanied by rotating slides: various old school French women like Brigitte Bardot and Catherine Deneuve, next generation stylish filles such as Vanessa Paradis or Marion Cotillard, some wearing lingerie, some in the easy menswear inspired looks that are considered classically French looks, as well as a slide of various celebrities wearing Malandrino's iconic flag dress and another of her "Easy Rider" inspired nail head embellished leather jackets. These supplied a brief visual retrospective on her solo design career and a commentary on her ideas on Gallic chic. "French elegance is still very much alive. French women keep it light.  There is no book of rules -- no need to be perfect as Americans often do."


The Flag Dress"

Of course let's talk about the flag dress! "When the flag dress came out in August, right before September 11, I didn't have a message -- I was just paying homage to America. I was inspired by the open land, free spirit, strong women but not the America of Bush. I wanted to bring power and confidence to women and the freedom of the "Easy Rider" movie," she said citing the film that is one of her lasting influences. "In France you don't show the flag like Americans -- you only see the Tricolor on July 14th. I wanted to be part of that -- this dress has become the symbol of women after Meryl Streep wore it at the Democratic convention."

Book signing
Photo: Laurel Marcus

Although Malandrino wanted to see a female president and remarked on how close we got, she doesn't consider herself a man-hating feminist, but maybe a "feminine feminist." This lead to her discussion of seduction. "Every woman is dreaming about being seduced -- it is extremely important for a designer to be seductive but it has nothing to do with harassment" she was quick to add in today's troubled climate. The still sexy 54-year-old complained of American men's inattention to women, their lack of etiquette (she has taught her 20 year-old son to respect women by holding doors among other things), and perhaps their fear of being charged with harassment. She wants men to notice her and act romantic and doesn't believe in a group of only females getting together -- "If we don't have men, what are we going to talk about?" If you do have a man in your life she warns against becoming overly familiar. "Complete nudity shouldn't be easily given away. The long seduction moment is a process -- the longer the better," she adds. On her fears? "I was afraid of heights so I had to jump from a plane. You must push your boundaries -- French women are more likely to do that."

As for what is in her future plans -- "I have so much envie (desire)! You keep young and active but as a French woman I am mysterious and don't want to give it away."





- Laurel Marcus

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