Sunday, May 20, 2018

In the Market Report by Marilyn Kirschner

At Long Last, the ‘Waight’ is Over!

Meghan Markle arriving in her Clare Waight Keller for Givenchy dress
Click images for full-size views
Photo: Reuters

After months of speculation about THE DRESS, Meghan Markle stepped out of her burgundy Rolls Royce on Saturday morning wearing a custom design by Clare Waight Keller for Givenchy. It was a surprising but assuredly interesting choice. It’s not only a dress with an important label, but Meghan is a feminist who specifically wanted a woman designer to have the honors. Also, Clare is British, and the first woman to have the title of creative director for the fabled French house, so there is some added symbolism there. Oh, and by the way, Meghan paid for the dress herself.

Amal and George Clooney 

The ceremony (of course I got up at 5 a.m. to watch all the pomp and circumstance) was a global event attended by real royalty and Hollywood and sports royalty. Amal and George Clooney, Oprah Winfrey, Serena Williams, David and Victoria Beckham, Elton John, Idris  Elba, etc. were all decked out in their Sunday (or should I say Saturday) best.

Serena Williams in Versace with Alexis Ohanian

Watching the arrivals felt more like tuning in to the Academy Awards. It lived up to the hype and more than met its expectations if not more so regarding diversity (Meghan’s American and black heritage were imprinted throughout the ceremony). The only thing that could have made it more diverse and inclusive is if they had a Rabbi lol! It broke with tradition without being disrespectful and defined ‘modern’ fairy tale. When is the last time a black reverend preached to British royalty about the resilience of faith during slavery?

Bishop Michael Bruce Curry

Among the highlights were the rousing sermon, evoking Martin Luther King and emphasizing the redemptive power of love, given by The Most Rev. Michael Bruce Curry (it was quite a moment though I thought it did go on just a little too long). The Chicago based first black leader of the Episcopal Church in the United States is a descendant of slaves and an LGBT rights activist and was hand-picked by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to address their 600 wedding guests.

Gospel Kingdom Choir

Then there was the 19-year-old cellist, Sheku Kanneh-Mason, with his stirring rendition of Ave Maria (he has the distinction of being the first black musician to win the BBC Young Musician Award in 2016). The Gospel Kingdom Choir (clad in pastel dresses and ties) sang Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me” (a longtime favorite song of mine) during the wedding. And serenaded the just married couple to the strains of Etta James’ affirmative gospel hymnal “This Little Light Of Mine” as they headed out in the sun to take their horse-drawn coach ride along the streets of Windsor.  Another fantastic touch was the glorious weather. It seems we have traded with England. This past week, it’s been grey damp and rainy here while on the other side of the Atlantic, it’s been uncharacteristically warm and sunny.

The Duke & Duchess of Sussex

Yes indeed, Meghan was a beautiful bride, but I have to admit that I was one of those who was just a tad “underwhelmed” with THE DRESS. If the new Duchess of Sussex had that ‘Markle Sparkle,’ it was not because of the dress, which was simple and understated but for 53 flowers symbolically sewn into the Cathedral veil to represent the 53 commonwealths and the dramatic 16-foot veil. Instead, it was because of her fresh-faced beauty, (freckles and all), her incandescent glow, her public confidence and poise, and the happiness that radiated through her. Of course, the 100-year-old diamond tiara that kept her veil in place (it belonged to Queen Mary and was on loan from Queen Elizabeth), and diamond Cartier ring and bracelet didn’t hurt!

The happy couple 

Let’s face it, Meghan could wear anything and look divine. I get that her style is understated and that she wanted to evoke Carolyn Bessette Kennedy’s pared-down minimalism for her big day. One could easily forgive her if she wanted to really go all out with something more elaborate and good for her that she stuck with what she feels "Suits" her (sorry for the pun). Was it modern and clean? Yes, But still, I was just somehow expecting more. I wanted my jaw to drop.

The veil

I know that viewing an all-white gown on television puts one at a disadvantage because it is difficult to appreciate the workmanship, the fabrication, the little details. But if you are foregoing traditional ornamentation and bells and whistles, the shape has to be really exceptional, and I felt this was just too simplified. Meghan has a beautiful figure, and this was a little bit shapeless for me. Someone on television referred to it as a “sculptural masterpiece.” I wouldn’t go that far, but that was what I was hoping for.

I first knew I would be a little disappointed when I caught a glimpse of the bride to be on the way to St. George’s Chapel with her mother in the Rolls Royce. All you could see was the neckline, and I am not a fan of bateau necks (they are neither here nor there, and I prefer face framing necklines or details).

The Duchess of Sussex wearing Stella McCartney

On the other hand, I really liked the white Stella McCartney gown that she wore to the evening reception. Stella, who designed both Amal Clooney and Oprah Winfrey’s ensembles, had been rumored to be making Meghan’s wedding gown and assuredly, this, with its sweeping white skirt, could have easily been just that but for a sleeveless halter top (the bride’s arms had to be covered). Another note: Meghan has beautiful hair. I wished that she had worn it down (or half up, half down) for the ceremony and for the evening reception.

But regardless, there is no doubt that bridal gown companies around the world were waiting with baited breath, to see the silhouette and fabrication of the dress and are already making the most of yesterday’s royal nuptials. The minimal Bessette-Kennedy dress, designed by Narciso Rodriguez was a game changer for the bridal industry and is still referenced to this day. I just hope that future brides don’t get sucked into thinking that Meghan’s dress is the only way to go. After all, style is not a one size fits all proposition. What’s good for one, may not necessarily suit another.




- Marilyn Kirschner



Wednesday, May 16, 2018

On Royal Watch by Diane Clehane

When Did the Fairy Tale Wedding Turn into Such a Nightmare?

Prince Harry and Ms. Meghan Markle
Official portrait
Photo: Alexi Lubomirski

With less than a week until the big day, Meghan Markle’s wedding to Prince Harry, what everyone expects will be an incredibly elegant royal wedding with all the attendant pomp and pageantry, has been turned – seemingly overnight – into a reality show with a rather pathetic and unexpected star, the bride’s father, Thomas Markle.

How did this happen?

Royal weddings are exercises in protocol and tradition. Ever since the wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton in 2011, the Palace has been incredibly savvy when it comes to public relations with a website and Twitter feed (@KensingtonRoyal). Everything for this wedding has been handled with the utmost taste and control, timed perfectly to coincide with the mailing of the invitations, the selection of the baker (a lemon elderflower cake with vanilla buttercream frosting for Harry and Meghan), and the recent announcement that Prince William would be Harry’s best man.

Back in March, in my role as royal correspondent for Best Life Online and MSN, I reported based on a reliable source close to the Palace, that William would walk Meghan down the aisle because her father would not be in attendance.

There was no way I thought that Thomas Markle, who had never met Harry and hadn’t seen his daughter in over a year, would be at the royal wedding. Perhaps that’s because his side of the family would be considered too trashy for even a TLC reality show. They all seemed to be in regular contact with him as opposed to Meghan who seemed to spend all her family time with her mother, Thomas’ second and now ex-wife, Doria Ragland. His other children -- Meghan’s half-siblings, the charming Samantha Grant (who has said she’s writing a memoir called “The Diary of Princess Pushy’s Sister” and told Harry to “man up” on Twitter). And Thomas Markle, Jr. (who was charged with menacing last year when he allegedly pulled a gun on his girlfriend), ratcheted up the crazy and became an almost daily presence in the tabloids and British television trashing Meghan.

These people were from a long-ago chapter in Meghan’s life she had left behind and forgotten – at least until she got engaged to Harry.

In fact, Meghan, who had worked so hard to establish herself as a singularly independent woman and strong voice through her acting career, side hustle as a lifestyle blogger and global activism, had seemingly wiped the slate clean of all traces of her former life – even before becoming engaged to Harry. Her constant presence on social media and her popular blog disappeared early last year when rumors started to bubble up that she was quitting her role in “Suits,” the USA Network show that finally gave her a big break she’d struggled ten years in the business to get.

When the engagement was announced, she moved into Nottingham Cottage with Harry, and the press office at Kensington Palace said Meghan would end her involvement with the charities she’d been working with to join the prince in his philanthropic projects. She was also getting baptized and confirmed into the Church of England. She started wearing hats and pantyhose.

The soon-to-be royal bride who has painstakingly navigated an incredibly smooth transition from Hollywood television star to the first American to marry into the British royal family in eighty-one years was just five days shy of sailing through her engagement without a blip. The formerly snarky (and not so secretly racist) coverage in the British tabloids had been tamed and now was downright gushing in its praise of Meghan’s warmth and poise on walkabouts and newly royal (but still modern) fashion sense.

Then her father decided to stage those fake photographs with the paparazzi.

When the news broke on Sunday, all hell broke loose in TMZ land who somehow managed to be Thomas Markle’s mouthpiece for his version of the story. The Palace, who has been putting on weddings for a century, had lost control of the narrative to an organization known for catching celebrity implosions on video.

And this one was a doozy.

On Monday, Markle backed out of the wedding amid reports he secretly cooperated with Los Angeles photographer Jeff Rayner to stage shots that looked as if he was studying up on Britain while at Starbucks, getting fitted for a suit in some cheesy back room and looking at pictures of Harry and Meghan at an Internet cafe. Breathless reports of how profoundly upsetting this was to the bride-to-be started to surface as did ones who claimed Meghan was texting “I love you” her father and had not heard back.

Markle told a reporter he’d “been away from his phone” when his daughter tried to reach him.

What?

Then came a new twist, TMZ reported Thomas told them he suffered a heart attack six days ago, but checked himself out of the hospital so he could attend the wedding. But the Daily Mail had photos of him at McDonald’s and KFC. According to TMZ, he now had decided not to go because he didn’t want to further embarrass the royal family or his daughter. He also admitted the staged photos looked “stupid and hammy.” Markle told the site he was going along with the paparazzi agency, which he now deeply regrets. He was now planning to stay away from the wedding.

As much I as imagined this was stressful for Meghan, I could not begin to comprehend how furious and confused Harry must have been. He and his brother have always (rightly) believed the paparazzi played a direct role in Diana’s death. To learn that his soon to be father-in-law was in cahoots with the paparazzi must have angered him beyond belief. I’m sure there was some concern from the Palace if this man could be trusted to come anywhere near the wedding – and would he sell the story to a tabloid.

The bride-to-be, who had worked so hard to erase anything that might make those people not-so-sure about her in Britain (believe me, just read the comment sections on British websites – there’s plenty of them), was blindsided.

“Meghan hasn’t put a foot wrong since her engagement to Harry,” one insider told me. “She has worked hard to gain the trust and respect of the Queen and the royal family, and this is hugely embarrassing and upsetting for her.”

The hugely embarrassing story about the fake photos broke right after the Palace issued a statement asking the press to leave Meghan’s father alone. When Markle announced he was backing out of the wedding, TMZ, not the Palace became the go-to source for news. For the father of the bride marrying into the British royal family. The website’s staffers called the whole episode “surreal.”

The only word from the Palace on Monday evening was this: “This is a deeply personal moment for Ms. Markle in the days before her wedding. She and Prince Harry ask again for understanding and respect  be extended to Mr. Markle in this difficult situation.”

Which told reporters precisely nothing -- no confirmation if he was going to be there or that he was not.

On Tuesday, I awoke to the news on the Daily Mail’s website that Markle had changed his mind and was now planning on going. I hadn’t left my office for 13 hours on Monday to chase the story, but I wasn’t going to jump on this bit of news just yet. “This is insane,” I told my editor. “There is no way this guy is any part of the royal wedding now.”

Then came the news Tuesday night – from TMZ that Markle wouldn’t be at the wedding after all because he was going to have heart surgery. Late Wednesday, Markle told TMZ that he completed heart surgery and his doctors implanted multiple stents in his blood vessels. That’s the first thing you do after heart surgery – call TMZ. Not your daughter whose wedding is going to be seen by billions of people in three days.

Color me cynical, but the whole thing makes no sense. The press, who have been able to track Markle’s every movie, can’t seem to find out any information on where Markle had his supposed medical procedure. Nothing. Major news organizations like CNN and NBC are reporting this story according to information that comes from TMZ. It’s as if outlets want to go along with the story because it sullied the one shiny, happy event people are looking forward to during such dark times. We don’t want this ruining the royal wedding.

But this is no “modern fairy tale” as much as I (and presumably, you) want it to be.

I can’t help but think there is so much more to this story than we know – which is scary in and of itself. What is Meghan’s real relationship with her father? Why didn’t the Palace have any control over this story? Is anyone having second thoughts? What must the Queen be thinking about her decision to be so open-minded about welcoming an American actress estranged from her entire family except for her mother? How will this affect the glossy public relations campaign starring their newest modern member? These are real concerns in the UK.

It’s a shame that when people talk about this wedding, this tawdry episode will hang over it. Those Meghan bashers will use it as an opportunity to shore up their argument that she is unfit to be a British royal. The royal haters will say that the Palace should have taken better care of this man, the father of the bride, who is grappling with serious issues.

One thing is for sure, Meghan has had to master the British stiff-upper-lip, and all of this won’t show at all when she steps out of the chauffeured car that will drive her to St. George’s Chapel with her mother at her side. She is going to have to put on the performance of her life on Saturday. The fairy tale is real, she’ll be telling us. I am the heroine of my own story, and I am marrying my prince.

Someone asked me what advice I think Diana would have had for Meghan. I knew the answer right away. There is one thing I know she would have said: “You wanted to be famous. You wanted to change the world. And now you have. Be careful what you wish for.”




- Diane Clehane

New York Fashion Cool-Aid® by Laurel Marcus

Swarovski x CFDA Emerging Talent Party Does Brooklyn's DUMBO

Dresses from each of the nominated designers
All photos Laurel Marcus
Click images for full-size views

Downtown is dead, fashionistas!  It seems that Brooklyn is the place for the hopeful haute-wear fan. Last night the crowd "aced" it at the CFDA Fashion Awards Swarovski Nominees for Emerging Talent at the spanking new (not even officially opened yet) DUMBO House (a branch of SoHo House) inside the emerging Brooklyn Bridge Park Empire Stores.

Mike Amiri, Kristopher Brock, Nadja Swarovski, Aurora James, Pyer Moss

The evening’s honorees were Mike Amiri, Kristopher Brock and Laura Vassar of Brock Collection; Aurora James of Brother Vellies; Kerby Jean-Raymond of Pyer Moss, and Sander Lak of Sies Marjan.

The scene

A proffered glass of welcoming and welcome champagne accompanied my elevator ride to the 6th floor where a coat check girl relieved me of my soggy rain things (no Uber in traffic for me -- I'm a subway girl)! The elongated space furnished with comfy seating areas think cool hotel lobby, features picture windows and a spacious outdoor area which I was told was open if I'd like to go outside. Despite the foggy yet still spectacular bridge views I wasn't the only one who stayed inside.


Representative dresses from each of the nominated designers were on mannequins by the windows and the nominees themselves were amongst the throng of well-wishers including your usual suspects: stylists, models, photographers, bloggers, fashion hangers-on and various hyphenates of the above. In the far back, tote bags were being embellished with various designs for anyone brave enough to venture into the dark, cavernous area by the open kitchen (were those actual chickens roasting on the spit flanked by huge cauliflowers?) -- at one point I couldn't even get through the bottlenecked bar gridlock.

Natalie and Dylana

Sisters of the sibling variety -- (maybe "sistas" since they are; despite the theme of the Met Costume Institute; not exactly nuns) are apparently on trend now (thanks Hiltons and "Kardash-Jenns") as evidenced by les Soeurs Suarez (Natalie and Dylana), Coleman (Dren and Angel) and Quann (TK Wonder and Cipriana). Isn't it nice when family members werk and work together?

Steven Kolb

Other fashion notables included Kelela; Diane von Furstenberg; Steven Kolb; Fernando Garcia; Peter Som; Nadja Swarovski; Stacey Bendet; Brian Atwood; Marc Bouwer; Zuri Marley; Carly Cushnie; Jillian Mercado; Young Paris; Roopal Patel, Hannah Bronfman; Timo Weiland. DJ Zuri Marley (daughter of Ziggy and yes, she does write and perform her own songs) spun some serious tunes which along with the cocktails and hors-d'oeuvres including eggplant pizza, beets and goat cheese on endive and veggies in individual glasses with dip, kept the mood energized.

Fuzzy handbags and shoes

Naturally, my most important goal is to discover what young partygoers are wearing. Many of them sported fuzzy shoes and handbags ostensibly from the Brother Vellies collection. I'm wondering what happens to sheep in the rain -- do they get that wet dog stench? Fortunately, I didn't get close enough to derive a definitive answer to that stinking question.

Kinky boots?

What did seem like the perfect fashion accessory -- tailor-made for the rainy night was from last year's CFDA winner Off-White designer Virgil Abloh. In this case it's with his Jimmy Choo collaboration by way of a stiletto heeled plastic covered satin boot (the Elisabeth which retails for about $1,800, if you can find it still in stock) since all the celebs (Rihanna, Bella, Naomi, etc) have been duly shod in them -- which one attendee paired with a denim mini. Interestingly, the collection was inspired by Princess Diana who favored Choo's pumps.  Putting a "shower cap" over them seems fitting, what with the impending royal sh*tshow, er I mean wedding.

Designer Stacey Bendet

In a late night quote to WWD, Nadja Swarovski reportedly said “It’s been so great and inspirational — that’s New York. I have to say, the young design community seems so energized, and very positive. It seems they’re having fun, and it seems they’re confident and happy. I think the industry has changed so much, at least in the seven years we’ve been involved with the CFDA. The young designers are getting so much support and encouragement.” It's nice to know that the CFDA provides this type of long-term assistance and is not just doing all this for a reality TV show -- think Tyra Banks with America's Next Top Instagram THOT, sorry, make that "Model," or Buckingham Palace with hapless Thomas Markle thrown under the double-decker bus.


Stay tuned for more from New York's hottest borough: The 2018 CFDA Fashion Awards, in partnership with Swarovski for the 17th year, will be held on June 4th and hosted by Issa Rae at the Brooklyn Museum.




- Laurel Marcus

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Vintage Reflections by Bettina Cirone

Friends Past & Present...

Betsey Johnson & Isabella Rossellini at Betsey's show
All photos Bettina Cirone -click images for full-size views


José Ferrer & Christopher Reeve

Bettina Cirone's fashion and society photographs of famous personalities during New York's "Golden Age" beginning in the late 1960s are on display in this column. Every week, we will be highlighting more pictures from her fabulous archives. To learn more about Bettina's incredible life story be sure to read our fascinating "Masters of Fashion" Interview conducted by Laurel Marcus. The article is filled with pictures including those of Lilian Gish, Salvador Dali, Grace Kelly, Anthony Quin, Andy Warhol, Catherine Deneuve among many others.




- Ernest Schmatolla

Saturday, May 12, 2018

In the Market Report by Marilyn Kirschner

El Museo Del Barrio Museum's Spring 2018 Gala

The Event
Photo: Laurel Marcus
Click images for full-size views

Museum galas are not only high profile social events; they’re the most critical fundraisers on their calendars. They traditionally bring together luminaries from the worlds of entertainment, business, society, politics, the arts, and fashion, to raise necessary funds for the museum, and unsurprisingly (as they go hand in hand), fashion and the arts are often honored in equal part.

Honorees Cesar Reyes, Marta Minujin, Esteban Cortazar, & Julio Reyes Copello
Photo by Samantha Nandez BFA.com

 Such was the case with El Museo del Barrio’s 25th annual Spring Gala 2018, held at The Plaza Hotel on Thursday evening. New York’s premier Latino cultural institution under the stewardship of executive director Patrick Charpenel honored Esteban Cortazar, Marta Minujin, Cesar Reyes, and Maestro Julio Reyes Copello. Approximately 400 guests attended, and over $900,000 raised at the sold out event.

Colombia born Paris based Esteban Cortazar received the Excellence in Fashion Award. Referred to by Vogue as “the most uninhibited designer showing in Paris", his signature style, informed by his upbringing in Miami in the 90’s where being mentored by Gianni Versace, pays homage to his Latin heritage combined with French craftsmanship and feminine structure.

Marta Minujin, the Argentine conceptual and performance artist, received the Excellence in the Arts Award. Her impressive work being featured in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (New York), Art Museum of the Americas (Washington D.C.), Olympic Park (Seoul, Korea), the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, MNBA (Buenos Aires), The Museum of Modern Art (New York), and Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris), received the Excellence in the Arts Award.

Puerto Rican psychiatrist César Reyes, who has established himself as a prominent global art collector who enthusiastically promotes the importance of Latin American art, received the Outstanding Patron of the Arts Award. Colombia born multi-Grammy award winner and classical pianist, composer, songwriter, and producer Maestro Julio Reyes Copello, received the Cultural Pioneer Award. He is considered to be the most influential Pop Producer of Latin Music in the last 15 years by Billboard Magazine.

Julio Reyes Copello, Maria Eugenia Maury, Marta Minujin,Clarice Tavares. Patrick Charpenel
Photo: Marilyn Kirschner 

The event chaired by Tony Bechara, Maria & Alberto de la Cruz, William A. Haseltine, Maria Eugenia Maury  (she is Chair, Board of Trustees), Claire Oliveira Tavares. The incomparably talented Cuban born fashion designing duo Isabel and Ruben Toledo,  being honored with the Excellence in the Arts Award in 2016, were among those on the Host Committee. Fashion figures who served as Honorary Committee members were Fernando Garcia and Laura Kim, Proenza Schouler’s Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez, Andre Leon Talley, Candy Pratts Price, Maria Cornejo, and Angel Sanchez.

Jean Shafiroff and Victor dE Souza
Photo: Marilyn Kirschner

Among the eclectic group of guests who packed into the Plaza Hotel’s Grand Ballroom were Jean Shafiroff and fashion designer Victor dE Souza (Jean’s dramatic blue strapless gown designed by Victor).

Agatha Ruiz de la Prada with Tony Bechera and Irene Rodriguez
Photo: Laurel Marcus

Also, there was the designer and Spanish noble Agatha Ruiz de la Prada, philanthropist Fabiola Beracasa Beckmann, Director and Chief Curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem Thelma Golden.

Gallerist Henrique Faria
Photo: Marilyn Kirschner

And gallerist Henrique Faria (his priestly red cloak, ‘Cardinal’ red shoes, and theatrical red eye makeup conjured up thoughts of the Met Gala on Monday night).

Photo: Marilyn Kirschner

The colorful, highly spirited event began with cocktails (the gala underwriter was Maestro Dobel Tequila, so you know THAT was flowing). Dinner and dancing followed it (of course!) in a room festively decorated to capture the colorful energy (it was at this time that awards given to this year’s honorees and speeches were made).

An artfully attired guest checking out the art in the auction
Photo: Laurel Marcus

There was a first time silent and live benefit auction (in partnership with Paddle8) featuring works of art generously donated by artists Francis Alys, Abraham Cruzvillegas, Carmen Herrera, Raphael Montanez Ortiz, Liliana Porter, among others. Proceeds will provide critical funding to support the Museum’s exhibition, programming, and bilingual educational initiatives.

See https://m.paddle8.com/auction/el-museo/. The auction ends on May 14th at 4 p.m.




- Marilyn Kirschner


Friday, May 11, 2018

Wednesdays at Michael's by Diane Clehane

Lunch with Designer and Author Jeffrey Banks

Diane Clehane & Jeffrey Banks
Click images for full-size views

I have been looking forward to this week’s lunch ever since Jeffrey Banks invited me some weeks ago. I’ve chatted with him a few times when I’d seen him lunching at Michael’s with one of our many mutual friends, and we’ve gotten to ‘know’ each other on Facebook. But I’d never had the opportunity to sit down at length with the urbane and dapper designer who has had a very successful second career as an author – until today.

I was eager to talk to him about so many topics. We covered it all, from his six books to his charming collection of tartan home furnishings for HSN to his recollections of working with his mentor Ralph Lauren. We started with his latest masterpieces: the book, Norell: Master of American Fashion and the exhibition, Norell: Dean of American Fashion which both debuted earlier this year. Jeffrey wrote the book with Doria de La Chapelle and co-curated the exhibition with Patricia Mears. “When I do a book, I always want it to be an event,” he told me.


“Knowing how museums work, I didn’t think there was a chance in hell they’d do another show,” said Jeffrey. “There had been one [about Norell] in the nineties with pieces from one woman’s wardrobe, and I remembered that I didn’t think it was that great, so I asked them if they’d consider revisiting [Norell]. It was Valerie Steele’s first show, and she didn’t think it was all that great either.”

Much to Jeffrey’s great surprise they gave him “carte blanche” deferring to his exhaustive knowledge of designers and design history. He discovered a bridal designer named Kenneth Pool had a collection of over one hundred vintage pieces from Norell, many of which made it into the exhibition. “I started with 250 pieces and was told [by Mears] that might be too much. One of the first things you learn as a designer is how to edit.” In the end, Jeffrey selected 100 beautiful garments for the exhibition.

For the uninitiated, Norman Norell is one of the most celebrated fashion designers of the mid-twentieth century and is best remembered for his sleek, sophisticated and timeless approach to American glamour. I saw the exhibition in April just before it closed with my 13-year-old daughter, Madeline, who marveled at the idea that although the garments we were looking at had been made decades ago, they could have easily be worn today. “I want that green coat, Mommy!” she told me as she took her iPhone around and photographed her favorite items.

Jeffrey smiled when I told him about our visit. “Exactly,” he said. “Although [the cost of] a wool jersey dress was between $300 and $500 -- stratospheric in 1960 -- a woman could amortize its cost over ten years and it would still look great.” He marveled at the discovery of six to twelve-inch hems on garments. “Norell thought women should be able to shorten or lengthen hemlines at will over time. These clothes were made over fifty years ago. As a designer, this wowed me.”

As much as Jeffrey was awed by Norell’s timeless and enduring appeal and unique artistry, I was equally taken by Jeffrey’s desire to see the designer, who passed away in 1972, get his due. The exhibition was the direct result of Jeffrey’s latest book, which he began writing two years ago.

“I was shocked that no one else had done a book and I became obsessed,” he told me. “I had to do this.” Jeffrey had been collecting images of Norell’s work for almost 20 years. “I wanted to do this while the people who knew him were still here. I told Bill Cunningham about it and while I was writing it, but before I could talk to him, Bill died.”

Jeffrey’s memories of Norell that he shared with me were evocative of a very different time in New York. In October 1972, when he was working for Ralph Lauren, as his second assistant, he implored the designer to get tickets to a retrospective on the designer at the Met. “He asked me, ‘Who is this Norell guy?’” Jeffrey must have been convincing. “He listened to me, and we went. In the end, [the auditorium] went black and there were these lights like glittering stars. Then 60 girls in his sequined mermaid gowns came out. Then the president of Parson’s came out and said Mr. Norell had had a stroke the night before,” said Jeffrey still moved by the memory. “He didn’t get to see any of that show, and he didn’t come out of the hospital again. He died ten days later.”

I’d known about Jeffrey’s connection to Ralph Lauren, but hadn’t realized it started when he was so young. Jeffrey first met Ralph when he was 16 and working at Britches, a menswear store in Georgetown when the designer came down from New York for a personal appearance at the store. “I’d had perfect attendance [in high school] up until that point, but I told my mother I was going to be absent and she was going to write me a note. And she did.”

Young Jeffrey made quite an impression. “He told me he might have a job for me [in New York] when I graduated [high school].” A year later, after convincing his mother, Eleanor, who wanted to accompany him to the interview, to wait for him at Bonwit Teller, Jeffrey met with Ralph (and wound up chatting with Bobby Short who was at the designer’s offices for a tuxedo fitting) and thus started his career in fashion in New York.


I assumed that Jeffrey’s impeccably tailored blazer was a Ralph Lauren design, but it turns out there was another fascinating story behind its origins. “It’s Brooks Brothers,” he said reaching for his iPhone. Jeffrey had selected an advertising image of the same jacket and repp-striped tie from Brooks Brothers’ archives for the cover of his book, Preppy: Cultivating Ivy Style which was published in 2011 by Rizzoli. “It was from the 1940s, and they remade the jacket and the tie [to coincide with the book launch]. It sold out.” When he showed me the cover, I remember loving it when I saw it on the main floor of Brooks Brothers’ Madison Avenue store.

His other books, especially his first with Rizzoli, Tartan: Romancing the Plaid, which came out in 2007, all have fascinating stories and deep personal connections behind them. Having seen Jeffrey’s adorable plaid home and pet accessories on HSN, I wanted to know where his obsession started. And, it turns out, so did he. “Everything [written] was always about finding ‘your clan.’ I talked to theologians, architects, and psychiatrists to get a read on why people are obsessed,” he said. The verdict: the familial and familiar aspect of the plaids appeal to people especially in “chaotic times.” Said Jeffrey: “Bill Cunningham had a piece in the Times on tartan hats and scarves, and Tiffany had done tartan windows after 9-11. I knew then I had to do a book.”

Speaking of obsessions, I asked Jeffrey to weigh in on mine – the British royal family.  “Meghan is terrific,” he told me. “When she first appeared with Prince Harry at the Invictus Games in jeans and a white shirt with her fresh-scrubbed face. Who wouldn’t fall in love with her?”

“She’s such a boon for the royal family. You can tell by the way the British public has embraced her. If you go to Great Britain, you’ll see that it’s such a melting pot. As a mixed-race woman, she represents the face of the people who live in Britain.”

And what does he hope her wedding dress will look like? “I hope it will reflect her style and be a little more body conscious [than other royal wedding dresses]. I hope it’s not over the top, though.”

I told Jeffrey that I was surprised Meghan had chosen that elaborate Ralph & Russo gown with its eye-popping price tag [$75,000] for her official engagement portrait. “I love it,” he said. “It was an unusual choice, but I feel like when it comes to royals, the price shouldn’t be a concern. She was making her statement with that dress.” I’ll say.

As we sipped our coffee, I had to ask Jeffrey for his take on the Met Gala. He told me he last went attended the event in 1996, the same year Princess Diana accompanied by her friend and former Harper’s Bazaar editor Liz Tilberis to the event. The late princess famously wore a navy silk slip dress from John Galliano’s debut couture collection as the Creative Director of Dior. The company was being honored that year. “And we all stole the napkins that were embroidered with lily of the valley, the company’s signature,” said Jeffrey, laughing at the memory.

It’s been all downhill since then for the event, said Jeffrey who recalled getting a panicked phone call from his friend Terron Schaefer, who was then vice president of marketing at Saks Fifth Avenue, in the days leading up to the gala some years ago. “He told me he’d convinced Saks to buy a table, but Anna Wintour wasn’t letting [Saks’ president] Steve Sadove bring his wife. I told him to call Vogue and tell them that the store would pull all their advertising. That’s how she got to go.”

He continued, “Not only do you have to be invited [to buy a table] but Anna Wintour tells you who you can invite and which celebrities you should invite. I know it’s supposed to raise $12 million for the Costume Institute, but I can’t believe a lot of it doesn’t get funneled to the rest of the Met. It’s become more about the celebrities than the fashion or the designers. It’s a three-ring circus. I don’t miss it.”

And once again, as he’d done several times during our two-hour lunch, he was able to transport me back to a far more exciting time in the city. “When I was a student at Parson’s I bought a ticket to the after-party. It was $150 or $200, and you saw Nan Kempner, Diana Vreeland, and Jackie Kennedy. It was like the US Open; you got to see all the people you dreamed about seeing,” he said. “They would be coming out of the dinner as we were going into the after-party and you got to see the exhibition.  It was magical.”

Michaels through a window

Seen & Heard Around the Room

Hudson News’ James Cohen holding court on Table One … Andrew Stein on Two …Herb Allen on Three … The Today show’s Kathie Lee Gifford and contributor Jill Martin on Four. KLG and I arrived at the front door very same moment this afternoon. She, a vision in black and white, stepped out of her car and sailed in looking flawless. I came loaded down with two bags -- the tell-tale sign of a commuter -- and wearing my Nikes. Yes, I know, my life is so glamorous.

And there’s more...

Tom Florio and, so we’re told, his father on Table Six …Sharon Bush (mother of Lauren Bush Lauren) and Anne Hearst took over Six for the second seating … New York Social Diary’s David Patrick Columbia at his regular perch on Table Eight … Friends and fellow scribes Roger Friedman and Jill Brooke on Nine … Tina Brown and Jolie Hunt on Eleven … Simon & Schuster’s Alice Mayhew on Fourteen... Long time no see! Adam Platzner, who was lunching on Fifteen, stopped by my table to tell me he’s co-founded a “new media” company, Zig Media, and former Vanity Fair EIC Graydon Carter is one of his investors. Sounds intriguing. Stay tuned!

And finally

PR priestess Susan Blond on Sixteen … LAK PR CEO Lisa Linden and colleague Hannah Arnold on Seventeen … Marc Rosenthal and Marshall Cohen on Eighteen … Joel Silverman and Patricia Duff on Twenty … Peter Price on Twenty-one … Attorney Bob Barnett, who was kind enough to stop by my table to say hello, on Twenty-three … Tom Goodman on Twenty-five … Kira Semler and Vi Huse toasting today’s lovely spring weather with a champagne lunch at the bar. Cheers!

I won’t be lunching at Michael’s next week because I’ll be getting ready for the royal wedding and all the attendant hoopla that comes with it. I’ll be covering every minute for Best Life and MSN. Instead of serving up a lunch report next Wednesday, I’ll have an exclusive editorial on the whole shebang instead.

See you back at Michael’s in two weeks!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

New York Fashion Cool-Aid by Laurel Marcus

FGI Spring Luncheon Highlights the CULTure of Beauty

The Panel Discussion
Click image for larger view
Photos Eric Michelson

Do you have alerts on your phone for the next Pat McGrath lipgloss drop? Stalk Sephora for the latest HG (or Holy Grail) product? Follow a ton of beauty bloggers on Instagram? Thursday's annual FGI spring beauty luncheon sponsored by Hearst Magazines, L'Oreal and Estee Lauder at the New York Hilton, "Beauty CULTure: Understanding the Power of "Cult" was about you. After the white wine reception, everyone took their seats in the ballroom where an overview preceded the panel discussion. Jessica Matlin, Beauty Director of Harper's Bazaar defined a cult beauty product as something "segmented, super niche, and no longer about pleasing everyone."

Jessica Matlin

"If you have a fabulous product with a strong point of view, and a great aesthetic you go to social media. With your iPhone you can be the Stephen Spielberg of the beauty business," Matlin quipped. She went on to define Cult Leaders with the groan-inducing buzzwords (seriously, everyone groaned on cue) "authentic," and "relatable." Lifestyle Leaders would include natural brands such as Equinox or Soul Cycle while Pat McGrath belongs to the category of Hypebeast Beauty -- "If you set your watch to buy something it's a cult fetish item, (a category) which didn't exist only a few years ago -- but is essential if you're building a cult brand."

L to R: Caroline Fabrigas, David Chung, Anne Carullo, Jessica Matlin,
Zahida Subramanian, Marla Beck, Gerard Camme, Karen Young

After a lunch of cold chicken and salad, Zahida Subramanian, a partner at J.Walter Thompson, introduced the expert panel: Marla Beck, Co-founder & CEO, Bluemercury Inc.; Gerard Camme, President, Atelier Cologne; Anne Carullo, SVP Global Product Development, Estee Lauder, Tom Ford, GLAMGLOW; and David Chung, Founder & CEO, Farmacy.

What are the secrets to becoming a cult brand? Beck believes it has to do with "language and longevity. If you love it, it has potential to be a cult brand. It also must be shared -- have you heard of it or seen it? It has to be loved and shared for a long time" naming La Mer as an example. Chung spoke of Farmacy's inception -- the idea came from a room service menu detailing "farm to table" items. "I thought, why not do farm to skin type?" he said. Luckily Sephora agreed and launched his line in 2015.

According to Carullo "there's no formula A to B, or we'd all be very rich and not sitting here at this luncheon," she joked. "Consumers become disciples if you have markers which create an experience that exceeds the consumers' expectations," putting Lauder's Advanced Night Repair in that category. She recommends working in the "black space" (versus the untapped "white space") while targeting those who have been underserved. "We always say 'big is the new big' at Lauder since we're not a small company."

Beck began Blue Mercury in 1999 in response to her aversion to having to visit many different department store cosmetic counters to stock up on her favorite skin care items. Blue Mercury also developed M-61, a line of natural "clean, clinical" skincare products as well as Lune + Aster Beauty, a vegan cosmetics brand with a paraben-free mascara. "We listen to our consumers who are busy women. They want simplicity -- to be out the door in 10 minutes or less. We try to solve problems." Over three years ago Blue Mercury was acquired by Macy's -- "they let us do our own thing including keeping our headquarters in D.C. which helped preserve our DNA. Everything we do is the same, just bigger. Training is all digital now -- they helped us scale with technology."

"The formulation and development of specialty skin care have changed dramatically," said Chung. "A chemist can't use a whole list of ingredients due to regulations -- even states like California have their own rules. It's like making the chicken soup, but you cannot put the chicken in there," he said. He adds that you can't Instagram the immediate effects of skincare -- "It's not visual like color cosmetics."

Camme nodded in agreement -- what could be less "Instagrammable" than fragrance? Having joined niche brand Atelier Cologne in 2011 after a career working at corporate giants like LVMH and Giorgio Armani, he spoke of the unique DNA and story of Atelier's entrepreneurial founders and the brand's eventual acquisition by L'Oreal in 2016. "We don't follow trends -- when we started dark perfumes were in, and we launched a citrus fragrance." The brand has a story to tell to educate the customer; therefore, a boutique experience is necessary.

Carullo spoke of Tom Ford's goal when entering the beauty market and how considerable pressure to understand his mission accompanied it. "He wanted to be the first luxury brand of the 21st century. Beauty was incredibly important like a badge of a lipstick case that gets taken out of a purse after lunch. He had a particular vision with true color as well."

How vital are influencers in marketing these cult products? Beck says: "The customer wants honest advice. Influencers work well for younger customers; blogs are better for older ones. It's important to know which segment of your clientele are getting information from which piece." Are we too influenced by influencers? "There's a lot of dependence on influencers -- this whole area needs to be shaken up. My sister-in-law's an influencer -- that's an issue," she added to audience laughter.

Advice for those thinking of starting a niche brand or product? Chung recounted how he started his business at age 24 having never worked for anyone. "Sometimes if you know too much you don't want to cross that bridge. If you have an idea, there's a demand in the market, then go for it -- don't overthink," he counseled. Carullo said it's important to have a product that does what it says it's going to do and more, again using Advanced Night Repair as an example. "Go after a fringe category that's underserved." Camme said it's important to "make decisions with your heart, not your head." Beck's advice: "#1 Solve a problem, #2 find a niche, #3 be yourself and lead with your heart."



- Laurel Marcus


Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Better Bets by Rhonda Erb

Mother’s Day in Hollywood 2018


Hayes Alba Warren, True Thompson, and Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. The names of these infants may not be familiar to you, but chances are you know their famous mothers: Jessica Alba, Khloé Kardashian, and Serena Williams, respectively.  They, along with twenty-two other well-known moms, will be celebrated this year with a special tribute. 

“The Mother’s Day in Hollywood” gift bag will be distributed to a select group of mommies which also includes Kerry Washington, Anna Chlumsky, Ellie Kemper, Blake Lively, Julia Stiles, Nikki Reed, Laura Prepon, Kylie Jenner, Anna Kournikova, Eva Longoria, Chrissy Teigen, Katy Mixon, America Ferrara, Hillary Scott, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Jordin Sparks, Tia Mowry, Mindy Kaling, Jaime Pressly, Kiele Sanchez, Katie Lowes, and Brooklyn Decker.

The gift bag has become a Hollywood tradition, produced by the LA-based marketing firm, Distinctive Assets. The company’s founder, Lash Fary, describes this eclectic swag bag as a celebration of “motherhood, family and a life well lived,” It includes pampering gifts, practical items and innovative gadgets selected especially for moms and their families.

This year’s list of fabulous gifts includes:

Babyganics: Household, personal care & outdoor products that are made with plant-derived and certified organic ingredients. www.babyganics.com

Best Nest Wellness: Highly Cultured Women’s Probiotics. www.bestnestwellness.com

Blush & Whimsy: Magical color changing lipstick. www.blushwhimsy.com

BrennaB Bag: An innovative new handbag that attaches to a leather cuff bracelet for a hands-free lifestyle. www.brennab.com

Co2Lift: A medical grade skin care line that delivers carbon dioxide to the skin to
hydrate, brighten and tighten the face, neck and hands. www.co2lift.com

Crane USA: Crane Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier helps relieve the effects of dryness and congestion, helping your child to breathe, feed and sleep through the night peacefully. www.craneusa.com

Cubcoats: 2-in-1 stuffed animals that transform into soft hoodies. www.cubcoats.com

Esthechoc: The world’s first age-defying beauty skin care in a delicious dark chocolate.
www.esthechoc.us

FaceXercise Skin Fitness by Thuyen: An InstantLift Facial from celebrity facialist Thuyen Nguyen. www.facexercisestudios.com

Happinz: Our LOVE bracelet is made of safety pins reminiscent of the friendship pins we used to make growing up. www.happinz.com

Infant CPR Anytime Training Kit: In less than 20 minutes, you and your family can learn the lifesaving skills of CPR and choking relief for your baby. www.shopheart.org/cpranytime

Knotty Floss: Biodegradable, vegan, non-GMO, no-knot, charcoal, bamboo, Grapefruit Seed Extract-infused dental floss. www.knotty-floss.com

Lady Amber’s Reviews: Chasing Fate by Rachael Brownell, Daylight Follows by Michelle Dare, Discovering April by Sheena Hutchinson and Saving Grace by AD Justice represented by Lady Amber’s Reviews & PR. www.ladyambersreviews.com

mifold: The mifold Grab-and-Go booster seat is 10x smaller than a regular child’s car booster seat making it the most advanced, compact and portable booster seat ever invented. www.mifold.com

Mindful in May: In The Happiness Plan, Dr. Elise Bialylew offers a roadmap to a happier, less stressed life...in just 10 minutes a day. www.mindfulinmay.org

Modern Pet Portraiture by Diana Lundin: Complete custom pet photography session of up to two dogs or cats (and people, too!) with $200 to spend on wall portraits or albums. www.dianalundin.com

Mom Bomb: Luxury Bath Bombs made with Argan and essential Oils; each purchase gives back. www.buybombshelpmoms.com

My First Pillow Pet: A new soft and soothing line that comes in three sizes and in beautiful pastel colors that appeal to all babies and match any nursery décor. www.pillowpets.com

Nassif Skincare: Assortment of skincare for antiaging. www.nassifmdskincare.com

Navy Hair Care: STYLE NAVIGATOR is a unique multi-tasking spray formulated with enriching conditioning agents to nurture and revitalize hair, root to stem. www.navyhaircare.com

Oasis TEARS Dry Eye Relief Gift Set: Each piece in the gift set is purposeful all for the health of our eyes: for the relief of dry eye symptoms (Oasis TEARS), for daily eyelid hygiene & hydration (Oasis LID&LASH), and a warming mask for a headache, tired or dry eyes (Oasis REST & RELIEF Eye Mask). Available through eye doctor.


Oxygenetix: Oxygenetix’s Oxygenating Foundation comes in 14 shades, and Oxygenetix Breathable Hydro-Matrix is suitable for even sensitive skin. www.oxygenetix.com

Pacify: A Pacify membership provides on-demand, video-enabled access to a nationwide network of Pediatric Nurses, Registered Dietitians and Lactation Consultants. www.pacify.com

PĀIVÃ: Sea Your Truth Serum by PĀIVÃ (the 1st and only Psychodermatology Line) is a vegan, gluten free, PETA approved and Leaping Bunny Certified luxury serum that helps collagen renewal...and safe for babies’ skin as well. www.michelepaiva.com

Parentally Incorrect: Parentally Incorrect: True Tales by Real Moms About the F**ked Up Things Their Kids Have Done is the hilarious new book from Shayna Ferm & Tracey Tee. More info/purchase

Peri’s Yoga: The 'take it anywhere' yoga practice for you, the entire family and your baby child. www.perisyoga.com

RXBAR: Nutrition bars made with clean, simple ingredients. In flavors the whole family will love. www.rxbar.com

Safi Kilima Tanzanite: This trendy BOLO bracelet features five tantalizing oval tanzanite stones joined by an infinity motif and finished with a unique sliding adjustable clasp. www.safikilima.com

ShapeOn Shaper: ShapeOn Shaper answers women’s needs by offering its revolutionary 16 comfort/support benefits, exceptional tummy flattener, ultra-thin breathable fabric and non-rolling bands. www.tryshapeon.com

Skin Fit Gym: Face Yoga is a natural alternative to botox or plastic surgery. Learn how to control your facial muscles! www.skinfitgym.com

Some Moroccan: Luxury Cosmetic Argan oil...the purest skincare product known to humankind. www.somemoroccan.com

Totum Women: Wholesome mothers’ support cookies to nurture new moms and assist with lactation. www.totumwomen.com/shop

TubShroom: Revolutionary Hair Catcher and Drain Protector. www.tubshroom.com

Vahdam Teas: 100% Pure Indian Teas that are procured fresh directly from plantations and shipped to 83+ countries to ensure each cup is as fresh as it can be. www.vahdamteas.com

Vaya: Made from food-grade stainless steel, Tyffyns are stackable insulated lunchboxes designed to ensure you enjoy your meal at its freshest. www.vayalife.com/products

Don’t forget to show your mom how much she means to you this Mother’s Day, because every mom is special in her own way.

- Rhonda Erb
betterbetsny.tumblr.com

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

LA Happenings by Merle Ginsberg

THE MET BALL IS LIKE ONE BIG MOVIE SET - REALLY!

In the last few years, it’s become considerably chicer – and a helluva lot more fun - to trash/disdain the Met Ball than embrace it. That’s certainly true for us fashion insiders who’ve always felt it was our own private prom – which got hijacked at least a decade and a half ago by press-seeking celebs, half-naked pop stars, tech magnates, corporate raiders and self-congratulatory press whores. Even designers seem to have gotten treated like third class citizens since, several rungs below pop royalty, Hollywood royalty, supermodel royalty – and plain old money royalty. And of course, fake-reality tv royalty. This year, that other iconic DV - Donatella Versace - is a co-chair of the Met Costume Institute Ball opening the “Heavenly Bodies: fashion and the Catholic Imagination” exhibit this year (along with Amal Clooney and Met Ball marathoner Rihanna), and designer stalwarts Michael Kors, Marc Jacobs, Zac Posen always shake a tail feather or two – but will the religious right call this years’ looks “blasphemy!” or the now-preferred “BS”- ???  If a man shows up in a dress or JLo or KKWe wear gowns with their considerable butt exposed – under the theme of “Catholicism” – the less blue part of our much-divided country could be seeing red.

Which – when you think about it – could give The Met Ball the disruption/shake-up it needs. We need some outre’, people!

Rihanna in Guo Pei couture at the 2015 Met Ball
Photo: Vanity Fair

Not only has the contemporary Met Ball become the terrain of the most inflated spenders and outsized stars in undersized outfits – it’s also now the more or less public domain of Johnny and Jackie Q. Public, who pour over Instagram pics of The Met Ball like it’s a polygamist royal wedding on steroids – even fashionistas like Meghan and Catherine are lower key and more modest compared to this costume-caffeinated crowd. Funny when you think that The Met Ball was conceived in 1946 as an interface between a trio of the very highbrow worlds of society, culture, and fashion (the first event honored Norman Norell, for $50 a ticket); then got taken over by newly fired editor of Vogue Diana Vreeland in 1972 – before that year, manufacturers would sit around tickling the ivories piano with designers – but in her day, the divine DV added international socials like Marella Agnelli, Jacqueline de Ribes, Marisa Berenson. Once Elizabeth Taylor, Diana Ross and Cher (in a sheer Bob Mackie) started showing up, The Ball went to a whole other level – as in 1974, for the “Romantic and Glamorous Hollywood Design Show.” Cher returned in 1983 with date David Geffen for “Saint Laurent: 25 Years of Design” – and then to date Marc Jacobs in 2015.


Diana Vreeland conspires with Jackie Kennedy

Mrs. Vreeland left the reins to Pat Buckley and Jacqueline Onassis in 1989, with Nan Kempner also playing a big hosting role, and the fireball of The Met Ball really began to overheat fast. Anna Wintour took over in 1995 (though Liz Tilberis chaired the 1996 ball), and has raised about 200 mil since – but at what cost to its fashion cred? The most fun memorable moments have been the more outrageous ones – like in 2006, at the Anglomania event, when Johnny Rotten gave the society swells a Nazi salute. Or in 2012, when Marc Jacobs showed up in his see-through black lace Comme des Garcons dress over white boxer shorts. A group of billionaire moguls was staring at him – he stared back – until one of them said, “Marc, I would have gone with black panties with that dress.” And then there’s the night Taylor (Swift) met Tom (Hiddleston) and they melded into Hiddleswift for a brief bout of press pandemonium in 2016.

Marc Jacobs in Comme des Garcons at the 2012 Met Ball
Photo: WWD

However you may want to bitch and moan – or bitch and laugh -  about The Met Ball – Gwyneth Paltrow’s dubbed it “so un-fun,” Amy Schumer “punishment,” Tina Fey a “jerk parade, and Lena Dunham “a countdown to when I could escape” – it’s always been at the very least - cinematic, bigger than life – so much so it got its own doc, The First Monday in May in 2016, which featured Costume Institute curator Andrew Bolton and Ball chair Anna Wintour at opposite ends of the spectrum of art vs. snobbery. And this June, it will become even more theatrical with the release of the all-female Oceans 8, when Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock)– soul and literal sister of George Clooney’s Danny – rounds up her own gang of well-turned-out neo-con artists: Cate Blanchett (right hand girl Lou), Sarah Paulson, Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling, Awkwafina, Rihanna (Nine Ball) – to rob The Met Ball’s biggest celeb (movie star Anne Hathaway playing fictional movie star Daphne Kluger) of her major non-borrowed ice, $150 mil ice, baby. (And what would it be without rife cameos by Kylie and Kendell Jenner, Kim Kardashian West, Derek Blasberg, Zac Posen and Ms. Wintour herself?)


The Oceans 8 poster with Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Rihanna, Sarah Paulson, Mindy Kaling, & Awkwafina
WATCH THE TRAILER!

Which means each of the New York’s least-finest lady thieves and thespians has to go undercover to The Met Ball to pull off the heist in gowns that turn out to have been created by design heroes of Met Balls present and past. Oceans 8 costume designer Sarah Edwards (Michael Clayton) broke it all down for me: “We had amazing designers build gowns for us for each character, in record time – most in two to five weeks. It can take a year to create a couture Met Ball gown. Some sent design
teams over to do fittings – but they were all informed first about the personalities/looks of each character, and the colors and themes we were going for. We essentially matched the designers to the actress/characters.”

Oceans 8 photo courtesy of Warner Bros

“Sandra, as ringleader Debbie Ocean, wears a gown by Alberta Ferretti – a designer she’s worn the gowns of before. It’s a glittery black tulle number over nude, with silver and gold embroidery – and if you look closely, you’ll see the embroidery is in ocean hemes! Alberta was very generous with her time and really stepped up to the process.”“Cate, as Lou, a New York nightclub owner who’s a former club kid, wears Givenchy, designed by her friend Riccardo Tisci. Her character has this vintage vibe, but she’s also very city and savvy – so we picked an archival Givenchy piece, a green sequin jumpsuit with a very deep V neck.

Oceans 8 photo courtesy of Warner Bros

“Rihanna, as Nine Ball – that transformation was hilarious because she plays this Caribbean Rastafarian computer hacker who wears fairly androgynous loose clothes throughout the story – her assistant couldn’t believe there were no high heels for her! When she goes to the Met Ball, we wanted her to be Cinderella – so we had Zac Posen make her a red satin hourglass bombshell gown. He’s done dresses for her in the past – and he’s in the movie, too. She has to pop out of a food truck on the street.”

Oceans 8 photo courtesy of Warner Bros

“Anne as Daphne wore Valentino – which she’s always worn a lot of. In the movie, she’s the co-chair of the Ball – and a movie star – so she has a 15-foot train on this Barbie-pink strapless lace gown. You see the train snaking up all those stairs – it’s like Rihanna in Guo Pei in 2015.”

Mindy Kaling and Anne Hathaway on the set of Oceans 8
Photo: US Weekly

“Helena Bonham Carter plays Rose, an almost-has-been eccentric fashion designer. So she wears a Dolce & Gabbana hand painted fabric in an 18th-century silhouette, with a big headdress. When Rose does a fashion show, which is staged in the TWA building, I designed her whole collection – 50 pieces – because it had to come off as ‘tired,’ and we didn’t want to do that with any real designer pieces!”

“Mindy Kaling wears Naeem Khan – a gorgeous gold encrusted hand beaded gown from India. She plays a young Indian woman from a very traditional family that makes jewelry.”

“Sarah Paulson plays a former thief who’s now living in the suburbs and has two kids – her character goes undercover to work at Vogue. So we wanted her sleek, with elegant simplicity – so she wears a navy and black beaded Prada gown.” (And Paulson has indeed worn plenty of Prada.)



“Awkwafina (New York rapper/actress) plays a street pickpocket type – she’s a skateboard kid, very unphased by fashion, wears jeans and sneakers all the time. I had Jonathan Simkai make her a couture dress in teal with a rich orchid embroidery.”

“The biggest problem,” laughs Edwards, “is that, unlike the real Met Ball or the Oscars, each of our ladies only had one dress made for her grand entrance. And a lot of them showed up a day before we shot that scene! There was a lot of nail-biting.”

Cate Blanchett

The rest of the humungous wardrobe – 67 changes for Sandra Bullock, 40 for Cate Blanchett, and many hundreds of others – is a mix of high and low, “sourced from everywhere we could get it,” says Edwards. “Cate wears some great suits but mixes them with t-shirts from a bin. We really only had two seasons of clothes to pull from.” Edwards had one very helpful fashion ally – Bergdorf’s legendary personal shopper Betty Halbrecht, also a friend of her mother’s. “I went to see her for help, and she said, ‘Sarah, there aren’t enough clothes in the world for this movie!’ It was a fashion behemoth. Nothing was untapped! I feel like the whole fashion world is a character in this movie. And now, all these clothes belong to Warner Bros. Oh, well. It’s a good thing I have a very simple style myself.




- Merle Ginsberg