Friday, August 17, 2018

Special Report by Marilyn Kirschner

Bill Cunningham's Memoir

More info/purchase
Copyright 2018 by Bill Cunninghham Foundation LLC
Photos by Anthony Mack and Bill Cunningham

Diane Arbus once observed, “Photographing someone was a considerable amount of attention to pay a person.” So by all accounts, I had a very special, intimate relationship with Bill Cunningham. He photographed me over the course of five decades, beginning in the early 70’s (when he covered fashion for WWD) up until his passing on June 25th, 2016. I appeared in his “On the Street” and “Evening Hours” columns about 100 times (yup, I actually attempted to count!) He devoted an entire 18 picture column to me in 2001. He has photographed me with my husband and with my sister and often sent me highly personal, complementary, handwritten notes scribbled on photos (some of which he took of me) and postcards praising me and thanking me for “bringing him joy” with my individual style. When my father was terminally ill, he made a point of writing a touching and heartfelt note. I felt as though he knew me; he sure as heck knew my clothes lol! But like everyone else (in his orbit or not), I actually knew very little about him because he was famously private and guarded and he wanted to keep it that way while he was alive.

Bill Cunningham
Photo: Scott Schuman, The Sartorialist
Click images for full-size views

Bill has now been gone for over two years but with the release of “Fashion Climbing, A Memoir with Photographs” (published by Penguin Press to be released on September 4th) he has come back to life. His memoirs were typewritten in the late 70’s according to John Kurdewan, a production artist at The New York Times and Bill’s assistant for 10 years, and locked away in a file cabinet. It covers the years he worked in fashion before becoming a photographer, beginning at the age of 4 and ending in this 30's.

I always wondered what made Bill tick and this book has provided a window into his soul. It was interesting to see the way a wildly imaginative child who lived and breathed for fashion and glamour would morph into the most celebrated and iconic photographer and documentarian of fashion, style, and society of our time.  He admitted, “I could never remember a thing the priest said during Mass but I sure as hell remembered what the ladies, who wore the interesting fashion, had on.” Simply put, clothes were always everything to him. His inherent creativity and passion for fashion began at a very early age, and he was acutely aware of fashion’s potential to invent and transform. Bill understood the pleasure, and the importance, of being oneself. Individuality and uniqueness were always intoxicating to Bill, and he always sought out individuals who had their own individual unique approach.

By the way, the title is perfect because if anyone knew about fashion climbing, it was Bill, who has chronicled more than his share of fashion and social climbers in his life (he actually referred to himself as a “fashion climber” in the 50’s). In a chapter, “On Society,” he dishes about high society’s old and new guard and commented “85 perfect of the guests at those fabulous parties don’t go to enjoy themselves but to rub shoulders and climb and show off their wealth. These poor devils go out on the town not for relaxation and fun, but as a challenge known only to army generals in the heat of combat”. Actually, many went just so they could be photographed by Bill and indeed, at many of the soirees he covered, people not only hated being there, they hated each other. But everyone loved Bill. He was the great equalizer.

It had me at the introduction, with a preface superbly written by Hilton Als. The New Yorker writer and theater critic perfectly articulated what it was about Bill that made him so special and unique. He hit the nail on the head with his astute observations. Among them: “You wanted to aid Bill in his quest for exceptional surfaces, to be beautifully dressed and interesting for him, because of the deep pleasure it gave him to notice something he had never seen before.” “The Bill Cunningham exchange had to do with what he inspired in you, what you wanted to give him the minute you saw him on the street or in a gilded hall. His gift to the world was his delight in the possibility of you. And you wanted to pull yourself together - to gather together the existential mess and bright spots called your ”I” the minute you saw Bill’s skinny frame bent low near Bergdorf Goodman, his corner on 5th avenue and 57th street”.

I found it charming, honest and highly entertaining as Bill went into detail about wild costume parties, eccentric offbeat neighbors, and other colorful characters, society swells, and essential fashion figures he met along the way, reenacting important fashion moments of his life. He was honest about where he got his best education, and it sure wasn’t Harvard where he lasted for months and dropped out in 1948. And it wasn’t at NYU where Bill enrolled to take some classes. He admitted that he routinely played hooky and went to the opera on Monday night where he studied the gowns and jewels that the older women were wearing.

After school jobs at Jordan Marsh that made his school years livable and at the newly opened Bonwit Teller in Boston, where he was a stock boy for designer clothes, he learned about cut, fabric, and design. He considered selling to be a “lost art” that didn’t get enough respect. A stint at the New York Bonwit Teller sealed the deal about his desire to design and move to the city of his dreams permanently. He was also a fashion consultant for Chez Ninon, who he thought made the most “ravishing” yet rather simple, understated clothes (Jackie Kennedy was a loyal client). He formed a strong bond with Nona Parks and Sophie Shonnard, the two society women who ran it, took him under their wings and served as mentors.

Editta Sherman photographed by Bill Cunningham

That was also the time he became entranced with hats. He gatecrashed the big balls and made fancy masks and headdresses in feathers and flowers for the society women to wear with their ball gowns. This was the beginning of “William J.” his delightfully whimsical hat line that took inspiration from everything around him including art, nature, and history. Unsurprisingly much is written about his millinery days designing under his eponymous label (his last name was left off because he didn’t want to “shame” his family, who were less than supportive).

Whimsical hat by Bill Cunningham

His first shop was in a brownstone on West 54th Street in 1954, and he showed his first formal collection at that time. The chapter devoted to his Southampton store ends with him having to close up shop because hats have fallen out of fashion. At the same time, he got a fateful call from a woman at Women’s Wear Daily. She was trying to set up a lunch with Bill and John Fairchild, the irascible publisher and editor of the ‘fashion bible.’ John explained he wanted Bill to write about fashion but Bill insisted that he was no writer and could hardly spell his name (he once received an award for “The Century’s Worst Speller”). He proceeded to tell Mr. Fairchild about a fabulous party filled with superbly dressed women he attended the night before and his descriptions were so captivating, John ran back to his office and immediately substituted what had meant to be the next day’s cover story with Bill’s exuberant party coverage.

A trip around the country proved an eye-opening experience, and it was then that he got the bug to capture how real women dressed. Eventually, he began to work full time for WWD, writing about the fabulous events he went to and chronicling what the best-dressed women were wearing. He had a few strict rules, however. He said he was only interested in women who appeared elegantly dressed because of their fashion and not WHO they were. “I always picked a woman for her appearance first and then asked her name. I felt my job was fashion, not discovering someone’s background.”

As a writer, he was completely honest regardless of the consequences, and he was afraid that he would be forced to give a bad review to a designer if they copied Paris or if the collection was not up to par. And that was the case with one particular Marc Bohan for Christian Dior collection that was disappointing, and an inferior collection of Pierre Cardin reproductions reinterpreted by Bonwit Teller for their junior department which led to Bill getting punched in the eye by Bonwit’s president, Mr. Smith when he showed up for another show at the store.

When Bill got an invite to attend a Norman Norell black tie showing, he was so nervous about having to give it a bad review that he walked from his Carnegie Hall studio to Norell’s 7th Avenue showroom clutching rosary beads and saying Hail Mary’s praying that he wouldn’t see copies. Thankfully, he didn’t, and he was not disappointed with the fabulous show of this iconic American designer. Bill also hailed the designs of James Galanos as being “the most creative and most beautifully made in America for some time.” He goes into delicious detail about the torture and discomfort of attending a Courreges show in Paris, even though he considered Andre to be “the most daring and creative designer at the time.” I laughed with glee reading his description of the “grand Mademoiselle Coco Chanel (“the delicious eighty-year-plus Witch of the West” whose collection “looked a bit tarnished, and seemed to squeak for the need of new oil.”

Bill was a keen observer and noticed everything. At one Chanel show he attended, he said there were so many editors in the front row wearing a “uniform” of the Chanel suit (with the cap toe pumps and gold chains) he chided, “there were so many original Chanel suits I wondered if they would be the eternal robe for the hereafter.” OMG!

Yes, the book is often laughing out loud funny. I could not contain myself when Bill talked about the time in the late 40’s when he was just starting his hat business and was looking for a space to set up shop. He went to the chic midtown Hattie Carnegie store and presumptuously asked the snooty shop clerk if he could rent the two top floors which he thought were empty. She told him that Hattie would be happy to meet him and gave him a card with an address but when he arrived, much to his surprise, it was Bellevue’s insane asylum!  That hardly deterred him.

Bill dressed in a fanciful costume

I laughed when he described his first trip to the European collections in 1963, taking a deluxe train from Rome to Florence which was delayed in the mountains of central Italy because of a blizzard. He went into hilarious detail about the Rome editor of Harper’s Bazaar screaming her head off and frantically waving as the train left for parts unknown. She was leaning out of the train window hollering back and forth, “her body wrapped in a black alligator coat lined in thick white Mongolian lamb with a foot tall black chiffon turban towering on her head passing her case of jewels out the window to the porter as her train unexpectedly pulled away from the station”. And then there was the time he dressed up as an enormous lobster to attend the Beaux Arts Costume gala in Paris. The head was so big, he couldn’t fit into a cab, and he caused quite a scene at the elegant Parisian hotel where he was staying.

Bill on ice skates 

It was also quite poignant, particularly that he mentions the time (it was in 1933, and he was 4) when he wore his sister’s prettiest dresses and his mother “beat the hell” out of him. She “threatened every bone in my uninhibited body if I wore girls" clothes again,” he said. He spoke about the difficulty he had growing up in a middle-class Irish Catholic household with parents that hoped Bill would be a priest -- although his attraction to feminine fashion did nothing to help their hope as he put it. They did their best to thwart his creativity, “cure him of his artistic, fashionable life,” and “straighten” him out. He was very outspoken about how important he felt it was for parents to nurture their children’s natural gifts and talents and not fear that their artistic sons would be perceived as “sissies.”

Bill was a paradox and a contradiction in terms. He loved the high life and could be a snob, but he was also humble. “Wallowing in luxury gives me the shame of overindulgence, and as much as I am drawn to all of it, I have the strongest desire to escape to the discomforts of the poor.” While he loved wild flights of fancy he was very grounded and most interested in how real women wore clothes for their everyday lives. Bill was self-effacing yet highly confident. He was nobody’s fool and could be quite critical. He had some choice words for designers who created unwearable fantasies or were simply copycats. He took issues with stores and manufacturers who had minimal ethics in business. He poked fun at members of the fashion press (he hated the “phoniness” and “puffed-up egos”) and called out fashion editors of elite magazines who were dictating what women should wear. And he berated his customers claiming many had no imagination and only wanted safe, boring designs that would be deemed acceptable by society.

Bill tackled the issue of anti-Semitism, which he was staunchly opposed to, In the 1960’s he noted, “sometimes all the anti-Semitic talk that filled my salon made me wonder if another Hitler could rise. Since my earliest days in fashion, all this damned side-of-the-mouth talk has made me ashamed of what high fashion is used for”. He hated discrimination of any kind, and he said his shop was always open to everyone. He made a point of saying that if he were to open a shop again, it would be in Harlem where the women really had style and knew how to wear hats!

He wrote the way he spoke with boundless enthusiasm, animation, and passion. I could almost hear his voice, tinged with that proper Bostonian accent, and I could see the gleam in his blue eyes as he talked with delight about his lifelong passions that could never be dampened. He was eternally optimistic, preternaturally cheerful, and knew how to turn lemons into lemonade. Nothing fazed him, nothing could bring him down, and he was always resourceful.

Bill's army days in Paris

When he was drafted into the army during the Korean War, just at a time when his hat line was taking off, instead of seeing it as a setback, he viewed it as a great way to get to Paris. During his stint at basic training, he covered his helmet with a “dazzling gardens of flowers and grass”. And by a sheer force of will, he used his tour of duty in Europe as a way to further refine his eye and get his couture education by finagling his way to Paris as a tour guide for groups of soldiers. It was at this time that he first visited the couture houses (Schiaparelli, Jacques Fath, Dior, Givenchy). Bill even managed to find a little factory near where he was stationed where he could make hats which he brought to Paris to sell. Only Bill!

Bill as a young man

While most of us only saw Bill in his signature uniform and an occasional jacket and tie for a formal occasion, he was quite the clothes horse -- pictures of him as a young, very good looking young man dressed in fabulous costumes and well-tailored suits fill the book. He admits that his early jobs were a way to make money so that he could buy clothes. He mentioned a period when he “covered himself in outrageous bright shirts and ties” and bought the first fake-fur lined trench coat with the “biggest fur collar he could find.” It nearly “drove the family crazy with shame” when he wore it on the first cool day of September. As he admitted, “Clothes were everything to me, and I think I spent seven days a week deciding what I’d wear the next week.”

The Bill we knew at 87 was the boy we read about at the age of 4 and vice versa. He never lost that unbridled enthusiasm, enormous energy, passion, and childlike wonderment. The life he fantasized about in New York, a city he referred to as the most glamorous city in the world, filled with beauty, elegance, chic, and constant visual stimulus, was a dream that came true and he never took any of it for granted. He was never jaded, and he appreciated it all, and that is precisely what came through loud and clear, not only in his memoirs but in his weekly columns for The New York Times.

Reading the book made me reminisce about Bill and inspired me to look over the pictures he took of me through the years which I have been fortunate to save. They brought back fond memories of my wonderful encounters with Bill through the decades, and it was like taking a walk down memory lane and seeing my life flash before my eyes. I could not only trace the way styles have changed, (my style included), but I could see myself age. When our paths first crossed, he would always call me “child” as he was known to do. I was in my early 20’s, and he was old enough to be my father, so that was not a stretch. But he continued to refer to me like that decades later, even though he knew my name. At some point, when I realized he stopped calling me “child,” I laughed to myself, “Boy, I must REALLY be getting old.”

Marilyn Kirschner on the left photographed by Bill in 1972

They say you always remember your first time. And I certainly remember the first time Bill took my picture. I was a young assistant fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar and was walking into Henri Bendel on West 57th Street. A small, thin man in a blue French workman’s jacket pointed his camera at me, and I had no idea who he was or why he was photographing me. Shortly after that, on Thursday, February 17th, 1972, my picture appeared in WWD. The caption read, “On the Streets of America” and there were images of women in Denver, Miami, Dallas, and New York. I was among 8 women photographed in New York by Bill wearing fur trimmed and fur coats.

Marilyn's full-page spread "The Color of Money" circa 2001
 by Bill Cunningham for his column

I especially remember the time he devoted an entire column to me in his “On the Street” section. There are only a handful of people (Anna Wintour, Anna Piaggi, Iris Apfel, Patrick McDonald among them), who had that honor which made it particularly special. It was on Sunday February 11, 2001 (the first day of New York Fashion Week for fall/winter), and it was called, “The Color of Money (In the Bank)”. There were 18 pictures of me, all in color. 17 years later my style has certainly evolved but yet when I look at the pictorial, I still marvel at how Bill so adeptly captured my “essence” with his selection of outfits that were very representational of who I was at that time: the colorful Puccis, the chic black and white, the tweeds, the graphic furs, the fur trims, the snakeskin, the leopard, the trenches; all of them timeless classics.  He was not only a great photographer, but a superb editor.

At that time, I was religiously collecting vintage and shopping at the 26th Street flea market and at vintage and thrift stores. Bill was especially taken with the fact that some of the great things I scored were unbelievably low priced. I am an equal opportunity shopper, not a label snob, I love to mix high and low, and I did it long before it was mainstream or popular. And Bill was the original high/low guy. While he loved and appreciated fashion at its highest, most indulgent level, he was quite pragmatic, respected the value of a dollar, and he absolutely loved when women could “outsmart” the system. As he was fond of saying, style and taste had nothing to do with how much money one spent. In fact, in a chapter called “On Taste” in his memoirs, he remarked, “It’s a ridiculous belief that money brings taste; it definitely doesn’t. As a matter of fact, it often merely allows one to enjoy bad taste with louder vulgarity”. Brilliant.

Marilyn posing in riding gear (top left and right)  for article photographed by Bill Cunningham

Not long after, I saw him at a Costume Institute press preview, and he approached me and asked if I had anything that was equestrian. I described a few things in my closet that I thought were outstanding (including a Ralph Lauren riding jacket and a Yohji Yamamoto tan jacket with a fantastic back, from his ‘Dior’ inspired collection). Bill emphasized that he never did this kind of thing but was working on a spread and needed a few more great shots and asked if he could photograph me in my ensembles. He arranged to meet me at my building the next day, and he took some pictures outside. Both outfits subsequently appeared in his “To Horse, or Not” spread, December 9th, 2001.

Marilyn's 2002 "Masters of Fashion" video interview with Bill Cunningham

Bill was highly professional, and he knew how to return a favor. One way he did so was by giving interviews (a real rarity). 12 years before Fern Mallis interviewed him for her 92 Y Street series in 2014 ( he was doing her a favor, after spilling red wine all over her dress), Bill agreed to sit down with me in 2002 for a highly personal 50 minute video streamed interview for our "Masters of Fashion" series: see video interview above.

It was one-on-one; he was very forthcoming and informative. My questions were mainly geared to the present and future, but I did ask Bill what initially fueled his passion for fashion. He really didn’t remember except he always had an enormous interest. In the 30’s, he was always saving money and buying dresses for his mother, whose clothes he didn’t like. “I always thought it was a lovely art form to see beautifully dressed people. I’m interested in people who look great and have style.”

Anna Wintour may have said, “We all dress for Bill” but actually, I would say that we all dress for ourselves, but it was an added bonus when you caught the eye of the revered, highly regarded and iconic figure who had such a discerning eye and an encyclopedic knowledge of fashion. And it was very cool when he recorded it for posterity. And that is what we all miss because yes, there is and will never be another one like him.

Upon Bill’s passing Hilton Als wrote an article in The New Yorker, and made the observation, “I think that the sadness some people feel over his passing will center on what they find missing from their lives —Cunningham observing their lives, like a couturier who knew every line and counter of his clients’ bodies, and what those lines and shapes said about his clients’ lives. What the world will miss, of course, are all the missed opportunities that might have stayed that way if he hadn’t gone out there, day after day, to find them.”

Bill’s relationship with the street was an exceptional one -  he hit the streets with his camera, as an "Rx" for the blues. Of course, that worked both ways. I dare say that it was impossible to have an encounter with Bill where I did not leave more knowledgeable, with a smile on my face, feeling somehow better about myself and about the world.

- Marilyn Kirschner

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

In the Market Report by Marilyn Kirschner

Cheap Thrills: August Edition!

Who amongst us doesn’t love a bargain? Once again, I have reprised my "Cheap Thrills" column where I feature a group of items in the market and show their high priced version along with their (far) less expensive doppelganger (or a reasonable facsimile) which are, in most cases, a fraction of the cost of the originals. If it appears that all of the inexpensive pieces are from Zara, it should not be surprising given how successful they have been with keeping their fingers on the pulse of fashion and creating affordable fashion. Their ad campaigns are always superb and right on the money and their most recent, for fall/winter 2018, is no exception featuring photography by Steven Meisel and films by Fabien Baron. Is it any wonder that Amancio Ortega, the founder, and owner, has been named the third richest person in the world?

Click images for full-size views:

Rick Owens over-the-knee sock sneakers, $1126 (reduced from $1877) More info/purchase; Zara over-the-knee fabric sneakers, $89.90 More info/purchase

Ermanno Scervino tartan blazer, $2053 More info/purchase ; Zara tartan blazer, $149 More info/purchase

Isabel Marant silver-toned crystal drop earrings, $520 More info/ purchase; Zara silver-toned crystal drop earrings, $25.90 More info/purchase

Joseph gray Grimaud Prince of Wales checked blazer, $472.50 (reduced from $945) More info/purchase; Zara gray plaid blazer, $129. More info/purchase

Alice + Olivia Kidman silver sequined jacket, $895. More info/purchase Zara silver sequined hooded sweatshirt, $49.90. More info/purchase

Vintage Chanel tweed 4 pocketed jacket and skirt ensemble, $4847.57. More info/purchase Zara black and white tweed jacket and skirt ensemble, $189.90. Zara jacket, $149. More info/purchase Zara plaid mini skirt, $49.90 More info/purchase

Saint Laurent Meurice black suede high heeled boots with fringe. $1895. More info/purchase Zara black suede high heeled boots with fringe, $199.90 More info/purchase

Jimmy Choo Brandon white leather and stretch Ponte ankle boots, $895 More info/purchase  Zara white leather stiletto heeled ankle boots, $129. More info/purchase

Emilia Wickstead snake print silk crepe de chine maxi dress, $1780. More info/purchase Zara snakeskin printed shirt dress, $119. More info/purchase

Vintage YSL Goossens gold toned fossil necklace, $488.67. More info/purchase Zara irregular shapes gold necklace, $29.90. More info/purchase

Preen Line Kara asymmetric scarf printed crepe de chine midi dress, $655 More info/purchase Zara belt printed tunic dress, $99.90 More info/purchase

Balenciaga neon pink fitted ribbed sweater, $895. More info/purchase Zara neon pink ribbed turtleneck sweater, $35.90. More info/purchase

By the way, either one of the above would be a perfect accent color to wear if you are planning to attend the cocktail reception on September 6th, in honor of the opening of the Museum at FIT’s exhibition, “Pink: The History of a Punk, Pretty, Powerful Color”, curated by Dr. Valerie Steele, director of the Museum at FIT (it runs from September 7, 2018 – January 5, 2019). The exhibition, comprised of approximately 80 ensembles (dating from the 18th century to the present), is devoted entirely to a hue that through history, has been “the most divisive of colors” and has admittedly provoked “strong feelings of both attraction and repulsion.”

- Marilyn Kirschner

Friday, August 10, 2018

New York Evening Hours by Lieba Nesis

Ballet and Fashion Merge at the Gibney Theater Opening

Herve Pierre
All photos Lieba Nesis - Click images for full-size views 

The Tabula Rasa Dance Theater held its opening performance of "Ex Umbra In Solem" translated as "From The Shadow Into The Light" at the Gibney Theater at 280 Broadway from 8-9:30 PM on August 9th. The program manifested the violence that has forced millions of people out of their homeland by depicting the difficult and dark journey refugees are forced to encounter.

Dancer Sevin Ceviker 

Dramatic and dark, the first dance piece entitled "Animula, Vagula, Blandula" set to music by Max Richter and danced exquisitely by Sevin Ceviker explored the dual nature of the human body which is both animalistic and noble. Artistic Director and Choreographer, Felipe Escalante, delved into the physicality of emotion, the reality of death and the self-destruction of civilization.

Choreographer Felipe Escalante 

After a brief pause the World Premiere of "Ex Umbra In Solem" further probed the consequences of religious divisiveness and intolerance that has led to devastating desensitization throughout civilization. Moreover, the piece manifested the complete inability of society to even recognize the expressions and gestures in other people's faces and bodies because of the addiction to technological devices.

Amy Fine Collins and Joanna Fisher

The drama of the dance movements was enhanced by the costumes most of which were by Geoffrey Beene with the addition of designers Adolfo, and Christian Lacroix. The utilization of top designers was no surprise as the fashion icon and Special Correspondent to Vanity Fair, Amy Fine Collins, was the Executive Producer of the show. Amy was dressed impeccably, as usual, in a floor-length white and red Geoffrey Beene gown. Amy was a muse of Geoffrey Beene until his death in 2004 possessing the perfect lean silhouette for his simple, comfortable designs. Amy brought along a host of her illustrious friends for the evening including stylist extraordinaire Freddie Leiba, legendary publicist Jonathan Marder, renowned costume designer William Ivey Long and philanthropist and patron of the arts, Joanna Fisher.

Herve Pierre and Joanna Fisher 

Also in attendance in a suit with a flower attached and a thick French accent was legendary designer Herve Pierre. Herve has skyrocketed to fame as the stylist for Melania Trump who designed her breathtaking inaugural gown. Pierre does all the styling and shopping for the First Lady painstakingly researching the appropriate dress for each occasion. When Melania was traveling to London, she saw a green J. Mendel princess dress that she loved, so Herve asked Mendel to make it in pale yellow because that was the Queen's favorite color.

Dino Korca, Joanna Fisher, Freddie Leiba and Jon Marder 

Herve had dressed former first ladies Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush when he worked at Oscar de la Renta and Michelle Obama when he was Creative Director at Carolina Herrera for 15 years. He described Melania as extremely private and said he valued her input and fashion sense. Pierre was mostly unfamiliar with Melania until two weeks before the inauguration when she called him at 7:30 AM to design a dress for the big event. Pierre has been to the White House so many times he has lost count. Pierre slept at the White House for three days to design the famous white hat Melania wore with the Macron's with Melania initially ambivalent to don the hat until she decided "to go for it." This was one of Pierre's favorite looks along with the blue Ralph Lauren inaugural outfit and the yellow Ralph Lauren sweater and jacket coupled with a brown leather skirt Pierre designed.

Some guests 

He noted that an item sells out within two hours after Melania wears it. When I asked if he was ambivalent about dressing the First Lady due to the controversy surrounding her Pierre replied: "hey this is not brain surgery it's fashion." Pierre has started an eponymous label of 24 dresses, 12 which will be available in December and the other 12 which will go on sale in June. Moreover, the dress he designed for Melania when meeting Queen Rania of Jordan will be available at Bergdorf's in November. When I asked Pierre what made a woman a great dresser, he replied "confidence"- something the First Lady unequivocally possesses.

After a brief cocktail party where champagne and desserts were served guests were told the performance space would be imminently closing. Many headed home to prepare for their summer weekend as I headed to restaurant Il Mulino with Joanna Fisher and Jon Marder to recount the exciting evening we had just experienced.

- Lieba Nesis

Thursday, August 09, 2018

New York Evening Hours by Lieba Nesis

Narciso Gets Feted by the Fashion Elite

Designs by Narciso Rodriquez
All photos Lieba Nesis -Click images for full-size views

It's 4 PM on a scorching hot Wednesday in the middle of August-it is safe to say not many people are left in New York. However, if you are legend Narciso Rodriguez and have a host of fans in the form of incredibly stylish and sophisticated ladies of New York-then all bets are off. The afternoon a "Sip and Shop" event was a precursor to the FIT Couture Council luncheon which will take place on Wednesday, September 5th. The luncheon which will be held at the David H. Koch Theater in Lincoln Center is one of the premier fashion events of the year gathering the who's who of fashion ranging from heavyweights Linda Fargo and Anna Wintour to Martha Stewart and Glenda Bailey.

Paola Bacchini, Jean Shafiroff, Narciso Rodriquez, Maria Fishel and Kamie Lightburn 

The past years have honored Valentino, Ralph Rucci, Oscar de la Renta, Karl Lagerfeld and Dries Van Noten. On this afternoon, a small sampling of those who love fashion and its elite designers gathered at Barney's including Jean Shafiroff, Maria Fishel, Kamie Lightburn, Paola Bacchini, Yaz Hernandez and Susan Gutfreund. These ladies love to do good and look good while they are doing it.  There were cocktails and treats for those who were hungry, but mostly the crowd was there to experience the designs of Narciso who is the father of minimalism and pared down elegance; someone, who counts fashion icons Julianna Margulies, Claire Danes and Sarah Jessica Parker as significant clients.

Narciso is an American designer who was born in New Jersey and attended the Parsons School of Design. The seminal moment in Narciso's career and in the world of fashion was the unveiling of the Carolyn Bessette Kennedy wedding dress on September 21,1996. The simplicity of the bias-cut silk slip dress perfectly fitted to the swanlike Bessette was a watershed moment in fashion. A superstar celebrity bride choosing a slip dress for an opulent wedding was previously unheard of. Bessette remains a fashion icon and more than a few celebrities have attempted to repeat her style.

Meghan Markle, who is a big fan of the understated Bessette, chose a wedding gown similar in concept to the Narciso one-but missed the "mark" (no pun intended). The Narciso dress was the perfect choice for a small under the radar wedding off the coast of Georgia. When your royal wedding is being broadcast to over a billion people worldwide with over $34 million being spent a grander design is necessary. Moreover, unlike the perfect craftsmanship of Narciso's gown, Clare Waight Keller's dress for Meghan was loose at the bodice and had more of the feel of a straitjacket as opposed to Narciso's flowing silhouette.

Jean Shafiroff wearing Narciso 

Following the Bessette wedding, Narciso went from working at Anne Klein, Calvin Klein and Nino Cerutti to establishing his eponymous label in 1997-and the rest is fashion history. His fashion shows draw the elite of the fashion world with every major editor clamoring for a front seat to his exclusive shows. Narciso won the CFDA Best Designer of the Year Award in 2004 and 2005 and as recently as 2018 was given the Lifetime Achievement Award at the CFDA dinner.

Narciso is one of the kindest, gentlest and most humble men I have met. Perhaps, this is his secret to remaining atop the fickle fashion pyramid for more than twenty years. Michelle Obama wore a black and red Narciso for election night in 2008 and then concluded her tenure as the First Lady with a red Narciso for her final speech in 2017. Obama even hosted National Design Award Winner Rodriguez for a luncheon at the White House in 2014. It is evident that Obama appreciated the perfectly executed and delicate design of a Narciso dress-ensuring that the recipient "will be wearing the dress, instead of the dress wearing you."

- Lieba Nesis

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

New York Evening Hours by Lieba Nesis

Robin Hood Holds its Seventh Annual Polo Cup in The Hamptons

All photos Lieba Nesis - Click images for full-size view

The Seventh Annual Hamptons Polo Cup took place at the Equuleus Polo Club in Watermill on Sunday, August 5th with cocktails and the match beginning at 4 PM. Thanks to the generosity of sponsors such as Cartier and donors who underwrote the event, one hundred percent of the $1,000 ticket price was utilized to fund The Robin Hood organization which helps combat poverty in New York.

Diana DiMenna wearing orange 

This event is held at Diana and Joe Dimenna’s estate-a couple whose philanthropic efforts are renowned throughout the world. The DiMenna Children’s History Museum, their generous contributions towards Joe’s alma mater Fairfield University and their support of Harlem’s Children’s Zone are just a few of the charities they immerse themselves in.

Joe DiMenna and Nacho Figueras 

Diana spoke passionately about the incredible work of Robin Hood and the necessity for those with the means to give back. She recalled her children running a lemonade stand seven years ago to benefit Robin Hood and Nacho Figueras arriving at the stand to help raise money.  Figueras then suggested to Diana that they hold a Polo event to support the organization, and seven weeks later the first Polo match in the Hamptons took place with over $4 million raised to date. The DiMenna's and Robin Hood have friends in high places so it is no surprise that in past years Jerry and Jessica Seinfeld, and Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin have participated in this illustrious event.

Nacho Figueras and his wife Delfina Blaquier 

In fact, this year’s event was so exclusive it could not be found on the Internet or any Hampton's calendar. Despite the scorching heat, guests enthusiastically watched Figueras, along with Joe DiMenna, who was on The NetJets Team battle Team Guggenheim. For some reason, Figueras takes home the first-place trophy every year, as the crowd oohs and aahs over his movie star looks. His wife, Delfina, is equally stunning, as she recalled the recent wedding of Meghan and Harry which she and Nacho attended. Her favorite part of the wedding was watching Harry and Meghan converse during the ceremony -seeing a young couple in love excited to build a future together was exhilarating.

Jean Shafiroff and Yaz Hernandez 

Since it was Delfina’s first royal wedding, I asked if she was nervous to which she laughed, “we are all mere mortals why would I be nervous.” Delfina, a photographer, and model, met Nacho, who fell in love with her at first sight, at a Polo Match in Argentina and they married in 2004.  Nacho is ranked as one of the top 100 players in the world and he and Delfina, accompanied by their four beautiful children, frequently travel the world.

Tess DiMenna and Sam Bacon 

One such trip Nacho and Delfina will be taking is with Prince Harry to Lesotho for Harry's charity "Sentebale" which supports the mental health and well being of children and young people affected by HIV in Lesotho and Botswana. Harry founded this charity in 2006 and Delfina remarked this was one of Harry's great passions. Nacho and Delfina embraced tightly throughout the event and appear to have the ideal marriage despite the hordes of women bombarding Figueras. They are also staples of the Hamptons as Nacho has been coming out East for 19 years and keeps 15 of his 300 horses in the Hamptons.

Larry Robbins and Alex Navab

When the match had concluded at 6PM, with Team NetJets winning, the crowd headed to dinner which consisted of barbecue meats and salads. I spotted Larry Robbins, founder of Glenview Capital Management, and chairman of the Robin Hood Foundation, who was hard to miss in a linen turquoise shirt. Robbins runs a 16.5 billion dollar hedge fund and still manages to coach and own a hockey team, spend time with his five children and run the Robbins Family Foundation which supports education reform.  He said that Robin Hood raised about $140 million this past year, its annual budget, through its fundraising efforts.

Ruth Miller and Maria Fishel

The searing hot temperatures of the afternoon had many attendees leaving early. As I exited, I picked up a Cartier goody bag which contained stationery, instead of the diamond bracelet I was hoping for and headed to my uber waiting on top of the winding dirt road. As I began my trek in my sky-high heels, Nacho and his beautiful family drove by in their smashing silver convertible - a memorable conclusion to a thrilling afternoon.

- Lieba Nesis

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

New York Evening Hours by Lieba Nesis

Southampton Hospital Gala Draws Star-Studded Crowd

Bill O'Reilly and Kimberly Guilfoyle
All photos Lieba Nesis - Click images for full-size views 

Southampton Hospital held its 60th Anniversary Annual Summer Party on Saturday, August 4th at Wickapogue and Old Town Road with cocktails beginning at 6:30 PM. This event, which is chaired by Douglas Elliman, is one of the highlights of the Hamptons season as illustrious guests arrive in droves to pay homage to this pivotal institution. Southampton Hospital which merged with Stony Brook in August 2017, remains the only facility on the South Fork-admitting more than 6,000 patients annually with 25,000 emergency department visits each year. This year’s honorees were moguls Bruce Mosler, Chairman of Brokerage at Cushman and Wakefield, and John Catsimatidis, CEO of Gristedes and United Refining Company.

Judy Giuliani, Margo Nederlander, and Somers Farkas 

They drew an illustrious group including Somers Farkas, Judy Giuliani, Margo Nederlander, Maria Fishel, Sana Sabbagh, Howard Lorber, Kimberly Guilfoyle and eight hundred others. Besides the incredible guest list, another outstanding feature of the evening was it’s relatively cheap ticket price-for $500 you get cocktails, dinner, and entertainment.

John and Jenny Paulson 

The food and decor were provided by event planner extraordinaire Larry Scott who knocked the crowd out with his delicious buffet dinner and sinfully decadent desserts. The red roses and table designs were perfectly executed, and Scott was the talk of the evening amongst discerning Hamptonites.

Chuck and Ellen Scarborough 

If all that wasn’t exciting enough the emcee was star anchor Chuck Scarborough who thanked CEO of 12 years Bob Chaloner whom he called "the voice of the hospital."  He also noted that under Bob's guidance the Emergency Care had been raised to level 3 and a cardiac catheterization unit has added which has saved numerous lives as well as the expansion of The Ellen Hermanson Breast Cancer Ward. Scarborough said that in 1958, the year the Hospital was founded, a number of momentous events occurred including the launch of the microchip and Harry Winston's donation of the Hope Diamond, which is now worth $250 million, to the Smithsonian. He urged guests to emulate Winston's philanthropy this evening which he acknowledged was the most significant fundraising event of the year for the Hospital with all proceeds going towards the John and Jenny Paulson Emergency Department. While John and Jenny are often traveling in August, tonight they attended with Paulson recalling The Hospital saving his father who had flatlined from a heart attack years ago; Paulson showed his appreciation by donating $5 million in 2009.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, Jean Shafiroff, and Rebecca Seawright 

Another philanthropic couple, Jean and Martin Shafiroff, who were President Committee Chairs of the evening bought two tables. Jean has tirelessly raised money for the Hospital during the past couple of years. Tonight Jean was resplendent in an orange Herrera gown that was simultaneously simple and breathtaking. Accompanying Jean were her good friends' democratic politicians Rebecca Seawright, and Rep. Carolyn Maloney who were also fashion standouts-Maloney has my vote for the best-dressed politician.

Jean Little Co-chair for 30 years and Charles Russell 

Representatives from the Republican side of the aisle also attended with former Fox News superstars Bill O'Reilly and Kimberly Guilfoyle making grand entrances. O'Reilly seemed a bit melancholy as he arrived in flip-flops and a button down shirt and spoke of his new book which he has been working on for the past year entitled "Killing the SS" which documents the Nazis who escaped persecution after the Holocaust. He and Guilfoyle were deep in conversation as dozens of guests approached O’Reilly remarking they missed his show.

John Catsimatidis Jr., Margo Catsimatidis and John Catsimatidis 

John Catsimatidis, another renowned conservative, said that he and fellow honoree Bruce Mosler were conduits to raising a few extra dollars for the Hospital and called on the community to chip in if a piece of equipment was missing. He said the definition of success was not how much money you amassed but whether you could make it to 95 or 100 years old - something the Hospital could help with.

Dr. Peter Michalos, CEO Southampton Hospital Bob Chaloner and CEO Stony Brook Ernest Baptiste 

After the money raising portion of the evening, where $1.7 million was donated,  guests danced enthusiastically to the energetic tunes of "The Groove." Scarborough later announced that billionaire Martin Gruss had won the $25,000 raffle - lending credence to the aphorism "the rich get richer."

- Lieba Nesis