Wednesday, February 17, 2016


Well, I thought this would be a breeze this week – just write down what it’s like to go to a New York Fashion Week fashion show and then go back to my regular goofing off, but I think after this season (which ends this week), some big changes might be in store for the NYFW collections so I want to set down what’s happening and what I think the repercussions will be. 

First, a (very) brief history. (Of course. It wouldn’t be me if there wasn’t some sort of gossip from the past brought in.) For that we have to time travel back to 1943….

Eleanor Lambert, a New York City publicist, is credited with starting New York Fashion Week; then just called Press Week. It sort of limped along until 1973, when New York was invited to join Paris in a joint fashion show for what was thought to be a fixed competition; because Paris was putting forth Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Cardin, Emanuel Ungaro, Christian Dior, and Hubert de Givenchy, and America had no designers with reputations even near that level at the time. This became known as The Battle of Versailles, and in one of the all time great moments of fashion history (Read the book! See the documentary!), the Americans – represented by Bill Blass, Stephen Burrows, Halston, Anne Klein and Oscar de la Renta – started nothing less than a revolution (Liza Minnelli opened the show – seriously, read the book and see the documentary!). American fashion was put on the map, and after that was taken as seriously as the European ateliers. 

Press Week, however, was still more than a bit unstructured, so in 1993 Fern Mallis, then Executive Director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (the CDFA), worked to pull all of the American fashion designers connected with Press Week together and offered them a grouping of white tents in New York City’s Bryant Park as a venue for their shows. This not only meant that each designer no longer had to shoulder the costs of their own production (there’s a classic story of a seedy loft’s ceiling falling down during a Michael Kors show, which actually was the catalyst to get this whole ball rolling), but now the fashion press, models, makeup and hair people, major clients, and everyone else connected to the industry no longer had to run around the city to see the main fashion shows; they just had to move from one section to another. This was a seismic shift; by centralizing, New York fashion now competed with Paris and Milan’s Fashion Weeks, and again America rattled the cage of the global fashion market. 

There were some changeovers in corporate ownership, an explosion in the number of designers involved, and in 2010 a location shift to Lincoln Center, but the convenience of most everything being under one roof remained the same. Then right around the time of the Fall/Winter 2015 collections it was announced that sponsorship had changed yet again; plus there would no longer be a centralized location.

Translation: the New York Spring/Summer 2016 collections were now going to be shown wherever the designers decided best suited their needs (and whenever they could get scheduled on the official NYFW calendar). Spaces were rented all over town, and depending on your profession (or your popularity, in some cases) it was now a real struggle figuring out how you were going to make it from X’s show on time for Y’s. However, for people like me, the weather was gorgeous, the clothes were glorious, the spaces and how they were used were intriguing…who cares about tomorrow? Hey…not my circus, not my monkeys, so I really wasn’t giving it a lot of thought.

Anyhow, let’s go back and linger a bit at the last shows ‘under the tents’ – Mercedes Benz Fashion Week held at Lincoln Center. I was extremely excited because I had scored tickets to a couple of shows that had been at the top of my Wish List for years, and the first one was on Day One of NYFW.

The day stands out for another reason, too. That week was not just cold; the wind chill factors had been in the minuses. When you think of putting outfits together to wear to Fashion Week, you don’t take into consideration what looks good over thermal long johns. While the papers were full of pictures of models who were going without coats because they wanted to flaunt their bodies or their outfits (or their stupidity – you choose), some press people (no, not Anna) just decided the hell with it and were wearing flannel pajamas under just about everything else they owned. I was thrilled to be there (I got my picture taken by a lot of press, but considering what I was surrounded by the flattery was muted), and the shows were every bit as wonderful as I had anticipated; definitely worth braving the sub-zero temps.

Which brings us to this year, and a very interesting weather factoid: New York City hit its coldest temperature since 1916 right in the middle of Fashion Week. Yeah – it’s been cold. Really, really cold, as in -16 degrees cold. And when it wasn’t cold it was snowing or sleeting. Those really high up the fashion food chain have their own cars to drive them around to the various shows, but the vast majority – and those people are ultimately what this is about, the press who write about the designers so they can up their profiles and therefore their prices, and the retailers who put the designers' clothes in their stores – are running around either trying to get car services or taxis, shivering or sloshing their way to the subways, fighting off frostbite in line waiting to get into the shows, looking for places to write/file their articles, contact their managers (at Lincoln Center there was a large area complete with desks, wifi, etc., so this was not a problem), trying to find food fast and cheap enough to be covered by their per diems (not always easy) to make it on time for the next show (again, Lincoln Center had accommodations for this)…

I’m seeing a problem here, and I’m not the only one. The natives are getting restless. This is a different generation; one that doesn’t feel a need to be inconvenienced if it doesn’t have to be. Even the large fashion magazines are having trouble keeping advertisers, newsstand sales have fallen off, and online readers are increasingly expecting content for free. Some magazines have already folded, and social media and bloggers (no, I’m not personally taking credit) have revolutionized the way the fashion industry is being covered. Why wait by your mailbox for something done months ago when what happened this morning is already online? The industry is already reeling from those changes; now the trick is to figure out how to handle what’s coming.

I stood shivering with a lot of fashion writers in the last week or so, and I heard a lot of love for the clothes but a lot of 'enough already' with the weather and the inconvenience. I love the whole atmosphere of a show, but a lot of these writers are over it – they are there for the clothes and the clothes only – and we live in an age where they can see them as immediately and as closely as they would if they were shivering in line waiting to get to their seats. Alexander McQueen was the first to live stream his collection, and that was way back in 2009. A majority of designers live stream their collections now, and the number of viewers are increasing. (In other words, the shows are there, but there’s a surprising -- at least to me -- lack of viewers.) We may be seeing a dramatic shift in that number as more and more people get accustomed to seeing shows online, or are even made aware that they’re available.

Now, nothing could replicate the experience of being in the same room with Raf Simon’s flowered walls:

or Karl Lagerfeld’s dollhouse:  

but all the same, there’s a lot of money to be saved by not sending everyone on the staff of a smaller magazine, blog, or what have you, to a major city like New York, to see a designer that’s possibly not in the same realm as Raf and Karl. Online it’s all more democratic; less-than-big newspaper, small viewership – everyone gets to see the most coveted runways. On top of that, my city is anything but cheap, and to come here when there’s a major event and hotels and flights are booked to capacity means it’s even more expensive. Why not fly someone in when they can book a private interview with a designer, and get to see the line up close? Exclusivity, plus you still get to see the unveiling of the new collection at the same time as if you had been perched next to a Kardashian (but without the whole nasty bother of the paparazzi).

You can already see the results of this…where? Why, on Craigslist, of course! Tickets to shows that used to be impossible to get, invitations to parties the masses could only dream of clutching, are now for sale to anyone who can pony up the fee. People are getting jaded, and no one really wants to go out in this weather, so it seems the feeling is why not make a quick buck. That certainly takes the shiny off it for the people who the designers/corporations begged (or paid) to be there.

And then there’s Tom Ford, who cancelled his February show altogether, electing to show and sell his Fall/Winter collection in – are you ready – September (yes!), when it’s more appropriate for the season; setting a “see-now-buy-now” model. Imagine! I’m sure a lot of designers are sitting around conference tables right now wrestling with this concept. Burberry has already jumped on board.

Tom Ford!
So, I didn’t come through with my promise of what it’s like to attend a New York Fashion Week fashion show, at least not this time. It may be irrelevant information soon, but I promise I will next time…unless something more interesting comes up in the meantime. ‘Til then, you can feast on this: Malan Breton’s New York Fashion Week 2016 Fall/Winter Collection, and you don’t even have to shiver in line to see it! 

'Til next time, stay warm and have fun doing it,

Whoops! Almost forgot to remind you that to make sure you don’t miss my next entry, why not subscribe to my blog? Just fill in the “Follow by Email” blank on the upper right of this page and I’ll magically appear in your inbox whenever I get around to writing one of these things. I promise I won’t sell your information (I’m not that industrious), and you’ll only hear from me when I post here. Also, you can follow me on Twitter, on Facebook…on the streets of Manhattan…

Monday, February 8, 2016

At Long Last…Love

Once upon a time there was a spectacular exhibit on fairytales that was as imaginative as its subject matter….

I have a confession. I kept putting off writing about the Museum at FIT’s Fairy Tale Fashion exhibition because it’s the most difficult to capture in words. Not that there’s not a lot to say – there’s plenty. It’s just that, well, it’s so fabulous that almost from the minute I got there I just got lost in it, and I’m really struggling to find a way to bring that experience to you. 

The most important point I want to get across is that this is not a costume exhibit; it is fashion. In another context most of these garments would just be incredible pieces of clothing; although some would definitely drop hints to their fairytale inspirations. The majority, however, were curated to coordinate with the theme of the story they were selected to illustrate, and when you see them in that setting you will be struck by how inevitable the selection appears. Just like a ballerina who makes those pirouettes en pointe look effortless, and just like the pianist who makes those intricate runs up the keys appear as easy as drumming your fingers, pulling the right garments from the F.I.T. archives and convincing designers and collectors to loan those rare pieces must have taken incredible research, culling, and a whole lot of begging.

And now…on with the show!

Image courtesy of MFIT

First up is Little Red Riding Hood. (Thanks, MFIT, for these incredible images!) After you stop looking at the variety of, well, red riding hoods, let me draw your attention to the lower left corner. What you’re seeing is a monitor that is showing:


Each story had its own section, and each section had its own monitor showing a movie clip, anime selection, commercial, or whatever best suited the fairytale being ‘told.’ Most of these were particular favorites of mine, but I was with someone who was unfamiliar with the majority and she was hypnotized. Every particle of this exhibit grabs your attention and you have to pull yourself away to move on.

As for those red cloaks, you can read more about them on the MFIT website (link at the bottom of this entry), but I want to draw your attention to a few of the mannequins here. First, second from the left: the wolf. Seriously, how cute is that? Now, look to the two cloaks to the right. The one to the far right was designed by Rei Kawakubo (and was modeled by Björk – it looks so Björk, doesn’t it? – in 2015 in T magazine). The second from the right is by Dolce and Gabbana for their Fall 2014 collection. This is pretty representative of the exhibit: Internationally known designers (both legendary and current) mixed in with emerging names. It made for a very heady mix.
Next up was Beauty and the Beast, or La Belle et la Bête, because the movie clip on the monitor was from the Jean Cocteau French classic.

MFIT is more generous with their clips than I am, but trust me – if you haven’t seen this one, you just gotta. The whole thing is available on YouTube, but if you ever get a chance to see it in a theater…run.

Image courtesy of MFIT
This showcase demonstrates another great thing about the exhibit. You’ve got a court dress from the mid-1700s in the same showcase as that exquisite Rodarte on the far right. Both have flowers, both have feathers…what a difference a few centuries make!

How perfect is this Christian Louboutin shoe from Fall 2011. The ‘fur’ is actually really dense embroidery, and the ‘claws’ are rhinestones. They must have really added some great whimsy to a fun outfit. I wish I knew who bought them, and what the rest of their getup looked like.

Alice In Wonderland popped up next.   

Image courtesy of Museum at FIT

I could spend hours at any one of these cases, and to prove that I’d like to point out that shoe in the front:

That’s a Nicholas Kirkwood from 2010, and the reason I bring it up is because I could swear it was in a previous MFIT exhibit a few years ago -- maybe on shoes? – and the reason I remember it is because I think I did spend a really, really long time staring at it. Really really, it’s fabulous.
Okay, so let’s just breeze by these two beauties that were stuck away in a corner…

Along the back wall were two fairytales: The Little Mermaid, and The Swan Maidens. First, let’s go under the sea.

Image courtesy of Museum at FIT
How perfect is that Rodarte – iridescent turquoise sequins, fishnet, etc. – for this exhibit? The silver Thierry Mugler? Charles James’ La Siréne (far left), sometimes referred to as "The Lobster," was a gift to the museum “…in memory of Lisa Kirk,” an actress probably best known for originating the role of Bianca in Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate. I’d love to know what else her wardrobe yielded.

Now, up for air and on to the swans...

Image courtesy of Museum at FIT
I mean…”breathtaking” is not used figuratively here. There were points in this gallery where I literally gasped at the sheer beauty in front of me, or the way a piece was used to illustrate a story. Pull your eyes away from Jean Louis Sabaji’s feather-like pouf of a dress (no feathers – tattered silk!) and look to its left. The black dress is Charles James’ Swan (another gift in memory of Lisa Kirk). James has long been one of my favorite designers, but he had a pretty checkered career and been all but forgotten before the Metropolitan Museum brought him back into the spotlight with the Charles James: Beyond Fashion exhibit in May 2014. I think it speaks to how revered The Fashion Institute of Technology, their museum, and staff are; that people who hold these rare pieces bequeath them such precious pieces of fashion history.

I’m not sure where to stop. Do I cut myself off at The Red Shoes?

Image Courtesy of Museum at FIT
And leave out this Stephen Jones hat? Look at those teeny tiny toe shoes on there!

This is killing me!

By this time I’d passed The Wizard of Oz, which had fashion by MGM’s Adrian – no, not one of the costumes he designed for the movie, but one of the dresses he designed when he left MGM and opened his own couture and ready-to-wear businesses. Here’s a Galliano…there’s a Molyneux…Oh look! A Judith Leiber apple bag is there to poison Snow White! That sense of childlike wonder held throughout the maze of the gallery. 

Image Courtesy of Museum at FIT

Cinderella! Rapunzel! Sleeping Beauty! The Snow Queen! And on and on and on….It was truly enchanting, like the best fairytales.
There is a book coming out on the exhibition, but it won’t be available until mid-April; when the exhibit itself closes. There is a sample copy available to flip through, but sadly it doesn’t capture the magic of the gallery. Most of the pictures are the dresses on the runway, and that changes things. Out of the fairytale context, and without the special lighting that hits the glass shoes, shards of mirror on dresses, or beading just so, the effect is more flat than flattering. 

Just a word here about doing your own photography in the gallery. Textiles are delicate, and to preserve garments, accessories and notions against fading and wear lighting is kept low in the exhibits. Most galleries will allow you to take photographs, but NOT WITH A FLASH. First time will get you a warning; I’m not sure how many times it takes to get yourself ushered out but I’ve witnessed it happen at several museums. Just like you remember to turn your phone off before the curtain goes up in a theater (you do, right?), remember to keep your hands off the garments and take your flash off automatic in a museum. It’s just what you do.
This entry could have been as long as Rapunzel’s braid, but let me end here so you can go over to the MFIT website and enjoy the rest of their pictures. Be sure to spend some time looking at the Art & Illustration section, because there were some incredible photographs and illustrations on display in addition to the clothing. I’ve been sad when some of their other exhibitions ended (I really wish the Daphne Guinness collection could have been permanent, but I guess she wanted to wear her clothes again), but this one….I’ll be telling people about this one for years. 

By the way, Fashion Week NYC starts in a few days! Always an exciting time to be here if you’re involved in the fashion industry in any way. My next blog entry will be what it’s like to go to an actual fashion show (when you’re not Anna Wintour, that is). If all you've seen are the ones in movies or on Project Runway, well, reality is quite a bit different.

To make sure you don’t miss it, why not subscribe to my blog? Just fill in the “Follow by Email” blank on the upper right of this page and I’ll magically appear in your inbox whenever I get around to writing one of these things. I promise I won’t sell your information (I’m not that industrious), and you’ll only hear from me when I post here. 

In the meantime, how about just a little bit more fairytale magic…