Saturday, August 29, 2009

What makes a Designer?

3 cases in point: Victoria Beckham, The Row by the Olsen twins, and Alexander Wang.

All 3 are considered designers by the press and that's supported by retail stores. The old definition of a designer has been stretched , reshaped and repackaged. 2 out of the 3 don't really fit the old mold. The definition of a designer until just a few years (3-4) ago was a creator of new ideas. That person or group of people came up with an idea, had it made or made it themselves and then showed it to stores to buy or had a runway show for the press and buyers. For the most part , these were people who passionately believed in the craft and business of fashion. Their particular take on what was new and important and missing in the market was their driving force. Then celebrities got into the game. It seemed that their credibility as stars wasn't complete without a line of clothes or cosmetics. Their stardom was considered by them synonymous with being style arbiters. That's how a Victoria Beckham could come to be.
Allspice or my favorite nickname, Pepper Spray, was a Spice Girl. She married a footballer and then started showing up at fashion shows. Her appearances were always choreographed for maximum mystery least for any lens that was within a few hundred feet. Her coy, in your face, yet paparazzi phobic sort of posturing was pure bait. It seemed like anything for a picture and preferably a picture that showed her to be somehow annoyed with the attention. When that got old, like a speeding bullet, Victoria announced that she was not just an ex show girl, or model ,or the richest pro athlete's wife, but now a Designer. I should have seen it coming. What the hell, everyone and his neighbor's best friend's second cousin is.
What bugged me about this addition to her resume was that it was born overnight. One moment she's a model the next a creator. The first collection which was a sad rack of a dozen poorly made dresses, shot on a very sad faced model in front of a door, were taken seriously by the press and buyers. Why? Well because its Pepper Spray sharing her secrets to high voltage glamor. No one cared that she basically made a group of really tired dresses which were poor copies of the looks she's usually seen in with a few truly regrettable attempts at broadening the range. Then Roland Mouret is enlisted to crank it out for her. She's busy being a model , celebrity, super star's wife and mother, in that order, and needs someone with some talent and imagination to divine her vision. This to me is not a designer. This is a celebrity playing a role. In her case, poorly. When I read that she was giving up her day job as the face for Armani to devote all her energy to her fashion "House" and cosmetics line, I had to wonder. Mouret is still the head on her brainless body and important stores are lending it credibility. I've seen the clothes, they don't warrant it.
The Olsens are also unorthodox examples of the new breed of Designer. It appears that their collection The Row is a different animal altogether. The fact that it has a very broad appeal and is selling extremely well all over the country is the first sign of its success. Another difference is that they appear to be actually involved in its creation in a very hands-on way. The NY Times story on them this week showed them to be serious ,no bullshit directors of their business. So they have a team of assistant designers that do the heavy lifting. They nonetheless, are selecting the fabrics, communicating the direction and styles to be made. The detail and fit of everything seems to go through their hands and what results are some really decent clothes. They are fashion and not just remakes of things that exist everywhere with a clear richness of detail and thought. This is a celebrity cum Designer metamorphosis that works. No shows for them, their identity is kept out of the way. The Row stands on its own. It has legs and uses them effectively.Comparing them to Beckham is almost impossible to avoid. Victoria is your typical example of the tired school of thought that anyone with money, star status and a closet full of designer clothes can in turn be one. I wear it, therefore, I can design it. Well to my eye The Olsens are it.
Alexander Wang is more the actual definition of a designer, a very successful, young one. His business model is more typical of the classic one. Go to design school, which has never been a pre-requisite for anyone, drop out, intern at Teen Vogue and Marc Jacobs , have a perfect T-shirt in mind and turn it into a $20 million business in under 7 years. Presto! His angle is to make all the hip basics that models turn up in and downtown trendsters wear. T-shirts of every sort. Baby cashmere this and that. Vests and jackets and jeans and the sort of clothes that look like nothing until they're styled and shoved down a runway. His roster of retail stores is as impressive as his relationship with Anna Wintour at Vogue and any number of other fashion mags. He's the darling and that adoration has translated to big bucks. $20million? That seems a stretch. Just like Jason Wu selling $4-5 million is a huge stretch. Those calculations are almost always grossly inflated. That aside, Alexander is the designer of today. Recession proof and growing. Or is he? He certainly plugs into the young under 30 market which is huge and the very people who eat up the fake fashion reality shows, flaccid fashion blog sites, and love on line shopping. If you read news flashes about him on these blogs and then the comments, one sees how strong a following he has. They are the new customer. Not very discriminating in their tastes but quick with a credit card. More power to him. Success is hard to capture and even harder to hold.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

What's skakin' at Chez Posen?

Today's luke warm news flash is that Zac Posen is foregoing the big circus tent at Bryant Park for the more modest venue at the Altman Building. That in itself is not heart seizing. What caught my eye and made me think is that for a few months now, I've been wondering in the back of my mind, "what's up with Zac?".
The suave, debonair, chattering, self imposing, Barnumesque, self promoting child star has been curiously absent from center stage. Historically(that means in the last 3-4 years) Zac has been the junior Isaac, Hamish, even Scaasi of the glib 1-6 liner. His unending patter regarding his empire building was trumpeted to any and all within earshot. That fine art, and it is a very sought after gift ,of blowing one's horn proclaiming his territory,the world, has been curiously muted of late. His collections which have become better and stronger in recent seasons with the exception of his fascination with 40's inflected looks, which is my least favorite period,have strengthened his prospects. Of all the young designers in the game I've felt that he is one of the most promising. His oily approach to self-promotion is the most tiresome ingredient in the mix. Unfortunately, it's probably the most valuable.
As a dressmaker and designer he has a real understanding of the craft. His ability to create sophisticated , glamorous clothes is clearly evident and outshines the attempts made by many of his peers. I'd go so far as to say he leaves just about all of them in the dust.Proenza Schouler,Rodarte, Peter Som,Wang,Wu,Thakoon,Doo,and a few others have neither his skill nor eye. His popularity exceeds theirs or did until quite recently. The D.C.Bump eluded him and catapulted a number of lesser talents leaving him to tread water in their wakes. I wonder why.
With P.Diddy, or the rapper formerly known as Puff, NOT to be confused with me,Fluff.... with Diddy's 2 million dollar investment and the cavalcade of starlets and society girls, he seemed primed for the upper-tier. The fact that the money didn't come directly from Puffy, but Puffy's Big Daddy Ron Burkle of grocery store fame with a $2.5 billion mega fortune is neither here nor there. The money was Zac's with which to build his empire. With his slow fade from the public's eyes, I started to wonder if something happened. With the economic crisis, did Puffy aka Mr. Combs pull back? Did Ron Burkle tighten the purse strings on the $50million he invested in P.Diddy which may have trickled down to Zac? Did he run away with a mysterious new paramour to a distant land, tiring of his perpetual, self imposed press junket and cozy home in the Village? Anybody got a light? It's mighty dark out here.
The answer to all of those questions and the ones I'm too respectful and well-mannered to ask are probably very simple and undramatic. Zac turned up for the photo-op at the premiere of The September Issue and I just saw him on the TV spot for Fashion's Night Out, so my fears are allayed.
His decision to switch venues from the large tent at Bryant Park still seems strangely out of character. His ego is not a shrinking one but perhaps his fortunes, like too many in this business, have.
Many would be wise to save a penny or two and economize for the immediate future. If it means a smaller show, or an alternative form of presentation, one might consider it. Especially when you factor in the cost of the staging is in direct opposition to the degree of the audience's attention. Most are there just,for the hell of being seen and have precious little time to focus on what's passing before their eyes. The rest of them have little or no money to buy and what's left are a school of pilot fish. The press are probably the only invited guests who are actually watching and processing what's being shown.

But what do I know? I'm just a bald cat.

Popped in on Stella's POP-UP in EHampton's Springs

These garish neon pink flyers were all over town this week trumpeting the news: Stella McCartney was setting up a Pop-Up shop at a gallery in the deepest, most remote region of East Hamptons , known as The Springs. It's claim to fame is that it is the last unspoiled part of town,where there's still beautiful land ,woods , the bay and a large working class population. It's where we live and love the fact it's still quiet and un-spoiled. Springs is also home to the Jackson Pollock/Lee Krasner house and study center. People make regular pilgrimages there to see the house, left as it was when they livedand worked there. The Springs is considered the blue-collar hamlet of town unlike our rich relations 10 minutes away in the "Village".
So why Stella decided to open her shop way out here in the middle of nowhere is beyond me? It must be the maverick in her. There's something so Indie about her. It certainly shows in much of the clothes that hung so charmingly and unassumingly on simple racks , 2 by 2 by 2 by 2.....
The venue was the Fireplace Project, a two level cinder blocked structure filled with sculptures and odd card board cut out constructions. Some or all of the Art went right past me as did most , but not all, of the clothes. The theme was decidedly Kiddie Art. The joys of naive, grossly over-priced pieces resembling Pinatas and decorated hulla hoops dovetailed masterfully with the odd assortment of clothes, I mean "Collection". It was billed as a trunk show, so everything was full price.
I spoke with what appeared to be a Sales Associate and asked how it had gone. The local General Store was madly setting up for a party and there was 1 hour to go for the official closing. She informed me that a party was about to start to celebrate the launch of the new sunglasses collection. I congratulated her and was immediately told that is was a private and invitation only soiree, so I should move along as they had much to do. I can take a hint, so I slowed my pace and started inspecting clothes more casually than before. I brazenly started taking pictures as well.
I went back over to the Sales Associate, and pumped her for more info. Was this merchandise from the store in the city? Had they sold well? What a great thing that proceeds were being donated to The Pollock/Krasner House(very Springs PC), and how did they decide what was best for a Pop-Up in the nether regions of the Springs.
She said they basically emptied the store and brought out 2 of just about everything . I came on the last day of a 4 day run. I saw a few very cute printed and solid silk tops. Lots of skin tight Disco pants and cheesy sequined 70's tunic/t-shirts,some perforated pleather leggings/and thigh high boots in the same perforated pleather. There were 2 or 3 inspired dresses. The Chantilly lace and crepe gowns were made VERY poorly, as were a number of jackets and dresses. The quality of fabrics were also surprisingly unpleasant to the touch and constructed by assembly line hands. Half the labels said made in Italy and a lot of the rest said made in Hungary. There was a very mish mash feeling to the"Line". It felt like lots of Stuff, not like a collection. Whole groups were completely independent of the groups hanging next to them.
I couldn't help but think that The Gucci Group owned this company. Tons of money supports it and yet it looks like something made by a high volume factory out of China or Peru. Cheap wool that didn't even approach cashmere and more synthetics than natural fibers. The evening clothes were the most telling. The lace and crepe short cocktails and long gowns were constructed by hands who clearly were out of their depth. If I'd done it like that , they'd have been rejected in receiving even if they'd gotten past Quality Control. A strapless short dress(this is my BIG BONE of contention)was completely and utterly devoid of any construction for the bodice. No corset, foundation ,not one single bone was there for support. For a cool $2000. you should get a dress that doesn't require Krazy Glue to stay up. If I know this stuff, why doesn't a company like that know it?
If they brought 2 of each thing and on every rack I saw 98% of twosies crammed together and it was the last day, I would conclude that this was a vanity Pop-Up. This was PR at it's most lame that didn't please the gallery owner who was nice enough to share,"....whatever, it's the last day."
It was a gallant attempt, just ill timed and poorly placed. Perhaps the Americana Mall parking lot in Manhassett would have been more appropriate. I came, I saw, I left.
*click on the top pic, The Emperor was there.......

Friday, August 21, 2009

Vogue's Big Screen moment!

More to the point Anna's big moment.......and Grace Coddington's, too. Somehow ,I don't think that moment was supposed to have room for the 2 of them but it did. On the scale of who's moment was more momentous, it looked from the outside like Grace may have had a slight edge. With the new international scoring system it will be a while before the judges have all weighed in. The collusion of the Russian judge in the recent past is throwing all of this out of whack, but we'll get those in ASAP.
The film doesn't open until next week on the 28th, but the buzz was deafening with it's premiere the other night. For the life of me I don't know what became of my invitation. Everyone of weight (industrial weight) was there but I had to satisfy myself with a cozy spot on the side lines . It seems I'm often watching the parade and not marching . That's ok though. I have a 100 piece marching band in my head and they're ready to take to the streets at any moment.
I've been looking out for comments and critiques in the press and from informed colleagues as to the nature and thrust of the film. We all know it's the making of the Fall 2007 September Issue, weighing in at 17.5 kilos laden with 1950 ad pages and a whopping 23 editorial pages. That book was a freak of nature. You could kill a very large cat or medium sized person if you dropped it on them at the decisive moment. Say a moment when they slept or were tied down on the ground with each limb anchored to an iron spike.
Word has it that the film crew led by it 's director,RJ Cutler,followed Anna Wintour through all the stages of putting the book together. Endless editorial meetings, sittings proposals , meetings or gatherings with frightened photo editors and assistants of every stripe and plaid that resembled audiences with an dispeptic Queen. The crew was constantly trying to draw Grace Coddington, the other most powerful creator of the editorial pages...the Uber -Sittings Editor and Creative Director, but she resisted for some time. Once she gives in, the tension and drama of the whole project starts to percolate. In the end the issue is more the input of Graces than Anna's. That's neither here nor there, it sounds like it makes for a fascinating experience. The trailer shows a petulant, cold and dismissive Anna towards her staff. In private we see a very self referential and self absorbed woman who seems strangely childish. Daddy was her model and idol and she followed his rigid example. This will probably make The Devil wears Prada look like a Saturday morning cartoon. I'm very excited to get a better feel for this force of nature. Her appearance on 60 Minutes a couple of months ago was enlightening. I came away with a greater respect for her single-minded focus on her job and her dedication to the world of fashion , style and it's players. So what that the politics of the game are at times unsavory,like all the time, it was an intriguing glimpse at the woman underneath the bob.
Though her personal style is almost always dead on , there are times that her choices are less than objective. Ageism is a big issue in her world. I would go further and say that she likes to project a youthful, of the moment image. The dress she wore to the premiere was Prada(twisted irony....)but the sleeves were cut in wing fashion showing here thin arms , the skin crepey, wrinkled and armpits that had more flesh folds than the dress itself. That was not very pretty.
Accentuate the positive, and take the negative to the surgeon who erased the other negatives. Other than that she looked fabulous.
Some of the other guests were interesting in their choices of costume: Vera Wang is a true turn back the clock 60 yrs.old. Oscar and Carolina look packaged, she showing off her Hauteur and he forgetting to show his best angle for the cameras. Bea Schaeffer, Anna's daughter, chose unwisely too. Her dress is too short, too tight and makes her look too full figured. Fit is everything...She must have been at home sick the day that lesson was being taught. A beautiful Black woman is like a melody and Chanel Iman was symphonic in her loveliness. Marc Jacobs and Matteo,his betrothed looked very tanned and oily. Marc's 'manpurse', coupled with the skirt/skort and Swarovski encrusted sneakers looked iffy at best. Here is a world class designer dressing like someone begging to be noticed. Holding onto Matteo's arm only heightened that impression. All I could think was, "Why"?
There were others making the scene who were less compelling, but I have to say that Jason Wu looked a bit odd with a model as his date, twice his height and wearing a mini cocktail number that's just as poorly thought out as his Inaugural offering. He should take more time in his choice of outfit and height of date. Zac Posen seemed ok flying solo, even if he was wearing high -heeled boots , a la Tom Jones and an embellished jacket that appeared to have come from Hamish Bowles' sample sale. He certainly is one handsome man, and charming!
What's most important is that we get to see the movie of the summer! The "Jaws" of 2009.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Rodarte does Down Market

News flash. The girls have grabbed the greasy brass ring. Bravo! Target has signed the award winning pair to design a line for the store. Supposedly it is the largest number of styles the store has done with any of it's previous designers to date: 55-60 styles. So the queens of the staples, wires and glue gun have cobbled their way to the big time. The first press pics of it's debut showed up today and they were mind blowing!!!!!
I don't use that description lightly....Mind blowing, trans formative, otherworldly, unrecognizable and totally disconnected to anything you've seen coming from them. Granted , I saw a handful of styles but they had absolutely NO CONNECTION with the aesthetic of anything they've done before. If it didn't say Rodarte, one would be hard pressed to know who designed it. A cute cocktail dress a la de la Renta, a Gap-ish jacket over a layered tulle dress with big, bad, butch boots and then an unappetizing little cocktail, cum slip dress that looked like Stella McCartney on a semi good day, which for me is a misnomer... I'm still waiting for Stella to have a good day.
One must applaud their savvy to hook their raft onto a steam ship while the tide is low. For my money I'd say theyhave run aground , but hey, get it while you can if it's there to get. God knows the food chain is pretty sparse .
My confusion is that the Mulleavy sisters have been so adamantly "Indie", with clothes that are unlike most in the marketplace, staying away from the fray in sunny California and then suddenly going super mainstream with clothes that appear to have little or no relationship to what they are known for. I won't presume that the larger United States are unaware of their presence in popular fashion, but let's face it...they are at best,very"Insidery" and an acquired taste. What is Target thinking to choose such specifically marginal designers. That is not a value judgement but a practical business question. Vera Wang is several steps out on the retail gang plank Kohl's. She's been reasonably successful, having maintained a semblance of her look, such as it is. This Rodarte for Target looks like an exercise in design schizophrenia. Why be such Purists and then turn around and pump derivative clothes? Clothes derived from other company's formulae with a label that barely resonates beyond the fashion centers of this country and those of a handful of others.This is not to say the clothes look bad, they don't. The quality looks good from where I'm sitting.
Nevertheless, I hope it brings them financial rewards and a larger , broader audience. They are hardworking talented designers. The customer at Target is a tough Mistress, even when the price is right. Will a move in this direction make them bigger fish in a smaller pond or will the water just become muddy and murkier for everyone involved?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Good, and Bad of the Sale rack.

Fall is around the corner. All the most interesting clothes , shoes and accessories of the year are about to appear in all the stores , everywhere. It's like the best drugs for the biggest junkies.... But unlike typical junkie mentality which is the sooner the score the faster to rush. This Recession has changed the scoring habits of Fashion fiends. Instead of the race to the racks , people are hanging back, white knuckling it, teeth grinding (what I refer to as jaw boning), even a bit of profuse sweating while waiting for the stores to break down and put the "stuff" on SALE. It's what we've come to expect. When you want it but no longer have the money to pay retail or don't want to spend money you may have, we no longer shop the old fashioned way.
There's a paradigm shift in the way the business of fashion is conducted. I've waited so long to use a big word:Paradigm. There's one small problem with this shift: it has taken the concept of Business and is pushing it towards extinction. The good thing is that you get something that otherwise would be out of reach. The bad thing is that it is putting designers and stores steadily out of business. A catch 22 is the result.
Some of you may be aware that Anna Wintour is attempting a moratorium on SALES. At the risk of a hairless cat suddenly sporting an Afro, I have to agree with her to a certain degree. The dealers are losing money and the suppliers are in turn going under with the end result being that one day soon there won't be any "stuff" available to buy; sale or no sale.The idea of Business the world over will go the way of the dinosaurs . Something has got to give, and yet there are no easy answers.
A small group of Fortunates still heavy with disposable incomes can pre-order and grab the goodies the moment they hit the selling floor. The rest of us wait. The salespeople live off commissions and are so desperate they'll put stuff aside for customers for when the mark downs begin. Meanwhile, the designers see their clothes go on sale 3 weeks after they've been shipped. It's instant charge back time. They, the designers, watch their payday turn into crumbs. The stores begin asking for discounts before the designer has even gotten paid.
When you're small you live from each piece you deliver .You pay for the fabric, the cost of production and watch your investment evaporate.
Are you following where I'm going with this?
Saks, Neiman's, Nordstrom's ,Barneys, and almost every specialty store in the country is bleeding. The same goes for almost every design company not buffeted with a perfume, secondary line or fantastic licensing deal in the Far East. That means everyone out there who's not a Donna, Calvin ,Ralph, Marc, Michael or Carolina, to name a few major players in this country, are living from check to check. If we want them to survive we need to try something risky. We need to buy something before it goes on sale. Anything. We need to grit our teeth, save up a little money and invest it in something ,it could be one thing. But we need to buy it . This is how we can ban together and shift the Paradigm to a new spot. Not the old one, or the present one but to a new place.
It's not an easy simple solution, but this business is in terrible trouble. Every species of it is in danger of extinction. We can take small steps to save it. In doing so we can slowly change the way we've gotten the things that give us pleasure. The food that feeds our sense of ourselves can still be ours, only this way everyone in the mix has a shot at a tomorrow. I know it sounds idealistic an impractical, even foolish. I just can't think of a better way. Whether it's KMart or Bergdorf Goodman the game is the same. Let's play!


I am troubled that my last post suggests that style is the domain of the rich. That really was not my intent. Style has never been a matter of money or proximity to a fashionable neighborhood. It's a personal understanding of exactly who you are, what makes you feel and look good, in that order. It could be anything. Play clothes are as valid as the most formal attire. My point was that this place touts itself as being on the cutting edge of Fabulosity , and it ain't. So I want to leave you with a picture that best displays imagination, style and inventiveness:Hamptons' Style! Bon Appetit!

Friday, August 14, 2009

When style goes out of fashion

I've been taking it easy out here in the land of good and plenty. Good in the sense of there being a lovely landscape and beautiful ocean. Plenty , because there's too much of everything to excite the senses. It's too much of the same wherever you look. The best way to describe the "scene" in East Hampton and the surrounding villages are they are one huge Ghetto. The rich, the would be rich, the has been rich and the ones who hope to appear reach,let's not forget the pilot fish of the rich and then the regular hard working middle class and poor are all crammed together out here. The ghetto aspect applies particularly to the wealthy .
One might assume that one's means are a means to an end. That end often means a fabulous ,way over the top home, nice wheels, membership to the right country club and a guaranteed table at Nick and Toni's. It also could mean that elusive gene, Style. In my naive mind , I figured that the 2 should go together, considering the proximity to NYC and all things informed and fabulous. Even with the Euro element that has migrated , one would think a bit of savoire faire my seep into the ground water. Well after years and years of studying the habits of the inhabitants in their increasing numbers, I've concluded that this once amazing enclave has altered its face and now is by definition a ghetto. I don't know about you, but any sort of ghetto, be it underprivileged or way over, is not a pleasant environment.
Main Street is a sea of pushy , ill mannered men , women,children,nannies and lapdogs. Everyone acts as though the side walk is their personal property. The excess in luxury designer shops directly mirrors the foot traffic. Even though you have 16 Ralph Lauren shops, Tiffany's,
Hermes, Gucci and a 1000 more which aspire to the same grandeur, no one seems to have any style. What happened to style? Was it in the one steamer trunk they forgot to load into the truck when they moved out for the summer?
The guys have forgotten how to tuck a shirt into pants. It's just not done. The women , no matter their age or body type wear cotton jersey strapless tube dresses day and night. No support, unflattering, often way too short and in the end cheap. A gauzy , quasi- indian tunic with cheesy embroidery is an alternative with short shorts or capri pants, but that's it on the wardrobe effort.
Hair is a non's bleached, broken and burned. Shoes are flip flops or towering platforms of one sort or another. Ballet slippers are the in between option. Still it's a sea of sameness. Ghetto mentality in habits, dress, and behavior.
Some of you may think this is an off assessment or just a snotty smack, but it's depressing to go into town and feel in 5 minutes you can neither breathe or move. Well that's the HamptonEffect.
Is it a luxury problem not worth complaining about? Sure. But when you have an interest in style and you see that it is absent and in it's place is conspicuous consumption of high and low merchandise that is indistinguishable and everyone looks dull and duller, then it becomes something more than just a luxury problem . There's no longer respect or regard for each other . It's not considered or considered cool. It's vulgar attitudes, showing off and way too much passing on the right.
Style used to be valued and cultivated. Now it's just out of fashion.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Influence Peddling

Fashion is a sport with fixed betting. It's not for light weights and certainly not for the naive. High stakes Fashion tends to be played by it's own rules with weighted dice. Very little happens by chance. Almost never does someone come from the Port of Authority with a Singer sewing machine and a dream and end up as Creative Director of Liz Claiborne. It doesn't happen.
What is more, one doesn't necessarily end up winning CFDA Awards without the consensus of a committee, let's say the leaders of the organization, and to some degree the membership. But there are surely outside forces up the street and around the corner that play an important , if not a silent role in all of this. It ain't Lotto. Being In it to win it is an oversimplification. Having a company ,constitutes "IN IT". But, there's "In It" and and just in it. Design ability or talent, let alone sales in the market place aren't necessarily deciding factors. This is where it all becomes rather murky. Clearly, night vision glasses are an accessory necessary to find ones way.
Peddling is not easy in 5" Laboutins , but with the help of a darkened windowed Escalade , one can teeter around without much problem. Sitting comfortably behind ones desk and holding audiences with the constituents is certainly even easier. Influential editors placing designers in key positions of large, and important companies has become the new substitute for headhunting. Head hunters per se are a thing of the past. For lower level positions they have their hands full , but for big game hunting , they pretty much stay at the campsite. The major players come to the most influential magazine editor(s) for direction. They need to be editorialized and touted and appreciated by these magazines. They want to pump huge advertising budgets into said magazines so these editorial pages are guaranteed, so they ask the the big game headhunter who they should hire. There is a list of malleable favorites. Malleable , meaning designers who will answer to the editor's whims as well as the demands of their employers. In this way everyone is happy. I can't imagine as Creative Director of an international brand having to take direction from a magazine as to what should be in or not in the collection I'm about to show, but that's the price of stardom. That's akin to guzzling fish oil.
It's all very neat. The press love a love match and the magazine has satisfied it's appetite for control. Control is the operative word.
To list these love matches is tedious and unproductive, but when you see odd marriages fall to bits, you have to ask yourself what went wrong? Companies make silly choices or they make hasty mistakes. An Isabel Toledo was a pretty clever choice for Anne Klein and yet someone pulled the plug before the lights were turned on. That was a boo boo. But Todd Oldham for Old Navy,Patrick Robinson for Anne Klein and to a degree for Gap is a bit iffy, and Lars Nillson for his last 3 positions were all examples of companies buying the Kool-Aid by the keg.
It's great to have your number called. It's a designer's dream , but too often these are capricious choices with little basis in sound business management. Fashion is a business and one that should operate as one.How about the best person for the job and not the pet who pleases the Wizardess of Oz.
This shouldn't be a fixed dog race.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Isabel Toledo: Fabulous Fantasist !

I just got my paws on the Isabel Toledo encyclopedia which accompanies her exhibition at The Fashion Institute of Technology. It's written by the show's curators Valerie Steele and Patricia Mears. Encyclopedia is the best way to describe this book as it covers all things Isabel and an awful lot of her collaborator and husband Ruben Toledo.
Prolific, creative , visionary, fantasist, modernist ....none of these labels really encompasses or does justice to her ability and contribution to 20th and 21st century fashion. The work, it's beauty , and it's total originality is staggering. It was actually daunting and an overload to my senses with each turn of the page. What is most mind numbing about Isabel's oeuvre is that it is almost a secret . Unless, you are very savvy and know your fashion lexicon from A to T (the rest of the letters are just redundant) you might not know that a National and International treasure lives , works and breathes among us.
There are so many examples of different methods of fabric, texture, shape and color manipulations in her vast arsenal that it's an injustice to her to try to pinpoint them. You really need to buy the damn book, get on the subway, bus, train or plane and run, don't walk to F.I.T.'s museum and see it for yourself. There is something about her eye that seems to reference the most influential movements and designers of clothing from the 18th century to the present and future.
I could see, Charles James , Geoffrey Beene, Madame Gres, Claire McCardell,Jacques Fath, Dior,and the dressmakers to Queen Elizabeth the 1st in aspects of different garments. But though I was reminded in the tiniest ways of these masters from before, they had been merely twinkles in her incredibly personal and original eye. These creations are 100% Isabel Toledo. Her history of design is a PHD program for anyone who wants to take on this sacred craft.
At moments it was so beautiful and special, so deceptively simple that I felt like a rank beginner, even after 20 plus years working as a designer. My collection of books on fashion, design, and designers is pretty big and comprehensive. They range from the most obscure to the most influential, but this book is my most precious one of all.
Isabel Toledo is a National Treasure. We have in this city and in this country one of the most gifted and directional designers this world possesses. Isabel and Ruben Toledo deserve the respect and all of the honors that this Industry and the public can bestow. Anything short of that is unacceptable. The CFDA could hand at least 3 awards to her alone and it would honor just a fraction of her contribution.