Friday, July 30, 2010

Then and Now

One year ago today I closed my design company after 23 amazing years. Today a year ago I had an incredible piece in the NY Times written by Eric Wilson that basically gave me a new chapter, a second act. At the time all I could see was a vast plain of darkness. My fears for my future and what legacy I might have left behind was very simply bleak. The work involved in winding down the business and making as graceful an exit was one of the toughest things I've ever done. This blog weighed heavily on my mind knowing that I would let go of my anonymity and face what I was sure would be snipers on every rooftop on the Avenue. I wasn't ashamed of my views and didn't regret sharing them, but there was a comfort in knowing that up until that day I was unknown. Beyond making great clothes (I've been told) I personally was registering on the outer edges of the fashion radar. I didn't promote my name , I let the clothes do the talking. That is in itself the kiss of death in the way the game is played but I was old school in my thinking. I am more of a brand now (Fluff, more specifically and this cozy little blog) than i ever was in the 23 years I made the collection. So ironic. Whatever....
My best day on the blog before the story appeared was 320 visitors on one day. The day the story appeared I had 35,000 visitors. It's amazing the power of the New York Times. It's also a testament to the blog and my willingness to climb out on a very short and tenuous limb. Life after Seventh Avenue is very different with highs and lows, but I would do it all again given the chance. The idea that I closed due to purely economic conditions is partly true, but it also has a great deal to do with the fact that I'm a good and competent designer. My work bears that out. What I wasn't accomplished at was running a business. I'm just not a numbers guy. That is the bottom line of my closing. I wish I'd been better because I loved my work and miss it every day. If ever I climb back on that saddle the scenario will be very different. It's taken a full year to even be able to feel that let alone voice it.
Writing has been a fantastic creative outlet as has looking closely and critically at fashion and the culture that surrounds it. The blog started as a treat and has developed into a passion. It gives me insight into the world around me, something I paid little attention to when I was working. It has also shown me that I'm not alone in my thinking. The pay off, as this brings me not one penny, is the loyal and growing audience who often weigh in on what I've written. The disagreements and agreements are hugely satisfying. The whole point has always been to create a dialogue and make people think about what we all too often take as the gospel. I'm pleased to say that in some way I've been able to do that. I feared that I would lose my voice once I was known. Second guessing myself and being afraid to let it rip was the greatest challenge. I got over that too. It hasn't always done wonders for my reputation, but I've learned that that really has little to do with me.
The freedom I've achieved and the many different projects I'm able to work on are all wonderful surprises. I do get up in the morning, get dressed and keep busy. I even shave on occasion. Most of all I'm grateful for all the amazing experiences and work I had the good fortune to devote the last 30 years, in total to. One of the greatest gifts has been the loyalty of all of my clients over all of those years and each of you who check in regularly to see what the cat has spit up and especially some of you who push me to write more when I slack off. I hate writing when there seems to be nothing interesting to say. I can't hit Publish unless it feels right. I've discovered that there is no such thing as a perfectly clear and accurate mirror. They are all fractured and our reflection is a series of broken planes. Each of them shows a different angle but all are truths, nevertheless. I'm getting more comfortable with this view and things are a lot more interesting as a result.
So thanks for your continued interest and support, both positive and negative. All of it has made me a better critic and writer. Playing alone is not nearly as fun as playing with a gang of friends. I'm a very lucky guy and Fluff is too!

*all images are from my studio, days before closing, my Sales Director, Naji Batanian (the best of the best), my desk in the woods and my home office where I do my work, now....and a killer mirror that is a metaphor in physical form. *both looks from final collection courtesy of Udo Spreitzenbarth Photography

* see more at EricGaskins.com

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Anna Dello Russo: Animal, Mineral, or Vegetable ?

Ok, I know she's the editor of Nipon Vogue, style icon, and personage. She looks old enough to have been around the block frontwards and backwards more than just twice. She ranks up there in the upper regions of fabulousness with the likes of Rachel Zoe, Carine Roitfeld, Anna Wintour and Beyonce and other pretenders to the throne. I know she is unhealthily absorbed by fashion and spends the better part of her life planning, dressing and changing her "looks" on an hourly basis. This creature lives for fashion in the time honored tradition of a Daphne Guinness, Isabella Blow and Anna Piaggi, among others who are more or less dead or dying. She's a moth who's hovered around the flame for years but only recently has taken to dive bombing kamikaze style directly to into its glowing center. What I love most about these types are their innate absence of beauty, their sterile, rote approach to style (looks that are straight off the runway or total hashes of said looks) and the insider Sheepanistas who slurp up the slime trail that follows their every move. The narcissism necessary to put all of ones efforts into ones appearance in order to command respect, attention and a paycheck is still a paradox. So many of these pictures are testament of a certain lack of joy. It all looks more burdensome, embarrassing and tedious. The images with Carine Roifeld are particularly jaded and lifeless. These girls have taken the Twilight Saga to heart.
Anna seems to care more about the care, maintenance and proper packing regimen for trips to fashion weeks than to the quality of life of those around her. Living ones life for the sake of a Sartorialist photo-op is a life unexamined.
As she has been ever more steadily a moving object on the radar of fashion, I've taken increasingly more notice. Her appearance at the W magazine offices meeting with old friend Stefano Tonchi with consequent rumors of her taking a job there away from some poor quivering masthead member was yet another day on the job. Show up in an ill advised Chanel suit, way too short with big glasses and huge equine jaw ready to pose for the camera is certainly all it takes to get tongues wagging and job security fears spiking. She created her own Style Quake in Milan in a see-through lace jumpsuit, all toothsome with ginormous sunglasses. What is it? Who is she?
Now she's gotten it into her head to put out a perfume in a bottle in the shape of a spiked high heel shoe. Yikes. This brain fart all came about due to her having been told she's an international style icon, a leader of the people, a personage of grave consequence. I think its called "Blight" or "Trite"or actually,"Beyond". Whatever it is, I'm saving my pennies for some Fantastic. At least it's useful around the house in a multitude of ways. Why put hard earned unemployment checks into the hands of someone who clearly has too much to know what to do with? Isn't there a conflict of interest if you're putting out a perfume and are an editor of a Conde Nast imprint? Is everyone and her cleaning lady gunning for Anna Wintour's job? When these characters surface I'm reminded why I write this blog. This Empress is stark naked!
Whatevahs!

photos courtesy of Hype magazine.
Ad shot by Giampaulo Sgura

Friday, July 23, 2010

Spritz!

News flash!!!!! Fluff Chance is tip-toeing into the vast arena of fragrance. Tired of watching everyone from Rachel Zoe to , now, Anna Dello Russo steam roll their way into the high stakes, ginormous return world of "Scent", he's decided to cash in. After all, every designer, blogger, stylist and her sister wants a Juice Deal. The difference that is so brilliant and forward thinking about this still top secret venture is that FLUFF is completely committed to its green-ness and sustainability. After months of market research and testing, he's come up with something totally natural and original.
His feeling is that scent is extremely personal and should be developed with a specific demographic in mind. Being all things to everyone is the quickest route to no audience at all, so out onto a limb he's crept. At this moment, the most we can know about this ground breaking new "parfum" is that it has bottom notes of sand, plastic and cigarette ash. Its top notes are rather acidic with a hint of sweat. There is the tiniest note of tuna and chicken which adds a mysterious dissonance to its overall harmony. Fluff consulted with noted "parfumeuse" and world-class nose, Beth Terry, whose very elegant and memorable scents "Te"and "Mare" are regarded by the best noses in the business as two of the finest jewels for the senses. As to the efficacy of such a ground breaking concept, Beth gave him sound advice and said, " Fluff, follow your dream. Blaze a new trail. Make history, NOW".
Well, that's exactly what he's gone and done. This scent will attract those with truly sophisticated and discerning tastes and drive those poor unfortunates who don't, running. The packaging is still in its final stages, but is along the lines of a Georgian crystal faceted tube (briolette cut) with a carved pear wood base on which it stands (reclaimed, of course) with a pale green sea glass stopper (reclaimed, as if I need to repeat myself, again). I understand that it must stay refrigerated so as not to spoil, as no preservatives, fixatives or chemicals of any sort are included.
The graphics are simple with only the name and an image of the newly inked Fluff. Since attending his new gym where the likes of every tatted Chelsea boy, along with newly unengaged Marc Jacobs and Calvin Klein, who was spotted pumping and preening, he's decided to speak visually in a language that people understand. A press release is officially on its way to all major papers in a matter of days. I felt compelled to share this with you first. He was considering "Tinkle" as he is a lover of all music, especially compositions for the piano. I suggested "Spritz" for obvious reasons. Stay tuned and run, don't walk to your nearest exclusive Department Store, ultra-forward thinking luxury Specialty store and of course, the TOP Pet Shops in the most major of cities here and abroad.

"You'll never forget or be forgotten!!!"

I made that one up. Sounds catchy, and it's the God's honest truth.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Scaasi returns to Isaacs!

After 55 years in the business dressing some of the world's most bold-faced names, Arnold Scaasi has sort of decided to close up shop. "Shop" has been a custom business for the last 15 years or so. I say custom, because it really doesn't qualify as Couture, in my humble opinion. He made lots of flashy dresses and gowns in his career but always with a certain "Arriviste" quality to them. His ladies always looked like over dressed guests, never chic Hostesses. That's the name of the game in that rarefied world of the high end. There's the Guest dress and the Hostess. The hierarchy of the coded dress in the land of "Affairs" is a treacherous obstacle course. The Hostess has to be the obvious Queen. She wears the height of fabulous, artistically IMPORTANT clothes that say, "I am wearing the best; therefore I am.....the best". The guest on the other hand wears ( too often) something inexpensive and totally forgettable, or something so vulgar, garish and scene making/scene
stealing that the Hostess is offended and everyone else wants to keep their distance. Scaasi was a master of the obvious and garish. He was damn good at it too. That's the beauty of the fashion business. There's enough room and demand for all sorts of talent. It's extremely democratic that way. What he did for Barbra Streisand for the Oscars in the 60's was as inspired as the trite, matronly stock he did for Barbara Bush in his golden years. He swung both ways; a man for all tastes.
I remember going for a job interview at his Central Park South Aerie back in the late 80's. His place was all Lalanne Sheep chairs (the same that Marc Jacobs has in his Paris pad) and busy art all over the place. As I can't really remember what it was, it probably wasn't that memorable...probably lots of Dali lithographs and too much Chagall. I bet there was some Leroy Neiman hanging there. Anyway, his uniformed African-American housekeeper let me in and had me sit in the foyer for him to appear. He did after about 20-30 minutes and was a whirlwind of energy and attitude for being so small. He was looking for someone to pump out schmaltz which wasn't my thing. I wanted to be a "Createur" and schmaltz didn't feel "authentic". He was nice, not rude, just short, I mean curt this time. I'd later run into him at Costume Institute Balls, parties , openings and at restaurants. He always had an arched eyebrow; very Joan Crawford. I even drove behind this annoyingly slow car on the L.I.E. coming back to the city one Sunday night. When I flashed my brights for the car to crawl out of the fast lane I saw the license plate which said "SCAASI". When I pulled up alongside him, sure enough it was the master, barely able to look over the steering wheel, but with a hyper arched eyebrow pointed at me for my rudeness. I thought his comments on Michelle Obama's style as being"amiss" was rich coming from someone who never made a First Lady look anything but tired and dated.
Nevertheless, I'll miss him. He will continue his costume jewelry collection for the Home Shopping Network so we'll see his lack of charm or personality on the flat screen at odd and inconvenient hours. He was an important part of the constellation which made up a galaxy of disparate designers. There's one less iconoclast to keep the salad mixed. It's fast becoming Boston lettuce with the dressing on the side.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Where is everybody?


Even though there is a collective tightening of belts throughout every corner of the world and in every industry, I'm a little surprised that so few Couture houses showed this season. There were a few die hard houses like Gaultier, Hasche, Sirop, Thimister and some scary Middle Eastern and Russian Couturiers that presented , no matter the interest or lack thereof. It's understandable, but why now and not last season or a year ago when the shit was really hitting the fan. It just seems a little late.

I rarely thought that there was that much to talk about. Much of it was so vague and tentative and in some cases utterly not Couture. In the Couture, that old line" Fake it til you make it" is a tough rule to live by. Faking it is so obvious to even an untrained eye, or at least to mine. Anne Valerie Hasche's reasoning for her collection last time around was particularly specious. She took the clothes of other designers who'd given them to her and messed with them in some uninteresting way and then sent it down the runway as Couture. It went right past me. I would guess it passed by more folks than just me. Thimister with his fake bloodied outfits was another question mark. Why? Gaultier and Sirop are the more missed of the bunch. JPG was very creative in that vein and always had something really interesting and beautiful to share.

Dominique Sirop had a vision as well. It was always hard for me to make out exactly what he was doing but there were many people who got it. He is an interesting character who has come a great distance in the last 30 years. That's when we met. It was 30 years ago when I was an apprentice at Givenchy and he was one of the most important Assistants. There was a hierarchy and in essence he was #2 in line after Enrique Martinez. Remember him? He briefly became an international label funded by big Mexico City Media Money with a fantastic boutique on Madison Ave. all done in back lit Alabaster walls. Well, that was much later , but in the old days he was Monsieur's right hand. Not the sharpest pencil on the desk but there was a special connection between the Master and Martinez. Alistair Blair was probably tied for second with Dominique. Alistair is and was extremely talented too, but more reserved. He did go on to work with and direct many important houses( Balmain, Feraud, Jaeger, Chloe and Laura Ashley, among others) including his own at one point in the 90's, backed by Peder Bertelson. Dominique was shy, fey and extremely French, and a very good mimic of Givenchy's style and manner of sketching. I sat next to these guys day in and out for almost a year and observed the politics and maneuvering for power. I was a non-entity having just arrived from a Liberal Arts college with no prior experience in fashion. Though I'd have an occasional lunch with the Team at cafes where many other Teams from competing houses would go, all sitting in different areas gossiping, bitching and posturing for importance, I was otherwise never included in things that went on socially after work. The irony was that I was one of the first of them to start my own collection and gain important accounts and press. It was so unlikely because their talent had already been forged, acknowledged and mine was unseen.
Givenchy supplied the investment to get Dominique started as a Couturier. From the first collection to the present I've always been fascinated at the personality of his clothes. They are so totally opposite of what I used to see him do at Givenchy. I hope to see the collection shown again soon. Of all of that gang back then, he was the sweetest in the end when I returned to the States. I never thought he particularly liked me, but he made a beautiful sketch and signed it wishing me well with my career which he seemed sure I would have. Just a random thought for you all.


*All images are the work of Dominique Sirop as is the portrait.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

It's Bastille Day!!!!!


It's either today or yesterday, either way we're celebrating over here. I've been getting lots of emails and calls regarding this new film coming out called "Dogs and Cats". There's a Sphinx in it that people are assuming is me. I was up for the part but the talks broke down over certain terms of the contract. They insisted I do my own stunts ( no F******* way, man) my own hair and make-up (don't they know who they're dealing with, I axe you?), and fore go a fee in lieu of points on the success of the box office. Well, I wasn't born yesterday, or the day before for that matter and I told them to kiss my hairless ass. So they went with that prostitution whore bag from Jersey, Grandma Tinkles or Wrinkles or whatever alias she's going by this week. You know the one I mean; Dina's rescue slag on Housewives of New Jersey. If you look closely at her, she's an unhealthy color and has all sorts of skin issues, which I am thankfully free of. She needs the money and a little attention.
I have more than my share, what with all the engagements, openings, parties, weekends in the Hamptons, trips to the doctor, bi-weekly Life Coaching sessions, Pilates, Yoga, Reiki, Jogging, Carpal Tunnel Therapy, mani-pedi appointments, fittings, shopping, returning, shopping and more returning, auditions for Reality Shows, shooting pilots for said Reality Shows, rejections, more therapy, 12-step meetings (blogaholics anonymous), coffee and burgers afterwards with members of said 12-step meetings,blogging when I can find the time, screenings, speaking engagements, meetings with my talent agent A., meetings with my literary agent E., meetings with my attorney L., an hour or 3 each day on my novel, and when I have a spare moment, I try to put aside some quality time with my "partner" Eric who is constantly distracted with his love interest, Anton. So as you see, that pathetic excuse for an overly long trailer of a movie makes little difference in my very full and satisfying life.
I know I would have done better, though. I can jump higher, run faster and get my lines done on the first take, not the 10th. I can do my hair, make-up, shower and dress in under 5 minutes and still have time to take a moment to chant.
With it being Bastille Day and all, I'd like to send all the charlatans for an "adjustment". It's a long list, so I won't bore you with it. Hell, I'm bored to death with all of them: designers who don't create, stores that don't give a shit about designers or clients, Starbuck's who have started to slip on the quality of their over-priced grande breve lattes, Main Street EHampton for turning it into an Outlet mall at full price, the Upper East siders who have brought their bed bugs with them to the East End and try to blame it on their Nannies, influential designers lobbying to keep their competition OFF the radar, magazine editors who are nothing more than pimps, over-hyped and over-paid Stylists who couldn't get dressed in the morning without 5 assistants and a bucket full of Xanax, oh, and let's not forget the people who brought us Tea Baggers (whatever the hell they call themselves) and the Conservative Right or White. Same thing, for the most part.
Now that I've gotten that off my chest I just realized something. Actually, 2 things: Bastille day was about storming the prison, not filling it, and it was yesterday. Well, I think you get my point.With all that I have on my plate it's any wonder I know the day of the week : It's Friday, right?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Valentino Haute Couture Fall2010: "The Dark Side of First Love".....


The "Dark Side"? Yes. But what has love or, heaven forbid "First Love" got to do with it? Honestly, I think more time, thought and effort went into the title of this "line" than any actual imagination. It was more a bit of an "8 Easy pieces" formula swollen to the size of a beached whale, than anything else. I won't say there weren't a few memorable numbers along that rutted path, but in general it was a mosh pit of sameness re-cut over and over in the same fabrics,only different colors. That's giving it a lot of credit when you'll see that the fabrics consisted of gazar, chiffon and a bit of beaded lace. The colors ran from black to red, a soupcon of ecru and white. I was bowled over with the mind numbing range of color. The real news were the shapes; classic "couture" shapes that referenced the greats of the metier from Balenciaga, YSL, Givenchyand a touch of Nicholas Ghesquierre. No references from the vast Valentino archive were in evidence beyond the signage and the labels within.

Baby Doll dresses with their empire waists and tiered flounced hems were the details that ran amok throughout most of the styles. A very Ghesqierre suit in stiff armored gazar, all flat, hard planes was a stand out in Ecru with it's booty baring mini skirt. The lengths were very short on most cocktail dresses which gave it a very Gossip Girl relevance, but it is unlikely that many clients will order those pieces without adding a good 25 centimeters to the hem. Kitten heels were the shoe of choice, all with cloying bows placed to the side of the toes or with dangling feathers. That same saccharine bow turned up as wrist adornments on too many dresses. I got the feeling that the budget was extremely tight on this outing. Little or no impressive accessories were anywhere to be seen and there seemed to be a rationing of yardage allowed for dresses, gowns or excitement.In the first 5 exits two of the first little black gazar dresses appear to be the same dress until you see that one has a single flounced hem and the other has a double. I honestly looked at both half a dozen times before I saw the difference. This happened with other styles, namely a very pretty red bustier cut with an empire waist and straight skirt, the other exactly the same only this time with a flounced hem. It came back one last time near the end, again in red, but now with a skirt to the floor with the requisite flounce at the hem. It was a very pretty gown, but didn't elicit much response having seen it grow and mature from the beginning to the much anticipated end. The black chiffon dress with the growth all down its front was alarming in its way. Scary biscuits, that. The shapes kept being repeated again and again. One moment in gazar, then next in lace , then once more in gazar with the only difference being a change of color.....some of the time. The "Caged Bird" number was particularly camp, but it's counterpart, all ecru satin piped corseting with an inverted tea cup skirt was perhaps my favorite of all. I will say that Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paulo Piccioli (they even share the same number of names) have improved a bit since last season's rampage of the ruffle, and this definitely had more chic and refinement. But with a house of that stature, with a history of magnificent workmanship, imagination and glamor, it felt very West 35th street to me, 35th closer to 9th Ave than 7th. When a designer operates on a limited budget and limited technical resources, she/he tends to find a few great shapes and plays them for all they're worth. It's economical and understandable and even forgivable in the eyes of retailers and press. It's a simple question of a limited budget. When that sort of output comes from a major international design house, one is forced to notice, question and ultimately groan. Each outing of these two accessory designers makes me wish for the good old days (2 seasons, but hey, 2 respectable ones) of Alessandra Facchinetti. That designer had a vision that was clearly matched with taste and imagination. These two remain unknown quantities. The parent company must be biding their time til they can unload Proenza Schouler and any of their other holdings before they drop the curtain altogether on this collection or just throw up their hands an hire Rodarte. If this is their idea of sublime, I say go for the ridiculous.
Hell, give me the scissors, I'm rested,rejuvenated and ready for battle......

Chanel Haute Couture Fall2010


Scale is everything in life. Big dreams, big hearts, and big, bold statements. Why should fashion be any different? Karl Lagerfeld lives by this dictate and by extension so do his collections for the House of Chanel. The Fall2010 Collection, recently shown at Paris’ Grand Palais, by no means a modest venue, bore out this idea on a truly enormous scale. The set was a circular stage with its main prop a humongous bronze lion with its paw resting on a globe. The “globe” was in fact a pearl that stood at least 15 feet high and appeared to be the portal from which the models emerged. As Mademoiselle Chanel was a Leo, this was an homage to her ferocious talent, spirit and place in the pantheon as one of the most influential designers of the 20th century.

The Collection, which numbered approximately 70 exits, was enormous in its size. Karl may be many things but prolific is at the top of the list. Colors were darker with lots of navy, burgundy, loden and camel. There was very little black and most of the styles were either trimmed in velvet, crystals and Russian sable. He introduced a shoulder more pronounced in it’s roundness and many, many pieces for day and evening were multi-tiered, layered and fell to the knee or a few centimeters below. There was not one evening gown that fell to the floor. Not a single one unless you consider the bride, the final exit on the arm of the ubiquitous Baptiste complete with a lion’s head mask. That paillette and embroidered knee length dress had a panel of embroidered tulle, which fell from the edge of its bolero and trailed along the ground behind. For the Couture to abolish gowns altogether was just one element of this audacious Collection.

The whole presentation had a feral quality within its confines of propriety. The quaint notion of rules have no place on this stage. Lagerfeld has effectively wiped that notion away with a grand swipe of that BIG Kitty's paw. For day, which included suits of crepe, wool boucle and grain de poudre, to embroideries invading tweeds whose collars, cuffs, and hips framed in bands of Russian sable, it was a display of the extraordinary technique of Chanel's petit-mains. The almost subversive attitude of the clothes gave them an immediacy that echoes the times we live in. Granted, we’re talking uber-Luxe, the clothes remain in step, or some steps ahead. Nothing about this Collection felt like pure fantasy. My feeling was more of a dream for this moment, a fashion with heightened expression for a modern woman to wear. Evening was in this similar vein but with the added richness.Glistening paillettes, Sun King embroideries of beautiful blossoms, and layers tulle delicately embroidered or appliqu├ęd with abstractly draped flourishes of contrasting iridescent mousseline adorned abbreviated jackets and dresses. The hair and make-up for the models was deliberately off handed and wild in keeping with the leonine mood. All of the girls wore a slouched high-heeled boot that went from the simple spectator to completely covered in embroidery complimenting the dress she wore.

I won’t pretend this Collection is for everyone. I could have happily done without the boots. Many shapes would challenge a woman of any age or figure type. I will say that the spirit of Coco Chanel with her ferocious energy, vision, and exquisitely original imagination is alive and well in the hands of Lagerfeld. There may have been fewer Couture shows this season than in the recent past, but that's life. I chalk it up to natural selection. These are tough times and not every house is up to such a costly task. It does not mean the Couture is breathing its last breath.As others sleep, Chanel by contrast, is wide and wildly awake.