Sunday, August 19, 2012

Helen Gurley Brown: So Long, Sweetie!

Helen and David Brown
It seems that all of a sudden so many truly warm, brilliant, unique people are saying their farewells. People who have been such a profound part of our life's fabric, we almost expect them to be here forever. Helen Gurley Brown is certainly one of the most colorful ones. I remember as a kid watching her on talk shows like Dick Cavett, Merv Griffin and Johnny Carson. She was always, to my inexperienced and uninformed mind, a siren of sorts. Provocative, sexy, unapologetic, clever, witty, incredibly smart and above all else, kind. She was the embodiment of 'larger-than-life-ness'. Cosmopolitan was a magazine with more punch, edge and brains than the glossies that crowded around it on the news stand. The covers were smoking hot thanks to Scavullo's unerring eye. In short, Ms. Brown and her magazine were legend in my mind from my early days in Groton, Massachusetts.

When I found my way to NYC and started my own collection, Ms. Brown and her magazine were instrumental in giving me a much needed leg up. In those days, small companies like mine depended on prestigious and strategic placement in important stores in order to get noticed. PR companies and advertising budgets were not even an option. Mr. Scavullo's assistant and partner, Sean Byrnes, spotted a gown of mine at Bergdorf Goodman and made an appointment to come to the showroom. He appeared at the appointed hour and asked if I'd do the same gown as a very short dress, in size 4 in canary yellow. It was for a cover try for the magazine and I had 2 days to do it. I did it, they chose it and it was my first cover for a major magazine. That dress sold like crazy to all my stores and I got new accounts just because of that cover. It was a game changer for me and my team.

Fast forward to about 5 years ago: I was invited to a Cosmo Girl lunch hosted by Bonnie Fuller in honor of Karenna Gore. There were lots of interesting people there, almost all women and me. By chance Helen Gurley Brown was also there in itsy-bitsy Chanel with the shortest skirt in the room. It couldn't have been longer than 10". I was introduced to her and discovered we'd be seated next to one another. I was scared and had no idea what to say to her but gamely rolled with the challenge. She immediately started calling me 'Pussy Cat' (the irony was not lost on me)and peppered me with a ton of questions. She wanted to know everything. Between answers she'd offer advice like: "Don't listen to anyone, only your gut matters". "Stay as nice as you are, but don't take any one's shit". She was completely candid and unbelievably kind. I told her that my first cover was for Cosmopolitan and she actually remembered it, the model (Magaly) and the dress. She ate her lunch with her fingers and nibbled some of mine, too. At one point she suggested I not neglect the person to my left but I told her she was much more fun than anyone else there. She said she was the luckiest girl to have the most handsome guy as her lunch partner. I had to laugh because other than the waiters, I was probably the only guy at the table.

She awed me as a kid, helped me immeasurably as a new designer on the scene and astounded me  in her final years. That spirit she showed in the late 60's, 70's and to the present never flagged for a moment. The world was her oyster and we all were her Pussy Cats. She was a great Lady and a hell of a Gal.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Keep Calm and Back Off

verb: to chillax
still life with Paul Smith undies

I've been chillaxing out here in East Hampton. Not full time but a string of elongated weekends with friends, Anton's niece in from Germany and soon my Mom, who arrives in a couple of days. My eye isn't off the ball, only focused on the two huge clear exercise balls floating in the pool. At night they look like drifting air bubbles on an illuminated pond. You don't have to say it, I know I'm lucky. I'm not complaining but this sequestered paradise makes coming up for air harder and harder. The best is it's way far away from the action in the center of town and light years away from the city. Other than going into town to get food, wrangling with the hordes of people who suffer from a perverse sense of entitlement, or heading to the far end of the beach beyond section G(ay), it's a quiet life. I read books, the paper and almost no magazines other than the New Yorker. I also have inordinate amounts of time to think. The big questions like: Where am I going? What am I doing? Why does the future feel so much like the past? What should I eat for dinner? Should I watch The Real Housewives or the new kiddie pageant reality show, "Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo Child"? Just day dreamy, simple minded questions. I timed a turtle crossing the lawn yesterday and that little guy got from one side to the other in about 10 minutes. I'm talking a distance of a good 1/4 acre. That was just one charming moment in my charmed day.

one way to look at things
 I've devoted the greater part of the summer to working on a memoir. Not easy. Sure, I've got tons of stories from my storied life, the question is which ones are worth sharing? Honestly, I don't know but I'm digging it up and out as best I can. Some weeks I fly and others find me sitting in a stupor staring at the wall. I hope to get it together and done one day soon. I read so many things (in fashion) that bring so much of it back. Reading a piece in this month's Vanity Fair on John Fairchild of Women's Wear Daily/W magazine fame brought up a lot and not all of it pleasant. Unpleasantness in the fashion business didn't start with him or end with the Anna's of the world. The legion of miscreants will just go on and on until the last show ends and the last intern quits but neither of those things is likely to happen in our lifetimes.

(ex)Model Moms
Hair and make-up at all times
Adrian and Anton at the Cupcake sale
When I do go into town I witness a civilization I barely recognize. Just navigating the aisle of Citarella to forage for foodstuffs can incite a race riot. Yesterday I was pushing my cart down the vegetable section ( I'm a healthy eater now thanks to Anton's rigidly strict Teutonic diet) when I encountered an abandoned cart parked smack in the middle of the tiny, one lane aisle. As I shifted it about 6" to the side, an East Hampton matron in a faded pink and lilac Lilly Pulitzer shift with ratted, greasy blond hair in a scrunchy that had seen much better days and flip flops with big shredded daises appeared from no where. "What do you think you're doing?" she barked. Before I could say a word she continued,"I can't believe you people...". She seemed to be going someplace with the "you people" and it didn't look like a good place. It didn't take long to do the math and I stopped her in her miserable tracks. "Lady, you don't want to finish what you're starting. Oh, and have a nice day!"The creature refused to back down and looked around for her absent posse for back-up as if the whole store would join her in her pathetic rant. People like her are the problem in this town, this city, this world. The greater problem is that there's an army of them out there. That army likes nothing better than to set up camp in places like East Hampton. They're so combat weary they view everyone and everything as the enemy.

 I overheard two very young girls in the local diner one morning at breakfast. With the Hampton Classic fast approaching at the end of the month, everything equestrian is in full swing. Kelly Klein is back up from Palm Beach to train her horses and squeeze in some parenting. The loyal circuit followers are back from London as well as most of the competitors who will participate in this all- important social, I mean competitive event. So these pre-teen girls, fresh from the barn, in their German breeches, Ralph monogrammed Polo shirts, custom-made boots and Hermes belts worn jauntily to the side, were lost in conversation. One complained to the other that her pony's bloodlines just weren't enough for the Classic. She lamented that she would be mortified to show him knowing full well that he just "didn't have it..." Her doppelganger did what any good doppelganger does and offered up her own experience, strength and hope: "I told my Mom just before she was leaving for the Parish Art
Sprocket and Ainsley
Museum benefit that she needs to do something about Sprocket. He's nice for someone who just wants to show but not if you expect me to ribbon. My trainer showed me a video of a much nicer one for $200K and he thinks you need to buy him now if I'm going to be ready in a month." She continued, "After all this isn't just about me but also about you. He says the Judges are looking at everything and my tack needs to be Hermes as well." It was all delivered so matter of factly that there was little left to question. They settled on stools at the counter and ordered their chocolate shakes and hamburgers. Life is that simple for some here. Even low-key events out here look cast and styled. I've never seen so many mothers with stylish looking little kids. The other day in Amagansett there was a face painting/cupcake sale on the green (quaint, so quaint) and half the moms looked like ex-models. That's probably because they are.....

Swimming in the bay
This sort of chatter is everywhere coming from the most unlikely mouths. I try to ignore it and amuse myself with my own pursuits. But being the creature that I am, who tends to find it almost impossible to ignore life's details, it's tough to block out the noise. One thing that makes it all so dull is that all the money flowing through this area brings nothing that even closely resembles style. It's a sartorial wasteland. A great book, progress at the gym ( I did 12 pull-ups 3 times the other day (where was Marc Jacobs when I was making history?), or some new discovery are the stuff that makes my little boat float. A new discovery for me is Italy's Francesco Scognamiglio. His Resort collection made my temperature rise. Not so his Fall 2012, but if Resort is an indication of what or where he's going, he's worth watching. No matter how glorious or ghoulish the clothes, Karlie Kloss is impossible to ignore. That girl can sell a dress. Hell, I'm tempted to buy it. She's Old School in the very best sense of the phrase. Back to school needs to shift to Old School. It's time for models and design to take a cue from the way it used to be done. Some substance to back up the attitude. Character and individuality was never so needed and novel as now. Clothes that say," Keep Calm and F$#&@g Buy This." Models who don't just grab your attention but DEMAND it.We need experiences in fashion that change our thinking and people who write about it who actually enlighten rather than confuse and irritate us.