Monday, January 25, 2010
The hapless contestants don't know or do anything but force their"experts" to do all the design and construction. There are cat fights, people storming out, buckets of tears and ego tantrums that set a new standard for the shabbiest casting to date. There was a line uttered by a contestant whose job to date was being photographed at shows in utterly outlandish costumes, make-up and attitude. His day job had been as a Sales Director for a designer. When the group was given the task of going out to Venice Beach to pick up on trends to incorporate into the challenge of the week, he actually said, " I don't pick up on trends, I set them!" That was when I stepped away from the TV, grabbed the remote and took a long walk around the block.
These shows have created and perpetuated this idea that anyone can be a designer and anything , no matter how lame will capture an audience as long as the word Fashion is tacked to it. I have a problem with this. That isn't to say that there isn't an entertainment quotient to be found in some or all of these shows, but they aren't REAL and it isn't fashion. You may disagree with me and even say to each other, "what make him so sure?" It's just a feeling I have after spending 22 years in the business as a designer that this is not the reality I experienced.
Now Vera wants in. The troubling aspect to all of this "pants down around your ankles" on weekly TV is just that at a certain point we've seen it all, already. Vera's story is even more familiar than most designers. Will we follow her from her Park Ave. pile to the studio(by limo) after listening in on her instructing the chef and maid as to what she NEEDS. Perhaps, we get to see a fitting with an Olympic figure skater or a bridezilla. Maybe we'll sit in on a very high level meeting with the top brass from Kohl's. Either way, it probably doesn't make for any better TV than Puffy's lame show or Dawg, the Bounty Hunter. Until Fashion reality shows start taking on the actual mechanics and day to day grind of creating clothes in the REAL world, everything will be a sad exercise of the banal.
Friday, January 22, 2010
Just when I thought it was safe to lounge on my sofa, the doorbell rang. It was the MAN,the UPS man with a package addressed to me. In this new and unsettling world when a package arrives that one didn't order or ask for, you grab it. Who knows....it could contain the new life you've been praying for. I didn't even take the time to sign for it, but snatched it from those giving hands and sprinted back up to my lair, ripping off the wrapping the whole way. By the time the package was stripped bare of it's protective covering, I could feel heat emanating from within. What was in this heat- pumping box? Was it a new life or better yet, a new friend? Maybe a special bonus from Face Book due to my paltry number of FB friends? Nope. It was a Snuggie and it was a Snuggie that had made its way into my home. No exterminator was going to help me now. I was officially a victim of SNUGGINVASION.
To make matters worse,it was PINK. There was a cloying charm to it despite its fabric content which is too awful to print. Still,it spoke to me like a siren's song drawing me closer and closer to the jagged shoals of un-coolness.Ive heard on the grapevine that Italian Vogue is planning a whole issue around it which will be shot by Steven Meisel. The Blogger cover planned for American Vogue may get scrapped just to shoot it on Naomi for the cover. Anna would do most anything to scoop the competition. Fendi is supposedly making one in sable for Andre Leon Talley! Imagine the scale and LUXE of such a creation. I thought Crocs were the last behemoth trend to take over the world, but no, THIS IS IT. There's even a book that's been recently published called the Snuggie Kama Sutra; every possible position enhanced with a Snuggie. That is next on my shopping list.
Once I broke down, stripped, and put it on, I understood. This was my new life delivered by UPS. I now have a reason to get up in the morning. More importantly, I have a reason to rush home(more like stay home)and wrap myself in its fabulousness. Con Ed can cut me off now that I have real warmth enveloping my chilled existence. My only regret is that all is well when you face life head-on in a Snuggie. But for God's sake don't turn your back. The facts behind the Snuggie can be sobering, frightening and nakedly harsh.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
The Golden Globes:
I took my time getting to it and spent the first hour or so on the road coming home. I passed on the pre-show. Having played that game 5 or 6 times as a designer to the stars, I wasn't particularly anxious to see the cavalcade of too often regrettable choices slither down that warn and soggy carpet. I texted to my trusty Associate, Naji Batanian , to deliver the blow by blow as the Ladies and Gents descended from their chariots and peeked out from under their umbrellas.
All the usual characters were in place looking happy and over dressed, just like carbon copies of years past. It was strangely like Ground Hog day: same crap, different award show. Men were foolishly dressed like Mickey Roarke or very coolly dressed like Robert Downey Jr. He took way too much shit for not wearing a tie. When you've got jewelled studs running down the front of your shirt, and a bespoke Tuxedo, why spoil the picture by burying the goodies with a tie? The Critics are as clueless as most of the stylists. The stylists are a complete post alone. Let's just say that experience hasn't necessarily made them wiser.
There are certain actresses you just can't deface. Julia Roberts in vintage YSL with a killer Bulgari necklace. Yes, it was way over the top, but so exquisitely glamorous and fantastically designed. That level of sparkle trumps the emerald drop earrings that Julianne Moore wore escorted by Tom Ford. Hers were also Bulgari, but were an eye popping 15-20 carats. Sorry folks, but I draw the line at 10. Any single stone above that looks more manufactured than magnificent. Remember when Whoopi wore the 40 carat yellow Harry Winston diamond necklace a few years back? I was offered it for an actress I was dressing and told them,"NO". They thought I was brain dead. I told them that it leapt over the line of fabulous straight to vulgar. I said it's so big, it doesn't even look real, let alone beautiful.Tom would rather sacrifice beauty for bombastic, assuming he had a hand in Julianne's choice of raiment....I'd bet my Lotto ticket on it. As a result, those earrings smacked her around all night and not in a sexy way. It was bling abuse.
Drew Barrymore is my Star of choice. Her win for Little Edie of "Grey Gardens" was one of the greatest highlights of the evening for me. Drew Barrymore is so commanding an actress that she would have looked great in jeans and a tank top. She has all the right elements: talent, grace, loveliness, humility, and gratitude. On top of all of that she's got great taste and a kick-ass stylist who knows how to make her look her best. You see Drew FIRST, then you notice all the details. That is the way style functions. The person is always the focus and the clothes come second. I honestly don't care who she wears because I'm more interested to watch and listen to what she has to say. Not that it's deep pearls of wisdom 24/7, but she has a mind of her own and seems to enjoy sharing herself with the public in a disarmingly natural way. Yes, her acceptance speech was rambling and all over the place...it just made her that much more human.
Then we have someone like Chloe Sevigny, another talented actress. That's where the comparison ends. Let's crawl back to the days of Imitation of Christ. Those were dark, pagan ritual filled days. Chloe was their false idol, their paid mascot. Then she got it into her head that she was a style icon. What was she smoking? It certainly wasn't American Spirit Lights. She's not conventionally pretty but has an interesting look. What rubs me is her disingenuousness that seeps out everytime she's in public. It's only under wraps when she's following a script. Her little journey to the podium to accept her award was a case in point.Chloe Sevigny betrayed her dogged obsession with "the Dress" when she went to accept her award and carped to the whole world that the hapless escort had stepped on her dress, and then repeated it again 2 more times. What about accepting your first Golden Globe and to hell with the 15 yard long train that everybody probably stomped on in the course of the night?
Christina Hendricks was just a dot on the Red Carpet radar. She was hardly noticeable unless you focused on Christian Siriano's uninspired design. It was a rookie's idea of glamor and fell short of the mark. Way too much was made of Cathy Horyn's remark that she looked like a big girl in a big dress. Readers were outraged and blasted her blog, On The Runway. I was more put off by a beautiful woman in a banal gown. End of story.
There was a general malaise to the overall picture. Either tired beading, too much cleavage, a few too many slits and gargantuan scaled ball gowns. None was modern, unique or envelope pushing. The more mature actresses generally pulled it off with elan and style. The youngsters were more clueless (or their stylists were). None, or at least 95% of the choices are made without the help of a stylist. It's not a fashion show any more, it's a branding convention with an award show backdrop.Perhaps I should list the stars and designers and have a hit list going, but I'm not feeling it. You all saw it, each of you have your favorites and I won't add much to that dialogue by naming mine. I just miss the days when it was really exciting and we couldn't wait to see what's what. Now I'd rather watch a re-run of Tabitha's Salon Take-over. I can't get enough of that show. See you at the Oscar's. Let's hope they send that carpet out for a professional cleaning!
Monday, January 18, 2010
On Friday as I waited to get the hell out of town, I stumbled onto Project Runway's debut episode. I'll try to be brief. Someone told me I'm too chatty, and it has stuck in my brain, so I'll try carving my way to the heart of this. I'm not a fan, never have been since seeing the first season's contestants standing around Mood Fabric Store waiting to flag down fans , despite the fact that the season was over a few months before. I thought that was a little sad. I ran into another contestant, not winner, in Savannah on a couple of occasions and he was more grand than Andre Leon Talley (the definition of grand, I mean this in a good way...) with a couple of sweet sixteen and prom dresses to his credit. Way, way over the top. So my faith in the graduates of that University of Tough Love is very skewed. There is talent there for sure, but I don't get what happens to it once it's gone through the KLUMgrinder, been forced down the GARCIAdeflator, tossed and tugged by the GUNNgotron, picked and poked by the KORStrator and then finished off by the loving hands of Nicole Richie. Talk about salmon swimming upstream...that's a stroll in the fish market compared to this forced march.
So the usual antics were in place and the trained and untrained seals had to jump through hoops. The tasks were challenging and the contestants were generally better than those in the past. There was a flicker of hope at the end of Bravo's crack pipe, but that didn't erase some very tasteless remarks uttered by the "Experts". These remarks stood out more than the mediocre work that came from some, not all of the contestants. Put a group of young and relatively inexperienced designers in cramped living quarters, feed them God knows what, strap a time bomb to their asses and wait for the meltdowns, fireworks and venom. That's the Bravo recipe for success in the fashion world. It's only a step or two to the side of professional wrestling.
Without too much description, I'll say I was impressed with Ping, Jeneane, Jesus, and even loud mouthed Anthony, from Hotlanta!!! It was the first go round so who's to say what any of them are truly capable of until the heat gets turned way up. We'll just wait and see who rises and who gets scorched.
Tim Gunn started it off by telling the designer, who actually won the challenge, that no designer in the history of PR had ever NOT completed a garment. This threat was delivered with the most menace and snarl that he could muster. The poor contestant looked ready to wet his pants. I take issue with that statement. I can't tell you how many times I've seen garments trot down that runway that are anything but finished or complete.
Michael Kors saved some of his most abrasive remarks for a young Black woman, saying that her dress looked glued together(believe me it didn't) and that her model looked like "some Hoochie Mama" who'd walked through garbage. That was a completely thoughtless, racist , callous remark by someone who should know better. I won't go further than that, except to say that his expression is one of a constant grimace. His aviator shades used to bother me, now I prefer that they stay on. At least, his dead eye stare is less obvious. He's a great designer but he's become a mean spirited man filled with self satisfaction.
Heidi Klum, in her magnificence, spoke for all of the judges to another contestant stating the judge's confusion over whether or not the designer had a sufficient taste level. I guess that was a golden moment in that this confused model/Host was unwittingly showing her hand of straight Jokers.
Nicole Richie was the only one without a destructive agenda. She liked things or didn't in a very natural and subjective way. She wasn't particularly articulate, but her opinions carried more currency that the verbose chatter of the Experts.
When did they become both Judge and Jury? None of them knows remotely what it takes to be a designer except Michael. He's been successful so long, I fear that all empathy and sympathy have gone the way of his past, failed businesses......gone and forgotten.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
The shows are about to begin, again. I'm wondering what's new or old. Having just read the New Yorker's story on Rodarte,"Twisted Sisters", I'm particularly curious to see what they exhume, torch, torture,mutilate, coerce and threaten into being. After reading the piece I actually had this image of the clothes running down the runway heading for the exit just to escape the madness that is Mommy(s). There's something a little menacing about the pair. No doubt it will be a labor intensive collection, but will there be a new message or just a post script to the last 5 years? The "people in the know" will, as always, get it but what about the others of us?
I wonder if Marc Jacobs will have as his finale a wedding at the end of the runway with Anna officiating. Perhaps, he and his man-tanned swain will finally get on with it and have the wedding that they have flogged us with since last spring. This is a publicity stunt that is way out of control. They risk their fan base saying ,"So what", if they don't hurry up and get hitched. I, for one, feel that these constant reports of them having secretly wed in the most public of places, a bit tired and gratuitous. It's branding gone absurdly awry. Just make the clothes and stop trying to market what should be your private life. Maybe some of you think that mean spirited, but when you really think about it, whose business is it really, but theirs? We don't need to know everything, nor do we want to, at least, I don't.
This perverse form of branding is something that puzzles me more and more. In the olden days, say when YSL was shaping the way we looked at fashion, glamor and the power of a design house, branding really came into being. We saw him at Studio 54 or lounging in Marrakesh, but most of all we saw the clothes. The man was a foil for the brilliance of his clothes. With Tom Ford and Gucci, the formula was turbo-charged and the foil became ads that oozed and sweated SEX. Still the focus was the clothes. Now branding is becoming strictly focused on the designer with little care or interest in the clothes. We see the scowling Proenza Schoulers, the pouting Mulleavy's, the smirking Posen or the bobbing Wang. We see Alber Elbaz pretending to be the lonely circus clown complete with scuffed boots. What happened to the product?
Well, now the product gets trotted out for all of us to see. Will it measure up to the attention the designers have garnered? Will it justify our love? I certainly hope so. We can't wear the man or woman behind the clothes. We can only wear the clothes. Alber's Pre-Fall collection in leopard was deluxe. What passed as denatured couture for spring had me puzzled and disappointed. I don't see women spending thousands and thousands on artfully draped washed cotton tacked to a body stocking with or without a Lanvin label stitched inside. Call me old fashioned, but I don't.
I'll see you in the trenches, I mean tents.
Sunday, January 10, 2010
Many of you will know this great Lady and some of you may not. Eunice Johnson was the creator, along with her husband, of Ebony Magazine. She died on January 3, 2010 at the age of 93 years old. The Johnson Publishing company in Chicago has other titles on its roster like Jet, but Ebony was the jewel in their publishing crown. What is extraordinary is its longevity and the fact that there was no other publishing company owned by an African-American with its breadth and influence. In short, Eunice Johnson was a living legend.
The magazine was a staple in my house growing up. My mother still gets it each month. It was created for African-American men and women, particularly women to share with them and expose them to fashion , culture and the who's-who of African-Americans. It was one of the first fashion magazines along with Vogue, GQ and Andy Warhol's Interview that I read as a kid. I remember being awed by the glamour of it's editorial pages, much like I was with the even slicker Conde Nast offerings. What affected me most was my Mother's loyalty as a reader. She explained early on that her early years were spent in a segregated United States where everything was divided between White and Black. The colleges my parents went to were Negro colleges and the restaurants , hotels and stores where they shopped in the 40's and 50's were for Negros and were not mixed. With the advent of this magazine in 1945, there was finally a fashion magazine created for Black people by Black people and it was a gigantic point of pride for the readers and subscribers. My Mother's loyalty was largely influenced by that simple fact.
As I grew older, I saw the magazine as marginal and felt that it didn't satisfy my growing appetite for the "best and latest" of what was in the larger world. Like many of us I bought into the power that is VOGUE. What I didn't see at that time was that I was buying into one, at the sacrifice of the other. My so-called "trading up" was a negation and undermining of a publication that was valid, informative and something I could learn from. I was like so many people guzzling the Kool-Aid and even pouring the powdered contents into my hands and licking it up, despite it's intense sourness. Silly, myopic me was too blind to notice that Eunice was introducing me to some of the best of European Haute Couture and Ready to Wear from here and abroad. My mind screwed up the equation ( I always stunk at math) and decided that if my Mother liked it, it had to be uncool.
It wasn't until many years later when I'd done my time in Paris at Givenchy and opened my own house that I came face to face with the power and generosity of Ebony. All along since the 50's Eunice Johnson had started a traveling fashion show that covered the United States. It was largely geared towards and attended by African-American women. It was usually held on Sunday afternoons and millions of women would attend in their finest clothes. The Fashion Fair showcased the latest in Haute Couture from ALL of the top houses in Paris and Rome: YSL,Dior, Ungaro,Valentino, etc. and the best houses in New York: Blass, Oscar, Mary McFadden, you name it. One year when the new Fall collection was opening for market, my Sales Director got a cal from a Ken Owens, the buyer for the Fashion Fair, asking if he could come and see the collection. When I found out he was coming, I didn't know what to make of it. They weren't a store, so what would they be coming for? It turns out, they had heard about my collection, Mrs. Johnson had seen my things at Bergdorf Goodman and made a point to include African-American designers in the show. Ken was very soft spoken, to the point of being shy. I showed him the collection and he shot about 12 pieces with his camera. As he left, he said he'd show the pictures to Eunice when he got home and would be in touch the following week. He also said that they would pay in advance for whatever they might choose. I thanked him and thought that it was a long shot considering he'd shot the most elaborate, expensive pieces in the collection along with fur: Chinchilla to be precise. We're talking a lot of cash in advance.
Sure enough, a week later I got a fax(remember those?)with an order. EVERYTHING he shot they ordered, including the Chinchilla. I was dumbfounded. Four weeks later the check arrived. It was huge. Everything was ordered in size 6 and 8 and there were a couple of duplicate orders for evening gowns and suits in size 10. I figured the 10's were a typo, so I called Ken to thank him and ask if in fact he had a size 10 model or was it a mistake. He explained then that the 10's were for Mrs. Johnson. She loved the collection and wanted some of the pieces for her own wardrobe. That was very flattering. This experience repeated itself season after season in the very same way. The rules never changed.Part of what was so extraordinary about her show was that she bought the most Haute Couture pieces of any one person in the world (a fact that remains strangely unspoken), the show has raised more than $55 million for scholarships, community groups, hospitals and civil rights groups. That's called giving back.
A magazine that I looked at as a young teen and later put aside for others turned out to be one of my most loyal clients. This was like a circle, almost as though my Mother had had some sort of cosmic influence. My Mother and many friends around the country saw those shows with my clothes included and always sent back word that they loved them and were so proud of them. I found out that The Johnsons have kept an archive with everything from all the past shows(assuming it survived the road) and that everything that they bought from me was in the archive. I'm very honored knowing this and pleased that I had a small part in the history made by Eunice Johnson and the Ebony Fashion Fair. I'm also proud of the editorial pages I was fortunate to have in the magazine.She gave more to African -Americans than the magazines and Fashion Show. Eunice created Fashion Fair Cosmetics, the first cosmetics collection targeted for women of color. The success of it inspired Revlon, Avon and Max Max Factor to do the same. Up until then African-American women had to make do and mix colors to suit their complexions. Eunice was a pioneer on many fronts.
There will be a tribute to Mrs. Johnson tomorrow at the Met in NYC. It will surely be a moving experience. I understand that Desiree Rogers will present a Proclamation on behalf of President Obama. That's fitting and more than deserved. I'm a little disappointed that, again, the Social Secretary has been given this momentous responsibility and not the First Lady. I can only hope it's done with grace, respect and tact. In closing, I'd like to say Thank You to Eunice Johnson for her loyalty and belief in me. I will never forget her and the gifts she gave to so many; selflessly and consistently.
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
I was aware of it the moment we entered the city and saw the pace of the population. No hurrying , pushing or sense of urgency was evident. Checking into the hotel was a slow and relaxed experience. The hotel, Achselhaus, which was recommended to me by my best girlfriend Jolain Bowen and her husband Christopher Bowen was beautiful in it's redefinition of a "boutique hotel". Chris and Jolain had spent a stretch of time there when he was getting the Berlin production of Blue Man Group up and running. Chris is one of the original Blue Men and travels the country and world establishing Blue Men productions. Jolain is an extraordinary designer who started with her own eponymous collection and went on to design for Calvin, Joseph Abboud, Carolyne Roehm and Oscar de la Renta. She has collaborated with me on some of my most treasured collections as well. I can easily say that she is the one designer that completes me. Working together with her on collections is one of the most fluid and satisfying experiences I've ever had. I intend to work together with her on many future projects. But back to the hotel.... They recommended it, and it was great. So what if our little apartment (much more than just a room) was on the 6th floor and had no elevator. We took it one flight at a time and eventually got there. Over-packing is a curse from which I never learn.
Everyday was spent combing the city's museums, stores, neighborhoods and cafe/restaurants. Returning at night to our nest, filled with delicious food, impressions and freezing cold was so satisfying I wondered why we didn't stay put. There was too much to see and do in 8 days and time raced. This hotel wasn't about slick minimalism but much more about comfort, a mix of cultures in it's design and an overwhelming atmosphere of calm. We could have been in Marrakesh or on an island in the tropics . A hearty breakfast and perfectly strong coffee waited for us in the hotel's cafe each morning. We habitually were the last ones to sit before they shut down for the day.
We never turned on a TV during the whole stay. My computer screen was as close as I got to a TV and I avoided news of the world outside. New York spends so much energy in its attempt to influence and regulate so much in the world. Berlin seemed more concerned with itself and making life there satisfying and stimulating for its population. So many small boutiques had signs stating that they were Berlin design houses . This gave me the feeling that these designers were not out to conquer the world. They were invested in giving pleasure and satisfaction to those who walked through their doors. So much of fashion in New York is designed for global ends. If a designer doesn't become internationally known and sold, they are considered somehow less than successful. This idea is destructive and counter productive. It's also presumptuous. Some brands are meant to be global, most aren't. It would be refreshing if we all would relax a bit and smell the exhaust. Volume and sell-through are two very different realities.
The one store that I went back to a few times is called Wunderkind. It is the brainchild of Wolfgang Joop. He did little to impress me over the last 20 years , but this incarnation was very original and beautiful. It was sophisticated without being arch. Modern without showing a self consciousness. The store and presentation was mouth wateringly appealing. The usual luxury boutiques were woefully cookie cutter in comparison. Wunderkind in New York would give shops like Barneys and much of what crowd Fifth Ave. and Madison Ave. a run for their money.I realize this sounds pat without enough explanation but it's the feeling I got. You would need to wander through this store to have the sense for yourself. Google it, that might help. Better yet, put Berlin on your list of places to experience. Good bookstores with great travel departments will help as well.
My most unexpected surprise came by courier to the hotel. There is a fashion/culture magazine produced in Berlin called 032c Magazine. The editor and Creative Director, Joerg Koch, sent an email to Fluff welcoming him and me to Berlin and asked for the address where we were staying. He said that he wanted to give us the latest issue as a thanks for the many enjoyable hours spent reading the blog. I was flattered, to say the least. When it arrived I was blown away at how dense it was with mesmerising editorials on fashion, both Berlin specific and international. There were great pieces on literature, theater, the arts, you name it.Even the ad pages had great imagination and style. This is a very great magazine in that it reminds me of ones you used to read from cover to cover.....remember what that was like? This issue had a multi-page spread on all the Steven Meisel covers for Vogue....my GOD! That spread alone was worth having to buy one extra suitcase..... You must get this, I will keep these in my collection.Vogue, Bazaar and Vanity Fair could learn A LOT from this magazine. Joerg and his staff are a very wise and clever team. It's constantly a surprise to discover the people who read this blog. More than anything, it's very gratifying to know you're not just talking to yourself. I'm on my way back soon, so see you on the other side!