Posted at 08:10 AM ET, 10/ 3/2008
An American in Paris
I have a tremendous amount of respect for Marvin Traub, the former chairman of Bloomingdale's. But I freely admit that the driving force behind my race against the clock to get to his book party was the fact that it was held at the residence of Craig Stapleton, the American ambassador to France. Swanky, eh?
The party ended at 8 p.m. and I was checking my watch and hyperventilating in traffic because I wanted to be able to sip champagne and nibble an hors d'oeuvre or two in the historical rooms of the residence.
I arrived at about 7:30 and passed through the metal detector. I was expecting more security, but a nod to the guards and a flash of an e-mailed copy of the invitation was enough to get me in the door. The place is a study in high ceilings, gilding and photographs of assorted Bush family members. There is even a rather large photo of a stiff-looking George W. Bush in one of the rooms that reminds me of the kind of picture that might come with the frame. Nothing much personal about it.
There were multiple bars serving champagne and tasty hors d'oeuvres, including chocolate petit fours topped with edible gold leaf. I grabbed a couple of napkins embossed with "United States of America" and stuffed them into my bag. After all, how often do you get to go to the Ambassador's pad? I was tempted to try and find the bathroom and check out the medicine cabinet. (Just kidding.)
As I was leaving, I received a copy of Traub's book, which is called "Like No Other Career." Since leaving Bloomie's, Traub has created an investment group, served as a consultant and generally been a wise man in the fashion business. In return for getting to snoop around the Ambassador's residence, I promise to read the book.
Posted at 09:58 AM ET, 10/ 2/2008
Plans Go Awry
Sometimes the best organized schedule goes awry. I had every intention of getting to the Sonia Rykiel 40th anniversary show this evening... even though it was on the outskirts of Paris and scheduled to begin at 10:30 p.m. Why? Because I am an intrepid reporter. But alas, tardy shows and writing duties got in the way.
So here I am, with nothing to tell you other than the macaroons at the Dries Van Noten show this afternoon were especially splendid. I did hear that one editor at the show was so moved that she went immediately to the Dries store to buy a dress. Didn't matter that she was actually swooning over the spring 2009 collection. She apparently needed a Dries fix right away.
The Givenchy show was this evening and I will be telling you all about that in a story scheduled to run on Friday. But I will say now that I'm worried that the really splendid collection the designer had for fall 2008 was some sort of aberration. His inspiration for spring was cowboys and the West and, well, I just would have thought there might have been one person on the Givenchy design team who might have spoken up and said that perhaps it was a bad idea, that it was a stretch for a brand founded on principles such as urbane chicness and little black dresses. But I just report on this stuff. I'm not sketching and draping.
While at the show, I kept staring at the LVMH executives in the house. That's the parent company. I was trying to see if they would drop that look of "Isn't it just splendid" to reveal some sense that they understood how hard it was going to be to peddle this stuff at a sorry economic time like this. But they maintained their poker faces. Is there some sort of drug that can plaster a poker face on your mug? Is there a pill? Because heaven knows I need to take it. I find it hard to mask my dismay when a model comes marching down the runway with a big acrylic bow on the top of her head. Wha???
The audience was a dreamscape of kookiness, by the way. My favorite was the woman in the forest green patent leather dress and dangerously high heels. She was a walking fetish. How do you maneuver in a patent leather dress without creaking?
Also at Givenchy was a very pretty woman in a fuchsia satin dress and jeweled shoes. I was told by the PR rep at Givenchy that she was a Thai princess. It's not often that I'm in the presence of royalty - the real kind, not the attitudinal kind - so I figured I'd record the moment. If I were royal, I'm not sure I'd be shopping the Paris runways for faux chaps a la Givenchy. But maybe there's some Thai tradition that requires high-priced cowboy gear that I don't know about.
Posted at 06:35 PM ET, 10/ 1/2008
All Quiet in Paris
Oh how I wish I could tell you about the cocktail party for Derek Lam or the Bulgari store opening, all of which occured over the last couple of days. But no, I was shuttered in my room writing or sitting on a bleacher waiting for the terribly tardy Martin Margiela show to begin. So much champagne that got away from me.
There was champagne at the Margiela show. But since the house is known for its rot-gut wine, I had a sneaking suspicion that its champagne would not exactly be Perrier Jouet. And I was right. Whoever heard of bad champagne? Ce n'est pas possible! But oui, mes amis. It was swill.
The house celebrated its 20th anniversary and so the show was essentially a retrospective. Word had it that the location was actually a former city morgue, which seems appropriate for a fashion show on so many sordid and twisted levels. After going down memory lane with the house, the finale included a parade of the design team along with a brass band and a shower of confetti. Congratulations, Masion Martin Margiela. But really, what were you all doing backstage all that time before the show began? Swilling bad bubbly?
This seems to be a season of anniversaries in Paris. Sonia Rykiel is celebrating her 40th with a big ole shindig on the outskirts of Paris tomorrow night. When I hike back from the festivities, I'll provide a full report. I'm hoping there will be a celebrity sighting or two. The famous faces have been few and far between. Nothing but French, I think, starlets who ring no bells of recognition. Burlesque queen Dita Von Teese was at the Jean Paul
Gaultier show tonight. Von Teese is lovely, but my celebrity meter is set a bit higher.
Posted at 05:20 PM ET, 09/30/2008
Goons and Graces
This is one of those days when I witness the best and worst of the fashion industry. The worst revealed itself at the Christian Dior show this afternoon, in the form of a large burly man in a suit who could best be described as a goon. He was serving as some sort of security guard for the editor of Vogue. Now I've got no issue with folks who require security, want security or have been given security. I do have an issue when those security guards behave like goons and quite literally shove people -- me -- out of the way.
I tend to try to make the speediest of exits from fashion shows and so found myself actually ahead of the man who henceforth will be referred to as "the goon." Pretty quickly, I felt a giant bear paw on my back pushing me out of the way, even though I was moving pretty darn briskly toward the exit. I am not one to dawdle. What gives with the obnoxiousness?
I have this nasty habit of thinking rather highly of myself and just hate it when people push me out of the way for no good reason. I've witnessed a lot of security for all sorts of folks. And I have seen guards make way without making jerks of themselves. Somebody needs to go back to hired-muscle school.
Later in the day, after escaping a mammoth traffic jam (Parisians apparently have never heard the phrase "Don't block the box"), I arrived at the Undercover presentation. The designer Jun Takahashi decided not to have a show -- instead showing his collection, inspired by the mythological Graces, on mannequins and in photographs. Takahashi conceived the photography and it was executed by Katsuhide Morimoto.
The collection was a series of fragile and beautiful dresses in layers of white gauze, silk and cotton. Sometimes they were covered in delicate eyelash fringe. There were trousers that gathered at the ankle; dresses with delicate rows of ruffles at the neckline and satin tops embroidered with bits of poetry.
The best way to describe the collection was soothing. The clothes come in other colors, but I enjoyed the all-white presentation. It came across like a soothing balm in troubled times. The clothes had real character to them without being abrasive or projecting a cynical sensibility. It was a lovely pause in the late afternoon.
And then I went and waited an hour and 15 minutes for the Maison Martin Margiela show to begin, thus killing my warm fuzzy glow.
Posted at 05:47 AM ET, 09/29/2008
Making Room for Lenny Kravitz
I arrived in Paris Saturday afternoon after throwing a hissy fit at the Air France counter in Milan. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I hate Air France. First, the guy at the counter told me that my single bag weighed too much and I had to remove two kilos before he could check it in. After I did that, he then told me the big bag was 15 kilos over weight and thus I had to pay 12 euros per kilo. I won't do the math here, but let's just say that I could have bought the bag the economy seat next to me and it could have flown in the cabin. Honestly, just charge more for the ticket and stop nickel and diming people all along the way.
Oh, but the sun was shining in Paris on Saturday. So I checked into my little hotel, unpacked and did a smidge of shopping. Uh, huh. I went to the Dries Van Noten store and it was bustling. And I say: Good for the designer. He's been getting lots of press lately. There was a piece featuring him in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend, for instance. And I'd already written my Dries story a while back. His show is Wednesday and one of the sales representatives noted that it was a "different" kind of collection. I'm not sure what that means. Perhaps, bye-bye florals?
Saturday evening there was a cocktail party celebrating Suzy Menkes' 20th anniversary at the International Herald Tribune. The veteran fashion editor's work was the subject of an exhibition and an impressive cadre of designers was on hand to congratulate her. Several, such as Domenico Dolce and Donatella Versace had flown in from Milan. That's clout.
There was video tribute in which various designers shared a few memories of Suzy. Olivier Theyskens of Nina Ricci had the crowd laughing because he'd taken a hank of his long black hair and rolled it up in a pseudo pompadour to match Suzy's signature hairdo. Alber Elbaz of Lanvin was also very funny saying that rain, sleet or snow, Suzy is always at the show: "Always complaining, but always there." Very funny and very true.
It was nice to see Suzy's grandchildren sharing in the festivities. Of course, they are off the charts cute and very fashionably dressed. I was enjoying my glamorous evening out in my sparkly top and peau de soie slingbacks when it soon became clear that I was not going to find a cab back to the hotel. So I took to the Metro, thinking to myself: Where, oh where are my Conde Nast car buddies? Ha!
Sunday afternoon found me sitting next to Lenny Kravitz at the Rick Owens show. Lenny was very tardy for the show, arriving with his daughter at about 5:40 for a 5 p.m. show. So all the seats were filled. A publicist came over to our area and asked if we could scoot together to make room. Before most of us had a chance to mull the question, the woman next to me piped up with "Ab-so-lutely!!!!" The sad thing is that she had to move to the other side of the runway where she could only view Lenny from afar. He arrived and chatted up my seat mate Michael Roberts from Vanity Fair. He introduced himself to me like a good gentleman and then snuggled in with his big ol' fur vest spilling over into my lap. I'd like to point out that it was about 70 degrees outside. But he's a rock star. I guess he's naturally cool.
Posted at 07:22 AM ET, 09/26/2008
No Versace Ticket, No Dolce & Gabbana Beefcake
It wouldn't be fashion season in Europe if I didn't spend at least one afternoon in a mental muddle. Today, the last day of the Milan shows, was that day. I threw my Versace invitation in the trash. This was not a commentary on the show. It happened during a frenzy of handbag organization when I began tossing out pretty much everything in sight except my wallet and my umbrella.
I discovered my lack of an invitation as I was walking up to the entrance of the show. Luckily, the nice PR person from the New York office smiled in empathy, cleared a path and pointed me towards the bar. Yes, virtually every show in Milan offers some sort of libation or nibble. New York likes to leave goodie bags on the seats at shows. They're typically filled with giveaways from whatever company is sponsoring the show. If I took home every goodie-filled sack, I'd have a year's supply of Redken shampoo in my closet. In Paris, where I'll arrive on Saturday, few shows offer anything additional other than attitude.
One of the tragedies of the jam-packed Milan schedule is that I have so little time to visit showrooms and small presentations where designers present their work on mannequins or in other intersting displays. I did manage to get to the Roberta di Camerino presentation of handbags. The company was founded some 50 years ago and has been relaunched under new ownership. Founder Giuliana Coen was on hand and talked about how she created her first bags, which introduced such ideas as trompe l'oeil.
The frame bags are made from fabrics such as velvet, but also exotic skins like crocodile. The velvet ones are particularly lightweight. One of the bags, called the Bagonghi, was carried by Grace Kelly. Next to Audrey Hepburn, I'd say that is the ultimate celebrity fashion endorsement.
The bags are pricey, 'natch. They run in the $1,000 vicinity and higher.
While we were there, we chatted with the fashion director of Bloomingdale's who was REALLY excited about the bags and pretty much told Giuliana: We want to buy these! I was thinking the same thing.
This afternoon, I went to the Dolce & Gabbana show where I was treated to an unobstructed view of celebrity row. Among the famous: Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Matthew McConaughey, Dita Von Teese and a very tall brunette who was wearing the sparkly high-heeled brogues from the fall collection, which I happen to know cost more than 2,100 euro. That's like $3,000, people. For a pair of shoes!
The ladies all posed on the runway for the photographers. The men went directly to their seats. Frankly, I'd rather have gotten a good full length view of McConaughey rather than J-Lo, but the photographers are mostly men. So there you go. Robbed of the beefcake.
Posted at 07:30 AM ET, 09/25/2008
Starving for a Handbag at Tod's
What a strange evening I had at the Tod's party. The event was organized to celebrate the debut of a film/commercial for the company's "Pashmy" handbag, which looks something like a nylon bowling bag. The commercial was filmed by Dennis Hopper and star actress Gwyneth Paltrow, who also attended the dinner in all of her tall, slim, blonde glory.
The strangeness began when I arrived at the 8:30 dinner sometime in the vicinity of 8:40 to find that the doors were not open. This was not a fashion show; this was dinner! Aren't you supposed to be on time for dinner? (When my mother has a dinner party and she tells guests to be there at a certain time, by golly, they better be in their seats at the appointed hour or there is going to be hell to pay if her food gets cold.) To me this was akin to arriving at someone's home for dinner and having to stand out on the sidewalk until they finished combing their hair. Miss Manners and Mother Givhan would not have been amused.
When the doors opened we headed into a large open space with flashing lights, a bar, a disc jockey platform and various monitors showing behind the scenes footage from the filming of the commercial, which the brand insists on calling a film. I noticed that as the cocktail party wore on and the guests grew restless, the bartenders started pouring bigger and bigger drinks.
I ran into Derek Lam, who designs a ready-to-wear collection for Tod's. He'll be in Paris showing his own collection to international editors. Also chatted up Thakoon Panichgul, who is collaborating on a collection for Hogan, which is part of the Tod's empire. I congratulated him on having Michelle Obama wear one of his dresses on the night her husband accepted the Democratic presidential nomination. He was still giddy from seeing his work on such a big stage, especially because she bought it herself and wasn't "styled" into it.
Around 10 p.m. we were finally seated for dinner. I was ready to swipe the bread from the plates of every person at my table. That's how hungry I was.
We finally saw the full length commercial, which was modeled after "La Dolce Vita" and featured Gwynnie being chased by papparazzi, losing her bag and having it returned to her by a charming reporter. How nice. The reporter is the hero! There were lots of close-ups of the bag, of course. Loving, glorious close-ups.
The first course, shrimp on a little puddle of tomato soup, appeared on my plate sometime around 10:30. It was delicious, but meager. If I could have stuck my entire face in the plate and licked the sides I would have done it. I was ready to gnaw on my own arm by this point.
I left before the main branzino course. I had to. There were about 250 people at the party and I needed to get a cab. I had to beat the crowds. While it was an odd evening and more glamorous in theory than in reality, I will say that I admire Diego della Valle - he's Mr. Tod's - and his forthright behavior. The evening was about promoting the brand. There was even a photographer following him around toting a veritable photo studio.
And all was not lost. I got to wear my new gold and silver metallic snakeskin Dolce & Gabbana heels that I bought -- half price! -- at an outlet on Capri. Yeah, I know. Like I needed to be buying sparkly shoes when the econonmy is tanking. I figure if it gets any worse, their reflected glow will keep me warm this winter.
Posted at 07:40 AM ET, 09/24/2008
Head Precariously Over Heels at Prada
There was not enough prosecco in all of Milan to save this day. it began bright and early with the Moschino show at 9 a.m. I will not bore those who have read this blog before with my ranting about how shows here begin inexplicably late. The Moschino show, the first of the day, began almost an hour late, thus causing a domino effect on a schedule that had shows planned every 45 minutes.
Sometime around 9:30, one of the folks who works at Moschino came along to say hello. I smiled as best as I could and immediately demanded, "What's the hold up?!" After she cursed me with her eyes, she mustered a polite: I'll go check. And then she didn't come back.
When the show finally started, it was an attack of the ruffles. One model wore a jacket, or perhaps it was a top, that swallowed her entire torso in one giant swirl of a ruffled rose.
There were a few charming dresses, including one in turquoise that had a wonderful vintage-shop feel thanks to its crushed rows of ruffles. But the models' hair - simultaneously ratted and curled - was a distraction and the cat-eye makeup didn't do them any favors.
It was a race against the clock after the Moschino show. Folks were galloping across town and dashing into shows that were starting an hour late or worse. It was impossible to know how late was going to be too late to arrive at a show and how early was going to mean two hours perched on an uncomfortable bleacher.
I ended up missing the Bottega Veneta show because all the time I'd set aside in the afternoon to write disappeared thanks to a schedule turned topsy-turvy. The designer, Tomas Maier, said in his collection notes that he was experimenting with volume and architecture and it was one of the most complex collections he has ever created. I'll have to wait until it arrives in stores.
As we were zipping through town we passed the facade of the new Giorgio Armani hotel on via Manzoni. Actually, it was more like a banner announcing the planned hotel. I have visions of beige rooms, with beige sheets and beige carpeting and a concierge staff in beige uniforms wearing odd hats and looking like something out of "Zoolander." But I'm sure it will be much, much more chic than that because Mr. Armani is worth a zillion dollars. And I am not.
I will have much more to say later about the Prada show. But I must note here that one of the mysteries of the fashion industry is why female designers put models in shoes with heels so high that they are an abomination. The shoes at the Prada show - sky-high heels on a straw platform and worn with little Peds-like socks - were impossible to maneuver in. Models were tumbling over and those who managed to remain upright were so tense that their fearful posture was a distraction from the clothes.
I desperately wanted Mrs. Prada to come out for her bows wearing those crazy shoes. Call me vindictive, but it only seemed fair.
Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 09/23/2008
Pringle, Alberta Ferretti's Pantyhose and Zaha Hadid
This was one of those busy fashion days during which I am sure I wore my heels down by a millimeter or two. It began with a trot on the treadmill at 8:30 a.m. and ended with a dinner with the Pringle people and this blog item.
In the afternoon, I stopped by the Neil Barrett showroom. His great success has been as a menswear designer, but he produces a terrific womenswear line that is distinctive for its somewhat androgynous sensibility. His spring collection was called "Sartorial Gymnastics" and let's just say that all those Olympic gymnasts would have been a whole lot more chic had Barrett been in charge of their wardrobe.
The most enticing thing about the collection is his use of jersey to create tailored blazers and peacoats. The result, he said, are garments that move with the body but retain their sharp lines and don't wrinkle. I didn't try on any of the samples, since I do like my chocolate and pasta upon occasion, so I'll have to take his word for it.
He also is opening a series of stores (none in the D.C. area, though) designed by architect Zaha Hadid. Even though I know little about architecture, I know Zaha Hadid and I know that having her design your store is pretty impressive. Barrett noted that he lucked out because her partner Patrik Schumacher is a fan of vintage Prada menswear - where Barrett used to work - and of Barrett's own menswear line. And since Hadid likes the way Schumacher looks, well, that helped to grease the wheels a bit.
All this means that Barrett's business is moving along at a nice clip. He does big business in the U.S. at Bergdorf Goodman, as well as in Asia, and, increasingly, in Russia. Contrary to the stereotype of Russian shoppers prefering more ornate garments, Barrett says they are now gravitating to more minimalist designers like Martin Margiela and, of course, him.
The most curious thing I've seen on the runway thus far has been the stockings at Alberta Ferretti. They're like stockings from the pre-Spandex days when they were made solely out of nylon. The sheer stockings in shades of orange and sky blue were droopy and twisted around the models' legs. On purpose. The models looked like they'd been dressed by lady hobos.
Finally, my day ended with my second meal at Da Giacomo in as many days. Oh how I suffer so for my job! This one was with the folks who represent Pringle, a British company known for its knitwear that has been around since the early 1800s. Needless to say, it is being re-energized. Its designer, Clare Waight Keller, was inspired by the swimming pool paintings of David Hockney and so the collection was filled with dresses splashed with lapis blue. The signature knits were as super-fine as ever and some were woven in elegant patterns or had rows of ruffles.
My complaint? Well, other than that the prices are off-the-charts expensive, I wish the designer made a stronger statement with her work. Keller isn't one to shout, I'm told. But in this business I'm not sure those who whisper manage to be heard.
Posted at 06:00 AM ET, 09/22/2008
Milan and a New Day at Ferre
The Milan spring 2009 fashion shows began over the weekend, with the first of the major design houses unveiling their collections Sunday. I actually arrived in Milan on Thursday. But I left immediately for a few days of Zen time in Capri because I'm never one to turn down an opportunity for self-pampering.
Things would have been more relaxing if I had been up to date on the drama unfolding in Italy over Alitalia. For Americans who fret about the situation with airlines in the United States, things couldn't be worse for those who fly Alitalia. It could pretty much vanish in the coming days because of its poor financial condition, protesting unions and a variety of European Union rules that prevent various obvious options for saving it. Last I checked, Alitalia is only flying until the airline runs out of fuel it has on hand.
When I checked in at the Naples airport, which is the closest to Capri, the agent behind the desk could not have been less interested. I honestly think I could have checked a moose with my luggage and she would not have blinked.
Capri is ridiculously stunning and has more designer shops jammed into a tiny amount of square footage that I've ever seen. I spent the greater part of three days debating which of several Prada wallets I should buy as my own wallet was literally falling apart in my hands. Never mind that said wallet is practically empty because the economy sucks, the euro remains mighty and I am not independently wealthy.
My first show in Milan was Emporio Armani, which was followed by the Gianfranco Ferre show. The Ferre show was a big deal because it was the first collection by the house's new designers, Tommaso Aquilano and Roberto Rimondi, who rose to fame with the 6267 line.
To celebrate the house's new beginning, there was a dinner at Da Giacomo, a tasty little restaurant at #6 via Pasquale Sottocorno. The food was divine and the guests were a mix of editors and retailers from all over the world. One of the people at my table was a fellow named Stefano. I didn't catch his last name because he was on the other side of the table and there was quite a din in the room. I could have double-checked before I left, but sorry, I was practically ready to tip over from the constant stream of wine that kept flowing into my glass.
Stefano is in charge of creating a commercial network in which to sell the clothes. He's the guy with the hardest job: He's got to move the merch. He's only been at Ferre for about a year. Before that he was at Just Cavalli. So for a while he was selling sex; now he has to sell glamour.
If you're wondering why you haven't seen a Ferre frock very often in the U.S., it's because the distribution there has basically been non-existent. The store that was in D.C. closed some time ago. The LA store needs a renovation. And so on.
So once again a fashion line is trying to rebuild itself after its founder has passed away. Ferre has found a couple of talented designers. Now let's see if Stefano and the rest of the executive team can help them make magic.
Posted at 08:00 AM ET, 09/12/2008
'Project Runway's' Christian Siriano Puts on a Show
I mentioned earlier that I'd gone to a preview of the Tommy Hilfiger collection and that the designer had been inspired by the idea of relaxed glamour. Well, he put his collection on the runway last evening at Lincoln Center. In order to improve his business, he has adopted the European model for the American market. That means that he's shifted his sensibility and his prices upwards. Except for the line he now sells exclusively through Macy's, the collection now boasts evening gowns in the $1,000 range. The result of the shift and the Macy's partnership is a 60 percent increase in his women's business. So says Hilfiger himself.
Because I am a fan of "Project Runway" -- for professional reason only, honest! -- I couldn't resist going to the Christian V. Siriano show. Yes, he includes the middle initial on his label. He was last season's winner who couldn't get enough of the word "fierce" and has become Victoria Beckham's BFF. Well, sort of. Anyway, he showed his spring 2009 collection just before the Zac Posen fashion circus. All manner of "Project Runway" cast-offs were in the house, including Malan Breton, who I swear looked like he was wearing eyeliner, and Sweet Pea, whose tattoos are much more subtle in person than on TV and seemed to be giving a running commentary about the show to some guy from MTV.
It must be hard for these designers to move on after "PR" and be thought of as real designers and not just reality show knuckleheads. TV can do a lot for name recognition, but it's hard to shake off the stench of cheesiness.
His Fierceness put on a show that was focused, focused, focused on gray organza that was pleated, tucked and gathered into skinny pants, short skirts, tank tops, dresses and pretty much anything else you could think of. The show wasn't bad. In fact, it laid to rest any skepticism about whether he deserved to win. Siriano is very talented.
But it also was a reminder of just how hard it is to come up with truly unique ideas in the fashion industry and to execute them skillfully. An awful lot of the collection was reminiscent of work from houses such as Nina Ricci, Rodarte and Marchesa. But hats off to Siriano for being able to pull off a show that was professional and that had a point of view.
"PR" needs for one of its designers to do well in the industry. It looks like Siriano has the best chance. But who knows. My fingers are crossed.