Monday, February 21, 2011

Jamee's Jottings

by Jamee Gregory

Oh how I love Fashion Week! My friends find it strange, turning down trips to St. Barth, Gstaad, and Palm Beach in freezing February, favoring this up-close-and-personal event. But my heart beats faster when I receive an invitation to a designer’s show.

Sitting in the front row, pencil in hand, waiting to be dazzled, enchanted, transported ... is riveting. Every show promises a surprise, a chance to educate one’s eye, to be carried away and perhaps re-educated. Each season offers a show case for creativity. Terrific music, unique hair and make-up, clever accessories and styling make each presentation theatrical. There is always the possibility of failure, like the acrobats in Spider Man falling. It’s live, and sometimes straps fall out, breasts are exposed, ankles are twisted, or the collection simply falls flat. It’s serendipity, no one knows what to expect. Ringside, watching the parade is my idea of heaven.
I planned to begin with Zang Toi, followed by Tory Burch and Carolina Herrera, all personal friends who create beautiful, wearable clothes. However, my father’s 94th birthday, in Chicago, took precedence.
The week began bright and early for me on Tuesday, with a 10 AM Badgley Mischka show. James and Mark always make terrific evening wear. This year they selected inky black and navy interspersed with jewel tones for their gowns, all inspired by Hollywood of the 30s and 40s. A one-shouldered raspberry gown and a turquoise stunner captured my fancy, along with some webby knit grey dresses that looked snug and cozy.

A taupe cashmere sweater and skirt also looked interesting. When the two designers appeared on stage in blazers and jeans, everyone from Baby Jane Holzer to Joanne de Guardiola stood up and clapped. The last few heavily beaded and ruffled numbers looked like red-carpet contenders, more L.A. than Big Apple. Evidently three dresses were removed from the line-up to go straight down the Oscar aisle next Sunday.
Afterwards I headed from the main space to the more intimate venue where Bibhu Mohapatra was showing his designs on a slew of models on platforms, their hair coiffed by Yann Varin. I met Bibhu at a ballet gala and thought he was charming. His designs reflect his interest in elegance. The combined textures, like quilted leather, feathers, and shimmery lame, had many asymmetrical hems, wrap skirts and bold shoulders. The collection was dramatic. He is definitely a talent to watch.

Bibhu Mohapatra being congratulated by a friend.
Leaving the tent’s interior, which is approached through its own designated entrance, the Lincoln Center re-location raises the bar, lifting the audience’s expectations by placing the shows alongside the opera, ballet, and theatre. The magnificent piazza with its dramatic steps and sunlit fountain makes the event feel grander.

Inside, there are temptations of other sorts, like free Starbucks’ Frapuccinos and skinny Pepsis for editors in need of a jolt, and a VIP wine bar that mailed out golden credit cards for entrance.

Busy scribes write on their computers, sit on the floor, and wait on lines, sharing the adventure. The room looks like an airline terminal with large glass floor-to-ceiling windows, and grey carpeting. Counters are filled with efficient check-in ladies who quickly offer printed stubs with seat assignments to anyone who has forgotten their invitation. Guards check guests for their invitations, allowing speedy passage into each venue.

Socialites and celebrities make an effort to reflect the spirit of the season. Women dressed in fur vests, skinny pants and boots barely resemble the way their mothers once dressed for these shows. Hair is still blown dry and make-up applied, but all is done with a light hand. No one wants to look like they are trying too hard. Everyone grabs free water and copies of The Daily, the highly amusing magazine put out each day of the week for the fashion flock. I take a long walk through Central Park, which feels tropical after windy Lake Michigan, to clear my head, returning in time for Dennis Basso’s afternoon extravaganza.
That evening he threw a terrific party at a chic new restaurant with mile-high ceilings on West 54th, in the former space of Aquavit. This new venue, La Petite Maison, serves delicious food, from tapenade, to sliced artichoke salad, to polenta, grilled salmon and a fabulous roasted chicken.

Dennis’ guests, from Susan Fales Hill, Somers Farkas, Jamie Tisch, Debby Bancroft, Christian Leone, Richard Mishaan, and a room full of fans saluted him and his partner Michael Cominotto. The two excellent hosts visited each table and kept their eyes out and did a great job seating pals. No wonder everyone stayed until the last mouthful of flan and tiramisu were digested.

Dining under giant indoor trees made the evening especially festive and high-spirited. What could be nicer than a winter garden filled with friends?
Dennis Basso with his legion of fans.
Wednesday started off with a big bang, as Michael Kors celebrated 30 years in fashion. His splendid show went back to his roots, offering comfortable and wearable cashgora trousers, coats and beautiful cashmere sweaters, long-haired fur vests that moved gracefully, looking new and young.

There were dazzling beaded evening pants and siren gowns, something for all his clan. (I checked off an over-sized camel turtleneck and the shimmering skinny evening pants along with a three-quarter length fox vest.)
The house was packed with a stellar audience, including a healthy-looking Michael Douglas with a radiant Catherine Zeta Jones, a smiling Bette Midler, a rosy-cheeked and red-pony-tailed Deborah Messing and a gorgeous Angie Harmon, not to mention all the Park Avenue Princesses who have been loyal, like Aerin and Jane Lauder, Jennifer Creel, Marjorie Gubelmann, faithful forever.

Michael’s love of camel and grey make his clothes classic. His appreciation of beautiful fabrics and simple cuts endures. Clients like Hilary Geary Ross and Blaine Trump stay faithful. Kors’ mother Joan was there, as always, perhaps her son’s most devoted fan. Michael is such fun and such a gentleman and the crowd roared its approval.
Michael Kors wth his own legion of fans: Debra Messing, Rene Russo, Patti Hansen, and Angie Harmon.
Wednesday at 11:00, Douglas Hannant invited his fans, including me, to the Plaza’s Terrace Room for an intimate show. Golden ballroom chairs filled the space and a runway snaked in a large circle. By 11:30, the audience was nearly in place with the eager photographers stationed on a platform across from the models’ entrance. Goody bags graced the back of each chair and although there were no sunglasses, Michael Kors’ fabulous favor, there were chocolates from Fauchon wrapped in red and gold foil in a charming mini-bag along with skincare products.

Even the most jaded ladies love presents! Friends from Felicia Taylor to Sharon Bush, Prince Dimitri of Yugolsavia, Muffie Potter Aston, Susan Magrino, and Bettina Zilkha took their seats waiting patiently for Douglas’ dream girls. Ladylike clothes sauntered past as the music began and the lights went down.
My favorites were skinny pants covered in grey crystal paillettes, perfect for dinner parties. Barbie Bancroft, Ghislaine Maxwell, Valesca Guerrand-Hermes all admired the black and white tweeds, the teal velours, and applauded wildly for the gorgeous ball gown that closed the show.
Douglas and his partner, Frederick Anderson, are men about town, enjoying the social scene. They understand what kind of clothes their clients need and produce wearable, attractive creations. Their loyal ladies offer support and enjoy one-stop shopping in Hannant’s snazzy Plaza boutique. I walked uptown after the show, enjoying the bright sunshine and balmy temperature, a welcome change following weeks of cold.

After lunch I headed for Oscar de la Renta’s show, where I reminisced with Boaz Mazor, who has been showing Oscar’s creations and dealing with special clients since 1968. I met Boaz in 1971 when my mother-in-law, Lydia Gregory, took me to her dear friend Oscar’s show and bought me a beautiful gown, a show-stopper, modeled by Nati Abascal, who became the Duchess of Feria.
This year’s show was divine, especially the evening gowns. I loved a slender beaded strapless column in multi-colored patchwork patterns, a silvery sheath, a gold full-skirted cocktail dress. Helena Martinez was enchanted by a sapphire- blue form-fitting gown. Beautiful coats like a white shearling ,with a bold black pattern, covered a ball gown. Fanciful embroidered dresses peeked out from under coats.
Thus began a life-long habit. There has never been a season since when I did not find an Oscar that I loved. He never disappoints. His clothes are as well made inside and as out, everything is finished beautifully and fits. His clothes are my favorite. They are never in-your-face, allowing a woman to show her own style. Never vulgar or overdone, they still make quite a statement. I hope Oscar never retires. It won’t be fun without his elegant and beautifully embellished designs that look just as good 40 years down the line. His simple shapes flatter a wide variety of ladies, all with different needs. Lady-like yet attention grabbing, his full-skirted gowns fill many Park Avenue closets.

Lyn Nesbit, Barbara Walters, and Mica Ertegun sat beside Annette de la Renta, as did Paul LeClerc and his wife, Judith Ginsberg. Oscar has two shows, the earlier one for editors and the second for his ladies and buyers. There were no empty seats. Oscar appeared, receiving a well-deserved standing ovation. One fan, Emilia Saint-Amand, sported a vintage de la Renta vest that looked great 30 years later. That’s the sign of true style. No wonder Oscar’s fans are legion.
Oscar de la Renta left no empty seats.
Thursday noon I head off to Hell’s Kitchen and Isaac Mizrahi’s show. His presentations are always the most fun. I was determined to be there. Exit Art tuned out to be the perfect venue for a roller-coaster show. The Cake Boss, who I had never heard of, a star of reality TV, baked delicious chocolate cake with pistachio frosting which I couldn’t resist. “Let them eat cake,” certainly appealed to all the skinny ladies at the show, even if it was before lunch.

I marched to my seat beside Bazaar’s Glenda Bailey and her fashionable team. They were working, not eating like me. As the lights in the loft-like space dimmed, forks went down and everyone sat up straight on the wooden benches as models appeared wearing simple day dresses in sorbet colors with bows on their chests.
Magnificent cakes covered in everything from pearls to pansies matched not only each exit (what you call each dress), but vegetable-dyed poodles. Pink, orange and lilac standard and miniature poodles paraded down the aisle with the models, whose hair mimicked the poodles, with a giant ball attached to their heads. All I could think was how much my dog-loving, champion poodle-breeding friend, Karen LeFrak, would love the show. There were even poodles on purses and belts. Truthfully, the props were so adorable that the clothes took a back seat! Double-faced and body-skimming, they were a departure for Isaac.

Johnny Weir, the ice-skater, created a stir with a pompadour and ice-green suit. Andy Cohn, the TV interviewer, was peppered with questions. Camera crews buzzed everywhere, shining bright lights on the group. Amy Fine Collins captured one’s eye with a colorful combination of reds. Jeff Slonim and Judy Licht questioned the editors. When Isaac appeared at the end of the show, running down the runway hitching up his jeans, Bill Cunningham of the NY Times ran to capture the moment. It was a funny when they met halfway. Fueled by cake, I headed for Saks and forgot about lunch until 2:30. A little sugar goes a long way.
Tara Modlin, Johnny Weir, Andy Cohen.
At 7 PM it was back for to Lincoln Center for one of my favorite designers, Naeem Khan, who designs show-stopping evening gowns. This collection combined beading and marabou. There were feathers galore, covering skirts and bodices. A black mini-dress with red was gorgeous, but too short. I was enchanted by a full black skirt, topped by a white vest with black embroidery, lined with black mink, worn over a black blouse with billowing sleeves, covered with white embroidery.

It reminded me of Bill Blass, conjuring up an elegant era. Naeem’s wife, Ranjana, looked splendid in a white mink collar of her own design. Jennifer Creel, Becca Thrash, Susan Shin, and Linda Fargo all marked their favorites.
As I left the tent, visions of dresses danced in my head. After the shows everyone is exhausted, most of all the editors, having seen many shows, one after the other. It takes time to digest the heady smorgasbord of designs, sorting out the good from the bad.

Meanwhile, one image stays in my head, that of an editor wearing two giant golden cherries on her head, posing for photographers on the steps. In these tents, anyone can grab attention. It just depends how far one goes for fifteen minutes of fame. During Fashion Week count on the unexpected.
Michele Herbert, Somers Farkas, Naeem Khan, Carlos Souza, and Muffie Potter Aston.