Monday, May 12, 2008


James Galanos with his models.
By Anita Sarko

Last Wednesday night, I was at F.I.T. for a graduation honors event inspired by famed American fashion designer James Galanos.

James Galanos
I was a bit confused about the event's name.  The invite called it FIT's FASHION DESIGN AAS EXHIBITION: FALL/WINTER COLLECTIONS ART AND APPAREL SPECIALIZATIONS INSPIRED BY JAMES GALANOS. (That's a mouthful!) However, inside the program, it was also called SPRING 2008 EXHIBIT. To further confuse matters, the program then said it was a night where FASHION DESIGN HONORS DESIGNER JAMES GALANOS THROUGH THE COLLECTION OF MARIE SIMMS. Whatever its name, the theme was definitely “I Remember Mama.”

Creations by the Associate of Applied Science Graduating Class were beautifully displayed, everyone was in a festive mood, non-alcoholic drinks were flowing and, best of all, Mr. Galanos himself was present. 

Thankfully, I arrived early and, thankfully, my dear pal, PR fabuloso Jonathan Marder was hanging with Mr. Galanos and his pals, so I got invited to sit at the little roped-off VIP table.

Galanos' buddies, George Samen (who had designed with Molly Parnis and Hannah Troy back when) and Harold Leigh Davis (who had been Executive VP for Bill Blass for 22 years) were a riot, but more about them later. 
Douglas E. Simms
Kay Lawrence in Chanel
Professor George Simonton and Dr. Joyce Brown (FIT President)
Immediately I cornered the beautifully dapper “Jimmy” (as Nancy Reagan used to refer to her official designer), clad in a impeccably fitted dark suit with white dotted dark tie and pocket square. He has the softest voice and not even a hint of GRAND ... not even a fake Mid-Atlantic accent (Other Fashion Folk: Take note). 

Graduate Polly Hefko
I mentioned to Mr. Galanos that his clothing has been showing up on red carpets of late. “The young ones have been very interested in vintage.” He agreed. We laughed about one of the Olsen twins being photographed in one of his gowns. “The Olsens ... they're very strange looking people.” He grinned. “They're tiny, but they wear such grown-up clothes. And sometimes too many clothes.” (Obviously, Mr. Galanos isn't a fan of the Olsens' infamous Bag Lady Look.)

So, who is his fave? “That girl who's dressed by Carolina Herrera ... Renee Zellweger. She's bought quite a few of my vintage clothes. She has a great figure, she's charming, bright and has excellent taste.” 

So, what was with his decision to come out of retirement and become a photographer? I mean, that wasn't exactly a Mid-Life crisis ... unless being north of 80 years old is HIS mid-life. “When I retired, I wasn't very happy. It was boring. I thought I'd try photography. A photographer in Palm Springs discovered me and then I had a wonderful show at the Sorokko Gallery in San Francisco. I'm continuing and hope to show in different cities.”

I wondered (aloud) if his fashion background helped with his new artistic passion.  “No, except for color, of course. I have a feeling for color. I'm not afraid; I try everything.”
Lawrence Rich and James Galanos
Harold Leigh Davis
George Samen
Award Winner Alanna Jowers and Nathaniel Adams
Alanna Jowers' Award Winning Design
I made way for another interviewer. “I thought you were only going to ask him ONE question,” chided Mr. Davis. 

I argued that it was one ... a LONG one. I lied. “So, they're having a bit of trouble filling Bill Blass' shoes, aren't they?” I asked him. 

“A very hard time.” He agreed. “I liked Michael (Volbracht). He was very good ... but, they wanted a change.” Mr. Samen told me that he was a graduate of FIT and they called him occasionally to do critique work. 

“Can you be bribed?” I asked. 

He laughed ... and ignored the question. “Just say that I'm retired. But if you wanted to use another word, you could use 'retarded'.” I loved these guys.
Marie Simms Galanos Collection
Marie Simms
Award Winner Jae Min Kim and his Winning Frock
Graduates George Verger, Alexa Damico, Chelsey Totten, and Cara Holland
The exhibit was stunning. The graduates were adorable, wearing Look-At-Me fashion student clothes, taking and posing for photos and lugging great bouquets of flowers around. Various critics, including Lawrence Rich, a top Prudential Douglas Elliman VP and broker who was formerly a partner in Rich & Levy, had judged the award winning designs. Rich & Levy were fine knitwear designers who dressed no less than Lana Turner. Rich's mid-life crisis came about when the 9/11 economic slowdown made him re-think his career. He decided that selling homes was safer than selling frocks. Nevertheless, here he was, back in Fashionland.

The show was unreal. The Simms foundation, thorough Douglas E. Simms, had contributed the Galanos collection of his mother Marie Simms for inspiration for the graduate project and underwritten the entire evening. 
Modeling Marie Simms' Galanos Collection.
We marveled as the models walked through the room, wearing his mother's former wardrobe. Douglas gave a heartfelt speech afterwards. “My mother's name was Marie. Let's welcome her.” Douglas implored, dramatically turning his eyes heavenward. “Mom! It's me! Douglas! We're here at FIT!” He went on to explain that his parents had “... one of those 40's romances. Off to Havana, back to New York ... off to Havana, back to New York.” 

Then, Daddy shipped them off to Las Vegas ... of all places. Chester Simms had been hired as the casino manager at the fabulous Flamingo, a job he held from 1951 until 1967. Unfortunately, his 25-year-old bride had to go from being an urbane New Yorker to “a 50's housewife.” To take out the sting, Marie went shopping in LA and “... that's where my mother set out on 'the Jimmy Road', to quote Nancy Reagan.”  Douglas recalled. And, thus ... this collection. “Happy Mother's Day!” Yelled Douglas, again looking heavenward.

It made me laugh. While watching the show, one of the graduates marveled, “Look at the beading! Do you realize that someone has to do that one-at-a-time?” 

“Well, that effort is appreciated by clotheshorses everywhere.” I assured her. “As my mother used to say, ‘Tramps wear sequins; Good Girls wear crystal beading.’” 

The student looked at me bewildered.

Oh well ... Happy Mother's Day!!!!
Susie Lee Winning Design
Katelyn Bishof Winning Design
Veronica Segura Winning Design