a cab in the gusty winds along Fifth Avenue and 58th Street.
of the Bill Blass/Vollbracht show from Wednesday’s Diary:
Well, they got what they came for. From the moment
the great Pat Cleveland first sauntered
down the runway in her stilettos, with her most delicate
ambling strut, all set out in her Blass (by Michael
Vollbracht), tippy-toe stopping here, and there, along
the way, sending a tiny wave of her fingers or brushing
a little utter self-confidence our way, the house broke
out in heavy applause and cheering.
He did it.
Michael Vollbracht did it. A gorgeous, rich, elegant collection
of day and evening wear in the spirit of Blass. When it was over Nina
Griscom said, “they’ve finally created the
kind of clothes these ladies like to wear.”
illustration of Bill Blass by Michael Vollbracht
Re-cap of the same show from Women’s Wear Daily:
“ Fashion can be many things. But it is seldom reverential,
and cannot be static or reactionary. (Intentional retro is a different
matter.) Thus, Michael Vollbracht’s first runway collection
for Bill Blass was doomed to fail. Vollbracht, who worked shoulder-too-shoulder
with Blass on his retrospective at Indiana University last year,
spent two years immersed in the designer’s archives. Before
that, Vollbracht had taken a 15-year hiatus from the fashion world.
“ Just like Rip Van Winkle, he reentered a very different world than the
one he left. Back then, models modeled. Lunching ladies were probably fashion’s
most important constituency, and Bill Blass, the man and the house, sat at the
top of their games. Clearly Vollbracht, along with those calling the business
shots chez Blass, refused to accept that times have changed. If all of the recent
resuscitations of storied houses have indicated anything, it’s that sadly,
or not, you can’t go home again. Or at least you can’t go home, conjure
up the same muse, pull out the same patterns, settled into the same chaier and
get back to business as usual.
“ But that’s what Vollbracht did. He then lined up Karen
Bjornson to open his show, and also cast Pat Cleveland and Dianne
deWitt, who worked the line along with current models. And when a blonde
teenager follows the gyrating Cleveland, the former done up in a jacquard dinner
suit and supersized French twist, she looks like she’s playing dress-up
in mom’s clothing. Except that mom probably has no swelling desire to stock
up on wide, pleated pants and faux-haute clutch coats. In fact, there was nothing
about this show that rang the faintest bell of modernity. Which is too bad, because
some of Vollbracht’s work, especially the graceful gowns, looked lovely
and timeless if not au courant. Styled differently they might have made some
“ But the bigger problems are the albatross of Vollbracht’s overt
reverence and the house’s apparent refusal to seek out a new, broader customer
base. These must be addressed if Bill Blass can hope to compete long-term in
a market crowded with designer names.”
the WWD review, I thought to myself: now that is
a professional review of a runway show by someone who knows what
he or she is talking about. I thought. Except.
Cleveland tippy-toes down the runway
first problem with WWD’s report were
the exaggerations in the reviewer’s descriptions.
Pat Cleveland, for example, did not gyrate. She did what
she’s been doing, what she “invented” for
runway modeling probably two or three decades or so ago.
She kind of (barely) dances a jazzy hey-look-me-over
walk, taking the tiniest, almost tippy-toe steps. It’s
humor, kid; wit. Like: get over it. Mom is the customer,
thou shalt not forget if thous is in the shmatte a/k/a
I’m not a regular at the shows, nor
am I an avid follower of the trends. As
it happens, in another incarnation, before I gave it
all up to become a writer, I owned a couple of shops
in the gilded hinterlands of Westchester and Fairfield
counties where we catered to the women who could afford
to live there (either fulltime or on the weekends) and
get around in a Mercedes, Jaguar, etc. – in other
words, the customer who could pay the prices that designer
garments cost (we sold off-price, incidentally).
was then that I learned some of the basic rules of the
fashion business, namely, making the sale. The customer
is, number one, very often unsure of her own choices.
She does not spend her thousands of hours poring over
the pages of Vogue and Bazaar. Secondly
she has real needs that are best served by basics, especially
classic basics – jacket, skirt, pants, blouse,
dress. Thirdly, she doesn’t have an unlimited budget
no matter the size of her house or the cost of her sedan,
so she likes to make purchases that will last. This customer
lives all over America and many other places in the world.
She’s a great customer.
all this out was not rocket science. Mainly
it was common sense. And we succeeded. I ran into a customer
from all those years ago at the de la Renta show who
told me she still has a couple of items she bought from
me back then – almost three decades ago. The only
thing that has really changed is the price. Everything’s
about ten or a hundred times more today.
Which brings me to the next thought, one I had while watching the
Blass/Vollbracht show: how fashion has a changed very little, damned
little since those days. Yes, they’re now baring flesh around
the belly which I don’t recall them ever doing before except
in bathing suits or on Rita Hayworth or Carmen
Miranda in the 40s movie musicals. And they’re wearing
jeans (maybe a little) more. But otherwise, “modernity” aside,
the customer, the reason why these shows are staged, still has the
same needs. In fact, if anything has changed in that time, it’s
the reality that more women are going to work everyday, and therefore
need useful, good-looking, basics that can move easily from day to
night or just about, and at a price where if they’ve made a
mistake, it’s not mortal.
was cinched by Chanel with her pants. Minis
are almost forty years old. Micro-minis are almost forty
years old. Pants that go up to there were called “hotpants” back
then (although I read in some paper today that Liza
Minnelli claimed to have “accidentally” invented
them in the days of Studio 54. Uh-uh; they were long
old news by the mid-70s.) Baring the breasts began about
the same time with the burning of the bras (and the draft
cards) and the hippie movement and theretofore in the
30s by Gypsy Rose Lee, Georgia Sothern and Sally
Rand, who were then called strip-teasers. The
wearing of vintage, along with the this/that/and everything
else, quasi-ragbag look began with Barbra Streisand when
she first hit it big (all of which, once she had the
dough, she shed for the glamour merch over at Bergdorf’s).
Otherwise kids, (and now I do mean kids), it’s
all old stuff, variations on certain themes.
presages. It is change, and in my mind, a reflection
of psyche of the society we live in. When Marie-Antoinette had
herself and her courtiers painted for a portrait decked
out in the (copied) muslin costumes of Native American
women that the French explorers brought back from the
Caribbean, her detractors practically accused of trying
to start a revolution. Ironically, that’s what
they got. Same thing when the flappers clipped their
tresses and hiked their skirts. And then Chanel stepped
into those trousers – a veritable Eve hijacking
Adam’s silhouette of the last thousand years.
outside the tents in Bryant Park
Those were changes. And they continue. For
the last fifteen years we’ve been assimilating
the sped-up changing attitudes of identity – male
and female – all aswirl in the fashion soup garnished
heavily with grunge, piercing, and now tattoos, creating
a look that could be called Grab-bag, or Bottom of Closet,
or Who Gives A Shit. Perfect references to the chaos
of modern Western society.
But throughout all those “changes,” what has prevailed,
are the basics, the customer’s needs: pants, skirt, jacket,
blouse, dress. These needs are psychological, sociological and economic.
And nothing comes cheap these days.
the Oscar de la Renta shows, which I’ve been attending
for the past few years, you see the fashion mavens of
two generations – the old(er) and the young. Successful
career women, wives of rich men, and heiresses sitting
on opposite sides of the runway from each other. The
older, experienced girls have always come dressed for
a special occasion (their friend Oscar’s opening),
respectfully accessorized, looking sophisticated and
chic. The younger women, for a long time, attended dressed
very casually, in pants, a little tee, a sweater, with
often no makeup and rarely accessories – almost
as if making a political statement to Mother across the
gals turned out for the Oscar show
This past week at the Oscar show, I noticed that many
of the younger women on the other side of the aisle were a bit more “turned
out.” Casual yes, but more pulled together, and even “dressed.” Maybe
it’s just that they’re “getting older.” Or
maybe it’s just another example of “modernity.”