Thursday, September 8, 2011

Rainy days behind, rainy days ahead

Looking up at the Plaza Hotel from behind Augustus Saint-Gaudens' statue of General Sherman. 1:40 PM. Photo: JH.
Thursday, September 8, 2011. Rainy days behind, rainy days ahead in New York; if the weatherman is to believed. The plants and trees like it (except for those stormy winds). Riding through Central Park on the 79th Street transverse yesterday morning on my way to Lincoln Center, the trees and flora were so dense and lush, heaving over the sides of the drenched and dark stone walls, that I could imagine myself traveling through deep, almost jungle-like woods.

That’s the good news. The bad news is: it’s wet and in some places, a mess.
Riding through Central Park on the 79th Street transverse.
I was heading over to the David Koch Theater where its Promenade was set for 600 for the Museum of FIT’s annual Couture Council luncheon. This is a fundraiser for the museum and in the past few years it has also established itself as the official beginning of Fashion Week in New York, which itself has become a major commercial and social tradition over the past decade.

The commercial activities have been around for decades, although not always with the theatrical flamboyance and extravagance we see today. But, they have always drawn a social crowd, as well as retail buyers from all over the country. More and more, since the late 80s, the calendar has become increasingly crammed with -- the only reason for it if you’re participating -- runway shows, after parties and a mélange of related events such as exhibitions and cocktail parties.

Eleanor Lambert.
The original creative source for this unique combination of the great garden of color, style, design and commerce can be directly attributed to one woman, Eleanor Lambert, the first fashion public relations guru who died eight years ago at the age of 100 and two months.

Eleanor started out in the business in the late 1930s when the country was still in the Great Depression. Her business grew out of a need to support herself, a little girl from Indiana in the big city with nary a bean in her pocket. She was by nature enterprising and entrepreneurial, steadfast, focused, and drawn to the creative energies that make, and have always made, fashion.

Coincidentally, or maybe not so, Pointed Leaf Press has just released a large coffee table book biography of Eleanor called “Eleanor Lambert: Still Here” by a man named John Tiffany who was once one of Eleanor’s staff members. It’s a fabulous looking book, massive (weighs 7 pounds), comes in a beautifully designed box, and along with a fabulous archive of photographs of the lady and her business, with a cover image taken by the late Robert Mapplethorpe.

On the heels of today’s luncheon, last night there was a book signing for the book hosted by Swarovski, the CFDA (a creation of Mrs. Lambert) at the Kaplan Penthouse at Lincoln Center.

Eleanor’s story is a great one, for her work made more possibilities for countless others and for succeeding generations. Her ideas transformed what was always known as the Garment Industry into the Fashion industry (with the ultimate collaboration of John Fairchild and Women’s Wear Daily. But more about that when I review the book in a later NYSD edition.
:Looking west across Central Park South from Fifth Avenue.
Meanwhile, back at the luncheon. Valentino’s presence brought out record numbers. More than 600 attended and they raised $700,000 for the museum. The reception before the luncheon was called for 11:30, with seating at noon, with the delicious menu provided by Sean Driscoll’s Glorious Foods.

I was surprised to learn that it ran on time. Last year’s, when Karl Lagerfeld was the honoree, it got under way later, presumably because Mr. Lagerfeld appeared just a bit later making his entrance. Valentino and his partner Giancarlo Giammetti were there on the dot, along with Anna Wintour, Diane von Furstenberg and Daphne Guinness, all of whom were seated with Valentino and Giancarlo, along with several others.
The packed promenade.
Part of the mechanism of yesterday's huge affair, from the photographers to the waitstaff.
Liz Peek, who is the head of the Couture Council, which was formed help promote and raise funds for the museum – which is the only complete fashion museum in New York – greeted the guests and the guest of honor after everyone was seated. She introduced Joyce Brown, the President of FIT, and was followed by Simon Doonan, the creative director at Barney’s. Doonan always delivers an amusing word about an event’s honoree.

In yesterday’s he spoke of Valentino’s “fabulosity,” pointing out that few designers in the world ever did it thoroughly as did Valentino, creating beauty to provide beauty, presenting the perfect image of luxury and then in turn living it right down (or up) to his yachts, private jets, chateaux and his pugs. Doonan’s description not only drew laughs and smiles but underlined the seriousness of the business image that the designer and his partner Giancarlo built.
Liz Peek. Simon Doonan.
Anna Wintour addressing the guests at yesterday's luncheon.
When you see Valentino in a photo or even at table when he is quiet and/or listening, you see the well-tanned Roman countenance that is not hard but stern, concealing a charming, friendly personality underneath. It is always intriguing to observe, and it is, to me, a key to the man’s great creative abilities. He looks as if, as an employer, he might be strict (to put it mildly), but away from his work, he looks like there would be many laughs in his company.

When you see the brilliant documentary that Matt Tyrnauer made of the lives of the two men, called “The Last Emperor,” you see many sides of that personality, including the never disappointing temperamental artist who can send a sharp message with a mere shrug or a sharp toss of the head. Then you see a man whose entourage – which he never seems far away from -- is more like a family, along with the dogs, all of which is protected and projected by his creative and clever business partner Giancarlo.
The honoree listening to Anna Wintour's tribute to him.
The smiles responding to Mr. Doonan's wit.
More serious words coming forth.
Daphne Guinness amused.
After Doonan, Anna Wintour spoke of the man’s work. She also read a letter that Karl Lagerfeld sent to be read before the honoree and the guests:

I think there is nobody in the audience who knows Valentino for so many years as I do.

We met when we were young in Paris. He then worked at Jean Dessés and I was an assistant at Pierre Balmain. A common friend had introduced us but we met most of the time in the famous Cafe de Flore in the St. Germain de Pres.

Valentino never changed. He had a dream then and he realized his dream and now as he has a little more time he continues to live his dream "full time". I think few people worked as hard as he did to achieve his dreams and his vision of life. He wanted to dress the most beautiful and most elegant women in the world -- and he dressed them all.

Beauty was the music guide of his great talent. Women loved him for that all over the world. For him the sense of beauty is more important then the essence of fashion. He had his idea how a woman should look and was never influenced by a simple trend or a short lived fashion moment.

What he did was always 100%Valentino and that made his high success all over the world. Also his couture clothes were beautifully made and few people today know what he knows about the craftsmanship of that form of art.

If there should be one "Grand Couturier" in Italy it will only and forever be him.
Voltaire said: It is not enough to conquer, one must also know how to seduce" He knew and knows both to perfection.

Your old friend,


Anna Wintour presenting the award to Valentino.
The designer reading his acceptance speech. And his shoes.
The honoree at table with Anna Wintour, Diane von Furstenberg, and Giancarlo Giametti.
Then Wintour presented Valentino with the award. He then took the podium and thanking the guests, the Couture Council and the Americans who became his clients and followers, and propelled him into the fashion stratosphere.

This is a man who worked for it the old fashioned way. Part of his magic was, as Simon Doonan pointed out, making it look like it was all a fabulous party. But the ruffles and the flourishes of the satins, silks, taffetas and laces that composed his creations were the raw assets that he turned into a business empire with the same facility that Rolls Royce or Ferrari turned metal and paint into a powerful international business.

I was standing near the podium platform when Valentino came up to receive his award. Although he naturally speaks English with an Italian accent, he is quite easy for the American ear to understand. His thanks were wrapped in gratitude and humility for all who supported him and his career for what is now a half century. Watching him, observing his impeccable appearance, I couldn’t resist a look at his perfectly polished shoes, which fit his image to a tee. Take notice, all you aspiring designers out there, this is the compleat fashion genius.
Two of the ladies in Valentino red, Daisy Soros (who celebrated a birthday yesterday) and Ellin Saltzman Cornelia Guest.
Suzanne Cochran (right) and friends.
Marjorie Rosen. Paula Zahn and Glenda Bailey.
Muffy Miller, Karen LeFrak and Anne Harrison.
Valerie Steele and Simon Doonan.
Michele Gerber Klein, Christine Dutreil, Renaud Dutreil (head of LVMH in US), and Chiu-Ti Jansen. Cassandra Seidenfeld.
Eleanora Kennedy, Priscilla Rattazzi, and Susan Gutfreund.
Susan Magrino and Jackie Weld, with Stefano Tonchi having a laugh. Nina Griscom.
Wendy Carduner, June Schorr and Heather Leeds.
Mario Buatta and Ann Rapp.
Melania Trump. June Haynes.
Hunt Slonem and Sharon Bush.
Daphne Guinness ...
More Daphne ...
And Daphne once again. Marisa Berenson.
Roy Kean, Jean Shafiroff, and Mario Buatta.
Julia Koch. Michael Bruno and Charlotte Moss, who is bowing her head has Liz Peek is acknowledging her for her contribution to the day's success.
Michel Witmer.
Dr. Joyce Brown. The Steinberg sisters, Liz Lange and Jane Wagman.
Kristina Kovalenko and her daughter Stacey in original Valentinos. Amy Fine Collins.
Kamie Lightburn and Melissa Berkelhammer.
The sturdy, canvas goodie bags, in Valentino red, made by One Kings Lane ( and containing a DVD of "The Last Emperor," a fascinating, amusing and serious doc on the empire built by those two men, Valentino and Giancarlo.
Adelina Wong Ettelson and Harriet Weintraub. Lisa Klein.
Alexandra Lebenthal. Feathered and red, the lady under the green Republic Bank umbrella.
Sharon Handler and Martha Kramer. Lucia Hwong-Gordon and Chiu-Ti Jansen.
Closeups of Valentino (at night) on Lucia, and Valentino (by day) on Chiu-Ti.

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