Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Fashion Overload

Looking south along Fifth Avenue towards Bergdorf Goodman. 8:45 PM. Photo: JH.
Gotta get my old tuxedo pressed,
Gotta sew a button on my vest,
Cause tonight I’ve gotta look my best,
Lulu’s back in town.

— Al Dubin and Harry Warren, 1935

That was New York last night, seventy years after that tune was written. All the Lulu’s are back in town. All kinds of things going on. Someone told me Calvin Klein had a big dinner. I don’t know if that were the man or the company or both, but it was a hot ticket. Over at the Marlborough Gallery on 40 West 57 Street, there was a book party for “Pleasure Palaces: the Art and Homes of Hunt Slonem” by Vincent Katz.

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That party was hosted by Joanne Cassullo, Beth DeWoody, Ann Dexter-Jones, Erin Fetherston, Margo MacNabb and James Nederlander, Amy Sacco, Andrew Saffir and Daniel Benedict, Anne Slater and John Cahill, Lucy Sykes Rellie and Euan Rellie, Antony Todd and the directors of the Marlborough which is Mr. Slonem’s gallery. Altogether now, there you have a little composite, a microcosm of society in New York today. But like everything in New York today, it was one among many, and many are in many places in one night.

I went down to Bergdorf’s where they were hosting a book party for Charlie Scheips and his book for the Council of Fashion Designers of American (CFDA) called “American Fashion.” You’ve already got an earful on this book from me but I got two more cents to add. It’s a big thick coffee table book and it’s an intriguing chunk of American history as seen through the eyes of fashion down through the past nine decades.

Meanwhile, Bergdorf’s Third Floor was a mob scene. Hundreds. I know they had acceptances from 800 people. I was there working the Digital. There are only two surviving founders of the CFDA and they are Arnold Scaasi and Luis Estevez. They were both there. Also there was Dina Merrill, an old old friend of Estevez and the model in the Estevez version of John Singer Sargent’s “Madame X” (by photographer Milton Greene for LIFE magazine in 1960) along with Louis dell Olio (who with Donna Karan co-designed the Anne Klein line after Anne Klein died in the early 1970s). Also in the crowd: Michael Kors, Dennis Basso, Nicole Miller, and surely many many more whom I missed.
Madame X has been the model for countless homage ranging from pastiche to tribute. Milton Green’s classic shot features the American actress and Post Cereal heiress Dina Merrill regally attired in Cuban-born, American fashion designer Luis Estevez’ low-cut black crepe tribute to the famous Sargent painting. Originally published in LIFE in 1960.
1946. Hattie Carnegie was one of the great powerhouses of American fashion from the mid-1920s to the 1960s. During World War II her in-house custom designers included Jean Louis and Pauline Potter (who later became Pauline de Rothschild). Above is a John Rawlings photograph of Mrs. William S. Paley, later known as Dorothy Hirshon, in a classic Carnegie suit ensemble.
1957. Lauren Bacall in a black two-piece ensemble in a rayon crepe by Larry Aldrich. Mr. Aldrich was later remembered for his art collection from which he created a museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut.
1957. Arnold Scaasi in the 1950s was an apprentice of the now legendary Charles James. He launched his career the year before (1956) with a fashion show at the Plaza with 23 styles that he created in his walk-up apartment. The show was a hit. Buyers from three of America’s most important department stores – Henri Bendel, Neiman Marcus, I. Magnin, bought all 23 styles. Arnold was made with what has turned out to be a five-decade career.
1972. Roy Frowick Halston was his name. A boy from Indiana who came to the big town. Tall, skinny, ungainly, he got his start as a millinery designer known simply as Halston, for Bergdorf’s. He branched out into dresses cut from the muslins the store acquired from the Paris collections. Of this shot, Charlie Scheips writes:  More than any other designer of the 1970s, Halston lived the lifestyle his fashions evoked – the smoky, and sexy lounge lizard out for a night on the town.
1975. By then Jackie Onassis, Jackie O, was the most famous widow in the world, the most glamorous trophy wife in the world; admired, even idolized, Mrs. Kennedy Onassis epitomized youthful middle-age of the contemporary American women. When she went to a store and bought two dozen sweaters of a certain style, and WWD reported it the following morning, there was practically a line around the corner of that store, waiting to get in to buy what Jackie bought. It was her fresh energy. Her self-confidence. Her classiness under all circumstances.
1992. Claudia Schiffer in a Michael Kors leather bodysuit photographed for Vogue by Arthur Elgort.
1996. The most famous couple in America at that moment in their short, ill-fated but seemingly beautiful lives. Separately and together they embodied American fashion. Scheips writes about the picture: When John F. Kennedy Jr. wed Carolyn Bessette in her custom-designed gown by Narciso Rodriguez, the designer went from fashion insider to international star. Photograph by Denis Reggie.
“American Fashion” is one of those books that you pick up and start looking through because the photographs are excellent. And then you start noticing things – something you remembered or remembered seeing. And then you start seeing things that you vaguely recall but still astonish. Before you know it nostalgia taps in. And then you’re into the history of the 20th century United States as measured by the eye of its fashion designers. And then by the end of the book, you see that fashion designers, because of their enormous financial impact, are now distinctive members of the community; the community which has changed radically all the while seeming to look the same (only different).

Charlie Scheips, who put this together, is an art historian, curator, archivist. He’s one of those people who is always engaged in defining the visual transitions of our everyday world in terms of a historical perspective. He does that in this book, and in not very many words, but illustrating it succinctly and compellingly in this book.
Peter Rogers and Casey Ribicoff
Joanne Cassullo, Beth DeWoody, and Lisa Anastos
Kristen and Anthony Petrillose
Michelle Smith, Lauren Goldstein Crowe, and Leslie Stevens
Dan Rangone, Robert Rufino, and Jacqui Wenzel
Charlie Scheips signing away ...
Still signing ..
Taking a breather with Parker Ladd, Arnold Scaasi, Dina Merrill, and Luis Estevez
Louis dell Olio
Anne Grauso and friends
Bronson van Wyck
Kim Hicks and Gillian Miniter
Nicole Miller and friend
Rose Hartman
Deborah Buck, Eddie Ross, Jaithan Kochar, and Antonio Santiago
Patrick McMullan, Dina Merrill, and Luis Estevez
Luis Estevez with Diane von Furstenberg, Ann Rapp, and Carolina Herrera
Amy Hochfelder and Dorian May
The mob scene at Bergdorf's
George Gublo, Lisa Silhanek, and Gunnar Spaulding
Scott Currie and Dennis Basso
Vanessa Bismarck and Emanuel de Bayser
Jeffrey Banks, Cathie Hardwick, and Stan Herman
Karen Cord and Roy Keane
Michael Kors
Michael Gross
Chantal McLaughlin and Paul Leong
Angela Sun, Patrick Murphy, and Steven Kolb

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