Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Window Shopping

"American fashion in the twenty-first century is as diverse as culture itself. Motifs of the new millennium are mosaic and fashion both reflects and informs that reality. Rather than dictating a look, American designers offer unique visions of what contemporary clothing should be." All italicized captions from American Fashion; Council of Fashion Designers of America by Charlie Scheips: 2000 Contemporary Directions.
The first full week of September is Fashion Week in New York, and it appears to be arriving with beautiful late summer weather. And according to the weatherman, it’s gonna stay that way for a few more days.

As anyone with the slightest interest knows, this is when the fashion industry rolls out its Resort and Spring Collections to show retailers and the fashion media from all over the country (and the world). New York is the fashion center of the world now (a half century ago and for a century before that, it was Paris).

It’s intensely competitive business, a crap shoot, a game of chance; all hype, all business, all social, all work and all culture. All rolled up into one. The Fashion Weeks can launch a star, and there are a lotta people out there aching for that stardom (and those profits). A good deal of the is done in the tents at Bryant Park, but there are many designers and manufacturers showing all over town.  And besides the fashion shows, there are the parties. All kinds of parties.

Next Tuesday night down at Bergdorf’s there will be a grand cocktail reception for The Council of Fashion Designers of America’s book (published by Assouline) called “American Fashion.” This is the 50th anniversary of the founding of the CFDA and the book, which was produced and edited by Charlie Scheips, was published as a tribute to this important organization. Nowadays the CFDA’s charter is taken for granted but that’s only because it was an organization that blazed the trails to change the way things were done back before Jackie Kennedy moved into the White House.

In 1957, there were very few American designers who had a “name” in the business. The manufacturers had the name – Ben Silverman, Maurice Rentner, Leslie Fay. The designers – Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, etc. – toiled behind those doors, unknown to the public. Believe it or not there were only about a dozen or so – if that --whose names were famous enough to rate a label.

The CFDA changed all that, and forever. There are only two of the original founders still with us, and we can see in retrospect, if there is any reason for their endurance, it could be simply the sheer force of personality which both men are grandly blessed with. Those men are Arnold Scaasi and Luis Estevez. New Yorkers all know Scaasi. Mr. Estevez abandoned Manhattan for Hollywood and Beverly Hills in the mid-60s after his fashion and social lionizing from the early 50s (he won his first Coty Award when he was 22) in New York. Today he resides in Montecito.
Above, left: 1929 - 1938. These were the years of the Great Depression in America. They were also the years of the magic of the silver screen where people's dreams were rescued from the enormous economic hardship and stress in this country. Garbo, Dietrich, Claudette Colbert and their styles.

"In the 1930s, dressing up was serious business, and dressing glamorously was de rigueur. The look of the 1930s remains today’s standard of elegance."

Above, right:
1939 - 1946. That's Hepburn on the upper right, in some kind of studio glamour shot. And below her, the brunette is the famous Horst photograph of Babe Paley at about 30.

"Wartime invention and Expansion. In the 1940s, patriotic styles abounded. Designers in America relied on their own talents and resources and their innovations and inventions impelled a flower of native fashion."
1947 - 1960. "In the 1950s, virtually every aspect of American life was transformed. Fashion during this era reflected a new feminity. The increasing quality of American craftsmanship and manufacturer’s ability to produce and distribute ready-to-wear clothing, found designers gradually emerging out of anonymity."
Next Tuesday Scaasi and Estevez and hundreds of others will be meeting at Bergdorf’s along with Diane von Furstenberg, the current president of the CFDA, and Charlie Scheips for a book signing and a general air-kissing free-for-all.

Bergdorf’s, as you know, or at least have read on these pages, has probably the greatest retail windows in New York these days. Amaze and Astonish and Amuse could be their motto. And elegant (that now antiquated concept). Sheer creativity masquerading as brilliant marketing, or vice-versa, the windows down at Bergdorf’s never disappoint whether you’re a shopper, a customer or just like looking at artfulness.

In preparing for next Tuesday night’s reception, and as a tribute to the CFDA and to the new book by Mr. Scheips, Bergdorf’s did up their windows along Fifth Avenue and West 58th Street in a visual cavalcade of the past nine (!) decades of women’s fashion in America.  I happened to walk by yesterday afternoon when I made this discovery. Last night I went back to photograph it so you could see it. Unfortunately because of the combination of the lighting and the camera’s eye, its power is somewhat diminished in the photo image. Nevertheless, all of it looks good no matter.

I’m old enough to remember when the girls started to wear dresses very short and shiny for the disco nightlife. (Anybody remember that season of hot pants?) When you look at the tableau in the windows, in sequence, the changes over the years have been subtle although definitive. Until the mid-60s when they took another turn, finally settling down in the 80s, and then the 90s when they took still another turn. Right before our eyes is the transitions (and transformations) of the American woman’s role at the dawn of the 21st century and American culture.

If  you have the slightest curiosity, go have a look. It’s an intriguing and thought provoking exhibition.
1961 - 1971. Frank Sinatra, Jackie Kennedy, an iconic photograph of the American 1960s with all the dramas and tragedies still in the wings.

"The youthquake cocktail of American fashion during the 1960s took inspiration from the rapid changing landscape of Pop and Op Art, ethnic clothing, new synthetic fabrics, rock music."

1972 – 1980. "American Fashion Arrives. Fashion designers were quick to embrace the pulse of the 1970s. Clthing became more comfortable, hair styles and accessories more naturalistic. Mode of dress ranged from sexy and casual to work-appropriate suits and dresses. Highly influential was the disco revolution: films like Saturday night Fever and nightclubs like Studio 54."
The fashion icon of the modern society princess as a sophisticated working woman (and mother): Diane von Furstenberg in a photograph by Avedon wearing her famous signature wrap dress that took the country by storm and sold in the millions, turning the social princess into a designer-tycoon.
1981 – 1999. "Always a mirror of its times, fashion – particularly American fashion became a dominant force in the 1980s, fashion shows became entertainment events in themselves. In the 1990s, fashion journalism expanded to horizons never imagined by designers of an earlier age."
2000 Contemporary Directions. "American fashion in the twenty-first century is as diverse as culture itself. Motifs of the new millennium are mosaic and fashion both reflects and informs that reality. Rather than dictating a look, American designers offer unique visions of what contemporary clothing should be."
Judy Agisim, a friend of mine who’s had a public relations business here in New York for a number of years, is changing focus. With a partner, Joanna Papp, Judy has created a company called BUND 798 to market the prominent Chinese Contemporary artists throughout the United States.  As she describes it: “BUND 798's access to important private collections as well as the strong personal relationships it shares with many of the artists creates its uniqueness, cementing its edge.” Some of the artists they specialize in are Zhang Xiaogang, Wang Guanguyi, Zeng Fanzhi, Feng Zhengjie, and He Sen.

And because of this new business, Mrs. Agisim, whom I had lunch with a Michael’s last, was telling me about her first trip she was about to take to Shanghai to the Art Fair. I asked her if she’d mind sending us some “postcards” about the trip with some pictures from her handy digital. This is the first entry, written two days ago in Hong Kong, the first stop on the road to Shanghai.

Greetings from Hong Kong

Les and I arrived Thursday evening -- a 15-hour flight from New York. Having slept the entire flight, I was ready for a weekend of fun and shopping. Who would be the first people we ran into as we were getting into our car to the go to the Island Shangri La? Meera and Vikram Ghandi, with two of their their beautiful children, Kanika and Kabir! Then, yesterday, wandering the magnificent corridors of the Pacific Plaza Mall, we ran into the Ghandis again! Hong Kong is a very large city, so the odds of seeing friends from New York are slim. We made plans to meet later this afternoon for tea ... Hong Kong style.

IMG Fashion Week in Hong Kong was launched in Chater Park. Les and I saw some shows Sunday night including the IMG Master Card-Peter Som fashion show. The tents are magnificent!

I LOVE Hong Kong ... what a gorgeous city!! So many MAGNIFICENT buildings and views.

Love, Judy

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