Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The ballyhoo of the self

Layers of clouds gather over the Hudson. 5:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Wednesday, February 17, 2016. Very cold and snow Sunday, followed by warm (55 degrees) and torrential rain, then turning cold again (35 degrees) by nightfall, yesterday in New York.

I’d gone down to Michael’s to have lunch with an old friend from Los Angeles. It had been spritzing off and on from noon on. But what was memorable was the monsoon-ish torrents that started about 2:30, just as I was getting in a cab to go home, fortunately. For about twenty minutes, the air was so thick with moisture that riding in the car, you could see no more than a hundred feet ahead. As my cab was pulling up in front of my apartment building, it stopped. And that was it. The rain passed and the temperature turned back down again.

Good enough. Many readers expressed interest in the Gore Vidal biography, “Empire of Self” by Jay Parini that I wrote about on yesterday’s Diary. Danny Sugar out in LA emailed me about often seeing Gore in the last years of his life, at the Polo Lounge in the evening where, as Jay Parini wrote, Gore often went just to hear the pianist play the American Songbook. Gore’s partner, Howard Austen, was/had been a singer when they met. I never heard him but evidently Howard had a great voice which in some ways was reminiscent of Sinatra’s and Tony Bennett’s style. In those final years of Gore’s life, now alone for the first time in fifty years (Howard died in 2003), the American Songbook was a comfort for his loss – and reminiscent of Howard’s presence in his life. He also liked to listen to a lot American songbook music at home, including Howard’s recordings.
Vidal with his longtime companion Howard Austen.
Danny Sugar wrote: In all the times (and there were many times) that I saw Gore Vidal at The Polo Lounge (in his wheelchair, with a male nurse) he never had a drink. He also knew every word (and I mean every word) to every show tune he sang (accompanied by the restaurant’s pianist...)

Those songs all celebrated memory and memories, as it is for so many of us who were brought up on that popular music. It was especially poignant for Gore, it seems, because of Howard’s love and interpretation of that music. Howard had in a very real way abandoned pursuing his career in order to live with Gore. They were together for fifty years. Despite Gore’s public insistence that they were not lovers, Howard was, in a very real way, a house-husband, and a perfect mate, filling the most valuable role of spiritual support with his companionship, as well as managing their domestic affairs  -- i.e. running households -- and Gore’s professional travel activities. Howard’s death in 2003 – nine years before Gore – left a great empty space in the man’s life, opening up the room for despair. Those American songbook tunes with their often optimistic and romantic lyrics, garnished with wit and beauty, ignited some of the dearest memories of the life they shared.
It is Fashion Week in New York, as you may have heard. The Big Splash Show was Kanye West’s production at Madison Square Garden before thousands of fans as well as scores or maybe hundreds of fashion people. The Kardashian-Jenner Clan was as much a draw, presumably, as Mr. West’s collection, not to mention his concert. Mr. West’s show demonstrated what the fashion has become, the ballyhoo of the self.
The Kardashian-Jenner clan settling in.
I am not a fashion maven although I’ve followed it all with a certain awareness that comes from a natural aesthetic as well as the fact that I was in the retail side of that business back in the 1970s with a couple of small discount boutiques in Westchester and Fairfield Counties. It was a business I fell into consciously and its success gave me the confidence (and time and wherewithal) to pursue a professional career as a writer. In due time I moved on, but the education remains.
Yeezy Fall 2016 Ready-to-Wear.
The man of the hour.
It was an interesting learning especially about how women see themselves when they shop. The '70s was the era of the great American designers who dominated the industry and in many ways dictated style. It was the era of designer sportswear, and a time when Big Name designers started to sell in an annual volume of seven and eight figures. Nowadays of course, the “Big” names are pulling down sales in the 9 and even10 figures. There are only two of those designers still on the scene. Only one is still present and that is Ralph Lauren. The other is Oscar de la Renta.

Now that was long ago, and fashion, like the culture has changed dramatically. Oscar’s great business is still very much on the scene thanks to the man’s shrewd preparation for its continuance, now under the management of his stepdaughter and her husband Eliza and Alexander Bolen and the guiding experience of Oscar’s longtime and loyal sales impresario Boaz Mazor. The Englishman Peter Copping joined the team as Designer in 2014, and Oscar’s business has continued along the same stylish, smart looking, well manicured fashion path that grew out of his brilliant career.

Last night at 6:30 at the Prince George Ballroom at 14 East 28 Street Peter Copping showed his Oscar de la Renta Fall 2016 Collection. Smart, chic, luxurious, rich, and practical for its customer. It’s a million miles away from the proletarian garb of Kanye West’s collection, with the liveliness and loveliness of the line. The Oscar customer has always pursued the aforementioned qualities, or at least what they represent, which is: looking good. Really good.
A few pieces from Oscar de la Renta's Fall 2016 Ready-to-Wear collection.
Also last night Ralph Rucci presented his RR331 Fall/Winter 2016 Presentation over at 517 West 37th Street. The collection marks Ralph’s return to the fashion table with a new business, much to the excitement of legion of fashion followers. He is widely regarded as the greatest living American designer, a child of the great era of the '70s designers. We’ll have photos of the new line on tomorrow’s Diary.
 

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