Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Upper Sets

Looking up towards the small rotunda ("Monitor building" as Wright called it) of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
Photo: JH.
Tuesday, March 7, 2017. Warmed up some yesterday in New York with temps hitting the low 40s. After the previous two nights, that was great. Supposed to warm up a little more until the weekend when we may have a brief blizzard or a flood or who knows what. Whatever, the forsythia have made their debut in the park along with a couple of other flowering bushes. Spring is well on its way.

Kick Kennedy on the cover of this month's Quest.
The March issue of Quest is on the stands. The cover girl this month is Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy,  a granddaughter of Ethel and Robert Kennedy who is now living and making her way in New York. Her namesake was her grandfather’s eldest sister.

The first Kick Kennedy went to live in London when her father was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Ambassador to the Court of St. James. Young Kick fell in love with England and in the early 1940s fell in love with Billy Cavendish, the Marquess of Hartington, eldest son of the 10th Duke of Devonshire.

Kick’s parents, particularly her mother, Rose Kennedy greatly disapproved of the relationship because Hartington, heir to the Dukedom, was Protestant and the Kennedys were Catholic, especially Rose who was devout. Despite the fact that at the time, an English duke ranked socially far, far above an Irish-American Catholic from Boston. What today seems immaterial was in those times a very serious matter. Since Hartington would eventually be a duke and his wife, then a marchioness, it would be required that she convert and that her children be brought up in Church of England. This was a much talked about matter bordering on scandalous, especially among the Upper Sets of the world.
The first Kick Kennedy.
Nevertheless, at age 24, Kick married Major the Marquess of Hartington in a small ceremony in May 6, 944 with her eldest brother, Naval lieutenant Joe Kennedy the only member of her family attending. Shortly thereafter the major returned to his line of duty and four months and six days later, on August 12, 1944, he was killed, missing in action when his plane exploded during a top-secret bombing mission in Europe. One month and three days later on September 9, 1944 Billy Cavendish was killed in action by a sniper in Belgium. The wedding couple had spent less than five weeks together before he returned to France and his fate.
Kick and Billy Cavendish were married in 1944. Joe Kennedy was the only member of her family who attended the wedding.
Eventually the now Lady Hartington became involved with Peter, the 8th Earl of Fitzwilliam on whose Yorkshire estate Wentworth Woodhouse was the largest private house in the UK. Again, Lady Hartington’s mother deeply disapproved of the liaison, because of religious reason and because the Earl was a divorced man. Nevertheless daughter followed her heart. On the 13th of May in 1948, the still unwed couple were flying to the south of France in a private plane when it crashed into a hillside, killing its passengers.
An adored younger sister to her elder brothers, Jack (who was three years older) and Joe, the first Kick was a very athletic young girl and could play football with her brothers. She was a charmer among her friends as well. She is remembered by friends and family for her ebullient personality and charm. No doubt our Quest cover girl this month was named, a century later in honor of and affection for her legendary great-aunt.
Kick with elder brother Jack.
Kick Kennedy on the cover of Quest is photographed by Julie Skarrett in Carolina Herrera’s strapless gingham gown and Verdura’s pearl scarf necklace and pearl drop earrings on the penthouse terrace of 212 Fifth Avenue. Julie Skarrett, the photographer, incidentally, is also a descendent of an historical American figure, a man who lived in the 18th century and gained fame (and notoriety) and scandal in the American Revolution: Benedict Arnold.
New York Fashion Week.Fall fashion was presented over several days last month. Over the past ten years or so, the NYFW has morphed into an entertainment to the viewer as much as, if not moreso, than a business proposition where designers presented their “looks” for the upcoming season.

For decades, beginning in the late 1940s after the Second World War, these shows were held in Seventh Avenue designer showrooms in order for retailers to assess and buy their garments for the upcoming merchandising seasons. The audiences were often small, depending on the size of the designer’s showroom.
Press Week (1943), the term Eleanor Lambert coined before it was officially called Fashion Week.
By the 1960s with the American Fashion industry growing to accommodate the national prosperity and the growing population, the venues began to expand. Some of them took on the accommodation of Show Business. In the mid-1960s, a New York designer, Cuban-born Luis Estevez held his Fall Fashion preview in the St. James Theater with its background sets of the smash hit musical “Hello Dolly” for his runway, although that kind of fashion spectacle was still a rara avis.
Luis Estévez showing one of his designs in 1957.
By the ‘90s, with the industry continuing to expand, they were held in the tents in Bryant Park behind the New York Public Library, accommodating literally hundreds attending a show. Moving right along with the transition, some major designers — Marc Jacobs comes to mind — brought the spectacle into fashion.

Jacobs’ shows became more than displaying a fashion line, with their inference of social (with a small “s”) commentary. By then the audience, which still included the industry assessing the marketability of the garments, had become celebrity-conscious to the point where the best seats in the house were given not only to the buyers (and major shoppers) but to tv, recording and film and celebrities.
Tents being set up in Bryant Park in October 1993 for its inaugural New York Fashion Week. Credit Nancy Siesel/The New York Times
If you read about in the papers or magazines (aside from WWD which still focused on the merchandise), you probably would remember the show not from the collection on the runway from who was seated in the front row. A couple of years ago, for example, Kim Kardashian, front row center with infant child on her knee, next to the child’s father Kanye West. The designer? Who remembers those things?
There were, and still are, exceptions to this “fashion” of fashion shows, maintained by at least a dozen major designers such as Carolina Herrera, Oscar de la Renta, Dennis Basso, to name only three. But the tents are gone, and the shows are in all kinds of venues all over town, mainly in the lower half of Manhattan. Now there are scores, if not hundreds of “shows” staged by designers and design organizations.

What is most notable is the change in fashion and what has influenced it, particularly quasi- or semi-nudity — at least partly Kardashian-ized, not to mention popular pornography as well as fetishism (thanks to the internet). Just glancing at the photos this season, sent via email by designers and their fashion publicists, many of the “newer” designers’ creations look almost like Halloween costumes. They speak, and sometimes even growl or shriek.
They presage a very weird delusion about ourselves. My words are not meant to be caustic or ridiculing. I mean them literally. The fashions speak in a way that is the polar opposite of the fashions of the era I was born into.

These are sociological matters, which is what fashion presages. Those of us the big city are witnessing the departure we’ve made culturally. Fashion speaks all the time, to us and of us. The designers are carrying the message of the Zeitgeist. The current message is often not pretty, quite literally. Some look more like post-Modern Art. Quite a bit is ugly, as if that were the intention.
As a former retailer with an awareness of what the American contemporary women of the past four decades needed and wanted in fashion, it is difficult to grasp the change that has occurred in our collective unconscious. In many instances, much of it  has a suggestion of violence to it. Ripped, torn, sharp, dark, harsh strong colors.

When I think of American fashion of the previous era, I think of Babe Paley.
Fashion, and how it is displayed/worn is the Truth of our society — how we see it and additionally how others see it on us. When I think of American fashion of the previous era, I think of Babe Paley. A woman who came of age in the third quarter of the 20th century Mrs. Paley was very well known and very well liked, by both men and women.

The way she dressed reflected the way she lived. That was her art. She was a privileged woman socially. She was not, in today’s context, a liberated woman. She wasn’t quite of that generation. But she had the liberation of money – able to buy and do things that those of us without money cannot do. Her clothes spoke of it. Her fashion was her pastiche in life. She was a modern woman. But she was also a man’s possession.

It’s my guess that it was her natural grace that was the main attraction. You can see it in the face. There is an innocence, but a kind of naivete there. Her fashion was her art — and of the time in which she lived (1915-1978). It looked so right it looked effortless. Women know that is not the result of effortlessness, but the result of a person, a personality, and a personal relationship to the world around her. All women liked to look at her and marvel. There was no neon, no bling, no loud and clear, or move-over-darlin’. It was simple, innately beautiful, even divine and, worn with that grace that was the woman’s real secret. Those are now diamonds in the Rough.


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