Monday, February 12, 2018

The fashion

Walking along Fifth Avenue in the rain. 4:30 PM. Photo: JH.
Monday, February 12, 2018.  Rainy weekend in New York with temperatures reaching up to the 50s on Saturday and even 60 degrees on Sunday afternoon in the middle of winter.

It is now New York Fashion Week I used to cover them when it was in the tents at Bryant Park behind the New York Public Library, and then when they moved to Lincoln Center. After that, the shows became de-centralized and all over Manhattan. Keeping up with the various destinations was more time consuming than the shows themselves. The focus seemed to move from fashion to celebrities, like rock stars and even Kardashians with infants balanced on their knees.
Fashion has always interested me because it presages. The question today is “what does it presage?” Yesterday afternoon, for example, I was doing my laundry in the building’s basement. Thinking about what I was going to write  about this very subject while waiting for the elevator to return to my apartment, the elevator arrived and out stepped another tenant with her laundry. She was a young woman probably in her late 20s, early 30s, casually dressed in jeans and a sleeveless tee. Both her arms from shoulder to wrist were entirely covered with tattoos that at first I thought were the sleeves to her tee. That’s her fashion, and it is the fashion. What that presages is difficult to conjure. We’ll have to wait and see.

Speaking of fashion, last week at Liz Smith’s memorial, I was seated next to Marjorie Reed Gordon and our conversation was reminiscing about Liz and how she started Literacy Partners with Arnold Scaasi and Parker Ladd. Parker, it so happened had died just a couple of weeks before, pre-deceased by Arnold who died a couple of years ago. Marjorie told me how she had worked for Arnold for a number of years as his vendeuse.
Arnold, Liz, and Parker.
Before Arnold, she told me she had worked for Mainbocher. This aroused my curiosity because although I knew nothing about him, I did know that Mainbocher (who died in 1976 at age 86) was considered the premier — and arguably the only — American couturier. Naturally I asked what the man was like and what kind of business did he have.

He was born Main Rousseau Bocher in Chicago in 1890. From a working class family, his father died when the boy was young and he had to leave school to go to work to help his mother support the family. His first love was opera and when he was in his early 20s, he moved to Paris to study music. An obviously creative individual, he supported himself by doing fashion drawings of the couture shows for Paris Vogue.
Main Rousseau Bocher aka Mainbocher. This famous illustration of Chanel’s fashion ‘Ford,’ was drawn by Main Bocher for Vogue, October 1926
When he had finally was accepted by an opera company, on the night of his first performance, he lost his voice, thus ending his dream. Nevertheless he stayed in Paris, continuing to work for Vogue and covering the couture shows with his drawings and reviews.

By the 1920s, he was an editor and eventually the magazine’s editor-in-chief. By the end of the decade he decided he had learned enough about designing — along with guidance in “draping” from Madeleine Vionnet, one of the leading Paris designers between the two World Wars — to start his own business in Paris. He became a great success, catering to society and royalty until war broke out at the end of the 30s, when he moved back to America and opened his business in New York.
Mainboacher's staff preparing the wedding trousseau of Wallis Simpson in her marriage to the Duke of Windsor.
The famous Mainbocher corset famously photographed by Horst, and later revised for viewing by Madonna.
By the time Marjorie Reed Gordon met him in the 1960s, his clients were among the Best Dressed women in the world including the Duchess of Windsor (for whom he made her wedding trousseau when she married the Duke).

Mr. Bocher (now pronounced Bo-shay) was in fact the American couturier recognized internationally with a business that was select to the point where a client had to be “accepted” by him. His fashions were classic. The workmanship was impeccable. All of his shows were private to the clients only — one at a time, no group shows. Diana Vreeland, Elsie DeWolfe, Millicent Rogers, Mrs. Cole Porter, Claudette Colbert, Syrie Maugham, Doris Duke, Adele Astaire, Kitty Miller, CZ Guest, Daisy Fellowes, Babe Paley, Vanderbilts, Mellons, Whitneys, Astors, Kennedys, even Broadway stars – such as Mary Martin, Ethel Merman, Tallulah Bankhead – were all devoted. He also was hired by Broadway producers to design the costumes for their biggest stars.
The newlyweds, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Gloria Vanderbilt wearing Mainbocher.
His fashions were made to last. A book was kept on each client and every year, every season, they would come in one by one to add to their collections. Everything was quality, including the best fabrics. Each client had her own dummy so that everyone  was made to accommodate the individual’s figure precisely. His innovations were lasting — the strapless gown was his creation, as was the accessorized sweaters.

Mr. Bocher, as he was known to his staff, finally retired in 1971 when he was 81.

Among Mainbocher’s clients was Mrs. T. Charlton Henry from Philadelphia. Born Julia Rush Biddle, married to a lawyer-yachtsman, the trim Mrs. Henry, Marjorie Reed Gordon recalled, used to come in wearing a lot of jewels. She looked the part of the ultimate society grande dame, making a formidable appearance. 
Mrs. T. Charlton Henry on a couch in her Chestnut Hill home, Philadelphia, PA., 1965
Diane Arbus (American, New York 1923–1971 New York)
Purchase, Alfred Stieglitz Society Gifts, 2001
Copyright © The Estate of Diane Arbus, 1965.
Three of her ancestors signed The Declaration of Independence including her great-grandfather Benjamin RushDiane Arbus photographed her for LIFE magazine when she had been named to the Best-Dressed Hall of Fame. She was a very nice lady despite her almost imperious appearance, trim and doll-like, she was fascinated by everything “from scuba diving to the moon race.”

She grew up in a family conscious of sports and each day of her adult life she took an hour of exercise. “Some days you just have to make yourself do them. But it’s so attractive to look fit, don’t you think?” 
Mrs. Henry in a suit by Mainbocher.
When jogging became popular, Mrs. Henry who was then  82, became a devoted walker, taking up the habit after she had Adolfo design a one-piece, black knit jump suit for her to take her laps in style. “Well, it pays dividends,” she remarked about her newly acquired habit where most days she would walk and jog at least half an hour, sometimes longer on the high school track 200 yards from her home in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia. She averaged, she figured, about four miles. The body needs care. Jogging is preventive medicine,  “my age group all think I’ll drop dead.”  The mother of two daughters, with seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, she added: “My daughters don’t jog. I’ve got fat nephews who won’t budge.”

In her New York shopping visits, Mrs. Henry would take the train up to Penn Station, then walk up to Bergdorf’s to be there on time when it opened. Bill Cunningham was fascinated by her. “She’s so chic. And when she came into the store, she’d say ‘Good morning Miss Ida,’ ‘Good morning Miss Elizabeth.’ She knew everyone’s name.”
Speaking of chic, last Thursday, February 8th, NET-A-PORTER and The Society of Memorial Sloan Kettering hosted its 5th Annual Winter Lunch at The Rainbow Room. This elegant event was co-chaired by Beth Blake Day, Lisa Errico, Joanna Baker de Neufville, Karen LeFrak and Martha Sharp. The Society of MSK’s most high profile supporters gathered for cocktails and a seated lunch at one of the most iconic spaces in New York City, which was transformed by Ron Wendt Design.
The table settings.
Guests Included: Alison Loehnis – President of NET-A-PORTER and MR PORTER, Helena Christensen, Jessica Joffe, Jennifer Fisher, Cristina Ehrlich, Rosetta Getty, Elizabeth von der Goltz, Danielle Snyder, Jodie Snyder Morel, Emilia Fanjul Pfeifler, Jane Keltner de Valle, Lauren DuPont, Travis Acquavella, Rickie de Sole, Joanna Baker de Neufville, Amory McAndrew, Indré Rockefeller, Jennifer Creel, Caryn Zucker, Brent Winston, Erin O’ Connor, Catherine Williams, Bjornson Wolf, Christin Rueger, Veronica Beard, Joanna Hillman, Stephanie von Watzdorf, Mimi Ritzen Crawford, Margaret Zakarian, Dr. Stephen A. Sands, Courtney Corleto, Eleanora Kennedy, Anna Kennedy, Stellene Volandes, Ferebee Taube, Sara Zilkha, Beth Blake Day, Jamee Gregory, Martha Sharp, Karen LeFrak, Lisa Errico, Shoshanna Gruss, Allison Aston and many more.
Karen LeFrak, Jamee Gregory, Martha Sharp, Joanna Baker de Neufville, and Lisa Errico.
Virginia Tomenson, Indre Rockefeller, Elizabeth von der Goltz, and Margaret Zakarian. Amory McAndrew.
Karen LeFrak, Beth Blake Day, Joanna Baker de Neufville, Lisa Errico, and Martha Sharp.
Brent Winston and Mimi Ritzen Crawford. Anna Kennedy and Eleanora Kennedy.
Sara Zilkha and Iva Miladinova.
Alison Loehnis, Jamee Gregory, and Helena Christensen. Jamee Greogry and Dr. Stephen Sands.

Photographs by Hunter Abrams/ (Winter Lunch)

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