No Holds Barred: Lost on me

By Blair Sabol

It's that time of year again when fashion magazines appear as big as phone books with hundreds of ad pages dedicated to handbags, eyeglasses and name brand items resembling porno spreads.

Nobody even cares about that shock value anymore, as we are so immune to nudity, vulgarity and hardcore merchandising. And speaking of hardcore hard sell, we are about to enter Fashion Week and Fashion Night Out (now celebrated worldwide) when the entire fashion industry ramps it up and over to get us all engaged.

I get it! But truthfully I am of an age (65) and living in a place (Arizona) where unfortunately I am automatically missing this boat. "Fashion" is now officially lost on me. (That may be a good thing.) But I don't think I am alone. Most women my age and a bit younger (obviously we are not "the market" of the moment) are really only interested in "affordable clothing" — a boring but true story.

I understand that "Fashion" is strictly for any rich gal under the age of 40 and preferably from Russia or Brazil (be they "escorts" or millionaires). Clearly they are the ones who can teeter on the double decker "heel-less" platforms and seem to do just fine sausage wrapped into the $8,000 Gucci mini-dresses (even though their thighs are the size of a linebackers). More importantly, they are the ones with all the dough, no shame and no taste to pull the whole look off. And personal taste is what our culture currently lacks.

I don't mind being out of the "High Fashion" loop, but who doesn't enjoy looking at great designs worn with terrific style by personalities who really live it and breathe it? Real "style icons" use to be "masters" in the art of dressing. I remember when we all lived for a "sighting" of Jackie O, Babe Paley, Gloria Guinness, Marella Agnelli, Nan Kempner, Pat Buckley, CZ Guest, Chessy Rayner. These names and more were the original "Fashion Icons." They all lived the lives and had the clothes.

These were Sondheim's "ladies who lunch ... another day, another 1000 dollars." And we celebrated their classy presentation. They all set the bar. NO matter what our little lots in life, no matter our ages, they captured our interest. Their boat sized low heeled shoes, their modest Gucci bamboo handled bags, their Galanos or Courrèges knee length sheaths. We took note of it all in detail (WWD helped us with its daily "Eye" accounts, and we all once read that paper religiously).
Clockwise from top left: Jackie O; Marella Agnell (in Courrèges); Nan Kempner; Gloria Guinness (with Bill and Babe Paley); Babe Paley.
The designers designed, the "icons" bought, and we merely followed their lead. They had TASTE! Even in the off "bohemian" moment of The Seventies we had Loulou de la Falaise and Betty Catroux to amuse us.

But these Fashion Icons were more than just their clothes. They had delicious stories behind their appearances. There were lovers, and rich men, lost fortunes, greedy, lousy children, murders, and broken hearts. (Compared to today's "fashionistas" who have a series of rehab visits and a few YouTube’d sex tapes to call "history").

Yves Saint Laurent with Betty Catroux and Loulou de la Falaise.
And other than some smart department store salesgirls guiding them, they all dressed for and by themselves. There were no stylists getting six figure incomes telling them what labels to wear. There were less Red Carpets and more street action. These Fashion Icons actually walked the sidewalks. No hidden SUV curbside "drop-offs" for them!

Sure this was a different time. Few of them really worked and most were jetsetting about the world in high style. Nowadays ... everybody works and everyone can jet set themselves anywhere (G Fours or Economy) and we never looked worse.

I keep asking and looking about for today's version of "tastemakers" and Fashion Icons. No one can help me. Yes, we have Lady Gaga and Daphne Guinness. But excuse me ... they are NOT "icons" ... they are "freak shows" and entertainment (Madonna is already passé in that category). I hear anemic votes for Kate Middleton (sweet and simple but no showstopper), Michelle Obama (too hit or miss), Tilda Swinton (original, but maybe too much of an acquired taste). Someone even mentioned Tory Burch as the new Brooke Astor (how or why?).

And then we land face down into The Kardashians (Bruce Jenner included) and belly up with any of those Bravo TV housewives. This is a tragic evolvement in the state of taste. In our current culture there is no one to look to and nothing to dress for. We are leaderless. Much like our politics. I fault the rise of the "star stylists" who dress everyone the same and the designers "branding" themselves out of all originality.

Just cause you can sell belts on Home Shopping and create blazers for a Ford car commercial and you have separate couture and Target/H&M lines, does not make you a creative genius. It makes you RICH! But not brilliant. It's called "Trash for Cash."
Branding on all levels has diluted and killed style. Everyone is a "brand" — the stars, the designers, the stylists, the magazines, the limos, the hairdressers and makeup people, the lawyers, the agents. And everyone looks homogenized. Not even a porn-directed ad can gain you favor. Nothing looks all that novel. Then again many of us have "seen it all." Or so it feels. Even the high end hookers or "escorts" get old and tired and end up looking like a regular Long Island (NOT even a Bravo TV version) housewife. As I said ... you have to look to the South American "girls" to get the real cutting edge. Who can keep up.

Clockwise from top left: a vest from Scoop, a cashmere sweater from J.Crew, a Galo boot.
Jane Birkin with her original "Birkin."
This all leaves me and many of my "stylish" New York City gal pals in the dust. I did a poll and most of my NYC friends never look at fashion mags anymore (unless at the manicurist or doctor’s office) and they ignore all of the Fashion Week reports. But make no mistake ... they are not bag ladies. They are still in there pitching visually, and they still like to shop (as sport) and "check it all out."

Most all of them told me they are not buying as much as they used to although every one of them just started to shop this week. They buy "modestly and classically" ... $125 (standard price range) "pieces"; a vest from Scoop, a cashmere sweater or skirt from J.Crew, the high/low hoodie or jacket from Zara, maybe a "sensible interesting" Galo boot, and always a decent walking, if not "running," shoe (no one could give a vote to Louboutin since everyone seems to suffer from heel spurs and Plantar fasciitis).

All of them have kept their their "good stuff" from years ago and some will spring at a few quality vintage stores. Jewelry and bags can even be gotten on "the street”! But again leave it to The South American brigade to spring $31,000 for that hot pink Birkin bag. Now all of my "tasty" New Yorkers insist they are not ready to go gently into style's goodnight of "sad sack."

They want to look and feel good in their own way (Iris Apfel excluded here). But they can't stay current or even care to in today's fashion frenzy. As writer Gay Talese said about his own fashion sense: "People dress up for funerals. Why not dress up to celebrate YOU are still alive?"

These women agree. My 70-year-old astrologer friend Elizabeth Karaman explained it this way; "Look, we are all dressing to survive and prevail and look decent. We may not have the legs or cash or grand places to go like we once did but we still want to look attractive and we all like the actual diversion of shopping. To say it doesn't matter is dishonest. In New York City you are seen constantly. We all live on the street for better or worse. It all matters."

"A huge change is coming in The Fall. The economy and the election will have a huge effect on people's clothing. Heels and hemlines will really come down much lower ... wait and see."

Every one of these ladies mourns the passing of any real quality "Stylista" (not today's horrid versions called "fashionistas") who had the guts and the glamour in their very own DNA to show us how it is all done. Although designer Zandra Rhodes recently said, "It's not so much about your clothes. You must own your own personality. That and jewelry will conquer anything." Agreed.

Then we have Karl Lagerfeld weighing in with “There is so much nonsense about fashion. People buy clothes because they want to look good. Not for any deep psychological needs."

Then why do so many women look so awful? Many buy clothes that are so age inappropriate to stay desperately "on trend" and what is "on trend"? Looking like Gaga or porn stars or at best "lesbian chic" (a rising understated "classy" visual all their own)? Maybe we should quickly get some "deep psychological needs.”

When I was in New York last June, I kept seeing women at 8 AM walking down the street wearing sleeveless mini length cocktail dresses (baring fleshy upper arms and a "fresh set" of over-the-hill-boobs) with hems too short, heels too high and looking like they were auditioning for a Fox News Anchor position or a weather girl. Is everyone becoming "Girls Gone Wild"? What would Babe Paley say? What happened here?

So in the end I turn to dear Diana Vreeland (don't miss the new documentary on her, "The Eyes Love to Travel") to say it like it is: "Style is everything. It helps you get up in the morning. It helps you get down the stairs. It's a way of life. Without it — you're nobody."
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