Monday, December 19, 2005

What’s the ‘Big Idea’?

As the year comes to an end, it’s normal to take stock, reflect, and think back over the past 365 days. And for me, that includes the last 365 days of fashion. What stands out from MY vantage point (and the word ‘my’ is the key, because in the world of fashion, everything is subjective, there are no rights and wrongs), are the various events, shows, happenings, proposed ideas, and styling tricks, that are linked together because in the end, they were good ideas, illustrated good judgment, or wise decision making on the part of the creator (be it a fashion designer, head of a museum or corporation, publisher, editor, or the all knowing ‘powers that be’).

My compilation exemplifies the bi-polar, yin and yang nature of fashion because as you will see, it embodies the appreciation of both the eccentric and kooky as well as the classic; and celebrates enduring symbols and icons of style (people, places, AND ‘things’) that never lose their appeal and stand the test of time like the ‘lbd’, the great white shirt, pink and black, the tuxedo, boho chic, couture like details (fabric and cut) and inspirational style setters, like Iris Apfel. (Move over Kate Moss, there’s a new fashion muse in town and she’s 50 years your senior!) And maybe because we all travel so much, need practicality and versatility in our wardrobes, global warming is a reality, resulting in schizophrenic weather conditions, and the thermometer’s been dipping as of late, the idea of creative layering (which defines modern fashion) seems even more appealing than ever. So here, in no particular order, is my list of fashion highlights of 2005:


1-Who wears the pants? Pants are finally back in a big way. After seasons where skirts and dresses have ‘ruled’, pants in every conceivable shape, length, fabrication and incarnation were all over the international spring 2006 runways in September and October. If you think about it, what could be more modern and practical, comfortable, especially for running around town? But leave it to Karl Lagerfeld to prove that you CAN layer pants beneath a dress or skirt suit without looking like a geek, a refuge, a bag lady, OR feeling as if you have reverted back to your childhood when your mom made you dress in layers so you would keep warm as you went off to kindergarten.

Karl added the unexpected juxtaposition of skinny black leather pants underneath short black beaded or delicate, frothy lace dresses for his Chanel fall 2005 couture show in Paris and then he modernized ladylike tweed boucle skirt suits by adding skinny black satin trousers for his Paris/New York Pre Fall Chanel Collection (shown several weeks ago at the Chanel boutique on 57th street). This is a brilliant layering idea to call into action when you need some modest covering up under a too short or too sheer dress, or for adding warmth on a frigid day, and with designers like Oscar de la Renta also making a statement with pants (including tapered black satin pants) for his recently shown pre fall collection, it’s a safe bet this look will be interpreted elsewhere.

Just a note, this styling trick sure came in handy when the thermometer dropped on one recent freezing cold day in December and it proved to be a perfect way to keep warm and look chic as I ran around town doing errands. (Of course my trusty vintage mink bolero and earmuffs didn’t hurt either).

2-The Great ‘Cover Up’: These days, it’s not about baring all and leaving little or nothing to the imagination, but rather, more about covering up and keeping something to the imagination (a little mystery and modesty goes a long way). Nothing is more necessary for effectively going under cover than a wardrobe of coats. And speaking of Karl Lagerfeld, that coats are an important and integral part of a woman’s wardrobe was not lost on the prolific designer who made quite a statement with coats (and with the ever so modern notion of “hidden luxury”) for his Chanel fall 2005 couture show.

He paraded out 50 models, each wearing a variation of a black coat, or cape, in a dizzying assortment of fabrics, shapes, lengths, silhouettes, and every one had an amazing lining. He even joked that the linings were more expensive than the coats, or the day suits, dresses, and evening gowns that the models revealed underneath. While the underpinnings were noteworthy, in the end, it was all about the top layer.

3- Hot ‘Flashes’: And speaking of Karl Lagerfeld, the prolific designer is always fertile ground for hip and smart styling tricks, so it’s not surprising that another great idea (even if it wasn’t necessarily ‘new’) this past year, is also courtesy Karl: black and pink used in combination. It’s the only thing that is as good, if not better than black and white, long an iconic Chanel symbol. This past July, just as the stores were being bombarded with so much unrelieved black for fall 2005, that flash of pink used in conjunction with black looked better than ever during the Chanel couture show in Paris. Karl sent out several black coats that when opened, revealed flashes of pink, in different shades including shocking pink, thanks to the contrast linings which matched the narrow skirt suits worn underneath. And for evening, he showed a shocking pink floor length taffeta double tiered balloon dress gathered with black ribbon on the bottom and trimmed with a wide hemline of black feathers under a black feather trimmed floor length coat.

But of course, you don’t have to buy Chanel couture or designer labels in order to mix pink and black yourself; it is the quickest and most effective way to add some life and pizzazz to funereal black and is so easily incorporated into one’s own wardrobe.

You can simply add pink accessories to an all black outfit (a scarf, bag, gloves, shoes, boots, hat), you can layer pink over black or black over pink, or you can just buy pink ribbon in various shades and widths, and use instead of a traditional belt, on your black coat, sweater, dress, or pants.

4- ‘Rara Avis’ –The Metropolitan of Art’s Costume Institute broke with tradition when they made a decision to celebrate the personal style of one living woman, Iris Barrel Apfel, in their current exhibit, ‘Rara Avis’. The highly visual exhibition which spans 50 years is also groundbreaking in that Ms. Apfel actually styled each of the outfits head to toe, just as she had worn them (or would wear them). It is choc a bloc with ideas for both fashion designers and fashion followers and it is hard not to be inspired, or somehow not feel energized and uplifted by it.

It is a tribute to the colorful, eccentric, exuberant, expressive, personal style of this ageless octogenarian, who at 84, has not changed her look in decades. She still favors attention grabbing head to toe red worn with jaw dropping accessories (like her massive Hopi Indian necklaces and belts), keeps her white hair gamin short, is never without her signature oversized owl shaped eyeglasses, or trademark sculptural canes. She defines the term modern and illustrates that not only is age irrelevant but should help put an end to any belief that over a certain age, a woman should just take to wearing beige and quietly fade into the woodwork.

Mrs. Afpel is garnering her share of much deserved attention and has become a bona fide celebrity. She was the subject of a recent front page article in the ‘Thursday Style’ section of The New York Times, was invited to take part in the 7th annual NYU fashion series early this past month where she fielded questions from the audience, and she is already being touted as a major reference point and inspiration for the next round of shows in February (fall/winter 2006).

5- The Little Black Dress: Decades after Coco Chanel put this indispensable and versatile wardrobe staple on the map, this iconic classic has remerged with a vengeance for fall 2005 (hardly surprising since the season was all about black). Because of all the attention given to the little black dress this past year (it never went away of course but it did fade into the background) by fashion designers across the board, I think it was virtually impossible NOT to have been able to find a version or two to satisfy the Holly Golightly lurking within, one that would suit your particular style and pocketbook.

6- Shirting the Issue: Speaking of wardrobe staples like the little black dress, shirts- especially white shirts, are a fact of life and exist in all our closets. Quite frankly, they make everything look great. Designers proposed them for spring 2006 both frilly and plain, for day and evening, and used them unexpectedly (as exemplified by Vera Wang, who fashioned hers from “humble” men’s shirting, added enormous white jabots and paired them with dramatically fitted organza or satin coats and shrunken jackets, allowing cuffs and shirttails to hang out).

Shirts were also used as coats and as dresses (as in shirtdresses) where they morphed into evening gowns, as in the case of Michael Kors who created a charming full skirted floor length shirtdress from white eyelet. And I can’t leave out Julia Berger who had the inspired idea of creating a collection of limited edition impeccably fitted bespoke shirts for women in a range of patterns and colors, and of course, white.(www.juliaboutique.com)

8- Off the Cuff: Speaking of white shirts…when are white ruffled cuffs and a high collar not part of a real shirt? When Zang Toi has something to do with it. This past September, when Zang presented spring 2006 at the Bryant Park Tents, one of his most alluring items was a black trouser and black cashmere fitted sweater (accessorized with long ropes of pearls) worn over what appeared to be a white shirt with high ruffled collar and very exaggeratedly long ruffled cuffs. As it turns out, the collar and cuffs were detachable pieces. Can you think of anything more practical? When they get soiled and need to be sent for dry cleaning, you don’t have to worry about an entire shirt but just the three small pieces.

9- Tux Deluxe: There are certain items of clothing that cannot be improved upon, like the tuxedo. Yves. St. Laurent first put a woman in a tuxedo about 40 years ago when he unveiled a black grain de poudre jacket with four button down pockets and trousers at his ‘Pop Art’ autumn-winter haute couture collection in the summer of 1966 and it has been a signature of the man and the label ever since. An exhibit ‘Smoking Forever’ featuring 50 different interpretations of Yves’ ‘le smokings’ through the years perfectly timed to open midway through Paris Fashion Week at the Pierre Berge - Yves St. Laurent Foundation (through April 23) is testament to the timelessness and longevity of this perennial favorite, (about which Yves observed, “For a woman, le smoking is an indispensable garment with which she finds herself continually in fashion, because it is about style, not fashion. Fashions come and go, but style is forever”). This was illustrated by the sight of almost all the attendees at the opening night party (including Catherine Deneuve), who paid homage and wore their own tuxedos. The tuxedo is a wonderful alternative to something more frou and frilly, and thankfully, international designers continue to interpret the theme (including the current head of design for YSL, Stefano Pilati, whose lean fitted jackets and narrow cropped pants are appealing and feminine).

10- A ‘step’ in the right direction Thank goodness, it seems like the end (well, for now anyway) of the ‘tyranny’ of pointy toes and stiletto heels. No longer do we have to suffer in uncomfortable shoes in order to look good and be perceived as chic thanks to designers’ wholehearted embrace of footwear that is not only easy on the eye but decidedly comfortable to boot (pardon the pun).

Flat shoes and boots of every incarnation abound; the popular wedge espadrille that was ‘THE shoe of the summer’, has happily morphed into fall and winter friendly versions, (thanks to Roberta Freymann’s smart idea of translating them into richly jewel toned velvet beauties, $195, 49 East 78th Street, No. 2A; 212-585-3767); there are round toed stacked heeled Mary-Janes, boots, and pumps for day and evening; and the wedge and platform are the soles of choice. That’s the best news, because not only do they add inches (and who does not wish to be taller?) but they provide support to the foot while pounding the city pavement.

11- A Night to Remember: It’s hard to forget the night last September, when Marc Jacobs’s spring 2006 show at the 26th street Armory didn’t begin the requisite two hours late, and the designer tricked us all and actually started ‘early’ (well, early by fashion standards…just about 25 minutes after the show was called for on the invitation). And he grabbed our attention and put a smile on even the grumpiest faces, by beginning the proceedings with the rousing Penn State Marching Band, which was meant to illustrate the point about his renewed love affair with uniforms and all things collegiate. But forgetting all that razzmatazz…there were some darn good clothes to boot…Marc decided to forego his usual arsenal of bows, ribbons, and other overly sweet and feminine tricks that he’s become associated with, and illustrated a decidedly grown up and sophisticated side, relying on couture like fabrics and silhouettes, perfectly and sparely accessorized. Chic as all get out!

Speaking about being ‘A Night to Remember’….it’s kind of hard to forget a collection that ends with a shower of silver confetti falling from the ceiling that stuck to every surface of my body, filled my pocketbook, and months later, I am still finding stubborn remnants of around my apartment.

12- Get ‘Stoned’- Dennis Basso single handedly revived the rich hippie (boho chic) look (not that it ever really went away) with his beautiful fall 2005 fur show held last May at the New York Public Library’s Astor Hall. It marked a true departure for the furrier in that it was more “Rich girl who lives in the mountains of Tibet” (in the words of Jack Cohen, Managing Director) than Park Avenue Princess, unabashedly stoned, mirrored, studded, beaded, bejeweled, embellished, and deliciously over the top. The models looked cool and effortlessly chic as they sauntered down the runway in their fabulously fitted, colorfully hand embroidered furs, many with narrow and flared sleeves, accessorized with long trailing hand embroidered broadtail belts, amazing bags slung across the body, worn with narrow jeans tucked into flat fur boots or beaded flat slippers with a decidedly ethnic feel. It was easily the most youthful and modern collection Dennis has done thus far. I can’t imagine what he will do for an encore.

13- Bright Idea: The powers that be at Lounge Light Creative Services surely knew what they were doing when they decided to ‘spread the word’ about their product, Lounge Light Candles (http://www.loungelight.com/), which combine traditional candlelight with a color changing LED to create subtle lighting effects, and come with a removable battery powered light source in the base of the candle which can be switched to either produce constantly changing colors or display one selected color according to one’s mood or decor. They wisely kicked off the opening day of Olympus Fashion Week for Spring 2006 on Friday, September 9th, “lighting up” Esteban Cortazar's show at Bryant Park, with 600 Lounge Light candles programmed a dramatic blue to compliment the young designer’s Spring collection palette.I had never been aware of the company or the product before (they just launched in 2004), but because one hefty 7 inch candle was put in the gift bags left on the seats of every show attendee, I was able to take one home and experiment, and I have become a fan. The candles certainly “light up my life”; they are perfect for adding a festive glow to the winter months and especially, the holiday season. And best of all, they’re not costly (most are between $21 and $26) and there’s no need to worry about starting a fire.

14- After the ‘Fall’: It took a near disaster (part of a lighting structure collapsed, striking several front row editors including The London Telegraph’s Hilary Alexander during New York Fashion Week last September), to finally convince Diane Von Furstenberg it was time to leave her homey historic West Village store/showroom/studio/pied a terre. She has confirmed that in February, she will stage her fall 2006 collection on Sunday afternoon at 4 pm at a far more convenient location - the Bryant Park Tents. According to www.fashionweekdaily.com, she is in the process of “renovating her new 25,000 square foot studio space on West 14th Street, which won’t be ready until next summer. Von Furstenberg has yet to make up her mind as to whether she will continue showing at the Tents or move back into her new studio.”

Regardless of what happens in the future, she made a wise decision and it is clearly the right thing to do for now. I wish other designers would follow her lead and make a concerted effort to better centralize the shows. It would certainly make our lives easier. Of course, this was a sentiment always echoed by the well respected former Fashion Director of Neiman Marcus Joan Kaner, who retired at the end of this year. When I last saw Joan, (she was a panelist at Fashion Group International’s Trend Overview for Spring/Summer 2006 held at FIT’s Katie Murphy Amphitheatre last month), I asked her what part of the business she would miss the most and what she would miss the least.

As for the first part, without hesitation, she responded: “The anticipation of a show…the thrill that comes with thinking this may be ‘THE SHOW’ where you discover that amazing design. That, and the love of fashion and the people that are special to me”.

As for what she will NOT miss, unsurprisingly, it was all about the well documented grueling bi-annual show schedules (of which she has been a verbal and vocal voice). As she put it, “The 45 minute wait. There are far too many shows. Something has to be done about the schedule.” And then she spoke about her dislike of off site locations. “Off site locations ruin the whole day and don’t make the clothes look any better”.

-Marilyn Kirschner, editor-in-chief lookonline.com

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