With the frenetic holiday season now ‘history’ and the fall 2006 collections looming in the near future, most of us are back to reality - or at the very least, back in town. So it couldn’t have been a more perfect time for the cocktail party given by Donna Karan this past Thursday evening to honor Steven Kolb, the new executive director of the CFDA. Held at the Stephen Weiss Studio (Stephen of course, is Donna's late sculptor/husband) in the far reaches of the West Village, the cavernous space (a former garage) was transformed into a nightclub for the festive event. And it seemed that tout le monde (of the fashion world, anyway) turned out.
Against the beat of lively music pounding in the background, there were the requisite air kisses and audible shouts of “Happy New Year”, and an array of artistic and creative nibbles and drinks were enjoyed by the likes of Oleg Cassini, Vera Wang, Michael Kors, Diane Von Furstenberg, Isabel Toledo, Simon Doonan, Roland Nivelais, Behnaz Sarafpour, Carolina Herrera, Fern Mallis, Stan Herman, Louis Dell’ Olio, Marylou Luther, Virginia Smith, Ruth Finley, Ed Filipowski, Margaret Hayes, Dr. Valerie Steele, Cathy Hardwick, Sal Cesarani, Robert Bryan, Cindy Weber Cleary, and Peter Arnold (who left his post as the Executive Director of the CFDA vacant when he agreed to become President of John Varvatos Enterprises, and who recently announced he was leaving that position).
Ms. Karan, long known for her love affair with shoulders (she seemingly never met a shoulder she didn’t like) was clad in signature body defining black layers, topped off by her cardigan, which she periodically tugged on to reveal both her shoulders and the bare, plunge front sleeveless tunic worn beneath. (Let’s face it; Donna is definitely NOT a turtleneck kind of gal). While it was cool outside in the chill of the winter evening, it was downright sweltering inside and most guests came dressed for the cold. Many of them, including yours truly, stubbornly left on their outerwear despite the heat (including Michael Kors who was clad in a black puffy parka, and Adrienne Landau, who wore a mirror encrusted coat lavishly trimmed with Mongolian lamb). In fact, Donna seemed to be one of the few who appeared to be wisely prepared for the rising temperature, a fact which had me chuckling in speculation that she had purposely adjusted the thermostat to accommodate her penchant for shoulder and décolleté baring and to show off her great shape (of course I’m kidding, but hey, this is fashion, so anything is possible!)
Because the evening was a fashion celebration, and New York Fashion Week is less than one month away, fashion design, fashion shows, and the seemingly never ending (and never changing) fashion cycle were on everyone’s minds. The latter two were certainly on the mind of Patti Cohen, Donna Karan’s childhood pal and the company’s Executive Vice President, Global Marketing and Communications.
When I greeted Patti and asked how she was, she bemusedly replied, “same old, same old, nothing changes” and immediately referenced Cathy Horyn’s December 22nd article “Fashion Is Two Clicks Behind. She couldn’t agree more that the “fashion industry is still stuck in the 70’s”. “The process that we do and how we do it has not changed since the 70’s. First you have the fashion shows, then you have to ship, then you’re late shipping, and then come the markdowns, and then you can’t get it made. And this happens twice a year (if not more)”.
I asked if Donna, (who always loves tackling problems and moving forward), would love to find the answer, Patti quickly agreed, “Donna’s dying to have the answer”.
When Stan Herman looked around and marveled out loud at the wonderful space that defined the Stephen Weiss Studio, with its beautiful second floor garden, (it’s been the venue for Donna’s past three collection runway shows), Patti noted with chagrin, “it’s too small for Donna’s shows” and voiced her frustration at not being able to accommodate all the people she would like to. “We should show in the BIGGEST possible space (like Louis Vuitton and others who show to about 1000 guests). We need a space that accommodates thousands of people because that’s what you do a show for, not to have to limit it and say, ‘no, no, no’. It KILLS me. I can’t tell you. When you sell all over the world like Donna, and you have all these retailers and freestanding stores and international press in China and India - they all come. What do you do? That’s why it’s horrible.”
She also voiced her frustration at not having the budget for more than just one show (“I don’t have money any more”). And then there’s the conflict between art and commerce which was apparent in her precise description of the laborious way in which no stone goes unturned in staging that all important show. “We doven (pray) over the background, what the seat covers are going to look like. We bend it, we change it, we do it. “Donna wants, ‘intimate’. How do you have ‘intimate’ with 500 people?” she exasperatedly asked. (Good question and certainly, I don’t have the answer).
Speaking about fashion shows, they are obviously on the mind of Isabel Toledo, a designer I have long admired, who has not staged a formal runway show in many years is planning to next year. "I can't wait to do a show again. I'm really looking forward to it” she told me when I asked if this was in the future. How does she describe her aesthetic? "Evolving. Allowing myself to evolve and not be pinned down, stereotyped, or pinpointed to one thing. It's really about design and how it evolves.”
Who are her design ‘Gods’? “Mme. Gres, Vionnet, Balenciaga.” But she also had praise for her contemporaries. “Everyone has something to say- just as long as you are saying what you feel and not what the masses are telling you to say. It's about having an identity that says why you are doing what you're doing."
When I asked how she feels about the current state of fashion, she said, “The one thing I love is that fashion is available to everybody. Everything is available to everyone; therefore we need the designers to move forward. It gives us a challenge. And we should be challenged constantly."
What inspires this intelligent thinker? "Construction. I’m interested in how garments are made. I get a lot of inspiration from how things are made. I love the making of things- not just the end results”. The Parsons and FIT student never actually graduated which proved to be a major influence on her designs. "I took ceramics instead...I worked on the wheel all the way around (and she motioned with her hands) and that was an influence on me because I see everything three dimensionally. As you can see from my seams."
What's on Adrienne Landau's mind for fall 2006? Well, though things might change, for the moment, it's Aspen 1970's. "I'm feeling Aspen 1970's, Cher, funky cowboy hats…. rock and roll funk” (characterized by "oversized things on the backs of jackets that make a statement”). What else? “Easy and comfortable jersey knits, sweatery things with a lot of textures, and CRAZY hand knits…very artisinal. I have some really great shapes!"
On Roland Nivelais’s mind is a return to his roots (which means more structure, more boning, and more couture like fit for his decidedly dressed up and sophisticated evening wear).
Peter Arnold’s next career move is obviously on his mind as he begins the New Year. The extremely popular former CFDA executive director will be pondering his job options ("I have four things on the table that I have to decide between. Four good things. But I'm taking my time.”)
Will the former lawyer return to the law or stay in fashion? "There's no turning back once you leave a law firm. So it will be something in fashion. I love fashion!" When I asked if he had any regrets about leaving the CFDA in the first place, he said without hesitation, "I left the CFDA for the right reasons. It was four amazing years. I feel I took the place from one point and brought it to another and now it's time for somebody else to come in and do it. It feels right to me. It feels like it was enough time and I was able to accomplish enough”.
How soon after he assumed the title of President of John Varvatos did he know it would not work out? "It was really tricky for me and for John (who he referred to as “a great guy and very talented”). “John was philosophically ready for a president but then I think the reality of it was problematic and ultimately challenging for both of us. So I think we both realized this may not be the best fit for either of us. But it was very amicable and it was a great experiment and it was six good months during which I learned a lot. So now, instead of sitting at the CFDA and saying, “Oh the business of fashion is really hard”, now I REALLY KNOW how hard it is and how challenging it is.”