Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I’m A‘muse’d

While there has been a growing trend towards a more democratic inclusion of diverse ethnicities, races, body types, and ages with regards to the definition of beauty, runways and fashion magazines are still the province of those impossibly genetically blessed creatures that seem to inhabit a different world than us mere mortals. And next month, they will be celebrated in all their muse - like glory, in an exhibit, “The Model As Muse: Embodying Fashion, mounted by the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, www.metmuseum.org, May 6 – August 9th, 2009.

For sure, the attending gala, which is long considered to be the Party of the Year and will be co-chaired on May 4th by Anna Wintour, Marc Jacobs, Justin Timberlake, and Kate Moss, is always filled to the rafter with divine looking A list celebrities, megastars, social fixtures, fashion designers, and models. As for the latter, I would imagine they will be out in record droves since they are the focal point of the exhibit itself (organized by Harold Koda and guest co-curated by Kohle Yohannan), which seeks to explore the relationship between “high fashion and evolving ideas of beauty”, with a focus on “iconic models of the twentieth century and their roles in projecting and sometimes inspiring, the fashion of their respective eras.” Indeed, in addition to Kate Moss, other models that will be featured include such icons as Suzy Parker, Dovima, Jean Shrimpton, Twiggy, Jerry Hall, Gisele Bundchen, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Veruschka, and Lisa Fonssagrives. Unsurprisingly, supermodels past and present are being celebrated in the May issue of Vogue, which also features a select group of 9 “Faces of the Moment” on its cover.

We live in a youth obsessed, beauty obsessed, and thin obsessed culture. And while thankfully, certain things have changed, even within the hallowed (or should I say, hollowed) walls of the fashion world, where those very traits have traditionally been revered and worshipped, things haven’t changed that much. On the job front, while there is no substitution for talent and ability, looks can get one through the door, especially in fashion, where one’s outward appearance undeniably plays a big part.

On a personal level, early on, as a young fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar, I was made very aware of the premium put on one’s looks, and felt that I was always being scrutinized and ‘judged’ on those merits. Obviously, looking attractive, being well groomed and stylishly dressed was a factor in my initial hiring, and it was always rather obvious upon meeting a fashion designer (and I’m referring to bold faced iconic names who I had the privilege of covering), that I was literally being scrutinized from head to toe . I could literally follow their eyes as they ‘sized’ me up, and felt their approval of my entire package, was tantamount in winning their acceptance and trust. I’m not saying this is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’; it is human nature, very understandable, and I am simply telling it like it is. I’d venture to say that most of us are guilty of ignoring the sage old adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.“

But all that apparently changed last week (well, temporarily anyway). Why? In two words: Susan Boyle, the pudgy, ugly duckling, unfashionable, 47 year old Scottish spinster who admits she has never been on a date, has never been kissed, and had everyone chuckling in disbelief when she walked onstage before her audition for ‘Britains Got Talent’. As soon as she opened her mouth to sing, “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables, her talent and beauty from within was undeniable.

And so, if you have been living in a cave these past few weeks, or have not had a chance to view the complete performance yourself, where you also get to see the smirks on the faces of the judges and those in the audience quickly turn to wide eyed disbelief and adoration, here is the link: Click to play video. Keep it in mind and perhaps you will be less harsh on yourself as you look in the mirror and find yourself having a bad hair day, discovering a few more gray hairs and wrinkles, and feel down because you can’t seem to lose those extra pounds. It is what’s inside that counts and beauty is truly from within.

-Marilyn Kirschner

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The ‘Art’ful Blogger

Alexander McQueen’s ivory silk chiffon and organza “oyster dress’ from 2003

I have to admit that I immediately felt right at home upon descending the stairs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which lead down to the Costume Institute (the occasion, a Monday morning press preview of the new exhibit, “blog.mode: addressing fashion”, underwritten by Manolo Blahnik). And no, it was not because my closet holds museum worthy Worths, Poirets, Adrians, Schiaparellis, Chanels, Comme des Garcons, Diors (which account for some of the 65 pieces on display).

But rather, since I feel as though I spend almost all my waking time hunched over the computer (blogging, researching, gathering information, shopping, etc), it was the rather familiar sight, greeting you as you enter the galleries, of not one, but 8 computers set up on a bar (with their home pages set on the museum’s brand new blog, www.blog.metmuseum.org/blogmode).

Undeniably, everybody’s “doing it” (by that I mean blogging). Though we at the Lookonline.com can lay claims to being one of the first fashion bloggers, if not THE first in 2002, (we formally launched in 1994), we were hardly the last. Blogging, which was initially greeted with a great deal of skepticism, and seen as an alternative, ‘underground’ movement, has gone positively mainstream. If you need proof that blogging has officially ‘arrived’, all you have to do is consider the number of fashion critics from highly regarded, decidedly un frivolous national newspapers, including Robin Givhan of The Washington Post, and Cathy Horyn of The New York Times, who routinely post chatty blogs to supplement their columns. (In fact, Ms. Horyn and Scott Schuman of The Sartorialist, will take part in an educational program featuring a panel discussion in conjunction with the exhibition, on March 30, 2008 at 3 p.m.) Even Style.com has added a blog to enable their writers to post little snippets of information.

In the press kit given to attendees, there was a note from Manolo Blahnik, who made mention of the “wonderful opportunity for people to access The Costume Institute’s collection in a way that was previously impossible”. This is now possible thanks to the “new technologies” that are now available to all of us. He also stated that he is “looking forward to seeing how the public reacts to these objects that we in the fashion industry know so well.”

And so, with that in mind, it’s hardly surprising that a renowned, iconic cultural institution, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, would eventually follow suit and offer up a blog of their own. Better late than never I say. Of course, I couldn’t resist asking Curator-In-Charge of the Met’s Costume Institute, Harold Koda, when I spotted him at the press preview on Monday morning, “What took you so long?”

Viviene Westwood lilac silk faille “propaganda” gown

As he explains, “It was Andrew’s idea (Andrew Bolton is the Curator of the Costume Institute); he came up with the idea for the blog. What we wanted was a show that focused on some aspect of our collection. And he said, “Well you know, we always talked about how interesting it is to walk from there (pointing to the galleries that held the displays for the exhibits) to our offices and to hear these fascinating comments from the public”. Unfortunately, most of the commentary that we would get from people who visit our services would be along the lines of, “Why are they in the basement?”, or “Why are they behind glass?”

“But that’s very different from what you actually hear down here. Because basically, people are very animated about clothes. Even men who have been dragged down here by their wives have something to say. And so, you routinely hear these discussions.”

“Andrew’s idea was there there is this populist approach (to fashion) but there is also something that’s been evolving on the blogs for the last two years. There’s a much higher level of consideration about clothes on fashion blogs, and it’s really evolved in the past two years. It’s a different discourse.”

“So we thought, why don’t we open up our exhibition to that? And since we already hear from the members of the press, the critics, we thought it would be more interesting to hear from people, their thoughts about the actual work. At first we considered a ‘Master Works’ representation of all the great, iconic pieces in the collection but then we decided to focus on recent acquisitions, things that are newer to the collection, and things that are relatively unseen.”

“Some of them came to the collection only because of shows, so they have been seen (one notable example is the 1888 Charles Frederick Worth court gown, which belonged to George Washington’s great great grand niece, acquired last year, which Andrew found in the Santiago Museum in Chile).”

“We decided to do it in purely chronological fashion of our recent acquisitions, so that when we posted it, people would respond to the object, they would have an idea about the work or a comment about the inspiration.”

“We want personal responses, connections to the outfits. We want the whole spectrum, not just comments from members of the press. It would be fascinating if a dressmaker wrote, “I would love to do dresses like this, but most women don’t want their waist obliterated”. I would love that comment.”

When I asked if the 65 items of clothing and accessories on display represent the most important pieces in their collection, Mr. Koda preferred to describe them as a “a survey of some of the more interesting pieces that we’ve had that we’ve acquired since 2000.”

Schiaparelli coat circa 1939

Standouts in this stellar group include a rare 1922 folkloric printed Coco Chanel chemise from her Russian period (Harold said I must read the “funny label” which Karl Lagerfeld works his way into); an arresting 1939 Schiaparelli multi colored pieced felted wool coat; a 1947 dress by Adrian covered with a Surrealist Salvador Dali print; a 1995 Jean Paul Gaultier knitted dress featuring a trompe l’oeil bikini; a Rudi Gernreich dress which boasts one zipper that spirals around; a 2007/8 Rei Kawakubo white lycra, jersey, faux leather, and rubber number which features two hands folded across the chest; Alexander McQueen’s ivory silk chiffon and organza “oyster dress’ from 2003; and Vivienne Westwood’s floor length lilac silk faille “propaganda” gown which is amazingly constructed from one piece of fabric.

According to Mr. Koda, “we have other extraordinary pieces (such as their most recent Ralph Ruccis), which we are saving for our next installation. We have equally interesting things that are not in this show and which we are saving for the next series.”

“blog.mode: addressing fashion” is only the first of what promises to be an ongoing series. The next might be, “blog.mode: fiction writers addressing fashion”, or “blog.mode” film makers addressing fashion”.

Junya Watanabe for Comme des Garcons techno couture ensemble

(FYI, when I asked how they decided upon the first outfit on display, which also graces their catalogue (a Junya Watanabe for Comme des Garcons techno couture ensemble comprised of beige polyester organza, silver polyester and cellophane panne velvet), Mr. Koda’s response was, “We just wanted something that would engage people, that would be mysterious, and would have them thinking, “what is this?” Because that’s the question people ask, “WHAT is it and WHY is it?”)

What was notable (though hardly surprising), was that the bulk of the designers represented were European, rather than American, and that’s because, according to Mr. Koda, they are planning a show “more or less focused on Americans so we’ve reserved a lot of the Americans”.

1947 dress by Adrian covered with a Surrealist Salvador Dali print

“We could show Geoffrey Beene because he gave us his archives before he died; it was not as if we took our ‘best’ Geoffrey Beene. We have many ‘best’ Geoffrey Beenes. Our most interesting Oscar we’d prefer to save, our Ralphs we’d prefer to save. Other American designers who made the ‘cut’ were Donna Karan, Yeohlee, and Kate and Laura Mulleavy who design for the label Rodarte. Their beautiful pale yellow chiffon and white satin accordion pleated dress decorated with rosettes, from fall/winter 2006, (a gift from Christine Suppes, a friend and major supporter of the young duo), has the distinction of closing the installation- it was the final outfit on display. And the youthful twosome (28 and 26 years old) also have the distinction of being the youngest designers to be represented in such an esteemed way.

By the way, the Mulleavy sisters, accompanied by Christine Suppes (clad in another one of their amazing, flower embellished dresses), were among those who turned out for the cocktail reception (held at both the Costume Institute and the Temple of Dendur) on Monday evening. Others in attendance were Yeohlee (proudly taking photographs of her stunning “Bellows” dress on display in the entranceway), Manolo Blahnik (who had several of his amazing boots on display), Diane Von Furstenberg, Arnold Scaasi, Anna Wintour, Candy Pratts Price, and Amy Fine Collins, Lynn Yeager, Mickey Boardman.

Nancy Chilton, head of communications for the Costume Institute, admitted that while this has been a fun and exciting exhibit to work on, because it was a ‘first’, it also had its challenges. Now that this has been accomplished, her next “challenge” is the upcoming blockbuster spring exhibit, “Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy”, which will run from May 7th through September 1, 2008 and will kick off in high style with a very high profile Gala Benefit on Monday May 5th. The Honorary Chairman is Giorgio Armani (who is ‘sponsoring’ the exhibit) and the Co-Chairs are George Clooney, Julia Roberts, and Anna Wintour.

According to Ms. Chilton, this exhibition promises to be a great deal of fun and is both conceptual and often literal. It’s all about using the idea of the superhero as a metaphor for fashion. As she put it, “What does a superhero do? He/she goes and changes into clothing that empowers them- and they can do anything.” And so, among the 70 ensembles culled from movie costumes, haute couture, and high performance sportswear, one can expect to find everything from the ‘S’ logo on the Superman unitard (with variations on how that’s influenced designer logos), variations on Wonder Woman, Cat Woman, and Batman ‘fetish’ clothing, and clothing made for speed inspired by the Flash.

There is no question that one of the most important aspects of fashion, is its ability to ‘empower’. In fact, this quality cannot be overstated. More on this subject later.

-Marilyn Kirschner


Wednesday, May 09, 2007


Rose laden 35 foot high birdcage with peacocks

A bevy of the most beautiful women and accomplished men paraded on the red carpet of Metropolitan Museum for the annual black tie dinner to benefit the Museum’s Costume Institute. The gala evening celebrating the landmark exhibition, Poiret: King of Fashion, was a tour du force event successfully executed by the chairs of the event, Vogue’s Anna Wintour, Nicholas Ghesquiere (Balenciaga’s creative director), Cate Blanchett and Honorary Chair, Francois-Henri Pinault (CEO of PPR, the world's third largest luxury conglomerate) in conjunction with the Metropolitan Museum.

Anna Wintour, Cate Blanchett & Nicholas Gesquiere
(photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum)

This inaugural exhibition is the first major exhibition about Paul Poiret’s work in more than thirty years. In keeping with Poiret’s penchant for glamorous excess and sumptuous entertaining, the lavish gala evening launched the exhibition with a resounding exclamation point. The impressive and colorful array of guests (750) arrived at 7:00 p.m. onwards and ascended the tented red carpet of the magnificent steps of the museum. Four live peacocks (one completely white) spreading their tail feathers in an enormous birdcage spanning 30 feet tall surrounded by cascades of roses (5000 roses) greeted the guests as they entered the museum doors.

Red carpet leading to the exhibition.
(photo courtesy Metropolitan Museum)

The red carpet was an exclusive parade of movie stars, television celebrities, music business icons, power brokers, fashion designers and their muses. Since it is the biggest fashion event of the year, the women most definitely strutted in their beautiful evening gowns. Like resplendent peacocks spreading out their tail feathers into fans, the women arrived with colorful, elaborate gowns with long trains. They elegantly displayed their plumage (some of them, proudly) and they did not disappoint the numerous members of the press who were shouting out celebrity names in a surging cacophony of noise on the red carpet.

The red carpet entrance to the gala.

Red Carpet Photos by Randy Brooke:

Jean Paul Gaultier and Coco Rocha
Zac Posen and Lucy Liu
Rose McGowan
Christy Turlington
Claudia Schiffer
Hamish Bowles and Caroline Trentini
Ivanka Trump
Karl Lagerfeld
Kelly Ripa
Molly Simms
Michael Kors with Eva Mendes
Valentina Petrova
Bee Schaffer
Sandra Bullock
Diane von Furstenberg and Barry Diller
Jennifer Lopez
Zi Yi Zhang and Georgina Chapman
Natasha Richardson and Vanessa Redgrave
Camilla Belle
Francois-Henri Pinault and Salma Hayek
Donatella Versace and Hilary Swank
Naomi Campbell in Azzedine Alaia
Renee Zellweger
Angie Harmon
Jessica Simpson
Claire Danes and Hugh Dancy
Lindsey Lohan
Kirsten Dunst
Valentino and Jennifer Gardner
Cate Blanchett
The most stunning gown of the evening – Jessica Stam

(All photos copyright c Randy Brooke for Lookonline.com. Pictures may not be used without permission.)

The guests were led to the exhibition - a series of tableaux with 50 ensembles on view for the inaugural viewing and then off to the cocktails in the Museum’s Carroll and Milton Petrie European Sculpture court where four enormous wall hangings reproducing prints by Leon Bakst (designer for Ballet Russes and one of Poiret’s influences) are displayed.

Dining room view from above.
(photo courtesy Metropolitan Museum)

Dinner started at 8:30 p.m. in the American Wing. The Engelhard Court was completely transformed into a beautiful room of color and exciting patterns designed by Poiret that were recently rediscovered in archival photographs and reinterpreted. The wall coverings, astute incorporations of Poiret’s designs, encapsulated the dining room in excitement and color.

Rose bushes and ottomans decorated in colorful fabrics divided the courtyard into a series of intimate dining areas, and the tables were covered by eye catching silk cloths that have been handpainted with Poiret’s designs. Each table had chairs covered with an array of Poiret inspired fabrics.

(photo courtesy Metropolitan Museum)

Linen napkins fashioned in the shape of roses adorned each plate. This was a most beautiful room under the stars and the ‘icing on the cake’ were seven gigantic, organically shaped, hanging silk lampshades that tied it all together. As I previewed the exhibition in the morning, I was fascinated by Poiret’s attention to detail. The dining room encompassed that spirit, and amplified that sense of ‘fun and flimsy’ in a very exciting way.

The menu was inspired by a 1928 cookbook complied by Poiret. The meal began with rosette de saumon fume aux perles noires (rosettes of salmon with caviar), accompanied by Chassagne Montrachet 2003. The entrée was escalope de veau aux morilles (scalloped veal with morels) and galette de pommes de terre aux truffes (potato galette with truffles) served with Les Forts de Latour, Millesime 1999. For desert, gateau moka and crème anglaise. Singer and actress Jennifer Hudson, who won the Academy Award in March for her role in Dreamgirls performed 3 songs.

For a party held in honor of the man who liberated women from the corset, who pioneered the concept of fashion as a lifestyle, consequently establishing the blueprint of the modern fashion business, and the first designer who believed designing dresses is an art - it was indeed a beautiful night graced by an unprecedented number of luminescent celebrities. This parade of peacocks, reminiscent of Poiret’s lavish ‘One Thousand and Second Night’ befits this homage to a king. Even the Metropolitan Museum was dressed up in modern grandeur and preened to open its showy plumage. This night was the biggest party of the year - a night of unforgettable extravagance and style. Long live the King of Fashion!

-Anna Bayle

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

"Poiret: King of Fashion" at Metropolitan Museum's Costume Institute to Celebrate Paul Poiret, Visionary Artist-Couturier of Early 20th Century

Woman’s Party Costume Label: PAUL POIRET-a Paris-December 1913

Gala Benefit May 7 with Honorary Chair François-Henri Pinault and Co-Chairs Cate Blanchett, Nicolas Ghesquière, and Anna Wintour
Exhibition dates: May 9 – August 5, 2007
Exhibition location: Special exhibition galleries, first floor

Press preview: Monday, May 7, 10 a.m.–1 p.m. Contact:
Nancy Aronson Chilton 212-570-3951

Paul Poiret – who at the height of his career in pre-World War I France was the undisputed "King of Fashion" and whose sweeping vision led to a new silhouette that liberated women from the corset and introduced the shocking colors and exotic references of the Ballets Russes to the haute couture – will be celebrated with a landmark exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art from May 9 through August 5, 2007. He has not been the focus of a major museum exhibition in more than 30 years.

"The historic significance and influence of Poiret's work is breathtaking, and felt in fashion to the present day," said Harold Koda, Curator in Charge of the Metropolitan Museum's Costume Institute. "Poiret pioneered a seductive modernity based on woman's self-confident femininity, and envisioned a 'total lifestyle' that extended from how she dressed and what fragrance she wore to how she decorated her home – an approach reflected in the strategies of many of today's fashion houses." Presented in a series of tableaux, the garments on view will highlight the multiple facets of Poiret's astonishing inventiveness – including the beauty of his draped, unstructured fabrics and his fascination with the Ballets Russes, the Wiener Werkstätte, Orientalism and the 1001 Nights – and will be complemented by paintings, illustrations, furniture and examples of the decorative arts that explicate his expansive artistic vision. At the core of the exhibition will be a grouping of the stunning creations the Metropolitan acquired in the much-heralded 2005 auction of clothing from Poiret's estate.

The exhibition is made possible by Balenciaga.
Additional support is provided by Condé Nast.

(Press release from Metropolitan Museum of Art)

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