Friday, October 24, 2008

A ‘Design’ for Living (“Recession? What recession?!”)


Anna Wintour & Karl Lagerfeld at FGI's 'Night of Stars' awards gala dinner

Fall is officially in full swing and the social calendar just got a little busier: just consider all the high profile events that took place this past week (talk about ‘black tie gridlock). Needless to say, many of the same faces showed up at some or all of them (thank goodness for town cars and limos).

The American Ballet Theatre held its fall 2008 Opening Night Gala; Tiffany & Co. celebrated the publication of “Tiffany Style” by John Loring; Van Cleef & Arpels feted the release of “Charms”; The Whitney Museum of American Art held it’s 2008 Gala & Studio Party; Karl Lagerfeld threw an “epic bash” (in the words of Fashion Week Daily) to celebrate the opening of “ MOBILE ART: CHANEL Contemporary Art Container” in Central Park; and on Thursday evening, there was not just one, but two simultaneous events honoring ‘stars’ in the world of fashion, art, entertainment, retail, architecture, and design. Forget about the limo - one could have used a helicopter to get from one to the other in time. Of course, there’s always the subway, far more fitting for these recession times (and talk about great design!).

Aside from providing attendees with a welcome respite from the harsher realities of life, many of these soirees were in celebration and recognition of outstanding ‘design’ in one form or another. (Great design not only makes our lives just a little bit better and easier, if not more beautiful, but it doesn’t come with an ‘expiration date’, which is perfect to keep in mind during these dismal economic times when we are all trying to get the most mileage and longevity from our purchases).

Coincidentally (or not) this past week was also National Design Week, which is sponsored by the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum (www.nationaldesignawards.org), and was formed as an initiative to “draw national attention to the ways in which design enriches everyday life.”.

The institution’s prestigious National Design Awards, conceived in 1997 and launched in 2000 as a way to honor “the best in American design”, was celebrated last night at an Awards ceremony and dinner held in the Museum’s Arthur Ross Terrace and Garden, located on 92nd street and 5th avenue. Ralph Rucci, a designer (and a person) whom I am especially fond of (and who could not be more worthy of the honors bestowed upon him as of late), was the recipient of the 2008 Fashion Design Award, given to “an individual or firm for exceptional and exemplary work in clothing, footwear, or accessories design”.

At the same time, but on the opposite end of the city, stars (with a capital ‘S’) were out in force at Fashion Group International’s 25th annual Night of Stars (www.fgi.org). For the first time, the venue was moved from it’s traditional locale, Cipriani 42nd Street to the more spacious Cipriani Wall Street (of ALL times to find oneself smack dab in the middle of the financial capital of the world: the epicenter of the economic conundrum. Talk about ironic!)

The theme of the evening and the “umbrella” for the organization’s ‘silver’ anniversary was “The Alchemists” (which admittedly sounds a bit pharmaceutical). Since I wanted a precise dictionary definition, I ‘Goggled’ it.

Cambridge Dictionary online defines alchemy as, 1-A type of chemistry, especially from about 1100 to 1500, which dealt with trying to find a way to change ordinary metals into gold and with trying to find a medicine which would cure any disease. 2- A process that is so effective that it seems like magic.

Undoubtedly, it was the latter definition that the powers that be at FGI had in mind when choosing the title for the 13 “stellar honorees whose generous spirit and creativity have made a significant impact on design and culture” (In fact, in her introductory address, FGI President, Margaret Hayes defined The Alchemists as those “who are able to transform something common to something special” and promised an “evening of magic”. The word ‘magic’ came up again and again during the course of the night).

‘Superstar’: Donatella Versace

‘Star Honorees’ Fashion: Francisco Costa, Christopher Bailey, Carla & Franca Sozzani, Christian Louboutin

‘Architecture’: Philippe Starck

‘Sustainability”: John Paul DeJoria/Paul Mitchell

“Beauty”: Bobbi Brown

“Corporate Leadership”: Natalie Massenet/Net-a-porter

“Entertainment”: Harvey Weinstein

“Humanitarian”: Bill McComb/Liz Claiborne Foundation

“Fashion Oracle Award”: Harold Koda/the Costume Institute


After a spirited, well attended, and festive cocktail hour, everyone was seated for dinner and the ‘main event’ (the awards ceremony), presided over as usual by the always entertaining, amusing, and irreverent Simon Doonan soon began. Simon kept emphasizing the idea of keeping the speeches short and said that “time is of the essence”. And while many did heed his warning, Karl Lagerfeld, known for his short speeches, admitted he went out of his way to make his introduction to Harold Koda, longer than usual (he succeeded by the way). The ‘award’ for shortest speech goes to Burberry’s Christopher Bailey, who was introduced by Kate Bosworth (hers was an equally short speech).

The best lines, observations, and quotes:

When Marcia Gay Harden introduced John Paul de Joria, she praised the “depth and breath of his philanthropy”…and hailed him as “one of the first to think about sustainability”. Mr. de Joria said “it’s all about sustaining the planet, about thinking of someone other than yourself, and said “you must have passion in life”.

Tim Gunn introduced Harvey Weinstein and said it was his “vision” that was the reason for the success of “Project Runway”. Mr. Weinstein said his wife Georgina Chapman (designer for Marchesa) refers to him as “fashionably challenged” and refuses to let him wear “white socks with anything” but admitted she is his “biggest inspiration”. He ‘humbly’ said he “thought a show about the design process would be great” and among those he thanked, was Anna Wintour who he said “always gave him good advice even when the chips were down”.

Philippe Starck told the crowd that he was “always interested in people” which is why he is “good at his work”. “I try to make life better but after 30 years I feel useless and I want to feel more useful”. This explains why he has embraced “democratic design and democratic ecology” (he also kept talking about “toilet brushes” (?) and apologized for his broken English.

Ashley Olsen introduced Francisco Costa and said he taught her that “less is more” and that “simplicity is beautiful”. Francisco spoke of his award as a “team effort” from “a group of people”

Bruce Weber introduced Bobbi Brown and praised her as a “real sweetheart’ who “never complains” and referred to her brand of beauty as preaching “a touch on the face = gel on the heart”. (“That’s the way I’ve always thought it should be”)

Bobbi enthused, “this entire night is about Bruce giving me this award” and then said “Thank God the 70’s are coming back because I LOVE platforms”!

Rose Marie Bravo introduced Natalie Massenet and labeled her “a natural merchant and true entrepreneur with an amazing sense of style” and sung her praises for knowing “online luxury shopping was about to explode”. “She does it all and is one of this businesses’ brightest and best!” Natalie said “thanks to everyone who shops online and keep your computers on!”

Stefano Tonchi referred to Carla Sozzani as “one of the most influential people in the world of fashion” and said, “Carla is a dream herself but that kind of dream that doesn’t disappear in the morning”. “Carla said this award “has meaning to me because it’s in New York and I’m here with my sister”.

Jonathan Newhouse called Franca Sozzani “the Pope of Italian fashion” and observed that, “she found the greatest photographers of our time (like Steven Meisel, Bruce Weber, Steven Klein, Patrick Demarchelier) and “gave the start to major art directors like Fabien Baron”. “Her hope is to tell the truth” and “no one is more highly respected in this industry”. When Ms. Sozzani walked on to the stage, she asked in wonderment, “Are you sure you’re talking about me?”

Karl Lagerfeld joked that “Harold (Koda) is lucky he doesn’t have to work with designers who are around anymore” and told the audience that “the red carpet has distorted everything today”. He said while Harold is “still young, he has an amazing career in fashion”. “He loves, understands, and respects clothes”. “Fashion is about the harmony of beauty and utility”. “He is the future of fashion and will decide what will be remembered later”.

Harold said “looking at the past doesn’t have to calcify you” and he thanked Anna Wintour (among others) for “her support” and what she has done to make the Costume Institute what it is today.

J Lo (who walked on to the stage with Prince) hailed Donatella Versace a “fashion designer and a fashion icon” and said “she is a sweet and wonderful lady who has been nothing but generous to my family”. Donatella said that “Gianni showed me that fashion is magical. It’s been a magical night for me”

Oh, and special praise for Diane Clehane, who once again wrangled the celebs and media. It was a truly memorable night!

-Marilyn Kirschner

“2008 National Design Awards”



(The designer Ralph Rucci center with Martha Stewart on his right)

The design world honored outstanding achievement in all genres last evening at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum on East 91st Street. The 2008 National Design Awards (sponsored by Target), recognizes excellence in ten categories, one of them being Fashion Design. Add another feather to Ralph Rucci’s cap as he was this year’s winner, while Zac Posen and Thom Browne were finalists. Previous winners include: Rick Owens- 2007, Maria Cornejo (“Zero”)– 2006, Toledo Studio (Isabel & Rubin)– 2005, Yeohlee Teng– 2004, Tom Ford– 2003. Narciso Rodriguez deserves mentioning as he has been a finalist three times (2007, 2004 & 2003) – whatever happened to “third time’s a charm?”

Due to the wide range of design honorees, the event attracted a very diverse crowd -- not the typical group one sees at all the fashion gatherings. Of course, Ralph Rucci was present as was Zac Posen, Parker Posey, Cathy Horyn, Amy Fine Collins, Rogan Gregory, Margaret Russell and Richard Meier. Presenters included Dennis Hopper, Martha Stewart, John Maeda (RISD President), Padma Lakshmi (Bravo TV), among others. David Stark designed the gala décor situated in a tented space in the Author Ross Terrace and Garden.

The Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt launched the National Design Awards in 2000 as a project of the White House Millennium Council. The annual Awards program celebrates design in various disciplines and seeks to increase national awareness of design. This year’s category winners are: 1. Fashion Design- Ralph Rucci, 2. Architecture- Tom Kundig (Seattle firm Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen), 3. Interior- Rockwell Group, 4. Landscape- Olin Partnership, 5. Product- Antenna Design, 6. Communication- Scott Stowell (NY based studio “Open”), 7. Design Mind- Michael Bierut (partner in NY based design firm Pentagram), 8. Lifetime Achievement- Charles Harrison (industrial designer at Sears, Roebuck & Co. for thirty years), 9. Corporate Achievement– Google, Inc. 10. People’s Design Award– Stuart Karten Design for the Zon Hearing Aid.

To be considered for a National Design Award, you must be nominated. The nominees are judged by jury in nine categories with the exception of The People’s Design Award winner chosen by general public voting. This year’s jury comprised of eight industry professionals in architecture, graphics, media, web and product design. Calvin Klein’s Francisco Costa represented fashion’s voice on the panel.

In 2006, The Cooper-Hewitt Museum launched National Design Week (sponsored by Target), which offers free admission for all museum visitors as well as a series of public programs surrounding the National Design Awards. Saturday, October 25 is the last day to take advantage of the opportunity (the week runs from Oct. 19-25 this year), so get out there and immerse yourself in design!

-Stacy Lomman

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

FGI ‘RULES’!

So, what does one wear to a black tie gala -- Fashion Group International’s 24th Annual 'Night of Stars' to be exact-- when it’s in honor of "ten stellar honorees whose generous spirit and creativity have made a significant impact on design and culture"?

While the popular fall event, attended by more than 500 movers and shakers from the worlds of fashion, beauty, cinema, architecture, the arts, finance, and politics (yes, even Mayor Bloomberg was there) went by the title, ‘The Rule Breakers", the trend was not about breaking rules as much doing one’s own thing or simply looking pretty darn good. Short (meaning not floor length) definitely overshadowed long, and dresses overshadowed pants, but personal style has less to do with a particular style or length, and is more about choosing something that is in harmony with oneself. This was epitomized by Lauren Bacall, who turned out in her signature black pantsuit, accompanying Superstar honoree Jean Paul Gaultier, and proving one need not be a fashion victim in order to make a statement. In the end, perhaps that’s the definition of ‘rule breakers’…those who do their own thing and follow their instincts, no matter what.

Other standouts from my point of view included Anna Wintour in a full skirted ankle length floral dress (Prada?) with of course, nary a hair out of place; Constance White, in Alber Elbaz’s signature full sleeved black knee length dress (you know the dress…the one that’s been photographed everywhere ); Tilda Swinton in a black long toga like dress by Alber Elbaz for Lanvin as well; Julie Gilhart, looking very minimalist in her black dress, black opaque tights, and black suede tall boots (Tom Meier for Bottega Veneta?), Isabel Toledo in a beautiful white long sleeved dress by her own design (of course); Linda Fargo, looking glamourous in a form fitting knee length black dress, which boasted an asymmetrical one shouldered top entirely outlined with a silver metallic snake; Sally Singer, a vision in architectural white by Hussein Chalayan; and FGI’s Creative Director, Marylou Luther in a vintage Geoffrey Beene architectural black satin clutch coat.

And as for the guys….well, even though the invitation said ‘Black Tie’, interestingly (or not), many of those being honored, either disregarded the directive, or they did it their way (hey, the night is all about breaking the rules, remember?) And so, while Howard Socol and Hussein Chalayan, went traditional in their white shirts and black or dark suits and ties, Alber Elbaz accessorized his dark suit with a white shirt and his signature oversized white bow tie; Jean Paul Gaultier and Tomas Meier were monotone and tie less in their black shirts and black suits; Rick Owens was decked out in his trademark all black, via a dramatic, black sculptural coat, and André Leon Talley made the most colorful grand entrance in a voluminous red floor length Valentino couture dressing gown, thrown over a white shirt and worn with a red tie. Barneys’ Simon Doonan, the evening’s ‘host’ who practically wrote the book on breaking rules, wore a traditional dark suit, white shirt, and black tie, but added an unexpected touch with his black and white Adidas running shoes.

As for the actual awards and speeches, well, let’s just say it was a grand old ‘love fest’ on stage, a time to gush and the sing praises of those being honored. Of course, there were also some interesting words spoken along the way. After Josie Natori received the Humanitarian Award from Sandy Weill, she announced that her ultimate fantasy would " to BE Brooke Astor, or Sandy Weill if I was a man".

Vogue’s Sally Singer hailed Hussein Chalayan as a "creator of some of the most beautiful clothes" which also happen to be practical and factor in the social and political landscape. For his part, Hussein said that he’s not used to these awards since he’s always felt like an outsider in fashion ("which makes it a real honor be the recipient", as he put it). He also said that he "appreciates longevity.. which is not normal for fashion". (No kidding!)

Carolina Herrera labeled Beauty Award recipient Dr. Patricia Wexler (her friend and doctor) "A Magician", "The Magical Doctor". For her part, Dr. Wexler said she was always considered eccentric even as a child and "Barbie was my first patient…though sometimes we lost her". She also noted, "I was one of the first women dermatologists to do cosmetic procedures" and said, "Great skin is not a luxury but a necessity. It’s wonderful to have a dream and break rules."

Julie Gilhart introduced Tomas Meier and told the assembled crowd that he is "on his way to creating the single best luxury house in the world". "His designs are as understated as they are extraordinary and exhibit a commitment to craft, authenticity and integrity". "It’s all about pursuing only the best". When Tomas came up for his award, his 3 second speech, "Thank You" (the shortest one of all), met with thunderous applause, proving that one rule award winners should keep in mind, is to keep their speeches short and sweet.

Marylou Luther described the first time she laid eyes on Rick Owen’s almost all black collection ("Goth Heaven") and introduced him as "the one, the only, THE original, Rick Owens". Rick truly seemed in awe of the event, and truly surprised at having been selected to receive an award and called himself "lucky", a word that was used by several honorees during their thank you speeches.

Tilda Swinton spoke of the "transforming power of Alber Elbaz’s clothes" as well as his wonderful human nature ("he’s the Real McCoy"). When Alber came on stage, he gave one of the most heartfelt speeches, ending it with the astute observation, "Success is like a bottle of perfume; if you just smell it, it’s wonderful, but if you drink it, it will kill you". It was the best quote of the evening.

Anna Wintour introduced Corporate Leadership Award winner Howard Socol saying "he presides over the chicest show in New York…he’s a wonderful asset to the wonderful world of fashion." Howard summed up what makes Barneys different from other stores ("We don’t buy stuff. We buy great designer ideas and imagination"). He also noted that at the famed retail outpost, "Imagination and creativity are cherished. We’ve proved that we can be different AND successful. Humor is in our DNA. I’m lucky to have a job that is not a job but a gift. I’m a lucky guy." (You see, there’s that word, ‘luck’ again!)

Jennifer Hudson introduced Lord & Taylor Fashion Oracle Award recipient André Leon Talley who thanked his "friend and boss" Anna Wintour for allowing him to "oraclize".

When Jean Paul Gaultier took the stage to receive his Superstar Award from Kerry Washington, he humbly observed, "There are many superstars here. Maybe they gave it (the award) to me because I’m the oldest." Talk about a class act.

And speaking of class acts - awaiting each guest as they exited Cipriani 42nd Street, was a rather generous gift bag: a very smart looking black quilted nylon oversized tote with black patent handles and trim, made exclusively for Fashion Group by Wathne and filled with a variety of products (which also made it quite heavy). One gentleman who tried leaving with two, one in each hand, (he was stopped at the door), apparently knew what he was doing.

The bag was more than worth its ‘weight’, filled unsurprisingly, with products and goodies from the evening’s sponsors and from designers being honored. You could do a lot worse than receiving a beautifully packaged Ebel ball point pen trimmed with luggage leather, a black and white chiffon scarf from Rick Owens, eau du partum from both Lanvin and Jean Paul Gaultier ("Rumeur" and "Gaultier 2"), skin beautifying products from Dr. Patricia Wexler, gift certificates from Lord & Taylor and Madame Paulette, an Assouline coffee table book ("So Far So Goude" by Eric Goude), a bottle of wine from Ecco Domani, etc. It made me think that the letters FGI (Fashion Group International) could easily stand for "Fabulous Gift Initiative".

And a final note of praise for Margaret Hayes who was in charge of putting the event together, And for Diane Clehane who did her usual fine job of wrangling the press.

-Marilyn Kirschner

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