Before we can think ahead, we should reflect on the year that was…

The Highs and Lows of 2004

A disclaimer: Let me begin by saying that I in no way mean to make light of mental illness, nor is it my intention to poke fun at psychiatric disorders- this is fashion writing which by definition is meant to be entertaining, lighthearted, irreverent, and taken with a grain of salt.

Bi-Polar Disorder, Multiple Personalities, Identity Crises, Mania, Fashion Schizophrenia…

Okay, so having said that, notwithstanding current bothersome health woes- colds, sniffles, and the flu- this past year was seemingly ‘all about’ mental health issues. The New York Times fashion department seems to be struggling with their very own ‘bi polar’ and multiple personality disorder, not to mention somewhat of an identity crises, as evidenced by recent articles. Their Tuesday, December 21st ‘Fashion’ section was almost literally divided in half by two articles whose captions and attending images completely and blatantly contradicted one another. Talk about the ‘Three Faces of Eve’. How about the ‘two faces’ of The New York Times? It appeared that one hand literally did not know what the other hand was doing.

Ruth La Ferla’s “Department Stores Discover That, Um, Sex Sells”, illustrated by Henri Bendel’s “naughty mannequins” and Patricia Fields’ racy windows for H & M, made a case for the way in which ‘sex sells’, “light kink” has gone “mainstream”, and that as the holidays approached, department stores were helping their customer tap into their “playfully kinky” sides.

Meanwhile, just below, Ginia Bellafante’s “In 2004, Prim Looks Foretold the Mood” reflected on the year, which was marked by fashion’s desire to “offer women clothes that made them look less like sunbathers on the shores of Brazil and more like graduates of the Katharine Gibbs Secretarial school around 1955” as exemplified by the decidedly demure pictures of Nicole Kidman in her hair held back by a bow trimmed headband and clad in a tweed skirt, and Jennifer Lopez in a bow trimmed top and little black wristlet gloves. She wrote “2004 will be remembered as a time when Seventh Avenue demonstrated a rare kind of prescience, reading a cultural shift toward conservative beliefs and tastes earlier and more accurately than a legion of political prognosticators.”

And what was ‘up’ with Cathy Horyn’s article in the ‘Dining In’ section on Wednesday, December 29, 2004, “Everyone’s Driven to Eat. How Many Arrive in a Bentley?”, which was not exactly about dining, nor was it really about fashion or style (though its focus was the always- fashionable Vanity Fair special correspondent Amy Fine Collins, a member of the International Best-Dressed List whose very essence seems to be ‘all about’ style), and it really was not about driving either. It was a strange mix of all the above, but more than anything, it seemed to be a good plug for one highly charismatic and strikingly handsome Turkish driving instructor, Attila Gusso, whose relationship with Ms. Collins and his ability to help her overcome an irrational fear of driving also became the subject of her new book, “The God of Driving”.


And how can we forget fashion’s favorite ‘bi-polar’ celebrity/designer, Isaac Mizrahi, who went public with his predilection (or ‘affliction’) at a lavish and highly publicized gala fashion show/celebration held on June 14th at Cipriani 42nd street. Called ‘High/Low’, the runway show was described as an “unprecedented mix of class and mass” by Ruth LaFerla, (“Mizrahi is Back With Two Collections”, June 15th.) “It’s high and low, an extension of my own bipolarity. For the most part, that is how I live my life, in custom-made suits from England and polo shirts from Gap”, the designer told Ms. LaFerla. And the man certainly practices what he preaches, routinely arriving at black tie galas and swank parties dressed in his impeccably tailored Savile Row suits and starched shirts, offhandedly paired with (Target’s) rubber thongs, and those signature patterned cotton bandanas rolled up and neatly tied to keep his wavy hair in place.

Isaac has boasted proudly about his ‘highs and lows’, having gone on record with the fact that he loves things that are either $15 or $15,000 (and nothing in between) and on this runway he certainly managed to indulge and play up his penchance, by successfully mixing elements from his made to order line, exclusively available at Bergorf Goodman, with items from his unbelievably well priced Target collection. Case in point: he effortlessly paired a $20,000 ballroom skirt with a $14.99 white stretch cotton shirt… which is precisely what he used to do in his heyday (back in the 80’s). But of course, back then, the shirt would still have been high priced, as it would have come from his main collection.

High/Low not only describes the ups and downs of life, one’s mood, or psyche, but happens to be a phrase which successfully and succinctly defines the practice of mixing ‘high’ elements with ‘low’ elements (high priced with low priced, vintage with retail, street wear with couture, thrift shop with designer, old with new, day with night, ethnic with classic, etc.)

There is no question that it is precisely these unexpected pairings of seemingly incompatible, incongruous, or disparate elements that define modern fashion. It’s something that is employed by designers and stylists on the runway and within their own collections, and something which has been wholeheartedly embraced by the customer who has grown to accept the fact that dressing head to toe in any one look or designer, is passé, and to be avoided at all costs, (unless of course, you really WANT to look like Ivana Trump).


For Karl Lagerfeld, one of the fashion world’s most unapologetically ‘manic’ designers (not to mention one that is highly influential, outspoken, irreverent, and iconic) it has always been about the paradoxical mix of high and low. But while it’s true, “without the spice of the low the high bores him”, (as noted by Kim Hastreiter, editor in chief of Paper Magazine, in an article she wrote about the legend in September), he has nonetheless proved to the world just how ‘low’ he can go, making a case for lower is better (in terms of price) with his highly publicized and record breaking collaboration with the low priced fast fashion emporium, H&M (the first time a designer has lent his/her name to a line of clothing for the chain).

Karl is truly inspirational and one fashion personality who never seems to have a down side, or a down ANYTHING for that matter. The fact is, he appears to do everything ‘on’ speed (talk, think, conceptualize, dream, design, travel, party, decorate, buy and sell real estate) and is someone who has obviously benefited from his ‘mania’. At the age of 67, he constantly reinvents himself; having metamorphosed from an overweight aging senior to his current enviably slimmed down physique befitting a rock star. In a youth obsessed business like ours, he is living proof that chronological age matters not.

Quite frankly, not too many people- regardless of their age- exhibit such a youthful verve and spirit. And talk about ‘modern’. He much prefers to think ahead into the future than be mired in a time warp, obsessing about the past (as so many of the young ones obviously do). And how many can claim to successfully work on three ready to wear collections (Fendi, Chanel, Lagerfeld Gallery- which was just bought by Tommy Hilfiger) plus one couture (Chanel) twice a year, design an exclusive line for H & M, collect art, decorate hotels, work as a photographer (directing his own ads as well), create and publish books (which are sold in his very own little bookstore), AND put in personal appearances all over the world- seemingly ALL at the same time? This past year was truly amazing for the unstoppable Karl Lagerfeld, who shows no signs of slowing down, and that is why, he is my ‘2004 Man of the Year’.

–Finally, in the end, what could illustrate the completely bi polar, contradictory, high/low nature of life, than current world events? Just as most of us lucky ones were reflecting on our good fortunes, the wonderful gifts we had just received, anticipating our next material acquisitions, and getting ready to ring in the New Year, news broke of the worst natural disaster in memory- the Tsunamis in Southeast Asia, with its impossible to fathom casualty toll of close of well over 125,000 (and climbing each moment). Talk about putting things in their proper perspective! Happy 2005!

-Marilyn Kirschner

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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