“Confessions of a Fashion Week Neophyte” / On and Off the Runway / Asian Supermodels

A Deer in the Headlights?

Laurel Marcus
(Photo: Joel Marcus)

On the final day of Mercedes Benz Fashion Week the Heavens opened up with a wintry wrath of snow, sleet and freezing rain as if to punish us for the seven preceding days of excess and frivolity. I guess that’s one way to look at the conclusion of Fall/Winter 2014 Fashion Week. I WAS a bit “fawn” like ( please excuse me if you saw me with the “deer in the headlights” expression that I wore quite a lot). As the newbie, I was prepared for the looks of amusement on my veterans of countless past fashion weeks co-contributors yawning faces when introducing me to the workings of the tent at Lincoln Center on my first day of kindergarten.

My “M”agic pass

The sense of awe and amazement I initially felt began to dissipate gradually as the week wore on and I became (jaded) acclimated to the darkness in the tent, the maze like Disney-esque approach to a ride atmosphere upon entering the tent, and the constant requests to see credentials along my merry way. By virtue of my “M” status (accredited media who have paid for the privilege of a hang tag badge can attend any show even without an invite as long as they stand in “the media pit”… more about that later) I was waved in and past the “hoi polloi.” Of course, once I got in I had to stand in the back (no media pit for me) but often would become a “seat filler” closer to show time. So much for my “special status” but I was really happy just to be in!

I also “did” the downtown scene, or what many are calling the more authentic fashion week experience: The MADE venues at The Standard or Milk Studios as well as the spaces at Industria Superstudios , Eyebeam and Center 548. I did find them to be more of an “insider” invite ( one needed a true “invitation” rather than just a press pass), not so many bridge and tunnelers and more fashion industry big-wigs, but that could just have been the few shows I attended. Since these venues are generally smaller and more intimate there’s a better chance of rubbing shoulders with a top fashion executive or celebrity than at Lincoln Center where there is more of a delineation between first row and “back of the house.” It seemed that I was at a modeling go-see while standing in line to get into a few of these as the women (and men) were generally quite tall, attractive, thin and interestingly attired.  The downtown Chelsea and MPD shows included some more experimental-type designers trying to break through which intrigued me and I tried to mix it up by seeing a selection of shows from some of the more established designers as well as some of the emerging ones.

Here’s what I liked about the week in no particular order. 1. Gawking and trying to name as many front row denizens as possible.I don’t watch much reality TV so that made it hard to positively ID some of the Real Housewives of Oshkosh. 2. The sense of anticipation before the show begins when you’re not quite sure what to expect. 3. The rushing around from venue to venue and seeing others do the same. It was literally impossible to be late as every show starts from 20 to 40 minutes past schedule. 4. The single-mindedness of thinking this matters to the exclusion of any other demands on your time that don’t have to do with Fashion Week (forget doctor’s appointments, running errands or even buying groceries).

What I didn’t like was 1. Everyone documenting everything on social media. If someone put a ham sandwich on the runway there would literally be thousands of people taking pictures of it. Please, people…Style.com is getting way better photos than you will ever get from the 4th row with your cell phone or iPad so stop blocking my view! 2.  How everyone would jump up seconds after the designer took their bow (sometimes while they were still doing so) and rush out of the room like there was a fire. We know you have other shows to get to but as previously mentioned, they all start late so get over yourself. It got so that I tried to get aisle seats as often as possible to avoid being trampled while I picked up my purse. 3. Despite the social media frenzy there was not much actual socializing/networking going on which I found surprising. 4. I didn’t get invited to any after-parties (well, none of the really cool ones at Diamond Horseshoe, alas).

I want to devote a paragraph to the photographers in the aforementioned media pit who jockey for position. That’s got to be the worst job and not one for a claustrophobe or someone with a strong sense of smell (one of the photographers I spoke to called it “the smelly armpit”). You do not want to be in the media line to get into a show if they make the “barbarians” wait at the gate or you will definitely be trampled. Apparently, a front row crossed leg is a photographer’s nemesis (it gets into the runway shot) and one photog in particular would call out in the hush of the lowered lights as the show was about to start, to uncross your legs. Initially this was humorous but started to get less so as the week wore on.

Which were my favorite shows? I enjoyed most of them but a few had an entertainment component to them as well which broke things up a bit. Mongolian designer Katya Zol had an acrobat perform before the runway fashions which was different. Some shows were high energy which I enjoy including Desigual and Libertine ( I also seriously dug the coats)! Some were quite colorful and dramatic including Dennis Basso, Zang Toi, and Anna Sui. Betsey Johnson (although her show had not a single wearable item if you weren’t a club kid) was worth seeing only because her models worked it (including Karlie Kloss) and Betsey herself at 71 is still doing those cartwheels and splits, this time adorably accompanied by her granddaughter. Misha Nonoo (of Fashion Fund fame) had a very sophisticated collection. I always enjoy a student show since they are usually unafraid to take risks and turn out some of the most creative fashions; the Asia Fashion Collection (my first look at a pre-show backstage area) and The Art Institutes didn’t disappoint.  (I’m afraid I missed the Academy of Art University show but heard it was a good one).

The least enjoyable show for me was without a doubt Alexandre Herchcovitch (thanks for the nail polish swag, though) who showed women in cotton bloomer sets resembling Amish underwear (uh, this is a Fall/Winter collection?), followed by models in actual Amish looking dresses (buttoned up and to the knees) with crazy frizzy hair and glasses. I would not even call that nerd-chic just borderline insane asylum disturbing!

Now that I have officially survived the circus coming to town I am trying to re-enter the humdrum of reality, to wake up from the dream bubble of the constant energizer which, to me, was Fall/Winter Fashion Week 2014. Who knows what excitement awaits. Maybe I’ll even make it to the dry cleaner.

– Laurel Marcus

On & Off The Runway – by Rhonda Erb
Charlotte Ronson

Charlotte Ronson
(All photos: Isabelle Erb)

Little Lord Fauntleroy serves as the inspiration for Charlotte Ronson’s Fall/ Winter collection. The 19th century novel, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, is about a little boy, Cedric Errol, who lives modestly in New York City after the death of his aristocratic British father. He is elevated from poverty when he becomes the sole heir to a vast English estate. The novel had a major impact on fashion, thanks to the Reginald Birch illustrations of the young boy in a black velvet suit with a lace collar. The Little Lord Fauntleroy suit, which was modeled on outfits the author created for her own sons, sparked a romantic style of dress for young boys remained popular until the turn of the 20th century.

Ronson, who herself has British and
American roots, takes a modern approach to the Fauntleroy style, incorporating
elements of lace, ruffles and chiffon on cropped sweaters, laser cut dresses and
A-line skirts. The designer describes her muse as a mysterious woman who is
“just a little bit spooky” and a hopeless romantic who favors leather and lace
and floral prints on velvet and crepe.

Douglas Hannant

There was a celestial theme throughout
Douglas Hannant’s Fall 2014 fashion show which took place at the dimly lit
restaurant at 286 Spring Street in lower Manhattan. The low light served to
enhance the metallic fabrics and iridescent prints that dominated the
collection. Even the designer’s more subdued pieces were accented with a little
bit of shimmer, like the Indigo Wool Crepe Suit over a Blue Metallic Sequin
Tulle Shirt. Other standout pieces included a sumptuous Grape gown with hand
painted “raindrops” that captured the light and the Cosmic Print halter Gown
that was evocative of a star filled nighttime sky.

Katya Zol

Mongolian culture and artistry played a prominent role in the
Katya Zol fall fashion show. True to her desire to share her culture through her
brand, Ms. Zol featured a Mongolian singer and acrobat to open her show.  She
endeavors to use the traditional raw materials of her country (wool, cashmere,
leather and felt), creating designs that are modern with an exotic touch. Her
color palette for the collection was predominantly neutrals highlighted with
gold throughout.
The Pavillion at Lincoln Center

The jury is still out on the multitude
of changes at the Lincoln Center location of Mercedes Benz Fashion Week
(tightened security, the dark, “Goth style” tent lobby, etc.), but this new
venue was a welcome addition. The bright, airy Pavillion space could be
configured in a variety of ways, almost all of which gave the majority of guests
a front row seat. There was even enough space to set up not just one, but two
media risers for photographers. This is one aspect of the newly revamped
Fashion week that deserves a second act in September.


An Ode to Asian Supermodels

Qin Shupei and Chiu-Ti Jansen
(Photos: Lieba Nesis)

YUE Magazine, in collaboration with Royal Salute Whisky, celebrated its winter 2014 issue featuring international supermodel Qin Shupei at restaurant Hakkasan during the middle of fashion week.  This year’s fashion week has been dominated by Asian designers starting with superstars Jason Wu, Alexander Wang, and Phillip Lim.  Moreover, a lot of small Asian designers showed at the LIncoln Center tents such as Lee Jean Youn, Katya Zol, ParkChoonMoo, Concept Korea, Asian Fashion Collection and Lie Sang Bong. Feting an Asian supermodel in this arena was fitting as the Asian influence on fashion has become overwhelming.  Shupei, 24, currently resides in New York, and is considered a top Chinese model who has walked in Chanel, Valentino and Dior shows as well as appearing on the cover of numerous magazines including Chinese Vogue and Chinese Elle and in editorials in both W and Vogue.  Shupei also signed a lucrative cosmetics contract with Maybelline and appeared in an ad campaign for Gap.  Appearing on the cover of YUE’s first issue seems to be a natural fit for a model who has crossed over into the United States market.  YUE is the first bilingual lifestyle magazine focusing on the unique luxury experiences in the US for affluent Chinese customers.  YUE publishes 4 issues a year and covers fashion, jewelry, watches, art and shopping.

Didi Pei

The cocktail party at Hakassan featured some notable guests such as Didi Pei, Jean Shafiroff and Lucia Hwong Gordon.  Didi Pei, the son of famed architect Im Pei, was there as a friend and has little affiliation with the world of high fashion.  He conceded that he has some big shoes to fill from his father but as chairman of the China Institute and an architect working on buildings, hotels and museums in China as well as a museum for the Sultan of Brunei he is doing quite well.  When I asked him the difference between fashion and architecture he stated, “fashion is more ephemeral whereas architectural buildings are timeless. With fashion what is in style in 2006 is out of style in 2010 but a building must last indefinitely.”   Chiu-Ti Jansen, the publisher of YUE Magazine holds advanced degrees from Yale University and Columbia Law School and as a TV presenter and writer for China Happenings has a pulse on Chinese affairs.  Jansen said that Shupei ‘s “distinguished career and graceful style” have opened the doors for many young men and women aspiring to be in the fashion profession.  Jansen was impressed when Shupei accepted a fashion award in Beijing “on behalf of all the Chinese girls trying to make it on the international runway.” Jansen herself was the first Asian partner at a major New York law firm and is therefore cognizant of the impediments  involved in being accepted as an Asian woman in the workforce.

The mood of the party was contained yet joyful, as the hor d’oeuvres circulated and the crowd socialized and posed for pictures.  When I asked Shupei what major American fashion magazines she was on the cover of she stated none.  This was shocking to me and then I realized while I see many Asian models strutting down the runway I could not name one famous Asian model.  While African American models have made incredible strides in the fashion industry appearing on the cover of Vogue as early as 1974, no Asian model has ever graced the cover of American Vogue or, to my knowledge, any other major American fashion magazine such as Bazaar or Elle.  When Fei Fei Sun appeared on the cover of Vogue Italia alone in January 2013 this was considered a major milestone.  However, this seems grossly inadequate and discriminatory – with all the magnificent Asian women and all the great Asian designers it is time for women like Shupei to get the spotlight and recognition they rightly deserve.

– Lieba Nesis

(Publisher’s note: Of course, it is recognized historically that the first real “Asian Supermodel” was Anna Bayle who was originally from the Philippines. Anna was one of the great runway models of the 1980’s and early 1990’s working for every major designer both in Europe and in New York. Her walk was so distinctive and evocative that there was even a song about how she would strut down the runway. See http://www.annabayle.com/ for a video of  her work. Anna has also been an editorial contributor to Lookonline.com.

Lieba Nesis

My love of fashion, writing and photography were something that always dominated my lifestyle however it wasn't until I was approached by the editor of Lookonline that I realized I could utilize these three skills in combination.

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