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

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 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



Ernest Schmatolla is publisher of Lookonline since 1994. It is the longest running fashion site on the Internet.

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