Editorial: “Send in the Clowns” by Marilyn Kirschner

Fashion is BIG business; among other things, it creates jobs and generates serious revenue. But that doesn’t mean many aspects of it are not utterly absurd such as spending almost $800 on a Lanvin brass necklace with the words Cool, Happy, & Love, spelled out in large letters (forever21.com should be knocking that off any day now); contradictory as in Harper’s Bazaar’s “What to Buy, Keep, Store” list, items that they suggest you ‘store’ are sometimes featured in their
fashion editorials; and plain downright funny. Just as in life, it helps to take things with a grain of salt and have a sense of humor. The same can
certainly be said about fashion — just more so. I find that the older and more seasoned I get, the more things about fashion really amuse me and tickle my funny bone. And I’m hardly alone.
Lanvin Fall 2013 wearing your mood on your neck
One person whose
astute, biting, and often hilarious observations about the industry have helped
parlay him into a sought after host at the most high prolfile events, and
routinely serve as fertile subject matter for his books,is Simon Doonan, the
creative ambassador for Barneys New York. I actually start laughing as soon as I
see the “Good Humor Man” because I always know he will have something
outrageously funny to say. His latest effort, “The Asylum, a collage of couture
reminiscences..and hysteria” will be
released September 3, and knowing Simon, its timing right on the heels of
Mercedes Benz New York Fashion Week, (which kicks off yet another round of fashion shows:
the ultimate three ring circus), could not possibly have been a devilish

The Asylum: A collage of couture reminiscences…and hysteria
Click here for more info on book and to purchase

While I have not yet read the book, I have laughed out loud just reading the reviews by some of the
industry’s most well respected designers. For example, Marc Jacobs has already
weighed in, saying “The fashion world is – in a word – hysterical! Simon Doonan
is the one man who sees it and tells it like it (absurdly) is.” This, from the celebrated,
cultish designer, a darling of the editors, who always seems to look as though
he’s laughing all the way to the bank and asking: “Gee, what can I drum up and
foist on them now, that they will
invariably eat up and just go crazy over?” I mean really, this is a guy (Marc Jacobs)
who routinely shows up at major events looking as though he’s having the last
laugh, whether he is clad in his boxers and a see through Comme des Garcons
shirt, or his pj’s, and who, one season, uses Lynn Yaeger as his muse, only to
change his mind next time, and channel Twiggy.

 By the way, if you want to laugh, this is a sampling of Simon’s more
memorable quotes:

“I don’t want a politician
who’s thinking about fashion for even one millisecond. It’s the same as medical
professionals. The idea of a person in a Comme des Garcons humpback dress giving me a
colonoscopy is just not groovy.”

“When you don the pelt of a
particular animal–snake, beaver, marmoset–the effect on the viewer is dramatic You will instantly and shockingly be perceived as having the same traits
as your chosen varmint. The wearing of moleskin says, “I am soft and
velvety and mysterious and like to hide underground.” A mink coat says, “I’m a
tough cookie. Though I may not have the wherewithal to actually kill you, please
expect to be nipped on a regular basis.” The pelts of predators always give the
impression that you are a man-stealing, window-smashing home wrecker. This also
applies to animal-printed fabric. The message of a leopard-print jumpsuit is
clear, “I am a huntress who delights in eating the offal of her prey.”

“Red is wild. She is
unsettling. She intrigues. Wear red and other women will assume that you are a
predatory vixen who is out to steal their husbands and suck the blood of their

“Wearing a pair of yellow
shoes does not make you an interesting person, that is of course unless you’ve
just murdered someone in them.”

 “The reality is, I wear so
many flowery shirts that when I go into a store or the airport or something,
people often say, ‘Good morning, madam.’ So I thought, maybe I should grow a
goatee, and it actually worked. I haven’t gotten a ‘Good morning, madam’ in

“The shows this season were full of teen/tween bloggers . . . Luckily, I
have a plan for next season. Since they are all about my height, I am going to
impersonate one of them. I am going to wear a doily on my head (Tavi!) and tell
everyone I am a teen blogger.”

“I got bicep tendonitis last
year from carrying my Goyard man-bag. Can you believe? A fashion injury.” (FYI,
a woman on the street once asked Simon what the SD initials on his Goyard bag
stand for and he deadpanned, “South Dakota!”)

Speaking of wit, wisdom, and
humor as it applies to fashion
reportage, almost nobody has been more adept at this genre than Robin Givhan,
the fashion critic and former fashion correspondent for The Daily Beast
and Newsweek. In 2006,
The ex Washington Post fashion critic was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for
criticism, owing to her “witty, closely observed essays that transform fashion
criticism into cultural criticism.” I’ll never forget her piece about Dick
Cheney’s unfortunately inappropriate choice of clothing for a ceremony at Auschwitz in January, 2005. She described Cheney’s look at the deeply moving
60th anniversary service as “the kind of attire one typically wears to operate a
snow blower.” “Cheney stood out in a sea of black-coated world leaders because
he was wearing an olive drab parka with a fur-trimmed hood,”. Mocking Cheney’s
knit ski cap embroidered with the words “Staff 2001″ and his brown, lace-up
hiking boots, she observed, “The vice president looked like an awkward child
amid the well-dressed adults.”

 Similarly, The New York
Cathy Horyn often deadpans, injecting wit and sarcasm in her reviews and
columns. And of course, the IHT’s Suzy Menkes can always be counted upon to
amusingly put things in their proper perspective. With New York Fashion Week
beginning in just a few weeks, I’m already laughing thinking about the impending
scene this three ring circus has turned into, and it made me think back to a
column Ms. Menkes wrote for “T” in February 2013, “The Circus of Fashion”.
Among her observations:

“Today, the people outside fashion shows are more like peacocks than crows. They
pose and preen, in their multi-patterned dresses, spidery legs balanced on
club-sandwich platform shoes, or in thigh-high boots under sculptured coats
blooming with flat flowers”.

“There is likely to be a
public stir when a group of young Japanese women spot their idol on parade: the
Italian clothes peg Anna Dello Russo. Tall, slim, with a toned and tanned body,
the designer and fashion editor is a walking display for designer goods: The
wider the belt, the shorter and puffier the skirt, the more outré the shoes, the
better. The crowd around her tweets madly: Who is she wearing? Has she changed
her outfit since the last show? When will she wear her own H&M collection?
Who gave her those mile-high shoes?!”

“The fuss around the shows
now seems as important as what goes on inside the carefully guarded tents. It is
as difficult to get in as it always was, when passionate fashion devotees used
to appear stealthily from every corner hoping to sneak in to a Jean Paul
Gaultier collection in the 1980s. But the difference is that now the action is
outside the show, as a figure in a velvet shoulder cape and shorts struts his
stuff, competing for attention with a woman in a big-sleeved blouse and
supertight pants”.

“You can hardly get up the
steps at Lincoln Center, in New York, or walk along the Tuileries Garden path in
Paris because of all the photographers snapping at the poseurs. Cameras point as
wildly at their prey as those original paparazzi in Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita.”
But now subjects are ready and willing to be objects, not so much hunted down by
the paparazzi as gagging for their attention”.

 “Something has been lost in
a world where the survival of the gaudiest is a new kind of dress parade.
Perhaps the perfect answer would be to let the public preening go on out front,
while the show moves, stealthily, to a different and secret venue, with the
audience just a group of dedicated pros — dressed head to toe in black, of

Yes, Fashion Week (or Fashion Month really) has become a spectacle of major
proportions, and it’s not going away any time soon. Based upon what the big
trends are for fall, it’s easy to envision what many of the subjects might wear,
(with varying degrees of success I might add). Let just say that the jump from
runway to reality is not always pretty, and it serves as a reminder of just how
quickly things can go awry: Furs and fur trims (even in 90 degree weather),
leather and pleather biker jackets, tweeds, over the knee boots; piled on gold
chains, etc. Hey wait a minute, didn’t I just write about how some of these very
same things are THE items to buy and wear now?
Just weeks after writing Ready-to-“Ware”, my blog about the 4 “look changers”, I can honestly say I’m already
“over” may of them (well, sort of), and the season hasn’t even started. The
problem is (and has been for awhile now), fashion overkill and “fast fashion”. At
the highest end, before an item has gone mainstream, it looks novel and
appealing. But, by the time it’s been democratically filtered down to Bebe, Zara,
H&M, et. al., the results can be disastrous. Quite frankly, when something
is deemed “in”, perhaps that’s the perfect time to go in the opposite
direction.  (FYI, black & white have long been my signature colors, and I have always
loved stripes, so I was kind of ‘ticked off’ when they became so “in” last
season and everyone else followed suit LOL.)

Calvin Klein stretch patent knee high boots Fall 2013
Case in point: I know that I just gushed about over the knee boots, and I
still think they have their place, but lately, and perhaps unsurprisingly, I
have found myself being drawn to the innate smart chicness of knee high boots,
which have not been plastered all over the internet and which are not subject to
the vagaries of the ins and outs of fashion. They just always look great,
period. Conversely, peplums are so “last year”, they are truly “bridge and tunnel”
at this point. That said, when you see an interpretation that looks great, such
as Phoebe Philo’s elongated black leather peplum top, Alexander McQueen’s peplum
biker jacket, or Haider Ackermann’s military inspired peplum jackets, they
hardly look passé.

Peplum Celine Pre Fall 2013
The bottom line is that when
something is ill fitting, poorly made, inappropriate, etc., it doesn’t matter
that it is “in”, it’s just looks plain bad. And if something is good, it’s
always good, regardless of whether or not it’s on the hit list of magazine
editors, bloggers, and retailers. This always brings me back to something
Geoffrey Beene once said: “Don’t ask me what’s new…ask me what’s
good!” Something to keep in mind as we head into yet another fashion

– 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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