Fall Fashion Kool-Aid: National Design Awards

Narciso Rodriguez, Cindy Sherman, Robert Longo, Caroline Baumann
(Photos: Laurel Marcus)

With the countdown until its December 12th reopening in its final stages the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum celebrated their 15th annual National Design Awards Gala last night at Pier 60. I attended the cocktails and red carpet portion of the evening and attempted in an entirely unscientific, non-anthropologic manner just how much the fashion world has influenced, permeated or intruded (for lack of a better word) into the world of other areas of design. The awards, which take place during National Design Week (Oct. 4-12) were originally launched as part of the White House Millennium Council in 2000 and Michelle Obama serves as the honorary patron of this year’s awards. The ceremony has grown from its original five awards to its present day incarnation of eleven awards given for everything from Lifetime Achievement to Architecture, from Communication to Interaction Design (whatever that is), from Product Design to Fashion Design.

Joey Borthwick, Maria Cornejo

This year’s fashion design winner was Narciso Rodriquez and it seems that the fourth time was the charm for the Parson’s School of Design alum.  He was previously a finalist in 2003, 2004, and 2007 making him the Susan Lucci of the awards. Since developing his own atelier in 2001 after impressive apprenticeships with the likes of Donna Karan at Anne Klein, Calvin Klein and Loewe, Rodriquez has designed his share of iconic dresses for equally renowned women. He burst onto the national stage in 1996 while designing for Calvin Klein which is where he met the ill-fated but undeniably glamorous Carolyn Bessette. When she wed JFK Jr., Rodriquez became known as the designer who created her simple but perfectly draped wedding dress. Another politician’s wife that you may have heard of (ahem) First Lady Michelle Obama’s controversial red and black dress that she wore on election night 2008 was from his spring 2009 collection and served to cement Rodriquez’s place in the annals of fashion history books. More recently, Rodriquez has a list of Hollywood leading ladies including SJP, Claire Danes, Rachel Weisz and his muse, Juliana Margulies who wore yet another of his polarizing creations in the form of a gown with a “sports bra” back and a strangely beaded ombre skirt to the 2014 Emmys. No matter what we mere mortals might think; Anna Wintour has spoken: “No one but Narciso has ever made a simple line look more stunning.”

Nicole Licht, Melissa Decker, Taylor Hunt

In the course of the cocktails, to the sounds of “The Secret Jazz Band” who performed on 3D printed instruments, I had the opportunity to talk to a few of the new product designers as well as someone from a winning team. First I met Jonathan Palley and Zhao Zhao, designers of a new Fit-Bit like device called Spire. I saw the product itself which looks sort of like a large metal paper clip. It fits onto the waistband of a garment next to your skin. Upon sensing that you’re stressed, the device will tell you via phone app that you need to take a deep breath (and possibly a Xanax Ha!). In the promo, the woman imagines herself in a beautiful rain forest (Herbal Essence Shampoo commercial?) even though she is actually in a glass elevator presumably at work in a high rise office building. I don’t know about you but if I’m stressed, the last thing I need is a device telling me to breathe deeply. That Spire (like respire?) would be flung so far it might take on a new meaning of the word with its existence at the top of a building upon being chucked out a window. I also spoke briefly with someone from LUNAR, the company that won in the category of Product Design for things such as Oral-B toothbrushes, HP computers, Switch LED bulbs as well as another fitness device called Bodymedia which looks like an upper arm cuff almost Grecian inspired (not sure what the comfort or practical application of that is).

Dinner settings and monitors

My conclusion on the style quotient in the room is that (unsuprisingly) there’s more of an emphasis on the “artisanal” or “crafty” than the all-out chic or fashionable The fact that you designed a great tech product obviously doesn’t mean that you have, or even care to have, great personal style. In fact, if you think of someone like the late Steve Jobs whose entire wardrobe seemingly consisted of a wardrobe of black turtlenecks, it illustrates my point. I decided to approach the evening as if I had found myself among a rare tribe of geek-asaur and had to naturally select the ones most able to survive in a fashion-forward setting. Certainly there were a few standouts among the women but in general they don’t seem nearly as focused on the currently trendy. I decided that there is definitely a look that prevails through each sector of men in the tech/architect arena, be it a hip, smug, cooler-than-thou-vibe hiding a pervading nerdiness. The ubiquity throughout of thick, black generally rectangular eyeglasses are another popular functional statement as if all designers are quite visually challenged which may well be an occupational hazard.

3-D printed replica of Mansion

As for the dinner, the room looked quite festive courtesy of David Stark Design and Production with multi-colored wire sculptures hanging from the ceiling. The centerpieces were 3-D printed replica Carnegie Mansions perhaps made from something edible (white chocolate?) and they were very detailed. There was a performance by the Stephen Petronio Company of an excerpt from Locomotor with costumes designed by Narciso Rodriguez. The TV monitors in the front of the room by the podium flashed “12/12/14” in neon pink and white; no doubt seeking to “build” excitement for the new and improved Cooper Hewitt Museum about to rejoin the list of the city’s cultural attractions.

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Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

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