Fashion Essay: “Signs of Intelligent Life”

Rick Owens dress and boots
T Magazine September 2014

While there is no shortage of glossy fashion magazines whose September issues hit the shelves in August, it has traditionally been the arrival of The New York Times September women’s style issue (now called ‘T’), that for me, has always symbolized the official end of summer and the long awaited advent of the new season. Owing to its high minded newspaper association and heritage, it seems naturally geared for smart, intelligent women, and I always find it to be visually seductive and an interesting read, just like WSJ, the Wall Street Journal Magazine, which is the newer kid on the block. I must say I am a fan of their fashion and style coverage. I also look forward to the paper’s weekly ‘Mansions’ section on Friday (which is filled with dream worthy abodes all over the world), and their ‘Off Duty’ section, on Saturday.

Linda Dresner at home
(photograph by Adrian Gaut)

Of course, let’s call a spade a spade: using the term ‘high minded’ and ‘fashion’ in the same sentence can be termed an oxymoron… at the end of the day, it IS just fashion after all. Be that as it may, the WSJ’s latest issue features Daria Werbowy both on the cover and inside, wearing THE LOOK (worn in blue jeans, silk shirts, and extravagant furs). I read with interest Tim Blanks’ profile on Vogue Italia editor in chief Franca Sozzani (“The Franca Files”), and Lynn Yaeger’s article, “The Fortress of Modernism”, on retail pioneer Linda Dresner (one smart cookie!) whom I met many years ago. It included images of her ultra-modern home outside of Detroit, and named some of the Avant garde designers who she wore and championed. I was surprised to see that Zoran, the designer who stripped his designs down to their most essential form and used only the most luxurious fabrics (cashmere, satin, velvet, and high-quality wool), was never once mentioned.

With a cult like following (clients included Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Lauren Hutton, Candace Bergen, Isabella Rossellini), his minimalistic, designs were available in just a few stores, including Linda Dresner’s shops on Park Avenue and in Birmingham, Michigan (he was notoriously picky when it came to who he would sell to). I’ll never forget the time I was summer vacationing in Northern Michigan, and I found myself in the same little lakeside restaurant as Linda Dresner. We were both wearing the same red Zoran red cotton sweatshirt, which had been one of his most iconic pieces, and we both smiled, (not just at the coincidence, but the knowledge that in this little place on the lake, far away from Manhattan, there was not a soul other than the two of us, who would have had any idea that this was not an ordinary run of the mill sweatshirt, or who would have ever heard of Zoran, or cared for that matter).

“Zoran: The Wizard of Ease”
(Vogue 1983)

During the course of an article about Zoran, penned by Cathy Horyn for The New York Times on April 20, 1999, “Zoran, The Master of Deluxe Minimalism”, she asked, “how someone with his practical wisdom and perverse assurance could still be such a fashion secret?” And Vogue Magazine labeled Zoran “The Wizard of Ease” in an editorial in March 1983, photographed by Arthur Elgort. Zoran Ladicorbic eschewed prints and patterns in favor of monochromatic black, gray, beige, navy, white, and red, and he was a champion of a ‘uniform’ way of dressing which is seasonless, timeless, effortless, eased up, comfortable, and chic. He was known for his knitwear, and his love of sporty shapes such as sweatshirts, square cut ponchos, tunics, parkas, shorts. His vision of spare, sporty luxury is as modern and relevant now, as it was more than 30 years ago (his first collection was in 1976) as it’s hard not to notice that a similar no fuss sporty ease and comfort are hallmarks of a current trend towards street wise fashion that embraces reality; one in which the common and banal are elevated, and the everyday is glorified. As T’s editor in chief Deborah Needleman put it, “There is a quiet defiance driven by normalcy and comfort and the freedom to wear things that are great but also allow you to focus on things other than what you’re wearing.”

 And it turns out that Zoran was also prescient on another front: his embrace of sneakers (his footwear of choice was humble white Keds, with the laces removed to pare them down further). Happily, one of the biggest (and smartest) trends to have emerged as of late (it’s played out everywhere, and was captured in all the big fall glossies), is the wholehearted endorsement of comfortable, grounded, footwear (sports inspired sneakers and athletic wear, flatforms, mens’ inspired lace up oxfords and loafers, ballerinas, and pointy toed single soled t straps: there is literally something for everyone). Indeed, all the major editorials have highlighted grounded footwear, and just about the only place you see high heels, is in the advertisements.

Chanel Fall 2014

There is no question that the proliferation and acceptance of comfortable shoes (and the elevation of the lowly sneaker), is one of the biggest stories and biggest fashion game changers in recent memory, and will hopefully put an end to the ‘tyranny’ of the stiletto heel, which has given too many women the false impression that being stylish, fashionable, glamorous, sexy, and well-dressed is somehow related to how high the heels (of course, those who are truly stylish and chic never thought so). I mean really, when designers like Karl Lagerfeld show nothing but trainers and sneakers for day AND evening, and all the ‘cool’ girls are running around in them, you know there is a change ‘underfoot’- literally. High heels, especially when worn during the day, have come to look old, staid, very Upper East Side, and ‘nouveau’, and indeed, there has been a palpable shift in aesthetics (so much so that my 94 year old mother, who always wears her white leather double Velcro sneakers, actually looks hip and plugged in these days). Shoes (some of them heavy and orthopedic looking), that were once perceived as downright ugly are now being touted as the height of fashion. I guess you can say ‘ugly’ is the new black.

Cara Delevigne wearing her high top sneakers and Burberry blanket
(courtesy Hewitt for Splash news)

I’ve long been a proponent of flats and low heels, (because I love to walk everywhere in New York, and quickly). And in my opinion, nothing could be smarter and more modern than wearing shoes that one can actually walk, or run in, if need be. One of the best, smartest quotes that have been made about heels versus flats, came courtesy Ines de la Fressange in her book, “Parisian Chic”. Yes, I know, at 6 foot tall in her stocking feet, she can make a case for never wearing a high heel, but her observation is still spot on: “Many women think they look better in heels but this is quite wrong. Just ask any man. No man would ever say “I’d love you more if you were four inches taller!” Nothing looks worse than a girl tottering about on unmanageable heels! The key to sex appeal is a feline walk, not a precarious wobble.” This was the precisely the subject of an article in ‘T’: “The Invasion of the Flats”, by Sadie Stein who referred to them as “a symbol of power in the working world”, and noted, “whereas heels were once integral to power dressing, flats now connote a liberation from that stereotype. As clothes have become more gender neutral, the need to announce our femininity with a percussive soundtrack has vanished”. (Just don’t tell that to Anna Wintour LOL. FYI, I would LOVE to see her sitting front row center wearing a pair of chic sneakers or trainers!)

 Rick Owens Fall 2014

While heels, and high high heels most certainly have their place, and there are certain proportions that cry out for a heel, nothing could be more relevant and modern, than footwear that enables one to quickly and efficiently get through the daily paces of one’s life. (By the way, my definition of modern is Rick Owens, who shares a similar monastic aesthetic with Zoran, and whose fabulous flat over the knee sneaker boots were used throughout an entire portfolio, “The Big Easy”, in “T”). It’s safe to say we won’t be seeing so many women changing out of their flats or sneakers into their high high heels and back, even during fashion week, where everyone has to get to where they are going quickly, and town cars are not always an option. Plus, isn’t the idea of being chic, stylish, and well-dressed predicated upon understanding the notion of what is appropriate? If you think about it, Fashion Week (regardless of what city it’s in), is more akin to a sporting event (marathon, triathlon), than almost anything else. Doesn’t make sense to dress accordingly (for speed and comfort)? It’s pretty obvious that Bill Cunningham, who always loves focusing from the knee down (major shoe fetish!), will be pointing his camera at rubber soled sneakers, pancake flats, and menswear inspired oxfords rather than vertiginous heels, when he checks out the front row and beyond in the coming weeks.

 Balenciaga fall 2014

Of course, not everything about fashion is sagely and wise. We all know that high fashion comes with high prices (so does low fashion at times), and in many cases, the prices are so high as to insult one’s intelligence. This is particularly evident where handbags are concerned.  A portfolio in the WSJ, “Crock Rocks” featured “the most coveted bags of the season in exotic leathers”. Bearing names like Dior, Hermes, Chanel, Balenciaga, there were no prices printed, and understandably so, as they are obviously astronomic. Among those who don’t think it’s such a smart idea to spend an arm and a leg on clothing or handbags (even if they can afford to), is Sarah Silverman. The funny, smart, observant, uncensored comedienne also happens to have a presence and sense of style (even if she doesn’t want to admit it), and as such, is as qualified as any, to make her opinions known. During the course of an interview for the May issue of Glamour, she shared her money saving tips (I truly laughed out loud): “Don’t clutter your life with stuff you can’t afford. Keep your overhead low. Get a car with good mileage. Work toward buying your apartment. Shop at Gap. Enough with obsessing over the latest bag. It’s a purse. It holds stuff. Get a backpack. You’re being ridiculous.”

 Blank Canvas Tote by Little Liffner

Another woman who agrees that a “bag should never come with the price tag of a two week vacation” and was getting tired of having to “compare her purchases with plane ticket fares and nights at charming hotels”, is Paulina Liffner von Sydow. The founder of Little Liffner bags (, was recently profiled on Her bags are made in Italy using luxurious materials, and they are indeed handsome, timeless, and chic. They also come with features that allow for personalization, and prices are in the $400 – $550 range.

Zara Croc leather bucket bag

I’ll go one step further. Some of the best, most distinctive bags (and everything else it seems) for the price, can be found at Zara ( Sure it’s hit and miss, but lately, it’s more of the former. Some recent standouts in the bag category include the soft dark green leather drawstring bag with rigid handle, $159; the chocolate brown crocodile embossed leather bucket bag, $179; the tri color bowling bag in cotton lined polyurethane, $99.90; the two tone mini city tote in white & black, or camel and black, also made of cotton lined polyurethane, $79.90.

Chanel paper shopping bag

But, if you really want a bargain, why not forgo a traditional bag and opt for a chic sturdy paper shopping bag such as the iconic, identifiable ones from luxury houses such as Chanel and Hermes? Alexander Wang’s luxurious leather bags for Balenciaga, fall 2014, bear a marked resemblance to real shopping bags, and for his fall 2014 Chanel show, held in what was made to look like a supermarket, Karl Lagerfeld presented his own luxurious, glammed up versions of market bags, along with the authentic paper ones. Then again, you can take a page from Vanity Fair Contributing Editor Elizabeth Saltzman. I will never forget seeing her during New York Fashion Week, when she was a young editor at Vogue: impeccably turned out, her bag of choice was not a recognizable status symbol, but what looked to be a humble brown paper lunch bag folded over (fyi, since then, the traditional lunch bag shape has been translated into all sorts of leather incarnations).

Sacks Metallic at Property

But for those who want a more glamorized version, check out the Sacks Natural (they come in 5 different sizes), at Property, 14 Wooster Street (, 917 237 0123), which are also perfect for storage and are made of durable, washable raffia and paper. Their Metallic Sacks, in gold or silver, (also in 5 sizes with prices ranging from about $14 – $52) are especially fabulous looking, and channel Alber Elbaz’s highly sought after metallic garbage bags for Lanvin, fall 2014 (but are far less costly).

– Marilyn Kirschner

“The Daily Bet” – by Rhonda Erb

Skin Transformer Body SPF 20

Labor Day weekend and that means that the unofficial end of summer is here. 
This moisturizing, tinted, body cream will allow you to keep that sun kissed
glow into the fall. It softens wit
h jojoba oil, organic narcissus, soy
amino and hyaluronic acids and tones with marine extracts. Surface imperfections
disappear thanks to skin enhancing silicone and sunscreens protect against the
sun’s harmful rays. Miracle Skin Transformer Body SPF 20 comes in three tints as
well as sheer, if you prefer to let your natural radiance show through.
Sperry Top–Sider Starling Rain Boot

September means that there are stormy days ahead.  These
low-rise boots are waterproof with a cushioned interior that will keep your feet
dry and comfortable without sacrificing style.

Origami Owl Custom Jewelry

Seventeen-year old Bella Weems is the designer behind this
“social-selling” jewelry company that features clear glass “Living Lockets”
filled with charms that tell a story about the wearer. You can create countless
combinations from the multitude of charms available to tell your own unique

Bella’s designs are available online or through one of the
60,000 independent sales consultants nationwide who sell the line at in-home
“jewelry bars”.
Available at:
Lockets, $16-$38; Charms, $5-$8

For more Better Bets:

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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