Fashion Notes: Joanna Mastroianni / Editorial On NY Fashion Week / Dover Street Market

Joanna Mastroianni

One is always in need of those special, festive & eye catching pieces. Of course, no more so than now with the holiday season in full swing. So I decided it was the perfect time to catch up with Joanna Mastroianni (, who has made a name for herself (and garnered a loyal following) owing to her unapologetic fanciful, bold, and couture like designs. “It’s couture and ready-to-wear, made in New York” she she says, and in fact approximately 30% of her business is made-to-order. Among her celebrity clients (and it’s a rather varied one at that): Beyonce, Alicia Keys, Jane Seymour, Eva Longoria, Christina Ricci, Iris Apfel, Carol Alt, Angela Bassett, Eva Mendes,  Padma Lakshmi, and Sarah Jessica Parker (Joanna dressed SJP, Cynthia Nixon, and Kristin Davis for the movie, ‘Sex and the City 2’). Most recently, Margot Robbie, the Australian actress who appears in the soon to be released, ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ (alongside Leonardo Di Caprio), will be featured in an upcoming editorial for British GQ wearing Joanna’s fabulous little white feathered dress from spring 2014.

Joanna Mastroianni’s accessories

Objects like Byzantine crosses and architecture have served as inspiration for her collections (a recent trip to Barcelona and the work of Antoni Gaudi were the jumping off point for Spring 2014), and so have “amazing people”. Legendary fashion photographer Lillian Bassman inspired Joanna’s black and white Fall 2011 collection which was presented on February 17th (Mayor Bloomberg officially declared February 17th as Lillian Bassman Day); Tony Duquette, and Iris Apfel exemplify her “More is More” philosophy).  Joanna, who graduated from FIT, has been described as an “American designer with a European sensibility” and was officially put on the ‘fashion map’ in 1988 when her designs appeared in Bergdorf Goodman’s 58th Street windows. In addition to Bergdorf Goodman, her designs are sold at Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Saks Jandel in Washington, D.C.

After all these years in the business, she remains incredibly animated and passionate about what she does, and she still loves the exciting process of hunting, finding and creating.

 “I have the need to entertain the eye. I’m a visual person and I get bored easily. I need to be constantly stimulated and I have to surround myself with stuff.  I need to be inspired in my salon”.

Her salon, the entire 15th floor of 230 West 38th street in the heart of the
Garment District, (where she proudly states that everything is made), is indeed
a feast for the eyes. As soon as I walked in, I immediately noticed that the
walls in the reception area and in the hallways are covered with Lillian
Bassman’s and Gideon Lewin’s instantly identifiable, stylized, and striking
black & white fashion photographs. Her husband Gideon was Richard Avedon’s
studio manager and right hand man for 16 years. And in addition to having
collaborated with Richard Avedon on many projects, Lewin continues to do his own
creative work as a photographer.

Joanna aptly likens to her hand finished, hand beaded clothing (which can retail anywhere from $2600 – $40,000 for a custom made hand beaded creation) to “pieces of jewelry” – “timeless, special, beautifully made and beautifully fabricated” she decreed. “It’s a craft. My work has gotten better with time” – she observed. “I am the ultimate survivor. The best is yet to come”. And one of the newer things to have “come” is her line of accessories, which could not be a more fitting and natural progression – the perfect visual accompaniment to her clothing. The fabulous and fantastical bibs, fingerless gloves, bags, cuffs, brooches, etc., made of inventive mixes of real and faux leather, exotic feathers, glass, semi-precious stones, malachite, resin, etc., instantly transform even the simplest of items and retail from $890 to $6000. As for her upcoming Fall 2015 collection, “I have four different things circling in my head” and as of writing this piece, she had yet to decide which path she will take.

Thoughts on Upcoming Changes at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week

As many of you already know, there will be many changes with regards to Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in February (more venues will be added for one), and it’s been a hot topic as of late. For example, there was an article in The Wall Street Journal on December 4th, “Fashion Week Gives Itself a Makeover Amid designer complaints, restyled venues and more exclusivity”, written by Ray A. Smith. Click here to read article.

There is no question that things had gotten completely out of hand in the last several years, and it reached a pinnacle this past season. It’s as if everyone said, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore.” Certainly, all the proposed suggestions that have been mapped out, if implemented successfully, will certainly make a difference. But as Stephen Kolb, chief executive of the CFDA, said, “The proof, though, is in the pudding. Whether or not [everything] will happen, will come in February. I think it will. I hope it does.”

Not much more can be said about what has become a veritable three ring circus; the robotic trade show ‘ambience’ of the Lincoln Center reception area; the lackluster, uninspired venues; the all too crowded (and all too often unnecessary) show schedule with shows uptown, downtown, east side, west side and virtually all over town; and the constant overcrowding with people, many of whom never seem to have any real attachment to the shows, but apparently come for the free drinks, the free beauty product samples, and, well, just be part of the spectacle and to see and be seen. Who is to blame for all these non essential people? Who are inviting these people? Was IMG just interested in allowing as many people as possible access to increase their income from registrations fees and/or are designers and their pr firms just padding their audiences by inviting every Tom, Dick and Harry?

Simple solution for the latter: really tighten up on security, stop with the free handouts, and ban, or limit the street photographers and bloggers. I have a feeling that if the chance of getting one’s mug photographed in the newspaper or on some online blog is next to nil then going to the shows will start to lose its appeal. I always point out that the late Shail Upadhya made no bones about the fact that he hung out at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week all day long to ensure that he was photographed. The retired U.N. official from Nepal who “wore brightly colored jackets, plaid skirts, bold prints, and loud newsboy hats, often all at the same time”, passed away early this year, and he literally became a media star who got front row seats over many properly credentialed members of the press. He was constantly being photographed for every newspaper and blog and was a favorite subject of Bill Cunningham and routinely appeared in his columns.

Then there’s the plethora of off-site shows, many of which are inconveniently WAY off site unless you are lucky enough to have a car and driver at your disposal. There has been an ongoing trend among many of the top names to distance themselves from Lincoln Center (or whatever the main venue happens to be), and each year it seems obvious that the most important “fashion moments” will inevitably happen off-site (and WAY off-site at that). While the centralized Lincoln Center space is undeniably well located, convenient, I don’t see this trend towards off-site locations changing any time soon. Frankly it shouldn’t, because it’s the more individual, personal, quirky venues that add a bit of spice and personality (and that New York ‘element’) to the mix.

That said, there’s quirky, and then there’s ‘quirky’, and what we don’t want is downright dangerous. Who could forget the time (well, I can’t, anyway!), in the early 90’s, when Michael Kors showed his collection in an empty “fabulous” raw loft space. The ceiling began to fall down, and the plaster hit Suzy Menkes’ and Carrie Donovan’s heads. Soon thereafter, Suzy Menkes wrote an article saying New York had to organize itself in order to really be a fashion capital, and this event ushered in 7th on Sixth and the birth of New York Fashion Week.

At the very least, everyone should try to get together and thoughtfully schedule the shows with some rhyme or reason, factoring in locations, so that attendees are not running from one end of town to the other, back and forth, all day long (The Fashion Calendar is still the best arbitrator of conflicting times). Adding more shuttle buses, which they say will do, would obviously help. (Where have they been? they seem to have all but disappeared in recent seasons). And of course, it would certainly help if the actual Lincoln Center space was made more interesting and inviting, and more suitable and agreeable venues were being utilized in the surrounding area.

Personally, I wish designers would not only factor in convenience in terms of location, but ease of getting into and out of the shows. It’s a busy time and everyone is running to something else as soon as the show ends. The best venues in my opinion are those that you can simply and efficiently walk into and out of. As an admitted claustrophobic, I have lived through enough broken elevators packed with editors and photographers, thank you very much, and I find it baffling when designers show in spaces where hundreds of people have to wait in line to cram into small elevators. Sorry, but I think it’s just downright inconsiderate to have to put people through this on top of everything else.

As for cutting the guest list, an IMG spokesman said the media guest list will be “cut by 20%, primarily through tighter accreditation guidelines”, to make sure the invited are “of value to the designers.” “Less essential guests can view most of the shows or images online.” Yikes! Who gets to decide? And what exactly will be the yardstick which measures who is “essential” and “of value” and who is not? Who will make the ‘cut’ and who won’t?  How’s that for a definitive barometer of how much you’re “worth” to the fashion community? Sort of like fashion’s version of “The Chosen”. In any case, that probably has to be done (though it obviously means there will be plenty of unhappy website editors and bloggers).

I agree that showing online instead of staging a formal runway show makes sense in some cases, though it’s hardly the optimum way to view a collection, and one will inevitably have to go back to the showroom to see the pieces in person. I also wish more designers would fore go formal runway shows and simply do informal “walk throughs” and installations. It’s much less costly and much less time consuming and a very efficient way to view a collection.

Dover Street Market

And finally, I just finished reading Suzy Menkes’ article about Rei Kawakubo’s inspired retail outpost, Dover Street Market, in Sunday’s T, The New York Times Style Magazine. It will open on Saturday, December 21st., and from her description,  (the overall concept is one of “beautiful chaos”, a “magical coalition of fashion, art, and commerce” according to the designer), it certainly promises to make every other store look and feel completely arcane. Down to its “unconventional, out- of –left- field location, so uncool, and far from any stylish shopping zone”.

The location is the “sleepy” neighborhood of Kips Bay and the shop, located at 160 Lexington Avenue, was once home to both Touro College and the New York School of Applied Design for Women. Well, really, what else would you expect from this groundbreaking creator who always pushes the envelope and surprises? Actually, I happen to love the Kips Bay area,  it’s hardly the middle of nowhere,and quite frankly, I prefer it to the predictably upscale and boringly homogeneous Madison and Fifth Avenues, which are overrun with facelifts, Hermes bags, and nowadays, tourists.

As a jaded New Yorker and longtime fashion editor, not much can get me excited (especially where retail is concerned), but Dover Street Market promises to have the buzz and excitement of Henri Bendel in the 70’s. In the meantime, all I could think of as I was reading the article, is that it’s this kind of creative, thinking out of the box genius, that the folks behind Mercedes Benz Fashion Week could use more of. It’s too bad IMG can’t pay Rei Kawakubo to be a consultant. No doubt she would come up with some brilliant ideas that nobody else would have imagined, and they would undoubtedly turn the whole thing around.

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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