Fine Art

You can debate all you want about whether fashion is art (or vice versa) but whatever your opinion, on Monday morning, I attended two events that mixed the two, both of which were billed as ‘art’ events, and both took place in the vicinity of Central Park.

And talk about long goodbyes (and deservedly so). Philippe de Montebello is set to retire as Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in December ( after a storied 31 year tenure, (he will be replaced by Thomas Campbell). He is not only the longest serving director of the institution, but the longest serving director of any major art museum in the world and, unsurprisingly, many special events have been planned to bid adieu in a grand way, befitting a true legend in the world of art. Back in May, during the morning press conference for the “Superheros” exibit, Anna Wintour observed, “even though the fashion world may not be his world”, it nonetheless owes a “huge debt of gratitude” to Philippe, who is “alone among world class museum directors” in that he has had “the vision to acknowledge the role that style, self presentation, and design play in modern culture” and has “executed that vision in a way that has inspired millions to think of fashion as one of our most complex and rich decorative arts”. She remarked that within the Costume Institute’s “greatest shows” (which she labeled as “modern and directional while at the same time offering the sweeping historical perspective that is a signature of what this great museum stands for”), and in Philippe’s tenure, he has “given us the freedom to explore the connections between what we wear and how we live”.

On Monday morning, there was a press showing of the exhibit, “The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions” (October 24 – February 1, 2009) which is housed on museum’s second floor. While I did not take advantage of the audio tour, I nonetheless enjoyed walking through the galleries, filled with approximately 300 objets of art, sculpture, home furnishings, and fashion, that had been carefully selected and edited by the expert curators to best illustrate the brilliance of Mr. de Montebello.

While there were many pieces that were truly covetable, there were about 7 items on view, which I can honestly say I would not mind having as part of my own personal collection: the spectacular white silk draped Mme Gres evening gown (1965) that had many women oohing and aahing; the floor length kimono style “Paris coat” in dark brown velvet and metallic by Paul Poiret (1919); the large graphic Mark Rothko painting, “White, Red, on Yellow”; the exuberantly colorful “The Young Sailor” by Henri Matisse, 1906; the massive and ornate French armoire by Charles Guillaume Diehl, 1867; the sterling silver “Toilet Set in Original Leather Case”, German, 1743 – 45; and the covetable black and white Jackson Pollock, “#28, 1950”, which was made all the more dramatic since it was displayed against a dark red wall.

By the way, while there, I bumped into Michael Gross, the former fashion critic for The New York Times and contributor to New York Magazine, who is arguably one of America’s most ‘provocative’ non fiction writers (some of his best selling exposes include “Model” and “740 Park”). When I bemusedly observed, “I can’t believe you were once the fashion writer” he laughed and replied, “Yes, can you believe I was once a ‘somebody’?!” Well, considering his prolific body of work and impressive resume, I would certainly label him as a “somebody”, and then some.

Coincidentally, his next book, due out next year, is entitled “Rogues’ Gallery: The Secret History of the Moguls and the Money That Made the Metropolitan Museum” (which explains why he showed up at the museum event). In the meanwhile, there was a press conference called for 11 am, (Philippe de Montebello and others addressed the assembled crowd), but I had to leave before it started because alas, I had an 11:30 ticket to view the Chanel Mobile Art Exhibit (, which opened to the press on Monday and will open to the public on Wednesday.

In deference to those of you who are planning to see it for yourselves in the next two weeks, I don’t want to tell you too much about the approximately 20 minute ‘tour’ through the temporary art installation designed by Zaha Hadid and representing the work of 18 modern artists. Set up in a futuristic space ship like temporary digs, it is housed in Central Park’s Rumsey’s Playground (entrance is on 5 Avenue and 69th street). Let’s just say that is seems more about erotic fantasy, sex (and I mean explicit sex, including graphic, lusty shots of nude women baring ‘all’ while posed in rather suggestive positions) desire, wishes, and the metaphorical symbolism associated with ‘cleaning out one’s bag’ and baring all), than the iconic Chanel 2.55 handbag. But that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, since it’s meant to be ‘art’, is centered on a very French point of view, and happens to be the brainchild of that naughty Karl Lagerfeld whose mind is always thinking, conceiving, and concocting.

Quite frankly, the real star is not a portable (luxury) accessory, but living legend Jeanne Moreau, who gives an Oscar worthy ‘performance’ thanks to her amazingly seductive throaty hypnotic voice, lusty French accent, and perfect deliverance. I can attest to the fact that Ms. Moreau, who guides you through the tour, and asks that you robotically follow her orders and heed her directions, would be capable of getting you to do just about anything she asks. And because I certainly don’t want to spoil the surprise ending, all I will say is that if a handwriting and DNA analyst were hired, there would undoubtedly be many red faced high profile fashion insiders. “Be careful what you wish for” is my advice (you will soon know what I mean).

And speaking of the iconic Chanel handbag, with money being so tight these days, there are probably not too many women who are going to spend thousands of dollars on a Chanel handbag (or the limited edition versions, which were conceived in conjunction with the exhibit, with price tags into the 5 figures). But if you take a tip from the recent Chanel spring 2009 runway, you will see that carrying a ‘real’ Chanel bag might not set you back as much as you thought. In fact, it might not cost you a dime. During the course of the runway show, a bag that was made to resemble the iconic Chanel shopping bag appeared as an accessory. While it was done in leather, you can achieve almost the same effect by just popping into a Chanel store, and asking a favorite sales woman for a Chanel shopping bag. In gleaming black laminated paper with Chanel printed in white, it is a dead ringer for the real deal and would nicely do the trick should you crave that Chanel ‘fix’.

-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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