Couture Council Luncheon Honoring Thom Browne

Thom Browne, Whoopi Goldberg and Tom Leonardis
Photo: Lieba Nesis

Thom Browne may be absent from this season’s calendar (he is showing in Paris to the chagrin of many, like myself, for whom it was the week’s highlight), but regardless, he still managed to kick off NYFW. On Wednesday, the designer was formally presented with The Couture Council of the Museum at FIT’s 2017 Artistry in Fashion Award at an awards luncheon held at the David Koch Theatre at Lincoln Center. It’s become a wildly popular event that heralds in the fall season in high style.

Alina Cho, John Demsey and Linda Fargo
Photo: Lieba Nesis

I felt like breaking out with the song “Hail! Hail! The Gang’s All Here!” as I surveyed the fashion, publishing, and philanthropic heavyweights milling around at what is the first major event in New York right after Labor Day.

Marigay McKee, Glenda Bailey and Jani Hudis
Photo: Lieba Nesis

Anna Wintour was noticeably absent but among the 500 or so invited guests in attendance: Andrew Bolton, Glenda Bailey, Linda Fargo, Arthur Elgort, Julie Macklowe, Hamish Bowles, Fe Fendi, Fern Mallis, Sharon Coplan Hurowitz, Brooke Shields, Miki Higasa, Liz Peek, Yaz Hernandez,

Ken Downing
Photo: Marilyn Kirschner

Sharon Jacob, Kathy Prounis, Joanna Coles, Cameron Silver, Ken Downing, Ralph Rucci, Jean Shafiroff, Victor de Souza, Dr. Joyce Brown, Dr. Valerie Steele, Patricia Mears, Margaret Hayes, Jamee Gregory, and Susan Susan Gutfreund.

Andrew Bolton & Valerie Steele in Thom Browne
Photo Lieba Nesis

Michael Gross, who told me he is “having a ball” as editor-in-chief of Avenue Magazine, and Ken Downing who joked that he was surprised he received any show invites after what he said when I interviewed him for my special report, “Making NYFW Great Again: Insiders Weigh In

Thom Browne and Jean Shafiroff wearing Thom Browne
Photo: Lieba Nesis

It’s never lost on me that this event always feels a bit like a grownup version of the first day of school (which is actually Thursday); but of course, with better dressed ‘kids’ and more expensive backpacks. But as always the case with regards to this lunch, guests are not only well dressed; many like to pay homage to the year’s honoree.

Debbie Bancroft, Thom Browne, Amy Fine Collins and Fern Mallis
Photo: Lieba Nesis

On Wednesday, many men and women were wearing one of Thom Browne’s unmistakable designs and/or carrying one of his signature bags. The whimsical ‘Hector’ dog bags, designed to look like a dog, were most popular, but Liz Peek was holding his red, white blue sailboat bag.

John Mesa, Clarissa Bronfman, Hamish Bowles and Yaz Hernandez
Photo: Lieba Nesis

Since the foundation of his aesthetic is predicated on menswear (grey being his favored neutral), many of his designs are literally interchangeable for both men and women (down to the ties) and this made for a wonderful photo op.

Left to Right Monika Seidlova, Sarah Williams, Jona Murati, Briana Holmer, Kara Council, Kristina Alexandra and Alicia Quarles
Photo: Lieba Nesis

The Museum at FIT’s Artistry in Fashion Award is now in its 12th year. Past honorees in chronological order: Ralph Rucci, Alber Elbaz, Isabel Toledo, Dries Van Noten, Valentino, Karl Lagerfeld, Oscar de la Renta, Michael Kors, Carolina Herrera, Manolo Blahnik and Akris. I have gone to every awards luncheon since its inception.

Ralph Rucci
Photo: Marilyn Kirschner

Ralph Rucci (the subject of my recent article, “A Conversation with Ralph Rucci”) was the first honoree and the lunch (with a hundred or so guests) was held at Brasserie 8 ½ at 9 West 57th Street. At the time, Ralph referred to it as a “simple but quiet and luxurious lunch”.

Brooke Shields and Bonnie Pfeifer Evans
Photo: Lieba Nesis

But alas, it’s a sign of the times that there is very little that is intimate and quiet these days (especially in the fashion world). Everything is now done on a much grander, bigger scale with a lot more buzz, a lot more press and a lot more noise (it’s “HUGE”!).

Jessica and Audrey Gruss
Photo: Lieba Nesis

FYI, Ralph is unsurprisingly, a huge fan of Thom’s. As he told me, “I think what he’s been able to achieve, and his dedication to a rigor is so admirable, and I like Thom as a person. He is kind and he stays calm. I think he gave American fashion that level of experimentation and polish that was needed.”

Fe Fendi in Thom Browne, Sima Ghadamian and Eleanora Kennedy
Photo: Lieba Nesis

After a wonderful lunch consisting of a beautifully composed salad, a tasting plate of cold lobster, buttermilk fried chicken with Chile lime yogurt and corn and cucumber salad, and mignardises for dessert, Dr. Valerie Steele, Director of The Museum at FIT and Dr. Joyce F. Brown, President, Fashion Institute of Technology, made their welcoming comments.

Joanna Coles and Anya Ziourova
Lieba Nesis

Then came the special guest presenter: Whoopi Goldberg who made quite a entrance wearing a red turban and a colorful coat made for her by Thom Browne.Whoopi:

“I’m here for a few reasons. I LIKE Thom Browne. And I like Thom Browne  because he’s not like anybody else. Everybody knows what an innovator he is and you can go all over the world and see his influence. This coat, he made this for ME! He makes things for people who want to wear them and when you want to wear something your head is always up; your head is never down. You can’t imagine the joy I have when I wear my Thom Browne coat. And THAT is why I am here because THIS man brings joy and he brings innovation and he brings the idea that you must be an individual. You must stand for something. And you can wear your clothes boldly and stand for something in your clothes.

Everyone talks about inclusiveness, but he actually does it. He does it! And he’s actually moved the needle on fashion. And I think he is speaking to ME! One of the reasons that this is exciting to me is that people used to make fun of all the stuff I wore. I wore things that I thought were interesting and innovative but I kept hearing from people who would tell me to stop because I looked so weird. And that was just the hair! I started believing them and then a couple of years ago I went in a whole other direction and I thought, “I am not everybody’s taste but I am my own taste”. And so part of why I love what Thom has done is because he understands a white shirt. One of the things people want in these ‘hurricane times’, is a white shirt because it makes them feel fresh, clean, present. Now, I wear white shirts to remind myself that it’s whiter than I think and I like that, and I know he loves a white shirt.

The other reason is that he’s just a good man he’s got a great dog, a great partner. And he’s made innovation what you would expect. He doesn’t have to go in crazy directions to prove that he knows what he’s doing and that he has his eye on the ball and he makes what people want to wear. So, I thank you for that. Thom, thank you. I felt pretty good walking in here today. I am here because you inspired and so, I am pleased to say that the 2017 Couture Council Award for Artistry in Fashion goes to Thom Browne. Artistry! Can I say that again?”  And Whoopi handed Thom the award.

Thom Browne:

“When I was told I was getting this award, it was an out of body experience but I was worried that FIT would not get anybody to come. It’s an amazing school, an amazing organization, and an amazing group and thank you so much for being there for me. Thank you so much Whoopi for being here and for being the person that you are. When I think of couture I think of you. For me couture means something that is timeless, that has a strong point of view, that is truly individual, and something that is the highest quality, and that is what you, Whoopi represent.  Thanks so much  Dr. Brown and FIT for this truly overwhelming honor and thank you Valerie Steele, for your loyal support. Thank you for believing that fashion should inform, provoke, inspire. And thank you for appreciating the art and the craft of making clothing well, as this for me, it what is truly inspiring.

I want to thank a few special people:  My sister who has always been my biggest supporter – I am from a family of 7 children – and has kept everything real; Miki (Higasa) who is there for me, and with me, since the  very beginning; Daniel, the leader of my design team. Design is such a collaborative effort and he makes my job so much easier. And Andrew, my partner. I am the luckiest person on earth in the world Andrew (and he started getting very emotional as he spoke), to be inspired every day by the person I love. Andrew always makes me realize that fashion truly can be art.

Nowadays, there is much commercially designed fashion, and it’s not always of the highest quality. Forgetting about trends, I always strive to make something with an interesting design; something that is timeless, that has a clear and individual point of view. This is what I call fashion and this is what I will strive to accomplish on the acceptance of this award. That is my commitment to you, The Couture Council, FIT, Dr. Brown, Valerie, and Patricia”.

Left to right: Kathy Reilly, Kate Hemphill, Stephanie Loeffler, Ester Tadjiev, Kamie Lightburn, Kathy Prunis, Tina Storper, Jackie Martin, Natasha Mahdavi, Satoko Miyake standing left to right: Yaz Hernandez, Sharon Jacob and Leticia Presutti
Photo: Lieba Nesis

Above picture at the after party are many of the people who worked so hard to make the luncheon such a success.

A few notes from Lieba Nesis:

Martha Stewart, Joyce Brown and Thom Browne
Photo: Lieba Nesis

Martha Stewart: She doesn’t own any Thom Browne since he doesn’t make large enough sizes for her since she has broad shoulders. Martha likes to wear Hermes, Akris,

Ralph Rucci and is coming out with a clothing line on QVC featuring sizes 0 to 20 and a price point from $40-$90.

Linda Fargo: She was the first person to carry Thom Browne at her department store Bergdorf Goodman.

Andrew Bolton: Thom Browne’s partner who runs the Costume Institute said that Thom was nervous to receive this honor because he is such a huge admirer of Valerie Steele and Patricia Mears. He said it was nice to see how fashion people recognize how unique and important Browne is. He also said it was top secret who the Costume Institute would honor but there would be a thematic contribution. He referred to the Gala as an outer body experience where Wintour gets this incredible mix of fascinating people.

He was a bit starstruck at meeting Sienna Miller at the Gala because she had such a great sense of humor. He also said he would not be attending any fashion shows this season since he has many imminent deadlines. After the event was over. there was an after party for those who helped put the event together. Everybody agreed it was the best luncheon that was ever held.

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.

No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.