In the Market Report: It’s All “White”

Valentino Haute Couture Collection

As we head into the holidays and end the year, there’s been an endless parade of fashion shows for pre fall 2015. (Am I the only one who thinks of the word preschool when I hear the nomenclature?) That being said, and regardless of the fact that you can’t convince me that full culottes, which have been cropping up (pardon the pun) all over, are really un-flattering on most of us, I keep thinking that the pre seasons often outshine the others. There have been some really great clothes, lots of variety, and once again, coats shine. And with good reason, as exemplified this past week by a 5 month pregnant Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, who managed to look fabulous regardless of the occasion, or weather, thanks to her wardrobe of versatile coats which acted as dresses and tunics, served many purposes, and can cover a multitude of sins (not that she has any mind you). Just throw a coat over anything, and you are instantly dressed and pulled together.

Oscar de la Renta Collection

In any case, this past week certainly had its share of intrigues, not the least of which was the first Oscar de la Renta collection without the beloved designer. While Oscar was reportedly involved somewhat (he wanted to use the crepe soled loafers as they added a sportier feeling), it was actually designed by studio director Laura Kim and her team, with some input from Peter Copping, the new creative director. Interestingly, while the collection touched on all of Oscar’s signature trademarks, not the least of which are his standout evening dresses, it was obvious to me that he was not fully involved in the finished product and we will have to wait for New York Fashion Week in February, to see what he has in mind for the label, going forward. He certainly has his work cut out for him as Oscar was such a beloved icon, and it is hard to separate the man from the label.

Valentino Haute Couture Collection
Photo: Harper’s Bazaar

And then there was the Valentino extravaganza at the Whitney Museum of Art in celebration of the new Fifth Avenue Flagship. The “one off” haute couture collection (which was seemingly attended by “everyone who is anyone”) was a palette cleansing study in winter white. Inspired by the dress the house designed for Jacqueline Kennedy when she married Aristotle Onassis on Skorpios in 1968, it relied on clean lines, simple cuts and luxurious fabrics. Looking at the pieces, especially the capes, I could not help but be reminded of the amazingly chic white cape and gown Mrs. Kennedy wore to the 1961 Inaugural Ball designed by Ethel Frankau of Bergdorf Custom Salon. While the show assuredly had a hard to miss bridal vibe, suffice it to say it was about as far removed from Kleinfeld’s Bridal as could be (LOL).

Valentino Haute Couture Collection

While it had a Courreges vibe, it was modern not Mod in a costumey-stuck-in a-time warp kind of way, and I was immediately inspired to follow suit. It had me thinking: what better way to stand out in a crowd of all black clad New Yorkers than to wear shades of white? Unless of course, you find yourself in a room filled with chic white clad fashion mavens (this was the case on Wednesday, when many of the well-dressed guests in attendance opted for white). And talk about a class act (not that it should be surprising: this is the house of Valentino after all, and elegance rules). There was not a platform stiletto or open toe bootie in sight (I can’t imagine Jacqueline Kennedy or anyone truly chic for that matter, wearing them), and the emphasis was on flats and demure low heeled pumps and boots. I loved that pale gold loafers accessorized many of the outfits; in my mind, the only thing that could possibly be better than white with black, is white with silver or better yet, white with gold.

Botanical Garden Gala
Photos: Laurel Marcus

Coincidentally, just days after the Valentino winter white show was held, one of the season’s most popular events took place: the New York Botanical Garden’s 16th annual Winter Wonderland Ball (, where the dress code for an evening of cocktails, dinner, and dancing is, as always, black tie and winter white. Patrick McMullan, one of the many shutterbugs on hand (along with Bill Cunningham who was there to record it all), told me this is his favorite party to cover because it is filled with eye candy. There is so much to look at inside the Victorian style glass Enid A. Haupt Conservatory: not only the beautifully dressed guests, but the spectacular Annual Holiday Train Show, which is now in its 23rd year. And better yet, since it’s all about giving back, the proceeds from the event help support NYBG’s acclaimed Children’s Education programs, which specifically target underprivileged children in the Bronx.

Mark Badgley & James Mischka

The event’s chairmen: Byrdie Bell, Alina Cho, Cristina Cuomo, Brooke Gerschel, Emma J.P. Goergen, Dalia Oberlander, Alexandra Lind Rose, and Gillian Hearst. Honorary Chairmen: Mark Badgley, Sloan Barnett, Whitney Fairchild, Alexandra Lind Rose, James Mischka, Connie Ann Phillips, Milly Sims. It was sponsored by Northern Trust, Glamour and Badgley Mischka, the duo known for their dreamy evening wear (they had the honors about 10 years ago as well). I told Mark and James when I saw them, that I thought it was so apropos, as I recalled one show many years ago, where they turned the runway at Bryant Park (filled with fantastical, divinely beaded and embroidered confections), into a fairytale forest, down to the glittery trees.

Whitney Fairchild

To say that guests took the dress code directive seriously is an understatement, which is always the case. Many women showed up in white or off white dresses and gowns, many covered or trimmed with furs, feathers, and fringe (it did sort of look like one big fashionable wedding at times). Included in this list were Alina Cho, Ariana Rockefeller, Birdie Bell, Trisha Gregory, Alexandra Lind Rose, and Whitney Fairchild whose Badgley Mischka gown was accessorized with a white Ralph Lauren fur stole. In some cases, black and white were graphically combined, (Josephine Jenno wore beaded Balmain) and lacquer red was added to the mix (as in Joy Marks’ Victor de Souza). Sometimes red just stood on its own.

 Michelle De Mathew and Josephine Jenno

Another popular way guests mixed black with white was by arriving in twos: one wearing white, the other wearing black; or by relying on their tuxedo clad escorts. Some women resorted to ‘shock’ therapy (Jean Shafiroff’s hot pink gown, which was so voluminous I was afraid she wouldn’t fit through the wide hallways, was designed by Victor de Souza and directly inspired by the Charles James 4 Leaf Clover gown). And other guests let the dress code go to their heads (literally). Laurel Marcus, Rosemary Ponzo, and Annika Connor, were among those who wore black, white, or black and white headgear. And naturally, there were plenty of women in floral patterns (it’s the Botanical Garden after all).

Fine feathered friends

Certainly, there were many designer labels in attendance, but as we all know, one needn’t wear designer togs or pay astronomical prices to look great. Alexandra Lebenthal, who always looks fabulous I might add, asked who made my white fringed top; which I must say, got a lot of compliments. I accessorized it with Chanel pumps, the Chanel perfume bag (yup!), vintage white pants, and large pearls. I was quick to tell her it was DKNY, $399. I spotted it in the window of their Madison Avenue store and bought it immediately, thinking it to be versatile and fun. She smiled and said that I was the second person who she had asked who designed their outfit (assuming it was very high end), only to be told it was more moderately priced (what she assumed was Valentino on one guest, turned out to be BCBG).

H&M faux fur jacket

I would be the first to admit that I am an equal opportunity shopper and am not a label snob. I buy what I like, and I am hardly above a good bargain. So, I had to share with Alexandra, (a financial wizard who certainly knows a thing or two about ‘smart money’) what has to be my biggest ‘cheap thrill’ this season: the black and white zip front faux fur jacket I purchased from H&M, which cost $34.99 to be exact ( I never fail to get compliments when I wear it, it is soft and warm, and looks and feels like the real deal (not that it matters, as faux furs have never looked better and even houses like Lanvin are including them in their lines). But that’s not why I bought it. I certainly don’t need more furs (I have a closet full of them and many are still in storage). I simply liked it. And seriously, what can you buy for $34.99?

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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