Marilyn Kirschner’s Ode to American Fashion: A Personal Vision

Ralph Lauren Bodysuit with 1950’s Mollie Parnis Skirt & Native American Jewelry from Vicki Turbeville
All photos Ernest Schmatolla

At the age of 72, one constant is my steadfast love of fashion. I have amassed an enviable collection through the years. I thought it would be fun to have our publisher, Ernest Schmatolla, a former fashion photographer, take pictures of me modeling some of my favorite pieces. I wanted to focus on New York-based American designers, past and current.

This eclectic assortment is all taken from my closets featuring designs dating from the 1950s through the present. The images speak volumes about my predilection for irreverently mixing designers, decades, masculine and feminine, day and evening, old and new, high and low, and adding an element of surprise.

We shot over several weeks, using different locations around Manhattan. Needless to say, there were challenges given the ongoing Covid 19 restrictions. It was just the two of us, and we didn’t book a hairstylist or makeup artist because, quite frankly, this pictorial focuses on fashion.

The following 13 looks demonstrate that one can continue to enjoy fashion and be glamorous at any age.

What attracted me to this 1950’s Mollie Parnis black silk faille skirt, is the voluminous shape, the midcalf length, and the two deep and enormous trapunto stitched side pockets. Paired with my trusty Ralph Lauren black jersey turtleneck bodysuit, it looks like a one-piece dress. Something so simple cries out for accessories, so I add a pair of black embroidered vintage YSL pumps and my cache of vintage and contemporary silver and turquoise Native American jewelry, purchased from the renowned merchant Vicki Turbeville. Similar pieces are always available at Vicki’s California boutique and online.

In 2011 J. Crew launched a six-piece collaboration with Prabal Gurung online and in select stores. The two best pieces were the tuxedo jacket with asymmetrical satin lapel, oversized tailored bow, and matching trousers, both of crisp white denim. I accessorize with a simple Isaac Mizrahi black cotton turtleneck top, natty two-tone ivory, and black heeled brogues from Bally (about 8 years old), Kara’s two-tone Baby Pinch handbag, and a jaunty fedora by Eugenia Kim.

I fell in love with this Oscar de la Renta satin color block jacket from Fall 1991 Ready-to-Wear when I spotted it at the Manhattan Vintage Show years ago. The shape and cut are extremely flattering, and the artistic placement of the colors is perfect. The Joe Fresh jeans bring out the vivid green in the jacket. I wear it with heeled black suede Miu Miu loafers and a vintage Delill black lacquered hardshell clutch.

This Chado Ralph Rucci coat is from the Spring 2011 Ready-to-Wear collection. It has all the couturier’s signature details: the curved collar, the graceful and elegant sleeves that are darted crosswise, the stitching, the artistic flourishes, and the painstaking attention to detail.

To make this coat, Ralph’s 52×50 inch hand-painted and signed panels were sent to a mill in Como, Italy, where high-resolution images were taken and screened onto white gazar. The fabric was then sent to another mill in Como that makes raincoats, where they were plasticized. I belted the coat with a black yarn belt, wear it with black cropped jeans from the Banana Republic, black fingerless gloves by Carolina Amato, Ray-Ban sunglasses, and vintage YSL black velvet pumps.

In 2007, Brooks Brothers enlisted the talents of Thom Browne to design Black Fleece. The outstanding collaboration ended in 2015. This midnight navy and white vertically striped jacket is made of thick cotton canvas from that first collection. To complement the classic style, shrunken proportions and stay true to Thom’s tomboyish, preppy vibe, I pair it with rolled cuff Gap jeans and heeled saddle shoes from Bass, purchased many years ago.

Nothing beats the simplicity of well-cut black trousers and a crisp white shirt. Leave it to Norma Kamali to design a white bodysuit shirt with Velcro closures. I bought this a few years ago, but Norma still sells this style today.

The classic pleated black trousers are from Theory. What really makes this outfit come alive is KOKIN’s black lacquered straw matador hat with irregular white polka dots and the addition of a lipstick red sash belt (unlabeled) and vintage vinyl bucket bag. I finish it off with Chanel white and black patent-heeled Mary Janes from Resort 2020.

Bonnie Cashin’s bright lime green canvas coat for Sills & Co is from the 1970s. It’s an iconic example of the great American designer’s style, wit, and practicality. The coat is made of canvas and trimmed with perfectly matching fine leather. Bonnie thought women would enjoy having their hands free instead of troubling with a bag, so she made a trompe l’oeil shoulder bag of leather, going over one shoulder of the coat and creating an enormous pocket.

The gigantic pocket fastens, as does the front of the coat, with Bonnie’s signature toggles. Beneath, I am wearing a black hooded nylon jacket from Uniqlo +J (hoods are very Cashin), white jeans from The Gap, and Toga Pulla white leather block heel Mary Janes.

I feel like a princess when I wear Joanna Mastroianni’s hand-beaded Couture Cape with floating ostrich feathers on silk organza. It is from Spring 2014 Ready-to-Wear, but Joanna still produces a limited edition of these timeless and seasonless pieces. I put it together with Amy Smilovic for Tibi’s black and white paint splatter printed silk faille midcalf ball skirt from Resort 2014. The vivid red suede Nine West pumps add the exclamation point!

Koos Van Den Akker was a craftsman who painted with fabrics. He is known for his patchwork designs, and this 1980’s Koos coat is one of the best examples I’ve seen. It features an extravagant array of colorful and eclectic fabrics, patched together with a black and metallic gold border around each. The coat is ornate, yet the design is simplistic.

Best of all, it’s entirely reversible to solid black wool, so you are getting two coats in one. I added Donna Karan’s iconic and statement-making 1980’s belt. The gold sculptural buckle is designed by the legendary Robert Lee Morris.

Simple is great, but sometimes a touch of embellishment is better. Marc Jacobs’ black patent pea jacket from Resort 2015 is jazzed up with gold piping and 6 gold leather buttons. The collar and cuffs are decorated with large circular Swarovski crystals; each is piped in gold leather. The black suede Gucci sling-back loafers with crystal GGs purchased three years ago carry on the high shine theme. The Michael Kors Collection white cotton shirt and cropped Levi jeans tones it down a notch.

When I throw on a great jacket, I instantly feel dressed. I have several great blazers from Veronica Beard, but this one is a year-round favorite in an oversized black and white houndstooth from Spring 2019 Ready-to-Wear. I add a large handmade black organza dahlia, purchased from Sib Flower on Etsy to offset the boyishness.

I am wearing it with a simple black jersey turtleneck from J. Crew and cropped Gap jeans. The graphic black and white bag from Michael Kors, white lace-up oxfords from Stuart Weitzman, and Selima Optique sunglasses are perfect accompaniments.

I was an art history major in college and am an aficionado of modern art, so this 1980’s all-over beaded “Miro” jacket by Jeanette Kastenberg for St. Martin really speaks to me. It’s such an extraordinary piece, and I’m as tempted to hang it on a wall as I am to wear it.

I love how it looks worn a bit offhandedly, paired with white denim Frame pedal pushers from this season, a graphic black and white bag I found at Forever 21 a few years ago, and Proenza Schouler’s white pumps with a black cap toe from a past season.

One of my cherished pieces is this short coat by Geoffrey Beene. Dated from 1990, it is made of thick quilted white cotton printed with large black orchids and has black enamel and silver buttons, two enormous side pockets, and a black velvet collar. Like all of Geoffrey’s coats, it is so beautifully made that you could literally wear it inside out.

I wanted to give it a sporty feel, so I belted it, put it together with skinny Levi jeans, Stella McCartney’s Elyse platform sneakers, and a black and white Yankees cap from the MOMA store. Geoffrey was the epitome of modern, and he loved to see his clothes in motion. I believe he would approve.

A final thought: Age is not a determining factor regarding what looks good, what fits, or what is deemed appropriate. The older I get, the more I appreciate how uplifting and magical fashion is. As far as I’m concerned, it’s more effective and indeed much more fun than having a facelift, though not necessarily less expensive.

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.

  1. Thank you for bringing all
    These amazing designer looks to me
    I remember Mollie Parnis Koos and all
    The others
    You truly are an inspiration
    Joan Roland

  2. I truly enjoyed this article! What an amazing woman with such a remarkable sense of style! Words to live by…

  3. Maralyn you are always too too Fabulous for words. Everyday you look Great. I mean every day. ??
    Audrey Smaltz

  4. Great article and you look fabulous very proud to know you Susan Barry‘s sister!!!!

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