Positively ‘Shocking’

What a strange week this has been for fashion and how ironic life is! First off, there’s been all the publicity surrounding three Fairchild Publications editors- one former and two present…(and not exactly the sort of publicity Fairchild would welcome). On a daily basis, we’ve been ‘treated’ to the sordid details involving a former psychotic W writer, Peter Braunstein, on trial in lower Manhattan for impersonating a firemen and starting a fire in order to gain entry to the apartment of a fellow W writer whom he proceeded to bind, torture, and sexually exploit for about 13 hours.

Taking the stand these past few days was his former flame, Jane Larkworthy, the beauty director of W, who was forced to give her account of the steamy, seedy, and intimate details of her relationship and sex life with this deranged defendant. (Ironically, W Magazine routinely uses sex, bondage, and other steamy props for their fashion editorials, but so do many others).

Monday morning, hours before the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Ball, arguably the biggest, most celebratory night of fashion (and we’re talking HIGH fashion with a capital H), one of fashion’s brightest stars and biggest, most well respected names, Narciso Rodriguez, was the focus of a front page article written by Cathy Horyn for The New York Times, “Fashion Industry Rallies to Aid Designer in Trouble”.

And no, it was not about who his ‘date’ would be for the event, or which stars he was dressing. The subject was Narciso’s well documented business problems culminating in the formal announcement that he had entered into a partnership with the $4.99 billion “apparel giant” Liz Claiborne. Ironically (with all due respect), this is a company whose name is more synonymous with middle class, Middle America, than the rich, exclusive, and rarefied world one would normally associate with this master architect and minimalist.

The observation in an article in Monday’s WWD that “Rodriguez is at a higher price tier than other Claiborne divisions, which include Kate Spade, Juicy Couture, Ellen Tracy, Dana Buchman and Sigrid Olsen” has to be one of the week’s biggest understatements. Though Narcisco’s admission to Cathy Horyn months back: “This is not my dream, to sell my company to Liz Claiborne” is a definite runner- up.

Who would have guessed that in past months, the award winning designer, whose customers include the late Caroline Bessette Kennedy (Narciso became a household name after he designed Caroline’s simply beautiful wedding gown), Julia Louis Dreyfus, and Jessica (Mrs. Jerry) Seinfeld, would be telling close friends he had “no money”? But life is nothing if not ironic and filled with contradiction, and one should hardly be surprised by anything. Though history, artists in every field, has struggled and Narciso is hardly the only talented visionary catering to a wealthy clientele who has had monetary problems.

Ironically, Paul Poiret, the subject of the just opened exhibition, “Poiret: King of Fashion”, died penniless.

And talk about ironic. On Monday, just as members of the press and special guests gathered to preview this exhibit, at the heart of which was the extraordinarily creative relationship between Paul and his wife and muse, Denise, (an “audacious” fashion iconoclast who was widely credited with his ultimate success), word spread that one of the fashion world’s reigning audacious iconoclasts, Isabella Blow, had passed away.

We are at a time which is increasingly more and more about mass produced, copy cat (‘faux’) style, and hype, (exemplified by all the recent articles chronicling the clothes borrowing done by socialites and celebrities), and true ‘creative’ individualists, like Ms. Blow are few and far between. She was a bold rare bird indeed and all the recent tributes to her this past week (WWD, The New York Times) were well deserved.

And since this week is all about the ironic, another irony that crossed my mind was that more than anything else, Ms. Blow was known for her exotic headwear and was almost never photographed without something fabulous and over the top covering her head. As I looked around the displays that made up the Poiret exhibit, it was hard NOT to notice that there was nary a mannequin that did not have a head covering of some sort (whether it was a hat, a turban, a headband, a headdress). Coincidentally, we are in a fashion moment where hats of all kinds have suddenly become the focus of attention.

And speaking of attention….and positively ‘shocking’…attention grabbing shocking pink, the bold shade which came to symbolize another late fashion individual and maverick, Elsa Schiaparelli (it was the name of her signature fragrance and the name of a book, “Shocking! The Art and Fashion of Elsa Schiaparelli” written by Dilys E. Blum) seems to be all around town as of late.

At the Frederick Law Olmsted (FLO) Awards luncheon last week, shocking pink was not only to be found in some of the beautiful flowers making up the glorious Central Park Conservancy, but was seen on a number of invited guests who were dressed in the color from head (hat) to toe: matching their skirt and pantsuits to their fancy headdresses.

More recently, at the Metropolitan of Museum’s Costume Gala on Monday, the arresting color was selected by Cameron Diaz who wowed the paparazzi with her shocking pink and voluminous John Galliano for Christian Dior creation and Tinsley Mortimer, who opted for a leaner floor length Versace. And interestingly, it was not only seen on the gals. Chuck Price, Style.com Candy Pratts Price’s husband, wore shocking pink pants to offset his traditional black tuxedo jacket (it even matched Candy’s clutch bag), and Lanvin’s creative director and lover of color, Alber Elbaz enlivened his tuxedo with a shocking pink satin bowtie.

Later on in the week, Elizabeth Edwards paired hot pink (in the form of a jacket) with black- always a popular combo- when she and her husband John were guests at Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2007 (as did Mrs. Elie Wiesel). And famed food critic Gael Greene, the guest of honor at a Benefit for the American Hospital of Paris Foundation, celebrated by wearing a shocking pink satin Oriental style jacket with toggle closing.

-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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