As magical snow began to fall Monday night, enchantment happened at Rizzoli Bookstore. A standing-room-only crowd witnessed history as fashion journalist/author Marylou Luther and fashion illustrator Ruben Toledo discussed their new collaborative effort, “Be-Spoke: Revelations from the World’s Most Important Fashion Designers.”
Lookonline’s own Marilyn Kirschner served as moderator for the fascinating conversation. Maryanne Grisz of Fashion Group International introduced the threesome — Marilyn quipped, “together, we have 160 years of combined experience in fashion.”
“Thank you Marilyn. What a trio! A great conversation, merging the history and love of fashion with art, humor, integrity, and passion!”Nicole Fischelis
Notable attendees from the fashion world (several featured in the book) included Norma Kamali, Yeohlee, Stan Herman, Fern Mallis, Audrey Smaltz, Alva Chinn, Valerie Steele, Freddie Lieba, Mickey Boardman, Jeffrey Banks, Patricia Underwood, Joanna Mastroianni, Dustin Pittman, Teri Agins, Amy Fine Collins, and Christian Francis Roth. As Marilyn’s review explains the book is a compilation of 72 famous designer quotes from interviews Luther conducted over her seven decades (and still going at 92!) career.
Ruben was then given Marylou’s chosen quotes without instruction – “my task was to illustrate the quote, not a particular dress — others have done that,” he noted. What did Ruben learn? “Marylou has an opinion,” he said with a laugh. “I was surprised by how long a career Marylou had going back to Chanel, Dior, Balenciaga.”
After covering so many decades of fashion, what were some of the highlights? “Attending Yves Saint Laurent’s first show for Dior in Paris, Yeohlee’s subway show, Sonia Rykiel’s show with smiling, laughing models, and Kerby Jean-Raymond’s Pyer Moss show which broke all the rules,” the Nebraska native said.
How did this book come to be? “I kept a folder with designer comments. I found the folder 2-3 years ago while looking for something else. I thought somebody needs to give designers their own voice.” Hence, a coffee table book was born — a feat that she credits Jeffrey Banks (who she met through Stan Herman) with since he “knew everyone at Rizzoli– they are a joy to work with.”
Speaking of which, longtime Rizzoli publicist Pam Sommers was ending on a high note as this was her last event before retirement. Pam was feted at a pre-talk get together held at La Pecora Bianca, an Italian restaurant adjacent to Rizzoli. Toasting Sommers were Antony Petrillose, editor of “Be:Spoke”, Marilyn Kirschner, Ruben Toledo, Marylou Luther, and Marylou’s son Walter Imparato, a producer-cameraman for CNN NY who once worked for Elsa Klensch.
Besides some of the tasty tidbits best presented in the book, the evening was peppered with personal shout-outs to many assembled in celebration of Marylou. Speaking of Stan Herman – “I was working for the LA Times and described Stan Herman as short. “Stan took umbrage and asked Marylou if she would describe Givenchy as tall at 6’6.” “I learned that the physical expression of oneself has no bearing. I’d now describe Stan as a giant,” she recounted.
Marylou recounted a funny anecdote about meeting Christian Francis Roth when he was just starting out at 19 years old. Claude Montana had told Marylou he’d “never met someone so young with so much talent.” As Roth waited to meet Marylou, Geoffrey Beene detained her on the phone.
What apparently was due to nerves (according to Roth last night) Marylou interpreted as impatience. “I’m sorry, but you don’t hang up on Geoffrey Beene,” she explained. After that, things went swimmingly as Marylou guessed that Roth was not only an Aquarian, but his birthday was February 12. How did she know that? “He had the same look as my son Walter, and that’s his birthday,” said the zodiac fan.
Norma Kamali told the heartwarming story of how she owed everything to the woman who “saved” her. Scheduled for lunch with Marylou, Norma showed up all puffy-faced from crying and ended up uncharacteristically “spewing” her tale of woe. She had left her cheating, stealing husband of ten years with $98 in the bank and none of her fabrics or sewing machines. Marylou and her husband immediately put a plan in action to help her get back on her feet and in the design game again better than ever.
Of course, Ruben, who has illustrated books for Nina Garcia as well as his own books) was half of a famous fashion couple with the late Isabel (featured in the book). “We were just 15-16-year-olds in Manhattan. We were just creative kids interested in art and fashion.
When I met Isabel, it was a gift from the universe. We never had a business plan, but we ran a business for 50 years. You only need your own talent and love for your work, your partner, and the people around us. Sometimes, the mistakes you make, or ugly ducklings, turn into beautiful swans.”
He credits his ability to draw fast and create as his gift. As for Isabel’s quote, “Yes, I really do talk to my sewing machine,” Ruben recounted her love for “industry and machinery and how things work. If the machinery wasn’t in sync, nothing good would happen, but everything would go well when it was humming along.”
What are the duo’s favorite fashion decades? Marylou loves the swinging ’60s – “the London mods and rockers. No woman ever exposed their knees before then.” She pointed to the 1969 moon landing as bringing about some of the breakthroughs and disruptions the ever-forward fashion historian is obsessed with.
Ruben is more about the ’20s and ’30s and the “female-oriented designers including Coco Chanel, Madeleine Vionnet, and Jeanne Lanvin.” He also likes the late ’70s for its inclusiveness — “models were older and larger, sample sizes had to go to 16 or 18.”
As you probably know, if you read her articles, Marilyn has her own opinions on style. As a former Harper’s Bazaar Senior Market Editor, her skill was finding the look for less, something she still loves to do. “It’s all about how you put yourself together, not how much you spend.
I’ve seen some of the most expensively dressed, horrible-looking outfits. Look at Nicole (Fischelis); she’s all in black with two gold pins. She’s one of the best-dressed women in the room. There’s no excuse not to look great.”
One of Marylou’s favorite quotes by Courreges states that major trends which impact society produce a major moment in fashion — should we be expecting one of those moments post-pandemic? She opened the forum to comments on what we can expect from fashion going forward, particularly wanting to hear from young people. One woman thought we were due for more accessible or adaptable fashion for disabilities and those who have been marginalized.
Marilyn commented that this fashion month has produced more “all over the place” fashions than ever. “Anything and everything goes,” she remarked. While Marilyn notes there’s nothing new about this, the wild fluctuations in fashion seem more exaggerated this season.
Not surprisingly, the books were all sold out by the end of the evening. Everyone ventured into the lightly falling snow in high spirits, having been schooled by three fashion legends.
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