The Couture Council Winter Luncheon

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Jean Shafiroff

On Thursday, The Couture Council of The Museum at FIT held its Third Annual Winter Luncheon at Avra Madison Estiatorio at 12 East 60th street. It was not just a wonderful luncheon, bu a conversation and Q & A between Roopal Patel, SVP Fashion Director, Saks Fifth Avenue (a sponsor of the event) and Dr. Valerie Steele, Director and Chief Curator of The Museum at FIT.

Among the approximately 150 avowed fashion followers in attendance were Couture Council Board members Jean Shafiroff, Liz Peek, Julie Macklowe, Yaz Hernandez, Eleanora Kennedy, Susan Gutfriend, WWD’s Lisa Lockwood, independent curator and publisher Sharon Hurowitz, Patricia Shiah, Tom Gold, Chris Wilksinson, Gordon Kendall, Audrey Gruss, Dr. Penny Grant, Elyse Newhouse, Kathy Prounis.

After a classic Greek lunch of assorted appetizers, grilled octopus, grilled vegetables, chicken and bronzino (I felt like I was on the island of Corfu), Winter Lunch Chair Kathy Reilly introduced Ms. Patel and Dr. Steele, who directed her questions to the Saks Fashion Director, focusing on the current state of fashion. Great timing since the fall 2019 collections came to an end last week and Ms. Patel just returned from Paris the day before last. 

Dr. Steele asked how she would define her role at the iconic store. Roopal explained that first and foremost, she sees herself as “a curator, a translator of trends”. “It’s all about storytelling. There are so many different stories so many different themes” she explained. “My challenge is how to best break it down and keep it relevant”. 

You’re not kidding about there being many trends and stories. The eclectically dressed guests, clad in everything from athleisure to evening-wear; trainers, combat boots and high heels, perfectly illustrated how all over the place fashion is at the moment. There were some in natty pantsuits; a few, like Julie Macklowe, accessorized with sneakers, proving athleisure is not dead (women will wear what they want!)

A few were in couture like cocktail dresses. Sharon Hurowitz wore a sleeveless black dress with a dramatic cape back, that recalled vintage Balenciaga. She told me that it was from Raf Simons’ last collection for Calvin Klein. It was accessorized with a one of a kind Calder brooch.

Jean Shafiroff Photo: Annie Watt

Jean Shafiroff opted for horizontally striped silk pajamas by Alice + Olivia punctuated by her red Hermes Birkin bag and red earrings. 

When Dr. Steele asked Roopal how she sees luxury today, which has always been about “heritage”, she said “It’s a commodity. It’s a concept”. “It’s really changed in that it is available to everyone. You may not be able to buy a Chanel bag, or a Chanel ensemble, but you can buy Chanel perfume and a lipstick”. As for which fall trends she loves, she quickly said, “Minimalism: a return to effortless dressing as typified by Lauren Hutton.” She also noted, “Glamour, specifically sexy Parisian glamour” as seen on the Balmain and Alexandre Vauthier runways. “It’s all about ‘power women’!” 

PJ Pascual and Yaz Hernandez Photo: Annie Watt

“Designers had been focusing on clothes as protective armor in the wake of the Times Up/ Me Too movements but there’s been a change, and now it’s officially okay to be sexy again. It’s an exciting time to be in fashion” she enthused, also citing the enormous interest in menswear across the board. Unsurprisingly, the men’s Saks Fifth Avenue store downtown, in Brookfield Place, remains open, while the women’s store has been closed.

Marilyn in vintage Bonnie Cashin Photo: Annie Watt

When Dr. Steele asked Roopal whether she sees a difference in fashion depending on which city she is in she said “Yes!” “Paris is the epitome of French chic, French glamour. It’s all about ‘Le Smoking’ and being smoking hot! In New York, it’s all about no nonsense American sportswear as seen at The Row and Gabriela Hearst. Milan is always eclectic and London is quirky”. 

Dr. Steele asked Ms. Patel what she is excited about for spring. She replied that she sees the season as a “prelude to fall” and among the big trends are “bold pops of color”, “neon”, “tie dye”, “artistic expression”, “utility dressing; a great pair of chinos are always great”, and “a return to leather” (she herself was wearing a minimally chic black leather shirt dress to the floor and black boots). 

Dr. Steele asked her to name the three most important designers at the moment. Ms. Patel asked if she was referring to the actual designers or their companies (great point) so she clarified it and said one could be just a designer name and the others could be companies. At the top of her list was Miuccia Prada, then Phoebe Philo (even though she is not working at the moment, her influence is still being felt), and Marc Jacobs. . 

Then came the raffle, the winner (it was not me) was gifted with a $1000 shopping spree at Saks (basically, a pair of shoes lol). And finally, there was a Couture Council membership drive. Now in its 50th year, the Couture Council of the Museum at FIT boasts an elite membership group that supports The Museum at FIT, the most fashionable museum in New York City. Membership makes it possible for the museum to mount its world-class exhibitions, to build and conserve its extraordinary permanent collection, and to organize public programs that serve FIT’s 9,000 students as well as the general public. It was announced that those who joined at the Couture Membership Level ($1000) would be rewarded with a private tour by Dr. Valerie Steele, of the archives at the Museum at FIT. That’s a big deal!

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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