Wintry Mix


Here we are, smack dab in the middle of what should be a bustling and festive holiday season and the economy is in a disastrous slump (what an understatement!), but as they say, “The show must go on”. And while several highly anticipated and high profile soirees have been canceled (notably Marc Jacobs’ annual Holiday Costume Party, the Neue Galerie Winter Gala, and the Guggenheim’s Young Collectors Council Artist’s Ball), this looks to be a week of much activity where the fashion calendar is concerned.

As a fan of Alexander Calder (1898-1976), the American born artist known for his three dimensional mobiles and stables, who revolutionized sculpture, and someone who loves bold sculptural jewelry, I was looking forward to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s, “Calder Jewelry” Press Preview (December 9 – March 1, 2009), held yesterday morning. (FYI…while Karl Lagerfeld staged his traveling ‘Mobile Art’ Exhibit in Central Park several months ago, I would call this the ‘real’ Mobile Art Exhibit).

Dramatically installed and perfectly displayed within the Helen and Milton A. Kimmelman Gallery, Lila Acheson Wallace Wing, it has the distinction of being the first museum presentation “dedicated solely to Calder’s extensive and inventive jewelry”. The approximately 90 pieces (necklaces, bracelets, brooches, belts, tiaras, hair combs), fashioned from admittedly “unlikely materials that he collected or of small metal objects that he bent, hammered, or chiseled” are all unmistakably Calder and had the ability to literally transform the wearer into a living and breathing “work of art”. For Calder, jewelry was just as important as his paintings and sculptures…they represented yet another art form through which he was able to express himself (this is evident in the fact that in 1929, at one of his earliest exhibitions, he showed jewelry alongside sculptural works and drawings).

When I asked the show’s ‘organizer’, Jane Adlin, Associate Curator, Department of 19th Century Modern and Contemporary Art, which piece or pieces were her favorites…she didn’t hesitate to identify them: the four pieces (three necklaces, which include “Jealous Husband” and one bracelet) that are part of the Met’s permanent collection. While there were several items I myself would not ‘mind’ owning, I had to agree with Nancy Chilton, head of press for the Met’s Costume Institute, on her choice of most ‘covetable piece: the brass wire, glass, mirror flower necklace (circa 1940).

While unfortunately, the museum has no plans to reproduce any of the amazing pieces, many of which were made for Alexander Calder’s wife, family members and friends, (some of whom, notably Peggy Guggenheim, were captured in blown up black and white photographs showing them wearing the unique pieces), the museum’s gift shop is offering a line of Modern Geometric Jewelry which is in keeping with the Calder aesthetic. Handcrafted from brass (the artist favored brass, steel, and silver, over gold), the 12 pieces (necklaces and earrings) will sell from about $55 – $495.

A few hours later, and a bit further downtown, (if you want to refer to Park Avenue and 63th street as ‘downtown’), Oscar de la Renta unveiled his Pre-Fall 2009 collection (pre fall is becoming more and more important as evidenced by the fact that more and more designers are staging formal runway shows for the press). Amazingly, the invitation called for 1 pm, and when it was over, I looked at my watch and it was 1:19! Can you imagine that? During Fashion Week, a show called for 1 pm would not even begin until about 1:45!!! But then again, Oscar is such a gentleman and never likes to keep his ladies (or gents) waiting.

While the upbeat, well edited, 53 piece collection was not exactly 3-d in the manner of a Calder sculpture, it was highly textural and tactile. It was also polished, pulled together and accessorized to the hilt (bags, boots, pumps, belts, and hats), yet managed to look hip and modern, owing to the reliance on youthful shapes and proportions. Skirts, coats, and dresses were mostly short (just above the knee or a bit higher) and had movement (controlled fullness), and waists were belted to emphasize the shape.

The predominantly chic neutral palette (gray, black, ivory) was sometimes punched up with hits of color or artistic color blocks, and lurex (black or gold) added shimmer to knits (which were used throughout) and sparkled traditional tweeds.

Actually, tweeds were a major statement, and were offered in a myriad of ways, appearing on everything from jackets, tunics, dresses, and coats, to skirts (both long and short). Sometimes, they turned up in multi colored (black, white, gray) patchwork incarnations. The return of the tweed suit was a welcome surprise and notable examples include the black lurex tweed skirt with white tweed trim shown with a black and ivory 4 ply crepe blouse, and the dark grey lurex tweed jacket and matching narrow maxi skirt, which would be a perfect choice for an evening soiree.

There were abbreviated motorcycle jackets in red eel skin, black lurex tweed, metallic embroidered black leather, and studded black silk faille, and lean tunics (in tweed or crepe) were shown belted over full trousers. Interestingly, while furs (especially minks and sables) might have been out in force on show attendees (and some of them were pretty fabulous…baby it was cold outside), they were noticeably absent from the runway (except for a white pieced mink cropped motorcycle jacket where the fur was all but ‘disguised’ as fur, and thrown over a black liquid gazar floor length dress). Instead, there was an abundance of feathers, which were no less dramatic, even transformed into short lengths. A blue and black feather embroidered skirt (full and just above the knee), was shown with a gray merino beaded short sleeved sweater, and several short cocktail dresses (a multi colored feather embroidered, a black and white sequined with feather embroidery, and a black silk taffeta and tulle draped dress with feather embroidery), ended the show, replacing the traditionally lavish ball gowns from seasons past. It’s as though Oscar, like other designers, is predicting less of a need for them in the future, thanks to the economic downturn.

Like it or not, there is a new reality, thanks to the recession, and there are bound to be new ‘rules’ where luxury is concerned. While there are no hard and fast rules about dressing for these times, and I am not trying to pass judgement , I will say that there are certain things that rub me the wrong way right now (such as over the top, billowy ballgowns that are larger than some New York apartments). The Prada holiday windows, on 57th and 5th, featuring black nylon ‘windbreakers’ (with their subtly jeweled collars), worn over languid evening dresses, (instead of a predictable fur, or highly embellished coat), is a perfect example of something that looks right at this moment in time.

Continuing on with that thought, the Pre-Fall 2009 Collections, including those of Oscar de la Renta, and especially Francisco Costa for Calvin Klein, who showed yesterday morning, (with its emphasis on cut, shape, and seasonless fabrics,) as well as the Calder Jewelry exhibit, (where the genius, brilliance, and drama relies not on excessive and drunken ‘bling’ but rather, on the inventive, somewhat primitive and tribal, transformation of materials that are not usually associated with luxury), are also perfectly in tune with the new ‘reality’.

-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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