Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A Breakfast Talk On the Changing Fashion Industry

The discussion at Skylark with, from left to right, Ariel Foxman, Ron Frasch and Gary Wassner.
Instagram influencers, e-commerce, see-now, buy-now collections – the world of fashion, like the world of media, is going through seismic changes, and these disruptions and more were discussed over breakfast recently at the swanky Skylark lounge located 30 floors over Manhattan in the center of the Garment District. The marketing communications agency LaForce organizes Tuesdays at The Skylark, a program series where leaders in fashion, technology and business network and connect, and discuss trends, topics and insights, so I found myself recently perched there enjoying breakfast and coffee and listening to an interesting discussion about fashion in flux.

The breakfast was moderated by Ariel Foxman, the former editor-in-chief of InStyle magazine, who asked smart questions of Ron Frasch, formerly the president of Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman and now a partner at the private equity firm Castanea, and Gary Wassner, president of Hildun which finances young designers and has worked with Marc Jacobs, Tommy Hilfiger and Alexander Wang. At the retail level, the panel noted that while shopping online is convenient, e-commerce has a high rate of returned merchandise. In stores, personal service is very important, and both Frasch and Wassner observed that the new Saks Fifth Avenue at Brookfield Place in lower Manhattan has successfully created a compellingly curated merchandise presentation rather than a traditional department store scheme. Fast fashion, offered by the likes of H & M and Zara, has opened up new trends to more people, and made men and women more sensitive to what they wear at a younger age.

Criticism fell on the fashion delivery calendar, which illogically dictates that heavy fall clothes are delivered into stores in August at the height of summer heat. Some August deliveries are now beginning to move to the more appropriate month of September. The panel also had doubts about brands that don't clearly define themselves. Said Gary Wassner, "If you launch a brand, you have to think who are you? What do you represent? What is your story? Most brands don't think about that."

Rosemary Feitelberg from Women's Wear Daily, who reviewed my book How I Look, asked the panel what they were most encouraged about for the future of fashion. "That we are talking about this," replied Ron Frasch. "Appropriate delivery at the appropriate time is very exciting. Now we are listening to the consumer." Gary Wassner was optimistic about "the abundance of talent we have in New York City. It's now possible for young brands to emerge sooner via social media."

Friday, August 26, 2016

In the Summer Swim

The view from the beach house in Connecticut (click on photos to enlarge).
TD and I have had a wonderful summer and have been able to get out of town a lot on the weekends. We used to go to visit my parents in Guilford, Connecticut, taking the train out of Grand Central Station on a Friday night after a week of work. But my mother has passed away and my father has moved to Colorado and the family house was sold so TD and I have gotten creative regarding getting out of town in the summer. Also, we have lovely invitations!

TD and I both like to be near the water, specifically salt water. Ted grew up in Atlantic City and so he spent his childhood on the beach, and my family took summer vacations on the Jersey Shore on Long Beach Island, which is where my great aunt Margie, who lived in Philadelphia, had a summer beach house. We drove to the Jersey Shore from upstate New York, six of us in the station wagon, and there I was introduced to the ocean and the soothing, calming sound of the waves.

Then in college I spent two summers on the island of Martha's Vineyard where I was very close to the ocean. I especially liked the "up island" end of Martha's Vineyard, previously called Gay Head and now called the Indian name Aquinnah, which is very wild and free and feels like the end of the earth to me. I recently came across this photo of my family on the beach there. This is from around 1985 - clockwise from the top, Eric, me, Cynthia, my mother, my father, and Thom.

I love to swim in the ocean and float along. When I'm in the ocean drifting I feel like I'm detached from the earth and earthly concerns and in the care of something greater, floating along in my life on my adventures and all is well. The water is a spiritual place for me.

One weekend in July, Ted's cousins the Pero's invited us to the Jersey Shore for the weekend and we went to the Ocean City beach, which is huge and wide. We spent a fun week there a couple years ago. It's packed with people as far as the eye can see having fun at the beach -

Another weekend, we took a ferry to the Sandy Hook National Park beach in New Jersey. On the boat ride back, this is the view as you return to Manhattan. New York City sparkles - it's like approaching the Emerald City.

Our friends Gary and David invited us for a weekend to their home in Fire Island, Pines -

With the ferries coming and going in and out of the harbor, carrying passengers to and from, the Pines really is a special place -

Southampton was the destination one weekend when we were hosted by my brother Thom and his family. We arrived on Friday afternoon and went promptly to the beach where neighbors had set up camp with billowing umbrellas and sheets for shade. I thought the arrangement looked very "Gerald and Sara Murphy in the South of France."

TD and I took a bike ride into the village to pick up some things. With its high green hedges and majestic trees, Southampton really is a beautiful town.

One weekend we took a subway and a bus to the beach at Jacob Riis Park in the Rockaways at the end of Brooklyn, which we had not been to before. Another time, we took the train to Jones Beach. But the best part of the summer was when we rented a beach house in Guilford on the Long Island Sound for a week in August. We came in the back door and walked through the house to find this view of the water out the front (and at the top of this post).

It was a wonderful house and we enjoyed being there on the water so much.

The view was so beautiful that we could barely close our eyes day or night -

To take a break from the sun we drove one day to New Haven to the Yale Center for British Art, which has recently been renovated. In the Long Gallery (pictured below) on the top floor, paintings are now hung and stacked by theme - Landscapes, Portraits, etc., for a dazzling display of English art. It's a jaw-dropping room and offered the perfect combination of a heady dose of art on a sunny beach holiday. Admission is free. Do get to the Yale Center for British Art if you can -

Back on our little seaside point, we enjoyed a small community beach where neighbors of all ages came to sit in the sand and swim out to a floating raft. My brother Eric and his wife Tracy came out to visit.
At night we took walks around the neighborhood -

And tried to commit to memory the beautiful vistas

Summertime is a happy time of travels and get togethers, and I'm always a little wistful when Labor Day comes along. I hope you are have having a wonderful summer too --

Friday, July 1, 2016

A Visit to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Surrounded by beauty in the rose garden. Photo by TD. (click on photos for larger, clearer versions)

The weekend before last, TD and I took the subway to the wonderful Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which we had not been to in a while. I remembered that June is a great time to visit when the Cranford Rose Garden is in high bloom.  I've done several posts about botanical gardens recently, which offer such bounteous natural beauty inside city limits. A theme that runs through my book is my predilection for a simple, natural country style while living in the city - combining my upstate youth with my Manhattan adulthood. Certainly city parks and botanical gardens, with their rolling green lawns and fragrant flowers, offer the epitome of this appealing combination.

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which is a museum of living plants, was founded in 1910 on a 39-acre section of Prospect Park. The Olmstead Brothers, who designed Central Park and the New York Botanical Garden, laid out the original site plan. Now it features more than 12,000 different kinds of plants from around the world and is comprised of all kinds of gardens including a Japanese garden and pond filled with orange koi fish, a lily collection, a daffodil hill, and a lot more.
After exiting the subway at the Eastern Parkway stop, we payed at the Garden entrance and walked through the property with our destination in mind - the blooming roses. In the Shakespeare Garden, an artist sketched some plants in the shade -

The Conservatory, built in 1917, houses many kinds of indoor gardens like a desert and a tropical garden -

In the Cherry Esplanade, visitors lounged under the trees. It looked like an Impressionist painting - 

Before we got to the rose garden, we passed this rose-covered arch which gave a taste of the pleasures to come. I love the sweeping movement of the roses clamoring over the arches. "The eye has to travel," Diana Vreeland famously said.

At last we reached the Cranford Rose Garden, which was built in 1928 and paid for by subway engineer Walter Cranford who ponied up $15,000 to create it. It features a plethora of all kinds of roses planted in beds in rows so it feels very intimate as the visitor can get up close to the blooms. You just wander up and down the rows and enjoy the beauty and the fragrance. When we visited at the end of June, some of the roses were past their peak and on their way out but the garden was still spectacular.

These lovely pink roses edged in red are called Delany Sisters - 

These huge yellow roses, called Edina, posed at the corner of a bed.

At one end of the garden, pink roses and a bank of lavender offered a dreamy combination.

I just love to wander around in this garden, up and down, back and forth. You really don't want to leave.

At last we extricated ourselves and walked down a grassy lawn. TD checked the Phillies baseball score on his phone under some shade trees. 

We exited out of a different entrance than where we came in, and noticed that the wonderful Brooklyn Museum was right next door rising above the trees.

Flowers and art in Brooklyn – a lovely corner of the world.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Antique Garden Furniture Fair Preview Party at the New York Botanical Garden

With Designer Chairman Fen Fulk.
After my recent trip to the beautiful Orchid Show, I made a return trip to one of my favorite places, the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, with TD to attend the Antique Garden Furniture Fair Preview Party and Collectors' Plant Sale. The Preview Party kicks off the weekend-long Antique Garden Furniture Fair when leading antique dealers offer furniture, art, and accessories inspired by the garden for sale. I'm a big fan of garden antiques used indoors; I love things that bring nature and flowers inside and give a room a natural, relaxed feeling.

At the Botanical Garden, the Antique Fair was set up in a spacious tent next to the stunning glass Enid Haupt A. Conservatory. In the courtyard between the Conservatory and the tent, Elle Decor, one of the event sponsors, presented a glamorous garden vignette created by the magazine's interiors editor Robert Rufino. Mannequins languidly dressed in ballgowns made out of Chinese newspapers and covers of Elle Decor were posed around the latest Roche Bobois furniture collection. 

The Collectors' Plant Sale was well underway. Collectors arrive early to scoop up treasured plants. Martha Stewart and Bette Midler had already come and gone by the time we arrived.

Inside the tent, the party was in full swing with about 500 guests in attendance. We chatted with Michael Boodro, Elle Decor Editor in Chief and Honorary Chairman of the event, and then ran into Ken Fulk (pictured above) who we had met at John Derian's opening for artist Hugo Guinness. The celebrated San Francisco-based designer, who was resplendent in a green, floral, bell-bottom Gucci suit, was the evening's Designer Chairman. Ken told me that jeweler Mish Tworkowki, an event Chairman, had first enlisted him to get involved. "Gregory Long [the longtime President and Chief Executive Officer of the Garden] gave me a beautiful tour proving that this is the most important garden in the world," said Ken. "I love the Botanical Garden."

Ken came up with a yellow and black bumble bee theme to give the party a fun, "buzzy" flair that ran though out with fabrics, napkins and accessories. To enhance the theme, Ken told me that three giant bee hives were constructed in San Francisco and shipped to New York. The gorgeous L.A. DJ Kiss spun records inside one of the big bee hives –

We strolled around and perused the offerings. It was a chic, good-looking crowd  – a favorite ensemble among the women guests was a simple, short evening dress with a short matching evening coat with bracelet sleeves plus slingback shoes. I love that kind of style that is polished and elegant but also easy and effortless at the same time.
There were handsome urns at Finnegan Gallery from Chicago –

and a wall of colorful watercolor botanical paintings at Earl Vandebar of Knightsbridge –

These metal garden hoops hung on a charcoal wall looked like a modern abstract painting, like a Cy Twombly –

Buying and packing at Withington & Company Antiques from Portsmouth, Maine –

At the end of the party, on the way out, candles lined the Conservatory courtyard reflecting pool - 

and dusk was falling on the Conservatory.

It was a lovely night in New York.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Manus x Machina at the Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Chanel Haute Couture Winter 2015 wedding gown is the centerpiece of the exhibit.
I had the pleasure this week of attending the preview of the new exhibition at the Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is called "Manus x Machina, Fashion in an Age of Technology" and was produced by Curator in Charge Andrew Bolton. Given the title, I thought this show would be about modern technology, and many of the women who attended the Met Ball Gala later that night wore silvery metal robot-like dresses, but to me that missed the mark as this show is more about processes and techniques, and how the handmade (manus) can combine with machine-made (machina) in clothing. The show celebrates how technology carries craft into the future - kind of like a digital blog about beautiful things.

For the preview on a day when the museum was closed to the public, guests were directed to the Robert Lehman Wing, where I have never seen a costume show staged before. This wing consists of a two-floor circle that visitors walk around but for this show the center was ingeniously filled in with a temporary floor creating an inner gallery where the Chanel gown pictured above was housed. OMA, the architectural firm, did an amazing job designing a cathedral-like environment for the show with gauzy white scrims complete with arches and alcoves. The mystical "An Ending (Ascent)" by Brian Eno played overheard. The whole setting was very serene and ecclesiastical, which I thought was a striking juxtaposition given the machine technology theme.

The Chanel wedding gown provided the inspiration for the show. It's made out of a scuba knit synthetic material and is machine sewn. The pattern on the long train in the back was digitally manipulated to make it look pixelated. But then the gold metallic pigment was hand-applied, and pearls and gemstones were embroidered by hand, thus illustrating the marriage of the machine-made and handmade.

I circled around the exhibit, trying to take in the 170 garments, dating back to the early 1990s, on display.
Shimmering Louis Vuitton dresses were shown next to turquoise Norman Norells -

and artificial flowers in pretty pastels were applied to Prada dresses (center) -

I walked down to the lower level and while I was admiring jewel-tone Mary McFadden pleated gowns, New York Social photographer and writer Jill Krementz snapped this pic of me - 

You can read Jill's very thorough report on the preview and show here.

Is was time to hear the prepared remarks in the stunning Carroll and Milton Petrie European Sculpture Court. Thomas Campbell, the director of The Met welcomed the crowd, and then Jony Ives, the chief designer of Apple, which sponsored the show, spoke. Andrew Bolton (pictured below) said that the show is "a celebration of the art of making, using hand and machine," and offered "a temple to the beauty and artistry of fashion." Anna Wintour, resplendent in a colorful Prada dress and coat, sat with her three British compatriots in the front row as well.

After the remarks I returned to the galleries to look at more of the garments.
In a gallery devoted to tailoring, a small team of Chanel suits proved their timelessness –

This dress that looks unconstructed is actually a Dior haute couture ensemble by John Galliano designed to appear dramatically unfinished -

A jacket by John Galliano for Maison Margiela is hand-trimmed with black lacquered toy cars. He really is a genius.

A dress by Gareth Pugh is hand-embroidered with clear plastic drinking straws around the neck. The see-through scrims and shadows created an ethereal setting.

It was hard to leave this show that really offers an escape from the reality of the street. But soon it was time to go. On the way out I passed empty halls of marble sculptures -

and the majestic Greek and Roman Gallery.

It really was a dream.

Blog bonus: Hear Andrew Bolton talking about the new exhibit in this video:

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Design on a Dime Benefit

The Elle Decor vignette, above, and Elle Decor Editor in Chief Michael Boodro with designer Robin Baron, left.

The other night TD and I walked up three blocks in Chelsea to the Metropolitan Pavilion to attend a wonderful annual event - the Design on a Dime Benefit where you can "design on a dime," thanks to the great deals to be had. The event was founded in 2004 by designer James Huniford to benefit Housing Works, an  organization in New York that provides services and housing to the homeless and those living with HIV/AIDS. Top designers create inspirational room vignettes, and at the VIP Opening Night Reception that we attended, guests can shop the vignettes for merchandise that is discounted up to 80 percent off retail prices with the proceeds going to support Housing Works.

Elle Decor magazine was one of the sponsors and Editor in Chief Michael Boodro was one of the co-chairs, along with Alessandra Branca, George Oliphant and Nicole Gibbons. This year, almost 1,300 attendees were on hand to shop vignettes created by 68 designers. The event is quite a scene as stylish guests rush to get first dibs on furniture and accessories in the chic vignettes. Guests jostle and rub shoulders good-naturedly to peruse the offerings. Bars located strategically throughout the immense space plus great music playing overhead add to the festive atmosphere. Triumphant shoppers carry their new purchases to the cashier and out the front door.

TD and I roamed the aisles and caught up with some friends. It's always a fun event with a well-dressed crowd and a lot to look at. This year, its twelfth year, the Design on a Dime Benefit raised $1.2 million for Housing Works. That's what I call style with substance.