The Magic Christian
December 3, 2009

So I’m sitting here this morning with a bit of delicious melancholy from Glee last night, which closed with a heartrending version of Smile (“though your heart is breaking…”) that seems to go hand in hand with the news that, for all intents and purposes, the House Of Christian Lacroix is over. Promised salvation to the bankrupt designer in the form of Ajman sheikh failed to materialize and so French Courts approved a plan to allow the owners, the Florida-based Falic Group of duty-free renown, to covert Lacroix to a licensing operation with only a skeletal 11 employees.

Lacroix made a heroic last stand at his ultimately final couture show in July with a somber but elegantly minimal (for him) collection pieced together with donated (mostly black) fabrics and the labor of volunteer workers – and provoked a lot of “why didn’t he do this before?” comments afterwards from fashion critics but I don’t think his heart was really in it. Lacroix was always a provocateur as well as a technician, starting with his audaciously outsize “pouf” dresses of the ’80s that made his name, and through the intervening years with an improbable arsenal of his own – a jumble of lush roses, polka-dots, improbable colors and mad prints. Somehow the forced juxtaposition of black and midnight blue couldn’t hold a candle to that.

No, it’s the previous couture for Spring 2009 (seen in the larger pictures), that confirms that Lacroix’s design derring-do was just as astonishing, even after roughly 25 years. It’s not that he couldn’t do minimal, in his way – I treasure a letter I received from Mr. Lacroix complimenting me after I styled an actress in one of his gowns, a black strapless, gilded with a jeweled brooch and oversize acid-green velvet bow. That was his idea of minimalism. Now, the postmortems have already started, suggesting an unwillingness to change with the times, an unhealthy reliance on couture profits, the lack of a blockbuster fragrance. All valid points, I’m sure, but I think Lacroix also suffered from  lack of a “story” in this hyper-media age – he didn’t run around with movie stars like Armani, he didn’t maintain a string of fancy homes like Valentino and he didn’t make himself over each season to play a runway role like Galliano. Without an illuminating narrative, it’s pretty hard to see those magical Lacroix colors in the dark.


Accessing Audrey
November 25, 2009

I’ve been on a ’60s kick lately (even though I’ve been absent from the blog for a bit) and now comes the news of an auction of clothes largely from that decade from the wardrobe of the incomparable Audrey Hepburn. The big numbers are from Givenchy, her lifelong designer and friend, like the silk cloqué dress above from his autumn-winter 1966 collection that’s a most distinctive shade of blue. Seriously, the woman could even make a pastel look sophisticated. And as the catalogue notes, she ordered the dress (no loaners for Miss Hepburn!) for her publicity tour for Two For The Road, one of my all-time favorite movies.

Of course the auction includes loads of little black dresses, her trademark, and the story behind it is pretty rich. In 1951, Audrey, then 21, met Tanja Starr-Busmann, the 15-year-old daughter of a Dutch diplomat, in London where their families were neighbors. It was the start of a life-long friendship, and periodically Audrey would load up a big box with her haute couture cast-offs and send them off to Tanja. It really was a different world – Busmann even gave one of the Givenchy gowns to the nanny! Now all these years later, Kerry Taylor Auctions in London has acquired “the collection” and it’s set to go under the hammer on December 8, with half of the proceeds going to Unicef and the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund. Experts expect the sale to net north of $150,000, but authenticated Audrey pieces rarely come on the market and, after last week’s Yves St. Laurent sale where his old pots and pans went for $22,000, I think it’s anybody’s guess. I mean it’s Audrey Hepburn!

And then there is her wedding dress – for the marriage that never was. While she was filming the star-making Roman Holiday in 1952 in Rome, she sought out out the Fontana Sisters – renowned in postwar Italy for their full-skirted romantic gowns – to create her wedding dress. But as she finished the movie she called off her engagement to an Englishman and implored the sisters to give the dress away,”to the most beautiful, poor Italian girl you can find – someone who couldn’t ever afford a dress like mine.” (An impoverished farm girl, Amabile Altobella, wore it, stayed happily married and said the dress brought her luck.) Could you die?

Speaking of weddings, Audrey Hepburn also wore a lot of Valentino in the ’60s, and from his legendary Spring 1968 all-white couture collection there is a lacy vanilla mini, a version of the dress that Jackie O chose for her Skorpios ceremony with Ari. Val-hollah!

Addie’s Ashes?
September 18, 2009


Brother, can you spare some diamante?  That might have been the refrain as Ralph Lauren showed his version of dust-bowl chic yesterday, complete with faded blue satin workshirts and factory jackets, thin little dresses right out of They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, and riffs on that legendary American piece of gothic iconography, the overall, in smooth renditions from satin to silver metallic.

225395And denim, a Ralph staple, was patched, torn, weathered and eventually shredded and distressed to a threadbare fare-thee-well and then completely overbeaded. My friend the New York Stylist wondered about the propriety of recycling one depression’s duds in the midst of another downturn.  I didn’t see that thought in any of the reviews I scanned – most gave Ralph the usual hurrah for his take on Americana (except in those seasons when he’s figuratively off to Ascot or Apthorp, of course). But I think it’s a valid point, especially when you compare it to the upoar that followed John Galliano in 2000 when he turned Les Clochards, the Parisian street-dwellers, into couture fodder. It might be just a talking point – I doubt we’ll see Lauren’s silvered overall gown or shredded beaded jeans outside the runway (and maybe it’s because I just read a profile of Christian Audijier, but I kind of have nightmares about how those jeans would be worn in real life in a “Real Housewives” world). In the end it brought me back to Addie Pray, the crafty con kid from Paper Moon, clad in her workaday overalls, ever trying to work the angles. But of course all she really wants is a little love.  Hey, maybe she could find a job on 7th Avenue.

Update: Somehow I missed Cathy Horyn’s salvo on her N.Y. Times blog.

Good ‘n Panty
September 16, 2009


I’m not at Fashion Week this season, but from the looks of things for next spring New York designers have got their creative wad in a panty. Whether tight-y and white-y, a step away from nude, or in blazing color, the high-waisted  granny-underwear shape is no longer just an unseen foundation. This panty stands alone, whether in Alexander Wang’s sheer-sided party version paired with a sparkly sweater, Derek Lam’s sophisticated off-the-shoulder Park Avenue playsuit or Marc Jacobs’ satin-paneled shorties,



layered over another emphatically high-waisted panty in sheer swiss. And he adds a matching bra layered over the shirt in his Rei Kawakubo-inspired collection – Good Things Comme To Those Who Wait? This may have all started back in July at Dior Haute Couture when John Galliano, inspired by photos of post-war models half-dressed in their cabine, sent out his models in just part of a look, a tailored “Bar” jacket here over a hand-made lacy-garter belt or a beaded lantern-shaped skirt there shown with an exquisite brassiere. But that was an arch concept for the Paris salon; here is New York we’re seeing the playful side of the panty raid.

September 15, 2009


Doesn’t that picture make your heart stop a little? Last week brought a real treat – I was invited to a premiere screening of Coco Before Chanel, the story of her life before she found her fame and fortune as a designer (the still, above, is from the end of the film). From the opening sequence at a orphanage where she and her sister are abandoned – and where the nuns’ severe black habits and starchy white wimples foreshadow Chanel’s own eventual aesthetic – through her years at a dance hall and later as the scheming but ultimately irreplaceable guest of her country-squire patron, director Anne Fontaine provides one gorgeous scene after another. And if that’s not enough for fashion fans, Coco’s Parisian triumph at the end of the film is staged with rare pieces from the Chanel conservatory.

0002791f10drBut the movie is much more than a fever dream – Audrey Tatou perfectly embodies Coco’s rebellious nature and particularly French prickly personality but charms you all the while. Introducing the film, Fontaine said she would “be a little sad” if the audience didn’t like the film. No chance of that when the movie opens later this month.

Don’t Mess With the Zoe-han
August 28, 2009


We can’t let the week go by without mentioning the second-season premiere of The Rachel Zoe Project, can we? In this episode, our heroine has to style all five of her top clients for one event, the Golden Globes of last January. Naughty-children assistants Brad and Taylor (formerly at odds but now besties, apparently) stage an insurrection by moving their desks down from the attic (er, “loft”). A lost Dior Haute Couture gown refuses to be found.  A shortage of dresses threatens – because of the recent economic unpleasantness, designers are not sending out things willy-nilly if there’s no guaranteed red-carpet payoff.  There might not be enough one-of-a-kind vintage baubles fit for all the ladies. Rachel’s hubby/biz partner pouts because Rachel won’t be able to have dinner until 10 p.m. at the earliest.  And somewhere, paint is drying.

I kid, I kid … and for fashion insiders, the cliffhanger of  whether  Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld will let Rachel detach the sleeve from a couture gown for Cameron Diaz to wear, possibly altering it forever, must qualify as some sort of drama (in the end Karl assents, Cameron glows, and Rachel gets a treasured mash note from the designer). But the problem, as in many so-called reality shows, is that once again the real dramatics are happening offstage.  She has five major clients, yet the show blithely frames her task as presenting one perfect dress to each of them – as though things were really that simple in Tinseltown. (which, by the way, my dictionary defines as “Hollywood or the superficially glamorous world it represents” – ha!)

As any stylist out here knows deep in their overworked bones, an actress (and often their publicist, spouse, best friend and/or kids) will need to see an array of gowns and usually has lots of dithering and second thoughts – and they often go back and forth right up until they get in the limo. There’s a cliffhanger for ya. Obviously Rachel’s big-name clients – Hathaway, Diaz, Moore, Mendes and Messing – weren’t gonna let the cameras in on their dress fittings, where everything is really hashed out. But there wasn’t even a hint of any worry about whether the actresses would embrace Rachel’s favorites. Not that the women didn’t end up looking great – I especially liked Eva Mendes who rocked in the once-MIA white Dior and bold jewels (always a Zoe hallmark.)


It made me wonder if Bravo filmed the prep scenes after the Globes, backtracking when everyone knew what choices the actresses made. Or maybe there was other equally riveting footage that revolved around discarded dresses.  Only your editing room knows for sure.