Archive for October, 2010

Return of the hourglass look

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

First lady Michelle Obama, the “most powerful woman in the world,” according to Forbes magazine, is back on the campaign trail, stumping for

Designs by, from left, Louis Vuitton, Oscar de la Renta, Jason Wu and Prada

Democrats in next month’s midterm elections, trying to weave a little anti-Tea Party magic while demonstrating stylistic consistency.

In fashion terms, she’s firmly in the 1950s, hourglass, curve-celebrating camp – and she’s not the only one. This autumn, everyone including Michael Kors, Miuccia Prada, Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton, and Jason Wu, have revived Christian Dior’s postwar New Look for a new decade. It is, says Ikram Goldman of Ikram, the influential Chicago boutique, “a fashion moment”. The question is why or, more specifically, why now?

Juicy Scoop of the day

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

We Hear That…

My old friend Richard Johnson* signed off from his “beloved” Page Six gossip column in The New York Post today after 25 years.

He’s on his way to Los Angeles with his wife Sessa and their beautiful daughter, where he cryptically says he is doing something in digital media for the Rupert Murdoch media empire. Of course, me being a former gossip columnist, I got the scoop on what’s next. But being a former gossip columnist, I know that you keep the best info to yourself; that’s how you get your sources to trust you. Former Fleet Streeter Emily Smith is taking over Page Six, and Richard assures us she’ll be just as Six-y as he was. Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to his next act, which he’ll debut sooner than you imagine.

* I first met Richard at the White House Correspondents Dinner at the Washington Hilton back in 1989, when I was a Washington Post cub reporter covering the event and he was a big time New York gossip columnist schmoozing with the powers that were. When Washington Post reporter Lois Romano and I launched The Reliable Source gossip column in the paper’s Style section in January, 1992, Richard gave us a kindly good-luck nod in his column, and if I remember correctly, called me an “intrepid brunette” reporter.  I got a little miffed about the “brunette” bit–I liked to think of myself back then as a dark blond. Here’s the good-luck nod back, my intrepid blond reporter friend…


Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

I’m still reeling from the Valentine (to put it politely) that the New York Times gave Tod’s owner Diego Della Valle this week. Since when did foreign correspondents do such blatant puff profiles of fashion figures in the pages of the daily? I thought those were the domain of T, at least during the Stefano Tonchi era. This is the second love letter Della Valle has received in the mainstream media about how he is the only one in the luxury business who has maintained his integrity, particularly when it comes to manufacturing; The New Yorker also did a similar one-sided take-out a couple of years ago. I guess the glare of advertising dollars blinds self-professed objective news publications as much as it does glossy fashion magazines now.

While I was researching my book, Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster, it took me exactly

24 hours in Hong Kong to find a manufacturer in China who specialized in

Deluxe How Luxury Lost Its Luster, by Dana Thomas

producing luxury brand handbags and to tour the factories. When I walked onto the factory floor, I was stupefied by the number of major brands—two dozen or more, I’d say—that were being produced there. Most were Italian, though there were a couple of Brits too, and most claimed publicly that everything was produced in their homeland by artisans. I find suspect anyone who crows loudly that their products are made by hand in Italy or France or Britain—as do the U.K. courts, which condemned Louis Vuitton for promoting a false image of this in its advertising campaign last summer.

What I do know is that I found some pretty shabbily made Tod’s shoes in the company’s high-design outlet store outside of Palm Springs, Calif. Unevenly cut leather, raw edges that weren’t even dyed, mangled seams, as if the shoe got stuck in a sewing machine—these were shoes that, according to The New Yorker at least, should have never passed Della Valle’s crack team of inspectors. Yet they did, and were for sale for $75 to $85—a quarter of what is obviously their over-inflated full retail price.

If those shoes were honestly made by hand by Italian craftsmen, there is no reason to boast about Italian craftsmanship. More importantly, there’s zero integrity in selling the rejects, at any price.

A Woman’s Favorite Fetish

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

Already wildly in love with Christian Louboutin’s website, which looks like a modern version of the crafty animated interludes that Terry Gilliam used to do for Monty Python’s Flying Circus back in the 1970s, I’ve now discovered Louboutin’s web series, Le Carosse Noir, a Charlie’s Angels-meets-David Lynch * adventure about three secret agent girls driving around France in a gigantic black van, completing assignments ordered up by their mysterious boss, “Loubi”—played, natch, by Monsieur Louboutin. The series is directed by young French filmmaker Benoît Tételin, and it’s goofy, charming and a perfect way to waste time at work. My favorite so far is Episode 4—adore the girls running down the route nationale in their Louboutin stilettos. In Episode 6, the trio tears up the Cannes Film Festival, with cameos by French actress Arielle Dombasle and Burlesque star Dita von Teese. Put on your headphones and enjoy!

* I remember one day a few years ago running into Louboutin in front of the Fondation Cartier in Paris as he was hopping off his scooter, a giant Louboutin shoebox tucked under his arm. He was personally delivering a pair of boots that he made for his friend David Lynch’s art exhibit there, which I was writing about for Newsweek. They were towering and colorful and embodied the sexual fetishes of Lynch’s work. The show was awesome too.

The Epitomy of “Street Cred”

Monday, October 11th, 2010

Photo by Scott Schuman of The Sartorialist

Here’s legendary New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham’s delightful take on last week’s quickly-becoming-legendary Chanel show.

Paris à la Bill

Mad for everything Bill does–and for Bill, for that matter, holey sweaters and all.

Bye-Bye Karl?

Friday, October 8th, 2010

Rumors Abound at the House that Karl has Helmed since '83

Just as I wrote in Newsweek three weeks ago, the rumors that Karl Lagerfeld is soon retiring from Chanel and that Alber Elbaz will replace him are continuing to bounce around. Some predict it will be in 2012 —Lagerfeld’s 30th anniversary with the house. Sounds plausible—particularly if Lagerfeld and his boss, Chanel Global CEO Maureen Chiquet are indeed sparring, as I was told. In the meantime, editors and retailers are still gasping at the beauty of Lagerfeld’s Chanel Spring-Summer 2011 show earlier this week. “Perfection,” Neiman Marcus Fashion Director Ken Downing told me yesterday. “Just perfection.”

Watch here and see for yourself: Chanel RTW 2011 Spring/Summer

* How much do we love the score, which is a mix of Bjork, the Verve, and my favorite movie soundtrack composer John Barry. Hope they recorded it. I want it on my Ipod.


Thursday, October 7th, 2010

I’ve been hearing for weeks the rumor that designer Stefano Pilati was about to get axed

Yves Saint Laurent in London

from Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche. Now it’s been picked up by my friend Richard Johnson at Page Six:

The next fashion designer to get the ax could be Stefano Pilati, who replaced Tom Ford at Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche. “Paris has been flooded with rumors that Pilati’s position is under threat and that headhunters have been actively interviewing potential replacements,” Godfrey Deeny reports on Fashion Wire Daily…

“No surprise,” was the reaction when I ran the rumor past a fashion editor friend of mine last week. I agree. Besides not doing much for the house design or sales-wise, he is horribly unreliable. I had my own experience first hand when he stood me up for an interview for Newsweek back on a Sunday afternoon in June, 2007—after weeks of rescheduling it by his people and four days before my several-page-long story was due. I was told he didn’t show up was because he was too busy doing fittings. The real reason? He was attending parties at the Venice Biennale. After three more days of the press office promising me they would make the interview happen, he blew me off entirely. I begged the Gucci Group brass to produce Frida Giannini of Gucci as a replacement, and kindly and quickly they did. While I was writing the piece at record speed, a gigantic bouquet of roses arrived from Pilati with a note, not apologizing, mind you, but simply explaining he had missed our rendez-vous due to a “contretemps.” I wanted to send the flowers back, but was too busy writing to deal with it, much less get them in water. Once the piece was published, I sent Pilati a note saying I enjoyed seeing photos of him in Women’s Wear Daily at his “contretemps” and that it was too bad we’d never officially meet since I decided never to put myself in the position of getting stood up by him again. I have not written about Pilati or Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche since then. Until today.

Stephano Pilati

Back in the days when couture houses were small and family-owned and run, such

Hasegawa Kyoko wears Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, 2003

behavior was excused, even coddled—particularly at Yves Saint Laurent. The only other designer who didn’t show up for an interview with me in my 25 years of covering fashion was Yves Saint Laurent himself: he slipped out the back door of his office at 5, avenue Marceau rather than meet with me. What is it with that house??

But these days, luxury brands are run by executives who want to make money and doing things like alienating the mainstream press and making clothes that don’t sell aren’t seen as charming, eccentric or avant-garde anymore. Business is business.

Which makes the industry talk that Olivier Theyskens—who was sacked from both Rochas and Nina Ricci for producing complicated clothes that don’t sell—is a leading candidate for the Saint Laurent gig an extremely puzzling thought. Doesn’t YSL CEO Valerie Hermann have Google?

Or maybe Theyskens simply has The Gilroy.

* Hint magazine is now reporting that Pilati has just signed a new three-year contract at Saint Laurent, after Raf Simons, designer for Jil Sander, and Hedi Slimane, the ever eccentric Frenchman who once designed the Saint Laurent men’s wear line, turned down the job. That should give Hermann plenty of time to find just the right person to replace Pilati.

Au Revoir Hermès

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

Jean-Paul Gaultier said adieu to his designing gig at Hermès today with a sumptuous collection of smart Spanish gaucho-inspired of slim leather suits and soft jersey dresses that

Jean Paul Gaultier and Farida Khelfa

made editors and retailers alike wonder: how will his replacement, former Lacoste designer Christophe Lemaire ever measure up? “Jean-Paul Gaultier was one period of Hermès,” the company’s CEO Patrick Thomas told me after the show this rainy afternoon at the in the Halle Freyssinet, an old warehouse on the eastern edge of Paris. “And now we are entering a new period for the house with Lemaire. You’ll see.”

Perhaps he’s right. Each ready-to-wear appointment at Hermès in the last 15 years has made editors and retailers scratch their head in confusion. First their was eccentric deconstructionist Martin Margiela in 1997, who surprised us all by showing extremely demure lady-like clothes on older models, including actress and house muse Jane Birkin, in runway presentations in the company’s flagship store on the rue de fbg. Saint-Honoré. When Margiela left in 1999, then-company head and Hermès family member Jean-Louis Dumas, asked Gaultier, known as the Enfant Terrible of fashion*, to help find someone to design the ready-to-wear for the elegant 150-year-old French

leather goods house.

Christophe Lemaire for Lacoste

In the end, like Dick Cheney did as head of George Bush’s vice presidential search committee (also in 1999), Gaultier suggested could do the job himself, and unlike Cheney, he did it beautifully, taking his sharp suiting and sensual evening wear and combining it with the sumptuous materials available at Hermès—buttery suedes and leathers, light-as-air chiffons, the finest quality cashmere, silk and jersey. The collections were tasteful, affordable and extremely wearable, made for women over 40 who still wanted to look sexy and desirable in that conservative French way. “He gave me carte blanche,” Gaultier told me in 2004 about his boss at the time, Dumas. “The only thing he told me was, ‘Jean, I don’t want to see logos like we see everywhere else. Hermès is about discretion, refinement and subtlety.’” And at today’s show, he did that once again. As he did with his debut show for the house, Gaultier had a suite of eight cavaliers from the Calvacade Luraschi performing dressage under Saint-Louis crystal chandeliers (another Hermès group brand—synergy!) as the models—many of them Gaultier longtime favorites such as Erin O’Connor, Karolína Kurková and Angela Lindvall strode down the wood-chip covered runway with graceful authority in variations of the classic Gaultier couture suit and topped off with caballeros-style hats. Among the best: a skin-tight butterscotch suede jumpsuit and a brick red jersey smoking. For accessories, the Kelly made of woven willow and the tight chocolate flat-heeled boots stood out. And there were several waist-cinching corsets by Mr. Pearl. Gaultier closed the show with his former assistant and longtime muse, Farida Khelfa, dressed in a smart black tuxedo and white shirt, and dashed out to give her a long-stem red rose. A fitting farewell to a fine collaboration. * One of my favorite television programs in the 1990s was a U.K late night talk show called Eurotrash, hosted by hilarious French comedian Antoine de Caunes ** and fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier. Here’s a charming, gently blue clip of an interview they did with French First Lady Carla Bruni back when she was a top model. The program solidified Gaultier’s reputation as the

Hermès, Fall 2010

Enfant Terrible of fashion, and it’s believed to be the reason Bernard Arnault decided not to offer the Christian Dior couture job to Gaultier and gave it to John Galliano instead. Dior’s loss, Hermès’ gain. At least for a while…. Carla Bruni on Eurotrash ** If you ever have the chance to check out the best of de Caunes’s comedy sketches with French comedian José Garcia from their Canal Plus years, now aired on Canal Jimmy in France, do. They are the John Belushi-Bill Murray team of France. A choice moment:

Antoine Decaunes & José Garcia on Youtube

Karl & Inès Kiss & Make Up

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

More than two decades after Karl Lagerfeld banished his original Chanel muse Inès de la Fressange from the couture house for posing as the image of Marianne, the symbol of the republic of France—declaring, “I wish her all the luck in the world, just so long as I don’t have to see her any more or hear her spoken about”—he has welcomed her back into his court. This morning, Lagerfeld sent the 53-year-old French fashion model out on the runway of his Chanel 2010-2011 Spring-Summer women’s wear show at the Grand Palais in Paris in a modern reinterpretation of a 1937 Chanel black lace gown and embracing her warmly before the crowd of more than 2,800 as he took his bow. “She is beyond stunning,” Lagerfeld told Women’s Wear Daily before the show. “Also, she is the Parisienne.”

The show, set in a mammoth black and white jardin à la française with working fountains—which Lagerfeld said was inspired by Alain Resnais’ 1961 film Last Year in Marienbad —was a panopoly of ideas and eras run through Lagerfeld’s Chanel blender. For day, there were tweed suits with baby doll mini-dresses, micro shorts, A-line skirts and pencil skirts, in soft natural tones such as slate blue, dusty rose or goldenrod and occasionally flecked with sparkling crystals. For night, the dominate line was trapeze with an empire waist made of airy fabrics such as tulle and lace and decorated with feathers. (The trapeze, by the way, was invented by Lagerfeld’s archrival Yves Saint Laurent at Christian Dior in 1958). The overall look was light and feminine—except for the footwear, which was mostly wedge-heeled combat-like boots that gave a Bride of Frankenstein air to it all.

De la Fressange received an ovation when she stepped out onto the soft white pea-gravel runway and strolled through the gardens in her signature slouch to an orchestra playing The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony.” Besides walking in the show, de la Fressange will be featured, along with 1990s British model Stella Tennant and Danish newcomer Freja Beha Erichsen, in Chanel’s spring-summer advertising campaign, which Lagerfeld will shoot in the South of France. As de la Fressange smiled to the crowd, it was obvious she was pleased to be back at the house of Chanel.