“Say What?”

January 11th, 2011

Tomas Maier

While I was pleased to see a deserving profile of Bottega Veneta’s designer Tomas Maier in the New Yorker last week, I was surprised by the glaring omission of an investigative report on the company’s questionable manufacturing practices. In 2008, Italian reporters for Rai 3 discovered and filmed undocumented Chinese workers making Bottega Veneta bags in a slum-of-a-workshop in the leather manufacturing region of Prato outside of Florence. The workers were paid just a few dollars a day—versus the $25 an hour Italian union workers earn—to do the intricate weave that is Bottega Veneta’s signature and its pride. At the time, Bottega Veneta’s spokesman stated that the work had been farmed out by one of its subcontractors and that the company didn’t know about it.

But there’s the hitch. Bottega Veneta likes to brag—as it did in the New Yorker article— that its products are produced at its home factory in Vincenza, Italy, by loving and
coddled artisans. In reality, it subcontracts, as is the case with all Gucci Group brands.
I witnessed this first hand when I visited Gucci’s manufacturing seat in Prato back in
2004, a scene I describe in my book Deluxe: after touring the main factory, I was taken across the street to one of the group’s many subcontractors, and there, craftsmen were making handbags for Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen, Yves Saint Laurent and Gucci. I didn’t see Bottega Veneta that day. But Rai 3 did, on another day, in a filthy and illegal environment, and captured it on film. When Rai 3 broke the news, it landed on front pages around the world. The New Yorker, which prides itself on thorough reporting and extraordinary accuracy, should
have included this information in the piece. Without it, the story comes off as a puff job to suck up to advertisers—something we don’t normally expect from the New Yorker.
* A former highly-placed Bottega Veneta  employee, after reading this post, wrote to say that indeed the company uses subcontractors to produce its leather goods. “It’s really a pity the New Yorker article failed to mention it.”

A Troubled Fashion Icon

November 30th, 2010

In death as in life, fashion editor and muse Isabella Blow continues to fascinate. (In The Daily Beast, I reviewed) two new biographies of her unusual and exotic life.

Isabella Blow in 1999 courtesy of Bill Cunningham, The New York Times

British fashion editor Isabella Blow did everything in extremes. When she wanted to liven up a party, she’d flash her ample bosom. When she wanted to do a fantastic magazine shoot, she’d run up impressive expenses—she once submitted a £50,000 ($78,000) bill “for a very small ruin that really was a must,” a Condé Nast record. (She was not reimbursed). When she got married, to British socialite Detmar Blow, she wore a purple medieval gown, an elaborate maharajah-like necklace, and a gold crown headdress with lace filigree by a then-unknown millinery student named Philip Treacy.

Longer and stronger

November 26th, 2010

Cynthia Rowley in a December look, courtesy of Kirsten Luce for The New York Times

It has nothing to do with the economy anymore,” says Ed Burstell, managing director of Liberty of London, of the sudden rise of the long skirt. Long, lean and fitted, in fluid fabrics such as jersey and satin, the skirt is being celebrated everywhere from Michael Kors to Roberto Cavalli, Dolce & Gabbana, Erdem and Marc Jacobs. “Long skirts can be contemporary, they’re so right now, on a lot of different levels,” says Burstell.

Bag Wars

November 12th, 2010

Bernard Arnault seated at LVMH during Paris Fashion Week

LVMH’s Bernard Arnault has an insatiable appetite for luxury brands. Now the ‘wolf in cashmere’ is licking his chops over one of the last family-controlled companies in the business: Hermès. Will he win, and turn class to mass?

In the plush, cut-throat world of luxury fashion, French tycoon Bernard Arnault is known as the “wolf in cashmere.” That’s because he has guzzled down one high-end brand after another like so much Dom Pérignon champagne (which, by the way, he also happens to own). Louis Vuitton. Givenchy. Marc Jacobs. Fendi. All these and more are part of LVMH Moët Hennessy–Louis Vuitton, the French conglomerate that Arnault assembled on his way to becoming the seventh-richest man on the planet (net worth: $27.5 billion and counting). Now he’s poised to consume one of the last family-controlled brands in the business: Hermès, whose Kelly handbags and colorful silk scarves are required wear for the wealthy and those who aspire to be.

Return of the hourglass look

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

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…

Fluff

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

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”

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?

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.