Thursday, April 28, 2011

McQueen for a (Momentous) Day?

At 7 pm New York time tonight I was vaulted into heights of giddy optimism, when Twitter lit up like a house afire over the alleged sighting of Alexander McQueen creative director Sarah Burton arriving at the Goring Hotel, where Catherine Middleton spends her last night as a commoner before emerging from Westminster Abbey tomorrow morning a princess ...

The rumors that McQueen might be the chosen label for Middleton's wedding dress bubbled up almost from the moment the engagement was announced in January. Quick denials were issued by the house, though I never quite believed it. There was no proof to the contrary, of course; as a devout fan of McQueen, I just wanted to believe that Middleton would choose a gown not only fit for a future queen, but which also emerged from the mind and hands of this most poetic man, whose painstaking passion elevated fashion to art season after season. If true, the choice adds yet another layer of romance to a story already imbued with massive doses of fairytale. (She's wearing his mother's ring; that's all anyone ever had to tell me.)

And so tonight I hope and wish anew. After the (still-unconfirmed) Burton photo (above) was released, accompanied by conjecture that Middleton not only had chosen McQueen, but indeed a vintage design from the house's archives, I e-raced to my forever-favorite McQueen collection: Fall 2008. A flawless melange of British colonialism, luscious embroideries from India, and lighter-than-air tulle and feather treatments, the collection was roundly agreed to be nothing less than a rhapsody. This exquisite presentation can be viewed on Style.com in its entirety here, but for now, feast on the three designs at right and below. Maybe it's no accident that this is also the collection which McQueen said at the time was partly inspired by Queen Victoria. The past meets the future? Until tomorrow morning, we can only hope ...

Friday, January 14, 2011

What To Expect When They're Expecting ...

Natalie Portman, Kate Hudson, Victoria Beckham, Selma Blair, Marion Cotillard: To change up a timeworn cliche, they must be putting something in the (bottled) water in Hollywood these days ...

Celebs seem to be on a baby high of late, but every time one of these announcements -- forgive the pun -- pops, here's where my mind goes: Congrats, but what about the red carpet? Admittedly it sounds flippant, but it's no minor thought. If A-list actresses are like the rest of us, surely a significant portion of daily mental thought is devoted to the challenge of looking stylish while a bump grows, and grows, and grows (and unlike the rest of us, they must do so with the eyes of the world quite literally upon them).

With the Golden Globes set for Sunday night, a cursory perusal of the Spring/Summer and Pre-Fall collections reveals that an abundance of chic options await the boldfaced name who, for reasons of enceinte, would rather not reveal just how convex she is by sporting a body-skimming goddess gown. And granted, there's a good chance we won't see Kate or Posh, but our titular Black Swan? Undoubtedly she's mulling her options. With that in mind, here's a quartet of choices to suit every taste:

Emilio Pucci Pre-Fall: The boho look, with its flow and volume, is often a popular choice among the Hollywood set when preggers, thus making this an ideal dress from Emilio Pucci's Pre-Fall collection. It also doesn't hurt that Peter Dundas was channeling the theme that's overtaken fashion for 2011: the '70s. "Charlotte Rampling meets Stevie Nicks" was how Dundas described the collection that debuted earlier this week -- a highly romantic notion, yes?

Lanvin Spring/Summer: Alber Elbaz is the darling of the fashion industry, crafting dresses that are forward and luxurious and always respectful of a woman's body (that may sound like an obvious prerequisite, but you'd be surprised). This caftan-like wonder from his Spring/Summer collection for Lanvin is both highly chic and looks highly comfortable. Add a touch of fab jewelry and heartstopping shoes ...






Valentino Pre-Fall: To play up a pregnancy in a most poetic fashion, you can't beat an empire waist. For their Pre-Fall collection, Valentino's Pier Paolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri worked a modified empire on a variety of evening dresses, part of a collection that also evoked a decided '70s vibe. This organza and lace dress is perhaps a little serious for the more fun-loving Globes, but might we see it come Oscar Night?




Marchesa Spring/Summer: I'm both delighted and dazzled by the dichotomy of this ornate jeweled neckline above -- wait for it -- a distressed-chiffon trapeze minidress! Few reinvent eveningwear like the Marchesa duo of Keren Craig and Georgina Chapman (Mrs. Harvey Weinstein gave birth to a baby girl mere weeks before the debut of this collection, btw); we're sure to see their now red carpet-requisite label represented Sunday night, and likely more than once. I'll be endlessly tickled if this is among the winning choices. 
Of course, this is all conjecture; despite weeks of preparation among fashion houses, there's no guarantee of a "get" until a starlet steps out of the limo. And you never know how much a stylist will influence the final choice: Just ask Rachel Zoe -- if she doesn't go into labor first, that is ...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Skinny on Maura Kelly's Bias ...

I was outraged reading Maura Kelly's incendiary post on MarieClaire.com, for a variety of reasons. It's doubtful this will ever find its way to her eyes; let's just say that writing it makes me feel better. So ...

Dear Ms. Kelly:

As a journalist I embrace the right of free speech as one of the most sacred tenets of our democracy. Having said that: Man, are you full of it. And I mean that not only as a journalist, but very much also as a fashion editor.

Your words betray the sisterhood in so many ways, and quite frankly I am shocked that Marie Claire saw fit to publish your ignorant blather. I can only surmise that someone at MC rubbed their hands together gleefully while reading it, envisioning the controversy that would ensue, and the resulting increased traffic to their site. Your obvious bias toward a considerable sector of American women only benefited your employers in the long run, making them equally culpable. And I respect Marie Claire, so that's really a shame.

So allow me to unleash a little of my own bias: The fashion press is filled with far too many stick-thin, mean-spirited, above-it-all editors who not only view women of larger sizes to be inferior, but also have absolutely no problem saying such objectionable things out loud -- and then pondering with wide-eyed wonder why they've caused such a fuss. After all, you're just pointing out what you believe to be a standard of beauty to which we should all aspire, right? Well, wrong. Very, very wrong, and you should be ashamed.

Marilyn Monroe fought her weight issues her entire life. At her heaviest, a size 14 by today's standards, would you have looked upon her with derision if she had the unmitigated gall of crossing your sanctimonious field of vision? The most celebrated sex symbol of the 20th century wasn't "aesthetically pleasing" to you? Or in a museum, do you view with disdain the paintings of Peter Paul Rubens, Sandro Botticelli or Pierre-Auguste Renoir? After all, it doesn't look like Venus has been to bikram yoga anytime recently, while Renoir's nude bathers probably should cut out the carbs. Meanwhile, I'm pretty sure any one of those immensely gifted men, who saw beauty all around them, might look at you and think, Um, no. Because you are not the standard of beauty celebrated during their respective times.

Of course, this isn't the 15th, 16th or 19th century. It's the 21st century, which only makes your words all the more hateful. Even if it's difficult to imagine how tough it was to be a woman then, doesn't so much of our current conversation center around how difficult it is to be a woman right now? I seriously question almost every day the unfortunate notion of whether feminism still really exists, and while you are a fine example of being part of the problem, it's doubtful you will ever be part of the solution.

By simply putting out an annual "Shape Issue," so many fashion magazines only give lip service to the larger-size women who according to statistics comprise the majority of the U.S. female population; how ironic, then, that Marie Claire goes one step further with a regular column by the lovely Ashley Falcon, whose "Big Girl in a Skinny World" is rooted precisely in the notion that women of all shapes and sizes should be celebrated. Personally I hope one morning she spikes your coffee with whatever Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson slipped into Bradley Cooper's drink in Wedding Crashers. Because ultimately I find you objectionable, Ms. Kelly, not primarily because your boney self assaults my sensibilities of what it means to be a good and well-raised person; rather, it's because you have a voice at a major fashion magazine, and you have squandered it with your ignorance.

Finally, in the interest of full disclosure: Am I a size 0? No, I'm not. I have starved myself in recent years to get to a 4-6, but genetics demand that I starve myself, and I'm just not willing to do that (yes, genetics, not laziness or an inability to overcome a temptation similar to alcohol or drugs, one of your most egregious suppositions). So sure, I'm also one of the women you insulted -- trust me, my feelings weren't hurt by you, because I saw your words for exactly what they were: just plain ugly.

Of course there's the saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder; combined with the right of free speech, I can't argue your ability to do what you did. But there's that other saying that beauty is only skin deep; and right now, Ms. Kelly, you have proven your heart and soul to be wholly unattractive.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Mad for these Glee-ful, Modern Emmy choices ...

A little more than 24 hours until the Emmy awards, and while most of the conversation around LA is rooted in trophy talk -- Mad Men or Dexter? Glee or Modern Family? -- some of us are already dreaming about dresses. With that in mind, here are three picks from three hot Resort collections, a trio that just might saunter down the red carpet tomorrow night:

Marchesa: I dug the tribal-meets-Grecian vibe of the gowns seen in Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig's latest Marchesa collection, and this white chiffon gown seems perfect for, say, January Jones with its elegant flow and touch of sparkle. My prediction for the number of Marchesa gowns we'll see tomorrow night? Three.

Oscar de la Renta: It promises to be a big night for Glee, and possibly an equally nice night for Oscar, given that Lea Michele is a de la Renta devotee. Oscar's evening looks for Resort were especially varied, from a slim cap-sleeve illusion gown to voluminous ballgowns, including a luscious number in emerald silk faille. Michele looks fab in everything, but I'm going out on a limb and choosing for her this little claret chiffon dress with the sculpted skirt. Youthful, pretty and chic -- and as the Emmys are always just a tad less stuffy than the Oscars, short may be the way to go.

Monique Lhuillier: Another red-carpet favorite, the LA-based Lhuillier excels at combining romance with modernity. In her Fall collection she did a strapless crimson-satin gown with roses cascading down the A-line skirt, and it must have been a hot seller, because she's reinterpreted the idea in Resort, including this style in brilliant blue. While I love hearing Modern Family's Sofia Vergara say "Carolina Herrera" (no one in Hollywood rolls their r's better), I think she'd look fantastic in this.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Dancing Queen ...

Headed to Paris for the haute-couture shows last month, and even though packing was a leisurely, non-rushed affair prior to an 11:30 pm flight, it wasn't until I was happily ensconced in the Air France lounge that I realized with annoyance: I hadn't packed a single pair of flat shoes. Three- and four-inch Louboutins, Diors and Manolos all found their way into my carry-on (I don't check the important girls, they've been pilfered from my bags in the past), but not one single pair of comfy footwear. What a rookie mistake.

By the third day the situation needed to be rectified; Paris is a walking city, and cabs are maddeningly scarce. So I turned my oversight into a history lesson, venturing out to Repetto at 22 rue de la Paix, near the Opera Garnier. In 1947 the Milan-born Madame Rose Repetto crafted in a tiny Paris workshop her first pair of ballet shoes for her son, the dancer and choreographer Roland Petit, and thus her business was born. She opened the rue de la Paix shop in 1959, and in the years since everyone from Nureyev to Baryshnikov has trekked to Repetto for ballet shoes (here's a fab video showing the making of the shoes, which in 1967 moved to a factory in the Dordogne, or Perigord section, of southwest France).

But it was three years before the rue de la Paix shop opened that Repetto cemented its status as a fashion must-have. In 1956 Brigitte Bardot, who'd studied ballet before modeling and acting beckoned, asked Madame Repetto to make her some ballet flats, which she wore in the film that vaulted her to international stardom, 1956's And God Created Woman. As a tribute to Bardot, Repetto christened the resulting design the BB, which continues as its style name.

The rue de la Paix shop has changed little since 1959, with ceiling-high wood shelves packed with pink satin ballet shoes, though jazz shoes, ready-to-wear shoes, bags, dancewear and ready-to-wear now jockey for equal attention. Indeed, on a low circular table you see immediately upon entering, the BBs fan out before you, a feast of colors, fabrications and details (leathers and velvets, metallics, stitching, etc). If you plan a similar pilgrimage, keep in mind that if you go during the summer months, you might be lucky enough to score a sale ("soldes"), but the store will also be a bit steamy; not unlike many historic buildings in Paris, it isn't air-conditioned. If you can't make the trek, fear not: Stockists around the globe carry Repetto, including Saks and Bergdorf in the U.S.

I bought the simplest black pair and have since worn them like mad on the streets of New York. I've been pretty impressed by their stamina; though seemingly delicate, they're actually quite bulletproof. I also enjoy the irony: Sky-high stilettos are what we envision as the shoe that symbolizes sex, and yet it's a chicly minimal flat, born out of a dancing shoe, that gets its name from the woman for whom the term "sex kitten" was born.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

At Chanel, the Lion Roars ...

An iceberg, a carousel bedecked with pearls and camelias on steroids, a lusty barnyard - if there's one element on which you may always rely with Chanel, it's that the house never skimps on the settings for its shows. So when we walked into the Grand Palais this past Tuesday evening, 6 July, for Chanel's Fall/Winter haute-couture presentation, it's likely most of us were equal parts awestruck and yet not too surprised by what greeted us on the circular stage: a giant golden lion. Questions of Leo's symbolism immediately kicked in: Karl as king of the jungle? Beauty and the beast? The answer is actually both simple and quite romantic; here are five factoids to give you a little more insight into the how and why of Leo:

-- He was an oversized replica of a bronze statue that resides in Coco Chanel's famed apartment atop her iconic atelier at 31 Rue Cambon.
-- Leo stood at 12 meters high and 20 meters long (that's roughly 39.25 feet high and 65.6 feet long for us metrically challenged Americans), and he weighed almost 8 tons.
-- He arrived at the Grand Palais a week before the show in 60 pieces.
-- Coco Chanel was born on 19 August, under the fire and sun sign of Leo, hence her fascination with the animal as a symbol.
-- Leo rested his left paw on a giant pearl (a convenient device from which the models made their entrance and exit), but I'll also pose the theory that this served as an allusion to Chinese foo dogs or lions, renowned symbols of power, bravery and protection (here's the Wikipedia entry on foo dogs, also known as guardian lions). Collecting Chinese art was one of Chanel's many passions, which Lagerfeld explored in greater detail in last December's debut of the Paris-Shanghai collection; his accompanying film, Paris-Shanghai: A Fantasy, can be viewed here on Chanel's dedicated website.

Of course, knowing a little more about Leo's origins doesn't take away from the artistry of the haute couture that emerged from the pearl beneath his paw: the reproportioned suits with their short jackets and mid-calf A-line skirts; the delicacy of dresses in navy lace or golden tulle; or the lush floral embroideries and lattice-work beading. If anything, such beauty only made this beast all the more memorable.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Dresses to Remember (Really) ...

Recently a UK poll listed "The Top-Ten Iconic Dresses of the Past 50 Years." It was a trifle, really, an innocuous survey generated by the online fashion retailer Offers Supermarket, meant as pure escapist fun, with the results decidedly British: Geri Halliwell's Union Jack dress, worn to the 1997 Brit Awards, topped the vote with 82 percent, which should in itself prove that this list of "iconic dresses" was never meant to be a global representation. (Besides, how can you take seriously any poll that lists Bjork's swan dress as "iconic"?)

But here's the thing: Others picked up the poll and ran with it. Daily Telegraph Fashion Director Hilary Alexander posted it, instantly lending credibility to the survey. Fashionista.com found this a little objectionable and chose to publish its own list of iconic dresses. But Fashionista.com went for a combo of dresses and iconic women, diluting the true spirit of the original question: What would you choose as the top-10 iconic dresses of the past 50 years?

Such a list is always going to be a little subjective, so with that in mind, here's what I would choose, with the caveat that in a couple of cases I expanded beyond 50 years -- but as you'll see below, I'm not the first to do this ...

10. Marilyn Monroe's white halter dress in The Seven Year Itch: I had to laugh when this dress made the original list, if only because Seven Year Itch is a 1955 film, putting it out of 50-year contention. But I would still include it, because a) It truly is an iconic dress, with designers such as Michael Kors noting that they continue to reinterpret it, and b) it allows me to include a couple of others that fall outside the scope of the past five decades of fashion. To wit:

9. Grace Kelly's dress in Rear Window: The black and white gown she wears in her entrance scene in Hitchcock's 1954 film was designed by Edith Head, a collaboration that helped cement Kelly's status as a fashion icon. You still see elements of this dress walking down runways -- Oscar de la Renta and Monique Lhuillier are two designers who spring to mind.

8. Elizabeth Taylor's Place in the Sun gown: This 1951 film established Taylor as an adult actress, and her entrance gown (also designed by Head) was an instant sensation with its strapless, floral-bedecked bodice and tulle skirt. If you went to a prom in the first half of the 1950s, chances are you wore a copy of this dress. And PS, how many tulle-skirted princess gowns did we see at the most recent Costume Institute Gala?

7. Jean Harlow's Dinner at Eight goddess gowns: Designed by Adrian, Jean Harlow's bias-cut gowns in 1933's Dinner at Eight established her role as the decade's ultimate sex symbol. Bias-cut charmeuse gowns, meanwhile, continue their dominance as the ultimate in red-carpet glam.

6. Halle Berry's Oscar moment: When Fashionista.com reinterpreted the poll, they chose Gwyneth Paltrow's pink Ralph Lauren, worn in 1999 when she won for Shakespeare in Love. That's a lovely dress, but I remember thinking at the time that it seemed a bit ill-fitting in the bodice, and a return to those photos does little to change that opinion. Instead, I'm going for the Elie Saab gown Halle Berry wore in 2002 when she won for Monster's Ball. With its richly embroidered illusion bodice and spectacular fit, I find this dress to be more memorable -- aided by Berry's historic win -- while it also established Saab as a designer of note.

5. Elizabeth Hurley and Jennifer Lopez (tie): I'm listing these two memorable looks as a tie because I think neither outshines the other as the dominant red-carpet moment. Hurley became an instant celebrity in 1994 because of the Versace safety-pin dress she wore to then-boyfriend Hugh Grant's Four Weddings and a Funeral premiere; six years later, Lopez likewise made worldwide headlines for the Versace gown she wore to the 2000 Grammys, a green palm-print chiffon that made low-cut a classic understatement.

4. YSL's Mondrian dresses: This and #2 were the duo I couldn't believe made no one's list. When Yves Saint Laurent launched his Mondrian collection in 1965, he became a global sensation for his shift dresses based on Piet Mondrian's graphic paintings of the '20s-'40s. It was the first collection in which Saint Laurent employed an overt artistic reference, and alongside fellow designers such as Pierre Cardin, Saint Laurent launched the decade's Mod movement in fashion.

3. Diana's wedding dress: A tiny ache in my heart arose when researching the ideal photo for this dress. I was one of millions of American girls who planted herself in front of a TV at 4 am to watch start-to-finish coverage of this wedding on 29 July 1981, and Diana's gown, designed by instantly famous British couturiers Elizabeth and David Emanuel, quickly became the world's most coveted wedding dress. I also think the silk-taffeta gown, with its enormous sleeves and profusion of ruffles, perfectly captures the mood of the '80s: I can't think of another 20th-century wedding that matched the pomp and circumstance of Charles and Diana, and the more-is-more design of her gown was an early sign of that decade's fashion excess.

2. Diane von Furstenberg's wrap dress: You talk about iconic dresses and don't include DVF's wrap?!? The designer made Newsweek's cover in March 1976 because she quite simply revolutionized fashion with her jersey dresses, which allowed women to feel sexy and confident in the workplace. It was an iconic moment for both fashion and feminism, and the wrap dress continues its popularity as a must-have to this day. In 2006, Mattel released a collectible Barbie wearing a pink DVF wrap. 'Nuff said.

1. Audrey Hepburn's Breakfast at Tiffany's dress: Without a doubt, fashion's biggest heavy-sigh moment. By the time Breakfast at Tiffany's premiered in 1961, the collaboration and deep friendship between Hepburn and Hubert de Givenchy was known worldwide, so when she saunters down a dawn-lit Fifth Avenue in the opening shot of the film, your mind steps outside the story for a brief second to marvel at the perfection of Givenchy's black column gown with the graphic back, accessorized so sublimely with gloves and pearls.

Selecting a list of iconic dresses likely will always be a little polarizing (I don't, for example, list any dresses worn by Jacqueline Kennedy, such as the Oleg Cassini shift she wore on Easter Sunday 1963 or the Givenchy gown she wore during the famed Paris trip she took with JFK in 1961). But it's obvious that when it comes to Hepburn and Givenchy, on this we can all agree.