There is no greater fantasy for a writer and reviewer than to be interviewed by a peer or at least to be asked the questions you want to answer. So rather than wait for that opportunity to arrive, it is now me interviewing me. Hopefully this will offer some insight into why I think the way I do and how my experience has influenced my opinions when it comes to fashion.
It is here that I would like to mention a few more people who have enlightened and heightened my senses when it comes to all things fashion. Firstly to Franck Ford of LOYD/FORD who opened my eyes to a fashion I never knew really existed and what it really takes to be a designer in today's marketplace as well as actually having a set of standards with which to conduct business. Secondly is Ralph Rucci who has been gracious enough to share some knowledge and increase my fashion education when it comes to the art and craft of fashion. Another notable personality that I have encountered is China Machado who has shown me that there are indeed living legends and that some of them wildly exceed one’s expectations of them
So rather than me go on and on and on as I have been known to do ….. Here goes……..
1-why do you think you are qualified to be a critic of fashion?
Having spent almost my entire adult life in and around the fashion business I feel more than adequately qualified to speak to the topic of fashion. As a quick resume, I started as a textile designer for menswear when all was done by hand, then began the ladies and men’s wholesale business on a small scale, then 7th avenue where I remained for years in charge of sales for some of the preeminent designers of the 80s, then onto the retail business. There I was given the opportunity to buy designer ready to wear (Montana, Valentino, Armani, Ungaro, Mugler and many more ) in Europe as well as in the US and spend time on the retail selling floor. The retail “era” included Elizabeth Arden when they operated 12 salons as well as retail stores for apparel and accessories in those locations. From there, it was onto Miriam Haskell where I was charged with merchandising and overseeing all design for the relaunch of Miriam Haskell in 1990. From there it was onto menswear again as design director for several heritage brands which were to be sold exclusively in China proceeding this gig, I spent 7 years as Design Director for TIMEX licensed clock products. It should be noted that for the most part, I was never trained to do any of it but my history and reputation speak for itself... I was indeed a quick study! My last incarnation was to write as one finds out that once you have reached a certain level and age, your positions are filled by four 25 year olds who cumulatively make less than your asking price. This has been an amazing experience sharing my experiences and speaking about a business I so adore and lived for many many years. It has opened doors and provided me with a voice and an audience that actually likes and is interested in what I have to say... most of the time. Not only is there writing but as a reviewer of 100s of fashion books, my education has increased not only by the books but by the so many people I have come to know and respect.
PS there ae other “occupations” that have been part of me but these are the highlights, the bottom line is that I speak from firsthand experience and not some fantasy of what I think the business entails. I speak the truth as I see it which usually ruffles a few feathers.
2-if you could invite any 5 people to dinner who would they be and why?
Diana Vreeland because she was so much a part of what made fashion great and what made the pages of magazines come alive. Maybe it is she who created this hunger for fashion within me even without knowing who she was at the time. To me, she is everything that is absent in today’s world of fashion. This was a woman filled with life, hyperbole, fantasy, knowledge, style, affectations and taste.
Nan Kempner… well she was the ultimate clothes horse, the most voracious of fashion addicts but she remained dedicated to her family and various charities. When I would see her at fashion events or on the street, the thought that always crossed my mind, well thoughts, she was always impeccably turned out and how did those bird legs support a woman who was larger than life especially when she was dancing. She loved a party and she was not some pretentious bitch who thought they walked on water ... she was a good time girl or gal as Mr. Blass would say. She loved to gossip I am told and we know she loved clothes!
Karl Lagerfeld … he always has an opinion and he is never short on conversation and most of all he is not shy. Wouldn’t I love to know really know what he thinks of so much and so many of his fellow designers, past and present. Karl also has an amazing cache of gossip and life experiences that few can hold a candle to.
Yves St Laurent because for some reason I have always had or felt this affinity towards him. I adored what he did and what he stood for at the time. I was a big Rive Gauche customer and I can say I was in his company a few times although never formally introduced but somehow I always felt a kinship of sorts. Yves was a design god with a circle of friends who were the chic-est of chic in my mind ... especially at the time. And then there was this ... I was stopped on the street many times being mistaken for him ... just saying!
Halston! I saw him on a regular basis as were both frequent habitués of Studio 54 albeit he was always a celebrity and I was just out having a good time and to dance with my friends. We had always said hello but never engaged further than that. Wouldn’t I love to reminisce about all those nights, all those hours or fun and well debauchery...? I’ll leave it at that. Well, maybe I’d like to tell him how smart he was and how ahead of his time he was when he inked with JCP.
3-can you speak to the changes in the fashion business from a retail standpoint as well as from a wholesale aspect?
During my history in fashion, I got to experience the glory days of retailing when specialty stores ruled the roost, the great doyennes of U.S. retail ( who I was lucky enough to meet them all) who included Martha Phillips, Hattie, Joanne Loevner, Sara Fredericks, Grace Jones ( from Texas not La Vie en Rose), and stores like Lou Lattimore, Amen Wardy, Giorgio, Ultimo, Nan Duskin, Bonwit Teller, Montaldo’s ( all of whom I worked with) and many many more. These giants of retail are all gone and now we are left literally with a handful of department stores who basically buy everything they can and think they are unique. In some instances these stores arrange “trunk show only” resources that do special orders but are never stocked. Then there is this matter of doing business on consignment that only benefits the retailer rather than the designer in the long run. IMHO, the future lies not within the States but abroad where there has been exponential growth when it comes to top shelf retail doors. In years gone by we actually had buyers who didn’t carry sell thru computer sheets, well now I pads, and actually knew their customers’ preferences if not knowing them personally; they possessed intimate knowledge of their day to day businesses. Fashion has become a business of numbers where it is all about negotiations and allowances and “what will you do for me this season?” rather than about design, creativity, discovering new talent and personal attention. To me, the specialty stores that remain still rule the roost when it comes to what’s new and there are still a few who lead the pack rather than follow the herd ... it is just too sad that there are so few true merchants and literally shopkeepers!
4-what advice would you give to those who wish to make the business of fashion their profession and why do you think your advice is valid?
FIRSTLY, I WANT TO SAY THAT MY ADVICE IS A MATTER OF OPINION ... MINE! My advice is steeped in having worked in all aspects of fashion from product development to retail to wholesale to selling to buying and from menswear to womenswear to fashion jewelry to home accessories to clocks! In other words, my advice comes from having made a living from being in fashion and having actually watched clothing go from sketch to production ... from piece goods to finished product to actually experiencing the product’s sale from a showroom as well as from a selling floor…. SO Now!!! I preach knowledge. Knowledge is power whether your future is in designing, the back end, photography or any fashion related area. Learn from the best… read, research, keep your eyes and mind open, and learn! Now more than ever you can delve into the past, learn of all the masters who made fashion a viable profession. You cannot be part of the future if you have no clue of what happened before you. Too many fashion professionals have a frame of reference that doesn’t span more than 5 years and in some cases 5 seasons ... go back in time, see who was great, discover, and make a mood board study it, revise it and know why any of it attracted you in the first place. Believe in your abilities and take criticism BUT ALWAYS consider the source!!!!
5-can you name 6 fashion personalities (designers, media, etc. ;) who have influenced or effected change within the business of fashion and why?
Richard Avedon was a pioneer of modern fashion photography. I believe he changed the way we look at fashion and models and spawned an amazing new crop of photographers that have also become pillars of that world. Think of it this way, Aberdeen, as DV once called him because she couldn’t remember his name, he had vision and the vision was fed with Mrs. Vreeland’s imagination and confidence in him. His magazine work is as valuable today as it was then, if not more so. He designed with a camera.
Christian Dior was one of the greatest designers of the 20th century. It is he whose brand lives on and is still revered as one of the most creative and innovative in his output. One might say he was part of the foundation on which today’s fashion has been built. His was fashion in its purest sense as it must never be forgotten that his rise to eternal and international fame came from the haute couture and not ready to wear. If you take it to the base level, he is the daddy from which spawned an amazing new generation of designers.
Polly Mellen: her contributions are vast and memorable. She is a woman of HUGE imagination and possesses immense talent when it comes to the printed page. Yes, another acolyte of DV but she is one of “hidden” bright lights that helped give fashion that Vreeland imprimatur as well as her own. One might say she was Vreeland’s Coddington ( so to speak) except Vreeland was much more hands on and much less concerned about the dollars and cents of it. Mellen was brilliant in delivering what is so sorely lacking in today’s world of fashion. Ever a free spirit ... a never ending explosion of possibilities and an unsung hero when most speak of fashion.
Yves St Laurent: he was the young man who was lucky enough to have had a Pierre Bergé to steer the ship that became a juggernaut of modern fashion. Yves’s creativity and Bergé’s business savvy were nothing short of a revelation. The fragile, or seemingly so, Yves who was prescient in his body of work no matter what his state of mind. He was a product of the 60s ,70s and 80s ... in that he was this tortured soul, yet this bad boy and yet this shy insecure designer who changed the world of fashion forever.
Diana Vreeland: it might be blasphemy, of a sort, to exclude her, but how could I? I think that her truest words were to “give them what they knew they wanted!” and that included her. She was an original in every way. Whether it was her version of the truth, her appearance, her bon mots or her vision for the future, she rocked the magazine world, she rocked the fusty stuffy museum world and even after her death she remained a “singular sensation” in both film and print. Her years at the Met were astounding and she literally opened the doors to the Met for so many new and fledgling designers by literally hosting the “party of the year” in NYC. For those us lucky enough to have been part of it…well, they can tell you …
Cristobal Balenciaga because maybe he was the precursor of minimalism and after having read more and more about him, he was designer, architect, businessman, gentleman and when he didn’t like the way fashion was moving he just simply collected his toys and moved on. He was the darling of so many of fashion’s elite and again one must recall this was all about haute couture. Imagine that he had 3000 employees producing couture as well as what he had to farm out. If you can wrap your head around that, then you can safely presume he was indeed the “master of us all!” He showed us the pure side of fashion, the most modern and seemingly simple was just a case of don’t judge a book by its cover as nothing was as simple as it looked.
PS.. if space would have allowed, I would add Coco, Gianni, AW (scary but I would have), Giorgio and more to the great “influencers” of fashion