Thursday, April 30, 2015

meet Fern Mallis .. author, fashion veteran, luminary

This is an unexpected and amazing surprise to have Fern Mallis as the subject of one of my Q & A sessions. If you are not aware of whom she is then you are only pretending to be a dyed in the wool “fashionphile.” Ms. Mallis has just had her first book (Fashion Lives) released by Rizzoli within the last 30 days. The book, which is an unadulterated joy to read and selling like crazy, is comprised of a curated selection of sit down interviews conducted by the author. Her interviewees are some of the most notable fashion, in its broadest sense, personalities of our generation.  Think Mellen, Kamali, Jacobs, Oscar, Karan, Ford, Cunningham ... To name a few …These sit downs were conducted as part of a series produced at the 92nd St Y in NYC over the past few years.

Fern & me

One tidbit about the hugely attended book signing at SFA on April 20th and that is: the book and author were afforded nothing short of megastar treatment when 18 windows were devoted first to the book, then the designers and then of course the raison d’etre for both .. Fern Mallis. It is not exactly a common occurrence to have one of the world’s most celebrated department stores, known for selling CLOTHES to devote its entire Fifth Avenue frontage to a book!

I am humbled and gratified that Ms. Mallis made the effort to do this “interview” during this extraordinarily busy time given her promotion schedule for the book. It just really shows me that there are people who still retain their grace and integrity even after being in this business for so long which is not always easy. This little interlude between us also should demonstrate to all that Fern Mallis gives as good as she gets. Her replies are written with great candor backed up with extensive knowledge and experience. If you need to google her, then just check out Wikipedia... that says it all!

So it is my pleasure to so offer a chat with the author of the moment! Fern Mallis….

1-After the runaway success of your first book, Fashion Lives, what’s on your agenda for a follow up? ideas??
It’s a little too early to be planning more books, but I do have some in mind, including a Volume II of Fashion Lives, since there are already  4 interviews-5 interviews that didn’t get into this book.  My next interview at 92Y is on June 3rd with Victoria Beckham,

2-While we are on the subject, I’m going to steal one of the questions you asked Bill Cunningham and that was “what was the best show you ever attended and why?”
There have been several very memorable ones; I loved the final show Bill Blass did when he announced his retirement.  It was in the morning during Hurricane Floyd.  The winds and rains were unbelievable, but his “Ladies” kept arriving with umbrellas blowing away, the tents were leaking everywhere….the drops of water dripping in the venue and over the runway were more dramatic with the lights hitting them…and it was a scary day….Bill paced backstage with his cigarette and said to me he was perfectly happy to cancel the show, the clothes had been made, models came, but he was worried about guests being out in this weather.  I said we were not letting him retire without this final show.  It went up late, but the music was all Gershwin, Lerner and Lowe, all very American, with red white and blue lit backdrop…The show was gorgeous and when he came out for his bow at the end- there wasn’t a dry eye in the house during an extended standing ovation.  I’ll never forget it.

3-Being a child of the garment center and having been so immersed in the popularizing of Seventh Avenue and its designers ... what do you think of the evaporation of what was 7th Avenue and why do you think it happened and lastly do you see it becoming extinct?
It had a lot to do with greed, in making the clothes as inexpensive as possible with a large markup….the unions in the garment center made it too expensive to produce in NYC, the real estate folks saw buildings in the district with full floors dedicated to manufacturing and sewing and knew they could get top dollar as office space and showrooms, and they helped push out the workers, and it all started to be made overseas in Asia, India, China, Vietnam etc…    It’s sad to not see it all happening in the district and some of that old-fashioned garment center energy is gone.  It’s not extinct however as there is a renewed commitment to making it in NY again, however it will never be what it once was.

4-Who would you say have been your mentors, idols or influences during your long and varied career within the world of fashion and why?
Stan Herman who was President of CFDA while I was ED, has been a great mentor, the many designers in my book have been my idols and have influenced me—Calvin, Ralph Donna, Michael, Tommy, Betsey

5-Do you believe that runway shows have lost their importance due to over coverage/exposure via the age of the internet or the pandering of  the media due to advertising  budgets and the whims of certain editors rather than real merit? ... Thoughts??
The runway shows have lost a lot of their exclusivity and WOW factor, as people are much more excited about things they can’t get into and see, than they are about something available to everyone.
But with the internet, the iphones, and other handhelds- every image is instantly available and several business have been spawned allowing people to pre-order from the runway before a store even places an order….It’s a new ball game now, and we all have to adjust to the power in the palm of our hands,

6-There are so many new and wildly talented designers who don’t get recognized by the media, the CFDA or the retail establishment. Don’t you think that there should be some way to cost effectively show off all of this “hidden” talent? Any ideas or suggestions?
I do think that in NYC, there are many programs and initiatives that DO identify and help new, up and coming untested talent.  Other int’l cities are trying very hard to copy these programs.  These programs assist in fashion show expenses, cash for their business and provide mentors, and get them in front of the media.

7-Have you ever wished to once again “hear the voices” of fashion critics like Bernadine Morris or Hebe Dorsey; meaning honest to goodness fashion reviews/reportage and not front rows and venue?
Well Hebe Dorsey was before my time, but I do remember the last years of Bernadine Morris.   I miss Amy Spindler’s voice, John Duka’s wit and observance of our industry and its players, and I miss Cathy Horyn’s take no prisoner’s coverage of the collections…

8-If you could invite any 5 people to dinner ... past of present ... who would they be and why?
This is very difficult…there are many people that I’d love to dine with, but this first dinner could maybe be with YSL, Coco Chanel, Elizabeth Taylor, Pres. Obama and Diana Vreeland. I think I could just sit back and listen all night without having to say a word… each of them are opinionated, smart, brilliantly clever and talented…and maybe a sixth- having Julia Childs there cooking the meal…

9-What are your thoughts on vintage apparel as well as all the referencing that has  been going on and the fact that  rarely if ever  credit is given to the originator of the “idea” that has been recycled?
I’m not a “vintage” shopper, however many designers are.  In essence nothing is brand new and not influenced by something that came before, but I’m not surprised by not giving credit to where the inspiration comes from…Frankly it would cause havoc in an industry to keep acknowledging this.  But with that said every so often a designer’s line sheet at show will explain where the ideas came from and if there was a specific look or person that they were influenced by.

10- Given your long history and breadth of knowledge of the fashion business, how do you feel about the heritage brands from our past being reinvented in ways that have no common thread with the original DNA?
We have yet to really see an American heritage brand re-invented successfully in this country.  Halston has tried several times.   Now Chris Benz is trying to do it at Bill Blass and hopefully that will succeed.  The recent appointment of Peter Copping at Oscar de laRenta might be the first time this is working.  He is channeling the spirit of Oscar and not deviating from the look of the house, yet putting his stamp on it.   I think it is imperative that there is some connection with the original design philosophy.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Fernando Bonastre & BONASTRE

When I first encountered BONASTRE, my first thoughts were that the overall tone of the collection evoked simplicity, modernity, minimalism and clean lines, almost a sort of Bauhaus. It’s very clear to me that the BONASTRE design philosophy is very much in tune with many of today’s fashion designers. The next thing that occurred to me is that Fernando Bonastre might be compared or spoken of this way; he is the Jil Sander (the real one) of leather goods, or maybe he is the Kris van Assche of leather accessories. Nonetheless, hopefully you get the point. It is all about clean, simple, almost architecturally well designed bags and small leather goods that will appeal to those who eschew logos and signatures and are much more focused and intent on owning/carrying original and thoroughly modern designs. The only common thread is that these clients insist on the highest of quality.

An extra added proponent of BONASTRE is its innate quality of the raw materials and its practices utilizing leathers which age in a way that increases the physical appeal of each piece. There is so much current talk about natural, environmentally friendly and sustainable and apparently Monsieur Bonastre has been way ahead of the curve in this respect as this has been part of his M.O. since the beginning.
Please have a read and meet the man with a plan... FERNANDO BONASTRE …in his own words

1-Do you have a reason that you have chosen this minimalist look for your collections? Inspirations?
Showing off is not my culture, all the opposite: I believe in the discretion of luxury. Minimalism gives power to the design and also to the natural leather, and it is all about construction too … I am also fascinated by vegetable tanned leather, its texture, its smell and its natural character that takes a natural patina over time. It is a living and noble material, like wood. I am also fascinated by architects such as Oscar Niemeyer and Tadao Ando and by industrial design. This makes me want to redesign the traditional construction of bags.... and all in an atmosphere of Alternative Rock!
2-all of your styles are quite functional and most of them are unisex...your philosophy? Reasoning?
Thank you for noticing that my bags are functional, because to me, the function is the ultimate purpose of a bag. A bag is an extension of your body and mind. That is why the choice of a bag is so personal; each one of us is a bit OCD about what he or she expects from a bag. Actually my bags are not really unisex simply because a man would never wear a bag that a woman would wear and a woman needs her bag to respect very particular feminine codes (function, inside organization, shape and space, hardware, color….)

3-will you ever vary material and let’s say use hair calf or some fur as a novelty? Leopard pattern? Enlarge your color palette? Why?
I am proud of our ethical charter in working with leather tanned with vegetable tannins. The leather industry is one of the most contaminating because of the chemicals and chromium which turns leather into plastic, and we don’t want to participate to this contamination or work with this dead material. For that reason, I don’t think I’ll ever work with fur or with leather that doesn’t come from a recycling process. In the past, I have designed lines using vulcanized cotton or 100% natural wool, and actually our linings are in 100% recycled cotton. In terms of colours, we work with black, Terra brown, Cement Grey as a base, but every season we introduce a new colour as chocolate brown for the Summer or Bloody Red for next Winter, etc…
4-what is your plan for the brand in terms of points of sale and product expansion?
BONASTRE is in a phase of development. Our worldwide doors are the best. As a reference: Barneys NY in US, Le Bon Marché, Le Printemps, and L'Éclaireur in Paris, Luisa Via Roma  in Italy,  Wako,  and United Arrows in Japan, Samsung and Hyundai in South Korea, Galeries Lafayette in Indonesia, The Conran Shop in UK,  or the corner  online .... In 2016 we plan to open a 2nd shop in Paris. We also plan openings in International capitals as NY, Seoul and Tokyo….

5-now, we ask a few things about you… how did you arrive at designing a leather collection?
I graduated at the University of Fashion in Madrid, Master of Marketing and Image applied to luxury. I started working in Paris at Lacroix Haute-Couture, then Montana, then in the Ready-to-Wear, simultaneously as a Stylist, Image Manager and Artistic Director. It originally  happened when I was looking  for THE Laptop Case to attend to an interview  with a Head Hunter in New-York!!! vain, and I said ...Why shouldn't I design my own??? …and this is howdiscovered my passion for the Leather work

6-can you say that there is a collection of prêt à porter that would be a parallel to what you do? Or if you could design leather for a collection other than yours …Who would that be and why?
I have a great admiration for the conceptual approach of some Japanese Designers as Yohji Yamamoto, Junya Watanabe, Issey Miyake or Rei Kawakubo… I admire the continual questioning, which makes the Fashion evolve and going forward, always….I’m so obsessed with the Hussein Chalayan’s  work and his technological and convertible approach…and yet so poetic, but also JW Anderson, Céline, Rick Owens, The Row, Delpozo… So many great talents!!And last but not least, Cristobal Balenciaga remains the most talented designer. With highest honors to Madeleine Vionnet.

7-do you have style or fashion mentors/icons and why them?
I learned a lot from Claude Montana and from his architectural approach of Fashion. This is also where I discovered my passion for leather.

8-If you could invite any 5 people to dinner at your home… who would you invite and why … anyone at all
Matthieu Ricard, a French a PhD degree in molecular genetics at the Pasteur Institute converted to a Buddhist Lama … Tadao Ando, a Japanese architect …Tom York and David Bowie … David Lynch … Such special personalities together would definitely be a magic moment!

9-why should people buy Bonastre? What is it that makes your product better or different from what is already in the marketplace?
The CONTEMPORANEOUS SIMPLICITY of the design versus the established codes, the ENVIRONMENT FRIENDLY ethic, the respect of the ARTS and HANDCRAFTS… In the other hand, there is a place for everyone….

10-if you did not have your collection what would you be doing as a profession and why?
An architect…I like working on the space and I like to consider the space that Man takes on this planet. Or a psychoanalyst, to understand how each one traumas and own history make people react in such or such way. I also like to listen to understand, not listen to answer ...

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Hidden treasures of NYC .. CJS Findings

There is a secret child within all of us and one of the things that seem to be a common thread amongst all kids, of any age, and that is we all love a treasure hunt. Then if you add the unexpected pleasure of being in the presence of one of the great unsung heroes of the fashion jewelry business ... well then …. This was an experience that needed to be recorded in words. The hours spent at CJS will interest those who have more than just a superficial interest in fashion. By this, I mean for those who have a great respect for fashion and design as well as those who possess a deep and abiding interest about the history of fashion including the pioneers who were the foundation of what it is today.
 From Wikipedia... With the advent of the Mod period (1960’s) came "Body Jewelry". Carl Schimel of Kim Craftsmen Jewelry was at the forefront of this style. The Boston Museum Of Fine Art recently displayed Carl Schimel's "Chastity Belt" created in 1969 in their "When High Fashion Inhaled The '60s—'Hippie Chic'

Carl Schimel and his brother Marty spearheaded, if not discovered or possibly invented, the contemporary or fashion jewelry customer. Rather than appeal to the burgeoning disposable income housewife, these guys broke ground for the future and possibly seeded an entire industry with their originality, creativity and vision. The brothers were responsible for such innovations as wrapped/caged in wire stones and body jewelry. They were indie creators who were prescient some 50 years ago and whose influence is still felt on an international basis.

So that being said, let’s fast forward to present times and we find Carl Schimel and his daughter Elyse literally buried in history with a business that defies any present day business model. Carl and his daughter have created a haven/goldmine for fledgling and seasoned designers where one can wallow in the history of what was and test their creative limits once you pass through their doors. Imaginations are de rigeur here and making dreams come true are all here by literally rolling up your sleeves and digging through a treasure trove of materials. You will find beads that will boggle the mind, chains, and stones of every conceivable size, shape and color, and finished jewelry and parts that span half a century. You might find “blanks” used for Judith Leiber minaudieres as well as the contents of those precious evening bags and yes they are bona fide “real.” You might find pearls of any size and color or seamless beads or those hand blown beads from Venice! This is visual overload!

Their business is structured as a “go to” destination in a way that allows for literal total immersion and exploration of materials. Imagine in this day and age being able to buy raw materials or even ready-made items that are sold by the pound. Please keep in mind that this is not a tourist or entertainment destination but literally a hidden treasure that is buried in a nondescript building on one of the many streets that were once part of the millinery/garment center of NYC. They cater to “the trade” as it is aptly named!

The father and daughter team have cultivated a devoted following of international designers, creative directors and historians who can surround themselves in a world that once as well as in a future of what might be. The Schimel’s are wildly knowledgeable and welcoming so not only do they grant you access into their inner sanctum but they will also share their philosophies and experiences. For me, it was a coming home of sorts, as it reminded me of my times at Miriam Haskell when I could just “get lost” in the inventory/history of times gone by.

Big thanks to CJS Findings, Carl and Elyse, for welcoming me into your amazing world….