09 November 2010

'The Fashion Show' Swaggers into Second Season

Seattle Times

Were it not for "The Fashion Show: The Ultimate Collection," whose second season begins Tuesday on Bravo, our universal impression of the Somali-American supermodel Iman, an entrepreneur who is fluent in five languages, would surely have remained positive. Iman is 55 and looks 37. She designs handbags, jewelry and other accessories for a line called Iman Global Chic, which translates the looks of her African heritage for a Home Shopping Network audience that might not otherwise be exposed to such adventuresome style. Additionally she does charity work for organizations like Raising Hope for Congo, and she is Mrs. David Bowie.

But on "The Fashion Show," where she now appears as judge in chief alongside co-host Isaac Mizrahi, she has permitted herself to be turned into a reality she-wolf: a denigrator of paltry ambition, an angry and insistent muse. The new season of "The Fashion Show," Bravo's response to its loss of "Project Runway" to Lifetime, has a new format, no less lifeless than the previous one. In this re-imagining the ethos is inexplicably communitarian, as 12 contestants are divided into two design "houses" and each house must work every week to produce a collection that is unveiled in a fashion show.

Judges criticize the teams for lack of cohesion, but cohesion is hardly the point, and crimes of synergy are not dramatic enough to animate something like this. The prize ($125,000 and editorial coverage in Harper's Bazaar, now almost entirely inconsequential) is not dealt out evenly among members of the winning house but rather is given to the last candidate standing. So it is in the best interest of everyone competing to produce work that is distinctive instead of subservient to some collective vision. Each week a contestant is sent home with the limp, Iman-delivered directive, "You're out of fashion."

In the initial episode little looks terribly original to the judges, although it is difficult to know how anything could in what now feels like the 129th take on competitive fashion television. The problem isn't with the lack of originality in the clothes but in the lack of anything fresh about the contestants themselves. In some distant otherworld, bizarre scientists are cloning people who say, "When I was 7, I just knew I wanted to be a fashion designer." (These words are spoken by someone called Jeffrey about six seconds into the "The Fashion Show.") Television has brought us a ceaseless supply of men and women between 22 and 45 who labor to seem eccentric and who express precisely that feeling.

"The Fashion Show" gathers every cliché of fashion-television contestant: the nice person with the sad story, the self-important dispenser of Diana Vreeland-esque nonsense, the mean guy/girl and so on. In addition to Iman, who gets peeved when designs don't adequately reflect her Iman-ness, there is a Bazaar editor, Laura Brown, who also serves as judge and believes she is really bringing the butcher's knife down when she tells a contestant that a certain design looks as if it came from Strawberry. Here the wounds don't need stitches.

03 November 2010

Angels in Stripper Heels

NY Times

This is how an angel earns her wings. First, she is born, in someplace like Belarus or Florianópolis, the spot in southern Brazil where an awful lot of folks with German names fetched up over the centuries, or, well, Saskatchewan.

Then the angel grows up pretty. (There are no homely angels.)

Next, the angel is discovered, most likely in a mall.

The angel, at this point, does not realize she is an angel, because the process of becoming an angel requires time and guidance and support and miracles and, O.K., occasionally a sleazy boyfriend, as well as a decision at some point by Steven Meisel, or by some other star-making fashion photographer to choose a woman from among the thousands who would gladly sign away their firstborn for a chance to appear in front of his lens.

Although it is doubtless the dream of untold numbers of hopefuls to be discovered at a Victoria’s Secret open call some day — their beauty so radiant that they rise above the ranks of ordinary flesh-and-blood humans and appear as dazzling supernovas in underwear and stripper heels — the truth is that those destined to be cast in the coveted role of a Victoria’s Secret angel are not drawn from the general population. There is no democracy in angel land.

“We cast 30 models, but 10 times that many are sent to us by the agencies to be considered,” Edward Razek, the chief marketing officer for the Limited Brand, the parent company of the lingerie powerhouse, said last week before a casting session for this year’s Victoria’s Secret show, which will be televised on Nov. 30 to 11 million people in 185 countries, but will be taped before a more modest crowd in New York on Nov. 11.

“And 100 times that many would want to,” Mr. Razek said. “That’s why I hate castings, because I’m basically a softy and I hate the broken hearts and I hate saying no.”

As it happens, “no” is seldom heard at a Victoria’s Secret casting, at least not within earshot of the hopefuls. What the aspirants instead hear, during the roughly 120 seconds each is given to present herself to a specially selected panel, are phrases polite and generic enough to be anodyne.

They hear, “Lovely.” They hear, “Thank you for coming.” They hear, “Do it again, please, with a little more energy.”

The people who spoke these words one chilly fall morning, on the 12th floor of an office building in Midtown, under lighting that flattered no one, included Mr. Razek and Monica Mitro, the executive producer of the Victoria’s Secret fashion show; Alexander Werz, a fashion show director; John Pfeiffer, a casting director; and Sophia Neophitou-Apostolou and Dan May, two London-based editors (Harper’s Bazaar and the luxury quarterly 10 Magazine) who somehow eke out time in between intercontinental jet crossings to serve as highly paid stylists for global brands.

There were other professionals in the room — production people and a photographer and a small group of assistants who stood beside a wall of model headshots. But the crucial people, the ones deciding the fate of the angels, sat at a folding table about 10 long strides away from a makeshift privacy screen created from a rack of Victoria’s Secret panties and bras.

Behind that screen, for close to three hours, some of the most beautiful beings on the planet, one after another, stripped out of their street wear and underclothes and changed into a generic audition outfit consisting of a satin finish bra, a pair of lace bikini panties and champagne-colored platform heels.

Exiting the makeshift dressing area, these women then walked toward the table casually, or as casually as a nearly naked person can under the circumstances, and shook hands with the Victoria’s Secret crew.

“What people don’t realize is that they’re rarer by far than superstar athletes,” Mr. Razek said of women who fit precise but unwritten physical parameters for becoming a Victoria’s Secret angel. “The numbers of people who can do this are probably under 100 in the world,” Mr. Razek said. “And in the show it’s only 30 girls.” (Actually, there are 33 this year.)

Anyway, people do realize. And, as with most disagreeable facts, they block that one out.

This is worth noting because the fantasy (by merely laying out $53 for a Miraculous Multi-way Gel-Curve Bra one will somehow be transformed into a winged creature resembling Gisele Bündchen or Heidi Klum or Helena Christensen or Adriana Lima or Irina Shayk) is so powerful that the Limited, Victoria Secret’s parent company, posted a 12 percent increase in comparable sales in September over the same period a year ago.

That growth, industry analysts said, was led by the Victoria’s Secret division, which itself posted a 13 percent year-over-year increase. What is more, the company’s October results, to be posted today, are expected to be stronger still. Call it the uplifting Gel-Curve effect.

Nobody that morning was thinking about any of that. The focus of those behind the table was on Carolyn Winberg, a tomboyish Swedish model with a board-flat belly and limited décolletage and well-toned buttocks and blond hair that, like that of so many successful models, had been frazzled by styling until it was the texture of wood shavings.

“Never mind the hair,” Ms. Mitro said after Ms. Winberg had changed, walked, smiled, laughed, turned, laughed and changed again, packing up her T.G.I. Friday’s tote bag and blowing the panel a kiss as she made her way out of the room.

“Carolyn always takes it away on the runway,” said Mr. Werz, the show producer.

“She’s a baby doll,” Ms. Mitro said.

“The body’s amazing,” said Mr. Pfeiffer, the casting director. “She’s got this amazing, 1970s, Sharon Tate-y thing.”

“So much energy,” Ms. Mitro added.

“And energy, grace, poise is what it’s all about,” said Mr. Razek, who added, “You’ve got 16 or 18 cameras on you and the show is broadcast around the world, so you have to bring something special and unique.”

“Anyway, we can always do something about the hair,” Ms. Mitro said.

Next up was Bruna Tenorio, an aquiline Brazilian beauty favored by European designers for their haute couture shows; followed by Chrishell Stubbs, 18, a newcomer with cascades of dark curls; and Marloes Horst, a Memling Madonna in a lace mesh bikini; and Liu Wen, a Beijing native with longer legs than most point guards; and Cameron Russell, a part-time (“very part-time”) economics major at Columbia; and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, the woman best known as Megan Fox’s replacement in “Transformers 3”; and Maryna Linchuk, a young woman from Belarus who, although she has already been anointed a Victoria’s Secret angel, was auditioning again this year because, as Ms. Mitro said, bodies do change.

“You don’t see them for a minute, and...” Ms. Mitro said and then fell silent. She held her cupped hands wide in the universal gesture for hips as broad as a barn.

Does it go without saying that no Victoria’s Secret angels are fat? It does. A person cannot be expected to attain the angelic heights on a diet of Tasti D-Lite cone or Cinnabons

“With the smile, the hello, the walk, they get maybe two minutes,” to make an impression, said Mr. Razek, who has worked for the Limited since the early 1980s and who is notably tan and whose enviable shock of graying hair closely matched the salt and pepper flecks in his custom-made socks. “Maybe it’s not even that much.”

Maybe it’s just seconds, which was all it took for Ms. Linchuk to win over the panel, partly because she is beautiful in an uncontroversial and generic blond way but also because she is brisk and efficient and works out five days a week. The model Angela Lindvall, another occasional angel, at a certain point compared her particular line of work with that of a boxer. “You have to make weight,” she said. Ms. Lindvall herself once shed 20 postpregnancy pounds to make angel weight by jumping rope and subsisting on nothing but spinach, chard and kale.

The fitness horizon for a model preparing to audition for the Victoria’s Secret fashion show is perhaps 12 weeks, said Justin Gelband, a personal fitness trainer known in the business as the Model Whisperer. “We’ve been killing ourselves for this show,” Mr. Gelband explained before the casting call, referring to clients like Ms. Linchuk and Ms. Shayk and Anne Vialitsina, a model whose career has risen and fallen over tiny weight gains but whose physique that day was so starkly fit that it elicited a collective gasp.

“This all looks straightforward, but it’s not,” said Ms. Neophitou-Apostolou, the editor and stylist. “It’s not just women of a certain shape or size who can do this, although you might think so. And it’s not such an obvious proposition,” to choose from among so many seemingly flawless female specimens those who will best make the transformation to the status of mythic lingerie seraphim. Few are called, and fewer still are chosen to wear the strap-on wings of a Victoria’s Secret angel.

“The girls actually dream about it,” said Ms. Mitro, referring to the wearing of feathers. Flipping open a scrapbook, she pointed briskly to a photo of a teary model seeming to stagger under the weight of a costume that looked like a something Cher might wear to a powwow.

“These,” she said, “are the wings that made her cry.”

27 October 2010

Fashion in Detroit: Bikinis make a Splash

The Detroit Free Press

The first day of Fashion in Detroit ended today with classic but modern dresses from designer Peter Hidalgo.

From the cleanly constructed woolen shifts — some with elbow-length sleeves, others strapless with menswear-style pockets — to the silky evening gowns with thigh-high front slits, and backs that look like capes, the show was pure sophistication and the highlight of the day.

It’s unfortunate more people didn’t see it.

The turnout for the first day of the two-day event — which is designed to showcase local designers and designers whose work is sold here — was minimal.

Lians Jadan, one of the event organizers, estimated attendance today was about 300 guests, and he said the onlookers were largely from the fashion industry. The location of the shows — the Soundboard at the Motor City Casino — holds about 1,100 people, he said, adding that he expected about 1,000 to show on Saturday.

Today’s round of shows started with a flirty collection by Adriana Pavon, winner of last year’s Fashion in Detroit local designer contest.

From flowing silk dresses to sassy A-line minis, the garments aspire to be the sort of clothes you’d pack for a glam trip to the Riviera. They’re fun without evoking the feeling that you’ve just spent your paycheck shopping in the junior department.

The standout of Pavon’s collection? A strapless evening gown with an icy blue leaf pattern on a silver background.

The swimsuits shown by local designer Trisha Geftos are not for shy girls.

With embellishments such as baby blue fringe hanging from one bikini and the word “love” written in sequins across the butt of another, and with members of the cat and zebra families well represented in still more, you’ve got to love your body and your booty to wear one of these.

Paging Kim Kardashian.

It should come as no surprise that Geftaki brand suits sell in Las Vegas and other glitzy resort areas. In fact, Paris Hilton has been photographed wearing one.

The showstopper was a black bikini woven with black ribbons and sequins and accented with a tiny skirt.

On the runway, Geftos’ suits were paired with big, lush leather bags handcrafted in leather by another local designer, Julie Lindsay. And guess what? Those had fringe, too. They also featured fur and bling.

Other highlights included button-down shirts for men and women with a ’60s vibe by for and a few knee-length coats made from luscious tapestry -- that’s English Laundry, a line from Christopher Wicks, former designer for Hang Ten and Ocean Pacific.

Meant to be influenced by the music of the 1960s and 1970s and mod prints of the era, many of the pieces (back to the tapestry coats) have a rock-n-roll British Invasion/psychedelic vibe.

The button-down blouses, midriff-baring for women as well as longer versions for both sexes, have embroidery embellishments and/or floral patterns that set them apart from the basic shirts you might find at a Banana Republic. A festive touch: up-turned cuffs in prints that coordinate nicely but don’t match the pattern on the shirt.

The gowns and cocktail dresses by Ines DiSanto made big statements. When they were bad, they veered toward flamenco. But when they were good, they were polished and glam.

But no matter what your taste — whether it’s a body conscious, sleeveless, above-the-knee cocktail gown that’s studded with shimmery pearls or ruffled merengue — you will feel more special than anyone else in the room.

How could you not?

While many of DiSanto’s dresses and gowns are strapless or sleeveless, the designer makes clever use of ruching and draping that that can disguise many figure flaws.

Known for her glamorous bridal gowns, the last of DiSanto’s 23 runway looks was a bridal gown with a train and full veil lovely enough for Snow White.

The best look of the show: a strapless, above-the-knee dress with fitted bodice and an A-line skirt. With sequins that sparkled like snow and a bit of fringed tulle peeking out from the hem, the model looked as if she was floating.

25 October 2010

13th China Fashion Week begins in Beijing

Global Times

China International Fashion Week 2011 Spring/Summer will begin today in Beijing with more than 60 events including runway shows, contests, forums and lectures on the program.

Over 30 designers and 50 fashion brands will take part in the week that is now in its 13th year and will run until November 1.

"We have many familiar faces, such as Mark Cheung and Qi Gang, who are like old friends, with more interaction between the Chinese fashion scene and the rest of the fashion world, but we also expect new and fresh things from those old friends," said Chen Yongxia, China Fashion Week's media director. "At the same time, new comers like TSE and JOOOYS may bring surprises as well."

Womenswear, menswear, lingerie and wedding apparel will all be represented, with designers including Donoratico, Lea Seong, Cabbeen and Gioia Pan scheduled to stage shows in venues across the city including 798 Art District and Beijing Hotel.

There are also design contests for young designers and students with five design awards to be presented including sports, leather and makeup. "Young people are the future of Chinese fashion. China Fashion Week always gives them a platform," Chen said. Fashion graduates from several major design institutes will also see their graduate works take to the catwalks.

Forums, debates and lectures will be held, with themes covering the future of fashion media production in a 3G era and next season's trends.

Exhibitions, art and tea ceremonies are expected to add to China Fashion Week's artistic atmosphere.

17 October 2010

Biketoberfest Fans say 'Anything Goes'

Orlando Sentinel

Biketoberfest attendees ogled at more than the slick custom-made motorcycles crawling up and down Main and Beach streets Saturday.

Men stumbled to pull out their cameras as chaps, tub tops and tiny bikinis that barely covered cleavage made it up the street. Some outfits made those of artist Lady Gaga look modest.

Fashion, or lack of it — depending on who you ask — is as much a part of the event as motorcycles. No matter people's sizes or whether they prefer to wear shirts with an American flag or fish nets, attendees say anything goes at Biketoberfest, which ends today.

Mini leather skirts were among the hottest items on sale at Paradise City Biker's Den, store manager Nichole Herron said. But co-worker Chris Kelly, 20, was surprised that the leather thongs weren't going as quickly.

Herron, 30, considers herself more of a traditional biker chic, wearing just jeans and T-shirts. Kelly, who also works as a drag queen, considers himself more of a fashion connoisseur. They offered their thoughts on fashion statements made Saturday. In spite of their comments, Kelly said that at the festival "anything goes" because "bikers don't care."

Mara Tripp

Biketoberfest is like Halloween, Mara Tripp says. "It's the only time I dress up." Daughters Christina and Erin, both in their late teens, buy her outfits for the four-day festival, which she has attended for years. The only criteria: they must be "sexy," the petite woman said.

"They're gifts from my daughters," Tripp, 48, of Port Orange, said. Tripp was selling beer in a black bathing suit and lacey fish-net shirt that draped over her rear. It covered little. She stopped men in their tracks every time she bent over to pick up ice or a cup. They whipped out the camera phones.

Tripp, who has been riding a motorcycle for 30 years, said she would never wear the clothes elsewhere. "No — I'm an insurance agent," she said.

HERRON'S CRITIQUE: "She knows how to get tips. If I looked like that, I would be wearing that, too."

KELLY'S CRITIQUE: "Love the lace. It makes her look slim."

Holli Ingels

Holli Ingels wore white leather chaps over a pair of undies and a low-cut spaghetti-strap tank top. The slender Atlanta woman said all is accepted at the festival and nobody cares how much of you shows.

Friends selected her outfits for the festival. "Just call me Barbie," Ingles, 52, said. She and her friends were looking at some skimpy outfits at a Main Street shop.

"It has to be provocative and classy," said friend John Lippens of Sanford. "I go to sleep, thinking of what she's going to wear."

HERRON: "You can tell her personality from her outfit. She's outgoing, she's not shy … I would never wear that."

KELLY: "Personally, I love it… [but] I think it's too much."

Mike Fair

Mike Fair, 55, decided to go with something more modest. He wrapped an American flag-printed bandanna around his head and wore a heavy jean vest that he customized. The vest, covered in pins, studs and dozens of beer can tabs, took five to six years to make. Also covering the vest were patches of the provocative cartoon character Betty Boop and Marvin the Martian, which matched a tattoo on his right arm.

"I like to be loud. … It's a conversational piece," said Fair, of Davenport. He's right. Several people stopped him on Beach Street to touch the vest and take pictures with him.

HERRON: "I like all the patches. I like the cane."

KELLY: "Very fun outfit, but the man has too much time on his hands."

Cat Miller and Maria Moquin

Cat Miller of Ormond Beach dazzled the blue cast on her arm with jewels. She hurt her wrist trying to decorate her motorcycle, which she says is the most important piece to her outfit. The bike was covered with Halloween decorations, including a artificial vulture, spider and freaky dolls.

Maria Moquin wore a black Mardi Gras mask and top hat. Moquin, of Daytona Beach, said she wore the mask "to cover my face so nobody would know it's me." A Harley Davidson motorcycle owner, she had to ride Miller's Honda into town since she couldn't drive with a cast.

Their fashion rule: wear "the most outrageous thing that won't fly off on our bikes," Moquin, 49, said.

Miller wore a bright orange cowboy hat and large choker with plastic spikes. Although they opted for jeans and T-shirts instead of revealing clothes, the women turned many heads. People stopped to take pictures of them. "We like attention," Miller, 60, said.

HERRON: "That's the typical look at Biketoberfest. … For a little flair, they threw on the hats and mask."

KELLY: "We love cat. We love the hat … [Maria] is a great biker chic with the hat. But the face mask has to go. Why cover a pretty face if you got one?"

03 October 2010

Is a Runway Show really Necessary?

NY Times

PARIS — On a giant screen figures swirl through a geometric landscape, morphing into a myriad of images. Finally the repeated forms focus into a centrifugal force: the single and particular figure of the model Kristen McMenamy — she of the long silver gray hair framing a strong face.

The 11-minute film that Gareth Pugh showed on Wednesday, the opening day of the Paris collections, was the fruit of much thought and two days of intense filming in London.

Ruth Hogben, trained as part of Nick Knight’s ShowStudio team and the creator of images for Lady Gaga’s world tour, was charged with capturing the essence of the Gareth Pugh aesthetic. Instead of a runway show, this presentation, projected to enormous size in the Paris Bercy stadium, is Mr. Pugh’s fashion tool.

In its bravura, its beauty and its possibility of going viral to hundreds of million of people via ShowStudio and over the Internet, this grand slam in the virtual world poses a question that is increasingly being asked by both designers and executives: Is a fashion show really necessary?

Or will the bi-annual shows in different cities ultimately be replaced by virtual fashion or some other yet-to-be-invented format?

“We just have to press a button,” said Mr. Pugh before the show, although with hindsight he admitted that it was not any easier — and certainly not any less expensive — to take the image option, even if it avoided the “uncontrollable stress” of the live format.

As a concept, he finds the idea of video sequences exhilarating, setting the mood and conveying the essence of his vision, backed up with a look book focused on the clothes.

“The perception is that people aren’t willing to accept something else,” said Mr. Pugh, 29, who has shown films previously — but more recently has given catwalk shows in Paris, where he has been supported as a protégé of the designer Rick Owens.

The process of bringing his team from London to “very foreign surroundings” and everything “relying on the single show” sparked his search for an alternative.

“With a show, a lot rides on that very small amount of time and the whole thing comes down to image,” Mr. Pugh said. “If a model trips or has a problem with shoes, that is the thing that endures. It is liberating for a designer not to have to worry about a show. You can get the models to be even more expressive and do it all in a more concise way.”

“I always think about things in movement,” said the designer, who once studied dance and made the film with a male dancer from the English National Ballet School, alongside Ms. McMenamy.

Yet the feeling persists that backing off from a runway show is a cop-out or a sign of weakness, although mini-movies are increasingly used by big brands to focus on a particular message. The series of Lady Dior films, starring the French actress Marion Cotillard, are astute marketing tools, particularly for regions like Asia — highlighted in the recent “Lady Blue Shanghai” by David Lynch. They complement the live Paris runway shows, excite and inspire an audience and set a tone and an image.

But for Ms. Hogben, in the Gareth Pugh film and in other visual work she has done for ShowStudio, the concept is not so much to grab attention as to arouse emotion.

“I spend my whole world and whole life thinking about films to make in the fashion genre,” Ms. Hogben said. “I follow my own heart and I hope that if I am successful, film can become an alternative to showing clothes.”

The filmmaker says that she is “completely led by Gareth’s designs. I try to make a representation of every piece of fabric, every shape and sculpture. I am trying to convey Gareth’s world. I play with scale, physically some parts are quite claustrophobic. There is a lot of freedom, depth and space — a vast, endless infinity of the world. This season it is very varied indeed.”

For both designer and filmmaker the optimal word is “emotion.” And that is at the heart of the issue about whether the screen can contribute to fashion, rather than just reflect it.

There is a general feeling that after a quarter of a century of catwalk shows, with zombie-faced models walking up and down, with no interaction between clothes and audience, this system is coagulating fashion blood rather than making pulses race.

While the shows from John Galliano and of the late Alexander McQueen in the 1990s were unforgettable experiences, from liaisons dangereuses of historic figures to disturbing suggestions of a lunatic asylum, those creative expressions were essentially fashion as theater.

The digital camera and the Internet changed everything because even exceptional shows could only be instantly relived as still images on Style.com or as video clips.

Now there is the possibility of made-for-cyberspace fashion shows, which can be seen in their pure and intended form forever, or manipulated as teasers on YouTube. Instead of the media editing what seem to be the crucial elements and outfits, the designer retains control and takes the images straight to the public.

“It’s like going from theater to cinema — and I absolutely believe it is going to happen for three reasons,” said Mr. Knight, the great originator and instigator of fashion live on film.

“Firstly, it is a true artistic expression that the designers can control,” he said. “Secondly they can get so many more people, from 300 to three million. And because — although it hasn’t happened yet — designers will want to sell their clothes.”

Mr. Knight believes that someone who says “I love that Gareth Pugh silver coat” will be able to place an order directly from the Internet (as Burberry is already doing), avoiding all e-commerce or brick-and-mortar stores — a daunting possibility of an earthquake in consumer shopping.

Mr. Knight also knows that ending the twice-a-year shows in major cities would meet with opposition from all vested interests. Therefore it is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

The question for people who love and enjoy fashion is whether virtual shows, or expressions of creative ideas via the camera eye, can satisfactorily replace live shows.

Adrian Joffe, the president of Comme des Garçons International and the right hand of its designer, Rei Kawakubo, used film to great effect in 2009 with “Wonderwood,” a short film by the artistic Quay brothers to express the beauty of a fragrance based on raw wood. Mr. Joffe, who banned any suggestion of a perfume bottle on the screen, called the work “an evocation of the spirit of a thing.”

Could such a concept work for Comme’s original and imaginative fashion?

“Rei is dying to find another way to show her clothes,” said Mr. Joffe, but he added that Ms. Kawakubo, who has always ruled out a static presentation, finds it hard to envisage how the texture and feel of the clothes could be expressed on film, along with the feeling.

Mr. Pugh’s decision was not to have the film showing in one area and the collection displayed in another — an idea that has been pursued by sensitive, artistic and intelligent designers like Hussein Chalayan.

Instead, the modular jackets, the rubberized neoprene, the stretch silk jersey and the high-tech effects of geometric silicone pattern and digitally printed clothes — most of that a breakthrough for the designer — can be seen by professionals in the still images. Yet the designer knows that photographs are not really a substitute for a show or for the movie.

Mr. Pugh calls the stills “a way not to scare people off,” since showing “merely” a film tends to alarm buyers and to discourage some press.

Mr. Knight believes that everything is working in favor of halting the caravansary of models, buyers and press who travel extensively each year: the cost, the pressure to reduce carbon footprints and fashion’s essential yearning for change.

He considers his ShowStudio a sound environment to show fashion, with the right values, while “the language of fashion” does not exist in the cacophony of YouTube.

“But the films have to be good,” Mr. Knight said. “What Gareth has done is created a great piece of entertainment.”

28 September 2010

Milan Fashion Week Gets Fruity

Guardian UK
The Milan catwalks have lost patience with minimalism. Stand by for neon brights, monkey prints – and an assortment of fruit

When fashion turns its spotlight on one particular look, an opposing one inevitably gets left in the dark. Most will know the feeling: if skirts are your thing and yet the shops are filled with rails of trousers, often there is little else to do but wait for fashion to swing back towards your comfort zone again. For the past couple of seasons, Milan fashion week has suffered a similar fate. Minimalism has been the defining catwalk trend over recent months, but this pared-back look sits unhappily in a city where sex appeal and snakeskin are routinely considered the two pillars of chic. As a result Milanese style had been floundering, the city's influence shaky.

This season Milan clearly decided that sitting it out was not an option. It had lost patience with minimalism: it was time for something else. Two of the city's most lauded designers, Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons of Jil Sander, both admitted as much. Backstage at her show Prada explained that she wanted to do something "between minimalism and baroque" and Simons took this a step further saying that he wanted to go "maximal". It may not be an actual word but it was most definitely a look.

It would be a little too neat to say that Milan fashion week killed off minimalism completely. It wasn't as if rows of boring camel coats were being lined up and shot; there was no burning pile of tailored navy trousers. But there was an undercurrent of change as bold colour, exaggerated shapes and bananas (more on those later) became the most memorable symbols of Milan.

The Jil Sander show was the best of the week. It featured the most shockingly bright selection of neon brights: orange, pink, emerald, magenta and Yves Klein blues. It would have been a simple development from modern minimalism had it not been for the extraordinary shapes that recalled 1960s couture dresses. Long silk voluminous skirts were paired with simple white T-shirts, as were elephantine emerald green trousers. A navy parka was worn over a giant teardrop-shaped strapless evening dress, and an intense floral print covered a couture-inspired dress. The audience undoubtedly left as "maximal" converts.

The headline take-home trend was bold colour. At MaxMara, autumn's camel coats were swapped for block colour in sporty shapes – leotards with contrasting block-coloured sleeves were worn with mid thigh tailored shorts. Skinny belts provided an underline of bright. Meanwhile Marni – home of the wonky bold print – went super-bright. Designer Consuelo Castiglioni took colour down a sporty route, using cycling tops, retro swimming caps and Victorian bathing suits. A Mondrian-inspired wetsuit worked on the catwalk but probably won't generate so many hits if something similar finds its way onto the asos website next summer.

At Versus – the younger line from Versace, designed by British star Christopher Kane, block colour was joined by spriggy Liberty-style floral prints and bright tartan. Admittedly this sounds like a hideous cocktail of ideas but Glaswegian Kane made it look upbeat and modern. Meanwhile his boss and mentor Donatella also pushed bold colour in her collection, but being a Versace she simultaneously managed to take the trend firmly into Milanese territory. Dresses in turquoise and tomato red were cut skin tight and featured slithers of PVC panelling which drew attention to either the midriff or the shoulders. The focus on the bare shoulder is a smart move – it is widely regarded an area of the body that defies ageing and so will appeal to an older customer who can realistically afford the designs. Many of the dresses fell below the knee, a style seen in both New York and London, and which can now justifiably tout itself as being "the new length".

There was a lot of talk about fruit in Milan. It was largely Prada's fault for wearing a pair of plasticky banana earrings as she took her bow. Later in the week Anna dello Russo, the editor at large of Vogue Japan and arguably fashion's most street-blogged figurehead, was seen wearing a giant watermelon hat to one show and a cherry hat to the next. Surely a micro trend in the making?

The Prada collection featured bananas and monkeys printed onto boxy shirts, and tight cotton skirts that ended with a tango-style giant frill. Bold (or "brave colour" as the designer herself described it backstage) and giant stripes featured heavily in the show. Snooker-table green skirt-suits and orange, pink and black structured sundresses were worn with striped raffia tango shoes and chunky brothel creepers.

Although Prada pitched her show as falling between the two markers of minimalism and baroque it is likely that the pieces at the more fancy end of the scale – the curlicue sunglasses and the stripes and monkey prints – will prove to be the most influential. Milanese bold colour will be marching fashion away from sleek camel and navy in the months to come. It's a safe bet that Topshop is already knocking out thousands of pairs of brilliant trashy earrings, and if Milan can't kill off minimalism for good then a banana earring surely can.

16 September 2010

Long as a California Summer

NY Times

Hot pants are not likely to be chased into the woodwork, fans and onlookers will be happy to hear, but they will have to yield next summer to the long, plain skirt.

Designers, thinking of the 1990s or maybe the mythical California girl, have suddenly given longer hemlines a vote of approval. On Wednesday, Michael Kors opened his cheerful show with an ankle-grazing skirt in linen gauze and a matching pullover. For Narciso Rodriguez, an architect of ’90s, post-Calvin Klein minimalism, the look was more specific to New York, and to a happy period in his own life.

He said after his excellent show on Tuesday night at Lincoln Center that he had been thinking of his friend, the late Carolyn Bessette, and how she and other women they knew used to throw a coat over a long dress and go out for the night. That was certainly the sense imparted by a powdery pink silk slip dress worn with an ashy gray linen canvas coat.

All of the hemlines in Mr. Rodriguez’s collection were mid-calf, and the lines were loose, essentially based on a T-shirt or slip. His other smart gesture was to show a relaxed pair of boy trousers in dry-looking black wool with a series of different tank tops or pullovers composed of layers of black chiffon and pale silk, creating a smoked effect or a shimmer of beading.

The idea isn’t all that original, and not so different from a socialite chucking an old coat over her evening dress, but the look feels right again. A new fashion almost always comes about as a reaction to something else — long skirts after a summer or two of minis and short shorts — and Mr. Rodriguez’s blush-to-pink dresses may have stood out because they were said with a whisper.

With Cat Stevens on the soundtrack at Mr. Kors’s show, you just sort of hummed along until you fell into a hopeless groove. Wunderbar! The collection was a fine granola mix of tank tops, pj’s, roomy trench coats, long grass-colored knits and crinkled hemp linen, including a tunic worn with a pair of platform sandals and thick woolly socks.

Again, hardly a new look to someone who lives in Los Angeles or Austin, but Mr. Kors made the story seem fresh, spiking the sun-faded neutrals with iris and daffodil and reaffirming the looser, longer proportions for next summer.

Ralph Rucci skipped a runway show this season and instead presented his clothes himself in his SoHo showroom. To call the collection a refinement of his style — splicing, say, horsehair into arcs of wool or creating sound-wave patterns in the sheer midriff of a black dress — would be to minimize his efforts. He used more cotton than he is known for; the most striking example was a perfect little shift of brown suede with square panels of black cotton and a suede cord belt. Lanky it was, and he should think about expressing that attitude in other styles.

Other standout looks included a creamy matte jersey day dress with cartridge pleating, a flirty cocktail dress in coral silk taffeta with a beaded top done in an open basket weave, and a sliver of a long black silk gown meant to be worn with a popover top embroidered with glassy-white bugle beads.

Sophie Theallet is the most recent winner of the Council of Fashion Designers of America/Vogue Fund award for emerging talent, and you could see in her collection on Tuesday night at Lincoln Center that she put her prize money to good use — in the materials and construction of her clothes.

Always indifferent to the loop of trends and recycled ideas, Ms. Theallet expanded her number of silhouettes. For a sleeveless dress that was draped easily at one side, she used a cotton print of birds, their wings forming a kind of abstract lattice. Another cotton print, in deep red and blue, suggested a woodcut. And she had several day dresses with full sleeves that narrowed to just above the elbow, a line that looked fresh.

The size and dark atmosphere of her space, with the models pausing on a raised platform, did not work in her favor, and the clothes deserved to be viewed in a context that suited their detail and real sense of mystery. Among the exquisite looks, and new from Ms. Theallet, was a long evening dress in snake-green silk charmeuse with one shoulder tossed with black lace.

25 August 2010

JC Penny Introducing Fast-Fashion Line

The Wall Street Journal

In an attempt to win over fashionable young women, J.C. Penney Co. is going to try running with a faster crowd.

This week, the Plano, Texas-based retailer unveiled an unconventional collaboration with Mango MNG Holding SL, the closely-held Barcelona chain known for whipping up cutting edge looks that go from design studio to store shelves in as little as four weeks.

The move is a big bet for the 108-year-old Penney, which has been trying to grab market share from more stylish competitors to spur sales as overall demand for women's apparel is sluggish.

The two retailers are a fashion mismatch. Penney's average customer is a 35- to 53-year-old bargain hunter who shops four times a year. Mango, founded in 1984, caters to style-obsessed twenty-somethings who shop every month and pay full price. By delivering new merchandise to stores at least once a week, the chain has trained customers to buy early and often.

But for Penney, that's the draw. "If you only deliver four times a year, there's only a reason to come to the store four times a year," Chief Executive Myron E. Ullman III said at a recent conference.

Mango is one of the hottest retailers in Europe, where it operates hundreds of stores and its ads feature celebrities including Penelope Cruz and Scarlett Johansson. Unlike other fast-fashion chains such as Inditex SA's Zara and Hennes & Mauritz AB's H&M, the chain is little-known in the U.S., where it only has 12 retail outposts. Revenue last year was €1.15 billion ($1.82 billion).

The exclusive-to-Penney brand, called MNG by Mango, will launch at 77 stores on Aug. 18 and roll out to 600 of Penney's 1,100 stores by next fall. Penney is investing in fixtures such as hardwood floors, black chandeliers and modern tables that showcase looks like skinny jeans and lace-embellished blouses. In-store boutiques, averaging 1,000 square feet, will be refreshed every other week—twice as fast as Penney's other brands. Prices will be in the mid-to-upper tier of Penney's offerings, with skirts ranging from $50 to $100, and jackets from $60 to $160.

The Mango-Penney collaboration comes as U.S. apparel retailers have been fighting for market share. The women's apparel market has been essentially flat for the past three years, according to market researcher NPD Group, but "there has been huge growth in dollar volume in fast fashion," says Liz Sweney, senior general merchandise manager for Penney's women's businesses.

American department stores were caught off guard by the onslaught of fast fashion rivals that own local factories, enabling them react quickly to changes in demand. They have trained their customers to expect scarcity, leading to higher margins and more store visits.

Department stores, by contrast, source most of their products from faraway vendors up to a year in advance. The sourcing model keeps production costs down, but can lead to fashion miscalculations and aggressive discounting that kills profits.

Penney is working to resume sales gains after a restructuring a decade ago that centralized its operations. The department store's annual revenues peaked in 2006 at $19.9 billion and were $17.6 billion last year. Mr. Ullman said in April that he wants to boost sales by $5 billion by the end of 2014, in part by attracting new customers.

Investors have their doubts. The company's stock is down more than 20% this year, well behind competitors such as Macy's Inc. and discounters like Kohl's Corp. and TJX Cos. Penney has struggled with more than two years of monthly sales declines. The trend started to reverse itself earlier this year, after Penney better matched its inventory to demand and upgraded its product assortment. But home products, which account for about 19% of Penney's annual sales, have been a drag, says J.P. Morgan analyst Charles Grom.

In apparel, Penney is still trying to shed its unfashionable image. Over the past five years, it has worked to convince shoppers that its wares are just as chic as its more upscale competitors. The company has expanded its store-within-a-store Sephora cosmetics department and added exclusive lines from Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. and others.

Despite the new brands, Penney's research showed it wasn't getting traction with fashionable young women. "We're great in teenage space, and really good once a woman has her first baby or buys her first home, but weaker with that early 20-something, early 30-something customer," says Ms. Sweney.

To Joana Lin, a 25-year-old New Yorker, J.C. Penney is "kind of cheap." Still, Ms. Lin says that the Mango brand might be just the thing to bring her back to Penney. "I like it enough, that I might go and take a look," said Ms. Lin, who frequently shops the Mango store in downtown Manhattan.

Last year, the company unveiled what was then its fastest brand, a juniors line called City Streets, which was able to go from factory to stores in a matter of 12 weeks. Ms. Sweney said that with the success of City Streets' cycle-time reduction initiatives, "we knew we could get it done" with Mango.

24 August 2010

Midway Dispatch: Western Montana Fair Mascots Showcase Historical Fashion


Pattee Canyon likes to sew.

Rack after rack of historical clothing sits under a tent on the fairgrounds' west lawn, all of which - with very few exceptions - was sewn by Pattee.

Pattee and her husband, Stampede Pete, are the fair's new live mascots. In fact, they are married in real life, and go by the less sensational names of Elaine and Loren Bridge. Stampede Pete was a character in a 1915 song, and fair marketing whiz Gretchen Kirchmann created the character of Pattee so he wouldn't be lonely.

On Tuesday, Pattee prepared for a fashion show. It featured her handmade clothing and served as educational entertainment for the audience. As she both teaches living history and gives sewing lessons, it seems like a good fit.

"These are snapshots of key periods of fashion history," she said. The clothing- which was modeled by handy volunteers - ranged from the garb of early Montana territory settlers to the Victorian era.

All the pieces had an Old West sensibility.

"They weren't trying to make a fashion statement," Pattee said. "They were trying to stay alive."

Midway Dispatch reporter Marielle Gallagher is a sophomore at Hellgate High School.

20 August 2010

Little bikinis make big impression at Fashion Week Swim 2011

Seattle Times

Head to the gym for crunches — the bikini is back in a big way.

Designers from all over the world showed their new swimwear collections during the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Swim 2011, which ended this week. Bikinis and cutout one-pieces dominated the catwalks. Some designers said they focused on bikinis because of the bottom line: They sell better. Others aimed for sexiness.

But can any figure wear them?

"I think it's not about age, it's not about your body," said Luli Fama designer Lourdes "Luli" Hanimian. "While you feel good and it makes you feel happy, you wear that swimsuit."

For those who need a little help to get that "happy" feeling, there was also a wide array of ingenious cover-ups — tunics, shifts, filmy slacks and more.

16 August 2010

Targeting Younger Buyers, Liz Claiborne Hits Snag

The Wall Street Journal

Isaac Mizrahi raises the gavel with William McComb, right, during closing bell ceremonies at the New York Stock Exchange April 28, 2009.

This month, J.C. Penney Co. is launching a new Liz Claiborne clothing, home and accessories line in all 1,100 of its stores, its biggest brand launch ever.

But while the exclusive collection is considered a coup for Penney, it could mark the final chapter in the story of the 34-year-old Liz Claiborne brand.

Liz Claiborne, once the No. 1 vendor at American department stores, has effectively ceded control of its iconic brand to Penney as part of the deal. The agreement—which calls for Claiborne to give up production and marketing and convert the label into a mass market line in exchange for royalties—was struck only after Macy's Inc. slashed its Claiborne orders last year. The deal gives Penney the option to buy U.S. rights to Liz Claiborne's name in five years.

"For Penney, this is wonderful," says Candace Corlett, president of New York retail consultancy WSL Strategic Retail. "It's Liz I wonder about."

The company that pioneered career apparel for a generation of working women, Liz Claiborne Inc. has seen its fortunes decline precipitously in the past few years. Since Chief Executive William L. McComb took over in 2006, the company has posted 11 consecutive quarters of red ink. Liz has seen its credit ratings fall from investment grade to junk and the S&P 500 removed the stock from its index. Its stock closed at $4.82 on Friday, compared with $43 when Mr. McComb joined the company.

The recession took a toll on all clothing makers, and even before Mr. McComb took over Liz Claiborne the company faced an aging consumer base and a flagship brand in decline for years. Profits and revenue were slowing, and Mr. McComb inherited a bruised relationship with an important client, Macy's department store.

Mr. McComb's strategy, to move the company away from its core baby-boomer roots, hasn't solved those problems so far, and it has stirred up a few new ones. The company's woes show how tough it can be to rejuvenate an iconic brand.

Founded in 1976, Liz Claiborne grew explosively by providing stylish career apparel to the droves of women who entered the workforce in the 1980s. Many of those women, born between 1946 and 1964, now are starting to retire and not spending as much money on clothes as younger women do.

In an effort to attract a younger audience, Mr. McComb decided to focus on the company's contemporary brands with the most potential, including Juicy Couture, Kate Spade, Lucky Brand Jeans and Mexx. But he made a series of strategic blunders including hiring a star designer, Isaac Mizrahi, at a hefty salary and veering away from the Liz Claiborne brand's trademark career apparel. He sold, discontinued or licensed several boomer brands—including Ellen Tracy, Dana Buchman and Sigrid Olsen—that weren't performing well but represented major sales volume.

The decision to realign the company's portfolio "was a disaster waiting to happen," says Bruce Greenwald, a finance professor at Columbia Business School.

Mr. McComb assumed he could replace the lost sales volume "in a market that's an extremely competitive, fast growing, young person's market," Mr. Greenwald said.

Mr. McComb concedes that he has made some mistakes. At Mexx, for example, he recently replaced the management team after an earlier overhaul failed to captivate consumers.

But he remains confident of his overall strategy. "If we had not had that incredible realignment in the summer of 2007, there's no way we would have made it through the storm, from a working capital perspective," he says. "I am so bullish about where we are going to be."

The new business model with Penney enables the company to turn a money-losing business into one that generates profits, he says. A lower-priced Liz & Co. line that Penney launched in 2007 has been very successful, both companies say.

Although the baby boomer fashion market is notoriously difficult, several of Claiborne's competitors have been able to retain the older consumer while attracting younger women. Retailers say Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren, for example, have succeeded by being consistent in style and offering quality clothes that fit well and are a good value for the money.

At its height in the early 1990s, Liz Claiborne generated $2 billion in annual sales. After founder Ms. Claiborne and her husband Art Ortenberg retired in 1989, sales began a slow decline. Specialty retailers such as Ann Taylor and Banana Republic picked off consumers who preferred mixing and matching to a whole Liz Claiborne "look." Department stores slashed inventory levels, demanded exclusive merchandise and pushed their own higher margin, private-label brands.

To fuel growth in the late 1990s and early 2000s, then-CEO Paul R. Charron went on an acquisition spree, collecting a portfolio of 46 brands. The expanded group masked the reality that the core Liz Claiborne label was losing momentum.

A charismatic industry outsider, Mr. McComb was hired in 2006 from Johnson & Johnson, where he ran its orthopedics and neurologics division. Known for his flamboyant management style, he quickly differentiated himself from his predecessor.

On an early trip to see the company's Juicy Couture brand in Los Angeles, Mr. McComb wore a blue velvet Juicy blazer with a jacquard novelty shirt. Mr. McComb once got down on the floor, in front of gawking employees, and kissed the feet of Liz Claiborne's general counsel, Nicholas Rubino.

At a meeting with his management team, bankers and consultants in early 2007, Mr. McComb belted out "Climb Every Mountain" from "The Sound of Music."

"He is an optimist with boundless energy. He takes bad news in stride," says Arthur C. Martinez, a board member and former chief executive of Sears Roebuck & Co. "He is an incredible motivator."

Soon after being hired as CEO, Mr. McComb said that the company's portfolio was overweighted in what he called the "missy boomer quadrant" and vowed to bring the average age of the Liz Claiborne customer down by broadening the brand's appeal. Female consumers between the ages of 25 and 34 shop more often and spend more money on apparel than any other demographic group, making them an attractive target for any fashion company.

In 2007, a month after Ms. Claiborne died, Mr. McComb eliminated, sold or licensed out 16 brands accounting for $800 million in annual revenue. Many of those brands appealed to boomer consumers at department stores. Mr. McComb's goal, he said, was to focus the company's cash and attention on its more promising contemporary brands, which operate their own retail stores and are less tied to department stores.

But most of the contemporary brands haven't taken off as expected. Although Kate Spade posted a sales increase of 25% to $42 million for the quarter ended July 3, overall the "U.S.-based direct brands" business segment—which includes Kate Spade, Lucky Brand and Juicy Couture—posted an operating loss of $13 million in the period. Mexx, a European brand, lost $26 million on top of a $33 million loss for the same quarter in 2009.

One of Mr. McComb's top priorities was relaunching the Liz Claiborne brand and in 2008, he lured celebrity designer Isaac Mizrahi away from Target Corp. to be creative director. Mr. Mizrahi signed a five-year contract worth about $6 million a year, according to people familiar with the contract, significantly more than he was earning at Target. Liz Claiborne officials declined to comment on the dollar value of the contract, saying "it had fixed and variable components."

As part of the deal, Liz Claiborne hired Mr. Mizrahi's entire design staff of about 25. Claiborne also agreed to fund elaborate fashion shows for Mr. Mizrahi's personal Isaac Mizrahi high-end brand, for approximately $1 million each season, according to a person familiar with the matter.

While considered a steep price of entry, the Mizrahi deal granted Mr. McComb access to the rarefied world of high fashion.

Indeed, Mr. McComb was dazzled by the more glamorous aspects of the fashion industry, according to some people who worked with him. His first acquisition was a $12 million investment in the high-fashion label Narciso Rodriguez. When, a month after the acquisition, Mr. Rodriguez declined to accompany the CEO to the black-tie gala for the Council of Fashion Designers of America, Mr. McComb emailed Mr. Rodriguez to say he was "sad, disappointed and deeply disturbed." Claiborne and the designer severed their relationship 18 months later. Mr. Rodriguez had no comment.

For his first Liz Claiborne collection, Mr. Mizrahi said he wanted to inject a shot of youthfulness into a line he considered "a little granny." He designed a colorful collection featuring dirndl skirts with tulle crinoline, bright floral cardigans and nipped-waist shirtdresses. Prices, lower than in the past, ranged from $30 for shirts to $250 for coats.

Unlike at Target, where Mr. Mizrahi collaborated with a team of merchants, Claiborne gave the designer lots of leeway in determining the direction of the line, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. McComb publicly called Mr. Mizrahi "a master" and hung a painting of the designer in his office.

Claiborne's largest client, Macy's, however, was worried about the aesthetic of the line, which was considered fashionable but not geared toward working women, the brand's core constituency.

Mr. McComb had inherited a rocky relationship with Macy's, after his predecessor announced the low-priced Liz & Co. line for Penney, Macy's archrival, in 2006.

At a March 2008 lunch at the Museum of Modern Art's restaurant, Macy's CEO Terry Lundgren and the company's then-head merchant, Janet Grove, told Mr. Mizrahi that the new line needed to make a big splash to reverse its plummeting sales—which had fallen to a total of about $200 million by the end of 2007 from more than a $1 billion a decade earlier.

"It better be different" from the Liz & Co. line at Penney, Mr. Lundgren warned Mr. Mizrahi, or Macy's might drop it, according to a person who was at the meeting. Mr. Mizrahi assured Macy's that he was determined to make a break with the past.

Mr. Mizrahi's designs hit stores in January 2009, generating media buzz and positive reviews from fashion critics. Michelle Obama was photographed in one of his outfits and Vogue ran a profile of Mr. Mizrahi.

But the collection launched in the midst of the recession. Claiborne's core baby boomer consumers rejected it, forcing aggressive markdowns. In the first quarter of 2009, Claiborne's "partnered brands" division, the largest component of which is the flagship line, posted an operating loss of $40 million.

Mr. Mizrahi's looks, such as a gingham dress with a big crinoline slip attached, confused Carol Orsborn, a 62-year-old author and marketing consultant who used to wear Liz Claiborne. "I wasn't sure where or when the traditional Liz Claiborne woman would wear that," she said.

Stephen Reily, CEO of a Boomer networking site called VibrantNation.com, called the Mizrahi look for Liz Claiborne "a kind of madcap Auntie Mame style when applied to women 50-plus."

Mr. Mizrahi declined to comment.

During the first season, as sales fell short of expectations, Liz Claiborne discussed an exclusive deal with Macy's, in an effort to get better exposure and terms in the future. The company simultaneously began pursuing deals with other retailers, including Kohl's Corp. and Penney.

In September, Macy's told Liz Claiborne that it was cutting distribution to 28 stores from 300, effectively dropping the brand after 30 years. People familiar with Macy's thinking say that the collection was too fashion forward to appeal to Claiborne's consumer base.

"We could not justify expanding it," Macy's spokesman Jim Sluzewski said.

Liz Claiborne's executives were shocked by the magnitude of the reduction, according to people familiar with the matter.

In October, Mr. McComb called a meeting of a team of 100 designers and merchants at Mr. Mizrahi's studio for what he called "bittersweet, but great news," according to people who were there.

His announcement: Under a new licensing agreement, the brand will only be sold at J.C. Penney and will be manufactured and marketed by the retailer. Several designers who had worked at the company dating back to Ms. Claiborne wept. Mr. McComb told them that in 60 days they would no longer have jobs, according to people who were at the meeting.

Penney CEO Myron E. Ullman III said the Liz Claiborne brand was a way to steal market share from mainstream department stores, particularly Macy's, its biggest competitor. The company did research and found that half the women who buy Liz Claiborne at other department stores would follow the brand to Penney.

Citigroup analyst Deborah Weinswig thinks it could bring in $300 million to $400 million in sales in its first year—and Claiborne would get an undisclosed percentage of sales and profits with a guaranteed minimum annual royalty. Penney wouldn't comment on specific figures, but said it expects sales to double in five years, at which point it has the option to buy U.S. rights to the brand.

The deal was contingent on Claiborne's willingness to sell the brand name, Mr. Ullman said. "I think if they had their choice, they would probably not have agreed to sell it," he said.

Mr. McComb continues to have the support of his board, which last summer renewed his contract for three more years. "The strategy is exactly right and the board is fully in support of it," says Mr. Martinez.

If the company continues to show losses a year from now, "absent some cataclysmic economic event…we would be obliged to question the leadership and the path that we are on," Mr. Martinez says. For now, though, he says "there is an overwhelming vote of confidence" in the strategy set forth by Mr. McComb, who once described board members as having "brass balls and brass bras" for sticking with him.

Mr. McComb says he's now considering changing the company's name. Liz Claiborne is "a misnomer strategically," he said.

11 August 2010

The F Word

NY Times

Fashion, which has always been as much a narrative about the body as it is about clothes, has rarely taken kindly to the idea of flesh. Much as we may wax nostalgic about the Rubenesque ideal or the buxom, wide-hipped wenches of Restoration comedies, in its modern iteration fashion has steadily downsized the human scale. Flesh suggests messiness, privileging the indiscipline of life over the fierce control of art, the unaerobicized body spilling over the contours of an artificial silhouette, be it Christian Dior’s New Look in 1947 or Marc Jacobs’s New Look for Louis Vuitton this fall. Flesh also suggests the threateningly female, moistness and blood, the hothouse clutches of a heavy-breasted mother — off-putting images for male fashion designers, who are more often than not gay. (Think of Karl Lagerfeld’s withering disdain on hearing that a German magazine would now be using only regular-size women in its fashion spreads: “No one wants to see curvy women. . . . You’ve got fat mothers with their bags of chips sitting in front of the television and saying that thin models are ugly.”)

Indeed, well before the concept of a size 0 or 2 became ensconced in the clothing racks of Barneys (where you will be hard put to find a size 12) or Bergdorf Goodman (which deigns to include a few 14s), Audrey Hepburn was a designer’s dream — Hubert de Givenchy’s dream, to be specific — in large part because she lacked all curves. Her swanlike neck and wondrous face undoubtedly helped endear her, but from a fashion point of view, she might as well have been an animated hanger. Watching her recently in “Paris When It Sizzles,” it is impossible to take your eyes off her razor-thin presence as she sliced through some of the film’s sillier moments with aplomb. Nothing disturbs the surface of the pastel wardrobe of suits and tailored dresses Givenchy has created for her to wear (although how a typist-for-hire would get within gazing distance of clothes that are clearly a couturier’s vision is conveniently ignored), no sign of breasts or hips strain at the enclosure of fabric.

Still, our current phobia about flesh — not when it comes to showing a sexy glimpse of skin but rather when it comes to revealing wobbly or lumpy parts of the body that have not been toned to a fare-thee-well — is at an all-time high. Our collective fear of fat and idealization of thinness has resulted in a seriously askew notion of the physical self that has produced an epidemic of body-dysmorphic illnesses like anorexia and bulimia, which increasingly have included young men as well as young women among their victims. “In a modern capitalist patriarchy such as the United States,” observes Kathleen Lebesco, author of “Revolting Bodies? The Struggle to Redefine Fat Identity,” “fat is seen as repulsive, funny, ugly, unclean, obscene and above all, as something to lose.” One would be hard put to disagree with this assessment, no matter that this unforgiving reality inevitably stirs a cultural response that attempts to rectify the balance by embracing, on one end of the spectrum, the fleshily figurative in art and, on the other, a TV show about fat camp called “Huge.” Over the past three decades a clutch of more radically conceived phenomena has also emerged, including fat studies and fat activists (“body liberationists”) who engage in fat politics, which attempts to fight the anti-fat stigma head-on by positing the big body in all its perceived abjection as an option to be accepted and even celebrated. “I’ll take my naked body to the streets in protest,” writes one such defiant revolutionary named Mariko Tamaki. “I’ll pummel the public with what it insists on denying and avoiding: tons of mountainous, sexy flesh. I’ll bare my bare boobs and squish my sweaty bum at strangers. . . . I’ll gather an army of fat angry naked soldiers and we’ll take to the streets.” Into the fray, Beth Ditto!

This season’s fashion narrative, ever mindful of populist sentiment, has tipped its hat in the direction of size diversity by featuring some curvier styles replete with circle skirts and cantilevered breasts among the usual array of pared-down ones, clothes for “real women” instead of starved models. Clothes, that is, made for the amply endowed Christina Hendricks of “Mad Men” instead of for the bevy of skinny lovelies on just about every other TV show. Be this as it may, it’s safe to say that flesh isn’t going to become the new black anytime soon. The days when Sarah Bernhardt was the object of derision because of her thinness are irrevocably gone. According to a new biography of the actress by Robert Gottlieb, jokes about Bernhardt’s ostensibly skeletal physique once abounded: “She’s so thin that when she swallows a pill, she looks pregnant.” “When she takes a bath, the level of the water goes down.”

In their place is a perspective that looks upon Marilyn Monroe as suspiciously full-figured instead of pleasingly zaftig and insists on an undeviatingly lean aesthetic as the beauty ideal. “It doesn’t matter that whole human epochs have celebrated big men and women,” Sallie Tisdale writes in her essay “A Weight That Women Carry,” “because the brief period in which I live does not; since I was born, even the voluptuous calendar girl has gone. Today’s models, the women whose pictures I see constantly, unavoidably, grow more minimal by the day.” For confirmation, one need look no further than the example of Filippa Hamilton, the Ralph Lauren model who, at 5 feet 10 inches and 120 pounds, was pink-slipped last year and claims it was because she was regarded as overweight. Or to the non-model extras that Miuccia Prada reportedly fired last December while she was designing the costumes for the Metropolitan Opera’s recent production of Verdi’s “Attila,” deeming them impossible to dress. “I need models!” this reputedly open-minded, deep-thinking fashion star is supposed to have said.

How, one might well wonder, did we manage to come to such a pass? How, in an age that seeks to empower women’s standing, has the female image become honored mainly in its diminution? Judeo-Christian tradition has always had its own problems with the flesh, of course, evocative as it is of the carnal and thus sinful (and, by further implication, slothful and unclean). Christian iconography has tended to be half in love with flesh as an object of mortification, as in the crucifixion of Christ, while the Judaic tradition strictly regulates the exposure of flesh for both men and women. Meanwhile, as Lebesco demonstrates in “Revolting Bodies,” an ethnographic view of fat shows it to be a more fluid construct, one that is governed by prevailing economic and cultural interests rather than the negative idée fixe our contemporary eyes have been conditioned into seeing it as. (The stigmatizing term “obese,” from the Latin obesus, originally meant “having eaten well” until it was reclassified by 19th-century doctors and health workers, just as “fat” was once a flattering term used by the Greeks.) In premodern times, for instance, chunkiness in women was generally seen as a positive signifier, indicating fertility in a time when food supplies were scarce or irregular and human reproductivity was endangered; fatness, it appears, was perceived as a kind of internalized abundance. Similarly, during the early part of the 20th century in southern Italy, where back-breaking work was necessary for survival, corpulence was valued because it was equated with wealth and beauty. By the 1960s, however, when the vast majority of the population was adequately fed, fat people began to be marginalized and pathologized. Perhaps most interesting, in stark contrast to our own culture of endless dieting and food fetishism, are certain primitive societies that engage in an actual “fattening process,” like the Annang of Nigeria, whose women until very recently were deliberately fattened up in fattening huts before marriage. This approach sounds so antithetical to our own “Am I fat?” anxieties (generally asked only by girls and women who are safely thin) as to verge on the surreal.

All the same, it is hard to imagine that flesh in all its ungainly specificity will ever be given its due so long as a woman’s power continues to hinge more often than not on her beauty, and so long as beautiful equals thin. Harder yet to imagine that young girls who are overweight or who deviate from the cultural norm of extreme thinness will ever feel significantly better about themselves — the efforts of fat activists notwithstanding — than Judith Moore, the author of the haunting memoir “Fat Girl: A True Story,” felt about herself: “I hate myself. I have almost always hated myself. . . . I do not hate myself for betrayals, for going behind the back of someone who trusted me. I hate myself because I am not beautiful. I hate myself because I am fat.” There is something in us that doesn’t like fat, something deeply ingrained in us that draws us to thin. Female consumers of all sizes, according to a recent study, seem to prefer looking at ads with thin rather than plus-size models. The origins of this preference are complex, having to do with tangled notions about purity versus contamination, self-indulgence versus self-control, and the ambivalence with which we regard our own appetites. In some sense fashion designers are merely messengers, delivering up to us our own grotesque parody of religious grace, in which food substitutes for sex and the sinful pleasures of the flesh lead only to the purgatory of size 14.

09 August 2010

Bollywood faces at Bangalore Fashion Week 2010

One India

With all glamorous models walking the ramp, 'Blenders Pride Bangalore Fashion Week 2010' was a success. The fashion show also saw Bollywood faces like Neha Dhupia, Mandira Bedi, Tanushree Dutta, and singer Vishal Bhall gracefully walking the ramp.

Keeping in mind that the festive season ( from October onwards) is not far away, the theme and and designs of most of the designers were more of Indian traditional and cultural wear. People even got to see a few of the peppy and western collections. Fashion designers like Swapnil Shinde, J.J. Valaya, Ramesh Dembla, Soham Chakraborty, Michelle Salins, etc were seen showcasing their designs on the occasion.

Mandira wearing her gorgeous smile said, “ I loved the outfit what Swapnil designed for me, i feel very comfortable. Swapnil is a very good friend and I couldn't deny his proposal for the show.” Swapnil Shinde presented the stronger part of the women by choosing a theme on Lady Gaga and using colours like black and white. He even brought down Mandira Bedi on the ramp wearing a white gown designed with silver and black laces showcasing her as one of the most powerful women in India with her dynamic smile.

Ramesh Dembla's collections showcased more of the traditional face of India by putting up designer sarees on the ramp. Sanjeet Anand's collections had a touch of both western and Indian collections, presenting Tanushree Dutta clad in white saree with diamond jewellery. Neha Dhupia was seen clad in a copper brown colour dress, which somewhat looked like the Anarkali chudidar chameez, designed by J.J.Valaya.

06 August 2010

DIY fashion hits land of haute couture

Associated Press

In the realm of haute couture, where seamstresses concoct handmade gowns that cost as much as a car, one atelier has caused a sensation by purveying a different kind of made-to-measure.

Call it do-it-yourself chic.

The atelier, called the Sweat Shop, is a kind of Internet cafe where Singer sewing machines replace computers, and would-be fashion designers and creatively inclined clotheshorses pay by the hour to stitch their own garments.

The brainchild of a Swiss makeup artist and an Austrian clothing designer, Sweat Shop opened in March, as France was still reeling from global economic crisis and unemployment in the country stood at more than 10 percent.

"It seems like a strange thing to say, but the crisis turned out to be the perfect timing for us," said Martena Duss, the atelier's Lucerne, Swiss-born co-founder. "After years of having this attitude that was all about consumption, people are now about recycling and saving and being creative."

The space itself sets the tone: A dilapidated former printing press in the up-and-coming Canal Saint Martin neighborhood of eastern Paris, Sweat Shop is furnished with found and secondhand objects in what might be dubbed haute kitsch style. A couch set in mustard yellow velvet sits beneath a mounted deer's head; grandma tschotskes and crocheted doilies cover every surface; the white sewing machines, provided free-of-charge by the manufacturer, sit atop refurbished school desks.

It costs euro6 ($7.90) per hour to use one of the Singers, but some prior sewing experience is required. For novices, Duss and her co-owner, Sissi Holleis, offer sewing classes five evenings a week. Because home economic classes have long been absent from the French public school curriculum, the lessons are Sweat Shop's most popular offerings, Duss said.

Beginners all start with the same simple projects — a pillow or a bag — but after that, clients come with their own fabric and ideas.

"The most frustrating thing for people is that they just don't realize how time consuming it's going to be," said Duss. "They come in here thinking they're going to make a wedding dress in a single afternoon, and it's like, 'Um, no, that's just not possible.'"

Both Duss and Holleis learned how to sew in school, and 38-year-old Holleis turned the skill into a profession, designing an eponymous line that she sold in her Paris boutique. After a decade in business, Holleis closed the store in 2008, said 28-year-old Duss, who studied to be a makeup artist and works mostly on fashion shoots and runway shows.

"Sissi is the real professional. I don't sew well, per se, but I do it in my own way," said Duss, who was sporting a roughhewn gray haltertop of her own confection.

In addition to sewing classes, the shop offers knitting lessons, birthday and bachelorette parties and, during the summer, French language immersion-cum-knitting courses. It's also a cafe, serving up potent espressos and homemade cakes.

Sweat Shop has attracted considerable attention from French fashion magazines, and 80 percent of its clientele are women aged 25-35, said Duss, adding that for some reason "there are lots of men in the knitting classes." The shop also attracts a fair share of people passing through Paris, as well as some veteran seamstresses like an 80-year-old Swedish woman who spends nearly every afternoon there.

The shop has already proven a much bigger success than Duss and Holleis initially envisioned.

"We were a bit nervous because there isn't much of a do-it-yourself culture in France," Duss said. "Maybe it's because there's so much perfection all around, with haute couture and haute cuisine, but French people are generally reticent do things that may not be perfect."

"But now, I think people are eager to express themselves and be their own designer and personalize what they wear. They don't all want to be going around in the same H&M T-shirt," she said, adding that she and Holleis have already gotten franchise offers.

"For the moment, we're taking it slow. This is like our baby, so we want it to have time to grow up a little. But we sometimes joke that our goal is to have three stores in three years," she said.

A top destination for the first new branch? Possibly New York, she said.

29 July 2010

Macy's Hopes Madonna's Line Puts Retailer On Map With Teens

The Wall Street Journal

Macy's Inc. doesn't plan to sell cone bras to its customers, but the department store is hoping its new line by Madonna and her daughter Lourdes will resonate with a new generation of teens who didn't grow up listening to the Material Girl's music.

The approach is Macy's first deep foray into "fast fashion," apparel that is trendy and moves out of doors quickly. The line, called Material Girl, puts Macy's up against specialty stores like Forever 21 that devote their entire floor spaces and fortunes to teens. The potential return is significant, with roughly $25 billion spent annually on teen apparel, according to NPD Group.

The line also helps Macy's reinvent itself. The retailer for the last year or so has been revamping the way it receives and sells merchandise, with significant emphasis on tailoring inventory to local tastes.

Material Girl makes its debut Aug. 3, when Macy's opens curtained-off areas in stores to introduce a line that aims to be both edgy and accessible. Tutu-style dresses and alligator skin shoes will stand aside corduroy jackets and stone-washed jeans.

The line "is a real image enhancer for us," said Martine Reardon, Macy's executive vice president of marketing. "The fact that Madonna and her daughter are behind this should make it a real winner."

Teens shopping last week in the junior's department at Macy's Herald Square store in midtown Manhattan expressed interest in the line--and added that it might have an added benefit..

"I think it's cool," said Jessica Allen, a 15-year-old from Queens. "My mom wants to see it, too. She likes Madonna and her look."

While there are certainly influences of early-career Madonna in the line--sheer lace tops and midrift-baring black leather jackets--there are no over-the-top items, like the cone bras that brought Madonna personal fashion notoriety.

Macy's and Iconix Brands Group Inc. (ICON), which is collaborating with Madonna and Lourdes on the line, said it was primarily influenced by Lourdes' fashion sense, with research extending to going through Lourdes' closet.

Macy's will not disclose its financial arrangement with Madonna or what the retailer hopes to see in sales. Iconix has said in a regulatory filing that it will pay Madonna as much $30 million to partner with her on fashion brands. An Iconix spokeswoman said Material Girl, which is exclusive to Macy's, is one of the brands and declined to break out what percentage of the $30 million it represents. Madonna and a partner own 50% of Material Girl, with Iconix owning the other half.

Macy's will initially place the line in 200 of its roughly 800 stores, which the company said is a pretty typical number of locations for a merchandise rollout. The department store will gauge demand and consider adding the line to additional locations, Reardon said. The apparel, shoes, jewelry and handbags will range from $12 to $40. Macy's already envisions extending the line into fragrances next year.

Consumers will soon be seeing Material Girl promos, with Macy's planning to advertise the merchandise in magazines, online, on billboards, over the radio, in movie theaters and through social media. Macy's declined to say how much the advertising campaign will cost.

Macy's has chosen the right representatives to step up its presence in teen retailing, while adding to its roster of products backed by celebrities, said John Long, retail strategist at Kurt Salmon Associates. "You have the more youthful element with her daughter, and Madonna has demonstrated staying power, appeal across generations and an edge."

Department stores have to work hard to avoid being thought of as dated, given the proliferation of specialty stores that focus just on teens and young adults, and the only downside would be if Material Girl did not catch on, said John Rosen, executive director of Marketing Consulting Associates. "If it misses the mark, it will be harder to get that audience to give Macy's next attempt a shot."

26 July 2010

New Bratz to Hit Shelves in August

Associated Press

New Bratz dolls are heading to stores after a federal court overturned a ruling that their maker, MGA Entertainment, had to turn over the brand to Mattel Inc.

Two new lines of the doe-eyed dolls should hit stores such as Toys R Us, Target and Walmart by the end of August.

Bratz, the pouty-lipped, provocatively dressed rivals to Mattel's Barbie, have been scarce as Mattel and MGA battled over their rights. Last week an appeals court overturned a lower court's ruling upholding Mattel's claim that Bratz's designer was actually working for Mattel when he created them and Mattel should get ownership of the trademark. The case may be retried.

MGA, which launched the doll 10 years ago, is shipping several new Bratz products:

_ "Passion for Fashion" dolls that retail for $9.99 and come with extra clothes and accessories;

_ "Party" dolls, which retail for $19.99 and come with both day wear and party wear.

_ a pair of twins, Roxxi and Phoebe, in a two-pack for $24.99;

_ two Bratz Boyz at $10.99 each; and

_ play sets such as a spa for $49.99 and a club lounge for $34.99.

The new Bratz have less makeup and more ample clothing and are more flexible than earlier versions, said MGA CEO Isaac Larian. They have been in development since December, when the appeals court put on hold the order for MGA to hand over the trademark to Mattel.

The Bratz franchise was once worth as much as $1 billion and was MGA's biggest brand. But its popularity peaked in 2005 and sales have been sliding since. Meanwhile, MGA launched its "Moxie Girlz" brand. SpinMaster also introduced "Liv" dolls. And Barbie, who long ruled the roost of fashion dolls, has been experiencing a resurgence.

While Bratz will be at all major toy retailers, it is unclear how much shelf space they will get.

"I think retailers are going to expect some special accommodation to be changing their shelf space allocations at such a late date," said Needham & Co. analyst Sean McGowan.

MGA said retailers set aside shelf space for the line in January, however. And Toys R Us spokeswoman Kathleen Waugh said the new Bratz dolls are "being accommodated within the normal flexing of space in the fashion dolls area for the fall set."

MGA is a privately held company based in Van Nuys, Calif. In addition to Bratz and Moxie Girlz it makes Little Tikes, Rescue Pets and Zapf toys.