20 May 2010

One Woman, One Dress, One Crusade

LA Times

For almost a year, Sheena Matheiken has lived her life as a calendar girl for sustainable fashion.

A New Yorker who is originally from India, she is the creator of the Uniform Project, a fashion blog that has steadily gained followers worldwide. The blog features the pixie-like Matheiken wearing one of seven identical little black dresses every day of the year, transforming the simple garment into a year's worth of eclectic looks by inventive accessorizing. She never repeats an ensemble. Think of it as an advent calendar for fashion followers, each day a new surprise. The dress can be worn frontward, backward, buttoned or unbuttoned. Wild stockings, colonial-looking collars, hats that vary from chic to the fantastically obscure, printed socks and covetable shoes change each day's look to something unique.

 Friday will mark the 365th day of the ambitious undertaking, which Matheiken created in collaboration with friend and former fashion designer Eliza Starbuck. With less than a week left, the Uniform Project (www.theuniformproject.com) continues in its mission to create a dialogue about sustainable fashion.

It's a delicate balance for Matheiken; while showing that one simple dress can be all a woman needs, she also has to feature fresh pieces to continue piquing interest in her project. Although the accessories are different every day, she carefully selects used, repurposed, vintage, handmade and recycled goods to create each look, and then auctions them off, with proceeds going to the blog's pet charity. Matheiken has been known to wear a belt as a necklace, use pants as a shrug or modify a skirt to create a dress. The result is nothing shy of astounding.

The blogger encourages consumers to "shop" in their own closets and reinvent a piece rather than throw it away. Additionally, the Uniform Project's blog provides an open forum for discussions on green fashion, and when Matheiken has collaborated with designers (who sometimes donate accessories) they must fit the project's sustainability approach.

Even with a serious subject like ecological consciousness, there's humor to be found in the New Yorker's everyday fashion trials. She leans toward what she calls "polarizing" items, the ones that can garner comments such as "HATE! HATE! HATE!" and "Want in every color" about the same accessory. One favorite was a hand-knitted "brunch necklace."

"It was literally like brunch all knitted: an omelet, bacon and cutlery, and it was huge. If this isn't humor in fashion, I don't know what is … needless to say it was one of the most loved and hated pieces, and it actually was auctioned off for a lot of money," Matheiken says.

Auction proceeds go to the Akanksha Foundation, a grassroots movement that promotes education in India. The money, as well as donations collected by the Uniform Project via solicitations on its website, is used to pay for uniforms and educational expenses for children living in India's slums.

In January, Matheiken traveled to India to visit the organizers of the foundation, whom she had met at a conference in New York. She sat in on classrooms, met parents, visited Mumbai and Pune's slums and gleefully collected hand-painted accessories crafted by students enthusiastically contributing to the project.

"Meeting the kids was the best part. These kids are so incredible to work with. You don't see that thirst to actually learn here [in the U.S.]. These kids want to learn.... I now have this longstanding relationship with my home country," Matheiken says.

It's been a profound year in many ways for the blogger. The inventively attired Matheiken has raised more than $71,000 (and counting) for the schoolchildren in India, pranced in her LBD from her home country to London and back to New York and most recently quit her day job as a creative director at an ad agency. A possibility lingers for a book deal — the way the "Julie & Julia" blog on French cooking spawned a book and movie.

With less than a week before the close of the project, there's an undeniable weariness in Matheiken's voice during a telephone interview. The Brooklyn resident is already becoming nostalgic for the online community she created. "We got donations from Argentina, Australia, Italy, the U.K., Germany, Sweden, Canada, a lot from the U.S. obviously, from all over," she says. The site has received close to 2 million visits and gets an average of 5,000 hits daily.

In her last week of photos, in her standard LBD — or what Matheiken has become to call her "second skin" — she appears to be as happy as on day one. If she could go back, Matheiken says she would absolutely do it all over again.

Now sans a traditional job and equipped with an extraordinary collection of stockings —Matheiken didn't think anyone would want to bid on her worn tights — she is plotting her next venture. She hopes to continue merging fashion, sustainability and philanthropy, in some way. The blogger's wardrobe post-Uniform Project has yet to be decided.

"I'm very curious what I'm going to wear on day 366," she says, "because I have no idea."

18 May 2010

Liberty's Pondexter Soaks Up New York

The Wall Street Journal

Cappie Pondexter wants it to be known: she is not the same person she was when she played college ball at Rutgers.

The point guard who took the Madison Square Garden floor Sunday afternoon in her debut with the WNBA's New York Liberty isn't the one who used to be harangued by her college coach for being "too nice" to take over games, or the one who once avoided telling her teammates what to do lest she might be considered arrogant.

Basketball is still clearly first, second and third in Ms. Pondexter's life. She has two WNBA titles and three All-Star appearances to her name. She's won another two titles in the Russian Superleague where she plays in the off-seasons. She's widely considered to be the best guard in the women's game.

But the player who drove and pointed, directed her teammates and scored 22 points during the Liberty's 85-82 win over the Chicago Sky Sunday hasn't just come to the sports world's biggest stage for a chance to show off her newfound assertiveness. The decision is also a practical one: She has ambitions for her life after basketball, too.

Last year, Ms. Pondexter and a friend launched 4 Season Style Management, a New York-based firm that offers private fashion and image coaching and consulting for professional athletes and other high-profile individuals.

Ms. Pondexter is not a household name in the way Los Angeles star Candace Parker is. Moving to New York from the relative obscurity of Phoenix should bring her more endorsement opportunities and a bigger pool of potential leads and clients for her burgeoning company.

"Right now we're just in the beginning stages and we have a lot of work ahead of us," said Ms. Pondexter, who describes her own style as "grunge, edgy, a little tomboyish."

"Look, we can't retire on our earnings in basketball like the men can," said Liberty general manager Carol Blazejowski. "Cappie's very smart. There's no better place for basketball or fashion than New York. She's starting a business and Phoenix is a small market; being here will introduce her to new fans on both the basketball side and the fashion side."

When Ms. Pondexter, fresh off a second championship with the Phoenix Mercury, asked for a trade to New York for her own off-court career prospects, it didn't quite have the gravity of Wayne Gretzky asking for a trade to Los Angeles—in part because his actress wife would have better prospects. But in WNBA circles, where she's a star of the first order, the shock was nearly as severe.

Ms. Pondexter won an Olympic gold medal in 2008 and followed her 2007 WNBA Finals MVP title run with another championship in 2009—and averaged 19.1 points, 4.2 assists and 5.0 rebounds while doing so.

Nike dedicated a shoe to her in 2007. Her photo appeared on a Wheaties box that same year and she now has her own shoe deal with Protégé.

Off the court, Ms. Pondexter, who has a Rutgers degree in sociology and history, is known in the league for having a megawatt smile and the sort of infectious charm that helps teams stay glued together. She is, as Ms. Blazejowski said, "a superstar without a superstar ego."

Ms. Pondexter said her company has worked with a few athletes already, but she knows that her basketball will have to help give her business a push.

Just one week since her return from winning the Russian Superleague title with UMMC Ekaterinburg, coach Anne Donovan said the guard has totally changed the tenor of Liberty practices. To maintain her focus on the game, she lives outside the Liberty's practice facility in Westchester and not in the middle of the city.

Coming back to the Northeast to play again, she said she can see both the progress she's made and the height of the challenges ahead.

"I'm 27," she said. "What you saw at Rutgers is totally different. I do things and I think about things I didn't then. I have to. How long I can play basketball is not in my control."

17 May 2010

Kazansky Station Gets Gaultier Fashion Show

The Moscow Times

Across the road from the red carpet that was laid for a fashion show featuring Jean Paul Gaultier, two men negotiated a price with a prostitute.

“Can I touch?” one man asked the thin blonde outside the Komsomolskaya metro station. “Not before you’ve paid,” she replied firmly.

Haute couture swept into Kazansky Station for a few hours Friday night. Celebrities and would-be art buyers watched a retrospective of Gaultier’s work in the station’s VIP area, alongside the usual chaos that is Komsomolskaya Ploshchad — dirty, addled homeless people sleeping or crouching on the street, aggressive taxi drivers, and market stalls that sell shoes for 600 rubles ($20) a pair.

Speaking a day before the show, the designer said it had been his dream to stage a show in a train station — he has long wanted to do one in Gare de Lyon’s famous belle epoque Train Bleu restaurant — and he jumped at the chance when offered the Kazansky show, which opened the Chereshnevy Les arts festival.

“A train station is a symbol of traveling, and my collections are always a kind of travel,” Gaultier said.

It is doubtful that he knew of Komsomolskaya Ploshchad’s dubious reputation, however, as he said he had only seen photos of the interior of Kazansky Station — a cathedral-like space designed by Alexei Shchusev, the architect who designed Lenin’s mausoleum, with murals of planes and dirigibles on the ceiling — but he had not been to the station itself.

Russia is a mix of “romanticism and madness,” he said — and nothing could better describe a night that saw leggy models sauntering down in Mexican-themed costumes and clothes inspired by the film “Avatar” as adoring Moscow fashionistas sweated profusely. Fans without seats clambered onto palm trees scattered around the hall to catch sight of the show. 

“Russia is open to the world,” Gaultier said earlier in the week, adding that he was impressed with how young Russians dress. “I have the impression that now the rest of Europe is like an old sputnik.”

Gaultier, who last came to Moscow five years ago, met with clients at his boutique on Ulitsa Petrovka on Saturday.

Almost as colorfully dressed as the models on the catwalk, although much shorter, were a group of Roma women and children, who, on seeing Andrei Bartenev, the artist and designer famed for his outlandish costumes, rushed toward him excitedly upon his arrival. Bartenev at first attempted to run — not easy with his chunky shoes — but sensing a photo op, posed briefly as they snapped him on a mobile phone.

Bartenev could later be seen in the front row of the show, blocking the view of whomever was behind him.

“It’s a mockery,” said Ilya, a freelance designer who goes through the square every day on his commute, pointing to where the panhandlers normally stand as the crowd jostled to get into the show. “This is where all the migrants come. That underpass is where everyone goes to the toilet. It’s a mockery.”

Still, many of those without a ticket crowded around the red carpet to catch a glimpse of celebrities.

“Why not? We have a beautiful train station,” said Lyudmila, a train station worker. “Was the hall OK? It’s very hot. Everyone left as if coming from a steam room, like a banya.”

“I am wearing Jean Paul Gaultier,” said singer Filip Kirkorov, the only pop star as tall as the models on the stage, pointing to the orange net vest under his orange jacket. “It has holes — if you didn’t wear Gaultier, you were hot.”

15 May 2010

Iman to Co-Host 'The Fashion Show'


Supermodel Iman has signed on to co-host the second season of Bravo's "The Fashion Show" with designer Isaac Mizrahi. The fashion competition series returns later this year. Iman, the wife of David Bowie, began her career in 1975 and today is the founder and CEO of IMAN Cosmetics, Skincare and Fragrances.

14 May 2010

Seattle Fashion Week has an international flavor in 2010

Seattle Times

Forget New York, Milan and Paris: The designers of Seattle Fashion Week come from India, Somalia, Dubai, Romania, China, Iran — and, of course, Seattle — and they don't feel obligated to follow trends started by the big-name fashion houses. In fact, they feel those houses would be wise to look to the West Coast for inspiration.

Designs hitting the catwalk will include the usual casual urban streetwear, outerwear and couture gowns, plus colorful saris and other designs influenced by Asia and Africa.

"Our big twist this year is international designers who want to showcase in Seattle," said Janet Tinsay, one of the show's organizers. The expanded lineup is part of an effort to broaden the event's influence and celebrate the cultural diversity of Seattle's designers and the city in general.

"These are all very established designers," Tinsay said.

The event has also moved to a bigger venue, WaMu Theater at Qwest Field, which will house a daytime Beauty and Lifestyle Fashion Expo where fashion fans can wander among displays and shop before attending one of the runway shows.

The international designers' work will be on display and for sale at the expo, as will items from Seattle-area vendors.

Runway-show admission prices have gone up this year, but ticket holders will get free admission to the expo (admission to the expo without a show ticket is $10, with half the proceeds going to the Seattle Brain Cancer Walk).

Three days of runway shows start on May 13 with an opener dedicated to emerging and independent Seattle designers. They include Banchong Douangphrachanh, one of whose designs was worn by singer Lady Gaga in her "Pokerface" music video.

Tinsay notes that a number of designers from the Pacific Northwest have done well in recent "Project Runway" TV-show contests (Seth Aaron Henderson, the most recent season's winner, is from Vancouver, Wash.; during Season 5, winner Leanne Marshall was from Portland; and Seattle's Blayne Walsh also made a good showing), so the emerging designers might offer a taste of what's to come in the fashion world.

Bigger names and more mainstream designers will show their latest work on May 14, and established and international designers will showcase theirs on May 15. Olympic speedskating champion and "Dancing with the Stars" celebrity Apolo Anton Ohno will walk the runway in designer clothing on May 15.

While some talent agencies provide models for the shows, many of the models will be amateurs who answered an open casting call. The shows will also feature entertainment by local performing artists. Tinsay says in previous years, both models and performers have gotten contracts with agents who saw them at fashion week.

She says the show will allow anyone, fashionista or not, a chance to see cutting-edge design. "This show will bring them the experience of the best of couture," she said.

08 May 2010

Qatar Holding buys Harrods

Gulf Times

Egyptian-born businessman Mohamed Al-Fayed has sold prestigious London department store Harrods to Qatar Holding, the main investment arm of the Qatar Investment Authority.

A spokesman for Lazard, which advised the Al Fayed family trust, declined to confirm the value of the deal. But according to news agencies, the deal is reported to be worth around £1.5bn ($2.3bn).

“After 25 years as chairman of Harrods, Mohamed Al-Fayed has decided to retire and to spend more time with his children and grandchildren and believed Qatar Holding would continue to promote it as a luxury brand,” Lazard chairman Ken Costa said yesterday.
“Qatar Holding was specifically chosen by the trust as they had both the vision and financial capacity to support the long term successful growth of Harrods,” he added.

Harrods is a luxury department store located on Brompton Road in Knightsbridge, London. The Harrods brand applies to other enterprises undertaken by the Harrods group of companies, including Harrods Bank, Harrods Estates, Harrods Aviation and Air Harrods.

Qatar Holding will be the fifth owner of Harrods since its creation in 1840.

The Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabor al-Thani, also chairman of Qatar Holding, said yesterday: “Our latest acquisition forms part of our efforts to realise the vision of HH the Emir and HH the Heir Apparent of the State of Qatar. Harrods generates good and stable returns as a business; it will add much value to our international portfolio of investments.”

He said that Qatar Holding would do “its best to upgrade this monument, to make it even greater and better for the tourism and the British people”.

Al-Fayed, who also owns Europa League finalists Fulham Football Club and the Hotel Ritz Paris, gave Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim a short tour of the store.

Qatar Holding vice chairman Dr Hussain Ali al-Abdullah said: “Our latest acquisition is truly magnificent. Such a rare opportunity does not arise every day and today we celebrate this landmark transaction.”

Qatar Holding managing director and CEO Ahmad Mohamed al-Sayed said: “This acquisition further expands our global portfolio of world-leading companies.

“We are delighted to announce that Mohamed al-Fayed has accepted our invitation to become honorary chairman of Harrods. We look forward to working with Michael Ward, Harrods managing director, and the outstanding team that Mohamed Al-Fayed has assembled to continue to maintain Harrods as the world’s pre-eminent luxury retailer.”

Credit Suisse advised Qatar Holding on the transaction.

05 May 2010

Texas Man's Identity Used in Jimmy Choo Purse Spree in Palo Alto

Mercury News

In a crime reminiscent of a Citibank identity theft commercial, Palo Alto police on Sunday nabbed two San Francisco men who allegedly stole a Texas man's information, opened up a credit account in his name and went on a designer-fashion spending spree at Nordstrom in the Stanford Shopping Center.

John Santner, 44, and Michael Catalano, 49, were pulled over in a white Dodge van filled with more than $5,000 worth of Jimmy Choo purses, Hugo Boss shoes and other trendy accessories, Palo Alto police Agent Rich Bullerjahn said. They allegedly also had crystal methamphetamine.

Each suspect was booked on felony counts of burglary, identity theft, drug possession and theft, according to police records. Santner, already on parole, was also booked with giving false information to an officer, after he allegedly claimed to be the man whose name was on the credit card.

Officers weren't about to fall for that, Bullerjahn said. Security officers at Nordstrom had already called the identity theft victim, who assured them he hadn't been buying any Jimmy Choo purses in the Bay Area recently.

The suspects were caught thanks to a suspicious store clerk and a sharp-eyed young cop, Bullerjahn said.

The Nordstrom clerk was wary because Santner pulled out a recently issued temporary credit card to pay for all the fancy clothes, Bullerjahn said. The clerk notified security officers, who soon confirmed the identity theft — though Santner and Catalano were already on their way out by then.

A security officer had spied the pair leaving the shopping center and getting into the Dodge van, Bullerjahn said. Palo Alto police headed to the area, and Officer Brad Young saw the car heading westbound on Sand Hill Road near Oak Creek Drive. He pulled over the van, and a security officer soon arrived to identify the suspects.

Police recovered from the vehicle all of the clothes that had been purchased at Nordstrom, Bullerjahn added.

It wasn't Santner's first arrest on identity theft charges. According to a San Francisco Chronicle article from April 2007, he was one of a trio picked up at a Marriott Courtyard Hotel on charges of manufacturing and using counterfeit credit cards after a hotel custodian found partially completed driver's licenses in a garbage can. They were also charged with methamphetamine possession.

It was not immediately clear whether Santner was convicted in that case or whether that was the source of his parole status.

Burberry Forges Ahead with Beauty Range

The Independent

As announced by the British success brand last year, Burberry will launch its line of color cosmetics this July, joining a big list of fashion labels that have introduced their own-brand beauty collections recently. So how will it be different?

First of all, products won't be updated every season as opposed to most other ranges be it fast-fashion like Topshop's new line (out May 5) or high-fashion like Dolce & Gabbana's new makeup collection. Instead, creative head Christopher Bailey will start with close to 100 'classic' items for the face, lips, cheeks, and eyes, and then introduce novelties when the time feels right.

"Like the trenchcoat, [the range] can be worn anywhere and at any time," Bailey told Women's Wear Daily. "When we feel it needs a new pop of something, we will start adding things and that will all flow with fashion, as well."

Secondly, judging from the exemplary activity on social media such as Facebook and new website launches such as The Art of the Trench, it is safe to expect a beauty brand that will interact with its customers a lot, and Bailey confirms that the new collection is "completely integrated with everything else we do with the brand and with the company."

The range, which will simply be called Burberry Beauty - a fitting name given that the brand's iconic trenches and check pattern did not only influence the packaging but also the actual product colors (trend-wise, it's a good time to launch beiges and nudes) - will be priced from $25 - $56.

04 May 2010

San Diego: Fashion Valley Saks Fifth Avenue Closing

The San Diego Union-Tribune

Come July, we’ll be Saks-less in San Diego.

Saks Inc., the luxury retail chain, is shuttering its store at Fashion Valley as it pares down underperforming locations to boost its bottom line.

“The planned closing of our San Diego store is consistent with our strategy of focusing our resources on our most productive stores,” said Steve Sadove, chief executive of Saks.

In March, Saks said it would close its store in Portland, Ore., by July as well.

The closing of Saks Fifth Avenue, which occupies about 81,000 square feet, leaves a big hole in Fashion Valley’s luxury aspirations. The mall was one of the few shopping centers in the country to house four of the most notable high-end department stores — Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue.

Les Morris, spokesman for Simon Property Group, which operates Fashion Valley, said Saks’ decision to leave was not unexpected. The company plans to divide the space and lease it to a number of smaller retailers, he said. While he said they’re was plenty of demand for the space, he could not yet disclose who would take it or how it would be divvied up.

He did say that Fashion Valley would continue to focus on high-end retailers that do not already have stores in the San Diego market.

“This gives us the opportunity to redeploy that space,” he said. It is not the first time that Saks Fifth Avenue, which occupied the Fashion Valley location since 1995, has closed a store in the San Diego market. In 2004, it closed its underperforming stand-alone La Jolla store.

The question is: why couldn’t Saks Fifth Avenue make it here?

The answer is simple, said George Whalin, president of Retail Management Consultants in Carlsbad.

“We just don’t dress the way people in New York, Chicago and San Francisco dress,” he said.

Whalin said too often retailers assume San Diego is like the rest of the Southern California market. But San Diegans are much more casual than our counterparts. He attributed that to the weather and the region’s top industries — tourism, defense and technology — which are not necessarily known for their emphasis on sartorial splendor.

“We just don’t dress like they do in L.A.,” he said. “We just don’t dress like they do in Orange County.”

Barbara Wyckoff, an analyst for Jesup & Lamont, wrote in a research note, that Saks’ San Diego location probably generated less than $10 million a year in revenue.

Whalin said for a store of that size to break even, it would need to pull in double, even triple, that amount.

The Fashion Valley store has about 70 employees, and the company said they will be offered a transfer or receive a severance package.

Saks has 53 Saks Fifth Avenue stores and 55 of its outlets stores called Off 5th, including one on Camino de la Reina in Mission Valley. Saks said it had no plans to close its San Diego Off 5th store. California is home to six Saks Fifth Avenue stores, with the closest locations being in Mission Viejo, Costa Mesa and Palm Desert.