illustration by Lana Frankel
I recently had the pleasure of spending an afternoon at the Bro0klyn studio of artists' collaborative, Fort Makers. (They paint! They quilt! They do woodworking! They design clothing!) The result of our fun and freewheeling conversation was published on Dossier, accompanied by some kickass images by photographer Kate Owen. Go. Enjoy.
image courtesy Kate Owen/Dossier
The Label: Rosie Assoulin
Based In: New York City
Designed By: Rosie Assoulin. The 28-year-old Brooklyn native has always loved fashion—she began experimenting on her grandmother's sewing machine at age 13—and hopscotched from floral design to event planning to jewelry design (under the tutelage of her future mother-in-law, Lee Angel creative director, Roxanne Assoulin) before turning her talents to fashion. Having dropped out of FIT, the designer honed her skills through internships at Lee Angel, Oscar de la Renta, Brian Reyes and Lanvin. "We launched our collection with Resort 2014 this past June," said Assoulin. "It was centered around what my ideal wardrobe would be."
Looks Like: Based in Tribeca and produced in New York's Garment District, Assoulin's resort outing is full of what she terms "evolved classic" silhouettes (think: relaxed drawstring waist jumpsuits, a trench back vest, low-slung palazzo pants atop a bell sleeved crop top, and architecturally draped cocktail frocks in bold, figure flattering stripes crafted from pure silk and luxurious cotton faille). Her début outing is, she said, "a blend of many aesthetics I've always been drawn to, including American sportswear, Fifties French couture and ethnic tribal wear with a healthy dose of menswear throughout." Indeed, it's the ladylike boyishness of Assoulin's designs—even the evening dresses feel refreshingly sportif—that sets her work apart. She's also adept at using big, graphic prints in unexpected ways, such as a pair of trousers that are white above the knee and black below, worn with a matching tie belt, or a strapless sheath with diagonally striped panels that meet in a flirty cascade at the hip. For spring 2014 (pictured below) she continued to evolve her signature menswear tailoring-meets-feminine volume by way of double-belted trousers with a cold-shoulder blouse, grommeted palazzo pants paired with a casual-cool polo, sari-sashed le smoking and a hand-painted striped gown with an adjustable zippered train. The designer also collaborated with her mother-in-law on a small range of semiprecious bags and jewelry for spring. "I am drawn to women who are strong, passionate, individualistic and confident," the designer said of her dream client. "She’s stylish, not trendy, but she’s got an adventurous spirit. It is for a woman who approaches dressing herself with a deep understanding of who she is—and has a healthy curiosity for the new and unchartered within herself and the world."
Sold At: The Rosie Assoulin collection retails from $550 - $7,200 and is carried at Fivestory, Louis Boston, Forty Five Ten in Dallas, Capitol in Charlotte, The Webster Miami and online at Moda Operandi.
graphic design by K Sarna
Wednesday dawns sunny and h-o-t with highs in the 90s and lots of good old NYC humidity. Fun! Dressing stylishly when you know you'll be running around town in a convection oven (sans car and driver) is always a challenge, but I pulled on one of my favorite summer outfits (Catherine Malandrino white embroidered peasant blouse, Eileen Fisher summer weight crepe pants and black patent/silver Mephisto Hubilias, which are like cooler, even more comfy Birkis). Because when it's nearing 100, you can't be a slave to fashion (apologies to Anna Dello Russo and Michelle Harper).
My first stop is the Grammercy Park Hotel for the presentation of Rauwolf, an incredibly chic Plexiglas clutch collection designed by Kristine Johannes. For spring, Kristine was inspired by the "tragic beauty" of Gavin Bryars' classical score, The Sinking of the Titanic, which led her to consider all manner of oceanic denizens and decay. There's a graphic black and white minaudière that recalls a wentletrap shell found of the coast of Japan, and others with silver surfaces that appear blistered and decomposed—but in the loveliest way possible. "Basically, you take a sheet of Plexiglas and you make it sick," the designer says with a laugh of her top secret technique, which had her Italian artisans shaking their heads in disbelief. The results remind me of the scarred, cloudy surface of an antique mirror—destroyed and worn down by time, to be sure. But also achingly beautiful and a tacit reminder of the fate that awaits us all. (All this from a little evening bag? Yup. That's the genius of Johannes.) I'm also enamored of the new Noblesse ("we're gettin' fancy with the French names"), a slope-sided clutch encased in a blown-up skin cell print with faceted Plexi crystals on the sides. Kristine demonstrates its super-light properties by faux tossing it while instructing me to "go long." We're interrupted by Deena Abdulaziz, the charming Saudi Arabian princess/owner of Riyadh boutique D'NA and her marketing director, Alex Aubry, who are running an hour behind schedule. After a quick introduction and a catch-up with Alex (whom I've never met in person but know from back in the day, when we both used to be frequent commenters on the then-new On the Runway blog), I reluctantly leave Kristine and her beautiful creations—and the equally beautiful Park View Suite, which is hands-down the nicest NYFW hotel venue I've seen thus far—to head to my next appointment.
On the way downtown, my cabbie and I start off having a pleasant enough conversation about politics and yesterday's primary results. He tells me he voted for Christine Quinn and Eliot Spitzer (whom he calls "my governor") and says his biggest issue is anti-bullying, suggesting there be signs posted in all classrooms and outside schools outlawing bullying. The penalty for noncompliance? "First offense: one week's suspension. Second offense: a month's suspension. Third offense: transfer to another school. No exceptions!" He also advocates higher education for all NYC teachers (at least one Master's Degree in the subject of their choice). We agree that Bill Thompson needs to concede, already (really, Bill, a few paper ballots are not gonna bring you to the 40 percent you need for a runoff) but things go off the rails when he begins ranting against Thompson—and blacks in general. "I'm not a racist, but…" and he's off to the races. Gulp. I express my disapproval and try to reign him in but he's now slagging off the city's entire Puerto Rican and Spanish community. Oh, Jeebus. Thankfully, my cab reaches its destination before I'm forced to physically slap some sense into him (as if that's even possible). Another New York cabbie conversation gone bad. Oy. But I've learned to pick my battles in these situations because, as my friend Sharon says, "You can't fight crazy, cause crazy always wins." True dat.
The accessories tour continues at the Kotur presentation at…wait for it…The Standard Hotel. Instead of the ubiquitous High Line room on the third floor, designer Fiona Kotur has taken the Empire Suite, which is filled with her colorful, whimsical creations. There are snakeskin wristlets, multimedia evening bags, sparkly clutches and an iPhone 5 minaudière with an outside slot for your cell, so you don't have to open it to read texts or take photos. Clever! I'm entranced by a tiny square snow globe bag with faux expletive graphic—it's got delicate red and gold stars encased in its liquid center that move when you shake it, and a slot for a 3x5 photo on the front. And the designer has introduced shoes for spring 2014, which range from two-tone snakeskin flats to flower and tassel-bedecked sandals to Turkish slippers and cap-toe pumps, all based around a globetrotting theme. "It's about the spirit of travel," the designer explains. "She's a Gypset who's been to Morocco, Istanbul…" Kotur's artist mom, Sheila Camera Kotur, did all the illustrations for the presentation, which depict wildly colorful creatures lounging atop piles of pillows or surrounded by riotous bouquets. "My mother was a successful fashion illustrator in the Seventies and Eighties who gave it up when she became an interior designer," says Fiona. "But she told me that she had so much fun doing these illustrations that she might take it up again." Watch your back, Garance!
After admiring the view from the Standard's top floor, it's on to my next stop: Jeremy Scott at Milk Studios' Made Fashion Week just up the street. As always, it's a celebrity scrum up in here, what with Nicki Minaj, Paris and Nicky Hilton, A$AP Rocky, Chanel Iman, Joe and Kevin Jonas, Liz Goldwyn, Iggy Azalea, Kat Graham, the MisShapes and more boldface names seated directly in front of me. I'm nearly blinded by the photogs shooting the Hiltons and have to resist the urge to photobomb them. (Must…stay…seated.) Jeremy's spring line is titled "Teenagers from Mars" and features a collaboration with the artist Kenny Scharf. His characters appear throughout the collection, as do the phrases "Mars or Bust," "Earth Sucks" and "I'm a Mess." You and me both, JS. The girls sport TV color bar bustiers and miniskirts with flippy, Mary Tyler Moore-as-Laura Petrie 'dos while the boys sport not much at all, save for painted on pants and purple zebra moto jackets. Freda Payne's Band of Gold and The Angels' 1963 classic, My Boyfriend's Back heighten the feel-good, nostalgic vibe. When one bikini-clad beauty sashays down the runway, I watch A$AP Rocky's jaw drop open (literally) while he mouths "Damn, she fine!" He watches her walk away until girlfriend Chanel Iman playfully slaps him on the leg to regain his attention—though he can't resist craning his neck to catch the rear view as she circles back down the other aisle. Backstage post-show, the couple are all smiles as they pose with Jeremy amid the craziness (and it is, to be sure, a crazy—and crazy crowded—scene). But everyone has a reason to smile as the show was a fun, exuberant paean to Eighties fashion at its finest.
I'm supposed to catch the Betsey Johnson and Anna Sui shows later tonight, but as Betsey's folks have only seen fit to give me a standing spot (uh, thanks but no thanks), that would leave me with two-plus hours to kill before Sui. So I decide to head home early. On the subway I see an ad that inquires "How ya feelin'?" Well, thanks for asking, MTA. I'm about ready for this Fashion Week madness to be over. And you?
photos by Lauren David Peden/The Fashion Informer, 2013 (except taxi photo by Noel Hidalgo, 2008)
I start my day by voting in the Mayoral Primary (cause I'm civic-minded like that) then hop a train (well, two trains) to the West Village presentation of LaQuan Smith. I'm heartened to see the big turnout for this emerging designer, whose work has been worn by the likes of Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Ciara and others of that ilk. For his spring 2014 outing, dubbed "Dark Summer," LaQuan focused on what he calls "transitional casual wear" for those on the go, inspired by his own summer travels. "This is an ode to the girl that lives on a plane during the summer, the girl that is running to make her flight and then rushing to dinner, the girl that only packs two pairs of shoes for a week on vacation," the designer said in his program notes. So that would explain the sportswear/eveningwear mash-up, which featured models in schmancy sweats (think: metallic trimmed scuba shorts, reflective stripe terry crop tops) alongside plunging v'ed plastic lace dresses, a flounced hem canvas sheath and cutout metallic denim dresses that were decorous in the front and cut so low in track that they showcased the dimples on the models' bums. There's a bit of a disconnect between the activewear and the va-va-voom cocktail fare, but I give him points for trying.
Outside, I notice a crowd gathered to watch another crowd on the corner of Washington and Horatio. Turns out they're shooting an episode of Law & Order: SVU, and curious tourists have stopped to watch the crew in action. I didn't even know that show was still on the air. (Oh, the joys of not having television.)
It this is Tuesday, it must be the Highline room at The Standard. And so it is, in honor of Nellie Partow's presentation. It's a beautiful collection, full of sharply tailored daywear alongside softly sensual After Dark attire. "It's all about the silhouettes," Nellie, a former designer at John Varvatos and Calvin Klein, tells me. "I've always been into menswear and really wanted to play with the juxtaposition between menswear and softer pieces." Which she did via textiles like nickel foil jacquard and fine silk crepe. Nellie is also a fan of minimalism, as can be seen in the spare-yet-flattering cuts—especially evident in a nude off-the-shoulder dress and black sheath with shoulder cutouts. "I wanted to focus on a woman's character and her disposition this season," she added. Bravo! And did you know that the diminutive designer is also a competitive boxing champ and NY Daily News Golden Gloves title holder? It's true. So clearly she knows a little sumthin' sumthin' about the often conflicting elements that make up a woman's character and disposition.
My next stop is a few floors higher at The Standard (suite 1210, to be exact), where my friend Sinje Lesemann in showing her Koza collection of travel bags and accessories by appointment only. I'm very familiar with the brand—I've covered Koza many times since it launched in 2010 and am the proud owner of an early-edition Rajani tote—and am excited to see the latest evolution. In addition to introducing fun new fabrics (I especially love a blue and peach fern print and the cornflower tiger silk), the jungle-inspired collection includes a new, smaller hobo bag, two cork-bottomed totes, a twisted clutch that can be hooked onto your belt loop for hands-free sightseeing and a super-chic "lunchbag" that does double duty as a day-to-night clutch. And in keeping with the line's style-meets-substance ethos, Koza's beach clutch has a removable plastic pouch for storing your wet bathing suit at day's end. Smart! On the urban front, Sinje has introduced a range of new leather- and nubuck-trimmed bags, including a double-flap backpack designed to hold your yoga mat or umbrella (along with the rest of your everyday essentials), a two-tone tote that reverses from leather to fabric, and an iPad case with cool cork trim. A luxe diaper bag is also on offer (complete with removable plastic lining and coordinating changing pad), as is a chichi leather handle that can be clipped onto your shopping bags—or your favorite Baggu—to allow them to be carried over the shoulder in style. Sinje's girlfriend, Prim, stops by just as I'm leaving with her friend, Bridget Russo, in tow. I happen to know Bridget pretty well—we met years ago when she was the publicist at Edun—but we haven't seen each other in eons. It's an impromptu fashion reunion, and one of the things I like best about covering the shows.
I'm slated to hit the Newbark and Heidi Gardner presentations next, but they're 10 blocks away, I'm melting and my dogs are barking. While I'm sitting outside the hotel Tweeting and debating whether to nip into the Biergarten or just head home (it's crazy hot and a cold brewski sounds great right about now), I watch as a sloppy drunk tourist accosts the guy next to me, who is chatting obliviously on his cell phone until the drunkard practically sits on his lap. He swats the guy away and then it's my turn. He plops down beside me on the small yellow metal bench (where there's only room for one). "Can I ask you shhumpthing?" he slurs before grabbing my arm in a most unpleasant fashion. "No," I reply. "And why are you touching me? Get your hand off my arm." He looks hurt and perplexed—why wouldn't I want his meaty paw on my person?—but leans in to continue the conversation. Time to go!
As I cross Ninth Avenue at Fourteenth Street, I see a pair of girls holding enormous balloons that say "Shut Up & Shoot." Turns out they're shilling theQ, the world's first social media camera, which uploads your images to the interwebs automatically. Because God forbid you should have an experience and not document and share it immediately. I walk on into the night, feeling old and missing the days when social meant just that, and when friends were people you'd actually met and liked (as opposed to "liked.") Sigh.
photos by Lauren David Peden/The Fashion Informer 2013
Sadly, I had to miss the weekend shows due to previous, non-Fashion Week work commitments (deadlines to meet, money to be made and all of that). But I'm back in the proverbial NYFW saddle bright and early Monday morning. Ok, ok, late Monday afternoon.
My first show of the day is Azede Jean-Pierre, a designer I just discovered this season. Jean-Pierre is a SCAD grad who worked at Ohne Titel before launching her namesake collection in fall 2013. I somehow missed her debut, but her sophomore outing, presented at Made Fashion Week at the Standard Hotel, is mightily impressive. This season, she was inspired by the patterns found on beetle shells, which she's blown up into larger-than-life prints when not featuring the creepy crawlies themselves meandering up dresses and across low-slung shorts. "The overall vibe is happy and fun," the charming designer says of her feel-good collection. "I always do black and white so I wanted to try color." Clearly, she has a feel for it, combining yellows, blues, oranges, reds and greens in a very pretty, high-spirited stew. As for her garments' rounded hems? "There are no harsh lines or square edges in nature, so it was important to me to portray that," she says. "And the pieces show a little skin but aren't too sexy." Indeed, the collection feels both flirty and decorous, even in a crop top that bares a wide swath of midriff.
I hoof it over to the Maritime Hotel on Ninth Ave, where Adam Lippes is hosting an intimate showing of his spring 2014 collection in the light-filled penthouse. Having taken a little fashion break, Lippes kicked off with a soft relaunch last fall, so this is his first foray back into the Fashion Week fray. Just don't call it a presentation! "I prefer to call it a preview," he says with a smile, gesturing to the racks of clothing inside the suite and the five AL-clad models on the terrace. "I took a year off and thought, 'who am I and what is my role in fashion?'" The answer: he's evolved his brand from the contemporary to designer market, with pieces that blend relaxed silhouettes and uber-luxe materials, as can be seen in a white python t-shirt dress, delicate lace tops, leopard print suiting fashioned from a stiff jacquard fabric and a skirt with hand-embroidered leather appliqués that nods to the collection's signature lion motif. There's also a boxy tee and spaghetti strap dress that look like well-worn patchwork denim but are actually soft-as-a-cloud linen, and easy-elegant tank dresses designed to see you through summer in style. And those of us who mourned the closure of his Adam + Eve brand have reason to rejoice: Lippes is bringing back his t-shirt and undies line, which will be sold exclusively on his website beginning later this month. So even those who can't afford a snakeskin dress from his designer collection can get in on the action with his beautifully cut, well-priced basics. (I know Mr. TFI will be jumping for joy.) I bump into Derek Blasberg and Elettra Wiedemann on my way out, the latter trailing her chihuahua-mix puppy, Happy, who looks anything but. "He's very mellow, that's why I bring him everywhere," she says. "He's jaded. He just isn't very impressed by all of this." Unlike the rest of us.
The good folks at Donna Karan were kind enough to squeeze me in at the last minute (bisous, Aliza Licht @DKNY), so I hop in a cab to Cedar Lake, located on the farthest reaches of 26th Street in Chelsea. The audience, which includes Goldie Hawn, Joy Bryant, Marisa Berenson, Carine Roitfeld and Ali Larter, is treated to a medley of hits old (Adele's Rumor Has It) and new (Robin Thicke's catchy-if-completely-misogynistic Blurred Lines) while waiting for the show to begin. I misread the show notes as Librarian Culture and have a moment of cognitive dissonance (Donna's doing librarians? Whaaat?) before realizing it says "Urban" Culture. That makes more sense. Except it doesn't really, as the show itself is based on "the search for a scarf" and features lots of sunbaked, vegetable dyed mudcloth coats, a canvas lace-up skirt, handwoven suede fringe jacket and oversized linen caftan shirts in desert shades of sky blue and terracotta worn with flat stone necklaces, low-slung belts and distractingly large deconstructed leather hats by Stephen Jones. There are a few great looks here, to be sure (an indigo stretch georgette balmacaan with matching dress strikes the right note of rugged sophistication, as does an embroidered block print evening dress worn by Karlie Kloss that signals Donna's wanderlust muse without going overboard). And the shoes and bags are terrific. But a more prudent edit would've made things feel a bit less costume-y.
Speaking of costume-y. My next show is Thom Browne, master of the uber-creative, thought-provoking (if not always wearable) runway show. As always, he does not disappoint. Held at Center 548 a few blocks south of the Donna venue, guests step off the cavernous elevator into a warren of small rooms with white tiled- and padded walls. There are displays of medicine jars and plastic cups filed with Rx pills, headless mannequins hanging from the ceiling and disembodied limbs strewn about. The Edison lightbulbs are flickering wildly and there's some tinkly glockenspiel music droning through the speakers. The effect is totally creepy, like having entered an insane asylum, circa 1955. The TB-uniformed orderlies…I mean publicists, scurrying about trying to tame the crowd only heightens the Shutter Island vibe. I introduce myself to Harper's Bazaar editor Laura Brown, who's one of my fashion world faves (if you haven't yet seen her addictively hilarious video series, The Look, in which she interviews everyone from Sofia Vergara and Kate Hudson to Kiernan Shipka and Elmo (yes, Elmo), you can catch them here). Just be warned that once you start Looking, you won't be able to stop. I can't resist trying some of the pills (they're white M&Ms) and watch as a woman across from me keeps popping up to take photos after it's clear the show's about to start, causing a harried publicist to run out of the corner and escort her back to her seat.
Except the show is not about to start. As we listen to the repetitive music, the audience grows increasingly restless and uncomfortable, which surely is Thom's intention: once the crazy-making music and seizure-causing lights have driven us half-mad, the show will do the rest. Bwahahaha. All around me is impatient laughter and nervous chitchat. At one point, the lights dim and we all prepare for the first look. Then the lights go back up and the whole room explodes, "Oh, come on!" Editors from The New York Times, Bazaar and Teen Vogue are tapping their feet and checking their iPhone clocks. At 5:47 (nearly an hour after the scheduled start time), the photographers in the adjoining room begin a countdown ("5, 4, 3, 2, 1") hoping to kick things off. No dice. As the clock approaches 6pm, the elevator doors finally creak open and the sound of shrieking, crazy laughter fills the room, followed by Bjork ("Shhhh! Shhhh! Shhhh!"). A group of snood- and sunglass wearing, padded hipped nurses walk slowly down the runway and take up their posts near the entrance to each padded cell. Then come the poor inmates…I mean models, clad in ivory papier-mâché jackets, sliced latex tunics, paper doll dresses, opera-length rubber gloves and off-kilter pearls, their ghostly white makeup, smeared red lipstick and towering rat's nest bouffants attesting to their fragile state of mind. Some of the girls act a bit crazier than others, stumbling vacant-eyed through the rooms, their heads lolling at odd angles and their handbags hanging open while they listen to voices only they can hear. As what sounds like cats being tortured fills our ears, the models trail out and the nurses follow behind, offering select front row denizens little vials of pills (which prompts everyone in the room to burst into laughter). The show itself lasts 25 minutes (an eternity in Fashion Week Time), so guests bolt from their seats before Browne has even finished taking his victory lap, anxious to get out of the asylum and on to their next engagement.
In my case, that would be dinner with Mr. TFI followed by Libertine at Lincoln Center (I was supposed to hit the Rosie Assoulin and Maki Oh presentations at Industria, as well, but Browne's late start scotched those plans). Johnson Hartig's upbeat outings are about as far from Thom Browne's macabre theatrics as one can get. The Libertine invite trumpeted the word "Love" in big, bold letters above the choices oui or non. Naturally, oui had been circled in Magic Marker, as Johnson's is always an enthusiastically optimistic, say-yes-to-life POV. He's the fashion world's answer to Auntie Mame, and I love him for it (oui, oui, a thousand times, oui)! I sneak backstage to say hi and spot a trio of young men in sparkly suits, one of whom is clad only in black briefs. They pose for a picture and I lean in to stage whisper, "You're not wearing any pants!" The boy in question stage whispers back, "I know!" and we all crack up laughing. I spy Johnson in the corner, showing socialite skin doc Lisa Airan a few of his more colorful creations. Well, truth be told, they're all pretty colorful, awash in sparkles and beads and tie-dye and stripes and polka dots and the aforementioned LOVE/OUI/NON print. Even the model's nails are encrusted in Rainbow Brite crystals, and the women are sporting what could be construed as black tears or a prison tat near their right eyes. "I'm continuing my journey inward," Johnson says after enveloping me in a big bear hug. "I've traveled a lot this year—to India, Marrakech, Peru, France—and it's bringing me closer to my…well, I don't want to say inner spirit, but you know what I mean…" Indeed, I do. "I think of them as Earthly Warriors, protecting us," he adds with a smile while gesturing to the multicolored masses surrounding us. The good vibes continue on the runway, with models in God Save the Queen topcoats, sunny yellow hippie-chic maxis and foil-printed, party-in-the-front, business-in-the-back sweatsuits strutting to a Vanilla Ice remix (Ice, Ice Baby!) and Keef Richards' Happy. Which is exactly how this collection makes me feel.
Unfortunately, it's all business-in-the-front for me, as I head home to file my daily coverage. Thank Jehovah for my new Esquivel wingtips (a gift from the designer—thanks, George!), which allow me to pound the NYFW pavement in style, sans blisters. It's a Fashion Week miracle, people!
photos by Lauren David Peden/The Fashion Informer 2013