Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Valentina: American Couture and the Cult of Celebrity

I recently went to one of my favorite museums to attend a lecture on one of America’s greatest - and unsung - couturiers, Valentina. This retrospective exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York at 1220 Fifth Avenue at 103rd street is running through May 17th so there’s plenty of time to check it out if you love fashion as much as I do or are merely curious about this designer’s fascinating life and career.

In case you haven’t heard of Valentina, she was a major fashion force who not only dressed the cream of New York society but some of the greatest names in show biz (Garbo was just one of many), from the ‘20s through the ‘50s.

I can’t stress enough how interesting the tour was. Phyllis Magidson, the museum’s curator of Costumes and Textiles, took us through the fascinating life and times of Valentina as we strolled through the gallery.

Just to give you a quick rundown on the designer’s background:

Valentina Sanina Schlee, a Russian immigrant, basically reinvented herself on arrival in the States (Chanel was another one who pretty much made up her history). She started out as a dancer, eventually becoming one of the foremost names during the golden age of American couture. Everything was custom made, and sold in her Madison Avenue salon which she opened in 1928. Basically, her greatest success as a designer was during the ‘30s and ‘40s, but the comprehensive exhibit showcases the amazing range of designs from every period, complete with programs, photos, newspaper clippings, magazine ads, etc. In essence, if I had to sum up Valentina’s career, it would be to say that she was in the vanguard of celebrity 20th century designers.

Five years in the making, this has to be one of the most interesting and comprehensive fashion exhibits I’ve seen in years. It was definitely on a par with the Yves St. Laurent retrospective I saw in Montreal’s Museum of Fine Arts. And it’s the first to trace the career of this legendary designer who was definitely a star!

That's all for now. Talk to you soon, C&C

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Best Foot Forward

I just took an informal survey from the guys I know about the trendy platform stilettos that are in. And guess what? They hated them. So unless you have a crush on your podiatrist or love going to the emergency room, there’s no good reason to spend money on what are some of the ugliest, not to mention painful shoes around. Besides, you don’t really need to be six inches taller, do you?

I am here to make your life - and – feet a lot more comfortable because I recently headed over to the Sole Commerce fall/winter 09 footwear trade show at the Javits Center and the Piers. If that wasn’t a hike, I don’t know what is – and I did them in heels, not the Clydesdale looking monstrosities, but pretty ankle boots. While it’s still too early to find any of the following brands in-store, check the websites for locations. I also tried to keep within a certain, affordable price range. You don’t really need to spend a month’s rent on shoes, do you, unless you’re like Shopaholic’s Becky Bloomwood and in that case, I can’t help you.

Carolina Pagano: This Brazilian designer’s collection caught my eye right off the bat. The shoes are sexy, feminine and run in the $300 range. The color palette is neutral, coffee, hazelnut, cement, black and punctuated by deep blue, butterscotch and terra cotta. Materials range from suede to pony hair. From patent to python embossed calf. I flipped for “Grace” a mid heel pump, accented with semi-precious stones on a coral color ruffled suede trim. Another charmer was “Edola” a sexy hazelnut color ankle boot, also detailed with a ring of semi-precious stones. To find out where to shop the collection, go to www.carolinapagano.com.

Hayden-Harnett: I’m familiar with this Brooklyn-based designer’s handbag line, so it was a pleasant surprise to note her stylish shoe collection. While all the trendy bases are covered – platforms, wedges, ballerinas and gladiator inspired styles – the shoes are feet friendly and chic. Check out the “Arbus” a ruffled tie front booty with wedge heel. It comes in either leather or kidsuede in black, brandy, and grey and will retail around $325. Find out more at sales@haydenharnett.com.

Bernardo: They must be doing something right since the brand’s been going strong since 1947, and yes, I grew up wearing their sandals in the ‘50s! Fast forward to ’09 and run, don’t walk to the nearest retailer who carries the line. You have to buy the fabulous desert boots (they’re back and better than ever) in giraffe print pony, antique calf, suede or best of all, dusty patent. The latter comes in luscious shades of chocolate, black and amethyst. They’re so hip it hurts – but not your feet. Believe it or not, Bernardo also offers a twist on the classic boating shoe in gorgeous, gotta have it shades of cranberry, mushroom, burnt orange, chocolate and blueberry dusty patent. Figure on spending around $169 for the desert boots and $139. For the boat shoes. Go to www.BernardoFootwear.com.

Joie: I saw a lot of interesting boots here. Everything from above-the-knee cavalier styles to ankle boots with or without platforms. Go for a vintage ‘40s vibe with the strappy high heel low platform, “Dixie” in nappa, black or cocoa (retail approx: $295) or the knee- high suede “Mariposa” with fringe trim encircling the calf. Comes in cocoa, mushroom, black and navajo (retails for $395). Contact KimberlyT@joiejeans.com for more info.

Love Collective: From the land of Uggs, comes another super boot line. Long on warmth and sporty style, these boots are perfect all-winter weather must-haves. Skip the classics and head straight for the “Tibetan Gypsy Short” with fur trim and toggles. I want all five colors. Retails for $330, but for another $30 you can get the knee length version. For a more ‘70s Hippie vibe check out the “Apache” in distressed brown with feather and fringe trim. Cher would absolutely love these. Spend $450 and get noticed. Find out more at www.australialoveco.com.

DKNY Shoes: While I found lots of terrific stuff to choose from I especially liked the Active Line’s mid heeled ankle booties. My top picks include, “Hilda” a lace-up in gunmetal metallic leather ( $175) and “Bee” in leopard patent with black lug sole and heel ($125). Handsomer still was DKNY’s take on the classic riding boot. “Jockey” comes in a logo jacquard/lizard embossed leather. In black, chino, navy and gold/black, it’s a steal at $135. From the affordably priced DKNYC collection I loved “Davin” a criss-cross platform sandal in mercury or bronze metallic leather. Looks twice the price of $130. For more info email mlabrador@dkntl.com.

Hunter: While you probably know the brand’s rugged Wellington boots, what you don’t know is that they’ve expanded the collection to include some fab looking velour desert boots, lined in shearling. It’s called the “Kensington” and comes in lots of rich fall colors. Your tootsies can be toasty warm for the reasonable price tag of $275. If like me, you love the classic riding boot, check out Hunter’s side zipped “Mayfair” in nutmeg nubuck with contrast color leather cuff and crest. This boot will set you back a not inconsiderable $525. For more details go to www.hunter-boot.com.

Vera Wang Lavender Label: You can always count on high fashion looks from this designer. Even her rtw diffusion line is outstanding so it should come as no surprise that the footwear collection is on target with all the key fall styles. I’d buy her mid-calf belted “Patty" high heel boot in anthracite, brown or plum. It’s a graceful silhouette that will make the most of your legs. Definitely worth $525. Also chic (but only if you have mile long skinny gams) is the “Evelyn” cuffed ankle boot with sexy open toe and curvy mid heel. Price here is $395. Check out the website, www.verawang.com.

Melissa: I never thought I’d go gaga over plastic shoes but this line just blew me away. Talk about fashion forward styling, this isn’t your typical line of jelly sandals. Rain or shine, look terrific in the Vivienne Westwood designed peep toe “Lady Dragon 11” sling back pump with bow detail. It’s going to be available in seven colors but I’d go for purple or green. The retail price is $150. Also cute in a space age, streamlined kind of way, is the criss-cross strapped shoe by architect, Zaha Hadid. Comes in the same range of colors and I want them all! Unfortunately, this fabulous style will set you back a steep $300, but for anyone with a true shoe fetish it’s probably a steal. And besides, since they’re plastic, they’ll last forever! Find out more about the complete range at www.melissaplasticdreams.com.

Enjoy your shoes... I know I do.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Fashion Week Redux

Ok, so some of my contacts sent pictures from fashion week. It took me a little while to come down from coffee and "health-food" diet upon which I survived, so without further delay, here are two late pics.

The Anna Sui show was February 18th. I was there. Braved wind, rain, concrete and those front row sitting... people. This was my favorite piece:

Anna Sui - She Made C&C'S Trek Worth Every Step

Kmart rocked C&C's fashion week with this look. One of the keys to Crap and Couture is to look beyond the brand or reputation and look at the final product. Kmart did very well with this look. Consider if Kmart put the same amount of effort into everything it did with its stores... they would be at the top of the retailers heap...

Kmart - smart, chic, and stylish. They discovered the key to success.

Next up... shoes. Shoes, shoes, glorious, yummy, happy shoes. Lots of shoes.


Crap and Couture, Notes From the Back Row