Category Archives: Tastemaker

A piece about someone with major aesthetic influence.

AUTHOR FRAN LEBOWITZ DISSES HALSTON, STRAIGHT PEOPLE, AND MEN IN SHORTS

The author, satirist, and professional talker Fran Lebowitz visited FIT last Friday. She submitted, if that’s the right word, to an on-stage interview with Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of The Museum at FIT, as part of a symposium, “A Queer History of Fashion,” which complemented the museum’s show of the same name.

An early moment in the exchange was fraught. Steele asked why Lebowitz refused to lend one of her suits for the show. Everyone leaned forward. Was some personal revelation forthcoming?

Nope. “I didn’t lend you one because I couldn’t live for six months without one of my suits,” Lebowitz said, referring to the length of the exhibition. “I don’t have enough [of them].”

Her career began in the early ’70s at Interview magazine, with Andy Warhol. As a denizen of his demimonde, she met many fashion designers, including Halston. “Halston was not someone I was very interested in,” Lebowitz said. “He was kind of a hick, actually. But he had huge parties, which are always good. His clothes were plastic. They were Ultrasuede, which is polyester, which is plastic.”

Steele asked how Lebowitz ended up on the Best-Dressed list. “People vote for you,” she said. “I’d rather be the mayor.”

Lebowitz has a famously bad case of writer’s block, though she’s quite relaxed—and quotable—in conversation. Steele said one question that kept coming up while preparing the show was why there are so many gay designers.

“Is that even a question?” Lebowitz said. “A better question is, ‘Why are there straight designers?’ Why are there straight men at fashion shows? Can’t something be done about that?”

Later she said that perhaps the correlation had to do with the fact that straight men “could have other jobs. There were few jobs where you could be gay.”

Steele asked if Lebowitz had a fashion bête noire. “To me, shorts,” she said. “I really do not want to see adult men wearing shorts. Ever. They’re suburban. When I see a grown man wearing shorts, I think, ‘You’re going to a cookout.” Baseball caps also draw her ire.

Asked to explain the appeal of leather, Lebowitz replied, “Sex. That’s the appeal. It’s durable. It lasts longer than sex. Which is why, at a certain age, you should give it up. It’s actually sad, at a certain age. It makes me sad. For them, not me.”

For the record, Savile Row tailors Anderson and Sheppard make her suits, but she doesn’t go to London to be fitted. “I’m an Anglophobe,” she admitted. “They have a dress form of me, for sizing. It lives in London, so I don’t have to.” She has very particular tastes. Fabric, for example: “I could spend my entire life choosing fabrics.”  And, “I always ask for light-colored buttons,” a style somewhat against the grain. She’s also demanding about fit. She said, “At the point that a suit no longer fits, you should not go out.”

JOHN VARVATOS WEARS GREAT BOOTS, TALKS ROCK STAR STYLE

John Varvatos, one of the world’s best-known menswear designers, came to FIT the other day to discuss and show slides from his new book, Rock in Fashion. It’s a smashing compilation of the coolest looks from classic rock bands, and also serves as his design inspiration notebook. The book’s title is something of a misnomer though, because, as Varvatos pointed out, he’s more interested in style than fashion: “Style for me is how you carry yourself. Fashion passes, style evolves.”

Check out the boots!

Winner of three awards from the Council of Fashion Designers of America, including Best Menswear Designer, Varvatos is famous for designing sneakers without laces for Converse. He wore brown boots with side-button detailing and was demonstrating his unique way with a scarf. His conversation was all about rock stars, mostly acts he loved from the late ’60s-early ’70s, when he was growing up in Detroit—Iggy Pop and the Stooges, Jimi Hendrix, The Clash, Patti Smith, Keith Richards. Of Lou Reed, who died the day before, Varvatos said, “Lou was somebody who pushed the boundaries every day of his life, musically and stylistically.”

In general, Varvatos prefers bands with a consistent look over chameleons who change their appearance with each new album. There was one notable exception: David Bowie. Hue’s managing editor, Alex Joseph MA ’13, who introduced Varvatos and conducted the interview, asked whether he thought menswear tended to be more resistant to change than women’s wear. Varvatos seemed to think it did. With menswear, he said, “It’s all about the great details—the finesse, the little hidden treasure. Great fabrics, fit, and leathers.”

Appearances are paramount for rock stars. That conclusion seemed inarguable from the photographs Varvatos showed of performers like Sly Stone, Rod Stewart and The Faces, and The New York Dolls. Even if they play great music at a concert, the designer remarked, “If they’re only wearing shorts and T-shirts, it’s not as great.”

In a short question-and-answer session after the interview, a student asked about the future for menswear. “Menswear is evolving faster than ever before in its history,” Varvatos said. “Women’s wear is getting stale. Men’s has much more newness.”

ARTIST WILLIAM WEGMAN VISITS FIT, UNLEASHES HIS IDEAS

The artist William Wegman came to FIT last night, bringing engaging slides of his work but, alas, none of the Weimaraner dogs he’s so famous for photographing. Wegman visited as part of a series organized by the college’s photography department, and presented the very image of a working artist, with rumpled gray hair and a blue checked shirt.

Wegman loves to create, and his work fits generally into the category of surrealism, though he said, surprisingly, that Norman Rockwell was an early influence. Wegman paints and makes sculpture and videos, but he’s most famous for his dog pictures:

Like so much of his career, as Wegman tells it, the discovery of photography was fortuitous, almost an accident.  In the mid-’60s he took his first photograph. It was of salami. “That’s still my best photo,” he said, with evident irony.

Painters Sol LeWitt and Ed Ruscha collected his early photographs, which Wegman initially used to document his performance art.  An early series of photos featuring the Weimaraner Man Ray, Wegman said, “is kind of like a Sol LeWitt painting, but with a dog.” By the late ’70s, he said, “my photography began to be dominated by Man Ray, who loved to work.” A few years after Man Ray died, Wegman got another dog, Fay Wray. “She almost demanded to work,” he said. “She looked right into the lens.” He later made videos of the dogs for Saturday Night Live and Sesame Street. Here’s one:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_IFN4lh59Y

 

A surprising sense of playfulness, of low-key spontaneity and experimentation, characterized the talk. “I would never think these pictures through beforehand,” he said. “They weren’t planned.” At one point, a student asked what lens he used to photograph the dogs. “I don’t know,” Wegman replied. “I’m not a photographer.”

Wegman with FIT Photography faculty Jessica Wynne, who organizes the Photo Talks series.

THE AMAZING BIL DONOVAN ’78 DRAWS THE AMAZING RALPH RUCCI ’80. UTTER FABULOUSITY ENSUES

There are times in Hue’s life when we are simply overwhelmed by gorgeocity.

This is one of those times.

For Fashion Week, New York magazine asked illustrator Bil Donovan, Fashion Illustration ’78 to sketch some of the shows in traditional pen and ink. They posted the results here.

At the show by Ralph Rucci, Fashion Design ’80, Donovan had his eye on Rucci’s sister, Rosina. Her ecstatic flourish at the end of every Rucci show is designed to inspire the audience. Donovan’s piece captures the siblings at the most dramatic moment:

“Rucci Bow” by Bil Donovan.

Upon seeing the whole collection of drawings, we cried, “Genius!”

Donovan replied: “Don’t know about the genius part but it was so in the moment… And my dread was to have some accident with the ink on my lap, especially at Thom Browne.”

“Thom Browne Hair and Makeup” by Bil Donovan.

See the rest of Donovan’s works for Fashion Week here.

THOUGHTS ABOUT ELAINE STONE, PROFESSOR EMERITA, AND HATS

by Alex Joseph, managing editor of Hue

“Fashion fades; style is eternal.”—Yves Saint Laurent

The subject of the day is hats.

Those of us who knew Professor Emerita Elaine Stone, who died August 6, knew her as a hat wearer par excellence. I never saw her without one.

Elaine Stone once told me she had 60 to 70 hats.

Thirteen years ago, when I first came to FIT, I was a little afraid of Professor Stone. She was tall. She was always impeccably dressed. Tales of her steadfast, iron-clad will approached legend. But it was her hats that fascinated me. I didn’t yet know anything about fashion, so that’s what I thought they were: I thought her hats signified fashion.

As time went on—and those of you who’ve been at FIT a while, you might know how this happens—I caught the fashion virus myself. I watched as what I paid for individual items of clothing went up…and up…  I bought a few hats myself. Then a few more. For a while, people referred to me as “the guy with the hats.”

When that phase passed, my feeling for hats died out. Elaine kept right on wearing them.

Stone began wearing hats when she worked as a buyer at Macy’s.

At first the persistence puzzled me, but as I watched Professor Stone more, I slowly came to understand. For her, hats weren’t just a phase, or a trend. They weren’t a slavish attempt to fit into some time period. They represented ideas, if you will. They—she—stood for something.

That something was not ephemeral; Elaine had been in fashion business all her life. She wrote the book on it—literally. Although the industry changed over time (“That’s the definition of fashion,” she reminded me), the need for outstanding merchandising never flagged. That’s what Elaine Stone stood for; those were her values.

So I came to learn that a piece of clothing, an accessory, can come to mean something quite deep. More than achieving a surface effect, it can indicate character.

And that was the richest lesson I learned from Elaine Stone.