By  on December 13, 2005

NEW YORK — Men are from Mars, women are from Venus, as the popular saying goes, but what about when it comes to dandy dressing, runway androgyny and a certain Helmut Newton photograph of an oh-so-sexy model tailored up to the nines? Where do the sexes stand then?

These were the questions behind the seventh annual New York University fashion conference, the first week in December, titled "Dressing the Part: The Masculine and Feminine in Fashion." Speakers at the two-day event included Grace Mirabella, Francine du Plessix Gray, accessories designers Richard Lambertson and John Truex and Dutchman Koos van den Akker, who showed slides of male models, friends and celebrities wearing his signature patchwork sweaters.

"What is men's is not very different from what is women's," he said, nodding to the kaleidoscopic designs on a large screen overhead. "It's just a feeling, you know. In the 1700s, men were beautifully dressed up, far more than women. They were peacocks, as they should be."

Designers Emanuel Ungaro, Michael Vollbracht and Zac Posen, as well as style maven Iris Barrel Apfel, weighed in on the conference's topic, as well as their vision of fashion today.

Iris Barrel Apfel
At first glance, Scheherazade and Apfel have little in common. After all, what does a woman currently being celebrated at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute for her kooky and eclectic style have to do with a Persian seductress of medieval Middle Eastern literature? To those who attended the Q&A session with Apfel and MET research associate Stéphane Houy-Towner, however, the similarities were clear — this is a woman with a knack for storytelling.

Apfel recounted the time in the late Fifties she stopped traffic in the City of Light. Eyeing a photographer who was "carrying equipment in one hand and a gray Mongolian lamb coat in the other," she jumped out of her car and followed him all the way to Lanvin's studio. "I thought [the coat] was just the most smashing thing I ever saw," the Queens native recalled. "It turns out he had just shot the press releases and was going to give it back to the couture department for their show that night. I told them, ‘I have to have that coat; you've got to sell it to me.'" And she got it.

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