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Defining Moments

Controversy. Some designers avoid it like the plague, others chase it like the Holy Grail of fashion.

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WWD Collections issue 10/29/2007

TONGUE-GATE
Controversy. Some designers avoid it like the plague, others chase it like the Holy Grail of fashion. No designer manages to divide industry opinion quite like Marc Jacobs, whose spring show became the talk of the New York season and created a public spat with the International Herald Tribune’s Suzy Menkes that is likely to go down in the history of fashion feuds—one that dramatic fashion types already are comparing to David and Goliath or, better yet, Alexis and Krystle.

This story first appeared in the October 29, 2007 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The show itself was one of Jacobs’ best ever. There was the extensive Stefan Beckman set; the blaring soundtrack of Ravel’s Boléro; the reverse lineup starting with Jacobs’ bow followed by the finale and then, the looks one by one; the Charles Atlas film simultaneously projecting each model, and clothes that were all about sex, Jacobs-style. There was just one snag: a two-hour wait.

Some felt the quality of the production and collection were well worth the delay, while others deplored Jacobs for the 11 p.m. start. Menkes, for one, didn’t hold back, telling WWD: “I would like to murder him with my bare hands and never see another Marc Jacobs show as long as I live.” She proceeded to write one of her most scathing reviews in recent memory, calling it “a bad, sad show” that “symbolized everything that is wrong with current fashion.” She deemed the set and styling as “a ghastly, ghostly parody of Galliano’s fashion spectacles,” and the clothes themselves “a freak’s costume party.”

To add insult to injury, rumors of Jacobs drinking or eating at the Mercer Hotel restaurant or bar while people were waiting for the show to begin started to make the fashion rounds. Jacobs was not amused about all this—especially since he entered rehab after the Paris shows last season. He decided to publicly lash out at New York fashion in general and Menkes in particular, threatening to turn his back on his native city for good and take his show to London or Paris instead.

“That is bullshit! That is bullshit!” he said of the Mercer Hotel rumor, explaining that he quickly came back to the hotel to shower and shave after getting hardly any sleep for three nights and stinking “like a raccoon.”

“Another thing: Everybody talks about these families they have to go home to,” he added. “I mean, every person who works in every factory in Italy, and every person who works in our sample room, they didn’t see their families for six weeks so that we could do this show two weeks early. So I’m really appalled that people have absolutely no perception of what it takes to do things. And when we complain about the show schedule our voice is not heard, nobody does anything about it—the CFDA does me absolutely no service whatsoever as an American fashion designer.”

CFDA president Diane von Furstenberg, shaken by Jacobs’ remarks about her organization, reached out to the designer the day his comments ran in WWD. “He represents so much in American fashion. It would be really horrible to lose him,” she said. “I am ready to beg in front of his pavement.”

President of Marc Jacobs International Robert Duffy also defended the designer against the mudslinging, saying: “I was with him. I know that Marc didn’t leave the showroom until 8 p.m. [the night of the show]. And he was at the 8:30 rehearsal. [The rumors are] ridiculous!”

As for Menkes, Jacobs responded: “She wants to observe a Jewish holiday, but I start a show two hours late [and] she gets her nose bent out of shape.”

In Paris, Jacobs tested his audience’s patience and goodwill once again with an After Dark–themed Louis Vuitton show that started 70 minutes after the scheduled time, eliciting boos from the photo pit and nervous twitching among the LVMH brass. But Jacobs rewarded the crowd with a show that was artsy to the max, the fruit of his collaboration with acclaimed American artist Richard Prince. Photographers were alerted to the need for zoom lenses 10 looks into the show: a lineup of supermodels dressed like nurses, a recurring image in Prince’s work.

Handbags, however, were completely new turf for him. “I sort of had to do my homework,” Prince said. “Since I’m not really involved in fashion, it’s maybe the same as someone who picks up a guitar and seven days later starts playing in a band.”

Still, he spun out scores of colorful ideas, and confessed that the first finished purse he saw was “like a wonderful toy…like a Japanese teenager would buy.” Mind you, the artist—subject of a sprawling exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum—has been hauling around his stuff in something far less glamorous: a plastic bag from Zitomer’s drugstore. “That was my fashion statement,” he quipped.

While the waters seemed to calm down between Jacobs and Menkes once in Paris—the two exchanged kisses at a Dior dinner days after the New York showdown—it didn’t take long for the controversy to pick up again. At his Louis Vuitton show, Jacobs took his bow and appeared to stick his tongue out at Menkes, a notion that was quickly picked up by blogs and was said to have upset the critic. “I didn’t care for the gesture Jacobs made to Suzy at the end of the show,” The New York Times’ Cathy Horyn wrote in her blog. “I guess he thought he was being cool or funny, on account of his feelings about her review of his New York show. It’s unbelievable, really. He should have known better.”

The Washington Post’s Robin Givhan had some harsher words for the designer on her blog. “Yes, it has come to this,” she wrote. “Really. Schoolyard taunts—in front of his boss. Geeze. Shall we all light a candle for Marc?”

Jacobs, posting a response on Horyn’s blog, denied aiming his tongue at Menkes. “I pulled a stupid face with my tongue out in happiness for being done with what has been a great but most stressful season for me,” he wrote. “I am not stupid, childish or a vindictive person….I had, prior to the show, left a silly T-shirt and a nice note for Suzy on her seat. Why would I do anything to further upset her? Right after a show!!??

“Anyone who has ever been on a stage would know you can’t actually see the audience,” he added. “I made a face at no one in particular….I didn’t have a clue as to who was sitting there. Come on guys, give me a break!”

Horyn certainly did. After contacting Jacobs, Horyn retracted her initial assumption. “I’m convinced after talking to him that the tongue wagging, face pulling on the runway was misunderstood and not directed at Suzy Menkes, though it upset her, and I offered him my apologies for the fuss,” she wrote. “After the dustup in New York, Jacobs said he had put a T-shirt on her seat at the LV show as an olive branch. It showed a cartoon of the fashion critic wringing the designer’s neck and it was embroidered by Lesage. He thought it was a sweet way of making up.” The T-shirt also featured the “murder him with my bare hands” quote embroidered under the cartoon. It remains to be seen if Menkes will choose to wear the shirt at Jacobs’ next runway outing.

MR. SIXTY
They arrived all at once, surrounded on three sides by hulking security guards and overzealous publicists: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Hilary Swank and Demi Moore. The standard swarm of cameras and reporters ensued as each took their place at the Miss Sixty show. Sure, it was a lot of star power for 10 a.m. and for a youthful label that is seldom worn by the celeb set, but, considering each actress already had made at least one appearance during the week, their presence wasn’t all that surprising. But then, in one of the more quizzical turnouts, Clive Owen walked in, his only appearance during fashion week. He wasn’t there to accompany the actresses or a fashion-obsessed female—and one can only assume he wasn’t shopping for Pop-printed skirts and tops for himself. Whatever Owen’s reason for turning up at Miss Sixty, 7th on Sixth’s Fern Mallis wasted no time, immediately sidling up to the unusual fashion week star and posing for a quick photo op. As to the seemingly odd pairing of Owen and Miss Sixty, the company sees no disconnect, with officials citing his “intellectual and international appeal that resonates beyond gender.”

CAPTAINS VIDEO
What’s better than a video image to market a new fragrance or describe the show’s inspiration? At Dolce & Gabbana, any doubts on the degree of labor intensity channeled into the hand-painted garden-glory dresses evaporated as flat screens to the side of the runway flashed work-in-progress images of the floral paintings. The cameras zoomed into nimble hands as they painstakingly brush-stroked the motif onto frothy silks. Over at Prada, monitors projected close-ups of those pretty fairies that animated her silk tops and bottoms and of the sculptured shoes. Both Gucci and Armani used videos to jazz up their preshow waits. Armani showed black-and-white images of a glammed-out Beyoncé Knowles posing for Emporio Armani’s latest fragrance, Diamonds, while Gucci screened a preview of its new fragrance video directed by David Lynch with models Natasha Poly, Freja Beha Erichsen and Raquel Zimmerman.

RUGGER LOVERS
Fashionistas showed their sporty sides during Paris Fashion Week since some of the runway shows collided with the Rugby World Cup and local soccer matches. At the Galliano show, which was held at Le Stade Français, stilettos and minis collided with an onslaught of jersey-clad soccer fans who poured out of the stadium accompanied by a wafting aroma of beer and sausages.

Later that evening, Hollywood hounds, music maestros, film aficionados and European royalty celebrated France’s win over New Zealand’s famed All Blacks rugby team. “This is dope,” said Kanye West, at the party hosted by NBC boss Ben Silverman. Guests including Prince Wenzeslaus of Liechtenstein, Ozwald Boateng, Loulou de la Falaise and Dita Von Teese rushed to the balcony overlooking the Place de la Concord to watch as honking cars headed toward the Champs-Elysées to celebrate the victory.

“I can’t believe they won,” said Kristin Scott Thomas of the upset as she showed off her four tickets to the upcoming semifinals.
Across town, Clémence Poésy and Anja Rubik attempted to share their passion for the sport and France’s victory with fellow Chloé fragrance face Chloë Sevigny. “Ohhh,” remarked a nonplussed Sevigny.

The quarter final also clashed with the Chloé fragrance launch party. “All my friends started calling me saying they may get here a little later, after the match,” chuckled Poésy. Rubik, who was rooting for her hometown South Africa in the competition overall, predicted a win for New Zealand. Bar staff delivered the news of France’s triumph with flutes of Champagne while Poésy let out a whoop of delight. France was later eliminated in the semifinal round.


GARDEN PARTY

Some people choose to celebrate their 40th anniversary with an intimate dinner, others with an extravagant gift. This season, Ralph Lauren made a case for both. The designer took over the Conservatory Garden in Central Park, on 105th Street and Fifth Avenue, on a balmy Saturday night, where he re-created his exclusive rarefied world.

“This is the party I want to go to,” Lauren said prior to the bash.

And what a party it was. His blockbuster runway show, inside a grand white tent, ended with Lauren taking a long bow and accepting accolades from the crowd. The runway backdrop then opened up to a lush garden setting to host an elegant black-tie affair for his extended Polo family and friends, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Diane Sawyer, Charlie Rose, Martha Stewart, Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, Sarah Jessica Parker, Carolina Herrera, Vera Wang and Diane von Furstenberg.

The evening oozed Ralph. The company flew in 10 400-pound urns of pink hydrangeas and installed 11 chandeliers above the Ralph Lauren–decorated tablescapes. And even with 500 guests, the night had an intimate feel, with Lauren hopping table to table to greet everyone personally. “I can’t believe I’m living this life,” Lauren said.

Nor could his many guests who were awed by the night’s glamour. “Is this what it’s like every year?” Donna Karan quipped. “Because if so, I’m never showing again.”

THE PRICE OF CHIC
Americans traveling to the European collections suffered serious sticker shock this season as the dollar plummeted to all-time lows against the mighty euro at the start of show season. Not only did U.S. retailers have to adjust their order books to accommodate the dollar’s slide, they, along with the press, also had to contend with racking up some hefty travel expenses. “I’ve never seen hotels so expensive, food so expensive,” said Stephen I. Sadove, chairman and chief executive officer of Saks Fifth Avenue. “I took a less-than-five-minute cab ride from the [Hotel Principe di Savoia in Milan] and it cost $15. It couldn’t have been half a mile.” With a room at the Four Seasons fetching $1,000 and dinner at Bice costing upward of $147, the budget-conscious might have thought twice about splurging at Prada or even stopping for a blowout (about $42 at a top salon). As the Milan shows kicked off in September, the dollar, which had shed about 10 percent of its value against the euro over the past year, was trading at about $1.41 to the European currency. Despite their severely curbed spending power, U.S. retailers were determined to find creative ways of stocking their floors.

“It takes much more discipline and experience to buy in this kind of environment,” said Ron Frasch, Saks president and chief merchandising officer. “The excitement level of the product has to be bigger, and it means the promotion and marketing around it has to be better.”

THE RACE ISSUE
African-American models were so scarce on the runways during New York Fashion Week that industry insiders Naomi Campbell, Iman, Liya Kebede and Bethann Hardison decided to do something about it. They held a public forum at the Bryant Park Hotel to speak out about the issue. (Some noted the situation is even worse in Europe, where most black models don’t even bother to try to book shows in Milan.)

The standing room–only crowd agreed the problem isn’t only in the modeling world. Observers also pointed to the lack of black designers, photographers and executives in the fashion industry as a major issue.

Hardison, who has modeled, run her own modeling agency and handled casting over the years, said, “In the United States of America, this is the one industry that still has the freedom to refer to people by their color and reject them in their work.”     

Campbell, who jetted in from London for the occasion, recalled how Christy Turlington once told Dolce & Gabbana, “If you don’t use Naomi, you don’t get us,” referring also to Linda Evangelista.

Truth be told, only one-third of the 101 shows and presentations posted on Style.com used black models, with most only tapping one or two. Of course, there were some exceptions—Heatherette, Diane von Furstenberg and Derek Lam each opened their shows with a black model and von Furstenberg closed hers with the same girl. The first 10 models at Heatherette appeared to be women of color, and designers Tracy Reese, Katy Rodriguez and Ports 1961 were among those who used multiple black models.

In the midst of taking in 15 shows, fashion photographer and America’s Next Top Model judge Nigel Barker said he was “somewhat surprised” by the predominantly white casting. “I understand the idea it’s based on. It’s almost as though each girl is a clothes hanger. If each is seen as being the same, you’re not going to focus on the girl, you’re going to be focused on the clothes.” But that doesn’t excuse the situation at hand. “Everyone is always talking about the weight issue. I think they should be talking about race,” Barker said.


COMEBACK CITY

After a few dull seasons, Milan reemerged with winning trends and shows that had both editors and retailers applauding. Dolce & Gabbana’s blockbuster collection included hand-painted floral silks for full-skirted gowns that were as strong as they were delicate. Miuccia Prada spun a fairy-tale world where her creations cropped up on dainty silk dresses in prints that were at times wrapped with leaves and flower buds. Raf Simons once again proved Jil Sander is a major player through wispy tulles and primary brights, while Donatella Versace updated her formula of sass, and Giorgio Armani went for languid chic inspired by the Italian countryside. It wasn’t only the top-tier brands that made the season: Houses such as 6267’s fabulously crafted collection with a Japanese influx, Mina Lee’s ethereal numbers for Derercuny, Debora Sinibaldi’s versatile lineup of pretty knits and cute dresses and Antonio Marras’ romantic fabrications and cuts were highlights of the season.

DO A LITTLE DANCE
It wouldn’t be Paris Fashion Week without a few headline-grabbing business deals. Azzedine Alaïa, who took on Prada Group as his partner in 2000, did a
do-si-do and is now dancing with Compagnie Financière Richemont, a luxury group once considered standoffish about fashion. Richemont would not detail the extent of its investment, but it’s said to include building an Alaïa foundation in a five-story building adjacent to his Marais headquarters.

John Galliano performed an allemande of his own with Italian denim giant Diesel, disclosing a licensing pact for a new line of children’s wear launching early next year. “Galliano likes to play and create fairy-tale worlds for adults. Imagine what he can do for kids!” quipped Diesel honcho Renzo Rosso, whose kids’ wear subsidiary will make small-scale Galliano clothes for girls and boys. It’s even more fuel for the incendiary designer, whose signature business is growing quickly with a fragrance and watch collection coming to the market next year, along with a slew of freestanding stores and shop-in-shops.

Meanwhile, LVMH kingpin Bernard Arnault, France’s richest man, twirled in the media spotlight as he zeroed in on his latest conquest: the acquisition of French financial daily Les Echos—never mind if the journalists there care to dance with the luxury titan.

T-SHIRT NATION
Maybe Anna Wintour should permanently recast some of her team as sales people. Vogue staffers who strolled the front rows with baskets full of white 7th on Sale T-shirts during fashion week managed to bring home more than $10,000. The Ts are part of a campaign to drum up support and attention for 7th on Sale, which takes place in November at the Lexington Armory and on eBay. Booths inside the Bryant Park tents also sold the shirts to raise money for the CFDA/Vogue AIDS Fund. According to a source, Wintour checked in throughout the week to find out about sell-throughs, and requested frequent sales updates. For Vogue’s sales team, some of the shows’ late start times must have come as a boon, since it gave them even more time to hustle. Russell Simmons, for one, was seen buying a round of T-shirts for his front-row neighbors at Marc Jacobs.

Anna Sui also teed up during fashion week. In each goodie bag from her show, guests found T-shirts emblazoned with “Forever Wanted: Don Cassidy & The Sundance Jin, Reward $21,000,” around a caricature of Don and Jin Chang, the owners of retailer Forever 21, which Sui is suing for copyright infringement. The bottom of the T reads: “‘Thou shalt not steal’; Exodus 20:15,” a reference to the Changs’ devout Christianity and “John 3:16” that is printed on every Forever 21 shopping bag. “I thought it would be funny,” the designer said backstage after her show. “I can’t really talk about it because I am in litigation, so that was my statement.”

In April, Sui filed a copyright lawsuit against the retailer alleging it has been making an ongoing practice of copying her designs since late 2005. Other brands taking similar action against Forever 21 are Diane von Furstenberg and Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku Lovers line.

STOLEN MOMENTS
Christopher Kane gave a new meaning to the phrase “fast fashion” this season, although it’s likely this was an exercise he won’t want to repeat. Thieves broke into the designer’s studio a week before London Fashion Week began and stole 23 key pieces from his spring collection, in addition to the company’s laptop computer. “We never found who did it,” sighs Kane. “I keep looking on eBay, but no sign.” The theft occurred during a wave of fashion-related burglaries in London. Over the past six months, Roger Vivier, Luella, Marc Jacobs, Frost French, Brora and Anya Hindmarch stores all have been hit by raids. The total retail value of Kane’s stolen pieces was in excess of $50,000. But Kane and the team didn’t let the disaster put a dent in their fashion week plans. They promptly got back to work, re-creating the Eighties rock–inspired faded denim pieces, ruffled skirts and lizard-print frills for the show, which won rave reviews. “In a way, it helped us. It made us really edit the show, too, although it was still a pain in the arse,” said Kane. Since the break-in, he has fitted industrial metal shutters to his East End workshop. Meanwhile, residents in the neighborhood are said to be on the lookout for shady types with suspiciously fashion-forward style.

THE NEWBIE ESTABLISHMENT
In a world where Pete Wentz, Paris Hilton, LL Cool J and countless other celebrities birth new fashion lines every day, it can be hard to attach much prestige to the term “new designer.” Luckily, the New York season revealed plenty of bona fide talents who weren’t killing time between recording contracts or public scandals.

For starters, Jen Kao envisioned a dressed-up tomboy in sequined jumpsuits for her debut presentation. Kao, who previously worked at Jill Stuart and Twinkle by Wenlan, chose photographer Ryan McGinley to immortalize some of her pieces, and the dramatic images were unveiled at the event. Her collection will be sold at Loveless in Tokyo, Podium in Moscow and Al Ostoura in Kuwait.

Ana Lerario of Lerario Beatriz has been in business since 2005, but this season marked her first presentation. With a winsome grouping of patchwork and crocheted looks for spring, her line has been picked up by Nordstrom, Jake in Chicago and Poole Shop in Charlotte, N.C.

Fashion résumés don’t get much more impressive than Julia Jentzsch’s, with stints at Jil Sander, Yves Saint Laurent, Vera Wang and Calvin Klein, but she’s probably best known for creating the line Naum with co-designer Waleed Khairzada. Treating fabrics with tie-dye and salt rubs, she created an ethereal namesake collection that attracted the attention of The Salon in New York.

Thuy Diep’s presentation was strong on ladylike separates with high-waisted brocade skirts and relaxed linen shorts. Diep has put in time at United Bamboo, and her spring lineup for Thuy will be carried at Divine Girls in San Francisco; Nicchia in Glencoe, Ill., and Drawer in Japan.

Meanwhile, there are a few designers in their sophomore or junior years who are beginning to gain some serious traction. Alexa Adams and Flora Gill’s first presentation in February took place in a gallery and involved 15 looks in art-school black. By the time their line, Ohne Titel, hit the runway for spring 2008, their front row was filled with major buyers and editors. Of course, the designers’ previous posts at Helmut Lang and Karl Lagerfeld didn’t hurt their credibility, and they reinforced it with looks such as a bright, boxy pantsuit with inside-out pockets. Their spring retail lineup includes Selfridges, Ikram in Chicago and Podium in Moscow. Fellow Lang alum Joel Diaz also made his debut this season, focusing on bold digital-art prints.

Adams and Gill are part of a wave that, unlike previous seasons, is getting significant retail and editorial attention right off the bat. For example, Chris Benz’s first presentation (for fall 2007) resulted in accounts with Nordstrom, Saks and Fred Segal, after which he launched a full-fledged resort collection. The 25-year-old insists he isn’t flustered by the attention: “I try, always, to have very little expectation. As long as you really work hard and put your heart into something, you aren’t just tied to the amount of people [that show up].”

Then there’s Canadian Jeremy Laing, who recalls: “My first foray was basically an art project. We did it on a bit of a whim in, like, three weeks.” Laing’s spring show couldn’t have been further from that initial outing for fall 2005, with heavy hitters from Neiman Marcus and The New York Times in the audience.

Along with Elise Overland (three seasons; carried at Henri Bendel and Kirna Zabête); Josh Goot (three seasons; Henri Bendel and Browns), and Alexander Wang (three full collections; Barneys and Nordstrom), newcomers have almost as many opportunities to impress the industry as their more seasoned counterparts.

MUSEUM QUALITY
“I was a little nervous and shy,” said John Galliano. “I haven’t done anything like this for at least 10 years!” Galliano needn’t have worried. His gala dinner to kick off “The Golden Age of Couture: Paris and London 1947-1957” exhibition at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum was a hit. The designer, along with Daphne Guinness and Alexandra Shulman, hosted some 450 guests, including Kate Moss, Stephen Jones, Vivienne Westwood, Tamara Mellon, Laudomia Pucci, Diego Della Valle, Cosima Pavoncelli, Philip Green, Nigella Lawson, Eva Herzigova, Jemima Khan, Emma Thompson and Thandie Newton.

Most of the ladies donned couture, including Moss, who didn’t have the best of luck with the vintage Thirties Dior dress she’d picked up at a store in Primrose Hill. During the evening, Courtney Love accidentally trod on the train, causing it to rip. As the evening wore on, other tears appeared. And by the end of the night, the dress was practically in tatters, and Moss was forced to tie it in a knot before leaving the museum—which, of course, set paparazzi flashes ablaze.

Milliner Jones had better luck with his vintage design. He wore a Fifties Christian Dior clothing label stuck on the back of his bald head. “You know, Stephen, I think you may have finally cracked it,” said Galliano in reference to Jones’ innovative hat design.

The exhibition highlights postwar fashion in the two European capitals as well as the legendary impact of Christian Dior’s 1947 New Look. It also explores how couture designs are made, and looks at the fashion houses—and their clients. The display, which runs until January 6, features more than 100 dresses by Dior, Balenciaga, Balmain, Chanel, Hardy Amies and Norman Hartnell.

FETES AND FAME
Every fashion week, swarms of social butterflies flutter from photo op to party and back again. This season was no different, though the onslaught of events tested even the hardiest of species.

In New York, the crush of fans outside of the new Just Cavalli boutique was so intense that the police blocked off part of Fifth Avenue with barricades worthy of a presidential visit. Jennifer Lopez, Mary J. Blige, Diane Kruger and Joshua Jackson set off flashbulb frenzies, while the jam-packed bash proved so intolerable for Ashlee Simpson that the starlet walked in on the arm of a handler only to walk straight out the back door. She did, however, show up to Cavalli’s after party at the Waverly Inn, as did her sister, Jessica; Kruger; Blige; Jackson, and Demi Moore. But, these days, spotting Moore isn’t the novelty it once was. By Cavalli’s dinner Friday night, the actress already had made appearances at a luncheon for Alber Elbaz, a dinner for Rachel Zoe and the Miss Sixty show, while later in the week she front-rowed it at Diesel, Temperley, Zac Posen and Donna Karan.

In London, it was a taste of New York that whet everyone’s appetite. Amy Sacco opened her new outpost of Bungalow 8 at the St. Martins Lane Hotel. The spot got so crowded that model-of-the-moment Agyness Deyn and designer pal Henry Holland were forced to wait outside like plebeians for the Christopher Kane bash, while Kane’s relatives, perhaps unaccustomed to mood lighting, had trouble navigating the trendy club’s steep stairwell. A few nights before, Prince’s appearance at Matthew Williamson’s after party caused the normally blasé fashion crowd, including Sienna Miller and Elizabeth Jagger, to swoon. By the time Paris Fashion Week rolled around, some of the jet-setters who had flown in didn’t even bother to attend the actual collections. Instead, like Bruce Willis and Mary-Kate Olsen, they opted for after-hours appearances only at the enduring hot spot Le Baron. There, Olsen smooched the night away with a new flame while Willis tried to charm just about everybody, even removing his shirt on the dance floor. “I’m just a normal guy from New Jersey,” he pointed out afterward.


TWIN PEAKS

Artsy types mobbed the Tom Ford store on Madison Avenue when the designer held a party there during New York Fashion Week for photographer Marilyn Minter, who shot his eyewear and men’s wear campaigns. The cause for celebration was Minter’s new monograph, but guests seemed less interested in flipping through the pages than they were in following Ford from room to room en masse. He finally found refuge upstairs, hiding out with pals Bruce Springsteen and Patty Scialfa. But when Jeremy Piven arrived, Ford reappeared to exhibit a little brotherly love. Spotting the similarly cropped, suited and unshaven Piven, Ford cried: “My evil twin!”

A BETTER FREEBIE
The lines to pick up free Havaianas flip-flops at New York’s Bryant Park tents were even longer than those to get into the shows, but Donatella Versace offered an even better freebie. At the ladies’ luncheon at her Fifth Avenue boutique to launch the new Hit bag, a select few, such as Mischa Barton, Lauren duPont and Helen Schifter, each received a handbag of their own, hot off the presses. But Lauren Davis got one more free gift from the vampy blonde—a Marlboro Red straight from Versace’s custom-monogrammed pack. “I am so happy you are smoking, too,” the Italian designer sighed as she lit up.

AMERICAN CANCAN
Could it be the Sarkozy effect? With pro-American sentiment building in France, courtesy of president Nicolas Sarkozy (remember the bonding over burgers with George Bush in Kennebunkport, Maine, this summer?), the Paris runways were awash with stars and stripes. At Yves Saint Laurent, Stefano Pilati pushed star dresses with a kitschy disco edge. And at Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld saluted Old Glory with stars and red-and-white–striped ensembles. While some spotted an incipient political statement, Lagerfeld brushed aside that notion. His muses, he said, were the Jazz Age American expat art patrons Sara and Gerald Murphy. “The idea was these Americans in Europe, but nothing retro,” explained Lagerfeld. “Sara Murphy looked a little like Claudia Schiffer, who will do the [Chanel] campaign with me in the South of France.” But Lagerfeld is fond of an occasional American tribute: “I like the Europeans to remember that without America, [Europe] would be fascist or communist now, with gulags and concentration camps….”

GOODBYE TO ISABELLA
It’s rare to have a memorial service scheduled during fashion week, but no one would have expected anything less for Isabella Blow, the legendary talent spotter and Tatler fashion director at large who committed suicide in May at the age of 48.

It was an utterly classy affair that was as jolly as a memorial service can get. The Irish Guards’ Regimental Band played Broadway hits by Cole Porter; Anna Wintour, Suzy Menkes and Geordie Greig shared warm-hearted and poignant memories, and a sea of black hats—some with sweeping plumage in honor of Blow—filled The Guards’ Chapel near Buckingham Palace.

Some 800 family, friends and colleagues, including Mario Testino, Valentino, Bryan Ferry, Daphne Guinness, Tracey Emin, Stella McCartney, Joan Collins, Princess Beatrice, the Duchess of York, Prince and Princess Michael of Kent, Joan Burstein and Tom Parker Bowles, gathered on September 18.

The speakers honored Blow, one of fashion’s true eccentrics—from the tip of her Philip Treacy Spanish Armada hat to the red lipstick accidentally smeared on her teeth to the nutty wardrobe she lived for (burkas at fashion shows, ballgowns in the office and a lobster hat worn while waiting to board an EasyJet flight). “Dressing up was about making her job into an event,” said Wintour, who worked with Blow at Vogue. She recalled an incident where Blow wore a sari that unraveled as she strode out of the Condé Nast offices—and later got caught in the door of her taxi.

And, while there were a lot of laughs, the service had its sober moments, too. “All of us failed to say how much we loved and admired her until it was too late for her to hear our sweet words,” added Menkes.

Meanwhile, designers Alexander McQueen and Treacy joined forces to stage a poignant tribute to their friend at their respective shows. McQueen called on illustrator Richard Gray to design an epic poster invitation for his show that depicted a winged Blow aboard a horse-driven carriage storming its way to heaven. The wings were then replicated in a giant structure above the catwalk that crackled with lights as the models charged down the runway. Treacy, meanwhile, concocted a hat parade reminiscent of Blow’s own iconic headgear. One trembling red butterfly cloud was inspired by a comb she often wore, while a majestic fringed silver flower-and-bird hat was reworked from a Chinese metal number much admired by Blow, which was originally sourced by Treacy in a market in Shanghai. The elements were dismantled and rewired by hand to create a dramatic new silhouette as the ultimate ode.


SECOND TIMERS

In Paris, it seems the second time is the charm. For his sophomore effort at Nina Ricci, Olivier Theyskens turned out an ethereal collection that felt fresh and consummately modern. He envisioned girls as wood nymphs coming home from a “rave in nature.” His fantasy party resulted in beguiling muted washed-silk dresses, big jackets split up the back with tulip openings and alluring skinny pants. Meanwhile, Paulo Melim Andersson, who took over the reins at Chloé last season, delivered a bold new statement. He eased off last season’s aggression by appropriating the current transparency theme with artsy panache. Painterly smudges and broad, sweeping brush strokes offered flashes of color on his dresses, jumpers and skirts. Though some found it repetitive, the collection showed the designer moving in a very promising direction.

FINAL BOW, PART TWO
It takes time to wrap up a career as distinguished as Valentino’s. To wit: After a blowout Roman extravaganza in July celebrating his house’s 40 years (remember the fireworks exploding above the Colosseum?), the retiring couturier staged part two of his long goodbye, this time in Paris. Although his ostensible au revoir to prêt-à-porter was relatively low key with none of the expected bells and whistles, there was still Seventies disco music blaring and a gaggle of dancing, glamorous models whooping it up at the end of the runway. Dressed in a natty gray suit, the perpetually tanned and perfectly coiffed Valentino waved to the audience with typical poise even as it broke into a spontaneous standing ovation. Stay tuned for the final episode of Val’s farewell tour in January at the Paris couture shows.


TECHNOLOGICAL ARMANI

Giorgio Armani is turning to technology in a bid to expand his lifestyle products and to boost his e-commerce business. In September, the designer teamed up with giant Samsung Electronics to develop a portable phone and a luxury LCD television—the first items in a series of home electronic goods, increasingly more relevant for Armani, who is poised to open hotels and residences around the world. The designer said upon the agreement with Samsung that “we make as much of a personal statement with the mobile phones that we carry or the televisions we have in our living rooms as we do with the shoes and bags we wear or the furnishings we choose to place in our homes.” In September, Armani also began selling all Emporio Armani products online in the U.S. To mark this new project, the designer set up shop in the virtual world of Second Life, opening a reproduction of his Via Manzoni megastore, complete with a cafe and a cosmetics counter.


PASSING THE TORCH

The spring Ferré show attempted to maintain the status quo despite a turbulent period. Designer Gianfranco Ferré’s untimely death in June left the company in a tenuous situation, but Ferré had reportedly selected fabrics and began working on prototypes. His staff—headed by longtime Ferré assistant Liborio Capizzi—was left to execute. What appeared on the runway may have been initiated by Ferré, but the sinuous high-waisted pants; the tiered, cotton and satin patchwork baby-doll dresses, and the pleated, long chiffon gowns lacked the designer’s high-drama imprint and rigorous tailoring. The house opted to forgo any kind of memorial gesture, and moved the runway presentation out of Ferré’s historical showroom in Via Pontaccio and into a modern art museum on the other side of the city. A day later, Ferré’s owners, IT Holding, announced that Swedish designer Lars Nilsson would take over the reins.

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