NEW YORK — If there’s a troublemaker in every crowd, then the fashion industry’s is Kal Ruttenstein.
This story first appeared in the June 4, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Just ask Helmut Lang, who discovered Ruttenstein’s indelible presence while putting together slides from one of his first fashion shows and was troubled by what he saw. “We try to keep our colors monotone, but in every picture, there’s this guy wearing a bright yellow Versace tie,” the designer said Sunday night at the party at the rooftop bar at 60 Thomson to celebrate Ruttenstein’s Eleanor Lambert Award, which was to be presented Monday night at the Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards.
Former Calvin Klein creative director Sydney Bachman recalled working at Bloomingdale’s when Ruttenstein joined the staff in 1977, where he is now senior vice president of fashion direction. “When he walked in, here was a very sweet-looking man…in platform shoes! We had to get him out of those, but he kept them in his closet for years, anyway,” she said. “He said they made him feel tall and thin.”
And Stuart Kreisler, who licensed the first Ralph Lauren women’s collection in the early Seventies, remembered Ruttenstein getting a craving for the local sweet corn grown on the east end of Long Island about a decade ago, so they drove out to Sagaponack and literally into a corn field. “We rolled down the windows and whisked the corn right off the stalks,” Kreisler said. “Then he cooked it up for a dinner party and called me the next day. It turned out that what we had taken was feed corn, but he ate it anyway.”.
Marc Jacobs, Anna Sui, Donna Karan with Lauren Hutton, Ralph Lauren, Elie Tahari, Zac Posen and Matthew Williamson each embraced him, but with characteristic self-deprecation, he simply said: “I think the Eleanor Lambert Award is kind of like the award for Mr. Congeniality.”
Ingrid Sischy, editor in chief of Interview, surveyed the crowd and saw it differently. “It’s very `Godfather,’ isn’t it?” she asked. “I mean, `Godfather One,’ when everyone’s rejoicing, before we find the horse head in the bed.”
Lauren, who had earlier called Ruttenstein with his regrets, changed his mind and came for the full event. “He has a great sense of humor and he’s really smart,” the designer said. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think a lot about him.” Karan said Ruttenstein was responsible for installing her first window display in 1970, when he was president of Bonwit Teller and she was working for Anne Klein, who opted to take the season off and let Karan design the collection. “You know when you walk in and see a real friend,” said Karan.
Suzy Menkes, fashion editor of the International Herald Tribune, skipped the Queen’s Jubilee celebration in her homeland to turn up, too. “It was tough turning down Queen Elizabeth for this, but I meet all these queens in fashion and I have to show up for them,” she said.
That was just the start of the ring kissing. Ruttenstein, who’s been responsible for making the right connections early on for more than a few young interns who have moved on to great things, introduced Mario Frangoulis, a Greek opera singer who is launching his U.S. singing career with an album in September. The singer was clearly taken with Ruttenstein’s outsized reputation: “This is really something to be invited by the guy who owns Bloomingdale’s,” he said. Then Mary Schneider warbled out the “William Tell Overture,” a trick to get the guests running toward the elevators and downstairs to dinner, where Ruttenstein was seated with Anna Wintour on his right and Carine Roitfeld on his left.
Just as dessert was served a few hours later, in walked a second wave, led by Karl Lagerfeld, who was delayed after missing his first flight from Paris, and followed by Hedi Slimane and Stephen Gan. “I loved Karl’s entrance,” Ruttenstein said. “He walked in like a prince, had a conference with the waiters, and, yes, he did eat. It seemed to be a lot of lettuce. And he kept saying he wasn’t very hungry, but it’s the first party that I’ve ever thrown that I actually had a good time at.””