NEW YORK — It was a good thing that the past was on the menu at New York University’s fashion seminar held Friday and Saturday, because several participants seemed to have a problem with the present.
Designers, journalists and fashion historians presented varying viewpoints on the significance of recurring themes of vintage styles in modern design during the program, "The Presence of the Past: Reuse, Revival and Renewal in Fashion." Staged at the New York Academy of Medicine on 103rd Street, the audience consisted mainly of curators of university and small museum fashion collections from around the country. Valerie Steele, curator at the museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology, discussed the corset, the Met’s Harold Koda talked about Greco-Roman revivals and François Lesage talked about a career that has spanned the tenures of the original Christian Dior to John Galliano at Christian Dior.
While there was a lot of nostalgia on stage, there was also a distinct sense that the audience was looking for validation of its own frustrations with modern fashion.
After discussing the heritage of the Bill Blass collection, designer Lars Nilsson said he was caught off guard when someone asked whether Blass still published the patterns of its designs with Butterick and Vogue. Chado designer Ralph Rucci worked the room into a frenzy, drawing wild applause for scolding those trend-driven designers who show looks to please the editorial community, and then again when he scoffed at the notion of using synthetic fibers in his designs. Another woman told Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director of Neiman Marcus, that the only fashion editorials she can relate to are Neiman’s The Book and Oprah.
"It’s hard to be enthusiastic when you’re not presented with real clothes, but a show," she said. "This is a call to arms to the industry. Let’s get real. When a customer opens a magazine and sees this," Kaner said, pointing to a slide of a Gaultier creation, "she thinks, ‘There’s nothing out there for me,’ and that’s it. It’s very hard to get her back into the store."
Kaner recalled John Galliano’s color-saturated spring collection, for which the models were covered in powdered dyes, that several guests in the audience were nearly asphyxiated or sent running to the toilets to rinse their contact lenses by the ensuing clouds of dust. When she later went to his showroom, Kaner discovered only three or four pieces from the runway show there, with the rest replaced by a remarkably wearable collection."He should show three or four pieces like that," she said. "Get it out of your system and move on. Designers are not considering who has the money to buy these clothes. They’re trying to titillate the fashion editors. There’s got to be somewhere between what they call news and excitement and what we call real business."
Rucci, who confirmed he will show again at the haute couture in January, had his own gripes with the fashion press, specifically over what he perceives to be a slight toward designers who are more restrained than outré. And don’t even think about misusing the word couture.
"One need not in fashion be trend driven or have a concept of fashion that must be changed every season," Rucci said. "What we work with is evolution. My work tends to be calm and cool, but editors don’t particularly like the concept of elegance and grace. I wish grace didn’t have a connotation of a certain age in this industry."
The scholarly audience sighed in appreciation, with many women sizing up the white lattice work jacket worn by Lisa Koenigsberg, director of Programs in the Arts at NYU’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies, and asking Rucci where his clothes were sold. Yet, the real hero’s welcome was reserved for the elusive Mary McFadden, who arrived on Saturday morning to deliver an address entitled "Icons and Images of the Ancient World: Sources of a Personal Fashion Odyssey."
McFadden approached the dias with the confidence of a professor and introduced her revelations with the delivery of a lithe poet.
"The leitmotif that passes through my life has been the adornment of a woman and of a man," McFadden said. "Ancient symbols, icons of nature and Celtic borders, symbols of lands and sandstone epitaphs, classical Greek sculptures carved marble as if it were wind-swept cloth. This is my ideal of beauty."
With that, McFadden set off on a 5,000-year voyage through art history, showing slide after slide of Elgin marbles, a Cypriatic priestess, a female figure from the Temple of Ishtar at Mesopotamia wearing a sheepskin skirt, cat and dog mummies from Egypt, Byzantine iconography, Elizabeth Rex wearing a pearl necklace, a 16th-century Japanese warrior figure, the feather dresses of Hawaiian kings, the Temple of the Moon in Yemen, the great forts of Zimbabwe and the gold spirit houses of Tibet.She showed her own National Geographic quality photographs of junks sailing the Yantze river, the sails of which inspired quilted looks within her own collection, then to Holland, where endless fields of flowers influenced her palette, and more from Mongolia, Tunisia, South Africa, Greece, Thailand and Korea. There was even a polyester-backed crepe from Australia, which, she said, "lasts for 300 years — it has none of the problems Ralph mentioned earlier."
"I have a couple of places I still want to go," McFadden told the audience. "I want to go to Argentina and then to the Muldives, and then Zanzibar again for the festival of music, which is fabulous."
And for those who expected only to hear about the past, McFadden, who closed her signature ready-to-wear company this fall amid a storm of controversy, said after the conference that she’s working out the details of launching a new collection.
EXCLUSIVE: @tomford is opening its first-ever beauty store. The boutique, which opens November 20 in London’s Covent Gardens, was designed with the over-the-top glam Ford is known for. Read the full story on WWD.com, link in bio. #wwdbeauty #wwdnews (📷: Simon Wagner) #TomFordBeauty
New York-based DJ @harleyvnewton threw a party to celebrate the holiday collection of her dress and pajama line @hvn at the Ladurée Beverly Hills. It Girls @katebosworth, @rashidajones and more joined in on the fun, which included cocktails, croque monsieur sandwiches and a photo booth. #wwdfashion (📷: Owen Kolasinski/BFA.com)
For the holidays, @Burberry partnered with 20-year-old artist @blondeymccoy on a series of three outdoor murals in downtown Manhattan. The murals are McCoy’s interpretation of a Christmas eve party, the idea of charity and the spirit of family. His third mural, pictured here, is the most personal. The image depicts McCoy’s grandparents and father in London’s Trafalgar Square in the Seventies. “My work often features lots of sentimental objects.” #wwdeye
For spring 2018, designers applied bold colors and cartoonish motifs on everything from sneakers and belts to key chains. See all the top men’s accessories trends on WWD.com. #wwdtrends (📷: George Chinsee; Prop Styling by @rnasti; Market Editor: @luiscampuzano)
The @dior-sponsored @guggenheim international gala pre-party has a history of drawing cool-girl musical acts to serenade the crowd –– and last night was no exception. @haimtheband performed songs both new and old, and lured a star-studded audience with the likes of Rebecca Hall, Kate Mara, Mamoudou Athie and more. #wwdeye (📷: @lexieblacklock)
In a partnership between the @metopera and the @englishnationalopera, “Marnie” was born. The opera, with costumes sponsored by @mrporterlive, is an adaptation of the 1961 thriller by Winston Graham. Arianne Phillips, who created the costumes, is no rookie: She’s styled Madonna for her tours and created costumes for a myriad of films in the past. Read WWD’s interview with Phillips, where she talks about her inspiration for the opera’s costumes on WWD.com #wwdfashion
@barneysnyc took a different approach to their holiday windows this year. Instead of Christmas decor, Barneys tapped @thehaasbrothers to tell a story of positivity, gratitude and inclusivity via heartwarming silliness and humor. “It’s about kids and it’s about coming together and being family and loving each other,” said Simon Haas. #wwdfashion (📷: @joshuascottphoto)
Beauty influencer @kandeejohnson makes her foray into hair care with a collaboration with @ogx_beauty — making it the first time that OGX has teamed up for a product creation. The collab includes shampoos and conditioners in three scents. At 39 and a mom, Johnson is a different profile than the emerging social media stars, but is considered one of the pioneers of the digital beauty influencer world. Read WWD’s interview with her on wwd.com, including the strangest beauty product she’s ever tried #wwdbeauty