The landscape of fashion may continue to change, but one thing will always stay the same — cocktail parties are bound to remain a great opportunity to put a chief executive or an elusive designer on the spot with a tricky subject. Such was the case at several events surrounding the more serious matter of ceo discourse during the annual WWD/DNR CEO Summit, where guests were as likely to bump into Burt Tansky, ceo of Neiman Marcus Group, as they were a designer like Dries Van Noten, Carolina Herrera or Zac Posen.

Conversation at these things tends to stick to rating the speakers on hand, but on the heels of the election, there were broader issues facing the fashion industry, such as who the assembled guests would nominate to become the next great celebrity designer. Hal Upbin, chairman and ceo of Kellwood Co., came up with what was probably the most clever answer among the lot. After briefly considering the possibility of the late Frank Sinatra, he settled on talk show host Ellen DeGeneres.

“Just think, it could be very unisex looking,” he said. “It would appeal to everyone.”

Gilbert Harrison, chairman of the investment banking firm Financo Inc., considered the possibility of today’s pop star talent and responded with a thought many others were thinking: “Your ability to sing is converse to your ability to design.”

Looking into fashion’s crystal ball has always been an amusing parlor game for industry executives, but pulling the next Jennifer Lopez or P. Diddy out of their hats proved a difficult feat. As Chet Hazzard, vice chairman and chief operating officer of Vera Wang Ltd., noted, “I think the future will become even more democratic as the years pass.”

“It’s not going to be about being a couture designer or being a celebrity designer,” Hazzard said. “It’s going to be about great product and how you put it together.”

“The future of fashion is something that is supposed to be mysterious,” added Herrera with a wink. “Fashion is mystery. You never know where you are going. It changes so quickly. It is so ephemeral. We just have to stick together and keep doing it.”— Eric Wilson

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