One hour was the allotted time I had to interview Oscar de la Renta some years ago for V magazine. The house was expanding and he hoped to reach a younger audience. Although I entered his bustling Seventh Avenue studio without preconceptions, I did assume he'd be the very essence of charm. Who didn't know of this gift of his? And indeed he was, to the point where I stopped asking questions because asking them would mean interrupting him. In this way I was lulled out of deliberative journalist mode and into gurgling fan mode. When we reached the one-hour mark, he didn't want to stop and neither did I. So we didn't.
Upon hearing of the couturier's death yesterday, losing his battle with cancer, it occurred to me he might have learned of his diagnosis around the time we met. Yet even in the face of this terrible news, if in fact he knew, he conveyed the easy warmth, the natural grace, the casual geniality that made him one the most popular public figures in his adopted home of New York City and a true gentleman's gentleman. "There is, perhaps, no one more adored in American fashion than Oscar de la Renta," I so began the story. "Not only are his confectionary creations coveted by everyone from gamines to grannies, drag queens to First Ladies, socialites to Hollywood heavies, but a single disparaging word about the Latin legend won’t be found."
Here are other salient bits from the interview, plus additional quotes from the transcript that bear new relevance...
Wearing a light suit and a disarming smile, he waxes nostalgic about his early days in the mid-60s apprenticing for the Spanish couturier Cristóbal Balenciaga, delights in extolling high-profile clients ranging from beauty heiress Aerin Lauder to Sarah Jessica Parker (who became a fan after she played one on TV), and is perfectly comfortable detailing a business strategy to roll out new freestanding stores.
Oscar de la Renta is not one to waste time chasing some elusive hip factor or pushing a cult of personality. That would be vain. Instead, the quintessential traditionalist maintains, as he always has, that he’s interested in only one thing: “designing for women.”
“I travel quite a lot around the country. A journalist might know it's my first time in Cincinnati. I've been there 15 minutes and the first question they'll ask is what do I think of the woman of Cincinnati? I say that nowadays thinking of a woman by region is putting a woman down. Never has there been a woman as much in control of her destiny as a woman of today. What’s important to her is a projection of her own sense of individuality. I used to design day clothes, afternoon clothes, cocktail clothes, evening clothes. That's how I was trained, but I’ve had to ‘detrain’ — can you use that word? — my mind. I am not old-fashioned at all.”
"The customer I started dressing back in 1965 is very different from women of today. Today's woman has very different needs. Her first preoccupation of the day is not to get dressed in a pretty suit and have lunch with friends. My job is to understand who she is, and then try to keep that clientele, which I think is what made our business successful. Every day there is a new client."
At Balmain in Paris, de la Renta delivered a string of well-received collections until 2002, when he became disheartened by that highest of fashion disciplines and opted instead to concentrate on his own line back in the States, which, while not languishing, had become estranged. In a rare critical moment, he says, “I hated [designing for Balmain]. I personally think that a lot of houses today only use couture as a vehicle for selling handbags and all the other stuff, but I think ultimately it undermines what couture means.”
"When I was working in Paris and doing the collections for Pierre Balmain, at the end I quit because of practical reasons. I felt it was really important to my business. I was in Paris for Balmain just two and a half months a year, but I thought it was two and a half months I should have dedicated to my own business."Read More
Shortly before the runway show at ITS fashion festival in Trieste, Italy, we sat down with Carla Sozzani, the force behind the celebrated 10 Corso Como concept store in Milan. She told us about young Italian talents (they do exist), her brief stint at Elle in the 1980s, and one harrowing day in Africa some 40 years ago...
What's your involvement in ITS?
This is the second time I've been a jury member. My daughter, Sarah, who's been an editor at Italian Vogue for seven years, encouraged me to do it. I also have a lot of respect for Barbara Franchin, the event's founder. There is no other contest in the world that encapsulates not only fashion, but also photography, accessories, and jewelry. Besides, it's very international, and the jury is first-rate.
What do you think about the current state of Italian fashion, which some people find lacking in fresh talent?
There actually are fresh designers, but they prefer working for other brands around the world, instead of launching their own houses. It's about job security. That's a very Italian thing. In the UK, people want to have their own brands. Maybe the schools here don't motivate the students enough. But that doesn't mean there are not interesting people right now, like Andrea Incontri, Stella Jean, Fausto Puglisi, and Marco de Vicenzo. And our fashion council now offers assistance to young designers, because having money is not enough. You need to know how to use it. They help them with management and distribution, for instance. Don't forget that a few decades ago, we didn't have the Asian or Russian markets. Now fashion is a bigger industry.
What about your legendary store, 10 Corso Como? Concept stores have now mushroomed around the world. How do you stay organized?
I am not organized (laughs). I'm not obsessed with the ins-and-outs. I am passionate about the things I show. My store is about sharing those things with visitors. That's a way for me to communicate. It's like a living magazine.
Speaking of magazines, your past includes a stint at Elle, where you edited three issues in 1987.
Yes, I heard that people are collecting them. Elle actually fired me, then they told me to say I resigned. But I refused to do so. I said you're firing me for a very clear reason, which was that I wasn't commercial enough. I mentioned the fact that Diana Vreeland was also fired and they asked me, "Who is she?"
You worked with many groundbreaking photographers then. Are you still in touch with them?
Yes, I'm very close with Bruce Weber, Paolo Roversi, Peter Lindbergh, Sarah Moon.
What are your next projects?
My new Corso Como store in Shanghai. I go there every six weeks.
You're a big traveler. Have you ever been to Africa?
Yes, I've been to several countries in Africa: Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Benin. I went to Benin in the seventies. It was called Dahomey then. I went with Anna Piaggi's husband to take pictures. We flew on the now-defunct Air Afrique company and stayed at a hotel where a lot of Russians also sojourned. I met the director of the hotel, who was from Switzerland. The following day, there was a revolution. The country name was changed to Benin and suddenly there was a new director at the hotel. But that day I also caught malaria. I went to the hospital, but people were fleeing. A young French doctor quickly injected me with medicine and fled. He saved my life.
You're also often in Paris with your friend Azzedine Alaia...
Yes, I'm in Paris almost every week. I met Azzedine in 1979, when I was an editor at Italian Vogue. I had to do an article about a stylist, and I had heard about this designer who made leather dresses with eyelets from the French Elle journalist Nicole Crassat. Azzedine and I have been friends ever since.
As co-curator of a new exhibit at The Andy Warhol Museum — Halston and Warhol: Silver and Suede — Lesley Frowick has impeccable insight; she's the designer's niece. "This exhibit sort of fell into my lap on a research meeting at The Warhol," she tells Hint. "I was looking for photographs to include in my book [on Halston], as Warhol's camera was ubiquitous at events and Halston's home."
Before long she found herself in a curatorial role, reassessing the professional relationship and the personal camaraderie between the designer and the pop artist, who, in his 1979 book, described Halston as the "first All-American fashion designer." For all intents and purposes, they were thick as thieves and their seductive spheres of influence overlapped considerably. To begin with, Halston collected Warhol, which he showcased in his Manhattan townhouse and his vacation home on Montauk, Long Island, which he also rented from the artist. Halston, meanwhile, was portrayed in several of Warhol’s pieces. And of course they were both leading lights of New York's heady nightlife. "They were both very driven and both visionaries," recalls Frowick. "They both came from solid, somewhat humble family beginnings, but were propelled by an inner drive to search for the stars."
When it opens on May 18, the exhibit will include 40 or so of Halston’s signature dresses and accessories, including his signature Ultrasuede shirtdress and, from his early days as a milliner, the instantly iconic pale-pink pillbox hat he designed for Jackie Kennedy that she wore to her husband's inauguration in 1961 and that features in a Warhol silkscreen. These are juxtaposed with paintings, photographs, and videos from the Warhol archives. Other highlights of the show are a 1972 floral dress by Halston based on Warhol’s 1964 Flower paintings and, as Frowick cites, Warhol's Martha Graham serigraphs, in addition to items from the Coty Award "happening," a performance in 1972 that brought Halstonettes and Superstars together for the first time.
Perhaps no designer is as synonymous with the jetset disco-glam of the 1970s than Halston (born Roy Halston Frowick). But while the gifted social butterfly palled around with the likes of Liza Minnelli, Bianca Jagger, and Lauren Hutton, among other fresh-faced Halstonettes, Frowick remembers a calmer, avuncular spirit underneath the "external bravado." "He was actually shy. We spent many weekends in Montauk together, exploring the property, fixing meals together, and dreaming by the seaside. He was so funny, the best uncle one could ask for. We also shared the same birthday, so we bonded over our stubborn Taurean nature."
The two friends and comrades died within three years of each other, Warhol in 1987 and Halston in 1990, from AIDS-related Kaposi's sarcoma. And while the Weinstein Company attempted to revive the label several years ago (Frowick, tellingly, has no comment on that), the lasting image of Halston remains, for many people, on Studio 54's glittering dance floor. Given that the two artists have been exhaustively studied and scrutinized since their passing, it's hard to imagine there being anything particularly eye-opening left to discover. Still, Frowick said she was surprised to find "Andy's extensive Halston shoe collection."
Wrapping up, she recounts, "I love my uncle so very much and have worked tirelessly out of my love for him on this show and my book [October 2014, Rizzoli]. He was such a loving, generous force in my life — this is the least I can do to honor his memory. When it came down to it he was really just a shy kid from the Midwest who had a vision for his time and who happened to have the key elements — good looks, charisma and impeccable taste — to make it all work."
Halston and Warhol: Silver and Suede, May 18 - August 24, 2014, The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Would you like to know how Tim Blanks — fashion critic extraordinaire, editor-at-large at Style.com, pro of pros (and prose) — gets through Fashion Month? Of course you would! Read on...
They say Fashion Month is more civilized now, sans the hordes of wild peacocks and hyenas and whatever else. What say you, Tim?
The original Narcissus was infatuated with himself because he was so beautiful. I say, what happened to narcissism?
So narcissistic, but I think I'll miss the funny critters.
I'm reminded of Kiki surprised by a choir — Wainwright, Ringwald, Mizrahi et al — while she was in the studio recording Those Were the Days. To my dying day, I'll be haunted by her plaintive wail: "Who are all these people?”
You’ve told me you routinely stay up all night to get the job done over at Style.com. How do you do that? Don’t say meth.
Meth? You mean methylated spirits? It's green tea for me. And the promise of a new day. That's all I need to write through the dark night of the soul.
Has anything changed for you since winning the CFDA Media Award last June?
Not a smidgeon. Unfortunately, an impressively sculpted piece of metal can't do my work for me.
If you were to put together a Fashion Week survival kit, what things would you put in it?
Berocca, a half-bottle of Chablis, a small jar of shucked oysters, a bar of 90 percent chocolate, some nuclear mints.
All very sensible. Thinking back, what's one mishap you wish you could banish from your memory?
One morning I was sailing merrily towards Bryant Park for the Kors show when my legs went in opposite directions. I broke the fall with my face, and conducted the subsequent backstage interviews with seeping wounds all over my dial. Lauren Greenfield thought I was a special effect. Michael Douglas's face was a picture when I stopped him.
The lengths you’ll go! Finally, because everyone always wants to know, what's the most sensational diva meltdown you've witnessed?
My favorite diva meltdown was designer-induced model madness. When one high-strung supe spotted another in the dress she thought had been marked for her, she tore off the outfit she was wearing and stalked stark-naked out of the backstage wearing only heels. I could swear she rode away on her agency's scooter, but that might just be wishful thinking.
Brilliance — in assorted shades, guises, and orientations — shines forth from the rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Broadway's latest dalliance with drag and perhaps its first with a trans-something theme. Neil Patrick Harris does John Cameron Mitchell proud with his extra-quippy version of the raging, foul-mouthed East Berlin avant-rock goddess with a heart of gold. Meanwhile, with daft deftness and vice versa, director Michael Mayer and producer David Binder weave in heaps of topical in-jokes (Anderson Cooper and The Hurt Locker get the brunt of them). Just as it did when Hedwig opened off-Broadway 14 years ago, Stephen Trask's pitch-perfect original score elicits bursts of laughter and the occasional tear from a ready audience, while Mike Potter's hot-mess makeup and feathered mega-mullet — now a tonsorial trademark on a par with Princess Leia's double-bun 'do — has only increased in showstopping magnitude and luster.
And Arianne Phillips' costumes, a reimagining of those she created for the 2001 film version, take on new sparkle (thanks in large part to Swarovski) for the next generation of Hed-heads. "I'm lucky enough to consider Neil, John, Stephen, and Michael as part of my creative family," she said backstage during previews last week, echoing the very message of Hedwig, that of the near-universal quest for one's family away from family. "There's a lot of love, a lot of care. We're all very passionate about the material and people are connected to it in a deep way. There's a real reverence for Hedwig."
Hedwig may never let you believe it, but for all her stinging one-liners and cabaret cattiness, she can't conceal a sentimental streak. "I think the thing about Hedwig is that, between the wicked, whip-snap jokes, there’s a beautiful story," Arianne gushed, quite rightly. "Neil’s really great at underscoring the prolific humor with the emotion, the tragedy, and the beauty of the story. I think that’s probably a pretty good description of the costumes, too."
The costumes do invite closer reading, even as they dazzle, snark, and blur across the stage. The opening look, an exaggerated pear-shaped number à la Ziggy Stardust, is indeed a reference to David Bowie and his early space-glam outfits by Kansai Yamamoto. Such is the commanding stage persona Hedwig inhabits, or longs to. But perhaps Hedwig's most telling costume is her denim skort and jacket, heavily embroidered and painted with signifiers of the Berlin Wall, including Act Up graffiti Arianne herself photographed when she visited the city a couple of years ago. It's what Hedwig pieced together and wore as she escaped over the spray-painted cement partition, along with what was left of her botched gender reassignment — hence, angry inch. Finally, no imperious punk-rock anti-heroine is complete without her all-over (faux) fur ensemble. Hedwig's comes with a splash of red paint on the back that she seems completely unaware of, a fitting indignity for so self-involved a character and muse to no one but herself.
"Hedwig is kind of like the Rocky Horror phenomenon," continued Arianne — who, it should be noted, is a two-time Oscar nominee, as well as Madonna's stylist and costumer, designing her last five tours. "Mike [Potter] and I were judging midnight costume and wig contests when the Hedwig film came out. It was kind of like my experience being a kid and performing Rocky Horror at midnight screenings in my small hometown. Hedwig is that way for other people. I think any theater, film, art, or music with the message of human connection, and being your true self, will resonate."
"There's a secret family that has inhabited Nan Goldin's world for over thirty years now," the writer Guido Costa puts it in his essay in the photographer's new book, Eden and After. "It is made up of children, so many, many children. Some gaze out at us from the past, frozen in one far-off, solitary shot; others have been tracked for a span of time, up to the threshold of adolescence and beyond."
Many might think childhood and child-rearing are far from the subjects — sex, drugs, dysfunctional relationships — that Goldin captured so realistically in her early images. Yet her work has always had a diary-like quality to it, and while she herself does not have children, many of her friends and collaborators have become parents.
We caught up with Goldin as she signed copies of the book at Phaidon, the publisher, and got her current take on a wide range of topics, from heroin addiction to the human condition.
One of the acknowledgements in the book reads "Never a mother, always a godmother." What sort of mother do you think you would have made?
Do you know Philip Larkin’s poem, This Be The Verse? It's the one that famously begins with "They fuck you up, your mum and dad, They may not mean to, but they do, They fill you with the faults they had, And add some extra, just for you.'" That’s what kind of parent I would have been.
Nan Goldin, Orlando and Lily Dancing, 2006, from Eden and After
Is there one image from your childhood that sticks in your mind, that sums up it all up?
Yeah. It’s one of my sister and my cousin dancing. I was about 11 and she was 18. That’s the picture of my life. I didn’t take it. My father took great pictures, but after my sister’s death he cut off everybody’s heads.
Your friend Roger Ballen asks: What is your opinion of the human condition?
Terrible. Couldn’t be worse. I think the computer destroyed mankind. I was a hippie and I had a lot of hope for the world. I have no more hope. It’s gone. The Internet is nothing, a huge amount of nothing. There’s much too much information and people have lost their curiosity and they’ve lost their love of books, which is really a shame. I don’t think they’re alive. They’re living virtual lives. I feel really bad for the new generations. I hope the kids in my book — some of them at least — will grow up to be very different people to the generation that exists now.
With his subversive, sex-stoked imagery for DUTCH in the 1990s, creative director Matthias Vriens (now Vriens-McGrath) knew no bounds. Each issue of the fashion and art magazine came packed with homo- and hetero-erotic imagery alike, merging the latest designer wares with suggestive, titillating story concepts. After becoming editor-in-chief, he published the notorious naked issue, in which not a stitch of clothing could be found among the 83 pages of fashion editorial — shot by Mikael Jansson — aside from designer credits.
Following DUTCH, Vriens-McGrath packed up his provocations and headed to Giorgio Armani (to be global creative director), then Gucci Group (senior art director), while continuing to shoot skin-flashing stories for the likes of i-D, The Face, Numéro, and the New York Times' T magazine.
Now, a marriage and a move to Hollywood later, he's back in the game with another eye-popping publication, TVTOR. The first issue of the self-financed, visually-led biannual bursts with nearly 400 pages, nearly all of it peek-a-boo photos taken by Vriens-McGrath himself or one of a randy roster of up-and-comers.
Here, following a launch party in Milan, Matthias Vriens-McGrath talks fashion versus art, his Tumblr addiction, and the pursuit of "tits, dick, pussy, and ass"...
Lee Carter: What does the Latin title refer to? To me it conjures up sexy Caesars in togas.
Matthias Vriens-McGrath: You’re not far off. Personally TVTOR symbolizes a desire for photography and all things visual and delicious. That could be contemporary art, fashion, sex. Or possibly all of them combined.
The two covers of the first issue, the romanticism issue, show a man and a woman lying prostrate on the floor with their head in an oven, apparently dead and wearing designer shoes. At first I thought: footwear story! Rather, it appears to be a more complex reflection of your current mood.
It's all in the eyes of the beholder. If it ends for you as a shoe story, then I am content with that. However, the theme of romanticism for me is more Hansel and Gretel, Romeo and Juliet, in a manner not shy of Pina Bausch. I grew up in the theater and like to provoke thought by means of suggestive visuals. Neo-romanticism has occurred in history at times disastrous and too turbulent to grasp intellectually and emotionally. I think we can all agree on it being a rather horrific moment in time currently. Personally the return to nature, aka romanticism, is something dear to my heart. Whereas most people believe I am surrounded by bulging cocks non-stop, the truth is I’d rather be in the garden.
What makes it a horrific moment in time?
I am referring to total global insecurity. Most economical structures have collapsed, while others are holding on by a silk thread, watching a minority spend it all. Other fun things that come to mind are assholes like Putin fucking up his country and telling people what to do, including gays, and denying them a future altogether. I can elaborate a hell of a lot more, but I think you catch my drift.
In the ever-changing (crumbling?) landscape of fashion criticism, where compensated cheerleaders and peacocks now reign supreme, it's big news when a turnover presents itself at the Styles section of the venerable New York Times. Which is exactly what happened a week ago when it was announced that Vanessa Friedman will be joining the Grey Lady from the Financial Times, where she wholly created the fashion section and lent tremendous fashion authority to its salmon mousse-colored pages. Though not officially, Vanessa replaces Cathy Horyn, who stepped down from a stellar career at the Times for personal reasons.
It's been made clear, however, that the approach, scope and tone of the incoming chief fashion critic (and fashion director) will not necessarily be the same as that of the outgoing, whose less-than-fawning yet always honest commentary was widely celebrated — if disparaged by those on the receiving end.
So what can we expect from the new guard? To begin with, like her predecessor, Vanessa is thoroughly no-nonsense, exuding a serious demeanor worthy of her scrupulously pulled back crimson hair and vise-grip of a handshake, offered with no air kiss behind it. I know this because I interviewed her for Industrie magazine about four years ago at the FT offices. I found her to be highly focused and articulate, yet also ready with a gentle quip and a friendly smile.
As it turns out, after some digging around for the issue, the interview provides quite a few glimpses into how Vanessa Friedman may decide to run the section. Here are the most intriguing snippets...
You've been the Financial Times' fashion editor for a while now.
Seven years. When I first started here, there was a sense that fashion would sit nicely in the weekend section, where it would be whatever it was. But it’s grown significantly in those seven years. Before I got here, we didn’t have fashion reviews. Sometimes they did them, sometimes they didn’t.
A lot of magazines and papers will start a fashion section for the celebrity quotient or to attract fashion advertising.
It was different here. I think it was really in response to two different realizations. One was the fact that actually the readers did care about clothes. They buy clothes and this was a service that we should be providing. And also the realization that the fashion industry, or the luxury industry, was a big industry and, therefore, something the FT should cover. It's a big business, real meat and potatoes stuff. Having said that, when I was hired, the idea was not that I would do the business side of it. That kind of happened.
Do advertisers hold any sway at the FT?
You said that quickly.
Really, they don’t. And because of that, I think it would be very hard for me to go back to glossy magazines, after having been in a situation where you really are free to follow the story, good or bad.
Glossies, too, have a separation between church and state, or claim to.
Well, they’re not critical. They're there to serve readers in a positive way, to show them what’s good about something. So, fair enough.
How does a fashion house attract a young clientele?
By making good clothes. In an industry based on products, in the end the products will sell themselves. If the products are bad, it doesn’t matter how you dress them up. It’s not going to work with the young consumer, who wants humor, irony, narrative. They're not into that this-is-our-history cheesy narrative.
Did you say snarrative, like snark and narrative?
It’s not a bad word. What I mean is, like the Cadbury adverts with the gorilla banging the drum. It was a really famous ad, which had nothing to do with Cadbury and at the end just said Cadbury. The marketing of no marketing. The willingness to abandon your product and do something funny or tell a great story.
They don’t make ‘em like Bruce Weber anymore. Famed mostly for his star-making fashion photographs for clients ranging from Calvin Klein and Vogue to Versace and Rolling Stone, the self-made legend has simultaneously spent decades doggedly capturing indelible, singular moments on film. His current project, a documentary about the great film-noir actor Robert Mitchum, has been 20 years in the making. Or is it 12? Point is, it's been a while and it could be a while longer. But when it's finished, it may very well be an opus like Let’s Get Lost, his remarkably touching, Oscar-nominated biopic centering on the loves and losses of the hard-living jazz trumpeter Chet Baker.
With a DVD anthology of his films just released, Weber took a breather in his Tribeca studio to speak candidly about his alternate career, his best friendships through the years (dogs and otherwise), his role in discovering several major Hollywood talents, and seeing something in Kim Kardashian, believe it or not.
Lee Carter: You've made a lot of Webersodes, but your last feature film was a while ago, wasn't it?
Bruce Weber: It’s been a while. You know, I started this film on Bob Mitchum and then I kind of stopped for a long time because I started working on short films. I was also working on a film about a close friend of mine, Mrs. Winston Guest, or C.Z. Guest. When she got sick, I wanted to stay on her film because the idea of spending time with her was really great for me. I really adore her so much.
What is it about film that you try to bring to the audience? How is it different from photography?
Well, in a way, I always start my films by taking pictures. It's an extension of taking a picture. When I first made my film Broken Noses, people would say I was just a photographer. And I'd say, Yeah, I know, and I want to make films like a photographer. I can't make films any differently.