HOUSEWIVES Alum Jill Zarin Has Graduated to Bigger and Better

This week The Real Housewives of New York City Season 5 premiered on Bravo with new cast members—and without some of the old.  Housewives alumna Jill Zarin reported on her blog, “I felt like I graduated high school and am in college now… going back to the high school to visit my old friends and some transfer students.”  What’s Jill been up to;  apparently, quite a lot.  In addition to continuing a round of television appearances, Jill Zarin has been just a tad occupied—building an empire around her name with her Jill Zarin Home Bedding Collection, Skweez Couture shapewear line, and most recently her Jill Zarin Jewelry Collection.  Fashion Reverie has had a chance to catch up with her to learn more about her newest ventures in the fashion and accessories industries.

 

Fashion Reverie: What inspired you to start Skweez Couture?

Jill Zarin: I had my “aha” moment while I was filming Season 4 of The Real Housewives of New York City when I was wearing someone else’s shapewear and getting out of the car and my whole leg was exposed.  It was really squeezing my whole leg, very uncomfortable and very unattractive.  It was at that moment, I told my husband that I have to make own shapewear, and I have to make it look pretty.  I said I could do better, and I did!

FR: Can you go over your background for some of our readers who may not know of your professional background beyond The Real Housewives of New York City?

Jill Zarin: I started as a buyer at Filene’s Department Store in Boston, Massachusetts.  My last job was President of Jockey Hosiery for Great American Knitting Mills.  So I’ve really ran the gamut in ladies and menswear and undergarments, specifically from hosiery to tights, for over 10 of my 25 years in the business.  Then I worked for my husband, Bobby, who has a fabric company, which allowed me to learn a lot about textiles and fabrication.

Skweez Couture’s Peek-a-boob

FR: What does your collection consist of?

Jill Zarin: It ranges from functional and affordable undergarments to a hybrid collection and outerwear.  For example, I have a Bodyguard Bodysuit that can be worn under a blouse, under a sweater, under a dress, under anything to hold in your stomach, lift your rear end, to give you support because it has an underwire, and yet makes you feel very feminine and comfortable.  You can also wear my shapewear by itself with a jacket, or a jacket over it with jeans, which is the way I like to wear it.  So it can go from undergarment to outerwear.  I also have items that are primarily for outerwear, but can be worn under clothes, which makes up my corset line.

So I have items that go under your clothes, items that are hybrid that can be worn under or out, corsets, then I have garments that are just phenomenal—soft, easy to wear, from velvet leggings to cotton capris to those that have more spandex and support.  My favorite item allows you to wear your own bra: it’s called the Peek-a-boob.  My biggest concern as a seller is bra size.  This way, I can support all of them, no pun intended, by letting them wear their own bra and giving them an undergarment that surrounds it literally and sucks them in all the way down.  At the bottom, I’ve added lace, which I love.

The side effect of these garments is that it gives you incredible back support, which all of us need.  We’ll all leaning over our computers, we’re slouching as we get older, we’re tired, and we’re resting in that position.  These garments force you to stay up straighter.  It’s healthier for your body.

Skweez Couture’s Bodyguard Seamless Shaping Bodysuit

FR: Would you tell us about the fabrics you use?

Jill Zarin: I like to use fabrics that have incredible softness, which is the most important thing to me because I think the first thing you do when you open up your package is touch it. It’s really important for me that it passes a certain number of washing machine passes.  It’s sort of like a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.  I should really apply for that!  But we put the garments through our own testing.  I have my own Jill Zarin Housekeeping Seal of Approval.  So does HSN by the way.  One of the things I am most proud about is being one of the suppliers of HSN.

FR: Please tell us the steps it took to put together Skweez Couture.

Jill Zarin: It’s been trial and error.  I’ve never opened a business so aggressively and quickly in my life.  My husband, Bobby, is an entrepreneur, and he helped guide me.  I have a licensee that is my partner in making these goods and designing.  That was the fastest way to do it.  If I had tried to do it myself, it would have taken me another year or two.  I had to make that choice to give part up a part of my business, but it was worth it.  With that, there comes a lot of expertise and many, many years of experience.

 Forbes Magazine recently named us one of the top 5 emerging shapewear brands in the world.  They were doing an article on my competitor.  This other company has been in the business for ten years and is now worth billions of dollars.  And now Skweez Couture is on its heels.

 FR: But you’re still actively involved in the design?

Jill Zarin:  That’s where there was a bit of a challenge because they’re based in Boca Raton, Florida and I’m based in New York.  So, FedEx is my best friend!

FR: What are you most proud of regarding your collection?

Jill Zarin: I think it would be the corsets because that was the most challenging.  I literally took apart with a scissor one of my favorite corsets that I had bought years ago because I needed to find out what was annoying me so I could do it better. My weight would fluctuate up and down, but this thing had no stretch at all.  I’d have to hold my breath while Bobby would struggle to try to help hook all the eyes.  It had no straps and would slip,so I took it apart.  One of the things I did was replace hooks and eyes with a very a practical zipper that has a safety latch on it.  When I took it apart, I noticed the reason why it was hurting me so much was because the bones were so hard and wiry and tore through the fabric and dug into me.  I wanted soft boning, which I had to source, and of course I wanted a really beautiful sateen finish, and a silk look.

My retail price is $75 for a gorgeous corset, which is unheard of at that price.  I also added removable straps.  I made the straps removable so people who didn’t want them could remove them, for example, smaller chested women who might not need the extra support.

I used the princess seaming 360 degrees around it.  In fact, one of HSN hosts, Diana Perkovic, loved it so much that she picked me as the Host Pick, which is a big honor.  WWD also featured that same corset.

Jill Zarin Jewelry Collection’s “Allyson” ring, $78, Jill Zarin Jewelry Collection’s “Gloria” ring, $38

FR: How did the Jill Zarin Jewelry Collection come about?

 Jill Zarin: I’m a jewelry hoarder, like so many of my peers. I am a little bit careless, and I’ve lost a lot of jewelry, with that in mind I really wanted to make the collection affordable.

FR: What has the road been like since leaving the reality show and entering this new phase of your life as a fashion and jewelry entrepreneur?

Jill Zarin: It feels organic.  I feel like my life is always evolving.  That was a stage in my life for 5 years, and I was ready to leave.  I never thought it would last as long as it did, and I’m grateful that it’s still on-air because people are still talking about the show.

I feel like I’ve graduated.  It’s sort of like being in high school.  They forced me to graduate.

FR: What was your experience like being on one of the most popular reality shows, and are there any regrets?

Jill Zarin: I don’t live with regrets.  I’m sure I’ve had regrets, I just don’t remember them because I don’t live in the past.  I did the show to have fun and to promote my brand.  My brand at the time was solely Zarin Fabrics on the lower eastside, the largest discount drapery and upholstery fabric store in New York City.  Then it became more about the Jill Zarin brand, and then I came up with Skweez Couture.  It kept evolving.

The show also gave me a platform to write a book with my mother and sister, “Secrets of a Jewish Mother.”  That was an advice book on everything from marriage to dating to career.  It’s the kind of book that will live forever and will stand the test of time.

 FR: I have heard from celebrities, especially those who are on TV on a weekly basis, that they are often approached by fans, who mistake them for the characters they portray.  It must be doubly confusing for a reality star.

Jill Zarin: Actually it’s much easier as a reality star because I am my character.  When I meet fans, they know a lot about me that is all true.  I’m married to Bobby.  My daughter is Ally.  Sure, there are different storylines that may be exaggerated.  But the core of who I am, what I do is all true.  So people will just feel like I’m a familiar friend.

FR: Is there more you’d like to accomplish?

Jill Zarin: There’s always more; things I don’t know yet.  I’m very creative, and I’m always coming up with new challenges and things for me to do.  I’m working on twenty different projects I can’t even talk about.  I’ll have a couple that I’ll be able to talk about in a couple of months.

Jill Zarin will appear on HSN June 15th at 8pm EST. Skweez Couture and the Jill Zarin Jewelry Collection can be purchased on www.jillzarin.com.

—Jeanine Jeo-Hi Kim

 

The Wonderful World of Zang Toi

Images courtesy of Ernest Green

If you’ve never been to a Zang Toi fashion show then you’ve missed incredible works of timeless beauty. Rarely, in the current incarnation of fashion shows to audiences watch in amazement, stand up and cheer, applaud for several minutes at the display of masterpieces of wearable art. Then again, this is the Wonderful World of Zang Toi.

Fashion Reverie was privileged to have a conversation with Zang Toi right before his dynamic runway show that was a part of the Beth Israel Breast Cancer Luncheon.

Fashion Reverie: We all know you came from humble beginnings in Malaysia to study fashion design at Parsons, so coming from such a humble background what gave you the courage to become a designer, particularly a luxury designer?

Zang Toi:  I always knew I wanted to have a creative career. As a young child I loved to draw and sketch, so I thought I would have a career in the fine arts.

It is very common for Malaysian to go abroad to further their education. I first went to Canada to study and then I moved to Parsons to study fashion design. Originally, I pursued a career in interior design; however, through a series of incidences I switched to fashion design.

FR: What would you say is your design aesthetic?

Zang Toi:  My design is very chic, classic and sophisticated. My clothes are timeless, investment pieces for women that want a touch of elegance and are not afraid to make a statement.  I’m one of the few independent American high-end designers that have survived the recession. Last year we had a 57% increase in sales and this season are sales are already up 70%.

FR: What do you credit this dramatic increase in sales to?

Zang Toi:  For three months we travel from city to city doing trunks shows and I am personally present for all of the shows. I have gotten to know all my customers individually from these trunk show appearances.  Some designers make the mistake of trying to be a rock star or a celebrity designer. I am more concentrated on giving good quality service to my customers. My clients are far wealthier than me and they know quality products and good service.  I have loyal customers that will come into our showroom and in one outing spend hundreds of thousands of dollars. So, the combination of a quality product and tactile interaction with my customer base is increasing our sales.

FR: All of your clothes are made in the US. Could you speak about that?

Zang Toi:  Every garment is made in my workspace in NYC. I have loyal employees who have been with me for over 15 years. I have a very good team and we have a very good product. When women wear my clothes out to an event or even as a part of their daily wardrobe, they demand attention and get noticed. Everyone thinks they are wearing clothes from a European couture house.

Images courtesy of Ernest Green

FR: Compared to last season where you used more neutrals with dashes of green, why did you use imperial red this season and more color in general?

Zang Toi:  The inspiration for fall/winter 2012 really came from Gstaad, the famous ski resort in Switzerland. All the famous jet setting celebrities from Audrey Hepburn to Elizabeth Taylor used to vacation there. So you can see the ski aesthetic in the winter white we use in the collection. We always use a basic black in our collections and I wanted to light up the runway toward the end of the show with dramatic, bold splashes of ruby and imperial red. As you know in some Asian cultures, imperial red is a symbol of good luck.

FR: When you use color it’s always bold splashes of color, could you talk about that?

Zang Toi: Three months before our fall/winter 2012 show at Lincoln Center during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week I decided I wanted to do a mini Adele concert. My music director thought I was going crazy. But I felt that combined with the dramatic red colorations, and the overall inspiration for the collection, an homage, of sorts, to Adele would produce an incredible impact for the audience. I wanted to create theatre, which is something you don’t normally see in fashion productions in NYC. The combination of bold colors and great music lends itself to the Zang Toi experience.

FR: In your current collection there were bold, dramatic pieces but also easy daytime pieces.

Zang Toi:  We have great dramatic showpieces in our collection, but the bread and butter of the House of Zang Toi is the fine-tailored suits. We also use Loro Piana cashmere in many of our garments. When you give a consumer who has everything the best of the best, they keep coming back.

Images courtesy of Ernest Green

FR: You also like to use a lot of silk.

Zang Toi:  I have clients that can afford anything they want, and they want the best of the best; so it is a given that we use silk, as well as other expensive fabrics. I am on the road doing trunk shows for both seasons, making myself available for my clients. Over time I have learned what my clients want and what their lifestyle is. I have tapped into that customer where money is not an object; however, if they are going to spend a lot of money, the product must be top drawer.

FR: Why would a consumer choose a Zang Toi garment over other luxury designers?

Zang Toi:  A fashion critic once said “When you wear Zang Toi, you don’t just go to a party, you arrive.”   Women are always stopped and admired at events, in the airport, really anywhere when they are wearing my clothes. My female customers love my garments and their husbands love the way they look in Zang Toi. The husbands of my clients always tell me that they get more attention when their wives are wearing Zang Toi. So, if the wives and husbands are pleased, I must be doing something right.

FR: What’s next for you?

Zang Toi:   What is next for me is continuing what I am doing and continuing to make my clients happy.

—William S. Gooch

Audrey Smaltz: A Fond Glance Back at Eleanor Lambert

Eleanor Lambert’s life and legacy touched the lives of many people, in and out of the fashion community. From fashion editors to designers to retailers to those of us who attend fashion weeks around the world, we all owe a great debt to this great fashion revolutionary.

Audrey Smaltz has had a wide and varied career in fashion. From being one of the few African American working models in the 1960s to fashion editorial duties at Ebony Magazine to creating the first ground crew for New York Fashion Week, Audrey Smaltz has always been and still is a force to be reckoned with.

Audrey Smaltz took time out of her very busy schedule to speak with Fashion Reverie about her relationship with Eleanor Lambert. Always candid and to the point, Audrey Smaltz in revealing detail relates Eleanor Lambert’s inclusive approach to beauty and style.

 Fashion Reverie: How did you get to know Eleanor Lambert?

Audrey Smaltz: I knew Eleanor well during the 1970s. I was the fashion editor for Ebony Magazine from 1970 to 1977, and I was also the fashion director and commentator for the Ebony Fashion Fair fashion show that traveled all over the US.  But, I knew of Eleanor because of the many hats she wore well before my jobs with Ebony Magazine and Ebony Fashion Fair. Eleanor started the International Best Dressed List, the Coty Awards, the CFDA, and was an incredible fashion publicist to such renowned designers as Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, Halston, and many others.

I believe the first time I got to know Eleanor up close and personal was when I served on the committee for the Coty Awards.  At that time, a group of fashion editors selected the Coty Award winners, and since Eleanor Lambert conceived and created the Coty Awards, I got to know her better through that endeavor.

Eleanor sought out anyone who could give her clients or her many endeavors publicity. So, you could say Eleanor sought me out and got to know me.

FR: Could you talk about working with Eleanor Lambert at the Coty Awards?

Audrey Smaltz: There is a particular incident that comes to mind. In 1973 I was on the committee for the Coty Awards and we had a meeting the Plaza Hotel. Bernadine Morris of the New York Times was the chairperson of the Coty Awards that year suggested I perform commentary duties for the awards that year. Now, this was a role I was very accomplished at because of my years commentating for the Ebony Fashion Fair fashion show.  I had no commentary notes written down because I like things to be spontaneous and organic, which made Eleanor very nervous. Anyway, I was a big success; even Barbara Walters came over and congratulated me.

Eleanor was so appreciative of my effort that she sent me a case of Bordeaux wine. Eleanor had lots of charm and she could get you do anything. She had that kind of charm.

FR: Could you talk about how Eleanor always helped you acquire garments for shoots when you were the executive fashion editor at Ebony Magazine?

Audrey Smaltz: Ebony Magazine was not known as a fashion magazine and in the 1970s some fashion designers were not that open to lending out garments to a black publication.  In fact, some designers would insist that we shoot the photo editorials in their showroom. They would not let us take the garments to our studio and shoot the clothes.  However, if I was having this kind of challenge, I could call on Eleanor and she made sure that her clients gave us garments from their current collections to photograph.

Eleanor Lambert was very instrumental in opening those fashion doors for us at Ebony Magazine. She was out every night at events and parties promoting her clients and she would always ask me to come along to those events, which turned out to be great networking opportunities.

FR: Obviously, Eleanor Lambert respected you and embraced you.

Audrey Smaltz: Yes, she did.  She liked that I was very honest with her and always told her what was on my mind. I never minced words. If I felt that more black models and designers should be included in an event or a runway show, I would say so. She really respected honesty. And I totally respected her.

FR: Could you talk about how Eleanor Lambert helped open doors for models of color?

Audrey Smaltz: When I first began my professional relationship with Eleanor she wasn’t using a lot of black models. That changed over time. And I would like to think that maybe I had a little something to do with that. (At the Grande Divertissement à Versailles, which was spearheaded by Eleanor Lambert, the American designers used a total of 12 black models, at the insistence of Eleanor Lambert.)

FR: Many people thought that Eleanor Lambert was a difficult woman, what is your opinion?

Audrey Smaltz: I had a great relationship with Eleanor and I didn’t witness that aspect of her personality.  She demanded the best and some people may consider that hard to take in a woman, but if you are going to work in the fashion industry and be taken seriously, you have to aim for excellence. And that is what she did.

FR: What do you think is Eleanor Lambert’s legacy?

Audrey Smaltz: Well, there are so many things. Eleanor started the International Best Dressed List which still comes out in Vanity Fair. And, she also created the Coty Awards. However, I believe the creation of the CFDA is her legacy.

FR: What projects are you working on, right now?

Audrey Smaltz:  I like to do live auctions. That said; I am a celebrity auctioneer for the Fredrick Douglas Dinner that will be held at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel for the Urban League on May 16. I have started writing my autobiography. And the Ground Crew is still active; we just finished Bridal Week.

—William Gooch

Nolé Marin’s New Chapter

Those who only know Nolé Marin from his cheeky verbosities on America’s Next Top Model, may assume that Nolé Marin is just one of those charmed fashion creatures who added a little sass and spice to a reality show in need of ratings.  Well, Nolé Marin is much more than that.

From styling top celebrities Tyra Banks, Heidi Klum, Hugh Jackman, Alicia Keys, Lenny Kravitz, Kanye West, and Tom Cruise to serving as fashion director of Runway Magazine, Nolé Marin is a veteran force to be reckoned with. As the director of his new agency, AIM Model Management, Nolé Marin is starting a new phase of his career and breaking new ground. And as always with Nolé, this new venture will be first class and fiercely fabulous; just like Nolé.

 

Fashion Reverie: Nolé Marin, you’ve had an illustrious career as a celebrity stylist, as a judge on America’s Next Top Model, and as a fashion director of a fashion magazine, why did you decide to start a modeling agency?

Nolé Marin: I was ready to start a new chapter in my life. After working with so many of my friends in the industry and scouting and helping to develop models at other agencies, I felt it was time to put my talents to use with something of my own. I wanted to give the industry a new look and a whole new breed of models.

The difference between my agency, AIM Model Management, and most new agencies is that we start with models with no experience or models coming from a secondary market or other countries, as opposed to persuading models to come to AIM from other top agencies. AIM is about finding the next generation of new models.

At the end of April, we will celebrate our first year anniversary. In the short time we’ve been in existence, we are doing extremely well. Our goal is to have about 40 to 50 young ladies and about 60 men.

FR: Why more men than women?

Nolé Marin: It takes a lot more time to develop young women and it is harder honing in a young lady that can work in this industry. There is also a lot more competition for the women. Believe it or not, a good male model is easier to develop, you don’t have to recruit them so young and there is less competition.

FR: Does your agency have a particular market?

Nolé Marin: Our market is definitely high fashion, but we also have commercial accounts.

FR: What growth have you had within the past year?

Nolé Marin: We have had tremendous growth. We are now working with mother agencies in Russia, China and Europe, and AIM Model Management will handle the New York market for models that have mother agencies in other countries.

FR: What changes are you seeing in the industry that is directly affecting your agency?

Nolé Marin: The market is much more competitive, even the more commercial clients want top models to promote their brand, which makes it harder for a new agency. So, we have to push harder to get our models to get name recognition within the industry so that can book clients like Macy’s, Bloomingdales, etc. It really is about the revenue you are bringing in, as opposed to high fashion versus commercial.

FR: How long does it take to groom a new model?

Nolé Marin: Sometimes a new model can get bookings within a few weeks, others may take longer. Generally, it takes about three to six months to a year to groom a model enough to book major jobs. What makes a superstar is that indefinable quality that appeals to clients because they understand that model can sell product.

FR: Which AIM Model Management models are making a mark in the industry?

Nolé Marin: One of our new faces, Ian Sharpe booked Valentino exclusive as his first job. He has a lot of editorials and great options coming up.  Nicole Bailey will be coming to our agency this summer and she will be making waves. Ryan Williams from Canada is also making waves.

FR: The industry is now embracing a more athletic male physique than the slender physique of past seasons. Why this change?

Nolé Marin: In the 80s and 90s the industry embraced guys and girls that were more athletic—remember Christie Brinkley, Tyson Beckford, Marcus Schenkenberg, and Cindy Crawford. When I worked at other agencies we would always tell the young guys to go to gym and build their bodies up. That athletic look gave way to a waif look. And the industry is now embracing a mores svelte, healthier physique.

Fashion is all about change. And as design aesthetic change, models change to match that aesthetic. The models are still svelte and thin, but healthier looking.

FR: What do you think of all the new model reality shows like Remodeled and Scouted?

Nolé Marin: When I was on America’s Next Model in cycle 2 and 3, I was warned that being on the show would ruin my career. Tyra Banks had difficulty getting industry professionals to appear on the show at first. Now, so many people have appeared on these shows from Andre Leon Talley to Diane Von Furstenberg.

Reality television is a great way to reach the masses if you are a designer, a stylist or a photographer. You really get coined as an expert and a tastemaker, so to speak.  I am not so sure it is good for the models. These shows are always looking for ratings and drama can increase the ratings.  As a model you don’t want to come across as difficult and unsophisticated. And sometimes the producers want that. Modeling is a lot of hard work and not as glamorous as it seems, and the reality shows sometimes don’t show the hard work.

FR: What’s next for AIM Model Management?

Nolé Marin: We are developing a hair and makeup division where I can mentor hair, makeup and styling professionals. We are going to open up that division toward the end of April. With this addition, we will able to house everything within AIM and be a one-stop shop.

—William Gooch

 

Eleanor Lambert: A Charmed Life, Part 2

Part Two

FR: You touched on this a little bit in Part 1, but could you elaborate more about how Eleanor Lambert started Press Week?

John Tiffany: Well, it is a little complicated how Press Week started.  Everyone knew that WWII was just around the corner, so the federal, state and local government, the International Ladies Garment Union and other manufacturers formed the New York Dress Institute to take advantage of the shopping habits of women when the male population was away in combat. Everything during wartime was rationed, so women had extra money to spend on clothes. Though fabric was rationed and a lot of the fabric was used to make military uniforms, there was a significant amount of fabric left over to make women’s garments. The rationing of fabric also resulted in dresses being shorter in the 40s.

The New York Dress Institute wanted to promote shopping, so they had an advertising campaign to get American women to buy clothing made by American designers. At any rate, the ad campaign was not good and all the major retail stores at the time, Bergdorfs, Saks and Bloomingdales, were appalled. So Eleanor Lambert was brought to give a bit of taste and sophistication to the ad campaign. Eleanor Lambert invented the Best Dressed List with society women wearing American designers as a part of the campaign. Eleanor suggested that in addition to the Best Dressed List there should also be an event to show the collections of American designers to the press. Her ideas were embraced and this series of events birthed Press Week, which came to be known as New York Fashion Week.

FR: Many people believe Eleanor Lambert’s crowning achievement was the Grande Divertissement à Versailles. Could you elaborate on that?

John Tiffany: Eleanor believed and I believe her crowning glory was spearheading the Grande Divertissement à Versailles. She was probably the only person that believed in the importance of American fashion from the 1930s. She had to prove the American aesthetic was just as important and revolutionary as their European counterparts. It was not until the Versailles exhibition that American fashion was given its rightful place.

While the French designers at the exhibition put on this over-the-top fashion show, the American designers (Halston, Anne Klein, Stephen Burrows, Oscar de la Renta, and Bill Blass) demonstrated the fashion-forward sensibility and youthfulness of American designers. This exhibition raised the visibility of American designers and American Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar realized that American fashion was just as important as French and Italian fashion.

Because of the Versailles exhibition fashion shows stopped using commentators to narrate the shows and started incorporating music into the presentations. Fashion used to dictate down and Paris was the center of the fashion universe, but after the Versailles exhibition, New York became a major force. The breakout American stars of the Versailles exhibition was Anne Klein and Stephen Burrows because they were pulling from the street and capturing the cultural revolution of the 70s.

FR: She also helped open the door for African American models, could you talk about that?

John Tiffany: Eleanor Lambert used black models in her shows going back to the 1940s. Every time a fashion designer is credited with using black models, that designer was usually a client of Eleanor Lambert. Eleanor Lambert was instrumental in having 12 black models in the Versailles exhibition and as a direct result of that in August of 1974 Beverly Johnson appeared on the cover of American Vogue.

Eleanor Lambert would not say that she forwarded the careers of African American model, but she was instrumental. She used black models in the Coty Award shows and her March of Dimes fashion shows. This point of view continued, even into the 90s when I worked for her, she was requesting designers to use black models in their lookbooks. She also had African American designers as her clients from Stephen Burrows to Willie Smith and B. Michaels.

FR: Could you speak about her eccentricities?

John Tiffany: Eleanor Lambert loved over-the-top jewelry and comfort food. She loved macaroni and cheese, she love mashed potatoes, and bacon. She also had weird quirks. She hated taking the tunnel to the airport. She would always feel the elevator to see if the elevator was hot. I remember we had a meeting at the World Trade Center and she kept talking about the Trade Center collapsing one day. She was right!!

She was not a frivolous person; she knew the value of a dollar. But, she absolutely believed in talent and supporting that talent. She believed that fashion would be the number one industry in NYC and it was until it was recently replaced by finance.

FR: What in Eleanor Lambert’s childhood informed her extraordinary personality?

  John Tiffany: I can’t say for certain, but I know her father abandoned the family early in her    childhood. He was a circus promoter with a lot of charm and charisma, and though Eleanor did not see her father again until she was 25, she held him in high esteem. Maybe because her father was not around she became an overachiever and had to be the best at whatever she did.

FR: Why was she so committed to promoting American designers?

John Tiffany: She believed American designers were talented and deserved recognition. She never took credit for the designer’s talent; she was only interested in promoting them. Sometimes people immediately embraced her clients, and sometimes it took decades. But if Eleanor Lambert believed in your talent, she would keep promoting.

FR: In your opinion what is Eleanor Lambert’s legacy?

John Tiffany: I believe her legacy is wide and diverse. To hear the mayor of New York City say that Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week brings in almost a billion dollars in tax revenue every year is due to the work of Eleanor Lambert.  Creating the CFDA is another one of her legacies. With the formation of the CFDA, Eleanor Lambert took the power away from the manufacturers and put it back in the hands of the designers. The garment industry was running NY Fashion Week and those dates didn’t work for designers, so Eleanor Lambert broke that up and created the CFDA. Now, the designers control NY Fashion Week.

There is a documentary about the Versailles exhibition premiering during the Cannes Film Festival. I believe we are just beginning to know the depth and width of this great woman. Ultimately, her lasting legacy is the belief in the American fashion aesthetic.

FR: What’s next for you?

John Tiffany: What is next for me is documenting and telling more of these stories. I have some big projects in the works that I cannot reveal just yet.

—William S. Gooch

Eleanor Lambert and John Tiffany. Images courtesy of John Tiffany

Eleanor Lambert: A Charmed Life

A supermodel famously once said, “You need charm to open doors and charm will keep those doors open.” Fashion warrior Eleanor Lambert funneled charm, passion, determination, and a lot more into her indefatigable desire to bring worldwide attention to American designers and artists.

For a significant part of the 20th century, Eleanor Lambert was the driving force behind American fashion and instrumental in putting the American aesthetic on the fashion map internationally. From founding New York Fashion Week to creating the Council of Fashion Designers Association (CFDA) to inventing the Best Dressed List, Eleanor Lambert used determination, intelligence, and charm to get the job done.

Biographer John Tiffany in his biography Still Here: Eleanor Lambert brilliantly captures the inimitable spirit of a woman who dedicated her life to promoting American fashion. Fashion Reverie was privileged to interview John Tiffany about his book and his long relationship with Eleanor Lambert until her death in 2002. This rich and revealing interview will be presented in two parts.

Part 1

Fashion Reverie: How did you come to work for Eleanor Lambert as her assistant?

John Tiffany: My relationship with Eleanor Lambert goes back to high school, believe it or not. I had a speech teacher who encouraged me to do a speech about style and fashion because he knew I loved clothes. The speech had to be a speech about a fashion anniversary of some kind. My high school librarian directed me to all these WWD articles and one of them was celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Grande Divertissement à Versailles of which Eleanor Lambert was the organizer of that iconic event. So that was my first introduction to Eleanor Lambert.

A college a good friend of mine, Jane LaForce’s, brother, John,  had a fashion PR firm in NYC,  and he told me that Eleanor was looking for an assistant and within a short period of time I was working for Eleanor Lambert. That is it in a nutshell.

FR: What was it like working for her?

John Tiffany: When I started working for Eleanor Lambert she was 92 years old. She was very hard working, even at that advanced age. At that time she had about 20 clients. She always went to lunch at noontime, at places at La Cirque, and then she would go home take a nap because later she had to go out and do social networking and market her clients at night.

FR: What type of events at that advanced age did she attend to promote her clients?

John Tiffany: She would attend store openings, cocktail parties, balls, magazine parties, client parties.  She was out every night, and if there was not a party or event to attend, she would have dinner parties for clients and friends at her home.

FR: Why did you feel the need to write a book about Eleanor Lambert?

John Tiffany: One of the things that people don’t fully understand about Eleanor Lambert is that she was a publicist, but not a publicist in the way we think of some publicists today. She was not really trying to promote herself.

Eleanor loved talented people and she would represent a talented person even if they didn’t have any money. She was the first and only publicist for artists for many decades. She helped found the Museum for Modern Art which was her way of trying to promote her clients. She wanted to be well known enough so that people would also become interested in her clients.  Eleanor Lambert created what we now know as New York Fashion Week, and that made her a very powerful person behind the scenes.

She founded New York Fashion Week, then called Press Week, in 1944 and invited 53 local editors of magazines and newspapers to Press Week. By including local editors in the first fashion week, Eleanor formed a lifelong bond with publications and editors who were indebted to her because she helped turn these local editors into well-informed fashion editors. She ingeniously understood that her range needed go beyond traditional fashion magazines—Harper’s Bazaar and Voguethat at the time were not very interested in American designers. After WWII, Europe was devastated by the war, so Eleanor Lambert was contacted to help start fashion weeks in major European capitals.

So, people know about Eleanor and some of her accomplishments, but most don’t know the breath and width of her influence or her legacy. Because I was around her so much in her later years and she would tell me all these great stories about her life, I felt I could detail and connect all the dots in the life of this great woman of fashion.

FR: What is most misunderstood about Eleanor Lambert?

John Tiffany: People sometimes assumed that she was controlling and had too much power. But in the context of the times, in her day, she was the only fashion publicist, and she wielded a lot of influence because she really was one of a kind. And she did not misuse her influence. She was powerful but she used that power in service to her clients and promoting American fashion.

FR: Even though she was a tough woman, she was extremely generous. Could you talk about that duality?

John Tiffany: When I decided to write this book I didn’t want to write a book in the vein of “Devil Wears Prada.” As a New Yorker and fashion industry professional a salacious book about her life didn’t carry a lot of weight. I wanted to concentrate more on her accomplishments and how her motivation and point of view helped bring American fashion to the forefront.

She was a very tough business woman, but she helped people who were genuinely talented.  She felt talent alone was enough. Nowadays, people mostly help people if there is something in it for them or there is an exchange of money.

Images courtesy of John Tiffany

FR: Many people assumed that Lambert was extremely wealthy, but she was not, could you talk about that?

John Tiffany: Eleanor Lambert was not wealthy, but she was very comfortable. She lived in a beautiful apartment that was left to her by her husband who died when he was 53. She kept working after his death, but she never made millions of dollars as a publicist. Eleanor really believed in promoting talent. If you were talented and you couldn’t pay her, she would take you on as a client, free of charge.  Eleanor never really cared about making money. She went to a fortune teller when she was young and was told that she would have an amazing life and live like royalty but never be rich.

She had wonderful clothes, jewelry and great pieces of art because she represented artists and designers like Salvador Dali, Noguchi, Halston, and Oscar de la Renta. She was rich in life experiences, but not financially wealthy.

—William S. Gooch

 

Supermodel Coco Mitchell Reflects on Ralph Rucci

The Greeks believed that intellectual and creative pursuits were influenced by nine goddess daughters of Zeus. Though modern thinkers no longer look to Greek muses for inspiration, painters, musicians, and other creative minds are often influenced by a muse of some kind. Salvador Dali was inspired by the model, who later became his wife, Elena Diakonova. Andy Warhol was inspired by “It Girl,” Edie Sedgwick, and Pattie Boyd was muse both to Eric Clapton and George Harrison.

Coco Mitchell may not have been exactly a muse to Ralph Rucci, but having modeled for him for over 16 years certainly qualifies her as an authority on his design aesthetic. After having modeled for many of the great fashion houses in Europe, Coco Mitchell brought to Ralph Rucci her inimitable style, regality, and charm.

Coco Mitchell spoke with Fashion Reverie about what it was like to work with the only American designer in several decades approved to show his couture collections in Paris.

Fashion Reverie: How did you come to work with Ralph Rucci?

Coco Mitchell:  I meet Ralph Rucci through a personal friend of ours and Ralph wanted me to do fittings for him. At first I wasn’t interested, I had just moved back to the States from Europe and I was trying to acclimate myself. Anyway, I finally contacted him and asked him if I could do fittings for him after 5pm, so I could work for other designers earlier in the day.  He agreed to that because, at the time, he didn’t have any money to pay me, but in return for my work he gave me fabulous clothes and accessories from his collections. Eventually, he started paying me.

FR: During this early affiliation with Rucci, who else were you working with?

Coco Mitchell:  I did fittings and walked in the runway shows for the first three designers that took over for Bill Blass.  At the time I was also working for Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, and Badgley Mischka.

FR: Did Ralph Rucci work differently than other designers?

Coco Mitchell:  Though I had worked with several designers and design houses in Europe, the clothes were already made and I would show up for fittings and do the shows. Working with Ralph, as opposed to working with other designers was very different, in that Ralph gives his incredible patternmakers the sketch and then they come back with a garment in what they call the toile, which is like a sheet. Then we fit that and his patternmakers make another pattern on the things that were fitted, and this process continues several times, and then the last fitting is made in the fabric of that garment to see how it falls. It is a very detailed and incredible process.

Images courtesy of style.com

FR: How many years did you work for Ralph Rucci?

Coco Mitchell:  I worked for Ralph for 16 years. I never knew before working with Ralph what went into making couture clothes. I had done couture shows in Europe, but I knew very little about the craftsmanship involved. Working with Ralph I was often in the workroom, so I learned about fabrics and couture techniques, and even Ralph’s own techniques.  I have to say Ralph Rucci changed my life. He elevated my aesthetic for the finer things in life.

FR: What was it like being a part of Ralph Rucci’s 2002 couture debut in Paris?

Coco Mitchell:  It was an amazingly stressful time for all parties involved. When he first found out that he had been approved by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, life became a pressure cooker. There was so much involved with showing in Paris, from having a place for showing the collection to clients after the show, to setting up an atelier in Paris, to having a place for all of his models and staff to stay. Ralph is very hands on; he is a perfectionist.

FR: Did Ralph Rucci know he was making history in 2002?

Coco Mitchell:  Ralph knew he was making history. He knew that he was the first stateside American in 36 years to show an approved couture collection. Actually, I had no clue until he started giving interviews. And since I was with him all the time, I began to understand that he was making history.

Coco Mitchell in Chado Ralph Rucci Fall 2004 Couture

FR: What do you think you brought to Ralph Rucci as a model?

Coco Mitchell: I believe I brought a lot of energy and stamina to Ralph. We would sometimes literally do fittings for 12 hours. Ralph also liked for you to give him input. Since I had worked for many of the great fashion houses from Givenchy, Issey Miyake, Sonia Rykiel, Armani, Yves St. Laurent, and others, my aesthetic was what he wanted.

FR: Fashion often concentrates on youth, yet, when you started working with Ralph Rucci you were a mature model who had worked in Europe for several years. Why did your maturity attract Ralph Rucci?

Coco Mitchell: Though I was an older model I was still working for Calvin Klein, Bill Blass, and Donna Karan. These were designers that appreciated what a seasoned model had to bring to their collections. I brought energy, a sense of style and class, and I stayed current and knew the trends. I may have started in the 80s, but I didn’t have a 80s runway walk. Because I stayed educated about the industry, I was able to marry my maturity with a current, workable knowledge.

FR: You have not worked for Ralph Rucci for the past of couple of years, what are you doing now?

Coco Mitchell: I am with Major Model Management. I had a spread in the September issue of Essence Magazine and I am featured in the March/April issue of Departures Magazine.  I recently did a spread with Iman for H&M. I also mentor young children, teaching poise and self-esteem, as well as train new models on runway techniques at several agencies.

—William S. Gooch

 

Coco Mitchell in Chado Ralph Rucci Couture fall 2002

Chantell Walters: Emerging British Designer on the Radar

With the flurry of fashion-based reality shows and fashion as a pop culture phenomenon, a career in fashion has because a matinee occupation for creative types. That said, many are called, but few are chosen. London-based designer Chantell Walters is one of chosen few who is living her dream.

After graduation for the prestigious London College of Fashion, Chantell Walters concentrated on getting some practical experience and launching her own line.  With her brand launching in 2009, and editorials in LABB Magazine and other British fashion glossies, Chantell Walters is living her dream.

During Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, Chantell Walters spoke with Fashion Reverie about her journey, her dreams, and her projections for the future.

 

Fashion Reverie: How did you first become interested in fashion?

Chantell Walters: I decided to become a designer at an early age and was inspired by glamorous mother. I would spend hours dressing up in her clothes and making paper wigs.

Images courtesy of Chantell Walters

FR:  You attended the prestigious London College of Fashion, where you were recognized as a future star at the Niquitin CQ Fashion Awards. What did you learn at the London College of Fashion that prepped you for a career in fashion?

Chantell Walters: I finished my degree in 2005. I not only learned to make and design clothes, but also to think about fashion as a business. We were taught about marketing, clothing price points and manufacturing. We also learned to think about the commerciality of our designs.

 FR: You interned at Preen and Gavin Douglas. Could you speak about your experience there?

Chantell Walters: Working at Preen was great because it was a small business, and they showed at London Fashion Week and had their own boutique. It was a good experience because I was able to learn about all of the different aspects of running a fashion business. I realized quite quickly that designing garments was a small part of starting a company; the real challenge is turning that creativity into a viable business. Working with Gavin inspired me to follow my dreams and that it is achievable.

FR: How would you describe your design aesthetic?

Chantell Walters: My aesthetic is definitely futuristic luxury. My clothes tend to have a sexy, sci-fi edge without looking like a costume.

FR: What inspires you as a designer?

Chantell Walters: I am inspired by the future and science fiction a lot. I have always been fascinated by the future and innovation. I am also inspired by different cultures, particularly indigenous culture, which I hope to reference in my later collections.

FR: What do you believe separates British fashion from fashion you might in NYC or Paris?

Chantell Walters: I think British fashion is edgy and raw compared to what you might see in NYC and Paris. You tend to find that British designers take risks and push boundaries without thinking so much about selling thousands of garments. NYC is more commercial and about making money, so their clothing tends to be more wearable. Because fashion in Paris is chic and Paris is the birthplace of couture, fashion there tends to be more experimental, than what you would in London at the present time.

FR: Who is your customer?

Chantell Walters: My customer is a woman that is not afraid to take risks. She is confident, sexy and likes to march to the beat of her own drum. When she walks into the room, people notice her for the right reasons.

FR: Now, you combine and edgy, fashion-forward aesthetic with new textile technologies. Could you speak about this combination?

Chantell Walters: In my previous collection I used neoprene which is what they use to make surfers body suits. I like to combine unconventional fabrics to create something fresh and interesting.

FR: How are you keeping your brand going in a stagnant economy?

Chantell Walters: I took just over a year off to try to raise funds for the brand. In January 2012 I thought it was time to start the brand up again. Some people may find it strange to start a business at a time like this, but I believe if you can be successful now, your business will have longevity.

FR: What are your price points?

Chantell Walters: My dresses range from $700 to $1300.

FR: Where can consumers purchase your clothes?

Chantell Walters: They can contact me directly at the moment and we can ship it out to them. I should be stocked in some boutiques in London by the end of March.

Chantell Walters

FR: What’s next for you?

Chantell Walters: I plan to get my clothes on more celebrities to raise my profile, have a show in New York in September and be stocked in more boutiques.

For more information on Chantell Walters, go to chantellwalters.co.uk.

—William S. Gooch

 

Eric Tibusch: Combining Old Hollywood with French Elegance

The art of couture has always been reserved for those brave souls who have the requisite technical skill, the creative genius, and quite frankly, the nerve to create one-of-a-kind looks in a market that is oversaturated with sometimes, unspectacular ready-to-wear garments. Remember, what we now know as the fashion industry started out solely as an expression of couture creations, gradually morphing into prêt-a-porter in the 1960s and 70s.

Still, there are those who choose to express their vision in perhaps the most difficult and expertly scrutinized segment of the industry. Eric Tibusch is one of those courageous young couturiers who has found his œuvre in the uncompromising world of haute couture. From collections that reference bygone iconic couture houses to being inspired by the limitless possibilities of the feminine silhouette, Tibusch after five seasons is becoming a couture force to be reckoned with.

After his 2012 Fall couture collection in Paris, Eric Tibusch graciously spoke with Fashion Reverie about his passion, his inspiration and his unquenchable thirst for beauty.

Fashion Reverie: Your couture collections are always fashion forward but definitely reference past fashion icons like Elsa Schiaparelli and others. Could you speak about that?

Eric Tibusch: To be honest, I’m a big movie buff ; culture in its broadest sense is very important to me. References such as French haute couture houses (Elsa Schiaparelli) are a part of my French DNA. However, in my collections, references from the past mix with my projections for the future.

FR: There is always a surprise in your couture collections; an exposed leg here; a titillating glimpse there. Why this particular design aspect to your couture collections?

Eric Tibusch: I like to deconstruct and reinvent clothing. I am always trying to develop, for my couture collections, an unusual, crazy sense of creativity.

 FR: You also use lots of models of color. Could you speak about that?

Eric Tibusch: I always integrate models of color into my runway shows and campaigns because it expands perceptions of beauty and elegance. A variety of skin colors uniquely sublimates color associations.

FR: For your Fall/Winter 2011 collection you stayed on trend by using sheer fabrics such as silk organza, chiffons and chantilly lace. However, you combined these sheer fabrics with some very interesting textures such as alligator, crocodile, fox and monkey fur. Why these combinations?

Eric Tibusch: For me, combining different fabrics in an unusual way represents the independent, rock star spirit. I like to mix different materials, which is a kind of adventurous risk, and when mixed together, actually works and distills an aesthetic never seen before.

FR: What is the inspiration for your current couture collection?

Eric Tibusch: Movie actresses from the Hollywood’s Golden Age, such as Joan Crawford, Gloria Swanson, Rita Hayworth, Marlene Dietrich, Grace Kelly, Bette Davis, and Marilyn Monroe, had a large influence on cinema and fashion and created the concept of Hollywood glamour.

Those movie stars still shine in my mind. I revisit these classics in my current couture collection using solstice chantilly-embroidered lace and linen organza, combined with leather. I pay tribute to Hollywood, where American chic meets French elegance.

Rudolf Valentino, Clark Gable, Marlon Brando and the emblematic figure of the Great Gatsby inspired me to recreate Hollywood’s masculine elegance. For this collection, I recreated the kind of mystery that still inspires today’s man, using the most luxurious materials such as Loro Piana’s super 160 Summer Tasmanian. I also link the masculine and the feminine figure by using the current trend of diaphanous, sheer fabrics.

FR: Why did you include menswear in your current couture collection ?

Eric Tibusch: I decided to include menswear in this collection because in recent years the menswear market has become very strong. Also for the past two years, I have dreamed of creating a collection that contained clothes that I would want to wear. My vision of menswear is a classic approach with a touch of whimsy and creativity mixed with a solid foundation of masculine charm.

 FR: What are your fabric choices in this collection?

Eric Tibusch: In this couture collection I use leather, silk and lace textures and fabrics used in previous collections. However, in this outing I also incorporated some new materials, like naturals flowers, duck wing feathers and some wood products.

FR: Who is your customer?

Eric Tibusch: My customer spans a wide age demographic from 20 years of age to very mature women. My clientele is also every international, from the US to Russia, Japan, Middle Eastern countries, England, and of course France.

Images courtesy of Eric Tibusch

FR: In this economic downturn, how have you adjusted your brand to withstand a challenging economy?

I launched my fashion house in 2006, which was early in the financial crisis.  That said, my fashion house is surviving this downturn. In fact, we don’t know what it is to have a fashion house in good economic times. And perhaps, this crisis has caused us to be more creative.

FR: What is next for you ?

Eric Tibusch: I’m already working on the next couture collection, and the ready-to-wear collection will soon be available in boutiques and retail stores, as well as my new jewelry collection.

—William S. Gooch

Eric Tibusch image courtesy of fashioninsider.com

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