Can American Malls Make a Comeback?

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The American mall was once one of the bedrocks of leisure time. People could go shopping with friends, enjoy dining, and catch a movie. However, once online shopping came into play, American malls began a slow and steady decline. Rather than shopping in person, consumers began shopping from the comfort of their own home via the internet. It was convenient, clothes could come to you, and you could mail back something if it wasn’t what you expected.

As America’s economy took a hit, particularly during the 2008 recession, people had less discretionary income to shop for clothes and other discretionary items. Once the economy rebounded, the incremental shift to online shopping began to have more of an effect. With the disastrous effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and many major American cities on lockdown, there was more of a shift to online shopping Though many brick-and-mortar stores and malls have reopened, customers are still preferring to shop online for health and safety reasons.

So, where does that leave the American mall? Malls are stuck asking themselves how, and if, they can manage to make a comeback.

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For starters, mall owners will have to reevaluate what to do about tenants and mall anchors. The number of American retailers who have recently filed bankruptcy is staggering. Modell’s Sporting Goods, Neiman Marcus, J. Crew, J.C. Penney, Brooks Brothers True Religion, GNC Holdings, Lucky Brand, and Ascena Retail Group (the parent company of Lane Bryant and Ann Taylor) have all filed bankruptcies this year and have shuttered many of their stores. This has of course reduced the number of malls tenants, and with months of shutdowns, tenants also haven’t paid rent, leaving mall owners cash strapped.

What should have been the cornerstone of the next phase of the American mall has found its dreams deferred, and that is a quite literal assessment. The supersized American Dream Mall in East Rutherford, NJ was seen as the next frontier for the American mall. The American Dream mall was in development for a decade and was a 5-billion-dollar project.  The mall was set to boast entertainment offerings, which included an indoor water park, an amusement park, an NHL regulation size ice rink, an indoor snow park, with around 450 retailers were set to open by spring 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic put a dent in the American Dream mall’s plans.

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The hope for the American Dream Mall is that it is an A class mall. An A class malls houses luxury brands–Bulgari, car dealerships like Tesla, and tech stores like Apple. B class malls are run-of-the-mill types mall that would be anchored by stores like Sears, J.C. Penney, and Macy’s, and C and D type malls that are on the lower end of the economic spectrum. They were already struggling before coronavirus and shuttering their stores for months did not help. And the devolution of the middle class in the US is also not doing C and D malls any favors.

“Most C and D type malls were built when the middle class in America had the preponderance of spending power,” said Lee Holman, lead retail analyst at IHL Group, a global research and advisory firm for the retail industry. “We are talking about the 1960s through the early ‘90s. Any teen movie you saw coming out of the ‘80s and ‘90s was typically based in a shopping mall. What has happened is the transition within society where the middle class has shrunk. The people in the middle class who were diligent were moving into the upper middle class and upper class, and the diligent people in the lower class were trying to move into the middle class and work their way up, but those malls were built where the middle class worked, played, and lived. As the middle class shrunk, so did the traffic in these malls. With the advent of Walmart, Target, and other big box retailers along with Amazon, people didn’t have to go to malls to do shopping, and things got tough for C and D type malls.”

As malls try to reinvent themselves, it is possible that some C and D malls could become dark stores. A dark store is a store where customers do not come in and do actual physical shopping, but, rather, they are in a sense distribution centers that only deal with online orders for delivery. Customers aren’t coming in, but products are going out.

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The anchors for many of these malls, like Sears and J.C. Penney, are shrinking their fleet of stores and finding other large department store retailers to take their place seems impractical. Of course, there are options to use these spaces for other things.

Some malls have tried moving toward more experiential retail but have struggled in their ability to present customers with new experiences. However, experiential retail formats and turning malls into more community type centers could be a way for malls to rebound in the long-term. Malls have been hurt by the rise in e-commerce as more and more consumers are shopping from their laptops and handheld devices. Customers who still prefer in-store experiences rather than online shopping tend to be older. Millennials (born from 1981-1996) and Gen Z (born from 1997-2015) will shop more online, because, compared to previous generations, they socialize online, rather than socialize at a mall. For malls to survive, they must adapt to the way shoppers are living today.

“Malls have to reinvent themselves and repurpose mall space,” said Shawn Grain Carter, professor of fashion business management at FIT. “Malls need more restaurants. Millennials and Gen Z love to eat out. Malls need to become shopping centers and look at adding things like concert halls, spaces for art installations, and exercise studios. This will bring more customers inside the mall. If you want to think of the mall as a new 21st century public square, they need to find ways to appeal to the new generation as well as the older generation who might not be as tech savvy, and another way to do that would be adding health clinics inside of malls. All these things would create a multigenerational public square that would change the way people shop. Malls can become public squares for the community and it’s a thing malls need to think about as they ask why they still exist, and go beyond just shopping.”

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Despite consumers shift toward more online shopping, Grain Carter believes that in a world with a COVID-19 vaccine, people will want to go back to malls because there is pent up demand for in-person human interaction. Because the right to in-person interaction was taken away from people in such a stark way, people now love the idea of doing things in-person. Retailers will still have to look at integrating their omnichannel strategy more successfully. One of the most successful pivots that has come out of the pandemic is curbside pick-up. Customers could order things online, and if it was available at a local retailer, they could pick up there in-person. This became a key revenue driver for retailers during the early reopening phases before they could let customers inside stores once again.

“Malls will have to completely reinvent themselves, offer real reasons to come, entertainment, other services, anything but what they are doing now,” he said. “Also, well over 50 percent of them will not survive the next six months, and that is all depending on a vaccine.  Without a vaccine, then maybe 25 percent will survive. People have tried more online shopping, and are discovering just like with offices, you really don’t have to be physically present. Amazon is getting so good at reverse logistics that even returns are a joy. This makes it easy to compete with a boring retail store, which is what most have become.”

Robert Conrad, the Associate Chair of Fashion Merchandising at LIM College, believes that it was long overdue that malls began rethinking how they use some of their space. Customers want more experiences rather than things, and malls that have or can figure out how to make retail more experiential are poised to survive. According to Conrad, “It’s very easy to imagine a future where 1/3 of the number of malls in America go away. This country has too much space devoted to retail, and mall owners will have to think about how to utilize this space into other things.”

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While middle market retailers are struggling to comeback, the luxury sector is still going strong. According to Conrad that is because, “The stock market is doing well, despite the tumult of this past year. The people who make their living in the ‘work from home’ economy, they might’ve been inconvenienced, but they are still making a good living and shop at luxury stores.”

Although Conrad believes people will return to malls, he doesn’t see mall traffic ever returning to late nineties levels when they were at their peak. Malls that survive can still evolve and thrive, but many will be left looking like “Scooby Doo” ghost towns.

Leslie Ghize, vice president of Tobe The Donneger Group, a retail a consulting and strategy firm, is also in agreement that the market for malls was over saturated. “We have been and are oversaturated in retail, especially in the United States,” Ghize said. “Even before coronavirus, there needed to be an adjustment to that. Coronavirus just pushed the situation further. We have a lot of real estate in retail and it was too heavy to hold itself up.”

Ghize believes that malls will go in two different directions. First, most malls won’t make it. Some malls will transform into real estate players for businesses that need a lot space, like wellness businesses, fitness centers, and food concept stores. High-end stores could start creating elevated types of concepts, like live events and experiences, that are more exclusive and aspirational than a classic US mall.

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Secondly, for malls to help turn themselves around, Ghize believes mall owners need to get more creative and flexible in their lease agreements. “For the smaller, direct-to-consumer, and boutique brands that are on the come up, leasing retail space in a mall under the traditional lease structure is a big commitment, and not one young brands would want to make,” she said. “Mall owners need to give opportunities to smaller, up-and-coming brands that don’t have a lot of brick-and-mortar space yet. Outdoor malls and open-air malls will be better off in the short-term, but in general malls aren’t as appealing a concept anymore.”

Ghize also said that for malls to be at their best operational capacity, at least one third of the malls currently in the US would have to close. While the idea that malls are just dreary and dead is an over exaggeration, there is no question that malls will never return to their former glory. However, through downsizing, experiential retail, and getting younger, boutique style brands as tenants, there is still hope for malls. The start of a real comeback will probably take a COVID-19 vaccine. Let’s keep fingers crossed for 2021.

Kristopher Fraser

Fashion Flashback: Kenzo Takada

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Before Kenzo Takada, luxury fashion was mostly about French, Italian, British, and a few American luxury brands. Kenzo Takada changes all that, bringing a much-needed exuberance to Paris fashion, evidenced in his bold prints and floral designs. Kenzo’s East meets West design aesthetic set a standard for fashion brands looking to the Far East for inspiration and helped stimulate European designers’ taste for Asian design fusion aesthetics.

KENZO campaigns

Born in Himeji, near the city of Osaka, Japan, Kenzo came to Paris in 1965 to have a career in fashion, hardly speaking a word of English. In order to survive in this brave new world, Kenzo sold sketches to fashion houses. He later struck out on his own and opened a small boutique, Jungle Jap, with garments that were inspired by his Japanese heritage.

“I decorated the shop myself with little money,” Takada told the South China Morning Post newspaper recently, in what was one of his last media interviews. “One of the first paintings I saw in Paris and fell in love with was a jungle painting … and that was the inspiration for the shop.”

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“His native Japan remained [the] source of inspiration for every collection he did. He kept the use of vibrant colours and volumes present at all times,” said Circe Henestrosa, head of the school of fashion at Singapore’s Lasalle College of the Arts.

“I think he was ahead of his time and was one of the first designers to experiment with the idea of genderless fashion. He would never conform to the stereotypical idea of masculine and feminine fashion,” said  Henestrosa.

Referring to his initial fashion line as Jungle Jap, was as a pejorative and later Kenzo gave his fashion line the eponymous first name KENZO. “I knew it had a pejorative meaning, “Kenzo told the New York Times in a 1972 interview. “But I thought if I did something good, I would change the meaning.”

KENZO in the 1980s

Kenzo later became a very popular ready-to-wear line in Paris with a menswear spinoff in 1983, and later fragrances, eyewear, and a jeans line. At the height the brand’s popularity, Kenzo sold the company to LVMH in the 1990s. “The hardest year of my life was 1990, when my life partner Xavier died and my business partner had a stroke,” he told SCMP. “That’s why I sold the company to LVMH [in 1993]. I felt I couldn’t do it on my own.”

Kenzo retired from his company in 1999; however, he continued to design costumes for operas. His clothing brand Kenzo had a terrific collaboration with fast fashion mega clothing company H&M in 2016, selling out the entire KENZO x H&M collection within days.

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“What I am most proud of is I opened the roads for much younger people from around the world,” Kenzo said in a WWD article, “who probably think they can be a hit in fashion in Paris or London. They can come and try to do that.”

Kenzo died from complications due to COVID-19 on October 4, five days after his eponymous brand showed in Paris. Kenzo Takada was 81 years old.

—William S. Gooch

Fashion Flashback: The Evolution of New York Fashion Week

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New York Fashion Week (NYFW) needs a do-over. Once the go-to fashion week of all the major global fashion weeks, NYFW now pales in comparison to London, Milan, Paris, and even Tokyo. Not long ago, NYFW was the most glamorous and sought-after fashion week with a bevy of top celebrities and athletes vying for front row seats. Crashers and fashionista wannabees would stand outside of NYFW venues begging approved industry professionals for assistance in getting into top fashion shows. There was also major media from top global publications and media outlets. At some of the fashion shows—Oscar de la Renta, Anna Sui, Marc Jacobs, Ralph Rucci, Heatherette, Betsey Johnson, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Vera Wang, Rodarte, Carolina Herrera—fashion photographers were sometimes stacked seven to eight risers thick.

All that has now changed with many of the top fashion editors only go to about 12 of the top shows. And the presence of international is a thing of the past with US television networks hardly mentioning the event.

With the introduction of virtual fashion shows because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is speculation that this could be the final nail in the coffin for NYFW. Only time will tell.

That said; NYFW didn’t start out as a glamorous assemblage of fashion from top global designers. Its origins are quite humble, the result of restrictive access to the European fashion market.

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Started in 1944 by the first American fashion publicist, Eleanor Lambert, NYFW—then called Press Week—was a reaction to American press and buyers not having access to the European couture shows due to World War II. Without access to the European couture shows, the American press would have no fashion coverage of current collections in their American fashion magazines and newspapers. “The occupation of Paris by the Nazis meant that all the Allied countries were cut off from fashion news for really the first time in centuries,” explains Valerie Steele, curator of the FIT Fashion Museum.

Lambert came up with the idea to produce a fashion week for American designers. At that time Paris fashion was all the rage and homegrown American fashion talent received very little press in American fashion magazines and newspapers. Lambert saw this lack of access to the European couture shows as an opening for her American fashion clients, and she grabbed the opportunity.

For the most part, Press Week was limited to press and a few fashion buyers. There were no celebrities, no fashion parties, and believe it or not, no fashion photographers. “It was so exciting; I ran to work every day,” explained Polly Mellen, former Vogue fashion editor in an article. It was a whole different way of dressing,” less fancy. Less uptight. Much more exciting to a young person. I think it started Europe looking at us, the American fashion market.”

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Not only did Press Week help spawn a vibrant ready-to-wear market in the US and later in Europe, but Press Week helped solidify Eleanor Lambert’s status in the fashion industry. Lambert later forming the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), the International Best Dressed List, and the Coty Awards. And Lambert’s coterie of fashion clients included Oscar de la Renta, Stephen Burrows, Halston, Anne Klein, Bill Blass, Oleg Cassini, Hattie Carnegie, Claire McCardell, Bonnie, Cashin, Norman Norrell, and many others. Also, over time, Press Week helped turn American fashion designers into celebrities. Unlike the couture houses of Europe, most ready-to-wear clothing in the US carried the name of the manufacturer not the designer or design house. Lambert helped change all of that.

After WW II, Paris made a fashion comeback with the cinched waist and wide skirt silhouettes of Christian Dior. Still, American fashion was gaining momentum, setting a ready-to-wear standard.

Within fashion circles, Press Week became so esteemed and well-loved that other global fashion weeks followed suit. By the mid-1950s Press Week had been renamed New York Press Week, and unlike the current NYFW, not held every year.

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Eventually, New York Press Week would be a bi-annual fashion event, using such venues as a large movie theater in the garment district and later a hotel auditorium uptown. Though industry professionals still had to crisscross Manhattan for some shows, it wasn’t until the ceiling of a loft space hit noted Chicago Tribune fashion editor Suzy Menkes on the head that the CFDA realized that something had to be done.

Fern Mallis, the former executive director of the CFDA, understood that New York Press Week, now called New York Fashion Week, needed a centralized location. Through her event management company, 7th on Sixth, Mallis centralized NYFW at Bryant Park in 1993. Though NYFW was not officially named NYFW at that time—originally fashion week at Bryant Park was called 7th on Sixth, or whoever was sponsoring that year, Olympus, Mercedes-Benz—by the mid-90s NYFW has become an international fashion phenomenon with celebrities, star athletes, and even political figures in attendance.

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NYFW resided at Bryant Park for 17 years, later moving to Lincoln Center in September of 2010. NYFW at Lincoln Center saw the introduction of streaming videos of the fashion shows in real time and a new category of fashion experts, fashion influencers. Though NYFW tenure at Lincoln Center was auspicious, in five years NYFW would again be decentralized and without a permanent home.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, NYFW was held between two main venues Spring Studios and Pier 59. For the spring 2021 season, NYFW will be mostly a virtual experience. And though some fashion pundits scoff at the idea of a virtual week, this maybe a wave of the future.

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New York Fashion Week will take place virtually from September 13 through September 17.

—William S. Gooch

Fashion Flashback: Social Protests Through the Lens of Fashion

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It is a hard to consider in these uncertain times of social protests and a health pandemic flaunting your personal style and any new fashion trends. Uncertain times causes most folks to hunker down and hope for the best. Fashion is not on the menu. Or is it?

If you carefully consider some of the social movements over the past 60 years, fashion and social movements are often compatible bed fellows.  You cannot think of the tumultuous 1960s without reflecting on bell bottoms, tie-dyed shirts, flower power, frayed jeans, granny skirts, long hair on men, and even miniskirts. Most of the 60s fashion evolved out of a growing youth movement and protesting the establishment. Remember, fashion often reflects the times we are living in!!

Fashion Reverie looks back at how fashion over the last six decades has been influenced by political protests and cultural upheaval. You may be surprised to discover that some social protest-induced fashion survives to present time!!

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The Black Power Movement Style

“We want the power for the people
That’s all we ask in our country, dear
The sick and the hungry are unable
Protect them and those who may live in fear”

—Curtis Mayfield

No other 60s social movement organization represented power to the people more than the Black Panther Party. With their black berets and leather jackets, the Black Panther Party not only fought against a corrupt racist, capitalistic system, the Black Panther Party also instilled a sense a pride and the virtues of black empowerment.

While some Americans were terrified of empowered African Americans boldly brandishing firearms—which was their constitutional right—others were inspired by the Panthers’ militancy and incredible sense of style. Young African Americans who never joined the ranks of the Black Panther Party adopted the Panthers bold, big naturals, black berets, and black leather jackets. This defiant look also carried over to films of the late 60s and early 1970s.   

In the blaxploitation films of the early 1970s, black anti-heroes were militant, defiant, and kick-ass.  You have the character of John Shaft from the 1970 movie “Shaft” in his hip-level black jacket with black turtleneck. Tamara Dobson in “Cleopatra Jones,” though glamorous, was a badass brandishing firearms and karate kicks in sexy militant garb. And who can forget “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” starring Melvin Van Peebles as a black vigilante out to get corrupt cops; also in black jacket with black hat tipped to the side!! The dude had serious ‘Power to the People’ swag.

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Flower Power Style

“War, huh, good god
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing, listen to me”

—Edwin Starr

The 1960s was a hotbed of social change.  Vietnam War protests and an anti-establishment cultural shift prompted a re-examination of cultural norms, political points of view, and racial injustice. All these cultural and political shifts were not only reflected in political marches on the ground but also in music, film, theatre, and fashion. Remember, the 1960s produced such counterculture watershed theatrical and musical experiences like the musicals “Hair,” “Tommy,” and “Godspell,” and such rock n’ roll acts as Sly and the Family Stone, The Rolling Stones, Jefferson Airship, The Doors, The Velvet Underground, and Janis Joplin.

All this political unrest and cultural shifts were fodder for a youth culture that was set against making war and America’s imperial aspirations. Instead of strength through the military industrial complex, youth culture wanted to make love, not war. Flower power and a peaceful existence replaced macho expansion.

Many fashion designers of that era took up the clarion call. Betsey Johnson, Paco Rabanne, Mary Quant, and Barbara Hulanicki tapped into this anti-establishment thrust and created garments that reflected the love and peace mood of the hippies and drew inspiration from musical groups of that time, even dressing many of them.

Punks hanging out on the Kings Road, London 1983

“When they kick at your front door
How you gonna come?
With your hands on your head
Or on the trigger of your gun?”

—The Clash

The Punk Revolution

If you are old enough, you probably remember The Sex Pistols, The Ramones, Blondie, Patti Smith, The Clash, The New York Dolls, and The Damned. What you may not know is that Punk music developed out a British music scene and in many ways was an anti-establishment response to the austerity of Margaret Thatcher’s government.

When Margaret Thatcher came to power in the late 1970s as Great Britain’s first female prime minister, one of the first things she did was open Great Britain to free markets. She also marginalized trade unions, cut taxes for corporations and the wealthy, and cut government spending. These measures hurt the working class in Great Britain and helped fuel the existing Punk movement. (One of the themes of the musical and movie Billy Elliot was Britain’s coalminer’s strike of the early 80s.)

The Punk movement expressed itself in loud, cacophonous music and clothes that were anti-establishment. Instead of buttoned-down shirts and smart suits, punk rockers donned torn tee shirts safety pin-embellished clothing, tartan kilts, combat boots, tight leather clothes, mohawks, shaved heads or hair dyed in bright colors.

British fashion designers Vivienne Westwood and Zandra Rhodes were early Punk devotees with Jean-Paul Gaultier and Versace making Punk fashion more commercially viable. And you could not watch any MTV videos in the 80s without seeing Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, The Bangles, the Go-Go’s, Adam Ant, and Billy Idol in Punk garb.

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“Don’t push me cause I’m close to the edge
I’m trying not to lose my head
It’s like a jungle sometimes it makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ under”

—Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five

Rap, in-your-face swag

Though more of a cultural phenomenon than a political expression, rap and later hip-hop music does have its roots in political unrest. If you lived in most US urban cities in the mid to late 1970s, you were surrounded by poverty and a failing political infrastructure. There were failing public schools, high unemployment, burned-out buildings, and New York City was flat broke.

This almost-dystopian culture caused many young MCs to write about the failing infrastructure of American urban cities. While some early rap gave voice to partying and feeling good—the Sugar Hill Gang, Kurtis Blow, and DJ Kool Herc—other rappers like KRS One, Kool Moe Dee, and Grandmaster Flash rapped about urban decay and self-empowerment. And as with all political and cultural shifts, fashion soon appropriated the swag style associated with rap music.

Early fashion designers that capitalized on rap music’s urban swag were Dapper Dan, Cross Colors, Joanne Berman, and Karl Kani. In the 1990s Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, Sean John followed suit, making rap and later hip-hop fashion a commercial success.

Now you see rap/hip hop fashion everywhere. From Timbaland boots to oversized jeans to doorknocker earrings to graffiti-painted jackets; all still done with great swag and style.

—William S. Gooch

Fashion Flashback: Supermodel Suzy Parker

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The downtime facilitated by the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many of us to reflect on and be nostalgic for times that were less challenging and uncertain. With global fashion industry in a state of unparalleled disruption and turmoil, it is difficult to imagine what the outcome of this shakeup will produce.

That said; one thing is certain. The fashion industry will never be the same. And this unexpected evolution causes one to look back at an era in the fashion industry where photographers like Helmut Newton, Richard Avedon, Irving Penn where changing the way fashion was marketed to a post-WWII consumer.

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The moldable piece of clay that wholeheartedly expressed this post-WWII global fashion was Suzy Parker. As the American consumer emerged out of a wartime economy, female consumers were looking for an image that expressed their desire for glamour, luxury,and style. Susie Parker was that image. 

Parker became Richard Avedon’s first muse and in the 1950s became the face of Chanel, counting the legendary Coco Chanel as a close friend.

Parker’s older sister, Dorian Leigh, also an iconic fashion model, realized her sister model potential—at the tender age of 15—and sent her sister to Eileen Ford at the Ford Modeling Agency. Unlike her sister Dorian, Suzy Parker was 5`10 inches tall and big boned—Dorian was 5`5 and delicate looking. Suzy, over time, became more famous than her sister Dorian.

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Suzy Parker was first photographed for Life magazine. And later that year she became the face of Delarosa Jewelry. Soon after, Suzy was introduced to esteemed fashion photographers John Rawlings, Horst P. Horst, Irving Penn, and a young Richard Avedon by her sister Dorian. Later, Suzy became one of Avedon’s favorite models and a great inspiration for him. “The only joy I ever got out of modeling was working with Dick Avedon,” detailed Suzy Parker.

Declared the face of post-WWII confident American woman by Vogue magazine, Parker was the first model to earn $200 an hour and $100,000 a year. Suzy Parker graced the cover of over 70 magazine including Vogue, Elle, Life, Look, McCall’s, Redbook, and Paris Match.

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In the late 1950s, Parker sequed into acting, appearing in several Hollywood films—“Funny Face,” “Ten North Frederick,”, “The Best of Everything,” “A Circle of Deception,” and “Chamber of Horrors.” The Beatles even penned a song “Suzy Parker” after her.

Parker married three times, first as a teenager to Ronald Stanton. Here second husband was French fashion photographer Pierre de la Salle. In 1963, Suzy Parker married her third and last husband, actor Bradford Dillman. She had three children with Dillman.

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In 2003 Suzy Parker died from complications due to diabetes. She was survived by her husband Bradford Dillman and her children.

—William S. Gooch

Fashion Flashback: Sergio Rossi

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Deaths from the COVID-19 virus is beginning to hit home in the fashion industry. On Thursday, the coronavirus claimed the life of Italian shoe designer Sergio Rossi. Rossi died at the Maurizio Bufalini Hospital in Cesena, in northern Italy due to complications from the novel coronavirus. He was 84 years old. In early March, Rossi announced he would be donating $108,000 to fight the coronavirus. Little did he know that complications from COVID-19 infection would take his life

In a statement on Instagram, Riccardo Sciutto, CEO of Sergio Rossi Group said, “Sergio Rossi was a master, and it is my great honor to have met him and gotten to present him the archive earlier this year. His vision and approach will remain our guide in the growth of the brand and the business.”

“He loved women and was able to capture a woman’s femininity in a unique way, creating the perfect extension of a woman’s leg through his shoes. Our long and glorious history started from his incredible vision and we’ll remember his creativity forever,” Sciutto continued.

Sergio Rossi’s eponymous brand was founded in 1951 which was only natural in that Rossi came from a family of shoemakers. His footwear and accessories line would become of the renowned and celebrated accessory brands in Italy.

Rossi first plied his trade be selling footwear to boutiques and his sandals on Italian beaches. And by the 1960’s Sergio Rossi footwear according to Vogue, “quickly became synonymous with Italian quality and classic feminine designs.”

By the 1970s Sergio Rossi had developed a design aesthetic that focused on bold color and geometric shapes. While the 1970s was a turnaround period for Sergio Rossi, what really made the Italian footwear brand a household name was the brand’s collaborations with Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, and Azzedine Alaia.

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Sergio Rossi’s fashion shows became a mainstay of Milan Fashion Week in the 1980s. And during the 80s the brand opened stores in Turin, Florence, Rome, Brussels, New York City, Los Angeles, and London. Inspired by iconic photographer Helmut Newton, early Sergio Rossi campaigns used low-angled shots to highlight the length of the legs and body, focusing on the height and shape of the heel.

PPR Luxury Division, formerly the Gucci Group, bought a 70 % interest in the company in 1999, and in 2005 bought the remaining 30%. In 2015, Sergio Rossi was bought by Investindustrial, a private equity firm that also owned Aston Martin.

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The brand over the decades has been a favorite of Suzy Menkes, Olivia Palermo, Rihanna, Adriana Lima, Paris Hilton, Nicole Kidman, Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift, Priyanka Chopra, and Scarlett Johansson. Sergio Rossi is survived by his son Gianvito Rossi.

William S. Gooch

Fashion Flashback: Jacques Fath

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Considered to be one of most important French designers of the post-war period who designed for the modern, cosmopolitan woman. Jacques Fath, along with Christian Dior and Pierre Balmain, made in an indelible stamp on post-war haute couture. Fashion Reverie looks back at his short, but illustrious career.

Born to fashion illustrators and writers, Jacques Fath was self-taught and learned his trade by studying fashion books and going to museum exhibitions after first trying his hand at business law and bookkeeping. Fath presented his first fashion collection in 1937 out his two-room atelier on the Rue de la Boetie.

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In the beginning his success was modest, but he became a breakout fashion personality after he married the very chic socialite Genevieve Boucher de la Bruyere, and dressing her in an asymmetrical drape dress and fluttery cape which caused a sensation at the Grande Nuit de Longchamps, a horse race society event. Society women started coming to his modest atelier to commission garments. Among his early assistants were Hubert de Givenchy, Guy Laroche, and Valentino Garavani.

Later, Fath become known for dressing the chic, well-heeled young French woman, to be more exact, la jeune Parisienne. Fath pioneered some important fashion elements, lace-top hosiery and glove-fitting daywear ensembles.


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Fath rise to fame came during the German occupation of Paris WW II when he used yards of tartan to mock the occupiers, designing tunic dresses and peasant skirts, suitable for women riding bicycles. This collection was both sporty and feminine at the same time. Ond of the first of its kind. Fath, at times, used unconventional fabrics—hemp-sacking fabric and sequins made of walnut and almond shells. (This use of unconventional fabrics was made reference to in an episode of “I Love Lucy,” when Lucy coveted one of Jacques Fath’s so-called ‘sack dresses.’)

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Early in his career, Fath had a substantial celebrity clientele which included Rita Hayworth‚—she wore a Jacques Fath dress for her wedding to Prince Aly Khan—, Greta Garbo, Ava Gardner, and most famously Eva Peron. Fath also designed several of Moira Shearer’s costumes in “The Red Shoes.” Additionally, some iconic models of the 1940s and 50sexpanded their modeling careers modeling Jacques Fath’s clothes, namely Lucie Daouphars, Rose Marie Reid, Dovima, Ivy Nicholson, and Fiona Campbell Walter.

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After Fath’s untimely death from leukemia in 1954, his wife Genevieve run the company for two years until garment-making was totally abandoned. The House of Fath officially closed its couture business in 1957, but re-emerged as a producer of gloves, hosiery, fragrances and other accessories.

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The company has produced a number of fragrances, namely Jacques Fath L”Homme (1998), Yin (1999), Yang (1999), Fath de Fath (1953, reformulated and relaunched in 1993), Chasuble (1945), Expression (1977), Canasta (1950), Iris Gris (1946), Fath’s Love (1968), and Green Water (1947 but reformulated and re-released in 1993). The fragrance license was held by L’Oréal until 1992.


Fashion Flashback: Max Azria

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If you not familiar with the bandage dress, you should pull your head out the sand!! The late, great Max Azria acquired Herve Leger, the company that created the bandage dress/bodycon dress in 1988. And though Max didn’t create the bandage dress, he is credited with his acquisition of Herve Leger of bringing new attention to and popularizing the bandage dress.

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Interestingly, Max Azria and Herve Leger died within two years of each other. And it almost impossible to separate one from the other; particularly if you are a consumer.

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The Tunisian-born Max Azria moved to Paris with his family in 1963, working with his brother on women’s clothing lines, Joie, Equipment, and Current/Elliot. In 1981 Max Azria moved to California and opened Jess, a chain of fashion boutiques with the concept of quality, luxury fabrics at affordable prices.

Max Azria carried this concept into his groundbreaking women’s wear brand BCBG Max Azria, which was launched in Los Angeles in 1989. BCBG stands for bon chic, bon genre which French translates to mean good style, good attitude. “I was wondering why designers were selling products at $1,000 that we can make a good profit and good living by selling at $500,” Mr. Azria told The Los Angeles Times in 2014. “I wanted to give fashion to more people.”

And that is just what he did. Though celebrities have worn BCBG Max Azria, the bulk of sales have been with everyday consumers. By the late 90s, Max Azria had opened hundreds of stores in Europe and the US, at its peak 550 stores globally with retail sales exceeding $1 billion.

Additionally, Max Azria was a consistent presenter during New York Fashion (NYFW), presenting since 1996. Max Azria is given little credit for being one the first commercial brands to present during NYFW, opening the doors for other commercial brands to present.

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After acquiring Herve Leger in 1998, Max Azria launched BCBGenerations and Max Azria Atelier in the 2000s. Even doing a collaboration with Miley Cyrus for H&M in 2009.

With the advent of fast fashion stores like Zara and H&M crowding and saturating the market, by the 2010s, Max Azria’s company found itself $400 million in debt. The many acquisitions of the company helped facilitate this debt. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2017, closing 120 stores. Marquee Brands bought the company in late 2017 for $100 million dollars.

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Max Azria died from lung cancer on May 6 in Houston, Texas. He is survived by his wife Lubov and their daughter.


Fashion Flashback: Karl Lagerfeld

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When a fashion icon dies, not only does the fashion community morn the loss, the entire global community experiences the loss and separation. Everyone reflects on the genius and great collections of the fashion designer, and immediately following their death retrospectives are organized as the fashion community gathers to remember the designer’s contributions.With Karl Lagerfeld’s transition, the fashion industry has lost a fashion designer that helped to redefine luxury fashion and the luxury’s transition from couture to ready-to-wear. When Lagerfeld took over the helm of Chanel in 1983, he singlehandedly transformed Chanel from its former glory to a relevant brand that could appeal to a younger consumer. Lagerfeld went against the grain, not focusing his first collection for Chanel on the brand’s historic comeback in the 1950s but conjuring up images of the brand’s heyday in the 1920s and 30s.

“A very static image has emerged based on Chanel’s last years,” Lagerfeld explains as detailed in a article, “so I’ve looked over her whole career and found something much more interesting.” This was a huge risk for the brand and Lagerfeld was heavily criticized for this direction. Still, Lagerfeld, over time, managed to harness a group of influential fashion industry professionals who grew to admire his work.

When Lagerfeld first came to the House of Chanel, he was already the creative director of Chloe and Fendi. Before his directorships at Chanel, Lagerfeld had worked as a design assistant at Balmain, served as creative director at Jean Patou, and freelanced at Krizia, Valentino, Charles Jourdan, and Chloe, as well as doing private label work at a slew of German department stores.

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In 1984, Lagerfeld established his own eponymous line, Karl Lagerfeld. Lagerfeld said that his own brand would bring “intellectual sexiness” back to fashion. In 2002, Renzo Russo of Diesel said, “I am honored to have met this fashion icon of our time. Karl represents creativity, tradition and challenge, and the fact that he thought of Diesel for this collaboration is a great gift and acknowledgement of our reputation as the prêt-à-porter of casual wear.”What many may not realize about Lagerfeld is that he instituted the fashion industry’s obsession with collaborations. Back in 2004, Lagerfeld was the first fashion designer to collaborate with H&M which turned into a popular collaboration series. Since that first collaboration, Lagerfeld has collaborated with Moschino, Stella McCartney, Comme des Garcons, and Kenzo. At the time of his death, Lagerfeld had continued to collaborate with Fossil watches, the department store Macy’s, makeup brand Shu Uemura and even drinks giant Coca Cola.

Lagerfeld slender frame was recognized by his powder white hair, shades, fingerless gloves, and highly starched, detachable collars, However, earlier in Lagerfeld’s life he had been quite large. Lagerfeld lost over 93 lbs over a thirteen-month period in 2001. He explained: “I suddenly wanted to dress differently, to wear clothes designed by Hedi Slimane … But these fashions, modeled by very, very slim boys—and not men my age—required me to lose at least 40 kg. It took me exactly 13 months.”

Over his lifespan, Karl Lagerfeld was the focus of several controversies. Lagerfeld has been accused of being racist, homophobic, fatphobic, Islamophobic, and critical of the Me Too movement. His biggest controversy involved the misuse of a verse from the Qur’an in Chanel’s spring 1994 couture collection. The Indonesian Muslim Scholars of Jakarta called for a boycott. Lagerfeld explained the misuse of the Qur’an verse, thinking it was a poem from the Taj Mahal and not from the holy Muslim text.

Lagerfeld has been critical of many feminine icons, calling supermodel Heidi Klum to fat to be a supermodel, criticizing Pippa Middleton’s looks, and calling pop sensation Adele fat. Critical of PETA, Lagerfeld had always been a fan of natural pelts; however, Lagerfeld used fake fur in Chanel’s 2010 collection.

In 2007, a full-length documentary, “Lagerfeld Confidential” was made by Vogue. In 2013, he directed the short film “Once Upon a Time…” in the Cité du Cinéma, Saint-Denis, by Luc Besson, featuring Keira Knightley in the role of Coco Chanel and Clotilde Hesme as her aunt Adrienne Chanel.

Karl Lagerfeld died from complications to pancreatic cancer on February 19, 2019. He asked to be cremated and buried next to his mother and his late partner, Jacques de Bascher. Karl Lagerfeld was 85 years old.

—William S. Gooch

Fashion Flashback: Barbara Karinska

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As we move into Nutcracker season, Fashion Reverie looks back at costume designer Barbara Karinska, known for creating iconic stage costumes for the New York City Ballet, the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and Hollywood films of the 1940s and 1950s.

Born Varvara Andreevna Jmoudsky in Krakhov, Ukraine to a successful textile family, Barbara Karinska as a child was exposed to the arts and a wealth of beautiful Ukrainian embroidery; however, she opted not to follow in her father’s footsteps, studying law at the University of Kharkov. After her first husband, industrialist Alexander Moissenko died in 1909, Karinska married Nicholas Karinsky, a successful lawyer whose law practice was in Moscow, prompting Karinska and her children from her previous marriage to move to Moscow in 1916. Karinska also practiced law during this time in addition to hosting salon nights in the family’s spacious apartment after nights of theater and ballet.

Karinska’s salon became very popular and she began exhibiting her paintings of ballet scenes in a Moscow exhibit  with her painting gaining critical and financial success. After Czar Nicholas abdicated in 1917, Karinska’s husband was appointed Attorney General and Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeals of the District of St. Petersburg. After the Bolshevik Revolution, Karinska’s husband became a marked man by the Red forces, causing him to flee to Russia, eventually settling in New York City.

After her husband escaped to the US, Karinska maintained a successful embroidery school in Russia during the reign of Lenin. After Lenin’s death and the Stalinists began to come to power, Karinska escaped Russia with the family jewels hidden in her daughter’s chapeau.

Marlene Dietrich in “Kismet” and Alicia Markova in “The Nutcracker”

First settling in Paris, Karinska after exhausting the family fortune found work creating costumes for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. This is where Karinska first worked with George Balanchine. Karinska quickly became a sought-after costume designer for in Paris, collaborating with Jean Cocteau, Berard, Derain, Cassandre, Balthus, Miro, Balanchine and others.After moving to London, Karinska began a long collaborative relationship with Cecil Beaton while costuming ballet, cinema, and musical revues. She also began experimenting with new fabrics and materials never before used in theatre.

Karinska with Lincoln Kirstein image courtesy of and Gypsy Rose Lee image courtesy of Louise Dahl-Wolfe

Karinska finally settled in New York City in 1939 before World War II broke out in Europe, reconnecting with Balanchine who had founded the School of American in New York City. Karinska immediately began costuming with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Comfortably settled in New York City, Karinska established her company KARINSKA Stage and Art Inc. where Karinska created costumes for film, stage, theater, ballet, and Sonja Henie’s ice shows.Karinska along with Dorothy Jeakins won an Oscar for the 1948 “Joan of Arc” and was nominated for an Oscar for “Hans Christian Anderson.” Other Hollywood films include “The Pirate,” and “Blue Skies.”

Karinska costumes for the New York City Ballet’s courtesy of

Perhaps, Karinska was important contribution to stage costumes was her ‘powder puff’ tutu. Before Karinska, tutus traditionally looked like pie plates and in ballets that had a large female corps de ballet these pie plate tutus inhibited large-scale movement with female dancers’ tutus bobbing up and down after the dancing had stopped. Karinska came up with the shorter tutu skirt composed of six or seven layers of gathered net, each layer a half inch longer than the preceding layer. The layers were tacked together for a fluffier, looser appearance.Karinska’s ‘powder puff’ tutu was first used in Balanchine’s “Symphony in C,” and became popular in Balanchine’s 1954 “Nutcracker.” “ I attribute to [Karinska] fifty percent of the success of my ballets to those that she dressed,” explained Balanchine. The ‘powder puff’ tutu prototype is now commonly used in most ballet companies around the world.

Karinska’s costumes for George Balanchine’s “Jewels”

Karinska collaborated with Balanchine in over 75 ballets. The last ballet costumes that Karinska designed for the New York City Ballet were the costumes used in Balanchine’s 1977 “Vienna Waltzes.”Barbara Karinska died in 1983, months after Balanchine’s death. In 1999 she was posthumously inducted into the National Museum of Dance’s Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame.

—William S. Gooch

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