The Saturday Read ‘New York Fashion Week: An Oral History’

‘The Saturday Read’ this week is an online interactive feature from the September 8, 2016 New York Times ‘Thursday Styles’ section, capturing a multi-media moment in fashion history as the baton is being passed to the next generation of designers. Ruth La Ferla brings us ‘Our Stories’, an oral history from fashion icons Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Carolina Herrera, Michael Kors, Issac Mizrahi and Alexander Wang.

This one is for all of you who are first to the newsstand for the September issues of Vogue and Harpers Bazaar, hoping to find a few classical wardrobe elements to update your look for fall. Designer outlets may be the closest most of us get to the runway, but many aspire to a career in one of the global capitals of fashion.

“As New York Fashion Week approaches its 75th year (the first official shows, massed under the heading of Press Week, were held in 1943), with 151 shows spread over nine days, many designers are questioning the future of this semiannual gathering. “We are facing the end of an era,” the designer Diane von Furstenberg said in a recent interview. “But there is nothing nostalgic about that. The future will be more exciting.”

The future may well be exciting, but for many in the industry, the past is one to savor and celebrate. Here, a crowd of fashion notables reflect on their experiences: the good, the bad, the awkward and the forever memorable.”

From their “first shows”, through the “unforgettable moments”, “growing pains”, “the glamour girls” and the “dark days” as AIDS devastated the industry, the top designers, models and fashion commentators share their success, and the mistakes along the way to being installed as icons. If you believe we learn from the wisdom of others, this interactive experience is required reading/viewing.

Here’s a sample.

ZAC POSEN

“In February 2002, when I showed my first collection, I did the setup preshow in my parents’ living room. I had done the collection with small seed money that was generally lent by friends, family and with my savings from the lemonade stand that I had started as a kid on Spring Street.”

ALEXANDER WANG

“Our first fashion week show, for fall 2007, was in a Chelsea warehouse. It was hectic backstage. I remember our casting director freaking out because all the models and dressers (who also happened to be my best friends) were eating greasy pizza, and the director was like, “Where’s Alex?” I was right there eating pizza, too. I guess I didn’t know any better.”

DONNA KARAN

“The turning point came in 1985 when I left Anne Klein. At the time I said to my bosses, “I have this vision for a little company.” Women in those years were wearing shirts and little ties to the office. I asked myself: “Where is the sexuality? Where is the comfort? Where are the clothes that go from day into night? How do you travel with your wardrobe in one bag?” And that’s how the Seven Easy Pieces came about.”

ALEK WEK
Model in the 1990s

“When I started modeling, people kept saying, “Oh, she’s so different, she’s bizarre,” like I wasn’t quite normal. Of course there was a racist element to those conversations. People were beating around the bush. But if I focused on that, I don’t think I would have stayed in fashion. Being viewed as different only gave me more incentive. I wanted people to know that your features or your color don’t make you less beautiful. My motivation was deeper than me just putting on makeup and clothes and doing shows.”

SIMON DOONAN

“All those people perished, and now many young people maybe don’t even know that Perry Ellis was an actual person. Many young African-American designers would be inspired to know how many great African-Americans had careers at the time.

These people didn’t all just get on a bus and drive off somewhere. They died excruciating deaths, some in the hallways of hospitals without help or support. In many instances, their families rejected them. I distinctly remember people who didn’t have a funeral or memorial. I had a friend who was buried in an unmarked grave.

It’s always troubled me that these supertalented original thinkers weren’t adequately memorialized.

They were Patrick Kelly, Angel Estrada, Isaia, Clovis Ruffin, Halston, Antonio Lopez and Juan Ramos, Tina Chow, Tim Hawkins, Robert Hayes and Laughlin Barker. And the photographers: David Seidner, Barry McKinley, Herb Ritts, Bill King and so many more. They were window-dresser friends: Bob Currie, Michael Cipriano, Bob Benzio, Stephen Di Petrie. The list goes on.”

 

 

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