Sunday, November 22, 2009

Fashionistas Meet One of Fashion's High Priestesses

Jean says: It's been a whirlwind week, dear readers! On Wednesday evening, we taped our first local access TV appearance. (More on that, kiddies, at another time! Stay tuned.)

On Thursday evening, we went to FIT for one of its most entertaining Fashion Culture Programs yet, featuring Glenda Bailey, Editor in Chief of Harper's Bazaar, in a conversation with Dr. Valerie Steele, Director of the Museum at FIT. (Editorial note: In order to minimize confusion and distinguish Idiosyncratic Valerie from Valerie Steele, I will refer to the latter as Dr. Steele.) My Mission Impossible assignment from Valerie was to show up ahead of time on Thursday and secure us two seats (preferably on the aisle) up front. I lined up outside the auditorium on 27th St. with numerous other early birds: more than a few well-coiffed/well-attired professional-looking women, lots of earnest students, and several of Ms. Bailey's ex-assistants and ex-interns.

When the doors opened, I checked in at the desk and received my complimentary copy of the December issue of Harper's Bazaar, featuring the subscriber cover shot of Twilight's Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson. (As Journalistas in the audience already know, Bazaar, under Glenda Bailey's stewardship, was the first to publish two separate covers for the same issue of the magazine: one for subscribers who already knew what to expect and another version for the newsstand, to attract new readers.)

Hallelujah! I scored two seats on the aisle in the second row! I wore a distinctive bowler hat and thought Valerie would have no problem locating me in the crowd. (Although I was channeling my inner Malcolm McDowell a' la Clockwork Orange, my husband had dubbed my look "Odd Job" after James Bond's nemesis' bodyguard in Goldfinger. Hmmm...) Anyway, I'd barely settled into my seat when, lo and behold, the hostess and guest speaker strolled down the steps and sat right in front of me! I have long admitted to having Fashion A.D.H.D., so I was in a tizzy: In between admiring Glenda's long, dangling earrings and marveling at her and Dr. Steele's impossibly high heels, flipping through the pages of my new fashion mag, and checking out fellow members of the audience, I kept turning around trying to locate my partner in crime in the crowd. I noted the arrival of Stephen Sumner, Glenda's Significant Other of many years, who joined her in the front row. "Silly me," I thought to myself, "relax, these things never start on time." Ha! At 6:01 PM, Dr. Steele and Glenda took the stage. I looked all around. No Valerie.

Through a series of questions, Dr. Steele led Glenda into a conversation about how she got started in "the business". Quite simply, Glenda said she had "a passion for fashion", and described the improbable chain of events that led to her landing her first job, as editor of a new fashion magazine in London; her next job as editor of Marie Claire magazine's British edition during its groundbreaking coverage of women's issues (e.g., child slavery, cultural suppression of women in Afghanistan), and finally, her current position as editor of Harper's Bazaar, here in the U.S. In between surreptitious but vain attempts to locate Valerie in the audience, I did laugh out loud at some of Ms. Bailey's bons mots: "The only job I've ever had in publishing is Editor in Chief" and "Working your way up through the ranks is over-rated."

After her slides of Marie Claire articles, Glenda talked about and showed slides of award-winning Bazaar cover shoots and fashion layouts, including the photo spread in the recent September issue of 1980s supermodels (Kristen McMenamy and Cindy Crawford, among others) sans makeup, and another with airborne fairies! At the close of the presentation, she took questions from the audience on a range of issues, including inquiries from students seeking advice on how to make headway in a highly competitive field during a bad economy. (She was very encouraging.)

Then, while I was unsuccessfully signaling to ask a question, from high up in the seats diagonally across the auditorium, I saw THE ORANGE HAT before I saw the distinctive grey hair or heard that voice. It was Valerie, in the nosebleed section, asking a variation of the question on the tip of my tongue. In essence, it boiled down to: "What fashion advice do you have for women of style over fifty?" [Valerie interjects: And of COURSE I mentioned our blog for women of a certain age.] Glenda began by citing Bazaar's "Fabulous at Any Age" - one of the magazine's most popular features, and now a book as well. She also noted that women over fifty should feel free to be themselves and express themselves through fashion. Not exactly the answer Valerie or I were seeking, since we have no problem expressing ourselves on the style front. What we really probably wanted Brenda to say was "Yes, I think that's the women's issue I'll tackle next."

As you can see from the photo, Valerie got to meet Glenda onstage, up close and personal. Valerie also humored me by carrying a hilarious tubular orange bag I'd found for her at a second hand shop for $10! [Valerie interjects: I wouldn't call it humoring. It's a fabulous bag, and I was tickled to have the perfect opportunity to wear it. It's just that it's a small bag, and it's hard for me to let go of my inner Practical Person. My mother called her bag her office, and now that I'm my mother's age I embrace that concept. (Yes, I have become my mother, or a version of her.) I hate changing bags because something always gets edited out in the process, generally by accident. Jean herself ALWAYS carries a bag that's big enough to fit two bowling balls, and just as heavy. See the photo below. One day we're going to photograph the contents for a future blog entry. I think there's also an emergency full change of clothes at the bottom of the bag, but I suspect Jean would never be able to find it among her other supplies. It must be vintage by now, if it wasn't when she put it in.]

After the program ended, Isabel and Ruben Toledo appeared (see below). Regular readers will recall our September blog entry describing the FIT Museum's mid-career retrospective of Isabel's designs, aptly called "Fashion from the Inside Out", illustrated by Ruben and curated by Dr. Steele. We had also seen Isabel at her book signing at Barney's on Fashion's Night Out (but were separated from her by the THRONGS of fans who lined up to get Isabel to autograph it and Ruben to sketch in it).

When Valerie and I chatted with her about shoes, Isabel confided that she'd designed some comfortable but fashionable footwear for Anne Klein which was never manufactured. (SIGH....)

Then we told Ruben how much we'd loved his illustrations at Isabel's recent show, and he asked if we'd torn any of them off the scroll and taken them with us! When he saw our faces, he laughed and said he'd intended them to be carried off. (Who knew? Now he tells us...Next time, we'll bring our step ladder!) [Jean can bring the ladder- maybe in her bag. I'll bring the scissors and crushproof portfolio.- v.]

Before we all headed out into the evening for our respective feasts and libations, Dr. Steele and Stephen Sumner joined Valerie in a group photo commemorating the evening.

Needless to say, Valerie experienced the same angst up in the rafters as I had down in front. Thinking I had not been able to accept the aforementioned Mission Impossible (not a stretch, given my habits of late), Valerie kept trying to spot me in the audience. Despite my best efforts to look like Mr. Steed (stunning Mrs. Peele's dapper partner in the Avengers, favorite '60s show of every hip teen), she didn't see me sitting in the second row. (So much for thinking I stood out in a crowd!) She'd been looking for me all night and had saved me a seat. We had a good laugh about it as we recounted the events of the day at underground Under Bar at the Union Square W.

Upstairs earlier on the main floor of the W, we met the rather exotic looking and very personable members of a band from Philadelphia and their friend, a DJ with a palm-sized remote-controlled helicopter. We'd run into Wes in the elevator where he showed us the electronic contraption that he proceeded to launch in the lobby, to the joy and laughter of an appreciative audience.

Jean is wearing a vintage Stetson bowler hat, vintage Comme des Garcons jacket, Brigitte harem pants, Lounge Fly bag, Gucci glasses, Kirsten Hawthorne silver skull and crystal earrings, Dansko clogs, charm necklace and about 10 rings.

Valerie is wearing a Hattie Carnegie orange felt fur hat (second hand), street fair reading glasses, vintage Issey Miyake shirt (second hand) and newish matching Issey skirt, stone and sterling necklace and bracelets from the Palacio de Bellas Artes, Searle wool coat (second hand), orange bag by Backyard Oaks (sec- well, you know...), and black suede Aerosoles flats.

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