Sunday, November 4, 2012

FIT's Designers & Books Fair 2012

in which we each get a Chanel bag

Style conscious literary lionesses that we are, last weekend we attended the Designers & Books 2012 Fair at the conference center at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). A presentation of the website, the event celebrates the unique relationship between books and the design world. Jeanne Stella had tipped us off about the event. For us, the highlight of the day was the first stage presentation, an interview of designer Donna Karan by Dr. Valerie Steele, the Director and Chief Curator of the Museum at FIT. Donna Karan's designs never cease to amaze and inspire, year after year after year.

Jeanne Stella (left), of Stella Show Management, the powerhouse behind the upcoming Antique Show at the Pier (Nov. 17 & 18), was also in charge of this event. Pictured with her is Stephanie Salamon, a member of FIT's Concept team. Jeanne thought the Designers & Books Fair would be a good fit for us, not to mention an opportunity for us to try to find a publisher for Joana Avillez' book "Life Dressing: The Idiosyncratic Fashionistas".

While waiting for Valerie outside the event, Jean ran into Tim John, who told us he used to do weekly flower arrangements for Donna. While we were catching up, Donna Karan and her right hand woman Patty Cohen arrived.  Donna and posed for a photo and a chat before we all went into the conference center for her presentation.  Jean wore her vintage Donna Karan by Maeve Carr hat for the occasion.

With Tim at our side, we were in our seats in the third row for "Donna Karan Connects the Dots: A Conversation with Valerie Steele". (We would have been in the first row, but - can you believe it - we're shy.) Through a series of questions, Valerie Steele started the ball rolling, but then Donna was off and running. She had wonderful slides to take us chronologically through her life (starting with her baby picture), her career in the fashion industry, and her family life.

In celebration of her new book "Stephan Weiss: Connecting the Dots", Donna talked about her life, her career in fashion design and Stephan, her late husband, a sculptor, whom she called her "soul mate".

Donna was hired while still a student at Parsons School of Design by designer Anne Klein, shown here. Donna described how she had just given birth to her first child and had barely returned home from the hospital when Anne Klein died of breast cancer and she had to rally to present the collection in a runway show two days later.  She and Louis Dell'Olio ran Anne Klein for 10 years until she went out on her own in 1986.

Describing him as the love of her life, Donna showed a number of photographs of Stephan by himself and of them together and of his art work, which is the subject of her book. She continues Urban Zen, Stephan's brainchild, in his memory. She also talked about the work she is supporting in Haiti with native artisans. Valerie Steele then opened the talk to questions from the floor. Afterward, we went to her book signing in the exhibition hall. We gave her and Patty Cohen each a copy of Joana Avillez' book "Life Dressing".

After a short tour around the book fair, we attended Valerie Steele's interview of Hal Rubenstein, InStyle Magazine's Fashion Director.

Hal Rubenstein is a well known expert on style and frequent commenter on red carpet glamour. In his conversation with Valerie Steele, he talked about indelible moments in the history of haute couture and popular culture. An earlier publication of his is a book about high-end menswear entitled "Gentry Man".

His newest book, "100 Unforgettable Dresses" by Harper Design, focuses not necessarily on the highest fashion but rather on iconic dresses whose images have seared themselves into our collective retinas.

The spectacular dress that Marilyn Monroe wore to sing happy birthday to John Kennedy was one of his top choices. It was her own concept. As Rubenstein described it, she wanted to look "sparkling and naked".  Talk about "body con"!

Also included in Hal Rubenstein's unforgettable frocks were the gowns worn by Diana Ross and the Supremes. He talked about how black performers had been discriminated against, often performing on blacks-only circuits in the south and not even allowed to stay in the hotels in which they performed. He described how Berry Gordy at Motown Records set out to polish The Supremes and other acts like them so they'd be the equal of any other act in the industry. One of his tools was their costumes. He even set up a charm school for his female performers to teach them how to act in front of an audience and at press interviews. He helped make them professional entertainers.

Jean bought a copy of Hal's book. When we met him in the great hall before he gave his lecture, he was very funny and very relaxed. When he first saw us, he quipped that it was a shame we hadn't dressed for the occasion, and then told us how much he appreciated the fact that we had obviously developed our own unique styles. (Way to make our day, Hal!)

Hal's booth had the best gimme bag ever. We both came away with an unbleached cotton bag with a marvelous Karl Lagerfeld drawing of Coco Chanel imprinted on it. You can see it just a bit under Jean's arm, above. Here's the full bag (minus the cloth straps).

The third program we attended was Wendy Goodman's interview with designer Todd Oldham. Todd is all about using your own creativity to do things yourself. Todd admitted, with some pride, that he had quit high school and never graduated, but his interesting work and great success in the design field proves that not having a certificate should not be a barrier to creativity.

Amazed by Todd's slide show, Valerie bought five of Todd's books and got him to sign them. They're all how-to books, and all aimed at children (exactly Valerie's level). One was Kid Made Modern, "kid friendly projects inspired by mid-century modern design"; two others were Kid Made Modern: All About Fabric Painting and Kid Made Modern: All About Dye.

Since one good book deserves another, we presented Todd with a copy of Life Dressing, which you can see in the foreground of this photo.

Wendy Goodman, New York Magazine's Design Editor, posed for a photo with Valerie.

Jean was thrilled to reconnect with a pair of designer friends she hadn't seen since mutual friend Kim White (nee Dennis) moved to Santa Fe. Leslie Smolen and Ken Carbone were at the event to sign copies of their new book Dialog: What Makes a Great Design Partnership, just published by Pointed Leaf books. Jean picked up a copy to send to Kim, whose name appears in the book.

It was like old home week. We also saw interior designer Jeffrey Osborne, whom Jean had first met through Kim and designer Lee Stout, who were both working for Knoll at the time.

Author Susan Roy, in fabulous glasses and jacket, was also at the Pointed Leaf booth to sign copies of her new book, Bomboozled, a history of America's post-war bomb shelter craze.

We finally met Pam Sommers, Executive Director for Publicity for Rizzoli books, in Reeves Great Hall at FIT. In two of the programs, we'd ended up seated next to her. Not only did we love her fabulous silver hair, but also loved her shibori sash, which she wore as a scarf.  She graciously indulged us as we picked her brain about possible publishers for Life Dressing.

In the cafe tent, we met photographer Roxanne Lowit, whom we envied greatly because she was going to a Grace Jones concert that evening at Roseland with David La Chappelle.

In the great hall, we met Chad and Lionel, who are both in the design industry and were looking quite stylish. (LOTS of people there were quite stylish, and we regret the number of great pictures we missed.)

In the cafe tent, we met and hung out with Leon who was photographing the event for FIT. He confessed that he owned something like 95 pairs of pants, after Valerie confided that she owned about 97 hats.

This seems like a good time to tell you that we will be appearing at Jeanne Stella's next New York event, the Pier Antiques Show, on November 17 and 18. We'll be giving style advice (as you can see below) for 5 cents a pop from 12-1pm each day. And it will be worth every penny!

Couldn't see us in the page above? Here's a blow-up. Come and see us!

Til next time, stay warm & dry!


  1. You don´t miss anything girls, ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh
    so jealous, and so looking forward to meeting you eventually.

  2. This looks like such an interesting event, especially the talks by Donna Karan and Hal Rubenstein. The Todd Oldham books that Valerie purchased look like a lot of fun - inspiration for winter weather projects! Hope you got some leads on a publisher.

  3. Thank you for this terrific post, from all of us at Designers & Books,, the sponsor of the D&B Fair at FIT.

  4. Wanted to let you guys know-- While we aren't going to do an "offline" book fair this year, we are doing an "online" fair. We are launching it now.

    What we've tried to do is combine the serendipity and spontaneity of browsing in a bookstore with the refined search, sort, and filter capabilities of the Internet. Here is the link to the fair. Enjoy: