Thursday, September 1, 2011

For FIT Museum's Couture Council, It's Valentino

Left and right are two looks from the Valentino Fall 2011 ready-to-wear collection. In the center is a gown in Valentino's signature red from a collection several seasons back. Ready-to-wear photos from Valentino. Red gown photo courtesy of The Museum at FIT.

IN seven short years the Couture Council of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) has come a long way, baby.

The latest proof is that Valentino Clemente Ludovico Garavani aka Valentino is journeying to New York to receive an award from the group. The man behind some of the most iconic designs of the last half-century will receive his honor next Wednesday (7 Sept.), the day before Day 1 of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week New York.

The Couture Council’s main mission is to talk up, secure works for, raise public awareness of and raise funds for The Museum at the FIT. A big piece in the fundraising arm is the Couture Council Awards Luncheon. The guest of honor is the designer chosen to receive the Couture Council Award for Artistry of Fashion. It should be noted that the advisory committee, which chooses the honoree, is represented by such influential names in fashion as the Musée de la Mode, Vogue, Kyoto Costume Institute, Bergdorf Goodman.

Carson Kressley and Devon Scott hamming it up for the cameras at the Couture Council Summer Party. Photo courtesy of the Couture Council.

Taking nothing away from the CFDA Awards, but often enough the ceremony seems like a popularity contest. On the otherhand, the Couture Council Award for Artistry of Fashion hues toward real achievement. If the CFDA awards are in the spirit of the American Music Awards, the Couture Council Award for Artistry of Fashion is no doubt the Grammys.

“Valentino was chosen in recognition of his status as a world-historical figure in modern fashion, a man who has dressed every beautiful woman of the past 50 years, from Jacqueline Kennedy to Madonna,” said Valerie Steele, director of The Museum at FIT. “… In today’s world of an often debased celebrity culture, Valentino’s dresses continue to assert an aristocratic ideal of art and beauty.”

Couture Council committee members Wei Brian and Chiu-Ti Jansen at the summer party. Photo by Owen Hoffmann/Patrick McMullan Company.

This particular award is bestowed on titans of the trade: Isabel Toledo (2008). In 2006 it was Ralph Rucci, the only American designer who presents a collection at the couture shows in Paris. Last year, the Award for Artistry of Fashion went to a fellow named Karl Lagerfeld (See video at: It was the Couture Council’s most successful fundraiser to date (more than half a million $$$$). The luncheon ticket was the hottest during Fashion Week.

Interestingly enough, the Couture Council has done some successful branding around fall Fashion Week. Its core message is that the awards luncheon marks the start of Fashion Week. The precise language this year is “heralds the arrival of Fall Fashion Week.” It’s no mere boast. Those in the know – tastemakers, designers, journalists, buyers – have been talking about the luncheon for a couple of months now. Undoubtedly, there may be more buzz because the recipient is Valentino.

Each August at different venues around Manhattan, the Couture Council also hosts an annual summer party. It is basically a salespitch – a very, very swanky one – for the awards luncheon (Tickets start at $1,000 for one seat at the table). Last month, the venue was the Boathouse in Central Park and the awards luncheon was one of the hot topics. The other was a certain labor issue.

At right, detail of a Valentino frock that accompanies signage related to the Couture Council Awards Luncheon. The designer at the "Sex and the City 2" premiere at Radio City Music Hall last year. Photo of sketch courtesy of the Couture Council; photo of Valentino by Charles Norfleet/ASJAIS Images.

Unfortunately, to get to the party guests had to run a gauntlet of picketers who were accusing the Boathouse of attempted union-busting and other labor infractions. A few attendees politely whispered their dismay that the Couture Council would throw a party in such an atmosphere.

The group also had defenders, some of whom gave picketers to know that the Couture Council likely did not know about the troubles at the Boathouse. That appears to be the case. "As an institution with its own union, FIT has respect for unionized labor,” according to a statement from the FIT. “We were unaware of any issue when arrangements were made to hold our event at that location."

Once inside the Boathouse guests were able to put aside the unpleasantness and have a good time. A number of designers showed, including Carlos Campos, Thakoon Panichgul, Tiffany Koury, Raul Melgoza (Luca Luca) and Zac Posen. Diane von Furstenberg, one of the luncheon chairpersons, did not attend the summer party, though she is expected to attend next week’s event at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center.

A gown from the Valentino Fall 2011 couture collection. Photo from Valentino.

Invariably, after the kissing was concluded and compliments cast, the conversation among party guests at the Boathouse turn to the luncheon: “Are you going” and “What are you wearing” were the most popular questions. Party guest and couture council supporter Alyson Cafiero is attending and confirmed that she is wearing Valentino. She did not specify a color.

Indeed, the Couture Council has traveled far. But how does it top Karl Lagerfeld and Valentino Clemente Ludovico Garavani? That’s a question to ponder for next year.

Visit http:// to learn more about the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), the Couture Council and the Couture Council Awards Luncheon. To purchase lunch tickets, contact Vicki Guranowski: ph. 212-217-4105/fax 212- 594-9206/email:

Two Art Forms Collide in 'Fashion in Film'
FILM and fashion buffs have a reason to celebrate: “Fashion in Film.”

The three-day event, which commences next week, features a panel discussion, receptions and eight films. All are designed to explore the relationship between cinema and style. Think of it as a micro film festival.

Elizabeth Taylor and Susannah York in “X, Y and Zee.” Photo from "Fashion in Film."

"Fashion in Film” opens with a reception, followed by a screening of “Who Are You Polly Maggoo?” (“Qui êtes vous, Polly Maggoo?”) Set in Paris, the 1966 cult film from director and U.S. ex-pat William Klein indicts both the fashion world – particularly a Vogue editor patterned after Diane Vreeland – and the French (or simply Parisians).

The evidence against a sector and a society in “Who Are You Polly Maggoo?” is revealed as a French television crew shadows the title character, a Brooklyn-bred model and former Beatles groupie. (See video at : The film will be introduced by Simon Doonan of Barneys New York, who is credited as a curator of “Fashion in Film."

A collaboration of Vanity Fair, The Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD), “Fashion in Film” is a first-time affair. Not coincidentally, it coincides with the early part (9-11 Sept.) of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week New York, a period when the air is redolent of everything fashion. No doubt the timing, at the weekend when more people are off from work, is guaranteed to increase its chances of success.

Faye Dunaway as the title character in "The Eyes of Laura Mars," one of eight fashion-themed films screening during "Fashion in Film."

“X, Y and Zee” aka “Zee and Co.” and “Zee and Company” (1972) is on the docket for the second day of “Fashion in Film.” At first glance the film could be considered a sort of “Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Pt. 2.” Certainly, there are similarities. Both star the late, great Elizabeth Taylor as a middle-aged shrew in a bad marriage. But whereas in “Woolf” (1966) – for which ET won a second Oscar – Martha is frumpy, Zee in “X, Y and” is a fashion plate, albeit one who is sometimes over the top.

In trying to reclaim her husband, the London socialite schemes, screams, blackmails, dares and looks smashing as does husband, Robert (Micheal Caine), and Stella (Susannah York), the younger, more biddable woman to whom Robert forms an attachment. (See video:

Tura Satana as a very bad girl in “Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!”

Despite its campy undertones, Russ Meyer’s “Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” (1965) is one of the most disturbing selections in “Fashion in Film.” It is screened on the final day and concerns three modish go-go dancers (Lori Williams, Haji, and Tura Satana) who murder, manipulate and rampage their way across the California desert. Tricked out in halter tops and skinny jeans, they give new meaning to the phrase, dressed to kill. Lots of cleavage and bare midriffs but no actual nudity. (See video at:

The influence film has on fashion (or not) in general and the influence the films in the festival in particular have (or not) on the trade is the topic of Spotlight On Fashion Innovation: Creative Inspiration From Cinema, a dicsussion moderated by SD on Sunday. Those contributing to the conversation include designer Robert Tagliapietra and Valerie Steele, director of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Visit to learn more about “Fashion in Film,” including ticket and venue information.

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