WHEN PARIS MET TEXAS

WHEN PARIS MET TEXAS

Texas’ link to fashion’s most revolutionary transition recalls the remarkably intriguing life of the almost-forgotten French designer Lucien Lelong, who made it possible, according to our vintage fashion chronicler, Gordon Kendall

PINCUSHION WAR

The major design houses of Lelong’s era shared close physical proximity to each other. From a reasonably small, contained area of Paris, the fashion powers Lelong, Chanel, Patou, Schiaparelli, Lanvin, and so many others, wielded was worldwide. Think of so many color-topped dressmaker’s pins, all going away from a center. The world of French couture was much like a pincushion itself in terms of these far-pointing influences. Each design house, or pin, represented the power it had to attract and collect from private, wealthy clients, and department and specialty stores with ample open-to-buy budgets, and lucrative licensing deals. Such far-reaching influence extended, not surprisingly, to neighboring Germany. However, that influence was not received as positively there as in other parts of the world.

 

When German forces invaded Paris in June of 1940, it did not take long for them to make their way to the very center of fashion’s pincushion: the offices and files of the Chambre, which they confiscated in due course. Motives for this plan of action have been ascribed to various reasons. Ideologically, the Nazi regime professed the desire to subjugate other nations’ cultures; to suppress them in favor of their own. To that end, French fashion, especially that emanating from the leading couture houses, was considered frivolous, an anathema to the sensible ways of women’s dress proposed by the Third Reich. Historians note their goal, ultimately, was to move the center of fashion from Paris to Berlin and Vienna, already home to more acceptable fashion makers. Raiding the Chambre was the first step in that plan.

 

The invaders are thought to have wanted to take advantage of the power of the pins.. That is, to tap into and exploit the trove of financial and political information gathered by the fashion houses over the course of years of doing business. This one event began Lelong’s pincushion war. It was to be his and his fight alone to keep French couture, French, and profitable, as well. Here’s where history grows increasingly silent. No one is sure, exactly, how the dapper Frenchman managed to do this.

 

What is known are Lelong’s accomplishments. He persuaded the invaders to forgo their plans to move the entire French fashion industry, couture included, to Germany, or Austria. This he achieved after traveling under heavy guard to Berlin to speak directly with various Reich ministers and committees. For this feat, however, few records appear to have either been made or continue to exist. He saved an estimated 12,000 lives by preventing their deportation. Again, there are few written explanations as to how he accomplished this incredible task.

 

Further, he obtained, despite rationing and requisitions, enough fabric for the couture houses to remain in operation during the entire length of time the Germans occupied Paris. He obtained passes for foreign buyers to attend fashion shows in non-occupied France. These, too, appear to have been the result of his persuasive appeal to the Germans. Yet few documents detail exactly how he managed to accomplish feats that rivaled the best efforts of any of the Allied nation’s diplomats. 

 

OLD INTO NEW

Perhaps it is the fate of a successful diplomat to leave behind accomplishments with few traces of themselves, with only their persona remaining. That certainly appears to be the case with Lelong. While his own fashion house has not existed since 1948, and his name now only appears on a scant few perfumes made under license by a New Jersey-based chemical company, the names of designers he mentored, like Dior, now stand prominent in international fashion. Lelong will always be credited with saving French couture and protecting the lives of thousands. He was, for this reason, the ultimate, but understated, patron of his industry. Could any one person in fashion today yield such professional, financial, political, and, yes, cultural power? Bernard Arnauld, current chairman of luxury behemoth LVMH, might be Lelong’s closest contemporary. Perhaps.

 

Unfortunately, Lelong was powerless when it came to his own health. Long afflicted from wounds dating back to World War I, illnesses, and a list of infirmaries forced him to retire from the rigors of running a business at the time of Dior’s ascent. Accordingly, he missed the Dallas ceremony hosted by Neiman Marcus and Stanley Marcus. But fashion had moved on, as the Neiman Marcus award recognized and underscored. When Lelong died later in 1958, his name had already faded into fashion history. The New Look of fashion heralded by Dior was not just in style, but in newer ways of doing business. Methods became much more under corporate control than paternal protectionism.

 

In today’s quest for authenticity and brand-controlled storytelling, it seems ironic that any remaining story of Lelong may never be fully known, much less recounted. This year will mark another year since Lelong’s passing. What will start, too, is another year of unanswered questions as to how one of fashion’s most remarkable players accomplished what he did, only to end up what may be the most dreaded of all of fashion’s fates: forgotten.  

ULTIMATELY UNGARO

ULTIMATELY UNGARO

The legend and legacy of the top 80s designer Emanuel Ungaro, a Texas fashion favorite for his French flair and eye for color, continues today, according to our global fashion expert Gordon Kendall.

COLOR ME BEAUTIFUL
Those 1980s styles were when ruffles flourished…ruching ruled…and neon-brights were just right when it came to the tonal palette. The fashion world recently said goodbye to Emanuel Ungaro, the French designer who came to prominence during the era that came to be known for female power dressing. In a sense, that very same empowerment and homage to the 80s is back in this season’s ballroom and red carpet dressing.

He loved women as much as he loved to dress them―in shapely, body-conscious clothes, rich in details, embellishments, attention-grabbing colors, and arrestingly contrasting prints. Images can only capture the impact of his clothes at the time which inspired each collection. Their exuberant aspect, from the seemingly simple, but saturated chrome yellow sheath, to the over the top and then some black ball gown were works of pop art on fabrication.

Emanuel Ungaro, the designer, however, was much more complicated than even the most lavish of his gowns. Houston philanthropist and International Best Dressed Hall of Famer, Lynn Wyatt, an early Ungaro fan and frequent attendee at his Paris couture shows, clues us into what he was like when she says, “He was truly ahead of the game. He loved using color. And he was such a nice man, too.”

To become ahead of the game, Ungaro first learned the French fashion game of over 50-years ago, a time before designers’ houses had become the big commercial brands many are today. He came from the quaint and arcane world of traditional haute couture with its many rules and countless demands placed on designers and clients. It would be difficult to find any designer with credentials more traditionally impeccable as his. In fact, it was in his blood. He was born the son of a tailor in Aix-en-Province in 1933 from whom he learned the trade of cutting, sewing, and, fitting garments. To that end, he was master of both those extremes of garment construction: le tailleur, or structured work and le flou, to make flowing. He didn’t just sketch; he often preferred to drape onto live models.

SURROUNDED BY GREATNESS
Ungaro went to Paris, where by 1958, he was working with the one and only Cristobal Balenciaga, where he stayed for six years working directly with the master couturier. He briefly worked in 1964 for just two collections with his mentor, Andre Courreges. However, he was always destined to be out of the shadows of others. Ungaro was now ready to define fashion on his own terms, to be ahead of his peers and how they perceived fashion, but most importantly how they expected, even demanded, their fashions be worn. His genius was to design clothes that would appeal to a new generation of women who, themselves, defined fashion in their own way, not just on the terms set by a cabal of designers with their constantly changing seasonal dictates of what it meant to be fashionable. By the 1980s, his heyday, he had hit his professional stride, both in his fashions and what they meant to those who wore them. His fame was global.

The Ungaro lady knew she was a respected lady. He only sought to dress, never to tell her how to dress like many of his contemporaries. These worldly, sophisticated women who became his loyal customers, it was they who chose to be as outrageous as outré as they wished, whether it be in the boardroom, the ballroom, or anywhere else for that matter. Ungaro only offered how it might be done through his own take on color, print, silhouette, and style ideas found in both his couture pieces or, later, sent out under his Parallel ready-to-wear label.

His clothes were as bold as his respect for those who wore them, an attitude that came exuded and was understood by his legion of fans. Images of Ungaro’s clothes may speak to a particular period in fashion, but along came Ungaro with the timeless message of a fashion designer’s respect for the women who wear his designs.

CHIC, COOL & CHARMING

CHIC, COOL & CHARMING

Chic dressing is timeless. We all know that. What makes personal style is the confident attitude that is also worn. Ala von Auersperg is a designer who loves to create ageless pieces that can be worn forever, so our vintage style arbiter Lance Avery Morgan went behind the seams with this design dynamo.

photography courtesy of AlA VON AUERSPERG

When you are the daughter of a society style icon like designer Ala von Auersperg , expectations can be high. Her mother Sunny Crawford von Bülow, who was known as a leading style setter of her day in the 1950s through the 1970s, greatly influenced von Auersperg’s design aesthetic. “My mother was always beautifully dressed whether at home or out and about,” shares Ala von Auersperg. “She had wonderful taste and knew what kinds of clothing suited her. Her love of the kaftans that she wore around the house inspired me to start designing kaftans of my own.”

She’s quick to admit, “My mother answered the call for something both beautiful and comfortable. So I wanted to  create something that emulated her version of looking relaxed and effortlessly flawless at home rather than disheveled and unkempt.” Making sure to acknowledge the family’s rich history of having a keen sense of style and the indelible print it left on her, which has naturally passed on to her artful designs, she reiterates, “They valued beautiful craftsmanship, knew what looked good on them, and understood that you can be casual and still look fabulous. These early lessons trained my eye and helped inspire my line.”

In an era where many travel commercially while wearing “athleisure” wear (to be kind about it), von Auersperg feels her designs offer her clients more without  compromising comfort. She states, “I had been working with the designer Antonio Gual for years, creating such pieces for myself, when in 2015 he suggested applying my original nature and travel-inspired artworks onto them.” From there, Ala Von Auersperg (AVA), the brand, was born. Shortly thereafter, my daughter, Sunny Kneissl Zweig, joined the team as our in-house stylist. Since day one, we have focused on making women feel wonderful in the feminine flow of the fabric, the transparency that not only reveals, but also partially conceals the body and the soft touch of textiles on the skin.” Ease is key as she muses, “I wanted clothes that were uncomplicated, yet elegant and versatile: you should be able to wear a garment to the beach, make it fancier if you go out, then add another layer to make it even dressier for a special occasion.”

The vibrant prints and flattering construction almost guarantee a special feeling when a woman wears an Ala von Auersperg creation. Her fabrication choices recollect the balmy days of Palm Beach and warm nights of Palm Springs of a bygone era, which is part of the appeal of her designs: reinterpreted glamour. “The prints are an organic extension of my life and my work as an artist, a path I began a decade ago,” she notes. “I have always loved art, but despite having a great-grandfather and  grandmother who were both gifted sculptors I didn’t think art was something I could create. A drawing class changed that and I began painting the flowers in my garden, the coral at our home in Antigua and flora from my travels and I just loved it. It takes me out of the everyday, and then, when I see the prints on a woman, it’s another reward. When she moves, so does the print and she becomes the work of art. That’s why we say “Wear AVA and become your own masterpiece.”

In fact, she says, “Our goal is to help all women realize they can be glamorous, no matter their size or age. AVA is about enjoying life as you are and being the best version of yourself,  because when a woman looks her best, she feels better about herself. We all have roles to play and will perform  them more effectively when we’re at our best. Quite frankly, there is too much fun to be experienced in life, which can be missed when one is focused exclusively on what she is wearing.”

That design aesthetic has led von Auersperg’s clothing line to be so successful, while also supporting a greater purpose. “This passion for creating clothes that boost a woman’s confidence also underpins my philanthropic work, specifically with women who have experienced violence, as those crimes rob their self-esteem as well,” she confides. “The National Center for Victims of Crime, which I co-founded in 1985, works to remedy this loss. The Brain Trauma Foundation (originally the Sunny Von Bülow Coma and Head Trauma Research Institute), which I founded in 1986 in honor of my mother, supports ongoing research on traumatic brain injuries. These causes advance my ultimate goal in life as a daughter, mother, and grandmother, which is to leave the world a better place.” And certainly, a more stylish one, too.

   

NEW YORK MINUTE

NEW YORK MINUTE

Chief Curator and Director Dr. Valerie Steele of The Museum at FIT knows fashion. And, how. She’s the expert’s expert and here our roaming fashion chronicler Gordon Kendall catches up with her as they stride across Manhattan to discuss Texas style.

Portrait photography courtesy of Valerie Steele

MANHATTAN MERRY GO ‘ROUND

In A New York Minute. Everything and everyone moves fast in New York. If you’re not quick enough you might just miss something. So, let us take you there and back, just for a minute each time, in this new series of glimpses, snips-and-snaps, gained first-hand…from exciting people in New York… about exciting people, happenings, and experiences in fashion, beauty, food, lifestyle, anything and everything that captures the eye, or ear! No matter where you are, sit back and enjoy your fashionable minute in Manhattan. 

We’ve just turned right, on to West 27th Street. The block before us is a typical New York City, east to west situated street: longer than it looks. Like a typical New Yorker, we’re running late. Blame the train, right, or that forever wait to get our coffee we’re holding? Also, as frequently happens in Northeastern climates, the weather is just too something: hot, humid, cold, rainy, snowy, whatever it is, there’s too much of it to be comfortable, certainly helpful.

The street itself, off 6th, could be the very model for a movie backlot set of a typical New York City street. Hip fitness “boutiques” and trend-themed hotels vie with old storefronts, their windows dusty, their darkened-at-all hours upper floors, forlornly looming down over us. Blocking the sidewalk? A sign reading: “Aggressive Meditation Taught Here”. Dare we call the phone number listed to find out more? We’re making our way as fast as we can up the street when, ahead, a door opens.

A figure emerges onto the sidewalk before us, lithe in black Celine and harlequin glasses, further signaling the signature style of Dr. Valerie Steele of The Museum at Fashion Institute of Technology, that grey behemoth building rising on the distant horizon of Seventh Avenue.

She’s leaving her Asian art-filled aerie (her husband is a renowned authority on Asian art history), headed to the museum. Another day at the office. We catch up with new greetings. As we walk together, a question comes to mind for Dr. Steele, perhaps based on her recent appearance on the recent CNN television documentary American Style.

TRULY TEXAS STYLE

So, what about Texas style? How might she describe the fashion looks of the ladies of the Lone Star State, I ask?

Without hesitation: “Very Chic.” comes her reply.

“….the hair: Big. The makeup, jewelry, all well thought out…and always wonderful accessories!” she continues.

“Tremendous collectors of haute couture, so many very fashion-conscious.” she says as we stop at the southeast corner at Seventh Avenue.

We walk across the street, with a wave, she disappears into the museum’s lobby, its walls adorned with murals of its latest show. Continuing on, the street seems not New York’s Seventh Avenue, but, perhaps, Austin’s South Congress Avenue, Dallas’ Main Street, Houston’s Post Oak, or any other in any Texas town where fashion is worn and the state’s “museum quality” style is always present and accounted.