Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Paris Couture’s Indian Summer: Model Lakshmi Menon Breaks Down Fashion’s Proverbial Color Barrier and the Industry Takes Note

Clockwise Center: Menon walked exclusively for Givenchy during the Haute Couture Fall 2008 season, it was her first appearance at a Paris couture show; Lakshmi in a look from Tisci’s Fall 2008 ready-to-wear collection for Givenchy. The designer, known for his dark gothic esthetic was inspired by religious iconography of South America; Images from Givenchy’s new Fall 2008-09 ad campaign shot by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, featuring Menon, as well as models Kristen Owen, Lara Stone, Natasha Poly and Maria Carla Boscono. For the ad Tisci wanted to create a “family style” portrait of strong women.

On a hot July day last week on Paris’ Left Bank, at 15 Rue de L'ecole de Medecine, passers by were greeted with the unusual site of leggy models wrapped in heavy woolens; their heads topped by quasi-Peruvian wide brimmed hats woven with alpaca stripes in shades of stained tobacco, coffee bean, and cream. Such attire could hardly be considered weather appropriate for the current heat wave hitting Paris. But this being the Fall 2008 couture season, climate concerns were brushed aside for the sake of Ricardo Tisci’s latest vision for the House of Givenchy.

Photographers buzzed around, as the models were herded out of a makeshift tent into the back entrance of the Couvent des Cordeliers. Inside the 13th century convent, seated amongst a forest of carved wood columns and a floor strewn with fragrant cedar wood chips; editors, journalists and a smattering of rarified couture clients were treated to yet another unusual site, Color, and not the kind necessarily found on clothes.

Instead, the first model to emerge from the darkness was the Indian catwalk stunner Lakshmi Menon, followed soon after by models Jourdan Dunn and Sessilee Lopez. It was not lost on anyone present at the show that Tisci was making a statement about fashion’s current lack of diversity; especially with the later two models, who appeared in the recent “all black” July issue of Italian Vogue, shot by Steven Meisel. That particular Vogue issue is only the latest in a series of efforts by the fashion world to address the dearth of ethnicities in the modeling industry, as well as the way it chooses to define beauty. American Vogue similarly printed an article titled “Is Fashion Racist?” while a series of articles in the New York Times have tackled the “whitening of the runways.”

In Tisci’s case, this isn’t the first time the designer has used the catwalk to make such a statement. For Givenchy’s Fall 2006 ready-to-wear collection, he sent out a succession of black models that included Liya Kebede, Kinée Diouf, Thais Dos Santos and Naomi Campbell. But his choice of Indian model Lakshmi Menon to open his latest couture show is significant, because it soon followed news that she would be fronting the Fall 2008-09 ad campaign for the house as well. A rarity for a South East Asian model, the campaign, shot by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, also features models Kristen Owen, Lara Stone, Natasha Poly and Maria Carla Boscono.

But as fresh faced as she may appear, Menon is hardly a newcomer to the fashion world; so much as a face the industry has finally begun to take serious notice of. For as dubious as the practice may be, there is a reason most models enter the industry in their teens, as it takes several years before they eventually hit their stride. Case in point is Kristen McMenamy, a favorite of the runways and fashion photographers for the better part of the 90’s, whose career didn’t explode until her mid-20’s.

Menon, who is 25, wasn’t exactly plucked from relative obscurity when she walked exclusively for the Givenchy show. Instead she has been building up a stellar career gradually over the last few years. Today she is undoubtedly experiencing her break through moment.
© THE POLYGLOT (all rights reserved) CHICAGO-PARIS

Lakshmi Menon: Part II

Although Menon has been working as a model since 2001, she didn’t make the leap to the Paris catwalks until 2005, when she walked for Jean Paul Gaultier and Hermès during the spring 2006 ready-to-wear collections. Gaultier, who has a long history of using models of different ethnicities, was an early supporter of Menon, making her the face Hermès’ Spring/Summer 2008 ad campaign. Despite this, other designers and casting agents have been slow in casting Menon in their shows, a story not uncommon amongst many non-white models in the industry. But gradually Menon’s presence on the international catwalks has begun to increase, and with her recent turn on the runway at Givenchy and a fall ad campaign for the house, we may be seeing more of her on the runways. Above is a short chronology of Menon’s runway appearances, starting left: Hermès Spring 2006; Jean Paul Gaultier Spring 2006; Hermès Spring 2008; Jean Paul Gaultier Spring 2008; Stella McCartney Fall 2008-09; Haider Ackermann Fall 2008-09; Issey Miyake Fall 2008-09; Maria Cornejo Fall 2008-09; Givenchy Resort 2009.

Hailing from Bangalore, the heart India’s current tech boom, Menon was considered an unlikely candidate for modeling in her native country, where the fair skinned curvaceous Bollywood esthetic has long dominated much of the Indian beauty industry. But ironically it was her dusky South Indian complexion, aquiline features and a lanky 5’-10” frame that proved to be a winning combination; making her, along with fellow model Ujjwala Raut, one of India’s greatest exports to land in Paris.

Despite such success, Lakshmi Menon comes off as unassuming in person; her face often scrubbed free of make-up and wearing her signature tank top and jeans. It was never part of her grand plan to become a model, admitting that she mostly fell into the profession simply for the "great money." She’s also skeptical of all the attention she receives and questions why anyone would want to interview her in the first place. “My only concern was that people make a big deal of it, and about the glamour. But it’s a terribly lonely profession. It’s not really glamorous in the sense that you need a lot of patience, waiting for things to happen…for the hair to be done and the make up to be put on. The preparation can be tiresome,” she says.

Being born into a military family not only instilled in Lakshmi the kind discipline and professionalism needed to deal with the ups of downs of the modeling industry, but also gave her a certain candor and steel determination when it came to addressing its pitfalls. "I was never cut out to be a model," she says. "I wasn't even aware that something like modeling existed. I just saw models' pictures in magazines and never gave it a second thought." But as is the case with most successful models, fate intervened one day in the form Anila Anand, a modeling scout and agent, who spotted the young economics student on the street and helped launch her career in 2001. Working with mostly Indian publications in the beginning, as well as walking for several local designers during India Fashion Week, Menon quickly built up a portfolio of work that caught the attention of international modeling scouts.

When she eventually made her entry onto the Paris runways, walking for both Gaultier and Hermès during the Spring 2006 season, her debut was so “quiet” that Style.com was unable to identify her. According to Menon, “When I started off in Paris, no one knew me. In fact no one would have heard of Hermès in India four years ago.” It is no surprise then that she was first picked up by Gaultier, who has had a long history of casting ethnic models in his shows, a well as being a frequent visitor to India for both inspiration and work (the designer produces most of the embroideries for his couture collections there).

She is also just as candid when it comes to questions regarding diversity in the fashion business. “I look at myself as any other model. But yes, sometimes I’m looked upon as an exotic thing that’s landed on their shores,” she says. Fashion designers and editors in the West have long been fascinated by the East and the Indian subcontinent in particular. From Paul Poiret’s paisley embroidered hobble skirts, to Diana Vreeland’s Vogue in the 1960’s with its fantastical photo shoots of models Veruschka and Marisa Berenson lounging in the splendor of Moghul palaces; India has been a constant source of inspiration for those in the industry. Yet it is precisely this romanticized and often exotic image, that the fashion world insists on perpetuating, which Menon finds somewhat disquieting; as it seems to ignore the realities of an India barreling ahead into the 21st century.

In fact Lakshmi sees this trend as somewhat regrettable and a lost opportunity on the part of the industry to tap into India’s vibrant contemporary fashion and cultural scene. “They want to keep the myth of India being the land of elephants, and colorful women with pots on their heads intact. They are not comfortable with the emerging new India…multicultural and global,” she says. “They’ve not come to terms with it yet…there’s still wonder in their eyes.”

But that wonderment has been gradually easing as Menon has found herself being cast in runway shows for a variety of designers, debunking the assumption that it’s more difficult for ethnic models to adapt their looks to different labels. In the last few seasons, she has appeared on the catwalk for Maria Cornejo, Issey Miyake, Stella McCartney and Haider Ackermann to name a few. But unlike the blank stares common amongst many of the Eastern European girls who dominate the runways, it is Menon’s penetrating gaze that sets her apart at the shows.

This has also contributed to her exposure in print work and advertisements, which have increased considerably in the last few seasons. When Condé Nast launched Vogue India in October of 2007, its inaugural fold-out cover featured the somewhat odd choice of a very blond and blue eyed Jemma Ward, flanked by five of India’s reining supermodels. On the inside flap, barely cropped in, was Menon and her piercing eyes gazing out of the page. It’s interesting to note that her four compatriots included on the cover bear a striking resemblance to the Bollywood stars of the day. Yet out of the five, it is Menon’s striking looks that have been able to translate across waters and appeal to Western designers and editors.

© THE POLYGLOT (all rights reserved) CHICAGO-PARIS

Lakshmi Menon: Part III

Although Menon appeared on the inaugural cover of Vogue India in October of 2007 with a group of five other models, the April 2008 issue marked the first time that one Indian model was given the honor. The striking cover of Menon looking directly into the camera was photographed by Prabuddha Dasgupta on Thailand’s Koh Kood Island. Kitted out in luscious faux ponytails and neon bright colors, the issue was also revolutionary for the way it highlighted Menon’s dark complexion in a society that has traditionally prized fair skin.

In 2007 the fashion world stood up and took notice of this model from Bangalore, when she was cast as the face of Hermès’ Spring/Summer 2008 campaign. It was a watershed moment in that it also made the Indian fashion industry realize what an extraordinary face and ambassador they had in Menon. Soon after she was given her own cover on India Vogue’s April issue, shot by top Indian fashion photographer Prabuddha Dasgupta on Thailand’s Koh Kood Island. Prior to that, most of the magazine’s covers had been given over to Bollywood stars, but this marked the first time an Indian model had been given that singular honor. The stunning cover, which featured Menon confidently looking straight into camera, in iridescent bikini and piles of florescent bangles, was also significant in that it made a brazen statement about beauty in a culture where fairness is prized amongst women. Thus by highlighting Menon’s beautiful dark complexion devoid of make up, the influential publication marked a turning point in the way one culture addresses the seldom spoken of skin politics found within its midst.

In a culture as conservative and tradition bound as India’s, where modeling is often frowned upon as a profession for young women being groomed for marriage, Menon is lucky in that her family has supported her choice of work since the beginning. "My parents have always given me the freedom to choose my life. There was no pressure from them when I wanted to join this field." This independent streak has also driven many of her career decisions; allowing her to approach the fashion world on her own terms. Instead of moving to Mumbai or Delhi, the traditional centers of Indian fashion, she chose to remain in Bangalore; only recently relocating to the southern state of Goa. “I shifted base over a year ago and have been on the road for the last two months. It was becoming difficult to live in a crowded city and do grocery shopping without being stuck in a traffic jam,” she says.

Despite this, she enjoys traveling between Paris and New York on International assignments. She was recently signed up by the Ford modeling agency in New York, while in Paris she’s represented by Agence Nathalie, which counts amongst its roster of models some of the biggest names in the industry. For the moment Lakshmi is quiet happy doing what she does, as work seems to be coming in at an even pace, but she has no qualms about the day things begin to slow down. In her typical matter-a-fact manner Menon confides that, "When work stops coming in, I'll take the message and see what I should do next."

But as the discussion on diversity ensues within fashion’s lofty ranks, Lakshmi Menon’s career seems poised for the fast track, as she continues to produce the kind of work that is redefining what beauty means in a multi-cultural world.

© THE POLYGLOT (all rights reserved) CHICAGO-PARIS

Lakshmi Menon: Part IV

Menon has often been noted for her level of professionalism and discipline in the business, a trait that has allowed her to weather many of the profession’s ups and downs. One of the most important professional relationships a model can develop within the industry is by collaborating with a great fashion photographer, who can nurture their careers and help them gain more exposure. Christy Turlington’s career was launched by photographer Arthur Elgort, while both Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista became famous through Steven Meisel’s photographs. In Lakshmi Menon’s case it is the top Indian fashion photographer Prabuddha Dasgupta. They have developed a rapport over the years, which has produced some of Menon’s most striking images.

Clockwise Center: Menon, in a glamorous pose, is known for her strong gaze and chameleon like looks; Lakshmi stands out at most industry events in India for her lack of makeup and loose tops, usually paired with jeans; With photographer Prabuddha Dasgupta; Backstage preparations at the Fall 2008 Issey Miyake show; In Prada for French fashion publication Biba; A Polaroid shot of Menon; Menon in action at the beach on Thailand’s Koh Kood Island, being photographed by Prabuddha Dasgupta for the April 2008 issue of Vogue India.

© THE POLYGLOT (all rights reserved) CHICAGO-PARIS

Monday, June 30, 2008

A New Collaboration with Dia Diwan & The Polyglot

As the Paris haute couture season kicks off, The Polyglot would like to announce the beginning of a new collaboration with uber chic fashion zine Dia Diwan.

Not even a year into its launch and this online magazine has garnered considerable attention for being one of the first to showcase another face of the Middle East; one that is increasingly design savvy and capable of producing a vibrant artistic scene. Founded by a globe trotting group of individuals who grew up, studied and worked around the world (but still call the Middle East home), Dia Diwan strives to debunk preconceived notions of the Arab world, by showcasing just how small our globe has become through the region’s contemporary design and cultural scene.

As part of The Polyglot’s continued objective to bridge cultures through all things fashion and design, this meeting with Dia Diwan comes at a time when dialogue between the West and the Middle East has become all the more relevant. I will be contributing articles to the site in the coming weeks dealing with topics as diverse as architecture, fashion, and culture that shed light on people, events and places that are a common link between both cultures.

I look forward to announcing new and exciting projects in the future.


All the Best,
The Polyglot

© THE POLYGLOT (all rights reserved) CHICAGO-PARIS

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Can a designer make an impact outside of established centers of fashion? Melissa Serpico, a young Chicago designer is out to prove it's possible.

About seven years ago when Italian Vogue shot a photo spread in Chicago’s then up-and-coming neighborhood of Wicker Park, fashion pundits took note. Soon other style bibles such as Wallpaper followed the trail to the Windy City in the hopes of capturing a neccessant design scene; one that has been simmering beneath the weight of this city’s industrial past, waiting for a collective break-through moment to come about.

That particular moment, at least to those who follow the goings of the fashion industry, came in the form of the April 2008 issue of WWD, when the publication devoted a majority of its pages to chronicling the city’s up and coming designers; as well as influential individuals within the business who call Chicago home.

Amongst the handful of designers who caught the attention of New York editors, thus landing a spot in the 2008 issue, was Melissa Serpico Kamhout. In addition to being the recipient of the Marshall Field's Perry Ellis Award in 2005, this former graphic designer, who is a graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago’s fashion program, has been garnering serious attention since launching her own business less than two years ago.

As most people are aware, there are certain risks involved in establishing ones own fashion line in today’s saturated market, especially one that is based outside of traditional centers of design. There is the challenge of financing such an enterprise as well as sourcing materials, finding skilled patternmakers and seamstresses to fabricate clothes in large enough quantities. The survival rate is low, but there are inevitably a few stars that shine through, not simply because they are good designers or are capable of producing innovative ideas. Innovation after all is only the first step to sustaining a business, which leads one to ask what has enabled Serpico to stand out so early on in her career?

I was first introduced to Melissa Serpico last winter by the Chicago based metal smith (and the city’s design doyen) Gillian Carrara, at an event hosted by the Chicago Fashion Council. Like most industry events, the introduction was brief and like most conversations at such events, it did not revolve around fashion. We didn’t cross paths again until last Friday night.

I was invited to a friend’s gallery opening at the Fountainhead Lofts in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood; an area favored by artists and designers for its low rents. The building, which once housed a mattress factory, had been converted into a warren of studios housing a creative group of individuals. There is a fashion photographer who goes by the name of Miss Red, an artist who paints huge canvases depicting aerial views of Paris and Rome, and a young architect who created Design Lab Workshop as a side project, where he designs and fabricates furniture from cardboard and other found and recycled materials.

On this particular night the doors to the Fountainhead’s studios had been flung open, as part of the Chicago Arts District’s “2nd Fridays Gallery Night”. It’s an opportunity for Chicago residents (at least those who care about such things) to walk in and experience an artist or designer’s private work space, as well as galleries that are usually “by appointment only.” With the strums of a jazz quartet wafting through the building (and a generous glass of wine) patron’s make their way from floor to floor on a sort of creative treasure hunt, not knowing for certain what they will find around the corner or in the next studio.

It was in this way that I came upon Serpico’s studio, a split level loft housed between two artist’s collectives. Inside, two rails holding a sampling of her designs had been pushed to either side of the walls.

When speaking to Melissa Serpico, you're not only getting a crash coarse in the realities of starting ones own business, but also the passion for design that drives an individual to want to make a difference in their chosen profession.

She had just come back from Milan where she had found a new manufacturer to produce her collection (as it happens, it is the same factory that produces the Burberry Prorsum line). Previously all her designs were fabricated by a company in New York’s garment district, but after careful consideration Serpico realized she needed to up the quality of her pieces. Italy was a natural choice for her, as she had been sourcing her fabrics from there for the last couple of seasons, and had already established a relationship with several showrooms in Milan.

For any designer will tell you, there is an element of risk involved when you take into consideration the costs of purchasing fabrics and manufacturing ones clothes abroad, especially for a fledgling designer. But for Serpico, who travels to Italy to check on the production of her line, there was no compromising on the quality and fabrication of her clothes.

As she pulls out pieces to show me from the racks of clothes, it quickly becomes apparent as to what makes her designs stand out from the rest of the pack. There is a level of detailing and execution in the pieces that is seldom seen in designers with similar years of experience. Serpico’s pieces often go against the prevailing notion of fast fashion, by employing a lot of handwork. After the clothes have been produced in the factory, they often return to her studio where they are then painstakingly finished with details and embellishment by hand. On the hanger is a black top of luxuriant washed cotton, which had been hand stitched with rows of tiny black discs, giving off the effect of armor or fish scales. I asked Serpico if the shiny discs were made out of vinyl, to which she smiled mischievously and said they were in fact cut from patent leather that had be treated in such a way to shine brilliantly.

Another aspect that comes through in Serpico’s work is her intense knowledge of draping and fabric construction. The process of creating a design is just as important as the initial sketch. In many instances she begins by draping the fabric on a dummy in order to understand its properties. She show’s me a semi-transparent shift composed of different colored strips of organza. “Organza can be very challenging to work with at times, as it has a tendency to catch or wrinkle,” she explained. “I had to rework this piece several times before it came out right,” she went on as she traced a finger along the stitched seams that hold the dress’s different pieces together, as well as provide its only embellishment.

We move to another part of her studio, where she points to a small tack board holding images that inspired the fall collection she’s currently working on. “The entire wall was covered in pictures when I first began designing the collection; it’s now down to these,” She explained. The images are an amalgam of Moorish palaces, black and white abstract prints and a smattering of modernist architecture. In fact Serpico has always had an affinity for the clean lines and fanciful detailing found in buildings of different periods. This influence comes through in the way she uses darts and seams not only as part of a garment’s structure, but also its decoration.

To further explain her process Melissa pulls out a large sketch book holding the blue prints for her new fall collection. Each piece has been meticulously drawn from the front, back, and inside out. While on the side were inscribed careful notes that describe how each item must be assembled, down to the type of thread and closures. Despite all this information she manages to leave enough spaces on the sheets for numbered fabric swatches.

Serpico’s love of working fabric and hand applied embellishment also gave birth to the “made-to-order” portion of her business, where she works with each client to create unique pieces. It’s a part of her work that has received a lot of attention of late, for the way she sculpts and drapes fabric in order to give drama and heft to some of her most unique pieces.

Although we discussed the challenges of starting up ones own business and establishing a niche in a larger fashion world, what became apparent is that this young designer is only just beginning to hit her stride and we can expect to see great things from her in the future.


© THE POLYGLOT (all rights reserved) CHICAGO-PARIS

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Ever Wonder Where French Fashion’s Elite Went to School?

Over the last few decades the Paris fashion scene, like the rest of the industry, has become increasingly international. A peak into the corporate offices and design studios of some of the French capital’s fashion houses can often resemble the United Nations general assembly; with individuals from places as diverse as India, Japan, Norway, and of coarse the United States. Dior is currently headed by the Brit John Galliano, at Louis Vuitton it’s the American Marc Jacobs, YSL is designed by the Italian Stefano Pilati, while Sonia Rykiel recently announced the appointment of the German born Gabrielle Greiss as its new creative director.

Despite this, the fashion industry constitutes a small slice of Paris’ expatriate community that numbers in the thousands, and to accommodate their offspring Paris can boast a number of international and bilingual schools.

Institutions such as the “International School of Paris,” “The American School,” “Bilingual Montessori School,” “The British School,” and the “Marymount,” have graduated a number of well known individuals over the decades. But there is one school in particular that has consistently produced some of Paris fashion’s brightest talents. It’s called Lubeck and counts amongst its alumni Dior’s haute jewelry designer, the creative director of Loris Azzaro, and a former First Lady of France.

But unlike many of the international players listed above this group is mostly French, with a few of its members representing the kind of blue-blood families that can trace their lineage back to pre-revolutionary days. It’s also a reminder of the strong French presence that still dominates Paris fashion’s inner circle, despite the prominence of foreign designers and CEO’s.

It’s a group that is notoriously tough to crack and well connected. Occasionally the public has been allowed a glimpse into their world, most recently when Carla Bruni married French president Nicolas Sarkozy in a private ceremony. One of the witnesses at the wedding of the French/Italian former model, who is also a product of Paris’ private education system, was Farida Khelfa. Although she may not be a household name, Khelfa, a muse to Azzedine Alaia and the former directrice of Gaultier’s couture salon, has for decades been a prominent figure on the Paris fashion scene.

Founded in 1882, Lubeck is run by a religious order of Roman Catholic nuns, the Religious of the Assumption. Throughout the 70’s and 80’s it was considered one of the best private schools for girls in Paris (today it is coed). Oddly enough its students bared a striking resemblance to the characters in the Madeleine series of books, with their navy uniforms and daily visits to the chapel.

Although this private school for 11-18 year old girls, located in Paris’ 16th Arrondissement, was off limits to boys, it did not deter the opposite sex. According to novelist Frederic Beigbeder, the street facing Lubeck was known as a sort of “male paradise.” “Whenever you went to Lubeck, there were always loads of guys outside, waiting on their mobilettes,” he recalled.

But despite a high concentration of girls from well to do families, the school also welcomed an equal number from middle and lower class families, as well as a mix of international students that provided a unique environment to learn in.

Several prominent figures in the fashion business either sent their daughters to Lubeck or had sisters and nieces who attended. This mix inevitably nurtured friendships that would last decades and shape professional careers. Today you find graduates from the school working in every field of the business from fashion design, to accessories and even publishing. Prominent alumni are frequently seen chatting at fashion shows and attending industry events together, despite working for different houses; exhibiting the sort of camaraderie that has lasted through time and the vagaries of fashion.

Here is a brief cross section of some of Lubeck’s illustrious alumni:

1. Emmanuelle Alt:

After working as the fashion editor in chief for the French publication “20 Ans” for five years, Alt became the fashion director of French Vogue. Together with editor in chief Carine Roitfeld, she was responsible for repositioning the magazine in 2001 as an influential fashion bible. With her tall thin frame she has come to embody the epitome of French cool, often sporting an androgynous mix of pants, leather bomber jackets and vertigoes heels. She’s frequently photographed in the front row at the international collections, while her fashion layouts for the French magazine have come to represent a new generation of photographers and stylists.

2. Vanessa Seward:

On Lubeck: The Argentine born designer moved to Paris as a child and was immediately enrolled at Lubeck. Seward believes that Lubeck’s connection to the fashion industry was the product of several factors, most notably, “exceptionally pretty girls who were very social, got photographed a lot, and had incredible connections”. “For many of us, working at the Chanel Studio became one of fashion’s rites of passages,” continued Seward, alluding to the fact that a number of graduates had put in some time at the famous couture house.

Fashion connection: In a somewhat prophetic twist of fate, Seward’s mother had worked at Loris Azzaro’s boutique during the 80’s. She also has an excellent fashion pedigree that includes a nine year stint working with Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel, and two years with Tom Ford at Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche. She counts fellow Lubeck alum Victoire de Castellane amongst her close friends, and worked with her while at Chanel.

Where is she now: Seward was handpicked by Loris Azzaro as his successor before he passed away in 2004. A favorite of Jane Birkin and Marisa Berenson in the 70’s, Azzaro was known for his glamorous and languid evening gowns. Since Seward took over the design helm, the house has seen a renewed interest in its designs as well as attracting a new clientele that includes Carine Roitfeld of French Vogue and Claudia Schiffer.

“My mother worked in his shop during the Eighties and he made a big impression on me early in my life,” said Seward. “I have always loved Seventies glamour and so it seemed natural to carry on his legacy. In fact it’s my perfect job.”

3. Caroline Deroche:

On Lubeck: Like most of her classmates who went into the fashion business, Deroche had some definite opinions on how the school’s uniforms shaped her early perceptions of fashion. According to her they definitely gave students “a sense of discipline,” but added that “to make up for being dressed alike, everyone made a huge effort with their hair.”

Fashion connection: Deroche was literally born into fashion. Her mother worked at Yves Saint Laurent, and when she arrived at the illustrious couture house on Avenue Marceau, it was simply as a temporary replacement for someone on maternity leave. She ended up staying for ten years. Next followed a five year stint at Louis Vuitton where she worked with another Lubeck grad, Camille Miceli.

Where is she now: As director of public relations at the house of Givenchy, Deroche is considered a style icon and has even been featured in the pages of French Vogue (no doubt courtesy of friend Emmanuelle Alt).

She has been at Givenchy for less than a year, yet describes the house’s atmosphere as a “modern, crazy, familial” environment, where she is completely in tune with the dark gothic aesthetic that Riccardo Tisci has been cultivating for the label. Today she tends to wear a lot Givenchy, occasionaly mixing in vintage pieces by Yves Saint Laurent that she’s accumulated over the years (a swell as a few from her mother’s closet). One piece of clothing that she can never part with is a black Alaia jersey dress that she’s had for “a few years” but continues to wear.

4. Camille Miceli:

On Lubeck: For Miceli, the school’s unique mix of students left a lasting impression on her. She described the experience as “very free thinking and international,” adding “where the daughters of diplomats and daughters of concierges,” mixed in an open educational environment.

Fashion connection: The daughter of a top stylist, the half-French half-Italian Miceli landed her first fashion job at Azzendine Alaia’s studio, quickly moving on to Chanel. At the time she wanted to gain as much experience as possible in the business, so she became Chanel’s public relations director, as well as producing and casting many of its fashion shows. During this period she learnt a lot about the business by working closely with Karl Lagerfeld.

Where is she now: Often sited as the chicest woman working in Paris fashion today, most of us got our first glimpse of Miceli at work in Loïc Prigent's recent documentary on Marc Jacobs. In the first scene we find her on the roof top of Louis Vuitton’s headquarters on the Rue du Pont Neuf, dipping necklaces composed of fabric covered spheres into a large bowl of bleach. Next you see her cajoling a fournisseur, trying to convince him to procure additional flower ornaments for the upcoming spring collection.

For the last ten years Miceli has been the head accessories and jewelry designer at Louis Vuitton, having been lured away from Chanel in 1997 by Robert Duffy to become a part of the label’s creative dream team. At the time she joined Vuitton she was looking for a more creative position in the fashion industry. She recently collaborated with Pharrell Williams on a new jewelry collection for Vuitton that was unveiled at a sumptuous Avenue Foch mansion owned by a wealthy Saudi Arabian Sheikh.

She often sites fellow Lubeck grad Victoire de Castellane as a jewelry designer whose work she greatly admires.

5. Victoire de Castellane:

On Lubeck: The school’s strict rules and uniforms provided de Castellane with a crash coarse in the power of accessorizing, in order to standout from her fellow classmates. According to de Castellane, “They were a needed self-expression and, in many ways, a sort of Step One to getting interested in fashion.”

Fashion Connection: Her uncle is Gilles Dufour, for many years Karl Lagerfeld’s right hand man at Chanel. It was through him that de Castellane gained an introduction to Lagerfeld and went on to become Chanel’s head accessories designer for 14 years (even taking the occasional turn down the Chanel runway). Despite such early connections it quickly became apparent that de Castellane had talent, going on to create some of the house's most iconic accessories.

She has been a jewelry fanatic since she grew up watching her grandmother, Sylvia Hennessy (of the Hennessy cognac family) changing her baubles to match her different outfits several times a day. By the time she was 11 de Castellane was sketching her jewelry designs and having them made at an atelier. She even melted down her catechism medals and turned them into trinkets.

Where is she now: It’s hard to miss de Castellane in a room with her trademark bangs and platform wedges. Since being appointed as Dior’s haute jewelry designer in 1998, she’s managed to turn the conservative world of fine jewelry on its head. Her creations often reinterpret the house’s codes, such as ribbons, hounds tooth checks and pastel hues into bold and whimsical creations. Thus a flaming starfish necklace composed of 3000 yellow and orange sapphires, or a ring of coral roses that has been blown up to massive proportions to include a bumble bee alighting from one of its petals.

“I like things that are exaggerated,” declared de Castellane. “Big, comic book-style jewelry.”

6. Cecilia Ciganer-Albeniz:

On Lubeck: The former French first lady counts amongst her closest friends Mathilde Agostinelli and her sister Victoire de Castellane who not only attended Lubeck together but also frequently played at each others homes as children. Their friendship continued through adulthood, attending each others weddings, with Agostinelli even helping pick out Cecilia’s wardrobe during her former husband’s inauguration.

Fashion connection: After graduating from Lubeck she went on to study law, only to drop out of law school in order to become a fitting model for the couturier Schiaparelli. Albeniz has always been well connected within the upper echelons of French fashion. When she married Nicolas Sarkozy in 1996, Bernard Arnault, the head of LVMH, was one of two witnesses at their wedding. Her father Andre Ciganer, who immigrated to France from Russia was a furrier. While her mother, Spanish-Belgian Teresita Albeniz de Swert was the daughter of a Spanish diplomat.

Where is she now: In the short period she inhabited the Elysee Palace, Cecilia simultaneously managed to redefine the role of France’s first lady and project a modern vision of French chic across the world. The day her former husband was sworn into office she wore an ivory duchess satin Prada dress, while her daughters wore black dresses by Mui Mui (courtesy of her friend Mathilde Agostinelli).

She often appeared at official functions in Lanvin, Dior, and Azzedine Alaia slip dresses instead of the prim suits typically favored by first ladies around the world. Albeniz also frequently outshone women half her age who appeared overly made up, by avoiding excessive jewelry, hair, makeup and even a handbag, in favor of a more natural look.

The French press, which traditionally paid little attention to the wardrobe of its first ladies, suddenly began commenting on her taste in clothes. So much so that French Elle devoted two issues to analyzing her style, and comparing her to the late Jacqueline Onassis.

After divorcing her husband in 2007, she married Moroccan born public relations executive Richard Attias in a private ceremony at New York’s landmark Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center.

7. Mathilde Agostinelli:

On Lubeck: According to Agostinelli, by the time she graduated from Lubeck, the years of adhering to a rigid dress code of navy uniforms had a somewhat negative affect on her, “it swore me off that color for life.”

Fashion Connection: The blue blooded de Castellanes are not only considered fashion royalty, but can trace their lineage back to the land owning aristocracy of pre-revolutionary France. So much so that Mathilde and her sister Victoire were given a cameo appearance in Sofia Coppola’s film “Marie Antoinette.” By now most people are also aware that her uncle is Gilles Dufour, Lagerfeld’s former assistant at Chanel and her sister Victoire de Castellane is Dior’s haute jewelry designer.

Where is she now: As Prada and Miu Miu public-relations manager and official ambassador for the brand in France, she holds the tricky position of being a go-between for Miuccia Prada and the fashion press. “The French say, Naviguer en l’eau douce (sail in friendly waters). You have to be very careful,” according to Agostinelli. She continues to be a prominent figure during Paris fashion week and can frequently be seen during the collections with her close friend and fellow Lubeck alum Camille Miceli.

© THE POLYGLOT (all rights reserved) CHICAGO-PARIS

Friday, May 30, 2008

Meet Dodie Rosekrans: Fashion’s Patron Saint

Dodie Rosekrans in Alexander McQueen, photographed in 2006 at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice, a private museum owned by François Pinault, where he houses his extensive contemporary art collection.

Dodie Rosekrans is an anomaly in a fame obsessed age where even society woman have taken on the role of the celebrity, frequently marketing their names and appearing in the pages of Vogue and on Style.com. Mrs. Rosekrans by comparison represents an entirely different breed, one which came of age at a time when a lady’s name should only be mentioned twice in a newspaper during her lifetime; on the day of her betrothal and in the obituary section respectively. Today it is not uncommon to find women like Tory Burch, the New York socialite, who has made a successful business out of her self-titled designer label, selling everything from embroidered caftans to scented candles. While the London based jet-setter Rena Kirdar Sindi (daughter of Investcorp founder Nemir Kirdar and long time couture client Nada Kirdar) has made a name for herself as a serious party planner, being hired by the likes of Chanel and Bulgari. Her book, Be My Guest, a how-too guide to party savoir-faire, has become a coffee-table bestseller.

Rosekrans on the other hand is somewhat perplexed at why anyone would find her remotely interesting enough to interview. But upon entering her orientalist jewel box of an apartment in Paris' 7th arrondissement, conceived by the interior designers Tony Duquette and Hutton Wilkinson, one quickly realizes they are in the presence of someone who’s seen the world twice over and lived every moment intensely. For over five decades she has been a prominent art collector, patron, fundraiser and society figure in San Francisco, Paris and Venice. "Dodie's an exceptional personality," said Countess Isabelle d'Ornano of Paris, the co-founder of Sisley cosmetics and a friend for 40 years. "She's not banal at all, she is one of the few original people I've met in my life." Although she has shied away from most media attention, she continues to fascinate observers with her exuberant sense of style, which is anything but understated.

Rosekrans was born Georgette Naify, the daughter of Lebanese immigrants, in San Francisco. Her father, Michael Naify, created a theater chain that became United Artists. “Dodie” is an Americanized version of the Lebanese nickname her parents had given her, and it has stuck with her throughout her life.

She married John Rosekrans, an executive who owned a large toy and sporting goods business, before he sold it for a huge fortune to Mattel. As well as being a major art collector and philanthropist he is credited with encouraging his wife to purchase her first pieces of couture and would often attend the collections with her. There was a poignant moment in 1998 during couture week in Paris when the fashion critic for the New York Times, Cathy Horyn, approached Dodie’s late husband John as they were waiting to enter the Dior show. She asked him about his thoughts on the couture scene and if it would last, to which he responded, ''Listen, this is a very different world,'' adding that he attended couture week as much for the sense of refinement as for its frenetic social scene. He could still recall the first couture dress he picked out for his wife right after they got married, a cerise Balenciaga gown. ''There are a lot of people who enjoy spending money on clothes,'' he said. ''I think it's a wonderful thing to do.''

As a teenager her parents took her on a grand tour of Europe and she reveled in the adventure, traveling through Egypt, Palestine and Lebanon by car, "one for the family and one for the luggage," she recalled, before taking a five-day voyage across the Mediterranean to Europe. This early experience may explain why Rosekrans spends most of the year in a constant state of travel. Her itinerary is usually loaded with familiar and exotic destinations: Paris in spring, Libya with friends in June, Venice after that and then maybe China.
© THE POLYGLOT (all rights reserved) CHICAGO-PARIS

Dodie Rosekrans-Part II

Clockwise Left: Crusader chic, a look from Dior’s Fall 2006 Couture, one that would have appealed to Rosekrans’ eccentric tastes; Rosekrans in 1963 wearing a sari-inspired gown by Balenciaga, one of the first couture pieces she bought right after getting married; A young Rosekrans in 1963; Another look from Dior’s Fall 2006 Couture; In San Francisco, wearing a draped Balenciaga column,1964; Galliano coming down the runway with models at the end his first Paris show in 1991.

But as well traveled as she is, Dodie Rosekrans, who is 89, may go down in history as a formidable style icon. Much like her late friend and fellow San Franciscan, Nan Kempner, Rosenkrans has amassed one of the largest and most enviable haute couture collections in the world. For half a century she has been a fixture at the Paris couture shows, collecting pieces by Balenciaga, Saint Laurent, Balmain, Gaultier, Lacroix and Dior. But it is here where the comparison’s to Kempner end.

For although Mrs. Kempner’s couture collection was the subject of an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute, some wondered whether anything was to be learned about fashion or social history by looking at her wardrobe. For those who knew Kempner personally, it may have served as a timeline of events in her life. But for the average person, her world was little more than a fantasy. It left visitors questioning what Kempner’s contributions were to the history of fashion and why she mattered. For the clothes to become more than exquisite examples of tailoring, they must reveal something about the collaboration between the client and the couturier to create something unique and beautiful, or about the larger culture in which they existed.

By comparison, the “Rara Avis” exhibit at the MET, which showcased the wardrobe of the New Yorker Iris Barrel Apfel, succeeded in this regard. Instead of merely exhibiting tasteful examples of expensive clothes bearing designer labels, the exhibit was a study of Apfel’s eccentric sense of style in the way she combined flea market finds, ethnic costumes and couture pieces to create her own unique look. It was ultimately an example of how an individual can reinvent herself by using fashion as a building block.

Mrs. Rosekrans seems to follow a similar esthetic to that of Mrs. Apfel when it comes to her own wardrobe. Over the years she has acquired the ability to pull together looks that have pushed the boundaries of what is considered good taste. When asked to describe her own sense of style, she has responded that, "It's not something I'm conscious of, I just know what I'm comfortable with." That definition of comfort is of coarse unique to her alone, and by no means an easy task considering the amount of time many a society lady spends on her appearance before each public outing. "Dodie is not pretentious and not self-conscious," said Ann Getty, a longtime friend, interior designer and frequent travel companion. "After she gets dressed, she's not aware of it at all."

She once attended a Christmas luncheon in San Francisco wearing a sweater, pants, furry boots that looked like something the Abominable Snowman might wear and an amulet-style necklace so big it looked like it belonged to a front-man for a heavy metal band. While at a dinner in Paris with Nina Ricci, Rosekrans once wore an Indian Mogul necklace of rubies and emeralds, doubling the strands and tying them together with a ribbon from a Fauchon chocolate box. Known for her taste in accessories that mix the primitive with the refined, Mrs. Rosekrans often buys and commissions her jewelry from artists. On most individuals those combinations would have appeared contrived, but on her it looked effortlessly chic. "She's fearless," added Getty. "Dodie's a trendsetter. You look at what she's done and think, 'Why didn't I do it that way?' It makes you want to follow her lead, but she's already done it."

It is also interesting to note that Kempner was known to be a conspicuous consumer, not an artist or collaborator as such. She once said, "I'm a drunk when it comes to clothes." She chose them based on what she knew would be most flattering on her body. As a result, her collection is not filled with the most provocative or iconic pieces from a designer's collection. By contrast Rosenkrans has always gravitated towards the most unique or extravagant pieces. According to her good friend John Galliano, "She always wants to buy the pieces straight off the runway, so her collection of Dior and Galliano are all one-of-a-kind, show-stopping pieces, whereas most other couture clients go for more discreet pieces," Galliano said. "With all her fantastic stories and seeing her incredible wardrobe, she is a real inspiration." Most of her clothes are stored at her homes in San Francisco, Paris and Venice. According to friends, her collection includes three notable African dresses from Yves Saint Laurent in the 1960s and a green fox coat from the '70s.

But what seems to set Dodie Rosekrans apart from your average couture customer is that she has not only served as a client but also a patron. With a sixth sense for spotting talent she often doesn’t hesitate to support a designer who’s work she admires. It is a little known fashion fact that she was one of a handful of supporters instrumental in shaping Galliano’s career. "I went to his atelier when he wasn't there, and it had the most wonderful things in it," she said. "I fell in love with him, so to speak, before I ever met him." But when they eventually did meet, it was the intersection of two extraordinary minds coming together. Galliano’s memory of that first meeting was that he was "bowled over by her amazing sense of style, eclectic sense of dress and the way she mixes her vintage '70s Saint Laurent with Comme des Garçons and Harry Winston jewels."
© THE POLYGLOT (all rights reserved) CHICAGO-PARIS

Dodie Rosekrans-Part III

Left: Crinoline clad models waiting behind the scenes in the tent at the Louvre, where Galliano presented his groundbreaking Spring 1994 show inspired by the Russian Princess Lucretia. Center: Model Michelle Hicks running down the runway in mock fear at Galliano’s show, her voluminous ballgown trailing behind her. Right: Dodie Rosekrans receiving la médaille d’or de Grand Donateur de l’Etat, by French minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres in 2005.

In 1993, when he was struggling financially, she helped him put together his show inspired by "Princess Lucretia.” At a time when minimalism ruled fashion, Galliano’s collection was pure fantasia. Underneath a tent pitched in the Louvre’s Cour Carré, he sent out Russian princesses in voluminous crinoline ball gowns racing down the runway in terror, as they were chased by the sounds of “Ride of the Valkyaries.” The show caused an immediate sensation and catapulted Galliano onto the Paris fashion scene. As befits someone whose been described as falling within the old money camp, Rosekrans was so discreet about her financial support of Galliano that very few were aware of it at the time.

The following season Galliano also gained the support of Paris socialite Sao Schlumberger, one of his earliest couture clients, when she lent her sumptuous art filled mansion as a venue for his Autumn/Winter 1994 collection. Rosekrans, who attended the show, remembers that moment vividly as a turning point in Galliano’s career. In a collection entitled Back from the Brink the designer recreated the atmosphere of the old couture salons. The models (including Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbel, and Kate Moss, who did the show for free) walked amongst the seated audience in exquisitely tailored pieces influenced by 1920’s flappers and Japanese Geishas.

Furthermore having Rosekrans’ and Schlumberger’s stamp of approval during Galliano’s early career did not hurt his chances of being noticed by some of the fashion industry’s biggest players. At that time Bernard Arnault, the chairman of LVMH, had been searching for a new designer to head his most recent acquisition, the House of Givenchy. It was also during this period that he began to notice a number of couture clients making the pilgrimage to Galliano’s small studio tucked away in Paris’ Bastille quarter, an area known more for its gritty bars than glamorous couture salons. On seeing his work, Arnault offered him the position at Givenchy, where Galliano designed two collections before moving on to become the artistic director at Dior. Since his debut collection for Dior, Rosekrans has not missed a single show and has continued to influence his work for the past 15 years.

When asked which is his favorite piece in Rosekrans’ wardrobe, Galliano's answer is, "a hand-painted electric-blue Dior ball dress she wore to a ball in Venice." In fact Rosekrans is no stranger to throwing a ball or two. She and her late husband, who died of a heart attack in 2001, were known for their fun-loving ways. This included throwing lavish parties for family, friends and visiting French dignitaries, as well as collecting art and supporting museums and music programs around the world, from the de Young and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to the Pompidou Center in Paris.

Whether it’s the Arabian Nights fantasy she threw for her granddaughter's debut or dinner parties where guests are always met by a butler proffering ice-cold Champagne, Rosekrans’ invitations have always been the most coveted. This is partly due to the fact that she applies the same diverse aesthetic in choosing clothes, to putting together a guest list, which usually includes a mixture of high and low that yields the unexpected. This may explain why she herself is considered one of the nicest ladies on the society circuit. "She's terribly grand but terribly down to earth," said fashion illustrator Gladys Perint Palmer, the director of fashion program at San Francisco's Academy of Art University. "She doesn't give herself airs." Rosekrans herself has said " I always wanted a certain kind of life and that's what I have. A life with interesting people, among them intellectuals and people with artistic talents. A varied life is interesting. I love meeting new people."
© THE POLYGLOT (all rights reserved) CHICAGO-PARIS

Dodie Rosekrans-Part IV

Clockwise Left: A look from the Dior Fall 2006 Couture collection; Hooped skirts from Galliano’s Spring 1994 collection; Dodie Rosekrans all wrapped up; Dior Fall 2006; Rosekrans has been a permanent front row fixture at the haute couture shows for over 40 years. Pictured here from bottom right: next to Amber Valletta at the Dior Spring 2005 show; At a party during Paris couture week Fall 2006; Seated at Dior’s Fall 2004 show.

Whether giving a dinner party in Paris, Venice or San Francisco, her guest list will often include a mix of members of society or the aristocracy, celebrities (the late Rudolf Nureyev in the past, Sofia Coppola more recently), tattooed up-and-coming artists and even her favorite salespeople at luxury boutiques. "She's always had her house open to everyone," said the Countess d'Ornano. "I have rarely seen this with wealthy people who live in comfort."

In Venice, Dodie and John Rosekrans imagined a new life for themselves in their historic Venetian Palazzo overlooking the Grand Canal. Also designed by the late Tony Duquette, it created a sensation when it was unveiled for its sheer daring and originality. Rosekrans quickly gained a reputation in Venice as the American lady who loved her new palazzo so much that she threw herself into the city’s social and cultural scene, as well as supporting many of its historic preservation efforts. One friend even boasted that she had become the unofficial queen of the city. This comes as no surprise to most who know her, considering Rosekrans ability to endear herself to anyone by fully embracing their culture as her own. This also applies to her love of Paris and the friends she’s made there over the years.

Boaz Mazor, who has traveled in international society circles for decades as the right-hand man to designer Oscar de la Renta, described Rosekrans’ special connection to the French capital. "In every generation, there is an eccentric American lady who comes to Paris, like Mrs. Marshall Field, Consuelo Balsan, the Duchess of Marlborough and Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor," he said. "Dodie comes from the school of Americans who fascinate European women, they don't look left and right for inspiration; they do their own thing. She is one of those fantastic women who will always be remembered for stamping the period." This is not an easy feat to accomplish considering French society’s pension for being notoriously fickle towards outsiders. But Rosekrans charm and flawless French opened the doors to many a friendship, especially after she dedicated herself to the patronage of arts and culture. To thank her for her support, the French government awarded Rosekrans the Medal of the Legion of Honor in 1998.

For all her love of Europe, however, when it comes to donating her clothing collection to a museum, it's a San Francisco museum she wants it housed in, "the de Young," she said. "I'm an American first." But despite this her legacy will be felt in many of the cities where she has left an indelible impression on those who crossed her path. Mazor himself recalls going to the Paris Opera with Rosekrans, "When she arrives with unusual shoes and a whole outfit, you know right away everyone is going to stare at you when you get out of the car with her, but with enormous appreciation," he said. "Life would be very boring if you didn't have someone every once in a while like Dodie Rosekrans. It's like oxygen, for some of us who live and breathe for admiring stylish people. She is the last of a certain era we might never see again."
© THE POLYGLOT (all rights reserved) CHICAGO-PARIS

Dodie & Dior

Clockwise: Models Carla Bruni, Oluchi Onweagba, and Debra Shaw in Galliano’s Massai inspired creations from the début show; Rosekrans in a Galliano creation in 1995; Karen Mulder in a romantic ball gown from the Spring 1997 Dior collection; Suzanne Von Aichinger in a Chinoiserie inspired look from the show; John Galliano seated by the former empress of Iran Farah Diba at a banquet given by LVMH.

By the early 90’s the ready-to-wear shows seemed to have stolen couture’s thunder with more exciting presentations and designers. Some mumbled in the side wings that if couture’s anachronistic system did not change with the times, then the old dowager’s days would be numbered. One by one fashion houses bowed out of the game, closing down their couture divisions siting rising costs. But with the appointment of Alexander McQueen at Givenchy and Galliano at Dior (as well as Gaultier and Thierry Mugler throwing their hats into the ring), couture suddenly received a jolt of new creative blood.

During the Spring 1997 couture season guests streamed into the ballroom of Paris’ Grand Hotel for Galliano’s first couture collection for the House of Dior. Accustomed to seeing models speeding down the runway at a safe distance, the attendees were in for a visual treat. The ballroom had been transformed into a replica of Christian Dior’s 1940s showroom on Avenue Montaigne with 791 spindly gold chairs placed amongst exotic arrangements of some 4,000 roses. One by one the models descended the grand staircase and wafted through the audience, posing close enough for them to admire the craftsmanship of the Dior workrooms. Galliano’s vision of the new Dior woman was inspired by heavily beaded Massai warriors, Shanghai matrons from the 20’s and 30’s, and a series of romantic frothy tulle ball gowns, that looked like mille-feuille confections spun out of sugar.

A few old-time Dior customers were not amused by the young designer’s efforts, a minor point when one considers the standing ovation he received at the end of his show (from clients such as Rosekrans, Ann Bass, and Mouna al-Ayoub), including the string of new clients he would attract. The New York Times headline the next day ran, "Among Couture Debuts, Galliano’s is the Stand Out."
© THE POLYGLOT (all rights reserved) CHICAGO-PARIS

The Consummate Collector

With homes scattered on two continents, the Rosekrans have kept themselves busy over the years accumulating an important collection of antiques and objets d’art. In fact Dodie Rosekrans is considered amongst dealers to be a serious collector of 18th Century furnishings and save their best pieces for her. She makes it a point to visit all the international antique fares annually, scrutinizing the wares with glasses tipped over her nose.

Clockwise Top Left: Seated in the living room of her Pacific Heights mansion in San Francisco; a canopied bed in the master bedroom; Examining a possible find at the Paris Antique Fair; In the lush courtyard of her San Francisco home; A comfortable corner in the master bedroom.

© THE POLYGLOT (all rights reserved) CHICAGO-PARIS

Sao Schlumberger: Fashion’s Other Patron Saint

Clockwise Bottom Left: A portrait of Sao Schlumberger by Andy Warhol; Linda Evangelista in a look from Galliano’s Fall 1994 collection; Two Geisha inspired looks from the collection; Model Nadja Auerrman dressed as a 20’s flapper from the Fall 1994 collection; Dodie Rosenkrans seated front row at Dior Fall 2001; Sao Schlumberger and her signature jewels; John Galliano.

Sao Schlumberger past away last August without much fan fare (at least not as much as Nan Kempner). She wasn’t known for having a subtle personality, but those who knew her appreciated her frankness, as well as her largesse.

The Portuguese wife of French-American oil tycoon Pierre Schlumberger, she commanded a certain amount of influence on the Paris social scene, not to mention the attention of the fashion houses that fed its appetite for couture. Not surprisingly her two greatest passions in life were fashion and art.

The later could be seen on display in abundance though out her grand homes. Instead of simply buying pieces from artists, she would frequently commission them to create something new. She had a particular fondness for Rothko, Rauschenberg and Lichtenstein. But despite this she was not always an easy subject to please, as Salvador Dalí realized while painting her portrait in 1987. “I don’t really like it,” she said of the surrealist’s rendering in an interview. “I was expecting a fantasy…but he did a classic.”

Similar to Rosekrans, she was also a patron of fashion; never hesitating to champion the work of a designer that she admired or in whom she saw a bright future. Also like Rosekrans she was known for having an equally daring sense of style, such as the time in 1996 when she drew gasps at the Palais Garnier opera house by entering on the arm of the Japanese billionaire Yoichi Yogi Nishikawa; the two dressed in “matching sequined tiger-print” getups, hers by Christian Lacroix. Most of her looks were always toped by some extraordinary pieces of jewelry, for according to Schlumberger, “There is nothing more annoying than seeing a woman with the means to buy anything she wants who always wears the same piece of jewelry.”

Both Schlumberger and Rosekrans shared a passion for the work of one particular young designer by the name of John Galliano, and were instrumental in getting his career off the ground.

When Galliano launched his own label in 1984, he quickly realized that critical acclaim and countless design awards did not necessarily bring money to the bank. So in 1991 he decamped to Paris where he immediately drew attention with his romantic and history inflected designs, and amongst those who took notice where several established couture customers (most notably Schlumberger and Rosekrans) who saw something beyond ready-to-wear in his work. Although Rosenkrans helped fund his next collection, by 1994 Galliano was still struggling financially with no money to buy fabric for a new collection or the means to pay for a venue in which to present it.

Fearing that Galliano could simply not afford to sit out another season, Anna Wintour instructed André Leon Talley (then European editor-at-large for American Vogue, and a Paris resident) to find a way to make Galliano’s collection “happen.” The solution came in the form of Schlumberger. Talley was not oblivious to the Paris socialite’s admiration for Galliano’s work, and he was equally aware of the fact that she owned several prime properties around the City; in particular a stunning 18th century hôtel particulier that was shuttered up for most of the year. So he organized a lunch meeting with her, Galliano and himself, at which Schlumberger (in her typical no-nonsense style) asked him to get straight to the point of the meeting. Upon hearing his request she immediately agreed to letting them use her house for Galliano’s show.

They also managed to scrounge donations from other clients such as Anne Bass and Rosekrans in order to pay for a few roles of black crepe, from which Galliano created the entire collection. In all he could only afford to put together 17 outfits at the last minute, but each one was beautifully cut and draped. Everyone else in the industry, including hairdressers and make-up artists, banded together to do his show for free. Models such as Linda Evangelista, Kate Moss and Christy Turlington also donated their time for free; showing up at his studio at 3 or 4 in the morning, the day of the show, to be fitted.

The invitation to Galliano’s collection, entitled “Back from the Brink,” was a rusty key, whose connection became clear to guests as they entered the Schlumberger mansion. Inside they took to their seats in an atmospheric setting of gilded salons dripping with crystal chandeliers, antique mirrors and a mismatch of 18th century settees and brocaded stools. The large French doors overlooking the garden were flung open to allow daylight to filter through gauzy curtains and cast a glow on the parquet floors. Carrie Donovan, the late fashion editor of the New York Times described the atmosphere just before the show as electric.

As the models emerged, made up to look like silent movie stars, 1920’s flappers and Japanese Geisha’s, they wound their way through the sea of seated guests in a presentation that recalled the glory days of French couture. It was a triumphant moment for John Galliano and sealed his fate within the fashion world.
© THE POLYGLOT (all rights reserved) CHICAGO-PARIS

Dodie and Friends: A Look at Couture’s San Francisco Club

The world of the couture client maybe a small one, yet there are a number of major cities (in the unlikeliest places around the world) that can claim to be home to several of these rarified species. Houston can boast a large number, as can Caracas, Beirut, Mexico City, Rio, and Bandar Seri Begwan (the capital of Brunei). Chicago, despite all the “big shoulder” euphemisms, has in fact been home to a steady stream of couture customers who continue to attend the shows today. Some of these women were Haute Couture’s first clients, such as Mrs. Cyrus H. McCormick, Mrs. Potter Palmer and Mrs. Augustus Newland Eddy, who kept a diary in which she chronicled her fittings at the Houses of Worth and Pingat.

In Couture’s early day’s, during the 1860’s and 70’s, such clients didn’t amass their extraordinary wardrobes by attending two shows annually on a prescribed date. In fact there was no such thing as a Spring or Fall season. Instead couture purchases became a part of the frequent six month “grand tours” they would take to Europe. Upon reaching Paris their first order of business was to make an appointment at the reigning houses of the day, where seated in an elegant salon they would make their selections of fabrics and trims. All subsequent required fittings were done during their “visit” to Paris, after which they would leave to other parts of Europe to continue on with their holidays. This gave the couture houses a staggering 4-6 months to complete orders for garments, which were often picked up by their clients, carefully wrapped and boxed, on their way to the steam ship. It’s a reflection of how times have changed especially for today’s clients who travel by private jet and frequently demand a faster turnaround; complaining that three weeks is simply unacceptable.

It is a reminder that couture as an industry has evolved over centuries and that it will continue to do so. What hasn’t changed is a standard of refinement and the notion that whatever such women purchased from these houses would eventually produce a trickle down effect on what their contemporaries would be wearing in their own hometowns.

Like Chicago, San Francisco boasts a number of prominent couture clients, and not surprisingly many of them are familiar with Dodie Rosenkrans, either as friends or members of the same social circles. It is also more than likely the case that some of these clients are familiar with their counterparts in other cities or countries, as many of the events they attend tend to be international in scope. For Couture houses such information is indispensable so as to avoid the embarrassing situation of a New York socialite and Saudi Princess showing up at an event in Rome dressed in the same frock.

In addition to Rosekrans, the handful of local San Francisco notables who wear haute couture includes Ann Getty, Denise Hale, Tatiana Sorokko, Dede Wilsey, Danielle Steel, Christine Suppes, and Sako Fisher. They represent the privileged few who make the bi-annual trip to Paris, during January and July, and who have experienced the process of being measured up to some 35 times, all the way down to their fingertips. Not to mention standing still during the three required fittings all seasoned clients must succumb too.

"The big fiction about haute couture," says Wilsey, "is that it's only made for you. It isn't. They might make five of them. It's really ready-to-wear at higher prices." Still, she says, "the fabrics are spectacular, the sewing and the details are amazing; they are really beautiful things." Wilsey heads the Couture Circle for the San Francisco Fine Arts Museums, a group of about 25 donors who love textiles and costumes and "come together to raise significant money" for fashion exhibitions.

When asked how she stores most of her couture purchases, Wilsey confesses that her gowns "are so jammed together, they don't need hangers to stay up."

© THE POLYGLOT (all rights reserved) CHICAGO-PARIS

Dodie and Friends: Part II

As befitting someone who traveled extensively around the world, Rosekrans has accumulated a number of close friends over the years. Clockwise Left: Ann Getty, her frequent travel companion seen here in Dior couture, Chanel couture, and a Fendi dress; Dodie Rosekrans; Boaz Mazor, Oscar de la Renta’s right hand man for many years and a good friend; The Count and Countess d’Ornano, Countess Isabella d’Ornano has been a friend of Rosekrans for over 40 years; Rosekrans in her signature jewelry; standing next to Kenneth Jay Lane.

Ann Getty:

Married to Gordon Getty, the son of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, Ann Getty has been a key figure on the San Francisco social scene for over five decades as well as a seasoned couture customer; traveling twice a year to Paris for the collections. But although she appreciates the craftsmanship and time that goes into the making of couture garments, she is not as reverential when it comes to the shelf life of many of her pieces.

Unlike most clients who hold onto their haute couture purchases forever, Ann Getty tends to do the opposite. A surprising fact when one considers the number of Valentino, Givenchy, Saint Laurent, Chanel, Ungaro and Balmain (by Oscar de la Renta) haute couture she has worn over the decades as a client. "They are beautiful, but I consider them an important minor art," she has said. "They are clothes. You wear them and pass them along. I don't have any left in my closet."

Home for Ann Getty is a 50,000 sq. ft. mansion, which dominates the Getty compound. Nestled in the City’s Pacific Heights area, the sprawling estate also includes amongst its many amenities a recording studio and private Montessori school for the Getty children.

In recent years Getty has added the title of interior designer to her resume. A not so unusual career path when one considers that many of her couture purchasing contemporaries and peers, such as Denise Hale and Dodie Rosekrans, are also consummate collectors of fine art and furnishings. Buying couture is in essence only a small part of the fine art of living; one that includes an appreciation for the way unique things are made. In the same way couture customers understand the construction of many of their couture purchases, an equal amount of interest is lavished on the provenance of a piece of furniture, or the process an artist went through to complete a painting.

Despite this, Getty realized early on that it would be difficult for some people to take her seriously as an interior designer, when considering her $2 billion-plus fortune and a private 727 jet. "There may be the perception that I'm spoiled, have no sense of the price of things, that I just wouldn't understand a budget," she acknowledged one day in her dining room, which is lined with chinoiserie panels made in 1720 for the Elector of Saxony and furnished with commodes signed by Andre Charles Boulle, Louis XIV's ebeniste.

But the success of her design business, followed a few years later with a furniture line, the Ann Getty House Collection, has proved her critics wrong. The selling power of her furniture line is based on the fact that most of the pieces are either limited edition or quality reproductions of favorite items from her own collection.

Countess Isabelle d'Ornano:

The Countess Isabella d’Ornano and her husband are known for being surprisingly modest and down to earth. This despite being the founders of the haute skin care and perfume line Sisley, established in 1976, and boasting a lineage that can be traced back to several prominent aristocratic families (Her mother was the sister of Prince Stanislaus Radziwill who was married to Jackie Onassis’ sister Lee Bouvier).

The Countess is also known for her gracious manner, being soft spoken, an effortless sense of style and a glowing complexion (no doubt the best advertisement for any skin care line). Although she doesn’t buy as much couture today as she did in the past, she was a client at the houses of Balmain, Jean-Louis Scherrer, Louis Féraud, Guy Laroche and Per Spook.

Sisley was by no means the count and countess’ first venture in the cosmetics industry. His grandfather was a friend of Francois Coty, the most successful perfumier in the world at the beginning of the 20th century. He decided to go into business himself and named the company he founded after a forest near one of the family estates, Lancôme. That company was eventually sold, but the business has stayed in the family blood.

Their duplex apartment has been photographed countless times in publications and one can see why. Entering the d’Ornano’s Paris home is like stepping into a whimsical world. As a series of 18th Century parquet covered rooms open up onto each other, what is revealed the a kind of intriguing mix of ancient, 18th Century, and modern furnishings that one usually accumulates through inheritance or years of travel. There are colorful snails running up the walls and onto the ceiling in one room, while a cut crystal chandelier hovers over a bronze table holding primitive art, not far from which lies a modern lamp on the floor.

The house seems to be a subtle nod to the d’Ornano’s themselves, who have always tried to balance their classic and aristocratic backgrounds with a contemporary lifestyle. Thus the apartment itself is less a showpiece than a repository of family memories. For it was here that the count and countess brought up their four children, all of whom are grown up but still connected to the business in some way. It’s also a reminder that despite their aristocratic bearing the d’Ornanos actually work for a living and lead full lives.

Dodie Rosekrans maintains a close friendship with the Countess and her family; even going so far as to site Mina Poe as one of her favorite places to shop in Paris. Located at 19 Rue Duphot, the tiny upscale boutique, selling everything from shawls to bejeweled slippers, is run by the Countess’s daughter-in-law.
© THE POLYGLOT (all rights reserved) CHICAGO-PARIS

The San Francisco Couture Club

Clockwise Left: Christine Suppes in Christian Lacroix Haute Couture, Fall 2005; Tatiana Sorokko in two looks from Chado Ralph Rucci, Fall & Spring 2007; Sako Fisher in Gaultier Paris, Fall 2002.

Christine Suppes:

Christine Suppes is best known within fashion circles as the pioneer responsible for giving birth to web-based fashion journalism. In 1998 she launched the website FashionLines, long before fashion specific sites such as Style.com became prevalent on the web.

Suppes’ initial idea for the site was hatched after her husband inspired her to fuse her love of fashion with the internet. It was an idea that appealed to Suppes, who was ready for a change after spending a few years writing articles for various print magazines and book reviews for The San Francisco Chronicle. So with a small staff comprised of a webmaster, graphic artist, and writers, she began her venture into uncharted territory. But at the time of its launch, many in the industry were skeptical of the level of credibility that such a site could achieve, even with Suppes as its publisher and editor in chief.

According to Suppes at the time, “A lot of fashion people are still intimidated by the internet and lack the imagination to see what this particular medium could and can do for them and their businesses. A lot of New York and Paris based fashion people didn’t take a Silicon Valley based fashion internet publication seriously until we gave them a track record they could not ignore.”

Soon doors began to open after designers realized the kind of rapid exposure that Suppes’ online venture could provide. That moment became a harbinger of things to come, such as the current phenomenon, where by obscure fashion bloggers are courted by designer houses with free samples and invitations to shows; all in the hopes that they will write positively about them to an ever expanding online readership.

What is less known about Mrs. Suppes is that she is one of a handful of women in the world who buy haute couture, and one of the slightly larger few who began championing and wearing Rodarte at the beginning of the Mulleavy sisters’ career.

When it comes to viewing Haute Couture, Suppes would prefer to pass on the elaborate shows for the intimacy of the couture salon. “Personally this is my favorite way to see the collections, the only way one can really appreciate the craftsmanship, the embroideries and the hundreds of hours that have gone into the making of each garment,” says Suppes.

A regular client at Jean Paul Gaultier, Lacroix, and the design trio On Aura Tu Vu, (who barely get any mention in the international press), Suppes believes that the customers for such exquisite frocks play a vital role in the evolution of Couture as a craft. "Haute couture needs a champion," says Suppes, "Or it will go away."

For Suppes, a trip to one of these ateliers is all about lavish attention, "It's very homey at Lacroix; the dressing rooms are small and intimate; somewhat cooler at Gaultier, where you are being fitted in a much larger room. They even measure your fingers," she went on.

"Some people buy cars or planes or boats, others buy art. I buy Lacroix. And one day, I will donate them to museums," Suppes says.

Despite being destined for such hallowed surroundings, one may be surprised to learn that storing these opulent creations is not a full-time job, and each client seems to have her own technique. In Suppes’ case, she prefers to use the wide hangers that come with the gowns (to carry the weight of the beading). She stores her gowns in regular closets, but she does keep the lighting low. "My contractor wanted to put a skylight in my closet. I said, 'Are you crazy?' I had a window removed instead."

Tatiana Sorokko:

If you paid attention to fashion in the 1990’s then you might recognize the name Tatiana Sorokko as belonging to one of the most successful models of the period. With her Asia-meets-Europe exotic looks, this Russian model quickly rose up the ranks of the profession becoming a frequent fixture on the international catwalks, as well as the pages of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. She was also a favorite of many designers, including Giofranco Ferre.

It was during those years that she developed an appreciation for the art of couture; modeling for the likes of Dior, Saint Laurent, and Valentino, while assisting at countless fittings before collections. Such an experience was the best education for a future couture client, but little did she realize it at the time.

By the end of her modeling career she had shifted to a new role as an editor for the recently launched Russian edition of Vogue. Today she lives with her husband, gallery owner Serge Sorokko, in San Francisco where she continues to work for Russian Vogue as its editor-at-large and as a private style consultant.

As a couture collector she is unique in that she has chosen to focus on the work of a single designer, Ralph Rucci. The pair have known each other since the 90’s, during Sorokko’s modeling days. Today she arguably owns one of the largest collections of Chado Ralph Rucci clothing on the West Coast and wears it almost exclusively, preferring “to have dialogue with one single designer”.
© THE POLYGLOT (all rights reserved) CHICAGO-PARIS

San Francisco Couture Club Member: Denise Hale

Clockwise Top Left: Elegant in a red cape with her famous jewels; Hale in Ferre next to Dr. Alan Malouf, a good friend and fellow collector of 18th Century antiques, and Dodie Rosenkrans in Dior couture, attending the Vivien Westwood retrospective at the de Young Museum in San Francisco in 2007; With the designer James Galanos wearing Ralph Rucci Spring 2006; Hale in a Dior Couture gown by Ferre attending the opening of the San Francisco Symphony in 2000; The late designer Giofranco Ferre taking a bow a the end of a couture show for Dior; Denise Hale photographed in the 1960s.

There are few couture customers out there today who can claim refugee status, unless you happen to be Denise Hale.

Born in Belgrade, Serbia, Hale was raised mostly by her father’s parents. She was only 7 when the Gestapo began looting the city, and because she was very close to her grandfather, he entrusted her alone with the location of the family’s hidden gold.

Although the family made it through the Second World War, the Nazis were soon followed by the Russian occupation which brought on more hardships. Fleeing Sebria by rowboat, she was soon plucked from the Adriatic by a British minesweeper, whose captain took a shine to her. But instead of shipping her back home, he dropped her off at a refugee camp in Bari, Italy.

At 16 she landed a job in Rome as a model, where she quickly caught the eye of an older Italian mogul, “one of the richest men in Italy,” according to Hale. He would become her first husband, taking her around the world. But in 1958 she walked away from the marriage, financially independent and with a world-class collection of jewels. When she eventually did divorce him years later she had begun forging a new life for herself.

Landing in New York at the height of “the season”, Denise quickly assimilated into the upper echelons of New York society, and decided to stay on. It was there that she soon met her second husband, the director Vincente Minnelli. But the love of her life proved to be her third husband, Prentiss Cobb Hale, the San Francisco department store magnate, to whom she was married for 27 years. Hale jokes that her European friends “thought I was marrying down,” because he was “in-the-trade (retail).” The two went on to build an extraordinary life together in San Francisco.

Like her friend Dodie Rosenkrans, Hale has gained a reputation as a gracious and consummate hostess who enjoys meeting interesting people of different backgrounds. Whether mixing with twenty-somethings at a Google party, or having dinner with the British royals, she is always impeccably polite and at ease amongst any group. “I don’t care where you come from. I judge where you are. The life you come with.” Says Hale.

Domonick Dunne first met Hale one week after she married Mr. Minnelli in 1960. ''Young, beautiful, great jewels,'' he recalled. But he soon discovered that she also had a great knack for rattling the sometimes staid Hollywood social scene by giving parties that mixed the elegantly rich and the famously louche. ''There were a couple of the old guard hostesses who were a little put out with her,'' he said. ''But Denise really knew how to play the scene.''

For the last 10 years, she has been supporting a day care center, run by Catholic nuns in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, for poor women to leave their children while they work. She also paid for an operation for a young boy who needed surgery to restore his sight. She keeps a collection of drawings he sends to her.

But despite all her philanthropic work, Hale may best be remembered for her impeccable taste in both fashion and design. Her sumptuous residence in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights not only holds her stunning couture pieces, but an enviable collection of antique furnishings and fine art. According to Dr. Alan Malouf, a fellow collector and friend of Hale, “She has some of the finest examples of 18th century English and French antiques outside of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.”

Indeed walking through the grand living room of her mansion, with its green silk walls, provides a visual study in good taste. In one corner is a rare pair of signed Charles X gilded armchairs, which she waited 20 years to acquire. While the room itself is dominated by a magnificent 18th century French Aubusson carpet and an extensive collection of Chinese porcelain from the Kangxi period. Paintings lining the walls include a Redon (willed to the National Gallery of Art, in Washington, D.C.), a Pisarro (one of two), and a Degas.

When it comes to Haute Couture, Hale has had the privilege of picking through the collections of some of the greatest houses. But for the last two decades she has worn the creations of two designers exclusively, Ralph Rucci and Gianfranco Ferre.

She was ultimately Ferre’s closest friend and biggest fan, and wore his creations to some of the most important events in her life for over a decade. Hale’s most spectacular Ferre moment occurred when he was designing haute couture at Christian Dior. Not only did he personally design the beautiful dress she wore to her 20th wedding anniversary party, but he gave it to her as a gift. The two also often vacationed together on the designer’s yacht or in Capri.

Their relationship demonstrates the close bond that can develop between a couturier and his clients. Even today after the designer’s death, Hale continues to wear many of the pieces she acquired from him over the years. Her closet, where she mixes her haute couture and ready-to-wear clothing, is relatively neat and tidy. She stores some items, like a heavy ivory satin Gianfranco Ferre ball skirt with lavish beading and embroidery, in a white net garment bag. Hale, whose tiny frame has changed little over the decades, can pull out just about anything from her closet and it will fit perfectly.

"If you have a great fitter, you only need to have two fittings," says Hale, who was fitted for her first haute couture gown at Dior when she was just 19. "I learned a long time ago from the great fitter at Dior that all your clothes, not just couture, must fit right. But a great fitter will know what to take in and exactly where on your body to make you look slimmer, or in my case, taller. The fitter at Dior knew exactly how much needed to be taken in between the bust and the hips - I don't look 5’-4” in a couture gown."

This may explain why Hale has moved on to Ralph Rucci as her designer of choice, for his exacting standards in fit and detailing seems to mesh perfectly with her own esthetic sensibilities.
© THE POLYGLOT (all rights reserved) CHICAGO-PARIS

San Francisco Couture Club Member: Danielle Steel

Clockwise Top Left: Steel seated next to fellow San Fransican and Couture client Denise Hale at the collections; in a polka-dot Dior couture gown by Ferre; For the launch of her new perfume she wore Christian Lacroix couture Fall 2006, pictured here with her daughter Victoria Traina; In Christian Lacroix couture Fall 2007; With Vivien Westwood, at the retrospective of her work held at San Fransico’s de Young Museum, in a satin coat from Christian Lacroix couture, Fall 2004.

Since launching a successful career as a romance novelist, spanning the good part of three decades, Danielle Steel’s name has appeared on everything from paperbacks, made-for-TV movies, and most recently a perfume. But with a reported net worth of $600-$800 million, Steel has managed to keep her personal life out of the public eye for the most part. This may explain why she is not generally known amongst her fans as a serious collector of haute couture and fine jewelry, which she has been acquiring since the 1980’s. Last July she reputedly purchased 300 pairs of Louboutins in Paris, while in town for the couture shows with her daughters Victoria and Vanessa.

The closets of her San Francisco mansion hold hundreds of pieces from her enviable couture collection, which includes vintage gowns by Balenciaga and Dior, as well as the latest showstoppers from the Chanel and Lacroix runways. For the launch of her new perfume she chose to wear a $25,000 black Christian Lacroix couture tunic handcrafted with miles of gold thread and beading, and finished with a shocking pink bow. "I once ordered a Dior couture skirt that arrived in a wooden crate so large it wouldn't fit through my front door," says the usually press-shy author.

Steel’s love of design and fashion is no coincidence, as she had originally planned on attending the Parsons School of Design, having considered a life in fashion before launching her writing career. She also counts several heavyweights in the fashion business amongst her close friends, such as Anna Wintour, the editor in chief of Vogue, who encouraged her to launch her own perfume.

Steel makes it a point to never miss a couture season, attending the shows in a stretch Mercedes-Benz with her daughters. She is especially faithful to designers whose work she greatly admires. When Oscar de la Renta took his final bow, after 10 years of designing couture at the house of Balmain, Steel stood up from her front seat and gave him a hug. At the time she said, "Without him I will go naked."

Today she is a loyal customer at Christian Lacroix and is frequently invited to private client-only dinners hosted by the designer and his directress Marie Martinez-Seznec. But some of the invitations she receives aren’t always from couture houses, but also from some of the jewelers along the place Place Vendôme. For couture week is also the time when the grand jewelry houses unveil their latest collections to clients, and only serious and regular (buying) customers are invited to such events.

During the last round of couture shows in Paris, Boucheron celebrated its 150th anniversary by treating its best clients to a gala evening of art, jewelry and food. After a private showing of the house's new multi-million dollar collection of baubles against a backdrop of contemporary art by the likes of Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, and Maurizio Cattelan, (culled from PPR owner Francois Pinault's collection), the guests were then whisked to the Petit Palais for dinner. Amongst those present were the Americans Susan Casden, Kassidy Choi Schagrin, Christine Suppes in Lacroix couture, Becca Cason Thrash in Dior and Suzanne Sapperstein. Across the room from them sat Danielle Steel with her daughters Samantha and Vanessa Traina.

But after years of being secretive about her passion for collecting jewelry, Steel decided to part with some of her pieces on April 16th, when she auctioned off a selection of her jewelry at Christie's, New York. Among the lot was a diamond-and-black-coral owl brooch by Van Cleef & Arpels, which was estimated to go for $15,000 to $25,000, and a pair of sapphire and diamond Trumpet Flower ear clips by Jean Schlumberger for Tiffany & Co.
© THE POLYGLOT (all rights reserved) CHICAGO-PARIS