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 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.
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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."
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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."
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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."
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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."
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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.

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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.
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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."

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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.
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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 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”.
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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.
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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.
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A Look at Couture’s Future San Francisco Club Members: The Traina Sisters

Clockwise Top Left: Victoria Traina wearing a Christian Lacroix couture gown, Fall 2006; Samantha and Vanessa Traina in Givenchy Haute Couture, Spring 2008; Victoria and Vanessa Traina at Christian Lacroix’s couture show; Vanessa in vintage Balmain couture with her sister Victoria in Lacroix Fall 2006.

If you’re having a hard time keeping up with who’s who amongst best selling-author Danielle Steel and shipping magnate John Traina’s brood of children, that is perfectly understandable when one considers that there are in fact six of them: Beatrix, Zara, Maxx, Samantha, Victoria, and Vanessa.

The latter three are of course the most photographed and well known of the group. Frequently mentioned in fashion magazines for the way they put themselves together, they have unwittingly emerged as style icons of their generation.

But what’s most interesting about the Traina siblings is that they have allowed the public a glimpse into the world of future couture clients, where daughters are often introduced to couture’s private realm through their mothers. Their introduction to the craft and beauty of couture started early on through the exploration of their famous mother’s vast closets and then continued each time they accompanied her to Paris to view the collections and sit in the gilded atmosphere of the couture salon’s (while their mother was being fitted).

Like their peers, as they have begun to come of age in the last few years they have acquired more access to inherited funds, allowing them to dip into a rarefied world their mothers had long enjoyed. But what’s interesting about this new generation of couture wearers is that there is less of a tendency to be reverential about the institution and the gowns it produces. The knowledge and appreciation of how these unique pieces are created is still present amongst them, but what has changed is the way in which this new generation approaches collections. Instead of wearing a couturier’s entire creation from head toe, they tend to mix pieces with ready-to-wear purchases. Although they may sport a couture dress or an ensemble in a more décontracté fashion by loosening collars or combining them with personal touches and accessories, what remains constant is the quality of fit, detailing and materials which makes them stand out in any crowd.

The sisters grew up in a sprawling 55-room Pacific Heights mansion in San Francisco, with seven siblings and stepsiblings (one brother passed away), nine dogs, and a Vietnamese potbellied pig named Coco (after Chanel).

As children, they played dress-up in their mom's endless couture closets, filled with examples from Dior, Lacroix, and Balmain to name a few. “We used to stomp around the house in her high heels and diamonds,” recalled Victoria. “She has one closet that's a whole separate room where she keeps her gowns. That one was our favorite!” added Vanessa about an experience that seems to have rubbed of on them. A little over two years ago Steel bought Victoria and Vanessa their first couture dresses when they debuted at Le Bal des Debutantes, the international coming-out ball at the Hótel de Crillon in Paris, that has become a right of passage for most well born young women today. Victoria picked a white corseted Lacroix gown, while her sister Vanessa was fitted for a shocking blue Dior gown. “I wish I could wear it around the house,” says Vennessa “But it's got a huge train.”

This playful sense of luxury has remained with them as young women, in the way they combine a Chanel jacket with a t-shirt, jeans and a Hermès Birkin. Regularly raiding their mother’s closets, Victoria recently made off with a black Chanel couture slip dress circa 1995. Although it comes with a matching tweed coat, she was more likely to wear it out to a club topped by a jean jacket. No surprise for someone who, with her sisters, has attended the couture shows in Paris every summer since she was eight.
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