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September 2 2014

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On Inspiration And Arm Candy At The New Yorker Festival

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It was a bit of a motley crew that The New Yorker pulled together for Fashion Forward, a panel discussion, moderated by staff writer Judith Thurman, that was part of its New Yorker Festival offerings in New York this weekend. Five New York-based designers—Naeem Khan, Phillip Lim, Maria Cornejo, and Rag & Bone boys Marcus Wainwright and David Neville—came to chat and show four looks each from their Fall collections. Presented next to each other, they stood in dramatic relief. But among the designers’ opinions, there was an overwhelming sense of agreement.

First, there was the headache of dealing with the less-than-glamorous obligations of running a brand—all of the labels are independently owned. “The worst thing is to put your heart and soul into something and see it on the sale rack,” Lim said about balancing creativity with commerce. Second, there was the matter of the melting pot as inspiration; none of those present were born in the U.S., resulting in global references that ran the gamut from Scottish Harris tweeds that survived Mt. Everest (Rag & Bone) to 300 hours of hand-beading and metalwork from Rajasthan, India (Khan).

At the closing Q&A, an audience member put an interesting question to the assembled: Would they prefer to dress Michelle Obama or Carla Bruni-Sarkozy? Khan, whose star shot to the stratosphere after Mrs. O donned his gold gown for the administration’s first state dinner, picked the First Lady, naturally. And then so did the rest of the panel, although for various reasons. “I’ve met Carla Bruni before and there’s not much up there,” said Cornejo (left, with Lim). About Obama, she was more approving. “She’s actually doing things that are interesting,” the Chilean-born designer said. “She’s not just arm candy.”

Photo: Neilson Barnard / Getty Images

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