Simple sandals for the summer are a must, and Ancient Greek Sandals makes some of the best ones around. Whenever I’m at their showroom, I’m mesmerized by the variety of options. The collection is huge, and the simple kicks come in numerous styles and colors. You can see their entire collection here. For the beach, I’m investing in these slides in natural with my personal monogram, ML. The customization will be available on Moda Operandi starting June 1, so you can have your personal seal added, too. The best part? The initials are on the house.
Ancient Greek Sandals’ monogramed Thais, $240. Available for preorder on modaoperandi.com starting June 1.
It’s the 300,000 euro question: Why did Thomas Tait win the inaugural LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers? What sets him apart from all the other qualified finalists? After his victory yesterday afternoon, Tait told me he had no idea. “I was shocked,” admitted the London-based 26-year-old.
To be honest, I was not.
When I attended my first Tait show back in 2011, I had a feeling he was going to be “big.” Maybe it was because the then-24-year-old designer—the youngest to graduate from Central Saint Martins’ prestigious MA Fashion program—had managed to draw hugely important buyers from hugely important stores to his second-ever show. Perhaps it was the fact that his strict yet subtle designs were so entirely different than the work of his often-eccentric LFW peers. But sitting in that presentation, you could feel that you were witnessing the beginning of something special.
The Canadian-born talent launched his line back in 2010, and quickly earned sponsorship from the BFC’s NEWGEN. He’s carried by such retailers as Jeffrey, Louis Boston, and 10 Corso Como, and has a knack for convincing top editors to trek to the most inconvenient, albeit spectacular, London show spaces, like an abandoned grass-filled warehouse or a graffitied skate park. His success is made all the more impressive by the fact that his East London studio was founded with no independent financial backing and boasts only one full-time employee. “I’d like to grow it, as quickly as possible!” the designer laughed over the phone. “It’s really small-time.”
That may be the case, but Tait’s vision and dedication to doing things properly is anything but. “I told LVMH I have goals and, regardless of whether I win the prize, I’m going to go after them,” he explained. “Now they might happen sooner and smoother than I had planned. It will be nice just entering next season not wondering how I’m going to keep my head above water [financially] like I usually do.”
There are a few projects, though, that the prize will finally allow him to pursue. Handbags, for example, are on the horizon, and he’s aiming to produce shoes, which he’s previously created only for the runway. The M word came up, too. “Menswear isn’t urgent, but I’d be lying if I said that it isn’t something that interested me,” said Tait, who’s been known to wear his own sharp cashmere coats or trousers when the sample’s just right. “I haven’t really had much money to go shopping, so I’ve gotta make do!”
But back to the question at hand: What makes Tait so darn exceptional? For one, he’s old school, whether it comes to technical skills (he’s involved in the creation of each garment he produces), delivering his collections on time, or even sketching. “Karl Lagerfeld mentioned that he liked my illustrations. He said that it was a dying art in fashion, that it was rare, and that was really touching.”
There’s the fact that Tait doesn’t aim to please anyone but himself. “I never feel like I’ve done something that I regret to satisfy someone else’s desires.” Except his clients, of course. “I’d like to think that people approach what I do because they care about how they feel, and they think about how they’re dressing.”
He’s never relied on celebrities to push his wares. “I don’t necessarily lend to celebrities because I prefer to [dress] people I have a personal connection to or an appreciation for.”
And his ability to simultaneously remain constant and tweak his aesthetic, shifting from streamlined elegance one season to slick streetwear the next, is terribly sophisticated. “There’s a common thread throughout each collection,” he said. “But when it comes to the look, it varies from season to season because there’s too much to talk about and experience for me to limit myself.”
In short, Tait is talented, creatively stable, and his abilities extend far beyond those of any other 26-year-old fashion star. “Most of our struggles boil down to financial needs,” he conceded, adding that he’d like to expand his wholesale distribution and open a flagship down the line. But he acknowledges there’s a long road ahead. “I still have a lot to learn,” he told me. “This is just the beginning.”
British designers Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig are heading to their home turf for their next Marchesa show. After years of showing its collections in New York, Marchesa will join the London fashion week schedule for Spring ’15. “We felt it was a good way to celebrate our anniversary,” Craig told The Telegraph. Marchesa is turning 10 this year. “It’s a one-off celebration in London, and then we are back in New York in February.” Next season’s LFW shows are set to take place from September 12 to 16.
Calendar Girl: Fashion Veteran Ruth Finley Puts Down Her Pink NYFW Schedule to Pick Up the CFDA’s Board of Directors’ Tribute Award-------
A new accolade will be bestowed at the CFDA Awards next week when a social-media-savvy individual picks up the inaugural Fashion Instagrammer of the Year Award. There’s no arguing with Instagram’s influence, but will it be as indispensable nearly seventy years from now as Ruth Finley’s Fashion Calendar is today? As a co-ed at Simmons College in the 1940s, Finley envisioned an industry clearinghouse. The mimeograph machine on which it was originally printed has long since been retired and her typist, Everybody Loves Raymond‘s Doris Roberts, has moved on, but Finley’s pink-sheeted biweekly calendar is going strong. Without it, how could insiders ever navigate New York fashion week’s 400-plus events?
These days, the octogenarian spends as much time with her charities—she’s raised more than $2 million for Citymeals-on-Wheels—as she does negotiating scheduling changes, but when Marc Jacobs wants to shift his time slot, his people still call Finley’s people. She took a break from booking the Spring 2015 shows—yes, the Fashion Calendar team works as far in advance as designers do—to talk to Style.com.
How did you get your start?
I met [the fashion publicist] Eleanor Lambert while I was at college. I was her Girl Friday for a huge fashion show she was doing at the Hotel Astor, which no longer exists, for the Red Cross. I had to stay at the Astor in a suite where the clothes were to make sure nobody stole anything. There was a song at the time, “She Had to Go and Lose It at the Astor,” and when my mother heard that, she was going to come and bring me right home. She didn’t understand the whole thing.
And you got the Fashion Calendar off the ground while you were still at college?
I met with two women in fashion, and they were complaining that Bergdorf’s and Saks were doing two shows—same day, same time. It gave me the idea that fashion needed a clearinghouse to avoid that kind of thing happening. I was doing that even before I graduated. Then I came to New York and I took an apartment on 52nd Street, right across from the 21 Club. Fifty-five dollars a month, two bedrooms, but bedbugs! I lived there with my secretary. At night we used to go out to the theater and usher to make extra money. She and I were selling a service, which is a difficult thing—we had to prove how important it was to become part of the Fashion Calendar. At that time, most of the shows were in the department stores. There were at least fifty retailers: Arnold Constable, Franklin Simon, Best, Ohrbach’s—an amazing number of stores. Of course, no designers’ names were published, that came later on. If you were buying a Bill Blass, you would get a Saks Fifth Avenue one.
When did that change happen?
That happened in the fifties, after World War II, when American designers here were becoming more important. During World War II, nobody could go to Paris to buy clothes; that was helpful for us. Gradually the stores began promoting the designers. Eleanor Lambert was important in pushing that, in realizing that designers needed to have the credit that they deserved. American fashion has become more and more important over the years. We were very insignificant back in the forties; we were belittled by Paris. We’re certainly on their level now.
Do you have a favorite decade in American fashion?
I like the fifties a lot. Pauline Trigère and I became quite close. She was sensational. I think she lived until about 92. She was a real designer, you know? She did the cutting and everything herself. My first wholesale dress was Trigère, I was so excited to have a designer dress. I was at that time probably 25. I wish I had kept it. A beautiful green cotton dress.
Did you know Charles James, the subject of the current exhibition at the Costume Institute?
I did. I liked him a lot. We became good friends. Of course, he never made much money, but he was such a talent. I had one of his outfits once. Another designer whom I was really close to was Norman Norell. I liked him a lot. One time he ran into a terrible conflict on his show. After that he never let his secretary call me—he picked up the phone and called me himself to set his dates.
You’ve seen so much fashion over your sixty-plus years in the business. What stands out?
It’s interesting to see even today how Marc Jacobs changes each season and does this fabulous extravaganza. You ask yourself, How is he going to outdo himself again? And every single time he keeps doing it. As you know, Marc Jacobs once kept people waiting two hours, and everybody stayed, nobody left, and of course there were a lot of complaints the next day. And since then, he is the only designer who starts right at the appointed time of 8, and you’re out by 8:10. The first year he did that, I arrived at 8 and I couldn’t get in. Now, if he can do that, why can’t others do it?
Marc has always been until a couple of years ago on Monday night. Recently he’s changed to Thursday, but he never told us he was changing until a month before. Now it looks like he is [officially] changing. So, several designers want 8 p.m. on Monday. Last season Donna Karan took it and it worked out. Who’s going to get it this season remains to be seen.
And that decision is up to you?
Well, most likely. I thought Donna might want to come back and keep it, but so far she hasn’t. We’ll just wait and see. We’ll know in a couple of weeks.
How do you keep it all straight?
We have grown from, let’s say, one hundred shows a year—or fifty shows a season, which was the case in the forties—to this past season, in February, we had about four hundred, which is really huge and too many. But what are you going to do? I can’t tell you as a young designer you can’t show. That’s when I’ll try to talk them into doing a presentation.
So you don’t think there should be a barrier to entry, some sort of approval process?
How can you tell a young designer, “You can’t do it”? Sometimes I’ll tell a designer to wait until next season when [they're] better known or selling more to stores, especially if they don’t have much money. Even to do a show at a small place, it costs so much money. I try to guide them, and very often they listen to me, but sometimes they don’t. My personal relationships are what kept the business going. I showed no prejudice.
No favorite designers?
No, absolutely not. I scheduled shows in the order in which they contacted me, that’s the way it was done. And I watched them grow. I knew Marc Jacobs before he had a partner, when he was carrying his clothes around in a suitcase. And Diane von Furstenberg, I met her over the phone. When she showed her clothes to [Vogue editor in chief] Diana Vreeland, she called me from the hotel to say, “Diana [Vreeland] walked out and said, ‘Beautiful, these are great,’” and Diane [von Furstenberg] turned to the secretary and said, “What do I do now?” And she said, “Call Ruth Finley.” So she called me and remembers it very well. I suggested she contact editors and stores and take appointments—I think it was at the Hotel Gotham.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced over the years?
A problem I used to have with some people is their superstitions. One designer would never take a date with a four in it because that was a bad omen. Another designer, Arnold Scaasi, would not confirm his date until he consulted his numerologist, so I called him and said, “Let me have the number of your numerologist, I’ll solve this.” He refused. You just had to be patient. Another time, Oscar de la Renta was just so upset because he had booked a theater for a Monday night fashion show and found out that Bill Blass was showing that night. So he said, “Ruth, can you just call Bill and see what you can work out for me? I’ve already put my deposit down.” Bill, who was great to work with and whom I was friendly with, we went back and forth, I changed Bill’s date, and they both had successful shows and it worked out fine. Luckily, Bill Blass was not a difficult person. Anybody else might have been more of a problem.
Any examples when designers didn’t budge?
Oh, yes, I tried to change Tommy Hilfiger when he moved to 11 a.m. on Monday, knowing how it was going to affect Carolina Herrera’s models and makeup people and all that. Herrera has shown at 10 a.m. on Monday for at least twenty years. I offered him a couple of really good times, but no, they set themselves down, it was going to be 11. They’re there to stay. It’s much harder work today. Every season I say this is the worst season we’ve had, because it just gets worse all the time.
But you’ve never been tempted to retire?
No, not yet. Too young.
Skateboarding, like art and fashion, is at its best when it subverts conventions. When it fails to do that—if it doesn’t surprise you or change the way you see things—it ceases to be worthwhile.
For pro skater Alex Olson, it seems the skate brand universe of T-shirts, hats, and sneakers had fallen into conventional banality. Mainstream acceptance, while it’s helped skateboarding grow, has had an inverse effect on the unrestrained creativity that made it cool in the first place. So Olson left his board sponsor and created Bianca Chandôn.
“The name doesn’t mean anything,” says Olson. “There were a couple of different reasons why we landed on Bianca. Bianca Jagger was one. My middle name is Chandon, which comes from Olivier Chandon, who was a race car driver and has a weird tie-in with Studio 54.
If Studio 54 isn’t exactly what you’d think of as a touchstone for skateboarding, that’s because it isn’t. Like his father, Steven Olson, a pioneering pro skater of the seventies and eighties who helped introduce punk rock to skate culture (and was apparently fond of Vivienne Westwood), Olson is finding new cultural ground on which to build his brand.
“We were pulling a lot of inspiration from old Purple magazines and nineties and eighties fashion,” Olson says. He liked the name Bianca Chandôn because it sounded like the name of a fashion designer. He wanted his brand to have a persona, some mystique. Now he’s pushing skateboarding beyond it’s very male hetero comfort zone.
Skateboarding has always been an inclusive club, particularly for social outcasts—a refuge from jocks and other mainstream conformists—but like other sports, it’s failed to be accepting of all sexes and genders. Bianca Chandôn draws inspiration from drag ball culture, the glory days of disco, Fire Island, Paris Is Burning, and campy seventies imagery. For one series of skate decks, Olson donated proceeds to an advocacy group for LGBTQ youth.
Olson isn’t shy about fashion, either, most notably through the photos he styles of female models wearing Bianca Chandôn, shot by Viktor Vauthier, that serve as an ongoing lookbook via the brand’s Instagram account. “I think fashion needs culture to be relevant,” he says. “And skateboarding is a culture that’s always changing because it’s youthful.”
Olson isn’t intentionally being provocative with Bianca Chandôn, he’s just doing what interests him. “It’s not like I’m trying to be edgy by taking on these things that are taboo,” he says. Still, he is sending an eye-opening jolt of energy into an industry that has become content with its discontent.
“My whole thing was, what would a skateboard company not do?” Olson says. “Just think that way.”