Wish You Were Here 


 As we sit on the precipice of change everyday, and fashion proves it can rise with aplomb to the inspirational challenge twice a year, it is best for sanguine plutocrats to follow in its wake.

“In the past, people were born royal. Nowadays, royalty comes from what you do.” A social dissection and work ethic voiced by the late Gianni Versace who adopted America as his home and his inspiration…a designer who lived by and embraced this very American ideal.

Consumers may be cash-strapped, but the fashion industry was one of the few beacons of light in a cruel winter of discontent. There was no stopping the haute and fashionable. Intrepid Fern Mallis had little problem filling the Bryant Park tents with strings of leggy blondes and a phalanx of eager photographers.

In these besieged financial times, though some may consider a fashion fix ephemeral and an indulgent excess, we cannot ignore the facts posted by New York City’s Economic Development about an industry employing 175,000 people, generating $10 billion in wages, $1.6 billion in tax revenue, and $55 billion in sales each year, proving itself a vital cultural lifeblood of Manhattan.

Under the gimlet eye of a censorious Anna Wintour, willowing models on treacherously high heels tumbled like the current stock market across many runways, including those of Max Azria and Herve Leger. (We hope they weren’t insured by faltering AIG.) Another casualty was PR manager Kelly Cutrone, who was pink-slipped by Yigal Azrouël after erroneously seating Eliot Spitzer’s pricey playmate in a front row, amongst a bouquet of Park Avenue princesses and steely media elite.

The fashion embrace was not limited to the catwalks. Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé’s colossal Christie’s auctions at the Grand Palais in Paris made a momentary mockery of the word “recession,” fetching $484 million over three days. It was patently obvious that owning a piece of art collected by Saint Laurent had bidders gyrating like windmills. The late French tastemaker continues his extraordinary influence on the world of style. Most spectacular of all was the couple’s exemplary largesse: all proceeds were donated to charity.

Rupert Murdoch’s previous record sale of $24,675 million for a downtown apartment “filched” by fashion designer Elie Tahari was shattered on the streets of Tribeca. A mystery owner sprang for the staggering sum of $34.5 million for a glass penthouse on Hudson Street. Neither an investment banker nor a hedge funder, could this high-flyer with deep pockets hail from Seventh Avenue?
On the flip side of the real estate spectrum, celebrity shooter Annie Leibovitz seems to find herself strapped for cash after lengthy and lawsuit-riddled renovations on three properties. Her countless iconic images (which include Vanity Fair covers of Demi Moore, Tom Cruise, Carla Bruni, Tom Ford, Queen Elizabeth, etc.) could be gathering dust, serving as collateral, handed over to an “art lender,” the high-end equivalent of a pawn broker. Is it time for a raise, Graydon?

Infectiously energetic Louis Rose is packing them in under a glorious domed Palladian roof. (The Park Avenue event space is owned by the Rose Family.) Oscar de la Renta’s runways had barely been cleared when Louis and his gorgeous wife, Alexandra Lind, continued the high-fashion stakes with their Red & Black Ball—extravagant merriment, and definitely a rose-tinted evening.

Red being the operative color, on a snowy evening during Fashion Week, I found myself sitting on the scarlet banquettes of La Grenouille beside none other than the living legend James Galanos.
Urbane, amusing, charming: everything one has ever heard of this amazing octogenarian.

When it comes to red carpets and star power, who could possibly compete with achingly beautiful, Oscar-nominee Angelina Jolie in her strapless black Elie Saab gown and the jawdropping 115-carat emerald earrings, paired with a 65-carat emerald ring? What a sublime ambassador for the fashion industry at large.

Following the screening, a permanently bronzed fashion arbiter defended his movie Valentino: The Last Emperor. A cinematic portrayal of the famous designer visiting his earthly treasures (a real estate empire which, amongst other things, includes a Versailles Chateau, a Gstaad chalet and a 152-foot yacht), it is a celluloid distillation of a vanishing world. Not worried about appearing “a bit ridiculous and a bit extravagant. We are what we are,” he said.  Who wants to argue with that?  He is a man who toiled for these spoils.

With Vogue’s advertising pages slipping 25 percent, editors are grasping to bolster sales with a sleeveless First Lady on the cover. Also representing the new Democratic mood, Armani appears to be running on a similar ticket for “change.” Opening an edifice on the corner of Fifth Avenue is a bravado move, but he believes this 43,000-square-foot “prestigious shopping destination,” featuring all levels of his brand under one roof, represents the future and a distinctly American ideal.

The indefatigable and fated Versace once prophetically explained, “I try to contrast; life today is full of contrast….We have to change.” As we sit on the precipice of change everyday, and fashion proves it can rise with aplomb to the inspirational challenge twice a year, it is best for sanguine plutocrats to follow in its wake.