the Insiders


As exciting as things got in the Hamptons this weekend: Kelly Ripa and Molly Sims pretend to fight over a handbag for the cameras at Super Saturday.

Where is everybody? This was precisely the question on my mind Sunday night, back in the city after a weekend covering parties in the Hamptons. True, this year's social season out there has proven to be rather unexciting, but I had thought my glitzy itinerary -- a Dior Beauty dinner Friday night followed by the annual Super Saturday sale the next afternoon -- promised to buck that trend. This would be the weekend the party people came out.

It's been about a week since Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin closed a lively third edition in the German capital. Water under the bridge, perhaps - especially as Berlin then came under the spell of Obama-fever. I was at both rounds of events - and as different as the runway shows at Bebelplatz and Obama's speech a bit farther down the road at the Victory Column were, they were linked by at least one thing: hope.
Yes, we've gotten tired of the ambulance chasing that has become retail reporting, too.

Lately WWD has read like an obituary section, with companies and sectors falling like casualties of the economy. The First Aid Kit we put together for the July 28 issue aimed to serve two purposes: Celebrate the rare nuggets of success in the industry today, and provide a 10-step guide to help more companies share in that success.

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George Michael
photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images
From the Police to Yaz, this has been yet another summer of nostalgia for upwardly mobile Baby Boomer ticket holders.

On Monday night, George Michael hit Madison Square Garden for the first of two shows. The good seats were priced at $255 each, a sum that seems pretty excessive for an artist who doesn't put on a gigantic production a la Madonna and hasn't delivered a big hit album in the U.S. in more than 15 years.

A look from Halston.
On July 16, I broke the news that Marco Zanini is out at Halston after one, somewhat ill-fated, runway outing. While the company has yet to confirm the news officially, my sources are reliable. 

Writing the story, I kept thinking, why is it so hard to get Halston right? (Past attempts by designers like Randolph Duke, Kevan Hall, Craig Natiello, Piyawat Pattanapuckdee and Bradley Bayou didn't really stick much either.) The Halston DNA is probably as strong, if not stronger, than most American fashion brands today, and over and over again, legions of designers (hello, Tom Ford!) are inspired by the chic jersey dresses, the ultrasuede ensembles and the lifestyle the designer led in the late Seventies when he and his Halstonettes epitomized chic.

Miguel Adrover
Miguel Adrover greets you like a stranded man on an island might -- limbs flailing, wide smile, waist-length scraggly hair -- and you can't help but share his sense of urgency.

The sleepy Mediterranean island of Majorca is home but he seems determined to prove himself once again in New York. Come Sept. 7, he will show off his signature collection for Hess Natur, a $100 million, 30-year-old German mail order label with unbelievably, environmentally friendly practices. Adrover readily admits he is over the catwalk, tardy designers, celebrity-heavy fashion shows and overpriced disposable clothes. "For me, the big challenge is leaving my home and getting the opportunity to show in the city where I grew up and got my support."

There's never a dull moment when analyzing data. And the data behind this week's "WWD List" were no different (July 10, page 11). Reputation Institute (a reputable source, rightly so) released the results of its Global Pulse Study -- top companies ranked by corporate reputation, according to consumers. The firm broke out a separate list of retailers, so it was an ideal feature for WWD and its readers.

Home Depot at work.
When I received the rankings from Reputation Institute, I thought, "Where are all the retailers we cover?" But after looking further into the criteria selection, I realized that the firm begins with a universe of 600 global companies with the highest revenues. Breaking that down further, only 150 of these were U.S.-based, and Reputation Institute provided only the top-ranked U.S.-based retailers. So, in a nutshell, the universe consisted of 25 of the largest retailers in America. And keep in mind: All retailers are analyzed -- not just specialty, department and discount stores. Office supply store chains, drugstore chains -- they get their say, too, in this survey.

Oscar de la Renta

When two guys on the Lexington Avenue IRT start griping about how it's taking upward of $100 to fill up their SUVs, you know there's something going on out there. But when such concerns start rattling the nerves of Park Avenue millionaires, it prompts the question of exactly how far-reaching and long-lasting the growing threat to the country's prosperity might be.

Will wealthy Americans keep curtailing luxury spending into 2009, or will they be reaching back into the spending till, after a relatively brief pause? For how long can they resist the yacht charters, private jet miles and $200 Kobe beef burgers that not long ago would have been consumed at a whim?

Oscar de la Renta
When I was asked to have lunch at Oscar de la Renta's Park Avenue apartment a few weeks back, I couldn't resist the offer. My colleague Bridget Foley and I had approached the designer for an interview to catch up on things going on at his company and once and for all to dispel or confirm rumors that his company was for sale (it's not). Oscar's son-in-law, Alex Bolen, who's chief executive officer of the firm, joined us for lunch. Oscar's wife, Annette, was home that afternoon and after saying a brief hello, excused herself to meet with her chiropractor, who was making a house call.

Which brings us to the apartment. Fabulous artwork adorned the walls of the opulent living room and scores of books lined the shelves. Oscar had several in help serving lunch, which consisted of a salad with sliced chicken, wine, and a fruit dessert. I'm sure it was all was very tasty, but we were busy taking notes, asking questions and making sure the tape recorder was working.

Daphne Guinness at Chanel
Daphne Guinness at Chanel.
photo by Dominique Maitre
What would a pair of couture roller skates look like? Painstakingly looped in Lesage embroidery? Threaded with gold laces?

Paris couture week -- once the playground of Ladies Who Lunch, after a morning at the hairstylist -- has become as congested and hectic as the ready-to-wear shows.

That was especially the case for the international press given all the sideshows tacked on to the four-day calendar.

Time was of the essence last week bounding between couture shows for the big French houses, anniversary parties for various sportswear and handbag brands, porcelain exhibitions -- you name it. Not all of the attractions belonged in couture week. High fashion need not aspire to fast fashion.

The airport early bird gets to kill time perusing duty free. So at 6:45 this morning in Paris, guess who was checking out the Marc by Marc Jacobs bag selection at a recently installed LVMH shop at Paris' Charles de Gaulle? None other than the designer himself.

Jacobs, traveling alone, was waiting for the 8:25 Air France flight to New York, en route to a Fourth of July weekend in the Hamptons with friends. "I was walking by and there they were," he said. "[The display] didn't exist the last time I was here."<br /><br />

A young Bape consumer, photo by Yukie Kasuga
Since moving here late last year, I've been on the hunt to find the next Nigo, the designer behind street brand A Bathing Ape. But the fact is, the cartoon gorilla face is omnipresent -- there's not another brand here that can match Bape's cultlike following.

I guess if your brand is still cutting-edge cool 15 years after you've founded it, you must be doing something right. And if you're pulling it off in Japan, home to many a fleeting fashion trend and some of the world's most finicky shoppers, you must really know what you're doing.

Sure, teen and twentysomething Japanese hipsters love Bape's thick-soled, star-slicked sneakers and camouflage sweatshirts -- so much so that they'll patiently wait in line to enter the brand's stores in the Harajuku, Omotesando or Aoyama neighborhoods when traffic peaks.

In summers past, the Hamptons party circuit has been as glutted and glam as the social swirl in the city the other nine months of the year. It's still glutted -- if not more so -- but lately, the glam seems to be missing. It's as if being presented with too many options, the chic set has thrown up their hands in defeat and opted instead to sip their own Champagne at their own beachside manses.

Take last Saturday night, for instance, when there were four major bashes: the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression held a benefit in Sagaponack; Elizabeth Harrison and Lara Shriftman toasted their new book in Southampton; the Nature Conservancy had a "Beaches and Boys" gala in East Hampton, and Hamptons Designer Showhouse had a cocktail party in Southampton.

James Ivory
Merchant Ivory Productions is housed in a nondescript office building in Manhattan's Midtown. There was no main-floor shakedown or snippy receptionist instructing you to wait -- just a knock on the door and James Ivory presented himself with the familiarity of a distant family friend you haven't seen in a while.

His tendency to speak in the plural seemed reflexive. Clearly, he doesn't see himself as a one-man show. And any mention of his longtime partner, Ismail Merchant, triggered vivid recollections of their escapades in India or elsewhere. Ivory laughed as he recalled how Merchant was in the habit of saying, "Shoot Jim, shoot," but added, "Not that I wasn't ready to shoot. Perhaps it wasn't the right moment."

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