Saturday, February 28, 2009


by Barbara Barton Sloane

Keeping with Diane von Furstenberg's theme, “Rock Goddess,” her spring collection featured many “frock stars.” The mood was breezy and in a nod to the seventies, the models wore flowers and feathers in their loose hair, plissé gowns, short tunics, safari dresses and denim flares. There were prints that pop and a particularly eye-popping number was an orange, ethnic-inspired print dress which fell just above the knee with sheer, billowy sleeves and a v-neck created in filmy chiffon, a look that has become a DVF signature. Most pieces were boldly colored, some trimmed with crystals and beads. And should von Furstenberg’s hippie chick long for a touch of elegance – a subject with which the designer is on intimate terms – there was a gold jacket and tuxedo shorts. Glammed up at this rather dour economic time, the overall effect was one of unbridled optimism, something we can use right about now and if it comes in the form of a floaty, flirty dress, so much the better.

The boys – Badgley and Mischka – have been together for 20 years, and this spring they’re opening their first store on – where else – Madison Avenue. A celebratory time for the duo, and their spring collection is, indeed, something to celebrate! Ever looking forward, the look for spring is a pared down lineup of styles with a modern twist. Lightweight is the word here – “everything weighs ounces,” Mischka tells us. Satin, gazar, and without the jewel encrusted surfaces of late. A model with a lighter-than-air, cream lace number floated down the runway, the dress accented with a matching cap-sleeved coat evoking an ethereal theme. “We’ve just sprinkled fairy dust,” Badgley said of this collection. They have, indeed.

Printastic! Nicole Miller indulged her love of prints, and for spring it’s mosaic patterns. When it comes to global inspirations, Miller is a frequent-flyer. On a trip to Haiti, Voodoo caught her attention and has inspired the spring collection. One exuberant print even featured rows of Voodoo dolls. Evoking the exotic, Miller sent down the catwalk a super cool frock, celery in hue and with a graphic print pattern that popped. Keeping the looks balanced, however, Miller grounded the magical with the practical showing men’s wear inspired pieces – boyish blazers and cropped slouchy trousers. Overall this tomboyish inflection gave Miller’s spring collection a happy, “up” feel.

Other designers' collections for spring may have a “batten down the hatches” feel. Not so for Carolina Herrera, whose customers have recession-proof portfolios. And if they don’t? Well, you can be sure they’re not going to let
it show. Her color palette paired hot persimmon with hibiscus, tweed trimmed teal faille, and in true Herrera fashion, black and white continued to play a starring role. Fresh and fabulous was a black pencil skirt ending just above the knee paired with a sweet white crepe shirt, big black and white flowers cascading down the front. Scaling back embellishments, here spring is about the ruffle. Herrera has always featured skirtsuits but this season we see short jackets with trousers cut cigarette-style and ending several inches above the ankle, a la the toreador. Pretty party dresses in unstructured chiffon gave the look of sexy lingerie and fit the bill for spring’s dinners, galas and art openings.

The first frock making its way down the runway at Blumarine was a nude draped halter dress with a demure ruffled neckline which suggested this might be a spring collection differently inspired. Continuing the nude color palette, Molinari showed crisp beige cropped trousers with matching top and bright blue cumberbund cinching the waist. But Anna Molinari is a gal who never met a sequin she didn’t like and after that spare introduction, it was back to her familiar embellishments. Beads and yes, sequins made an appearance on pretty, feminine cardigans, as well as on waistlines of pants and necklines of tops. Draped mini dresses and gowns of tulle were a refreshing respite after so much glitz.

On Dennis Basso’s mind this season was clearly East Coast blueblood weekends. Southampton, Nantucket, you get the picture, with patio and terrace dressing, as he explained before the start of the show. Perfect for a Parrish Museum opening was his flirty, tobacco colored satin skirt with a large gay flounce at the bottom topped with a white shirt worn casually open at the neck. Striking just the right air of insouciance, i.e. “I’ve got it but I’m not really flaunting it!” How do you work one’s signature fashion – furs - into cool evenings lounging in a wicker chair on a patio? Basso has somehow managed that, keeping his furs light, breezy and somehow seeming right even on a Nantucket evening in June. Broadtail boleros worn over filmy garden print chiffon frocks somehow struck the right note.

Down came last season’s gold antlers and up went a Moroccan lamp. North Africa has inspired Ralph Lauren for spring, bringing to mind Yves Saint Laurent. However, Lauren has been creating now for more than 40 years and has taken inspirations from every continent but Antarctica, so if the Moroccan theme was a tasteful, respectful nod in the late Parisian designer’s direction, it was still a fresh look at some of Lauren’s past biggest hits. We saw inspired takes on the silk-satin slouchy silhouette, bronze or white linen suits worn with matching shirts, and great, swaggering trenches in buttery leather and parachute silk. Soft dressing for spring/summer was rendered beautifully in a clean and easy outfit of white linen, harem-cut pants worn with white shirt and jacket and polished off with a wide brown leather belt worn loose and low. Kicking up the glamour, Ubah Hassan, a model from Somalia, resplendent in a gold lame column gown and beaded headdress, closed the show. Kudos to Lauren for addressing the diversity issue on the runways, and for a collection well done.

Dsquared 2 revisited Charlie’s Angels. Using Esther Canadas, Fernanda Tavares and Nadege to play Jill, Kelly and Sabrina, the trio strutted out in long brown jersey dresses accented with topaz stones to stunned applause. However, Dan and Dean Caten resisted the urge to go kitsch and instead they focused on sportswear, the all-American kind that they excel at, keeping with the seventies’influence. Two of the strongest looks – a long, lean three-piece suit in Bianca Jagger white and a filmy strapless gown with ruffles at bust and hem. In a decidedly Angel Jill outfit, a model sauntered down the runway wearing trousers in a pale toast color, the jacket denim, of course, and embellished with a bounty of buttons a la Sergeant Pepper. There were several cutout swimsuits with gold chain details, but happily the show didn’t feel peep-showish as it has sometimes in the past. Altogether, it was one of Dsquared 2’s most wearable collections in seasons.

This season, designers put basic black and stark white on the back burner, favoring, instead, vibrant hues, fresh florals and crisp, ethnic prints – the essential looks of Spring and Summer.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


by Barbara Barton Sloane

It is one of the most beloved and visited of New York City’s landmarks. Let me introduce you to the very grand Grand Central Terminal. Most people refer to this Beaux-Arts beauty as Grand Central Station but it’s actually a Terminal because this is where train lines originate and terminate. And, lest we all forget, this iconic structure is not just a tourist attraction – it’s one of the world’s busiest train stations and a landmark with a complex that has become a community in itself.

Going back to the terminal’s beginnings, in 1869 shipping magnate Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, owner of the Hudson River Railroad and the New York Central Railroad, purchased the property between 42nd and 48th Streets and between Lexington Avenue and Madison Avenue for construction of a train depot and rail yard. On this site rose the first Grand Central.

Designed by architect John B. Snook, the depot was built at a cost of $6.4 Million and officially opened in 1871. There was further expansion to the building in 1898 and 1900, and the reconfigured depot was reborn as Grand Central. The updated station featured a classical façade, a 16,000 square foot waiting room and distinctive ornamentation, including monumental cast iron eagles with wingspans of 13 feet. One of these eagles was salvaged, and today rises again above the terminal’s entrance on 43rd Street and Lexington Avenue.

This original station was demolished at the turn of the century due to noise, pollution and safety issues, culminating in a catastrophic train collision on June 8, 1902 which killed 17 and injured 38. There was a public outcry for electronic trains and expansion of Grand Central which would ultimately cost $80 Million ($2 Billion in today’s terms). For this new building venture, a select group of architects were invited to submit designs in a competition. The winning submission was from the St. Paul firm of Reed & Stern in collaboration with the New York firm of Warren & Wetmore.

Construction would last 10 years. Excavation was an enormous undertaking as the grade of the rail yard was lowered to a depth of 30 feet below street level. Yet, in spite of the upheaval, rail service continued uninterrupted and Grand Central Terminal officially opened to great fanfare on February 2, 1913 and more than 150,000 people visited on its opening day. Grand Central was now the busiest train station in the country with a bustling suburban concourse on the lower level and famous long distance trains like the Fast Mail, the Wolverine and the 20th Century Limited departing from its main concourse This was a very glamorous time for train travel and one that is depicted in many movies during this period. In 1947, over 65 million people, the equivalent of 40% of the population of the U.S., traveled the rails via Grand Central Terminal!

But the Terminal was about to fall victim to the same forces that originally enabled its construction. By the early 1950s, as post-war America transformed itself into a nation of suburbs and automobiles, revenues from long distance rail travel were plummeting. At the same time, the value of prime midtown Manhattan real estate had risen dramatically and in 1954, the railroad commissioned plans to demolish Grand Central Terminal and replace it with a 6 million square foot office tower.

Nothing came of this plan but in 1963, the 59 story Pan Am Building (now Met Life), went up at the rear of the terminal, sealing off Park Avenue and completely obscuring the view of the terminal from uptown. At the same time, the interior of the terminal was being parceled out for billboards and advertising in an effort to increase revenues. As many can recall, there was, during this time, a gigantic Kodak billboard hanging on the eastern wall of the Great Hall, all but obliterating the dramatic arched windows with their thousands of glass panes and the soft rays of light which illuminate the Main Concourse. This was not Grand Central’s finest hour.

In 1967, the recently established Landmarks Preservation Commission, formed in response to the demolition of glorious Pennsylvania Station, designated Grand Central Terminal as a landmark, thus protecting it by law. Still, plans to significantly change or alter the interior, to demolish the façade, and to build a 55 story tower above the terminal persisted, but over a litigious ten year period, the Landmarks Commission, with the not insignificant help of one Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, thwarted all changes.

In December, 1976, the National Register of Historic Places named Grand Central Terminal a National Historic Landmark, sparing it from the wrecking ball. However, Grand Central was far from saved. After decades of deferred maintenance, the building was crumbling. In 1983, Metro-North took over the operation of the terminal and soon after began a systematic program of repairs and improvements. In 1988, a revitalization plan was undertaken as well as a retail plan to address amenities and services. In April, 1990, a $425 Million master plan for Grand Central Terminal was implemented and construction began in 1996 with the cleaning of the Main Concourse and the Sky Ceiling. A few years later, with the final scaffolding dismantled and the last construction crew departed, this venerable New York City landmark embarked on a new chapter of its history. Now completely restored with pedestrian circulation overhauled, climate controls added, 100 shops and restaurants and a fresh food and produce marketplace, Grand Central Terminal is once again New York City’s premier meeting, shopping, dining and transportation hub.

A few interesting facts throughout Grand Central’s history:

• In 1923, John W. Campbell rented a spare room in the terminal as a pied a terre and had it decorated to recall the interior of a 13th century Florentine palace. Today, The Campbell Apartment is a luxurious, intimate cocktail lounge popular with commuters, tourists and New Yorkers alike. In this same year, the Grand Central Art Gallery opened on the 6th floor of the terminal, and in 1937, the Grand Central Theatre, a 242 seat movie house, opened.
• The floor of the Main Concourse measures 200 feet by 120 feet and the vaulted Sky Ceiling mural is 120 feet above the Main Concourse floor.
• The sculpture group above the main entrance is entitled “Transportation”, stands 50 feet tall and 60 feet wide and weighs 1500 tons. It depicts Mercury, Minerva and Hercules and was created by Jules Couton. The structure sits upon a monumental clock with a diameter of 13 feet.
• Every day 700,000 people pass through Grand Central Terminal, which is the population of Alaska!
• It is the second most visited site in NYC after Times Square. 200,000 people visit it every day.
• The retail space in the Terminal garners half a billion dollars a year for goods and services, and every day 10,000 people lunch here.
• The clock above the information booth has been valued at between $10 to $20 Million. Every face of the four-faced clock is made out of one solid piece of precious opal.

When you visit Grand Central Terminal, be sure to stop by the New York Transit Museum. Here you’ll find the history of New York City’s mass transit system in displays and photographs. You can pick up gifts and memorabilia. Maps too. Grand Central Terminal, as ever, continues to help us on our way!

Tours of Grand Central
Wednesdays at 12:30 pm
The Municipal Arts Society sponsors a tour every Wednesday at 12:30 pm. Meet the tour guide at the center information booth on the Main Concourse. There is a suggested donation of $10 per person.. For information call 212-935-3960

Fridays at 12:30 pm
The Grand Central Partnership sponsors a free, 90 minute walking tour of Grand Central Terminal and the surrounding neighborhood. The tour meets in the Sculpture Court of the Whitney Museum on East 42nd Street across from Grand Central. For information call 212-883-2420 or visit