Saturday, November 22, 2008

Fashion & Media Come Together at the IFCSF Mixer

The Innovative Fashion Council brought together members of local fashion media and the design community last Wednesday night at the W Hotel San Francisco for a night of networking, discussion and a fashion show. The mixer was an opportunity for the fashion community to mix and mingle while hitting on a big topic - "Does Eco-Fashion Matter in a Down Economy? Retail and branding strategist Bertrand Pellegrin from Gensler (and author of upcoming book Branding the Man) moderated a panel of fashion insiders which included: Samantha Durbin - Editor,; Nerissa Pacio - Associate Editor, Fashion & Beauty, 7x7 Magazine; Dino Ray Ramos - Fashion & Entertainment Contributor for AsianWeek Magazine, 944 and; Melissa Davis - Founder of Ruby PR and Past Contributing Editor for Lucky magazine; Riley John-Donnell - Founder and Publisher of Surface magazine; and Audrey Mansfield - Style Contributor for The View from the Bay (ABC-7).

Pellegrin opened the panel by saying that while the evening’s topic was originally focused on the relevance of eco-fashion, he was interested in hearing whether fashion itself still matters, and are people even thinking about fashion today? He shared with the group some staggering numbers on the industry - retail sales were down 2.8% in October from September and 4.1% from this time last year, quite a substantial decline. Online sales are down at a rate of 5% every month, Neiman Marcus is down 28%, Abercrombie & Fitch is down 20%, and every week we hear of another large chain closing or falling into bankruptcy. So with prices for high fashion not dropping anytime soon and magazines losing more advertising pages and condensing their editorial spreads, how can fashion survive the impending recession? And finally, how to keep the importance of sustainable and eco-fashion alive when shoppers are drastically cutting their budgets to allow only for the basics? The good news is that fashion is indeed still very relevant and more meaningful than ever.

The first question addressed by the panel centered on the changes in consumer buying habits and how shoppers are thinking differently about fashion. In response, Davis pointed out that shoppers are looking for that one key piece to take them through the season - that "look for less." Shoppers are still paying attention, but they're choosier about what they decide to purchase. Ramos brought up the point that "sustainable fashion is essentially an oxymoron, because sustainable is all about longevity and fashion always changes." He went on to discuss the area of "fast fashion" which is essentially how stores like H&M and Zara operate - they see the collections for the next season, copy it, and have it on the racks before the original pieces even hit the stores. John-Donnell made the point that certain capsule collections like Stella McCartney or Comme des Garcons for H&M not only create a buying frenzy among all fashion devotees, they are also likely to last longer in someone's closet because of the unique nature and better quality of the clothes. In regards to the launch of the Comme des Garcons collection earlier this month, the almost entertainment value of shopping must continue to increase to keep shoppers engaged.

Pellegrin addressed that given eco-fashion is still on the fringe and seen as a trend (even with luxury retailers like Barney's promoting eco-design, it's still at a price point higher than what the average consumer can afford) how do we keep championing the idea of sustainable fashion as a movement and not just a short-lived fad? Pacio said that as a fashion editor she always tries to pull in pieces from local designers that are chic and sustainable, yet still mix well with high-fashion looks from mainstream designers. But as the magazine industry gets hit harder each day with loss of ad sales revenue, editors are forced to cut their pages and the amount of looks they can feature. In a similar sense, Durbin for her web site, always looks for the sustainable angle when reporting on mainstream brands like Banana Republic and the small eco-collection they launched earlier this year. The panel agreed that more importantly, people need to be educated about what is available today in sustainable fashion and shown that it has moved past the hippie factor. What is refreshing is that the media is very engaged with eco-fashion today and that price points for these items will come down as awareness increases.

For new designers, Pellegrin stated that many larger retail establishments are not bringing in new talent with the current economic client. So how can a new designer get out there and capture attention? It’s all about having an amazing press kit and beautiful photography. For someone like Durbin at Fabsugar, if she receives gorgeous, high-quality photos and excellent copy she can have a new post up the same day. Pacio and Mansfield, who both receive requests each day from designers for editorial coverage, feel that professionalism in the pitch is key. Mansfield also pointed out that on "View from the Bay" an eco-centric show never works for their ratings, so she must incorporate sustainable design as a "by-the-way" portion of a fashion segment. The rise of fashion blogs has also made it easier for new designers to get cheap and fast advertising - an advertisement in Vogue may be out of reach, but a banner ad on a fashion blog is an easy way to drive traffic to a new fashion start-up.

Another interesting point made about the changes in the industry and the place of sustainable fashion is the idea of fashion likening itself to the slow food movement. As we consume less we're more apt to find out more about what is we're buying, where our clothes are coming from, and what the story is behind them. Shoppers are looking for a meaningful experience rather than a quick buy. And so in this type of environment, new designers may be at a greater advantage. According to Mansfield, getting your designs in front of a stylist is key given the impact they have on the media. Pacio stated that in a market like San Francisco she has great relationships and partnerships with local stylists she trusts, but in a market like L.A. it's much more strategic and focused on product placement. John-Donnell pointed out that edgier designers like Rick Owens are coming to the forefront because the public is looking for a unique idea they can wear rather than something straight out of an editorial spread. This approach has already shaped European fashion - in a city like Paris it's always been about wearing what's different or unknown rather than flaunting a logo or big-name label.

Also discussed was how fashion editors are grappling with the task of balancing aspiration with reality. Readers still want to dive into the pages of their favorite magazines and fall into these beautiful and luxurious spreads, but editors need to be conscious of the fact that they must provide real options for real people at the same time. Durbin mentioned that there is a reverse trend going on in fashion consumption where she gets complimented for her vintage $5 T-shirt instead of a trendy, more expensive piece. However, all agreed that if you have a Chanel bag, by all means use it but mix it up with more casual pieces.

Pellegrin concluded with taking some questions from audience members interested in learning more about how to get their creations in front of the editors. Again, it all comes down to the designs, the photography, and professionalism. You might have the best pitch for your ideas but if the designs fall short they won't go any further. Other ideas for new designers that came out of the discussion are to treat your company like a start-up, avoid paying any overhead and consider showcasing your pieces on direct-to-designer sites like

After a brief break, guests were invited back in to enjoy a special fashion show with IFCSF Members and featured designers including evening-wear appropriate vegan footwear from Kailia Italian Footwear, jet-setting eco-luxe travel bags from JenDarling, and jewelry from Hearts Desire in Oakland. Tho show also featured designer brands including Del Forte Denim and select looks from Sofie Ølgaard, Goorin Brothers and Carrots Boutique in San Francisco. Special thanks to everyone who helped put on the show: Charleston Pierce and Claudia Hutchins for fashion show production, Rowena Hutchinson Ritchie for PR, Show Stylists Velvet Valentine and Leslie Foley, and Advisory board and show stylist Yugala Priti. Finally, thanks to our event sponsors: The W Hotel San Francisco, The Cinta Aveda Institute, The Passport Modeling Agency, Come Hither Cupcakes, Veev Life, Phuket beer, Perkins Coie, VehicleSF, DJ Melvin “j”, and Warren Difranco / for Event Photography.

Thanks again to the more than 150 supporters of the Innovative Fashion Council who turned up for this great event – our next networking event will be sometime in January. Until then we have all kinds of great things coming up, including an interview with Vogue’s European Editor-at-Large Hamish Bowles.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Q & A with Nous Savons

While wandering around the Appel & Frank Eco-Chic Shopping event last month, I came across a designer who I had also spotted at Capsule. I wasn't the only one who took notice. Shoppers were busy peeling off their layers to try on the reconstructed and improved button-down shirts designed by Nous Savons designer and owner Jocelyn Nguyen. The beauty of what she does is reflected in the care she takes in turning around what was once a boring, secretary-style blouse and making it a unique and edgy wearable piece of art. I was intrigued by what motivated and inspired Jocelyn to first, work with these kinds of fabrics, and also to find out how she made the big break to start her own business.

What made you decide to pick these thrift store shirts and reconstruct them?

I've always been a thrift store shopper. I started out collecting vintage while I was in junior high school (who didn't?) I would come across amazing vintage pieces with just one horrible flaw (like a stain or hole), and couldn't resist buying them for the material. Eventually I started anthropomorphizing the clothing and feeling really sorry for the things that I didn't think anyone was buying-- mainly the "boring" stuff such as button-down shirts, blazers, pleated wool pants. So I bought a few shirts with no ideas in mind and just spent some time draping them. I actually have no idea what was going through my head when I initially cut the sleeves off and made the ruffle yoke with them. But this is how I work--just very instinctively.

When did you first start "playing with clothes?"

My mother is an amazing seamstress and made a lot of clothing for my sister and me while we were growing up, but I never exactly had sewing lessons from her. Even when I was a kid I was way more into hand-sewing and draping, or altering existing clothing. But the fact that my mother made clothing so frequently and nonchalantly made it all seem really accessible to me.

How did you end up starting your own business?

Even though I'd been making things all my life, I never thought my craft could be a business that could sustain me. Then early, early one morning, after staying up all night putting together a job application I got an email from Scott and Harris, the guys who put together the Hayes Valley Capsule Festival. It was a last-minute call for designers for their next show. In my totally sleep-deprived state I went ahead and applied for the show even though I wasn't making ANYTHING tangible at the time. So I spent the next month and a half filled with dread and panic, working every minute I had outside of my regular full-time job, making things for the fair. The response was amazing, and I got a lot of leads for boutiques and other shows out of it. I spent the next year or so doing shows and selling to stores while still working full time. Eventually I realized I had to either quit my job and go all out on the business, or I had to quit the business and find something that could be a career. Of course, I chose the business and I have no regrets.

You don't have a formal fashion design background - how do you find the tools to execute your vision?

I studied photography in college, which sometimes comes out in my design process. Reconstructed pieces are a lot like photography in that, to me, they are much more about editing than creating: you choose your materials from existing objects, and then you put them together or take them apart, but you don't work from scratch The end result is so much more than the sum of its parts.

What are your thoughts on sustainable fashion?

Creating sustainable clothing is really important to me. I actually do my own rounds of thrift stores, searching for and hand selecting everything that I reconstruct. It's much more time-consuming than just ordering exactly the amount of whatever material I need, and knowing that the quality and characteristics are going to be the same every time, but that is part of the fun. It makes me feel good to know that I am taking things that people discard and turning them into something extremely desirable. My clothing means more to me, piece by piece, than it would if I was just designing samples that would be reproduced by the thousands. I also love the unpredictable nature of the process, from searching out the materials, reconstructing them (and, though I do virtually the same alteration on all the shirts and vests, each piece really looks different depending on the original structure of the garment), and then eventually finding the right person for each piece.

What do you think about the state of eco-conscious design in San Francisco?

I think there are a lot of different ways to be an eco-conscious designer (whether it be rescue-and-reconstruction, or using green materials, or even running other aspects of your business sustainably) and there are many examples of each kind in San Francisco. We're lucky that being green is something that people are not only constantly thinking about in San Francisco, but actually practicing. I also have to add that there is a disproportionate amount of amazing smaller designers in San Francisco, and it has a lot to do with the support the indie design community gets from the public. It's a nice symbiotic relationship that really benefits everybody.

Finally, how did you come up with the name "Nous Savons?"

It came to me out of nowhere. It's a bit of a joke-- it popped into my head as the snottiest name possible for a clothing line before I even had a clothing line. It's funny to me to see (a) who knows what it means and (b) who understands that it's a joke. Sometimes people take it a lot more seriously than I do.

You can find Nous Savons at the new Etsy shop (clothes to come soon), and in San Francisco at Needles & Pens, The Mission Statement, Still Life, Arkay Workshop, and soon at Bell Jar.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Coming Up: Week of November 17th

This is the big week for the next Innovative Fashion Council Mixer! Please stop by the W Hotel on Wednesday, the 19th between 6:30-9:30pm for cocktails and networking with the San Francisco design community. Be sure to arrive early as we'll have a panel of media experts talking about the state of sustainable fashion in today's economy, plus fashion shows featuring local designers. For more information and to purchase a ticket, click here.

Fashion Group International host their Annual Scholarship Fundraiser to benefit young design students on Thursday, the 20th from 5:30-8pm at The Academy of Art University Art Gallery. There will be a silent auction and a video presentation of the Spring 2009 Ready-to-Wear collections. For more information, click here.

An Evening of Yves Saint Laurent with ArtPoint

ArtPoint, the young professionals arts organization of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco celebrated the new YSL exhibit at the de Young Museum on Thursday night with a sparkling cocktail party and private viewing of the exhibition. Almost 1,000 attendees showed off their best YSL-inspired fashions across the main floor and exhibit area, as well as the private lounge on the top floor Observation Deck. For this unseasonably warm and clear night in San Francisco, the view made it extremely hard for me to tear myself away from the party. But the drama of YSL below could wait no longer.

First, I must confess that when I think of YSL I always see the designer with his trademark glasses first - and after that, visions of black with Le Smoking and form-fitting vixen dresses to vamp up the night. Gliding across the top of the park in this magnificent building with the black of night reflecting against the champagne glasses and jewels of party dresses, I had to think of YSL and his feelings on the color black: “But for me, Black is a refuge because it expresses what I want. With it, everything becomes simpler, more linear, more dramatic.” The freedom to use black and not color as an expression for what you're wearing is so much bolder and has left such an imprint on the wardrobes of women. We always turn to basic black because it's the easiest way to convey professionalism, neatness and elegance at the same time. But do we think of it in relation to our environment and the places we go? YSL loved this idea, but when creating against the grey backdrop of Paris it makes sense that he consistently brought pops of color into his collections.

The retrospective at the de Young covers an enormous span of YSL's life and influences, including the very first pieces for Dior, still in the older style of trapeze dresses and swingy skirts. His take on Masculine-Feminine dressing is represented, including his pantsuit with YSL logo glittered on back and original sketches of Le Smoking. His color-blocked and still widely replicated Mondrian dresses were present, and his most far-reaching departure, the Morocco collections, where he discovered and experimented with a new color palette. Unexpected and exquisite were his Flora inspired gowns from his 1990 summer collection - a tribute to his childhood in Marrakech and Tangier. Adding even more whimsy, there is the wedding dress of roses carefully placed and originally worn by Laetitia Casta in the 1999 collection. The retrospective is worth a second trip alone just to absorb the many visions and inspirations. Never simply an outfit, YSL's designs were a manifestation of his dreams and memories - movement and elegance wrapped together in fabric and nostalgia.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

All About Yves

The flurry of fashion events stemming from the retrospective on the late Yves Saint Laurent at the De Young Museum this month has hit San Francisco on a large scale. Opening festivities might be past, but the exhibit is on view until April and is not to be missed.

On November 1st, The Innovative Fashion Council had a chance to attend a very special symposium at the Koret Auditorium on the life and cultural influence of Yves Saint Laurent. The elite group of speakers included Hamish Bowles (European Editor-at-Large for Vogue), Florence Muller (Fashion Historian, Professor and Editor for Surface Magazine), and Farid Chenoune (Fashion Historian and Author) - each with a unique perspective on how YSL shaped modern fashion for women. Pierre Berge, longtime business partner of the late YSL, provided the opening remarks.

Hamish Bowles focused his presentation on the early years as a young apprentice to Christian Dior to "The Three Fates" that led to YSL taking over the couture house and his dramatic move to open his own atelier (with the help of Berge, his devoted clients and "muses", and loyal Dior staff). While critics declared his first collection "underwhelming," Coco Chanel named him her only true heir, and the rich hues influenced by his travels to Morocco were on the way. With his new muse Loulou de la Falaise, YSL united the aristocracy with bohemianism in his collections and became the designer of his time. When he moved his couture house to the grand Avenue Marceau, YSL declared "I need opulence as others need oceans or mountains."

Farid Chenoune focused on what might be the greatest revolution in women's fashion -the debut of "Le Smoking" in 1966. This elegant take on the tuxedo for evening wear essentially gave women the power they had lost in the feminine frills of the "Mad Men" world and trapeze dresses. YSL made it possible for women to have sex appeal without the vulgarity. Chenoune further pointed out the timeless appeal of this iconic look in the example of the French fashion chain La Redoute introducing Le Smoking in its 1995 catalog. So while "Chanel gave women freedom, YSL gave them the power." And the power of this outfit couldn't be conveyed any stronger than in the uber-chic style of famed YSL muse, Betty Catroux, who was also in San Francisco during the opening of the exhibit.

In the final presentation, Florence Muller gave her own interpretation of how YSL revolutionized the world of women through her own experiences in his pieces for YSL Rive Gauche. In her own YSL ensemble, she shared the secret of YSL, which is style to help you define your own personality - not make your personality. In his spirit for modern sportswear (begun by Chanel in the early 1900's) YSL stated, "My dream is to give women the basis for a classic wardrobe, which, escaping the fashion of the moment, will give them greater confidence in themselves." And what greater gift can a designer give a woman than confidence? Muller mused that it's increasingly harder for modern designers to make the same impact as YSL, because now that women have it all, what's next?

And what is next is the impact YSL will continue to have on style and elegance. While the presenters answered many questions on the mystery and delicacy of YSL and his talents, their insights opened the door to even more musings- who is the YSL of today and would he/she even have the means to make such an impact?

There's more to come on YSL in San Francisco. Thursday night ArtPoint host a VIP party and private viewing of the exhibit and coming soon, we'll have more from Florence Muller in Paris.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Innovative Fashion Council Mixer and Media Panel Event

The IFC is hosting another fashion-filled cocktail party/mixer event at The W Hotel on Wednesday, November 19th from 6:30-9:30pm. Bertrand Pellegrin (Retail Strategist, Gensler Design Worldwide and author of "Branding the Man: Why Men Are the Next Frontier in Fashion Retail" will moderate a panel discussion with local fashion and media professionals on fashion and sustainability - "Does Eco-Fashion Matter in a Down Economy?"

Panelists include: Samantha Durbin (Editor,, Nerissa Pacio (Associate Editor, Fashion and Beauty, 7x7 Magazine), Melissa Davis (Founder, Ruby PR and Past Contributing Editor, Lucky Magazine), Dino Ray Ramos (Fashion and Entertainment Contributor, AsianWeek Magazine, 944, and, Riley John-Donnell (Founder and publisher, Surface Magazine) and Audrey Mansfield (Style Contributor, The View from the Bay).

There will also be a fashion show featuring Eco-Designer brands Kailia Italian Footwear, Del Forte Denim, JenDarling Eco Lux bags, and select looks from Carrots Boutique in San Francisco and Hearts Desire Jewelry in Oakland.

Don't miss this opportunity to network with the San Francisco fashion community and learn more about the future of sustainable design from the experts in the industry.

For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Optimism Graces the Runway at Fresh Faces in Fashion

Local designers presenting their Spring 2009 collections at the Gen Art Fresh Faces in Fashion Show held Thursday at the Regency Center proved there is adequate space in fashion for vibrancy and lightness despite what the evening news might say. Following suit with trends seen at the major Spring collections shown in September, the designers presented a variety of views that show optimism still reigns supreme on the runway.

Christopher Collins opened the show with his collection of modern Elizabethan silhouettes in luxurious fabrics, incorporating ruffles, organza and chiffon in the tiny details. The show opened strong with a soft neutral ruffle collar sleeveless top paired with a pin stripe short and Elizabethan jacket. A champagne sleeveless cocktail dress with a folded tulle-lined collar was sweet and demure, while a palace blue and emerald floral chiffon/charmeuse dress with a rouched waistband presented a flirty modern take on a sheath. The show closed with my favorite look – a blue and green print on white full skirt with fuchsia tulle below the hemline and a silk organza top with shirred collar that just floated the model down the runway.

Serial Cultura, designed by Jennifer Jennings, provided a stark contrast to Collins with more close to the skin shapes and experiments in digitally printed silks and chiffon. It’s important to note that all of the prints and graphics incorporated into the clothing are designed from original photographs and inspired by abundant elements in the environment. A large percentage of the fabrics used are sustainable and produced in less environmentally hazardous methods. Particularly interesting looks from the collection included a digitally printed silk mini-dress in bold colors of the season – lemon, fuchsia and black - over a pale lavender canvas and a matching print pleated triangle top and skirt hand silk-screened on sophisticated hues of blue and lavender.

The only Menswear collection at Fresh Faces, üba was all about utility and function. The color palette didn’t stray far from khakis or army greens, but the focus was on the usefulness of the clothing, urban wear to the hilt. Models marched down the runway with iPod ear buds (I couldn’t help think of Project Runway’s Jay Carroll and his final “headphones” show), showcasing utility jackets with shoulder-strap pockets and detachable waist pockets, cargo pants with detachable cargo pockets, and finally eliciting the most attention from the crowd, short sleeve shirts with detachable chest, waist and sleeve pockets. Throughout each look, models sported “why-not-peace” T-shirts in different languages - a reflection of the company’s goals and a current project of üba’s designer Rajesh Ananda. According to the company’s web site, “over 50% of üba’s profits are channeled to non-profit organizations focused on the promotion and protection of peace and human security” with input from the company’s customers.

From streetwear to “sweetwear” next up was my personal favorite – OdileOdette - designed by Stephanie Bodnar and Nicole Kreglow. The collection was green and sustainable and completely chic – think Parisian café society meets the French Riviera. The range of fabrics used was astounding – the first looks showed an asymmetrical pencil skirt made from blue hemp/recycled polyester denim with red tagua nut (vegetable ivory) buttons going up the front of its high waist. Paired with a simple ivory gathered open-front top and wedge heels, I could be equally comfortable in this ensemble on the weekend and at work, paired with a dressier heel. Much of the collection had a summery feel with lots of bare legs and shoulders. Mixed in were high-waisted asymmetrical sailor pants in 100% hemp herringbone paired with a green and white striped sleeveless knit top of organic cotton; a beige chevron hooded jacket also in hemp herringbone with ivory tagua nut buttons and for the finale, a wedding gown made in ivory hemp/silk charmeuse and ivory cotton Chantilly lace.

Sofie Ølgaard presented a sophisticated and supremely wearable collection of mostly knits and silks in dusty purples and greys most likely inspired by her homeland of Denmark and the melancholic Scandinavian landscapes. A two-tone pink/taupe dress in silk/cotton with a belted waist could work equally well in summer or kept later for cool weather layered with a little cashmere. A knitted dusty purple silk dress with a detachable bow was daring and very bare, while a taupe empire waist pant paired with a black silk/cotton tie-back top was as crisp and breezy as a day in Copenhagen. And a cropped black jumpsuit with buttons along the front, hidden pockets and a detachable belt could be the outfit of the season for a girl and her bike in the city.

The final collection by Louisa Parris was a bonafide swirl of long flowing yet wispy dresses in saturated hues of pink, blue, green and orange. Every look was ripe with drama from the first blue, grey and black double silk georgette gown that billowed around the model’s legs to an almost completely open black and cream silk charmeuse gown with a silk chiffon underskirt. In addition to her bold use of color blocking, Parris showcased a tiny collection of delicate black hats that paired with a burnt orange, grey and black silk charmeuse might be a bit over the top, but worn to an intimate masked ball somewhere in a castle in the English countryside seem perfect.

Fresh Faces is known to be a springboard for fashion’s emerging design talent, including Zac Posen, Rebecca Taylor and Philip Lim. Here’s hoping that at least one or all of these local designers receives an opportunity to travel through wide-open doors while keeping the spirit of San Francisco alive in their practice and aesthetics.

To see more pictures of the show please visit The Innovative Fashion Council on Facebook.