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Alexander McQueen for Samsonite Arrives

McqueensamsoniteThee are so many designer  co-branded collaborations going around that we can hardly keep track these days. Last summer we told you that Alexander McQueen was working with Samsonite on a line of suitcases and travel bags, and the first ones have arrived exclusively at the Samsonite Black Label Store on Madison Avenue.Samsonitemcq They have a sculptural elegance, and McQueen makes interesting use of textures like an oversized crocodile print. Our favorite piece is a white rolling suitcase embossed with the pattern of a human rib cage on the front and back. Clever, artistic and kinda creepy all at the same time.

Samsonite Black Label 838 Madison Avenue, Upper East Side

Goodbye Floris

FlorismadisonFans of classic British toiletries will have the bittersweet pleasure of a 50% off sale as the venerable Floris prepares to close the doors of its Madison Avenue boutique forever.Florissign_1 The sign in the window (pictured at left) indicates that the company is exiting the retail business altogether, and directs customers to their website and other retailers who carry their products. Our bet is that yet another luxury jeweler will take the space, though it would be nice to see a little bit of diversity left on Madison Avenue.

Goodbye Federated...Hello Macy's Group

Fdslogo_1Macys_logo_1 In its continuing efforts to obliterate anything associated with the past, Federated Department Stores Inc. has announced that it is renaming itself The Macy's Group. Having already erased so many beloved regional retailer brands from the landscape (Chicagoans are still grumbling about the loss of Marshall Field's) Federated has turned its strategy on itself and, pending the approval of its board, will now be known with the same name as the giant retailer it only owned, finally leaving crown jewel Bloomingdale's in the humbling position of being just a division of...Macy's.

Disturbing Runway Trend: Viktor & Rolf's Personal Lighting Systems

Viktorrolf1 Viktorrolf2It's only a few days into the Prêt-à-Porter shows in Paris, but we think we may have a winner in the catwalk contrivance competition. They are almost as famous for their unorthodox presentations as they are for their clothes, so it should come as no surprise that Viktor & Rolf decided to send each model down the runway with her own personal light and sound system precariously perched on her shoulders to demonstrate that each model should be her own self-contained fashion show, complete with rigging. Naturally, opinions varied wildly on this clever trick. WWD swooned about it, but Style.com's Sarah Mower found it offensive and tortuous to the models. The Times' Cathy Horyn and The Washington Post's Robin Givhan have yet to be heard from on the matter. Her at The Shophound, we find it amusing, bu we are more disturbed about the fact that every model was shod in yellow wooden clogs. Yellow. Wooden. Clogs. We aren't worried that women are going to feel tempted to accessorize with scaffolding, but as far as yellow clogs are concerned, don't even think about it.
See the collection here on Elle.com.

Liz Pulls Mexx's Plug • Gap Shutters Forth & Towne

MexxnewyokJust the other day The Shophound was walking past the big Mexx store at 650 Fifth Avenue and thinking to ourselves that we had no interest whatsoever in  what might be inside. Apparently, we are not alone in that sentiment, because parent Liz Claiborne has chosen to close all remaining U.S. Mexx stores. The Dutch company, which was purchased by Liz in 2001, continues to be a rousing success in Europe, but with little promotion aside from two prominent New York stores, the brand was never fully launched in the States and failed to generate any buzz on its own. The behemoth parent company will be focusing its resources on promoting Lucky Brand Jeans, Juicy Couture, C&C Califirnia, Sigrid Olsen and the recently acquired Kate Spade. The closure leaves Liz with a highly covetable 9,000 square foot piece of Fifth Avenue real estate which had been converted from a Liz Claiborne brand flagship when the company purchased Mexx. We have yet to learn whether the company will once again convert the space or dump it, though other smaller locations like the SoHo unit could more easily be handed over to their other brands.
On a related note, Gap Inc. has announced that it's recently launched new store concept, Forth & Towne will be shutting its 19 doors as well. If you are not familiar with this retailer it's probably because they hadn't opened a unit in New York City, preferring to launch the moderate, middle-of-the-road women's shops mostly in suburban malls. As the company is practically in crisis mode, it would seem prudent to axe the still small division whose reception had been lukewarm at best. None of this bodes particularly well for Piperlime, Gap's recently launched online shoe retailer, though that divisions considerably lower overhead might save it as Gap tries once again to reinvent its core brands.

Greenwich is the New Bleecker: "T" Fashions of the Times Sends the Style Vutures West

WestwestvillageThis season's issue of "Fashions of the Times", (or should we just say T?) kicks off the rush to the West West Village now that all the charm has officially been sucked out of Bleecker Street. Christine Muhlke provides a handy dandy map to Greenwich Street and beyond, although there is no cupcake shop to clog the sidewalk (yet). The architecture there does not easily lend itself to solid blocks of storefronts, but we're sure some intrepid real estate agents will find their ways around any obstacles. It's now only a matter of time before BCBG or some Liz Claiborne owned brand comes in and takes over a block.

Western Bloc by Christine Muhlke (NYTimes)

Our Two Cents about Oscar Fashion

ReesericciTypically, this is the sort of occasion when we would simply defer to The Fug Girls, but, since everyone will have an opinion, here's ours. Reese Witherspoon is not exactly the one we would expect to be crowning the Queen of Awards Show Fashion, but she achieved a trifecta of sorts with her exclusive collaboration with Olivier Theyskens and his first dresses for Nina Ricci. He managed to give her a surprising shot of sex appeal this season while getting invaluable publicity for the line's relaunch. Everybody wins.
Special mention goes to Cameron Diaz in architectural Valentino that floated behind her as she walked across the stage, Maggie Gyllenhaal who brought Proenza Schouler to the Oscars, Kirsten Dunst in a spectacular Chanel, Gwyneth Paltrow in peach Zac Posen and Celine Dion (!) in vintage Galanos for the red carpet and J. Mendel for her performance. Jessica Biel went for understatement in fuschia Oscar de la Renta, which was perfect for her role as designated up-and-coming starlet and proved that you don't need a single sequin when you are that drop-dead gorgeous. Cate Blanchett's Armani column was a home run for standing, but, sadly, turned into a base hit when it came time to walk. We didn't quite get all the post-show hate for Anne Hathaway's black and white Valentino. The beautiful Eva Green did everything she could to undermine her considerable natural good looks with an unflattering hairdo, heavy eye makeup and a Givenchy that looked strangely lumpy, and Jennifer Lopez should know that full empire silhouettes make her look wider than she is, and so should Marchesa. But kudos to Jennifer Hudson for the kooky gold snakeskin bolero she wore over her Oscar de la Renta. It was the kind of glitzy, extra (removeable) touch that makes things interesting. Overall, though, people looked pretty good without resorting to safe and boring choices. We couldn't help noticing that the sweetly feminine Vera Wang dresses on Jodie Foster and Rachel Weisz bore little resemblance to the self consciously avant-garde things she has been sending down the runway these days. Perhaps Vera can glean a message from that.  Now, if only someone could get Nicole Kidman to stop doing stuff to her face, or maybe a bee just happened to sting her on the lips on the way to the Kodak Theater.
Jessicabiel_1 Camerondiaz_1 Cateblanchett Maggiegyllenhaal Celinedion Gwynethpaltrow_1We saw all the pictures right away at Oscar.com

UPDATE: We would be remiss in our duties if we were to have any discussion about Oscar fashion without including Sally Kirkland. Sally was nominated for best actress exactly 20 years ago for "Anna", a little seen movie costarring supermodel and future "Dancing With The Stars" contestant Paulina Porizkova. It was a weak year for female performances. Since then, she has consistently appeared at the ceremonies in a succession of ridiculous dresses, like this one:
Sallykirkland_1One of our favorite Oscar activities is finding Sally and seeing what she wore.
We are told this was designed and made for her by her Kabbalah Rabbi.
We were unaware that one of the many benefits of Kabbalah study was human flight, which Sally is demonstrating here.
Hard to believe that her mother was a fashion editor for Vogue and Life magazines.

Disturbing Runway Trend: The Return of the Giant Fur Hands

Marnibighands2Marnibighands1So unusual to see a styling trick from way back at the men's shows pop up on a women's runway. So unusual that anyone would think that Burberry's big bear hands would look good on a pretty lady. So unusual that we are still writing about this crackpot styling trick.
Well, not really.
Lord knows we have seen crackpot styling tricks make it all the way to the sidewalk more times than we can count, but we remain bewildered as to why in her otherwise terrific looking Marni show, designer Consuelo Castiglioni felt compelled to add such deformative handwear. Maybe they make the toeless tights look relatively normal? (Seriously, we're kinda liking those weird hose...)

Judge the rest of it for yourself here at Elle.com.

The Madison Avenue's Menswear Block

Img_1743_1Since we were already going down to Brooks Brothers, we decided that it was a good opportunity to check out the other famous men's stores on the same block, because along with brooks, J. Press and Paul Stuart run sort of a gamut of men's classic clothing, all next door to each other. The three create a sort of mini-menswear district for the Grand Central area.
If you think Brooks Brothers is preppy, you are right, but it is a big chain, and its offerings are naturally broadened to appeal to a wide customer base. If you are in search of real, hard-core, Gin and Tonic swilling prepdom, you need look no further than around the corner on 44th street for New York's outpost of J. Press. This is a true prep haven that boasts it's collegiate roots. The company was started on the campus of yale, and still sells ties festooned with skulls and bones, as well as a great array of neackwear decorated with ducks and other fowl. While the general concept is similar to Brooks, one gets a time warp feeling here, as if you can tell that the merchandise has really not changed much in  50 years. Looking for kelly green cotton pants with whales? Look no further. Likewise for bright madras sportcoats, striped ribbon belts with buckles or d-rings, heavy knit fair-isle socks, brushed shetland sweaters in primary colors, grosgrain watch bands, wool fair-isle socks, fisherman knit sweaters, and blazers made in a harlequin-type style, with each panel of fabric a different color or pattern. It's like they stocked the store from The Official Preppy Handboook. It's all charming, and slightly scary at the same time.
We hadn't been into Paul Stuart in quite a some time, but upon entry we found ourselves in a time warp of a different sort. We would be willing to bet that the store hasn't changed in at least 20 years. The merchandise is as opulent as ever. It is geared more towards the Brooks customer who has been promoted, gone to Europe a few times, hungers for more sophistication, and has the means to pay for it. What struck us was the almost maniacal consistency of the layout, as if nobody had ever succeeded in suggesting that the sweaters might look good on the other side of the store for a change. Each section held the same exact sort of merchandise it always had in exactly the same place, all classic and timeless, but the effect was a little creepy. One might have thought that the 70's era décor would have become so hopelessly dated by now that it had actually come back into fashion, but it hasn't, and the store is in desperate need of a facelift. Whoever is running it is clearly focused on maintaining a tidy status quo, perhaps so the store's fiercely loyal customers will always know where everything is, but luxurious as it is, and there are lot's of beautiful things there, it would benefit immensely from even the slightest bit of shaking up.

J.Press 7 East 44th Street

Paul Stuart Madison Avenue at 45th Street

Mike Albo Goes Shopping: Preppy Handbook Edition

BrooksawningToday marks the return of Mike Albo to the now rotating team of writers who have taken over Critical Shopper duties in Thursday Styles from the absent Alex Kuczynski. We don't know why she's gone, or if she's coming back. We don't like being left hanging like this! We simply have to make do with what we can, and while it would be unrealistic, and perhaps cruel to expect anyone else to be as carnival-freak-crazy Alex, thus far, Mike has done better than anyone else at putting his own droll perspective on visiting well-known New York institutions. Last time it was Kiehls, and this week he visits Brooks Brothers at Madison and 44th Street, a veritable icon of all-American retailing. Brooks is believed to be the oldest men's clothier in the United States, and for over a century it was a bastion of tradition and consistency until, as Albo notes, it was purchased by Marks & Spencer in the 90's. Brooks Brothers was the innocent victim of a flurry of retail conglomerate mergers, acquisitions and bankruptcies. M&S decided to impose some distressing modernization on what grown into a major chain, resulting in a sort of Banana Republification on the store that managed to alienate faithful customers without actually attracting many new ones. Retail Brand Alliance, the chain's new owner, has gone to great expense to restore the store's merchandise back to its original quality level and styling concepts, and the main floor is once again awash in classic button down collar dress shirts and foulard ties with classic logos returned to their proper places and even original fixtures exhumed from storage. Cashmere sweaters are once again made in Scotland instead of cheaper China which means that these hefty two ply knits will last pretty much forever, and at $298 for a basic v-neck, ($199 on clearance) remain very well priced for the quality. The Madison Avenue flagship has restored its air of patrician gentility as if the M&S years had never happened. A doorman greets us at the entrance, and the staff is appropriately solicitous at mid-afternoon, though it must be noted that this neighborhood has a unique shopping traffic pattern based on its proximity to Grand Central Terminal. Early morning, after work and lunch are busy times, especially in a store devoted mostly to menswear.

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