Saturday, September 29, 2007

Designer Spotlight: Seema Anand of Blue Plate Fashion

Blue Plate Fashion specializes in original cotton prints with embroidery and other East Indian flourishes done in modern silhouettes. You’ve probably purchased a Blue Plate skirt or top at your favorite department store or boutique. But the trendy fashion line is branching out with a couture line just in time for the approaching holiday season.

During New York Fashion Week Spring 2008, I spoke with Seema Anand, Blue Plate's head designer, inside the fashion house's exotic showroom. The gracious designer tells me that the showroom, which has a gorgeous antique swing from India as its centerpiece, is modeled after the colorful and vibrant city of Little Jaipur.

Here are the highlights of our chat:

Question: Tell me about your couture line and what differentiates it from the regular Blue Plate fashion line?

Seema Anand: The regular line is mainly prints and 100 percent cotton and the couture line is satin and embroidery detailed work with crystals. The silhouettes are similar and the only difference is fabric and the embroidery, which makes it more special and slightly more expensive. I don’t see a big difference though. Couture is something you wear in the evening and special occasions but the customer is the same for both lines. The couture line is priced reasonably, even though we call it couture. The line retails from $75- $300. The line is for the holidays and evenings. The contemporary bride could wear the whites and the shorter dresses instead of a traditional gown.

Q: Did you have trends for 2008 in mind?

SA: Silhouettes have to be with what’s happening in the mainstream market. There was a lot of talk about the bubble dress and dresses with an empire waist, so we incorporated that in the line. We used crystals on the chest and neck area to make it special. I remember when we used to do a lot of tulle skirts and one of the magazines used the tulle mini-dress for a prom dress. They took it to the next level because girls were so sick of wearing the basic prom dress and that’s when this trend came about. When you have modern girls who don’t want to look like everyone else, give them modern shapes. And that same thing could be used for other special occasions and weddings. The couture line is for a customer who’s looking for something different and doesn’t want to wear traditional pieces.

Q: Tell me about Blue Plate's accessories line.

SA: There’s a jewelry line and turbans and scarves. The jewelry is handcrafted as well. It’s not very pricey but it’s very special. There’s a lot of bling. It’s great for clubbing and eveningwear because it’s glitzy and has great colors made from Austrian crystals. It retails from $35 - $300. It’s quite unique for the price.

Q: What designers have you been inspired by?

SA: My biggest inspiration has been Jean Paul Gautier. I loved the collection he did with the tattooing that became popular. A lot of his inspiration comes from different cultures and he does a lot with mixed media. Christian Lacroix and Balenciaga do a beautiful job. I also love the way Diane von Furstenberg has come back – it’s fabulous.

Q: What’s next for Blue Plate?

SA: We’re hosting a white and gold party in October to launch our white line of dresses. We want to have our own Blue Plate store within department stores and we are launching a website in India. I spend half of my time in India. The young girls there are starved for fashion. It’s a great time to be there. Everything is new and business is booming. With the accessibility of computers, girls are able to see what’s happening in the fashion and celebrity world. They love American fashion.

Q: What’s your advice for up-and-coming fashion designers?

SA: [Fashion is] very glamorous on the surface, but it’s a lot of hard work. You have to bring something new every season. You can’t do a line once and disappear. Keep turning out new work and good designs. And stand behind your [fashion] line.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Like a Virgin: Notes from a Fashion Week Newbie

I got my first taste of New York Fashion Week during the Fall 2008 shows when I scored an actual invite to the Venexiana show. I can't remember much about the clothes (they were nice), but it didn't matter cause I'd made it into the tents, baby. The music was blasting and my adrenaline was pumping as I watched the "yes they really are that thin" models strut on the cat walk. This was better than a rock show. The blistering cold weather and stubborn security guards, however, deterred me from going to more shows. My gutsy fashion gal pals told me to just walk up to the Bryant Park entrance and waltz in. Without an actual invite, I didn't have the nerve.

But the recent Spring 2008 shows were a different story. I guess actually writing about fashion and shopping instead of just obssessing over clothes has given me the confidence to rage ahead into the Full Frontal Fashion frontier. The second day of Fashion Week, I sashayed up the main entrance with a fellow newbie. When asked by a burly gatekeeper if I had an invitation, I calmy replied that I was on the guest list for "fill in the blank" designer's show. Once inside, my new friend and I giggled like school girls. We were in the tents, baby. Then we did what all Fashion Week attendees without an invite to a particular show do and waited in line for standing room tickets. "I'm a freelance writer," I informed the blonde, model-y looking guy with the clipboard who at that moment stood between me and the Terexov show -- my first of the season. "You're lucky my friend is a freelance writer," the charming cad joked and scribbled "S" for standing room on two index cards. Victory was ours.

The rest of Fashion Week was eventful but exhausting. I went to Richard Chai's show and his lovely collection was ruled by shades of silver, ecru, and indigo and plenty of men's inspired cuts for women. I waited in line for more than an hour to get a free pair of Havianas flip-flops, which either makes me way cool or a big loser. On the down side, my standing room requests were rejected a few times, surprisingly for the Met Life Snoopy show and predictably for Michael Kors where I spotted Star Jones and Anna Wintour rushing in.

My most memorable moments were spent at the Style 360 shows in Chelsea's Metropolitan Pavillion. There I attended -- assigned seat and all -- the debut of Alexis Phifer's "Ghita" line. Alexis is engaged to rapper Kanye West and the hip-hop superstar (I know he would love that description considering he is, as he told hilarious shock jock Wendy Williams, "the number one human being in the world") was sitting in the front row with his Mom, proudly watching his girl's rockin' '80s inspired frocks rip the runway. Before the show, Kanye bobbed his head to the DJ spinning Prince's "She's Always in My Hair" (boy did that track take me back) and several cuts from what else but his new album "The Graduate."

Other Style 360 highlights include characters from my favorite reality TV shows: Malan Breton of "Project Runway"' showed a sophisticated collection that climaxed with a darling wedding gown and Loris Diran's ready-to-wear collection was styled by former "America's Next Top Model" judge Nole Marin. A surprisingly masculine-looking Miss Jay Alexander was front and center for that show honey! I also saw smugly handsome photog and ANTM judge Nigel Barker sitting pretty at several shows.

Another notable off-site presentation was "Project Runway"' contestant Zulema Griffin's avant Afrobeat Spring 2008 collection at Chelsea's RushArts Gallery. The collection, "Slave to the Rhythm, Fela's Wives," was inspired by late Afrobeat artist Fela Kuti who had 27 wives. Zulema's largest collection to date features a mix of bold African prints and metallic fabrics.

I can't wait until the Fall 2008 shows. I've made more contacts. Hopefully that means more invites.

Best Fashion Week Freebies:
Havianas flip-flops
Espresso gelato
Baby Phat wallet in hot pink
Henri Bendel chocolate bars
Karma Champagne- brand new single serve, sparkling wine from California

Monday, September 17, 2007

Amazing Grace (Me and Ms. Jones)

"You know who you look like?" a woman once asked while I was getting my hair pressed. "Grace Jones." The musky smell of hot hair and
Afro Sheen lingered. My tweleve-year-old face sullened. "She thinks I look like that scary lady?" I must have thought to myself. Detecting my dismay, she offered, "I mean that as a compliment." I feigned a smile. When the woman left, my hairdresser, Shirley, told me, "You don't look like Grace Jones. You're prettier than that."

You see, at that age I didn't want to be associated with anyone darker than I already was. Growing up and to this day, the beauty of darker skinned black women is often prefaced with the footnote, "You're pretty for a dark-skinned girl" or the obnoxious cat-call "Hey dark and lovely." I still don't understand what skin color has to do with your degree of beauty.

Yet twenty-five years since I was offended that someone thought I looked like Grace Jones (the only real similarity is that we've both been blessed with high cheekbones and dark brown skin), I'm re-discovering and embracing that mad icon of brazen sexuality and avant-garde style. I've been combing vintage stores for a t-shirt with her androygynous image. During a recent trip to a Brooklyn Salvation Army, I was digging in the $1 record crates and found copies of her 1982 "Living My Life" LP and the 12" single of the rhythmically intoxicating single "Slave to the Rhythm."

The sales clerk gave me and the album covers a puzzled double-take. "Isn't that the girl from Conan [the Barbarian]?" I loved Grace as a nocturnal seductress in the campy vampire flick "Vamp," as the crazed Amazonian villain opposite James Bond in "A View to a Kill" and as the comical diva Strangee in "Boomerang," however I didn't immediately recall her from "Conan." But an older man standing next to me did and he proudly told the clerk, "Yes, that's Grace Jones."
Weeks later, I'm sitting in the Musee' d'art contemporain de Montreal (the Contemporary Museum of Art in Montreal) watching the uncensored version of Grace's stereotype-riddled (black face, pickinnies, Venus Hotentot), gender-bending high-art-meets-couture fashion video for "Slave to the Rhythm." I'm mesmerized. She is unashamedly black, bold and beautiful. I want to be as fearless in my skin as she is in hers. Ms. Jones is a muse for black girls and self-empowered women everywhere.