Passion Points: Style
New York-based Kathleen Beckett was fated to found a company like her recently launched Friends of Fashion. As a longtime contributor to the top names in fashion (Vogue, Harpers Bazaar, Elle), she wrote countless articles about the behind-the-scenes workings of the fashion industry, profiling designers, covering events, and keeping a finger on the pulse of this ever-changing creative field. Even during her tenure as a journalist, however, she realized that what she loved most was learning about the individual passions driving the people she met. “Of course, I also profiled big names,” she says, “but I really appreciated the lesser-known designers who were doing beautiful work.” Eager to share the discoveries she made with her insider access as a journalist, Beckett launched an exclusive personal shopping venture called Beckett’s Black Book. This year, the company transformed into something even more exciting: Friends of Fashion functions as a social fashion community whose members are invited to private shopping parties (some at the designer’s studios or homes), as well as intimate events hosted by such big-hitters as Donna Karan, Proenza Schouler, Nicole Miller and Cynthia Rowley. “A long time ago, while on assignment for Elle, I realized that there might be people out there who would enjoy the same inner access that I had as a journalist,” says Beckett, who is offering a special Friends of Fashion tour for Indagare this spring (read more about the tour and how you can sign up). “That experience laid the groundwork for Friends of Fashion.” Beckett spoke to Indagare about her take on the world of fashion.
Can you describe the experience that inspired the idea behind Friends of Fashion?
I was on assignment for Elle, and I was invited to the home of a fabric designer. She lived in a lovely brownstone and a lot of the fabrics that she had designed were used in pillows and curtains. There was this magical moment when she went to her closet and pulled out a big box filled with thousands of scraps of silk that she had painted. And she told me about her creative process, describing how she sits at her table at 3 a.m. painting on this fabric and how these then end up in creations by such people as Diane von Furstenberg and Jill Stuart. And I thought, there must be people who would love to sit here with her and listen to her talk about her work in this very intimate and beautiful setting.
And you don’t just facilitate meeting designers but also private shopping experiences?
I think that when people visit designers, they also want to shop. To me, shopping is a way for people to share the experience of meeting the designer, and shopping is a way for a designer to have a livelihood and pay his staff. But first and foremost it’s about the access: Friends of Fashion members get to meet the designers and their staff. I take people into their studio where they can see the fabrics being cut while meeting the seamstresses. And what could be better than style advice straight from the designer? When Zac Posen tells you how to wear something, that’s pretty exceptional.
Can you share an incident when a designer and one of your clients really clicked?
I worked with an artist from San Francisco who was looking for a wedding dress, and I introduced her to a wonderful designer named Kelima, who has a tiny shop in Nolita. I just had a feeling that they would hit it off. Kelima ended up incorporating one of the client’s works into the dress, so it ended up being an extremely personal, work-of-art-wedding gown. I love making these connections.
Can you describe Friends of Fashion’s involvement with New York’s Garment District?
New York City’s Garment Center is in danger of dying, one of the reasons I decided to donate a portion of all sales at Friends of Fashion events to Save the Garment Center. This non-profit was formed to protect designers and manufacturers that are being forced to close as the city eases the zoning laws that protect apparel businesses. The end of the Garment Center would be a huge loss for the city, and I believe that this will be the next chic—and worthwhile—cause, like the Highline.
Will some of your tours incorporate this historic district?
Yes, absolutely. There are some wonderful stories. For instance, Indagare members who will attend the Save the Garment Center Tour on March 16 will meet the descendants of those who started some of these factories. There used to be 400 factories specialized in decorative stitching and now there are only four. Statistics like that are jaw-dropping. We will examine how the times have changed. For instance, there are factories that used to do all the work for a designer; and those same places are now producing a single sample to be shipped to China where the line is produced cheaper and of lesser quality. And of course, when a graduate from FIT gets his or her first order from a small boutique for five pieces, they can’t outsource to China. It truly is fascinating when you dive into the behind-the-scenes.
What are some other highlights of the Save the Garment Center Crawl?
We will go on a behind-the-scenes tours to see the factories and meet the people making the clothes we all love to wear. We’ll see designs by Oscar de la Renta, Nicole Miller, and Calvin Klein come to life at one of the last remaining factories for decorative stitching. The tour will end at Nanette Lepore’s headquarters, which house her offices, showroom and design studio, and we’ll chat with Nanette about why she chooses to produce in New York City. Most exciting is also that the designer has agreed to host her first-ever private trunk show for us. Members of our group will be able to place orders for her Fall 2010 collection, which is straight off the runway. She’ll also have her Spring 2010 line for shopping.
As a fashion insider who has observed the New York scene for years, what are some of your personal favorite shops?
I have always been a big fan of Shelly Steffee (34 Gansevoort Street; 917-408-0409) in the Meatpacking District. She was one of the first to set up there and bring attention to the area. She often has art shows in her boutique and is a real promoter of local artisans. Her work itself is very artistic: linear, sculptural and quite beautiful. Her workspace is just above the shop, so what you are trying on downstairs is being made upstairs. I also love Loris Diran (3 East 1st Street; 212- 221-1141) who is becoming the Shelly Steffee of the Bowery. He has a great pedigree, having worked with such designers as Gianni Versace. His work is young and fresh, but of an almost couture level. There are great little dresses for parties, terrific suits or casual wear for men. I think we are going to hear more about him and about him pioneering this whole new fashion-design neighborhood.
Read about Friends of Fashion’s Special Offer for Indagare members.
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