By: Lieba Nesis
Anyone under the wrongful impression that fashion is a young person’s game should have attended the Carter Burden Network’s “Silver and White Gala” on Monday November 4th. The Network, which has been fighting isolation among the aged for 48 years, promotes the well-being of seniors 60 and older through meal services, (more than 220,000 meals served last year), advocacy, arts and culture, health and wellness, and volunteer programs allowing the elderly to live with dignity and security. Tonight fashion icon and influencer Fern Mallis was honored alongside Iris Apfel (98), Fran Weissler (91), Stan Herman (91), and Joan Kron (91) at the Mandarin Oriental with tickets starting at $1,000. These luminaries are not just surviving but thriving in an industry that was formerly reserved for twenty somethings. Paradigmatic of this trend is the 70-year-old Anna Wintour who has stood at the helm of the fashion industry for decades continuing her hectic schedule with three major job titles for Vogue and Conde Nast including US Artistic Director, Editor-in-Chief of Vogue US and Global Content Advisor. Moreover planning the Met Gala, updating the Tony Awards and participating in her “Go Ask Anna” videos remain on her calendar for the indefinite future.
Another inimitable fashion trailblazer, the 71-year-old Fern Mallis, shows no signs of slowing down with a calendar that includes back-to-back events, evenings out with celebrity friends, and a 92nd Street Y Series that has her interviewing the likes of Calvin Klein, Valentino and Ralph Rucci. Fern who created New York Fashion Week was senior vice president of IMG Fashion from 2001 to 2010 and executive director of The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) from 1991-2001. Fern’s youthful appearance, sans plastic surgery or botox, along with her unending energy and zest for life leaves peers half her age baffled as she runs from gala to gala all the while documenting it for her much watched social media accounts. After Fern declared she was unimpressed by Kanye West in 2015 he responded months later that he “totally respected” Mallis’s voice. Mallis makes sure to stay consistently relevant writing a book called “Fashion Lives” and presiding over her own international fashion and design consultancy firm.
The topic of ageism appears to be more apropos than ever as Saturday Night Live’s (SNL) Michael Che recently joked that a 67-year-old woman who gave birth “set the record for most friction.” Aside from this revolting comment he pointed out this remark was approved with others such as “hope the kid likes his milk chalky” and “she can breastfeed by just standing over the crib” being too “dirty.” These outrageous statements which passed muster with the SNL staff shows there is much work to be done in sensitivity training for both sexism and ageism. Remedying this particular form of bias is difficult and yet boycotting SNL or firing Che would be inadequate for the disgusting filth they chose to put forth on a mainstream show that is watched by both adults and teenagers. I wish Che could have experienced all the beauty exhibited at the Mandarin on a cool Monday evening where the older generation showed they are not just on par with their younger counterparts, but far exceed their abilities and elegance in every way possible.
Famed stylist Freddie Leiba, who is the epitome of brilliant professionalism, has been wowing the fashion industry since the days of Andy Warhol describing his Studio 54 days as magical. He met Princess Diana twice remarking that the kind of charm and warmth she displayed was another rare occurrence he has yet to come across. Leiba who befriended Ian Schrager in the 70’s is now creating the uniforms for his Edition hotels in London, Madrid, China, Turkey, NY and Los Angeles adapting each of his uniforms to the architecture and environment the hotel resides in. While he admires the designs of Gucci, Off White, and Maison Margiela he never purchases designer clothing as he prefers Savile Row tailored attire. He spoke fondly of Mallis who he has known for more than 30 years and said he was excitedly anticipating the speech of Iris Apfel.
The notorious Apfel, who is 98 and signed a modeling contract with IMG a year ago, recently wrote the book “Iris Apfel: Accidental Icon” and announced a jewelry and eyewear line that has made her a darling of the fashion set. Apfel was in rare form declaring that one of the benefits of being older is that when you pass 70 you no longer have to remove your shoes on an airplane security line and her mother’s friend often said as you get older “everything you have two of-one hurts.” This line by the self proclaimed “geriatric starlet” left the audience applauding in delight.
Another luminous luminary, the 91-year-old Joan Kron, joked that she believed in “Aging Disgracefully” and was “an age rebel”. Kron is a journalist who has headed the Wall Street Journal and New York Times Fashion and Home Sections and is starting work on her second documentary film on the industry of Botox. She remarked that 90 was the new 50 and was hoping to outlive her mother who died at the age of 106. 91-year-old dynamo, Stan Herman, whose unwrinkled face and lively demeanor is awe-inspiring, said keeping active was his number one beauty secret as he continues his reign as the premiere go-to-designer for uniforms having designed attire for JetBlue, Loews Hotels, United Airlines and Federal Express along with serving as the president of the CFDA from 1991-2006 and designing sleepwear for QVC since 1993.
He has just recently worked on uniforms for TWA, plays tennis three days a week and drives everywhere himself. Furthermore, his father lived until 105 manifesting that genes are a powerful determinant in longevity. Honoree and 91-year-old Fran Weissler, also happened to be my seatmate and left me astounded with her dynamic conversation as she and her husband Barry recently produced Broadway shows “Chicago” and “Waitress”. The regal Fran, possessing the cheekbones of Garbo and the lush hair of a 20-year-old, recounted her lengthy career that began with producing high school musicals for 18 years; culminating with winning 7 Tony Awards. Just then I spotted famed actress Sela Ward, who at 62 years of age is every bit as beautiful as she was at 20, proudly taking pictures while donning a t-shirt possessing the likeness of Iris Apfel-undoubtedly a testament to the timelessness of this icon whose accomplishments continue to abound.