Described by W Magazine as “the most stylish person in Silicon Valley,” Christine Suppes is well known in the Bay Area for her support of the arts (she has been a major contributor to the SFMOMA and the Fine Arts Museums, among other organizations), as a fashion editor (she founded Fashionlines.com in 1999), and for her extraordinary collection of haute couture and couture-like ready-to-wear.
Bringing all three passions together is “Electric Fashion,” a new book chronicling Suppes’ long love affair with fashion, beautifully photographed by London photographer Frederic Aranda.
There is so much to enjoy in the book, with each turn of the page presenting one arresting image after another through a collection ranging from late Yves Saint Laurent to early Rodarte.
The book was recently celebrated in San Francisco with a party hosted by Neiman Marcus. Here are six things about the book I loved, and think you’ll enjoy too![divider]1. Ken Downing’s Foreword[/divider]
I have yet to meet a human being or even a fashionable pet who does not love Ken Downing, Neiman Marcus’s fast-paced fashion director who seems to saut de chat across the fashion world trailed by magic glitter, frosted bons mots, and heaps of fabulous clothes. He met Suppes when he was working at I. Magnin in San Francisco’s Union Square in the ’90s and they’ve been friends ever since.
“Christine always understood that clothes without creativity were only covering and that fashion is a confident collaboration of art and craft,” he writes in his foreword to the book.[divider]2. Frederic Aranda’s photography[/divider]
Fashion and portrait photographer Frederic Aranda has worked with some of the most prominent people in the world, and has been published in the biggest magazines, but this is his first book.
The London-based photographer spent five years on the project, and through the pages you can see how he explored different ways of conveying a wide range of emotions and ideas while working with just one model. Such a creative challenge could have been a disaster in lesser hands, but Aranda’s execution is flawless.
“I aimed to convey this in Electric Fashion: at the core, creativity is an act of love,” he writes. He succeeded!
After years of illness, Yves Saint Laurent re-emerged on the runway in the early ’90s for a final flowering of his genius. His collections from 1990 through 1993 were among the best of his career, and the cover of “Electric Fashion” features a piece from that time.
The remarkable gold and silver leather jacket, from the Chinese-inspired collection of Spring/Summer 1993, is so rare that it wasn’t even shown on the runway, and while it is from the Rive Gauche collection, it could almost be couture. With its clever button placements and bifurcation of silver and gold, its a prime example of Saint Laurent’s flair for witty yet chic evening jackets in the tradition of Schiaparelli. A major piece that deserves special placement on the cover!
One unforgettable image in the book is on page 177, where Suppes, wearing an Alexander McQueen cocktail dress, is seen boxing with personal trainer Dan Dieguez in a beautiful Menlo Park garden. Shown shirtless, Dan is one of Silicon Valley’s top trainers, and has been doing weight training since 1974! Anyone doubting the anti-aging benefits of fitness just need to look at the photo — aside from the graying hair, you wouldn’t know he’s over 50.
One of my favorite pieces in the book is a gold-and-black lace dress from Geoffrey Beene’s fall 1991 collection. It was her first piece by the designer, and she devotes four pages to it in the book, recounting how Mr. Beene fitted it on her himself.
The occasion was the San Francisco Ballet Auxiliary’s annual fashion show, hosted by I. Magnin on September 12, 1991, and chaired by Athena Troxel. I was there myself and remember it well, as the production closely followed that of the original show in New York, with a Bernard Hermann score, a starkly modernist set, and models with lashes so thick and hair so slick they seemed other-worldly. It was a fashion show that verged on ballet! When I met Beene at I. Magnin immediately after the show I was thrilled to speak to him but found him unfriendly. I had no idea that at the very moment Christine Suppes was standing in the dressing room trying on this very dress, as the great Alber Ebaz (then Beene’s assistant) pinned away![divider]6. Five Women[/divider]
Electric Fashion is largely the story of five women. Other than Christine herself, there’s Vivienne Westwood, Rodarte’s Kate and Laura Mulleavy, and Livia Stoianova of on aura tout vu. One gets the impression that those four designers speak to her creatively more than any other, and indeed she gives them the most space.
But believe it or not, there was a time when it was widely thought that the most important fashion designers could only be men! Women, it was said, could design good sensible clothes — Chanel with her little suits, Claire McCardell with her all-American outerwear, Donna Karan with her stretchy bodysuits — but men were the true artists with their creative, eye-catching designs. Looking at Westwood’s bold and challenging gowns, Rodarte’s dreamy confections or the meticulous craftsmanship of on aura tout vu, and there’s no doubt that women are the creative visionaries of Suppes’ collection![divider]Neiman Marcus launch party[/divider]
The Rotunda at Neiman Marcus was packed recently with friends and fans who came out to buy Electric Fashion, and see the San Francisco Chronicle’s Carolyne Zinko interview Suppes, Aranda and Downing about the book.