Be a Nan Fan

by Harry Sheff

As you’re packing your bags, printing EOY reports or line sheets and confirming travel details, take two seconds and look at your agenda to figure out where you’re going to fit in a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art while you’re in New York for market. Skip a dinner or a party… hell, skip out of the shows for a couple of hours (sorry Elyse, sorry Sam), and go see the “Nan Kempner: American Chic” exhibit at the Met’s Costume Institute.

I know, I know—it’s women’s wear, not men’s, but trust me on this one. First of all, her collection – and yes, when we talk about this many haute couture clothes, purchased and preserved on this scale, we call it a collection, not a wardrobe – is heavily biased towards Yves Saint Laurent, so a lot of the pieces have a menswear aesthetic, anyway.

Secondly, one of the recurring themes of the exhibition is how Kempner, who died in July 2005, mixed and matched classic separates from various designers, collections, seasons and years, creating her own unique, if expensive, style. She treated haute couture like American off-the-rack sportswear. There are lessons to be learned from this collection for designers, merchandisers, retailers and salespeople; from basic late-20th/early-21st-century fashion history (her earlier pieces were destroyed when the basement of her Park Avenue home was flooded) to merchandising and assembling a working wardrobe.

My favorite piece that I’d like to see somebody pull off in menswear? The pink silk faille trenchcoat. Don’t miss the bronze, medieval-looking necklace with a fish and cross pendants by an unknown artist – it’s sure to inspire the next wave of men’s jewelry and accessories.

And, if you hurry, maximize the $20.00 suggested entry fee by running to the other side of the museum and checking out the “Americans in Paris” exhibit, featuring inspiring (well, it inspired me to start planning my next trip to Paris, anyway) Impressionism-era paintings by the likes of John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassatt and Winslow Homer. It’s only at the Met until January 28th.

See for more information.