One not au courant in fashion is hard pressed to say if the threads are post-modern, neo-punk, retro or what. But, there they are. In the Slaves of New York boutique. It may be the first boutique ever spawned by a movie--"Slaves of New York,” starring Bernadette Peters, which opened here Friday and opens in Los Angeles on Friday.
Based on Tama Janowitz’s best-selling 1986 book, the movie, co-produced by Ismail Merchant (“A Room With a View”), was called “both an account and an example of post-Warholian careerism” by one critic. The short stories that make up Janowitz’s “Slaves” glimpse into the city’s funky, avant-garde art world and hot-new-club scene in the East Village and thereabouts.
But how did the movie become “Slaves,” the retail adventure?
The boutique officially premiered Tuesday night, as did the movie, the latter premiere held in a theater across Third Avenue from Bloomingdale’s after a cocktail party in the second-floor boutique.
Among the partygoers was Carol Ramsey, stage and film costume designer by profession and a key player in the hot new shop, who had the idea of going boutique with the movie. Merchant got it under way.
Hired to create the kicky costumes for “Slaves of New York,” she had much experience, she says, in Baroque and Renaissance styles, “and I tried to translate that to contemporary New York.”
“I really tried to take what I saw on the streets of New York, especially downtown, and the whole art scene, and make it very Baroque-looking, very decorative and much more colorful,” Ramsey said.
The idea was to “really push it much more into a fantasy realm, instead of just a direct copy of what you see on New York streets.” The result: a look she described as “very layered, lots of ornamentation, very decorative . . . just a lot going on visually.”
About two-thirds through the filming of “Slaves,” she said, she started thinking that this look “was something that could be marketed.”
She talked about this with Merchant, who is known for films that, like “A Room With a View,” concern a slower, gentler, turn-of-the-century era when well-conducted ladies and gentleman simply did not get down and boogie.
Ramsey’s thought intrigued him. He called a friend of 22 years, Marvin Traub, chairman of Bloomingdale’s, and, he said, asked Traub if he’d like to see the “Slaves"-in-progress with a view to maybe opening a special “Slaves” room in his store.
Traub and seven executives inspected the film. A boutique deal was struck, including a second “Slaves” boutique soon at Bloomingdale’s in Chicago.
In addition to Ramsey, making her debut in fashion, the design roster included Betsey Johnson, Alfredo Villoria and Rachel London. Bloomingdale’s has yielded all its Third Avenue display windows to wares of the new boutique.
(New York’s downtown art world has not been ignored. Artist Kathy Ruttenberg struck a deal with Merchant and “Slaves” director James Ivory to open a gallery, called The Gallery, with a tie-in to the movie. Its debut program says, “The Gallery Inaugural Opening Featuring Artists whose work appeared in the Film Slaves of New York.” The opening, held Thursday night, saluted 31 such artists.)
“Slaves” does not mark the first time a new look in clothing may have been touched off by a film, said Merchant, citing the Ralph Lauren safari look that emerged after “Out of Africa” and the funny-hat, tie, and baggy-pants look that seized many trend-trotting women after “Annie Hall.”
Even his own “Room With a View,” based on the E.M. Forster novel, spawned sort of an Edwardian look in London, France and Italy, he said; there, white dresses and white parasols suddenly became the rage.
His next movie, he said, will be “Mr. and Mrs. Bridges,” starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. Set in Kansas City, it is about 40 years in the lives of a married couple who’ve always lived in the Midwest.
A boutique possibility there? Merchant laughed.
“I doubt it,” he said.