Private Dinner at Nicole Farhi’s Megastore Launches Fashion Week

“The more time you have on your hands, the less important you must be,” writes James Gleick in his potent new book, Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything . Well, judging by its timetable this month, the world of fashion must be important. Really, really important.

New York fashion week is unfolding with the speed of an exploding hemline. More than 100 fashion shows are scheduled to showcase the New York spring 2000 collections between Sunday, Sept. 12, and Friday, Sept. 17. Of course, no one has had time to explain to me when fashion stopped being Jewish. Maybe they were scrambling to find a way to cram Rosh Hashanah (beginning at sundown on Sept. 10 and ending at sunset on Sept. 12) into one small, chelated tablet you could swallow, and still worship at the shrine of New York fashion week.

After New York, the fashion action shifts to London from Sept. 21 to 26, Milan from Sept. 24 to Oct. 2 and finally Paris from Oct. 3 to 11. Spring clothes already. And you’ve barely had the strength to lift Vogue ‘s 704-page guide to fall. Help! Fast, what’s the one certain fashion status item for fall? “Prada, Gucci, Calvin Klein,” reported Vogue editor at large Andre Leon

Talley via a rushed voice mail message. “Maybe one of the big, glamorous, hand-knitted sweaters,” suggested Katherine Betts, who officially begins work as the newly appointed editor in chief of Harper’s Bazaar after Labor Day. (Of course, there’s a party: a dinner for Ms. Betts Sept. 14 at Fressen.) More specifics about the season’s sweater? Marc Jacobs’ chunky striped cashmere turtleneck sweaters. About $1,400 at Bergdorf’s.

Indeed, we live in fast times. But New York is a great stopwatch.

“What can you do?” asked Nicole Farhi, the French-born, London-based fashion designer. Peaceful as a pond on the road to Lourdes, she shrugged and smiled. Remarkably calm, really, all things considered. Wearing modern but simple black trousers and black top from her fall 1999 collection with a soft, purple leather jacket, Ms. Farhi stood among the chic glimmers of what, when it is finished, will be her 20,000-square-foot flagship store and restaurant at 10 East 60th Street, formerly the Copacabana. That morning, the crew employed to work in Nicole’s, the restaurant, arrived to begin testing the kitchen equipment, but it couldn’t. The place wasn’t ready. Nor was the store, designed by architect Michael Gabellini. “We were meant to open in January,” said the designer, who speaks British English with a soft, French accent. “I’m told delays are often the case in New York, even more than Europe.”

There are several new stores and boutiques in New York this month, including DKNY and Chloe on Madison Avenue, Stream, a cool new spot on Mercer Street, Janet Russo at 262 Mott Street and shoe designer Christian Louboutin’s store at 75th Street and Madison Avenue. Mr. Louboutin’s shop, filled with colorful fabrics and furniture, is a highly personal departure from the minimalist trends in store design of late.

“I didn’t want minimal. I wanted something modern,” Ms. Farhi said. “With some soul. And I think Michael got it.” That request also sums up Ms. Farhi’s esthetic. “You know, I never felt at ease in disguise. I never liked a fancy dress party,” said Ms. Farhi who, if not wearing her own designs, will wear clothes by Yohji Yamamoto. “I don’t change that much,” she continued. “Hemlines, etc.? If I’m not changing dramatically as a person, why should I dramatically change what I design?” Instead of fashion hoopla every season, “the clothes move on ,” said Ms. Farhi, who has had her own label since 1983.

Mr. Gabellini’s store–soft blue hues, organic metals, extraordinary detail and dramatic use of natural and artificial light–will be a compelling new destination for serious interior design people. “For that reason alone, the store already is a success,” Ms. Farhi said. For the purposes of her backers (the French Connection group headed by chief executive Stephen Marks), the store, the first of several conceived for the United States, will be a great setting to acquaint American consumers with Ms. Farhi’s low-key, sophisticated, medium-priced women’s and men’s clothes and home designs. On the evening of Sept. 9, Ms. Farhi, who is married to British playwright David Hare, will host a small dinner in Nicole’s. She will show her spring collection on Sept. 15 at the Altman Building at 135 West 18th Street.

Leaving the workmen to their devices, Ms. Farhi took 30 minutes away to experience some of the city’s cultural offerings before she returned to London the following day. She visited Uniformity: The Uniform and New York , an exhibit of 50 historical photographs on view at the Municipal Art Society space at 457 Madison Avenue. Ms. Farhi stopped next at The Un-private House , an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art examining 26 contemporary, unusual living spaces. Through the window of the museum looking out onto the street, Ms. Farhi saw a yellow taxi with her name advertised on its roof. “Brilliant,” she whispered. Of the 160 taxis driving around town with her ad, this was the first she had seen. The tranquil Ms. Farhi, a 20-year-plus devotee of yoga, was entertained by the radically different houses on view in the exhibition. “I don’t think design is utopian,” she said. “I think design is a record of time, a mirror to what we are and what we are becoming.”

Ms. Farhi and Mr. Hare live in a comfortable, informal house in north London. Someday, Ms. Farhi said, they might like to find a small “shack” by the sea.

Billy’s List: Quiz time!

1. Much ado in the decorating world over a Sept. 15 sale at Christie’s, an homage to which 20th-century figure?

a. Elsie de Wolfe.

b. Billy Baldwin.

c. Pauline de Rothschild.

2. The 16th Minute is:

a. Christopher Buckley’s next novel, in diary form, about the first woman President’s hairdresser, a bisexual Chicagoan.

b. According to Candace Bushnell’s column in The Economist , when a woman becomes more famous than her spouse.

c. According to Maureen Dowd, a talk show being developed by Kato Kaelin about people living beyond their allotted 15 minutes of fame.

3. Which of the following actresses is developing, and will star in, a movie about Babe Paley for Lifetime Television?

a. Rita Wilson.

b. Sharon Stone.

c. Ann-Margret.

Answers: (1) a; (2) c; (3) a.