CHICAGO — For its 85th anniversary, Fashion Group International Chicago featured legendary photographer Victor Skrebneski as the guest of honor and also paid tribute to the late Susan Glick, the longtime vice president of women’s apparel at the Merchandise Mart and former fashion director of the Chicago Apparel Center, who died suddenly last January.
Over a seated breakfast at the Ritz-Carlton, the event started with a salute to Glick, a fixture on the Chicago fashion scene for close to five decades, and featured a live fashion presentation organized by Amy Olson, a show producer who got her first job working for Glick at the Chicago Apparel Center.
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Guests included designers Mira Horoszowski of Mira Couture, Caroline Joss of Caroline Rose and Lauren Lein, Wendy Krimins, vice president and general manager of Neiman Marcus Michigan Avenue, and members from the Merchandise Mart, Chicago Fashion Incubator and Apparel Industry Board, Inc.
In a question-and-answer session led by former Saks Fifth Avenue fashion director Nena Ivon, Skrebneski charmed the audience with stories and highlights from his seven-decade career, starting with his black turtleneck sweater series, showing iconic celebrities like Liza Minnelli, Truman Capote and, perhaps the most famous of the series, Orson Welles, wearing the same black turtleneck.
“I bring that black turtleneck everywhere I go and everybody wanted to be photographed in the black turtleneck— they wanted the one that Orson Welles wore,” said Skrebneski, whose current book “Skrebneski: Documented” surveys his work from 1948 to 2018. His upcoming books include “More Skrebneski,” a design-oriented book, slated for 2020, and an untitled fashion book, targeted for late 2021.
During a time when society seems obsessed with capturing perfect photos for Instagram, the photographer, who’s shot everyone from Bette Davis and Andy Warhol to Diana Ross and Cindy Crawford, lets his camera tell the story.
“I like accidents in photography — most kids don’t understand that,” Skrebneski said. “When something happens that you don’t expect and it comes out the way I think it should, I love it. Most of my work is blurry and out of focus. That’s the way I grew up. No one told me when I was 7 years old that I shouldn’t shake the camera. That was the beginning and I liked the way it looked and I didn’t know there was any other way to look.”
Every photograph has a story, Skrebneski noted, before revealing why David Bowie preferred being photographed nude.
“Every picture I photographed him in, he’s naked,” he said. “He absolutely loved being naked. He told me he didn’t know what he looked like. When he goes to everybody else’s photography studio, they dress him up, they make him up, they do his hair and that’s not him, so he wanted to see how he was. I think I introduced Iman to him and did their wedding picture and they’re naked. It’s beautiful and one of my favorites.”
Skrebneski relishes the unexpected and recalled working on a fashion shoot for Italian Vogue in Hollywood.
“They said do anything you want, just do it and send the pictures in. So I found a young model there, I think Paula Barbieri, a beautiful, beautiful girl. I don’t think the agency knew that they had her. I booked her and she came to the place we were photographing,” he said. “The Hollywood sign is in the background and then you see the Hills and she’s naked, outside, standing right off the road, she’s holding a black hat and she’s in pink shoes. That’s my idea of fashion. It’s 9:15 in the morning, when I was shooting, that’s when everyone goes to work. Cars were just packed up, but no one honks a horn, opens a window, yells or whistles. Nothing. She just stood there like if nothing was happening. Which is the way all models should be.”
As it turns out, only three people missed the lens of Victor Skrebneski.
“Coco Chanel, I never got to photograph her. I met her quickly one day at her fashion show. She was sitting on her stairs and I kept watching her and not the clothes. I kept watching her and watching her. The staircase, the mirrors,” Skrebneski recalled that day at Chanel’s atelier in Paris. Then, “Katharine Hepburn and Lauren Bacall — gorgeous.”
During Glick’s tribute, the fashion presentation featured 21 models, all of whom volunteered their time to walk the show, wearing some of Glick’s favorite designers from over the years, including vintage styles by Mark Heister, Tiffani Kim, Yolanda Lorente, and York Furs and new styles by Caroline Rose and Alyce Paris.
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