New York Fashion Industry Report:

- By Diane Clehane

I can’t take it anymore.

If I see one more picture of Britney Spears’ burgeoning bare belly protruding from the pages of -- fill in the blank here: Us, InTouch, Star, Life & Style or Celebrity Living since there all interchangeable – I’ll scream. Another picture of an Olsen twin (Does anyone really know which is which?) wearing anything three sizes too big accessorized with cowboy boots, bug eye glasses and a cappuccino will almost certainly send me over the edge. I’m already over Jessica Simpson in her ‘Daisy Dukes’ and the movie isn’t even out yet.

Take out the white trash!

Last Saturday, at my husband’s urging – make that pleading -- I cleaned out our coat closet, which for years has doubled as the archives for old magazines and files from past articles I’ve written. I hadn’t planned on conducting an archeological dig in my own home in search of the last vestiges of true celebrity fashion icons from the not so distant past but that’s exactly what I wound up doing for the better part of this weekend. I need only to have ventured back to the late nineties (Who would have ever guessed we would have looked back so nostalgically to that decade for such a myriad of reasons so soon after they passed into history?) to have found the last traces of a sadly extinct specimen: a celebrity actually worthy of all the attention that is currently being lavished on the likes of Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton.

I was struck by what I found. (I mean that literally -- a huge box fell on my head). There behind my old issues of Vogue, Allure and Vanity Fair were two boxes whose contents kept me transfixed until the wee hours of Sunday morning. One contained every article that was written in the days following the death of Princess Diana. Each one had its own take on her impact on popular culture. Scribes from every conceivable outlet from The Economist to TV Guide weighed in on the subject. The New Yorker ran an article from Joan Juliet Buck who analyzed “Diana’s Holy Relics” (there were seven in all and included The Elvis Dress and the black cocktail dress designed by my good friend Christian Stambolian). Salman Rushdie penned a thought-provoking piece for the magazine about the “pornography” of her death. The sheer volume of the insightful, comprehensive coverage on Diana and her legacy was staggering.

Having followed the princess’ meteoric rise from unknown Sloane Ranger to one of fashion’s brightest stars, I wrote my first book in 1998 on her trajectory into the style stratosphere. In the forward of Diana The Secrets of Her Style I wrote: “Diana made us believe in transformation and reinvention and she did it through the clothes she wore. Many of us saw our own reflection in Diana. When she exchanged ball gowns and tiaras for simple suits and straight hair, we recognized ourselves – the idealized version of ourselves – in her. We wanted to be like her, and she, it seemed, wanted to be like us. That is the essence of her appeal: Diana was Everywoman. She used food to self-medicate, shopped out of boredom and cut her hair when her relationship soured. What woman hasn’t done at least one of these things?” I also posed a question that still intrigues me: How would Diana have handled growing older? How would she have approached the milestones of her fortieth and fiftieth (!?!) birthdays?

Eight (!?!) years later, it still seems incredible to me that she was killed while careening through a tunnel in Paris in a car driven by a drunk driver. One need only think of the coverage (or lack thereof) of the wedding of Charles and Camilla to see how her presence still looms large over British royals. No amount of Philip Treacy hats can make up for her absence. Observing the royals coming and going now is like watching a play without its star.

The other box was filled with news accounts of the death’s of John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy in 1999 and the mournful tributes that followed. The couple’s incandescent attractiveness frozen in time in the countless images that accompanied these stories was startling. The Dennis Reggie photo taken at their September 1996 wedding capturing a besotted groom kissing the hand of his bride resplendent in her Narciso Rodriquez gown remains one of the most beautiful celebrity candid photographs ever taken. Page after page in Newsweek, The New York Times – geez, even Star – sensitively chronicled the all too short lives of these genuinely fascinating people who captured our attention because of who they were and what we hoped they would be.

John Kennedy had grown used to living in the shadow of his iconic parents and had somehow managed to carve out some semblance of a “normal” life living among New Yorkers who tried not to look too impressed as he pedaled around the city in a business suit. The most jaded jaws dropped and hearts skipped more than a few beats any time he was spotted playing Frisbee or football in Central Park. But, for the most part, we left him alone. Aside from the People magazine cover stories (“The Sexiest Man Alive!”) that we gobbled like Godiva chocolates, we were content to watch – and worship – mostly from afar.

Carolyn Bessette Kennedy was not an icon (and by all accounts of those closest to her never wanted to be one) but was, most definitely, on her way to becoming one of the most influential young women to a generation who wondered how she managed to land a real life Prince Charming. But not because she played to the crowd. She had style. Her own style -- not one she took on like a borrowed designer dress with ten other people’s fingerprints all over it. She was an original. She wore Yohji Yamamoto. When she was nominated for a VH-1 Fashion Award in 1997, she politely declined the recognition.

Fast forward to summer 2005.

Our cover girls are Paris, Lindsay and Britney.

We pour over stories about a woman who first became famous thanks to a sex tape, cluck about a teenage starlet’s public battles with her father and her rapidly shrinking frame, and snicker at a clueless young singer whose frequently profane musings (Just check out her interview in Allure) on life and love have more in common with a high schooler playing house for a health class project than a young woman on the brink of motherhood. When we’re not tracking those train wrecks in the making, we’re studying the secrets of how to look like Mischa Barton with items that cost under $20 (Good luck with that). We await with baited breath Nicole Richie’s biography (which will undoubtedly reveal how she lost that stubborn baby fat). And for those who like their celebrity style news about stars born before 1980, there are countless reports about Demi Moore’s still unconfirmed five-month old pregnancy. The National Enquirer is now reporting she lost the baby – hence depriving the other tabs that will now undoubtedly choose to compete in this race to the bottom with doing any more stories of the thousands of dollars the actress has reportedly spent on the nursery. Fear not those in search of high culture -- there’s always upcoming reports of Jennifer Garner’s changing look thanks to her “bump” (the classy reference now being used by the tabs to refer to impending motherhood) to look forward to. And, of course, we are all holding our collective breath for the biggest style story of the year: What will Katie Holmes’ wedding dress look like? In a bit of counterintuitive thinking (and I don’t think I’m alone on this one), I’m rooting for the Stepford Star to give up drinking the Kool-Aid and bolt a la the other summer’s other curiously fascinating bridal brouhaha – The Runaway Bride AKA Jennifer Wilbanks. Now there’s a story!

Today, what passes for ‘celebrity style’ and news about these errant trendsetters is nauseating. No matter how hard the tabloids try, they cannot make these women interesting. What happened to mystery? There is nothing else to know. The complete sensory overload of meaningless tidbits about B and C list starlets has reached such a high level of over saturation that even the most voracious reader of the tabloids appears to be suffering from information overload. The true signs of fatigue can be found at the movies. This summer, attendance is way down and no amount of marketing seems capable of turning things around. There’s a simple explanation: people have become inundated with images and information about these actresses – what they’re wearing during the ‘making of’ their inevitable box office dud, where they’re dining during their days off. The entertainment shows’ on-set visits and ‘exclusive’ peaks at the movies’ trailers give fans the impression they’ve already had the experience of seeing the picture – or at least the good parts. These actresses are everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Movie magic as we (used to) know it has died.

We don’t want to see these people on screen. We want to have coffee with them at Starbucks. We want to get a guided tour of their closets. We buy the handbags they carry, we plunk down half a week’s salary for the Jimmy Choos they’re wearing (ironically, the star that started the feeding frenzy got hers for free) hoping to be the object of our fascination – if only in our own head during that party at our share house in the Hamptons. Come on, admit it! It’s become pathological. You’re nobody unless you’re trying to look like somebody.

This form of obsessive celebrity worship has eclipsed all and is responsible for the sickening phenomenon that has grown women co-opting an entire look from their favorite Us cover girl. Gone are the days when women wore a pair oversized sunglasses as a subtle homage to Jackie O and Audrey Hepburn (Remember them?) or carried the Lady Dior after seeing photos of Diana with the bag. While no woman could ever hope to transform herself into a Nicole Kidman – and the star is constantly experimenting with her look in part, I’m guessing, to prevent anyone from trying. Today’s “They’re Just Like Us” breed of stars willing to wear whatever designers send them for free in exchange for publicity has given too many women false hope that they too can look just like their favorite “Desperate Housewife” by maxing out their credit cards at the local mall.

This lemmings-to-the sea phenomenon has reached beyond the expected demo of teenage girls who at least have the excuse of enduring what has been considered up to now (but is obviously no longer the case) the most vexing period of one’s life to include an alarming number of adult women who, for some reason, find it necessary to copy Mischa Barton’s look down to the smallest detail. Ladies, she’s 19 years old – and employs a stylist for those red carpet photo ops. No matter what InStyle tells you, mere mortals can’t (repeat after me – CAN’T) pull off the same waifish LA chic with the same élan particularly if you’re a size 10 fortysomething trying to catching the 8:03 from Scarsdale.

It’s easy to see why this might occur in less fashion-fluent areas of the country but here in New York where we have always prided ourselves of own style superiority, this is an incredibly depressing turn of events. Even more distressing: the apparent popularity of celebrity Snap-On teeth that some Gotham dentist has been hawking for the last few weeks. Want to have pearly whites just like Julia’s? No problem! Going for that Gwyneth grin this morning? Smile pretty. Yuck. How does one discreetly remove one’s teeth without terrifying a prospective lover while in the throes of passion? I can’t even go there. I am, though, ready to stage an intervention the first time I spot a pair of Daisy Dukes on 57th Street (and I have no doubt that moment is coming). I’ll know we’ve gone to celebrity and fashion hell in a handbasket.

John, Carolyn and Diana will never have to suffer the indignity of having their styles deconstructed along side a story on Britney and Kevin’s plans for their nursery. And, I know one thing for sure. Five years from now, when I clean out that closet again, I won’t find a box of magazines chronicling Paris Hilton’s rise to super stardom.

They go out every Sunday night with the rest of the trash.

Diane Clehane is Lookonline’s entertainment editor. She is The New York Times best selling author of four books including Diana The Secrets of Her Style and I Love You Mom! Her works appears regularly in Variety, The New York Post and TV Guide. Email Diane at

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