WHY BETTY FRIEDAN LIVES ON
by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Fashion Week in New York. All the big-name fashion designers gather to show their new lines. The city is full of foreign accents, beautiful clothes, studly men, leggy girls, high energy and huge egos. The shows are by invitation only. Last week I was thrilled to get one.
If you're not a fashionista, a hip young Japanese or a member of the millionaire star pack known as "Young Hollywood," you probably don't know who Jeremy Scott is. I wouldn't have known either, except that by a miraculous turn of events, the kind of career that I badly wanted when I was a young woman is now being enjoyed by the younger daughter of my ex-husband. And last weekend she invited me along for the ride.
In a world full of wonder, every part of that last sentence is miraculous.
First, the invitation came just after the death of Betty Friedan, who, with her 1963 book "The Feminine Mystique," made it possible for young women to have fascinating careers. Last week I wrote about how, back in the Sixties, I tried having a career in design. I failed because I was badly suited to it. I was great with fabric, had loads of style, loved pushing envelopes, and had more energy in a day than I can now muster in a month. But I was shy and insecure. I couldn't put myself forward in a meaningful way.
So I quit design and left my husband, Jerry Marcel, to find some strength in myself. He went on to marry Tessa and have two wonderful daughters, Rima and Gerlan. I've known them all their lives. After Tessa died, I was able to introduce Jerry to a neighbor of mine, Barbara, and he married for the third time.
One of the pleasures of a long life is knowing how some of the stories come out. Rima is now a full-fledged goddess, tall and bright and beautiful.
Gerlan had a harder time after her mother died. She was willful, and even Hampshire College was too restrictive for her. Instead, she took to the road, just as I did after I left her father. For Gerlan, it was the Grateful Dead tour, where she made patchwork dresses to support herself. She has a tattoo on her arm and a stud through her tongue. When she talks — always a mile a minute — the silver flashes.
I don't know how Gerlan started working for Jeremy in Los Angeles, but it was the perfect job. From there she went to fashion school in London and did well. She came out as Jeremy's textile designer and assistant. Cameron Diaz, Bjork, Christina Aguilera, Kylie Minogue and Madonna are some of their clients.
At 5 p.m. last Friday, I met up with Rima, her boyfriend, Jerry, Barbara and some others outside the show. Because we were family, we were allowed in early to watch the dress rehearsal. Even in street clothes, the models, boys and girls, were very young and very good looking. The hip piece of clothing this year, I can tell you, is a torn-off mini skirt made from blue jeans.
After we were escorted to our seats and given invitations to the all-important afterparty — held at an hour when I intended to be in bed — lovely young women handed out gift bottles of Finlandia vodka, one of the event's sponsors. The other sponsor, a hair care products firm, gave out shampoo, conditioner, gel, mist, spray and makeup. Goodie bags, I've learned, are an essential part of these things.
By 6 p.m. a wall of fashion photographers had been built at the far end of the runway — they stand in tiers, clicking and popping. Others prowled the aisles, photographing celebrities. The only person I recognized, fittingly, was the costume designer from "Sex and the City."
Jeremy's hilarious show was called "Food Fight." The design on the invitation — an abstract of yellow French fries created by Gerlan — was repeated on several of the outfits. There was also a long t-shirt in brown with Jeremy's name written on it in Snickers' lettering. The spaghetti dress and the chocolate cake dress — designed to inspire hype, Gerlan said — were made of rubber. Still talking a mile a minute, she said it had taken almost an hour at the fitting to tug the dresses onto the model, so for the show they sprayed them with grease and they slipped right on.
There were hamburger clothes with fringes of lettuce. There was an ice cream dress - the cones were smashed into the bust. There was a t-shirt that said, dramatically, "Eat the rich." My favorites were a necklace and earrings made to look like chocolate eclairs. Jeremy showed some classy clothes, too, including a deep red and white diagonally stripped fur coat that would look great on me. If you want to see the whole show, it's on-line at www.newyorkmetro.com/fashion/fashionshows/designers/bios/jeremyscott.
Jeremy's clothing was light-hearted, young, whimsical and fun. Flashbulbs popped. People laughed, applauded, hooted and howled. The Finlandia helped, of course.
It was over in a flash, and we all piled into the dressing rooms to drink more Finlandia, eat whatever the models had left on the buffet table (not much) and take whatever wasn't nailed down. It was a great party. Gerlan could barely contain her joy.
When Betty Friedan died, I was surprised at how little notice was taken of her life and work. But it clearly lives on in the lives of young women like Rima and Gerlan. But they will never know how much they owe to her. But me, I've been lucky enough to see how the story unfolds.
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel. She can be reached at email@example.com.