NEW YORK—In the intense, high-stakes world of fashion, Joan Rivers helped change the game.
The industry she bit into on “Fashion Police” but embraced in her friendships and the fancy clothes on her back considered her love-hate legacy Thursday after her death at 81.
“For me, she was the most instrumental person because she changed the dialogue in fashion forever,” said Fern Mallis, herself a shaker as creator of New York Fashion Week.
Rivers was the first on a red carpet to stick a microphone in a star’s face and ask about clothes. Before that, Mallis said, “It was what’s the movie you’re in? What’s the director like? What’s the next project?” And it was there she created one of her trademarks: Her inimitable, “Who are you wearing?”
Joe Zee, former creative director at Elle magazine and the new editor-in-chief of Yahoo! Style, said there was more: “What she leaves behind is that you can have fun with clothes.”
Rivers knew how to have fun and poke fun in a serious business making serious money with a serious work ethic.
Stylist Leslie Fremar, who has worked with Charlize Theron, Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Connelly and Julianne Moore, believes fashion was able to appreciate Rivers as a talented comedian, with grains of salt.
“It was all in great fun,” she said. “I don’t necessarily think that what she did was fashion critique, but she was extremely funny, and I appreciate that. She brought comedy to something that is not about saving lives. Some people look at fashion and think that there’s something superficial about it, and there’s humour in that.”
One thing’s for sure, Fremar said, and Rivers had a lot to do with it: “When they go on the red carpet now, they’re ready.”
Fellow stylist June Ambrose said Rivers “kept us all on our toes” and knew the business like an insider.
“She had a keen eye for fashion and was as bold as a diva should be,” she added.
Louise Roe, who has worked on E! Network’s “Fashion Police” and hosted other fashion TV shows, described Rivers as “fashion’s grandma.”
You know the one. You’re wearing THAT?!
“She always said what everyone else might have been thinking, and it is definitely poignant that she passed away during fashion week, and we will certainly raise a toast to her,” Roe said. “It’s very, very sad.”
Designer Dennis Basso once teamed with Rivers, a dear friend, for the QVC show “Joan Rivers & Dennis Basso: Designing Duo.” His luscious couture furs were favourites.
“Today is an extremely sad day for me and the world,” Basso said in an email. “We have lost a spectacular woman who gave the gift of laughter. We had a special relationship for over 30 years, and I will miss her dearly.”
Rivers appeared often on QVC, selling costume jewelry and other items. Designer Stan Herman, former president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, where Mallis was once executive director, mourned the loss.
“My feelings with her were very personal because we were on QVC together for 20 years,” Herman said. “When I brought my father down there for his 100th birthday, she wheeled him around in his wheelchair and gave him 100 roses for his birthday. She was a wonderful, wonderful woman. … Deep-hearted. Very thoughtful.”
In-demand model Coco Rocha didn’t know Rivers personally, but she and so many others in fashion landed squarely in her sights a time or two.
“If she talks about your dress, if she liked it or didn’t like it, it was still a great thing,” Rocha said from the Lincoln Center tents when word of Rivers’ death spread during the first full day of spring shows. “You would love the fact that she just made fun of you. That’s the whole point.”
AP reporters Alicia Rancilio, Mesfin Fekadu and Leanne Italie in New York contributed to this report.