Vanessa Williams, Senator Chris Dodd and Carlos Falchi on His Encounter With Jackie O

Lunch At Michaels

LunchAtMichaelsThey don’t call this “Upfront Week” for nothing. It was clear from the SRO dining room at Michael’s today everyone who’s anyone (at least among certain circles) wanted to be up front at 55th and Fifth. Of course, this delicate dance was pulled off with aplomb by the clever and infinitely gracious Loreal Sherman. We don’t know how she does it. After all, at Michael’s you are where you seat. TV titans (Matt Blank, Steve Mosko, Henry Schlieff), actress Vanessa Williams (rocking a hippie look and some cool shades) and even a U.S. senator (Chris Dodd) were all high up in the pecking order as the usual suspects filled in the blanks. We were thrilled to score our favorite table (7) for a fun-filled and fascinating confab with iconic designer Carlos Falchi, his incredible daughter Kate Falchi and trusted friend and adviser Mickey Ateyeh — who, incidentally, happens to know every single person in the city and did her best to introduce us to anyone who walked by our table today.

Front: Diane Clehane and Carlos Falchi; Back: Kate Falchi and Mickey Ateyeh
Front: Diane Clehane and Carlos Falchi; Back: Kate Falchi and Mickey Ateyeh

I first met the Brazilian-born designer in this very room (where else?) when Mickey introduced us. But I’d certainly known of his work for many years. While the word “legend” is as commonplace as tech startups these days, Carlos is one of the few designers today who is actually more than worthy of the moniker. His signature handbags and accessories in exotic skins have always been manufactured in New York City and have earned him legions of fans that range from the ladies who lunch of the Upper East Side and in those cities in Texas where big spenders rule (“Those ladies love their handbags!”) to their fashion-savvy granddaughters. But lest you think that Carlos is the dowagers’ designer of choice, think again. His roots go back to his days of making hand-stitched leather clothing for Miles Davis, Tina Turner and Mick Jagger. And his rock-and-roll sensibility is very much a part of his individualistic ethos today. Before our lunch he’d just come from a meeting with HSN executives, during which he was formulating plans to be part of the shopping network’s designer collective of limited-edition pieces being produced as an homage to the Rolling Stones’ 50th anniversary.

Besides being a design visionary with his focus on one-of-a-kind, highly specialized designs for his discriminating luxury clients, Carlos was also a pioneer in selling designer accessories at affordable prices on television. “I was doing it when everybody was afraid,” he recalls of his earliest days when he first sold on QVC. “Mindy [Grossman, HSN president] has done an amazing job. She is doing smaller quantities and everything has more of a collector’s feel.” His line for HSN, Chi by Falchi, which has been sold on the network for 10 years also has its share of famous fans. When his “very good friend” Cher called in to the network during one appearance and the operators didn’t believe it was the ageless songstress, she rang him up on his cell phone so she could sing his praises to fellow viewers.

Today, by the sheer number of people who stopped by our table to pay their respects to Carlos (I lost count by the time our coffee arrived), it’s clear he treats every client like a celebrity. His signature line, Carlos Falchi Couture, is the unique designer brand that is not part of some big conglomerate’s marketing machine that is more about image than actual design, something his daughter Kate Falchi, president of his company, makes abundantly clear. “I saw things changing in department stores a few years ago,” said Kate, who explained that she noticed a shift in consumer patterns back when she first joined the family business in 2008. “The luxury customer really wants something special and if you show up at a lunch and everyone has the same handbag what’s really special about that?” With Kate at the helm since 2012, the company has sharpened its focus on custom designs and special limited-edition pieces like their newest Hamptons Collection, which features signature totes and clutches all hand painted on canvas. The gorgeous pieces, which I saw up close and personal at lunch, will be featured in a print campaign photographed by Steven Haas in several niche magazines, including DuJour, in the coming months.  Both Carlos and Kate literally painted the individual bags. “When a woman wears one of these bags, she is literally carrying a work of art,” explained Kate. Clever, no?