San Francisco Social Diary: Electric Fashion

This spring, I attended the launch of fashion maven Christine Suppes’ book Electric Fashion, featuring images of her personal couture collection amassed over three decades.


This spring, Christine Suppes, the art patron, couture collector, and trailblazing fashion editor, launched the international tour of her latest book, Electric Fashion, at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, followed by a national launch at San Francisco’s Neiman Marcus.

Suppes in a shocking pink 1950 Balenciaga Eisa ball gown, originally owned by Mrs. Biddle of Philadelphia, part of her incredible collection.


The book was launched internationally with a party for 400 at the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum. Founded in 1852, it’s the world’s largest art and design museum, home to a comprehensive fashion collection spanning four centuries. The museum is so vast that even after a year of visits in connection with my Sotheby’s Decorative Arts Course, there were galleries I still hadn’t seen.

Author Christine Suppes and book photographer Frederic Aranda, flanked by models at the V&A, whose 4.5 million-piece permanent collection spans 2,000 years.

What an extraordinary coup for Suppes to be given the opportunity to showcase her own unique fashion collection in the same room as the Raphael Cartoons, which are among the greatest treasures of the Renaissance.

The “cartoons” were actually painted designs for tapestries to be made for and hung in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel, commissioned in 1515 by Pope Leo X.

Suppes’ edited fashion collection was surrounded by Raphael’s cartoons, an unusual display of Old World and New World treasures.

Hundreds of fashion lovers viewed her collection at the V&A Museum, the first stop on its global tour to San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Paris, and Tokyo.

For the special exhibition, Suppes displayed 24 couture items from her vast collection that spans three decades of designs from highly acclaimed fashion luminaries.

Some of the designers on display included John Galliano, Christian Dior, Balenciaga, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Yves Saint Laurent.

Among the pieces shown were designs by Rodarte, Christian Lacroix, Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood, and others.

In a bit of serendipitous timing for her V&A fashion book party, Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty was being exhibited at the same time, which in 2011 was a blockbuster show at New York’s Metropolitan Museum. The stars aligned this night for Suppes.

Suppes in an autumn/winter 2010 Alexander McQueen evening gown.


It’s surprising that a native Californian based in Palo Alto, hardly a fashion center, could acquire such fashion knowhow. Suppes attributes her love of and astuteness about fashion to her mother, Jane Johnson. In Hillsborough, Johnson organized and modeled for charity fashion shows, which led to Suppes meeting icons such as James Galanos, Christian Lacroix, and Geoffrey Beene, from whom she absorbed “fashion detail” at an early age.

Suppes in a Geoffrey Beene gown from autumn/winter 2001.

A duo of Christian Lacroix coats from Suppes’ collection, from 1999 (top) and 2005 (bottom).

Four Christian Lacroix Haute Couture looks, dating from 2005 – 2007.

“White gloves and hats were de rigueur until the mid-sixties,” Suppes recalls. “And then everything in our city changed.” Many SF natives lament the loss of this elegance, as these days it seems so many wear blue jeans, which ironically were first manufactured in San Francisco by the legendary Levi Strauss.


Suppes was able to indulge her love of fashion thanks to her late husband, Patrick Suppes, a philosophy professor at Stanford University and a Silicon Valley pioneer. He was among the first to see the importance of computers in the classroom, and when he sold his software company in 1990, Suppes said, her clothing allowance increased and she began collecting “the clothes of my dreams.”

Alexander McQueen cocktail dress from autumn/winter 2013.

This spring/summer 2011 Rodarte gown is currently displayed in the Metropolitan Museum’s exhibition, China: Through the Looking Glass, on view through August 2015.

A stunningly unique Rodarte gown from spring/summer 2012.

An exquisite and luxurious gold gown from spring/summer 2011 Rodarte.

As an outlet for self-expression and a means to share her knowledge and opinions, Suppes began to write about fashion online. Like others from Silicon Valley, she saw the future and in 1999 created her own website,, one of the first online fashion publications in the world.

The homepage from December 2002. in June 2007.


Suppes was one of the first bloggers invited to the Paris shows, though, she says with a laugh, buying and wearing Chanel “helped” get her the invitation. Traveling regularly to New York and Paris influenced her vision and personal style, and she began collecting haute couture, “the laboratory of fashion.”

Suppes in a Chanel blouse from spring/summer 2010.

Suppes in a Chanel evening gown from the 2012 cruise collection.


Since these days it seems everyone is a “fashion blogger,” even children, Suppes decided to transition from writing about fashion to underwriting fashion exhibitions. She became a Major Patron of the de Young museum’s 2008 Yves Saint Laurent retrospective and then of the opulent 2011 Balenciaga and Spain retrospective, both organized by John Buchanan, the late Director of SF Fine Arts Museums. Balenciaga and Spain was also guest curated by Vogue’s Hamish Bowles.

Christine Suppes in a 1950 vintage Balenciaga gown at the Balenciaga and Spain gala.

Vogue’s Hamish Bowles, guest curator of the Balenciaga and Spain exhibition, at its opening gala.


Suppes’ latest project, Electric Fashion, was five years in the making. At her national book launch in the historic Neiman Marcus rotunda, she was joined by her collaborator on the book, Swiss fashion photographer Frederic Aranda.

Fashion Director and SVP Ken Downing, who wrote the book’s forward, flew in from Dallas. He describes the book’s curated collection as “elegant, eclectic, and at times eccentric, like the passionate persona whose lifelong love of fashion propelled her pursuit.”

NM Fashion Director Ken Downing, photographer Frederic Aranda, and author and couture collector Christine Suppes.

London-based, Oxford-educated photographer Frederic Aranda has shot for Vanity Fair, GQ, Vogue, and Esquire, among others.

NM SVP Ken Downing, based in Dallas, is the definitive tastemaker, stylist, and fashion arbiter for the high-end store.

A discussion at the book launch was moderated by San Francisco Chronicle features reporter Carolyne Zinko, who writes some of the best personality profiles in the city and Silicon Valley. When Zinko asked how Suppes decided what to buy at the Paris showing, Suppes said if you’re a collector, “You just know!”

With her unique style, I also learned that often Suppes’ choices are made through the personal way she connects with a designer and his fashion sense. To her, fashion is art like any other form of creative expression.

Zinko also reports on the Paris fashion scene, where she and Suppes have often hit the fashion circuit together.

On the Electric Fashion book cover is a gold and silver jacket from YSL’s 1993 spring/summer collection.

Aranda and Suppes told the crowd they spent five years putting the book together.


Originally, Suppes and Aranda planned to take the garments stored in her climate-controlled basement and simply organize, catalogue, and photograph them on mannequins in a studio for inventory and archival purposes.

An Alexander McQueen dress and coat from autumn/winter 2006, photographed in a studio.

A set of On Aura Tout Vu Couture jackets and gowns from 2003 and 2004, in the studio.

Studio shots of Rodarte evening gowns from 2011 – 2013 show off the intricate detail and bold colors.

But eventually the duo decided to try something more ambitious and creative. Aranda persuaded Suppes to be the model and let him photograph her wearing her extravagant and exotic couture pieces in dramatic international locales such as San Francisco, Hong Kong, Paris, and London. The result is a collection of images that is fantastical, glamorous, and gorgeous to behold.

San Francisco: Suppes in an On Aura Tout Vu Couture jacket and gown, from the autumn/winter 2003 GlobeTrotter collection, photographed at Fort Point.

London: An On Aura Tout Vu Couture cocktail ensemble from the spring/summer 2006 Chopard collection.

Paris: An autumn/winter 2012 Yves Saint Laurent evening gown, against the iconic Eiffel Tower.

In a Hong Kong market, Suppes poses in a Rodarte gown from autumn/winter 2012.


The pieces featured in Electric Fashion range from haute couture to custom-made ready-to-wear, from simple, poignant pieces to extravagant and abstract works of art, by both established and up-and-coming designers.

Often, the portraits of Suppes are accompanied by studio photos of the garment and close-ups of the details, brilliantly illuminating the artistry and craft of couture. I particularly enjoy seeing the workmanship that goes into the pieces, which gives me a deeper appreciation of the construction and the painstaking attention to detail.

With an eye for young designers, Suppes was one of the first to appreciate and wear California-based brand Rodarte, including this dress from spring/summer 2007.

Left, a detail of the previous photo’s Rodarte dress; right, an autumn/winter 2008 Rodarte gown, which was exhibited at the de Young’s July 2010 To Dye For exhibit.

A diaphanous Vivienne Westwood “Pink Princess” couture dress from spring/summer 2012.

Seeing Suppes modeling her own collection gives a personal, intimate view of how it has evolved over the years. With an artistic eye and passion for fashion, she created an individualistic, museum-quality collection of things she actually wears.

With the V&A exhibition and all the book’s fanfare, other museums are chasing after her to showcase more of these fantasy items from her vast and remarkable collection. And I’m anticipating her next book!


At the Neiman Marcus launch party was Boaz Mazor, visiting from New York to present the first collection of Oscar de La Renta by the new Creative Director Peter Copping, the former artistic director for Nina Ricci. Earlier in May, Carol McNeil and Gina Peterson hosted a breakfast to introduce Copping to the ladies who love their Oscars, especially for grand occasions.

Oscar de la Renta’s Executive at Large Boaz Mazor, NM GM Alan Morrell, author Christine Suppes, and NM Director of Personal Shopping James Franklin Krohn.

Photographer Frederic Aranda and Karel Pont.

Dolly Chammas, author Christine Suppes, and Elisa Stephens.

Dan Dieguez wielding his own photo in the book, with Clara Shayevich.

OJ Shansby, New York’s Jesse Garza, and Jeanne Lawrence.

Tanya Powell and Minal Jethmal.

Joel Goodrich and Christine Suppes, who wore a 2015 Yves Saint Laurent floral skirt, vintage YSL vest, and 25-year old blouse for the occasion.

Lorrae Rominger, Christine Suppes, Ken Downing, and Carolyne Zinko.

Carolyn Chandler, Clara Shayevich, Daru Kawalkowski.

Boaz Mazor and Stephanie Marver.

Shelley Gordon, Karen Kubin, and Charlot Malin.

Michael Hernandez, Alan Morrell, and Lawrence Mansana.

James Krohn and Shannon Blunden.

Alan Malouf and Brenda Zarate.

Betsy Linder and Karen Caldwell.

Mary Poland and Lorrae Rominger.

Gail Glasser and Christine Suppes.

Frederic Aranda, Jackie Chan, Genine Velez Tang, and Joni Binder Shwarts.

Patricia Ferrin Loucks, Navid Armstrong, Ken Downing, Brenda Zarate, and Carolyn Chandler.

Dorothy Torresi and Eddie Mosca.

Michael Purdy and Holly Hollenbeck.

Jay McBride and Katie Horn.

Anthony Koenig, Bacca Da Silva, and Mark Rhoades.


Photographs by Drew Altizer, Frederick Aranda, and Grete Hjorth-Johanse.

*Urbanite Jeanne Lawrence reports on lifestyle and travel from her homes in San Francisco, Shanghai, and New York, and wherever else she finds a good story.

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