Since starting her own label in 1998 (shortly after making her New York debut as a designer for Diane von Furstenberg), Catherine Malandrino, born in Grenoble, France, has been creating contemporary American fashion in a distinctly French way. She’s managed to combine the simplicity and off-handed elegance of Parisian chic with the no-nonsense practicality of American style, a fusion best illustrated by her 2001 American flag collection that has been worn by countless celebrities who wish to express their patriotism in a modern way.
“Women as diverse as Meryl Streep, Halle Berry [pictured, above], Sharon Stone, and Madonna have all worn ‘the dress,’” said François Delattre, the ambassador of France to the United Nations, as he presented the designer with the insignia of the Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, in recognition of her contributions to the arts.
For the event, at the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in Manhattan, Malandrino (pictured, below) was surrounded by friends and family who have supported her from the very beginning, including Mary J. Blige, who has worn Malandrino for years. The designer took the opportunity not to talk about herself, but to pay tribute to her friends in the crowd, saying hello from the podium to almost everyone she recognized. There was Delphine, her friend from Switzerland. Then, the first customer who knocked on her door when she opened a store in the Meatpacking District. Then Claudine and Alex, Peter and Steve, Robert. Then, the stylist Phillip Bloch and the photographer Roxanne Lowit.
“In this world, sometimes we think that we are friends because we are somebody,” Malandrino said. “I think it’s wrong. We are friends because we really feel for each other, and tonight is a great moment for showing the feeling I have for all of you.”
Nodding to the ribbon that was affixed to her lapel, she said she would wear it often, “and always with a great jacket.”