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CNN Fashion Special: Backstage Pass

Aired May 14, 2011 - 14:30   ET


ALINA CHO, HOST: Sarah Burton -- if you didn't know her name before, you do now. She designed Kate Middleton's royal wedding dress, and has her own Cinderella story.

Plus, Spanx - like Kleenex is to tissue, Spanx has come to mean women's shape wear, but it's not your grandmother's girdle.


SARA BLAKELY, FOUNDER, SPANX: This started it all, holding in your saddle bags, your tummy area, your rear.


CHO: It all began in her kitchen. Now Tory Burch says even she can't believe how big her brand has become. The piece of clothing that inspired it all.

Hi everyone. Welcome to "Fashion -- Backstage Pass." I'm Alina Cho at Lincoln Center, the new home and heart of New York's fashion week.

And we begin with the designer whose name flew off the runway and into the homes of a mere two billion people when one Kate Middleton chose her to design the wedding dress. Sarah Burton took over as creator of fashion house Alexander McQueen after McQueen died last year of suicide. His designs were beloved by everyone from Lady Gaga to Michelle Obama.

Now New York is showcasing the McQueen's creations. And only we had a backstage pass.


CHO: When the now duchess of Cambridge unveiled her wedding gown to the world, she also revealed one of the world's best kept secrets, Sarah Burton, creative director of Alexander McQueen designed the dress. Suddenly the high fashion house with a cult following had the royal stamp of approval. Instant celebrity, Burton and the man she replaced, Alexander McQueen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's royalty. He's fashion royalty. He definitely was a designer that was ahead of his time. I just wish he could have been here to see it.

CHO: It's been more than a year since McQueen committed suicide in his London home, shocking the fashion world. Burton, a little- known, long-time collaborator took over as creative director so the house of McQueen could live on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The world is certainly experiencing a McQueen moment.

CHO: This month the Metropolitan Museum of Art costume department opened an exhibit. Stella McCartney called lee, his given name, shy in public but mischievous, too.

STELLA MCCARTNEY, FASHION DESIGNER: When you tell stories, they're kind of too rude, they're not really for public consumption I would say.

CHO: This public exhibit includes 100 provocative pieces carefully cure rated by Andrew Bolton.

CHO (on camera): How do you cut it down to 100 pieces?


CHO (voice-over): Our cameras captured the painstaking detailed work that goes into restoring the elaborate gowns, turning this into this, this into this, and this into this.

SARAH BURTON, CREATIVE DIRECTOR, ALEXANDER MCQUEEN: When I walked into the exhibition I thought of Lee. The emotion, passion and attention to detail he had for everything that he did.

CHO: Bolton says McQueen's designs often were an outlet for the deepest, darkest parts of his imagination.

ANDREW BOLTON, CURATOR, THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART: He would challenge our conventions of beauty. It wasn't about the classical idea of beauty of harmony and proportion. He found beauty in what people might think were ugly.

CHO (on camera): And yet the clothes are beautiful.

BOLTON: They're exquisite.

CHO (voice-over): They also inspire trends like row-rise pants. McQueen first created them in 1995nd called them bumsters. They were controversial, but the style endured.

JESSICA ALBA, ACTRESS: The low-slung jeans, I recreated my wardrobe when I was a teenager.

CHO: He was unique in the way he staged fashion shows, turning them into performance art, like this one that looked like a chess game, perhaps one reason why performance artist Lady Gaga was a huge fan. She even wore this McQueen creation in her video "Bad Romance." It's called "the jellyfish," now on display at the Met.

SARAH JESSICA PARKER, ACTRESS: He could create clothing that nobody else wanted to, nobody else saw in their imagination and he did it with great seriousness and flare and women see.

CHO: Sarah Jessica Parker lent her voice to the audio guide. In 2006 she was McQueen's date to the met when the costume institute opened another exhibit. She still has the pins he used to fit her dress.

PARKER: He really is and probably will continue to be in a league of his own.


CHO: On opening day, the Alexander McQueen exhibit drew a record number of visitors. And you can see it, too, through the end of July.

Coming up, she had no intention of getting into fashion. She just wanted to look good in her tight white pants.


CHO: How did you come up with the idea?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Honestly my own butt. Let's just tell it like it is.


CHO: Now the creator of Spanx has a multimillion dollar business. And she's a former standup comic, too.

But first, hot off the heels of the royal wedding, New York had its own bridal celebration, a fashion week devoted solely to wedding gowns. We talk to the queen of bridal wear, Vera Wang.


VERA WANG, FASHION DESIGNER: Every single bride is different. Every bride has a different list of dresses or styles that she wants to wear. I always want to know how the bride feels, what her goals are aesthetically. It's a very public statement about who you are. I don't think there is a more public dress that a woman wears ever in her life. The most incredible brides have been brides that wore something that really reflected who they were.



CHO: And from what's hot on the streets to what's hot underneath, even celebrities can't stop talking about Spanx. It's the shape wear phenomenon that's also a multimillion dollar brand many times over. Need to lose those five extra pounds, drop a dress size? Spanx can keep a secret. And it's not just for women anymore.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just put on my Spanx and I'm ready to go. CHO: How many people know Spanx.


CHO (on camera): It's the butt of jokes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's why you need baby Spanx, the super elastic wear that will smooth out all your baby's unsightly bumps and bulges.


CHO: But there's no denying the power of Spanx, the open secret that keeps celebrities looking svelte on the red carpet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've tricked my body into keeping it's thinner, Spanx.

CHO: Sarah Blakely invented Spanx, and it's not your grandmother's girdle.

CHO (on camera): How did you come up with the idea?

BLAKELY: Honestly, my own butt. Let's just tell it like it is. I did not like the way my own rear looked in white pants.

CHO (voice-over): Out of frustration, Blakely cut the feet out of her control-top pantyhose, put them on under her white pants, and the first prototype of Spanx was borne.

BLAKELY: They worked wonders, but they rolled up my legs all night. I thought if I can find out a way to keep this below the knee, this could be a home run for women.

CHO (on camera): This is the product that launched it all?

BLAKELY: This started it all.

CHO (voice-over): Footless pantyhose, nine million have sold. It took creative convincing early on.

BLAKELY: I went to Niemen Marcus on my first cold call for Spanx. About a minute into my presentation the buyer I could tell was a little confused. I said will you just come with me to the bathroom. He was like, excuse me. I did my own before and after. I went in the stall without and with Spanx. She said, oh, my god, I got it.

CHO: That buyer immediately ordered 3,000 pairs. That was a decade ago. Blakely started the company with $5,000, money she saved from selling fax machines door-to-door. Today Spanx is a megabrand, more than 200 products in 10,000 stores in the U.S. alone and in 30 countries, generating $350 million in sales.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They changed my world. They changed my world a couple weeks ago when I had a dress on that I probably should not have been wearing. CHO: Part of the appeal is that Blakely, a former stand-up comic has fun with it, with sassy names like "slim cognito," "skinny britches," and a Spanx bra that took two years to produce.

BLAKELY: Now we created "bra-lleluiah because it really is that comfortable.

CHO: There's a lower price line called assets and plus-size versions on QVC.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's time for me to try something to try to get rid of these rolls in my body.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Time to smooth things out, Stella, right?


CHO (voice-over): Now there's Spanx for men.

ELLEN DEGENERES, TALK SHOW HOST: You look fantastic. What's happening with you? You look great.


CHO: You think guys are waking up and saying why wouldn't we do something that makes us look and feel a little better in our clothes?

BLAKELY: Yes, why just the girls?

CHO: Right.

CHO (voice-over): The invention that sparked a revolution and made Blakely a celebrity, too.

BLAKELY: The other day I was in the airport and this woman is running by me, and she clearly had a moment where she recognized me. She goes Spanx and wheels on luggage, the two greatest inventions in the last 50 years.



CHO: Ain't that the truth.

Up next, you've seen her on fashion's hottest cat walks, in glossy magazines, but a high school prom? We followed this top model back home to Wichita, where she's just your average 17-year-old.


LINDSEY WIXSON, MODEL: This is my room, but it's really messy. I don't think you want to come in here.

CHO: Plus, she had a five-year plan of three stores. So much for plans. Her logo virtually overnight was everywhere. CHO (on camera): Is it weird to you today when people say, oh, yes, it's a Tory this, it's a Tory that.

TORY BURCH: It's so funny.


CHO: How Tory Burch built a global fashion empire.


But first, he's also a recognizable name on the basketball court. New York Knicks star Amar'e Stoudemire wows the crowd at Madison Square garden. Now he's about to do the same in fashion.

AMAR'E STOUDEMIRE, NBA PLAYER: You have to work just as hard in fashion.

CHO: Here is a sneak peek, NBA logos, graffiti, not your typical jerseys. Stoudemire has teamed up with fashion designer Rachel Roy. The two are collaborating on a collection for women that will be sold at Macy's beginning in September, clothing inspired by and created for female sports fans.

RACHEL ROY, FASHION DESIGNER: No matter what the trends are, what's going on in fashion, as long as you believe in something and it's true to you, you'll succeed.

CHO: And Amar'e has that.

ROY: He has it.



CHO: Welcome back to "Fashion Backstage Pass." I'm Alina Cho. Fashion insiders know her name. You probably know her face, Lindsey Wixson, one of the hottest models on the catwalk and all of 17. Like any 17-year-old she has teenage dreams, like going to her high school prom, squeezing it in between trips to Milan, Paris, and New York. It's a long way from the runway.


CHO: She's the supermodel of the moment. At 17 Lindsey Wixson has had a meteoric rise in fashion.

WIXSON: I have friends that tell me, oh, Lindsey you're famous. I know a famous person.

CHO: Wixson started modeling two years ago at 15, a week after posting photos on She got the attention of a famous photographer. Then Prada came calling. She has it all except for a ticket to the prom.

JASON WU, FASHION DESIGNER: I think it's time to show Wichita a little glamour.

CHO: That's right, Wichita, Kansas, Wixson's hometown. She'll soon be there in a dress designed especially for her by Jason Wu, the same Jason Wu who designed Michelle Obama's dress for the inauguration.

WIXSON: Ooh, that's gorgeous. Check it out.

CHO: A one-of-a-kind, the perks of being a super model.

WU: The Lindsey dress. We're calling this the Lindsey.

WIXSON: It's so beautiful Jason. Thank you so much.

CHO: The next time we see Wixson we're in Wichita, and it's prom night.

CHO (on camera): How do you stay grounded?

WIXSON: I come home. I come home and I do yoga and I cook.

CHO (voice-over): In some ways she is a normal teenager.

CHO: Is this your room?

WIXSON: This is my room, but it's really messy. Belts, necklaces.

CHO: What is going on in here?

CHO (voice-over): In other ways, not so much.

CHO (on camera): This is it, right?

WIXSON: Yes, this is my car.

CHO: Your 16th birthday present.

CHO (voice-over): To herself. Look at the license plate. Wickson bought the Chrysler convertible with money she made from the Miu-Miu ad campaign. And take a look at her closet.

WIXSON: This is one of the coolest, Mark Jacobs.

CHO: A gift from the designer herself. But it's this designer dress she'll wear to the prom.

After a few photos with mom, there's a kiss from dad. Daddy's girl and her friends then pile into a limb scene. Then they're off to the place where memories are born. The night has just begun, and so has this young girl's career.


And we wish Lindsey Wixson the best of luck. Up next, the woman behind an iconic megabrand, what Rory Burch says was missing from her own closet that inspired her to design. But first, these are not clothes you can buy, but they can break or make a Broadway show, like "Anything Goes," up for nine Tony awards, including costume design.


MARTIN PAKLEDINAZ, COSTUME DESIGNER, "ANYTHING GOES": Clothing is nothing without a body. I was able to be sort of historically accurate and yet liven it up with interpretation of all of that color.

SUTTON FOSTER, "RENO SWEENEY," "ANYTHING GOES": They make me feel glamour rouse and sassy and fabulous. They're transformative. I literally feel like a different person.


CHO: Welcome back. We're in the showroom of Christian Cota, an emerging designer and someone I think is a newcomer to watch. Christian is the only designer from Mexico to show at New York's fashion week. Thank you so much. Good to see you.


CHO: You have an interesting story behind this design. Talk about that.

COTA: This one I was at the market and I saw a bunch of red meat.

CHO: Was this before or after Lady Gaga?

COTA: It was actually before.

This is my family.

CHO: Talk about the grandmother who first inspired you.

COTA: She loved the drama of clothing and how much you could do with it.

CHO: I want to talk about some of the celebrities you've dressed. Eva Mendez. You had a big moment recently with Carrie Underwood.

COTA: She wore it the night she announced her engagement for the first time.

CHO: You had your first runway show this past February, right? What was that like?

COTA: It was very -- almost like a dream.

CHO: At that point did you say, OK, in some small way I've made it? COTA: My team and I pulled it together. We did a good show. And on to the next.


CHO: She was a newcomer just a few years ago. Now Tory Burch's name is synonymous with ballerina flats, you know, the ones with the iconic logo. Nowadays Burch sells a lot more than just shoes. Turns out the ballerina flats were just the first step in building the Tory Burch fashion empire.


CHO: It's just another day at the office for Tory Burch, a photo shoot in the morning for "Vogue" Mexico, in the afternoon it's "Vogue" Japan. In the afternoon, we talk about, what else?

CHO, (on camera): Who is the Tory girl?

TORY BURCH, FASHION DESIGNER: I'm asked that a lot. I would say it's probably me. I wore this jacket today.

CHO (voice-over): A one-woman fashion empire, 50 stores around the world, another 16 opening next year with an estimated $450 million in sales.

CHO (on camera): This big this fast?

BURCH: I had no idea. I had a five-year plan of three stores. So you can imagine. It's a very different thing.

CHO (voice-over): Clothes, shoes, bags, perfume on the way. She's the founder, CEO and, oh, by the way, a dedicated mom, too.

CHO (on camera): You don't sleep much?

BURCH: I don't sleep much. I wish I slept more. I've never slept, since I was a little girl. I think that does help me.

CHO (voice-over): Burch started the company seven years ago in her kitchen because she saw something missing in her closet.

CHO (on camera): Which was what?

BURCH: This idea of finding great, beautifully designed, beautifully made pieces that weren't at a designer price point.

CHO (voice-over): Chic but affordable. She got to work. Then she stumbled upon something that would soon be the centerpiece of her first collection.

BURCH: I was in a Paris flea market and I saw a tunic in this shape. I thought, wow, what a great shape for all ages.

CHO: Today the Tory Burch tune nick is a best-seller, so the iconic Reba Ballerina, the flat shoe named for her mother. In fact, it was her stylish parents who first introduced Burch, then a tomboy, to fashion.

BURCH: My father was known for his style, and I think he designed all his own clothing. I often said he should have been a designer. My mom just was stunning.

CHO: So she named her newest hand bag line the Robinson collection.

BURCH: My dad would be very happy.

CHO: A way to honor her late father by using her maiden name.

BURCH: I am head to toe Tory Burch.

CHO: Is it weird to you today when people say oh, yes, it's a Tory, it's a Tory this, a Tory that.

BURCH: It's so funny. I laugh when I hear that.

CHO: It's a little strange, isn't it?

BURCH: Odd, but flattering.

CHO: Global reach, 1,500 styles, but not all of them work. What are some of the duds?

BURCH: There's been so many duds, and I guarantee you, I thought probably the duds were my favorite pieces.

CHO: Like the one she likes to wear when she's not at work.

CHO (on camera): Who is Tory Burch on the weekends?

BURCH: Very much someone that is hanging out with my family and friends. I play a lot of sports, see a lot of movies. I would say much more low key than one would imagine.

CHO (voice-over): Yet, like it or not, she's a celebrity, a mega brand. But don't tell that to Tory Burch.

BURCH: I don't look at it as we're here, we're so successful. For me, I feel like, on so many levels, we're just starting.


CHO: And we're just getting started, too.

The next Fashion Week is slated for September, right here at Lincoln Center, and we're already working on your backstage pass. Fashion statements that will soon come to a store near you, and if you're lucky, maybe even into your closets.

Thanks for joining us. I'm Alina Cho.