Fashion Victim

A dressing down of the geriatric crowd at the Phoenix Art Museum

There's a light drizzle and a blustering wind on a Thursday night in January, when visitors to the Arizona Costume Institute fund-raising dinner at Scottsdale's Gainey Golf Club drive past rows and rows of new Mercedes-Benzes and BMWs in the full -- and members-only -- parking lot. Turns out that parking for non-members is farther down the hill and off to the side, making it a chilly hike back up to the main entrance.

Inside the resort's clubhouse, nearly a hundred people are heading to their seats, wineglasses in hand, in the lavishly decorated dining room. The vast majority of attendees are elderly, and nearly all are white. Well-coifed seventysomethings with silver hair (or expensive-looking dye jobs) wear flowery designer dresses or tweedy pantsuits, accessorized by jeweled brooches and distinguished-looking husbands. A number of elegant guests in their 50s look positively sexy in comparison, and the small handful of mostly female visitors in their 20s and 30s stick out like children at the opera.

David Sheflin
Jeff Newton
David Sheflin
William Claxton and Peggy Moffitt made news in 
Women's Wear Daily with their appearance at 
David Sheflin
William Claxton and Peggy Moffitt made news in Women's Wear Daily with their appearance at PAM.

Everyone is here for a lecture by Teri Agins, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal who writes about fashion and retail. As dinner wraps up, Agins, an African American in her early 50s, takes the podium with a warm grin. She talks about her book The End of Fashion, occasionally laughing at herself as she fiddles with the slide projector remote control.

As Agins drops name after famous name -- and after years of reporting on the fashion industry, she's on a first-name basis with the most powerful people in fashion -- the crowd is attentive, murmuring appreciatively at mentions of legends such as Coco Chanel or Audrey Hepburn.

But when her discussion takes a turn toward contemporary streetwear's newer, hip-hop-oriented labels such as J. Lo and Sean John, it's clear from the blank expressions around the room that she's going over a lot of heads. Seated at a large, round table at the front of the room, a grandmotherly lady with white hair leans over to whisper to her balding husband, who shakes his head in befuddlement at the unfamiliar names.

At the end of the evening, Agins mingles with a half-dozen excited women, signing copies of her book and talking about her career as guests bundle up to head back to their cars.

A tall, slender woman in her 30s (who, with her pixieish bangs and geometric print wrap dress, looks a decade younger) says goodbye to a friend.

"I'm so glad I ran into you," she says. "There are so many old people here!"

On September 18, 2003, David Sheflin sent a letter to Jim Ballinger, director of the Phoenix Art Museum, announcing his resignation from the Arizona Costume Institute.

"I can no longer, in good conscience, be associated with this group of women: Ardie Evans, Ginny Springall, Bets Manera, or Maggi Winius," he wrote. "In my opinion, this group of women have continuously embarrassed the Fashion Design Curator, the Phoenix Art Museum, and the City of Phoenix. I have found the powers that be in the ACI to be self-centered and mean-spirited."

The letter goes on to note that in spite of his numerous conversations with Ballinger about problems plaguing ACI, Sheflin saw no progress in correcting them.

(New Times reached all of the women mentioned in the letter, except Winius, who did not return calls.)

Sheflin's resignation followed a long-running spat with those women about a new ACI logo, membership brochure and directory, which he was designing at the request of the current president, Marsha Till. He says Ginny Springall, the incoming president, told him that she didn't want him working on the directory anymore. Later, he says, she changed her mind and demanded the artwork.

But Sheflin was already offended. About serving another year as ACI's public relations director (a volunteer position), Sheflin says that Springall didn't return his calls. "Curiously, now there is no PR director," he says.

Sheflin also says that Ardie Evans and Maggi Winius had told him that even though he and his partner paid for their ACI memberships with one check, their names must still be listed separately in the directory -- unlike heterosexual couples.

"To me, that was discrimination," Sheflin says.

After he finally e-mailed Springall to say that he was no longer willing to design the directory, Sheflin was the unintended recipient of a reply e-mail from Bets Manera to Springall that was about him.

"Hurrah! You finally have a definitive answer from him!" it reads. "We don't need his art work, we can get just as good from someone else. Now you shouldn't have to worry about him any more!"

Interpreting the e-mail as proof of discrimination, Sheflin resigned the next day.

Manera, a Professor Emeritus of Secondary Education at ASU, says that Sheflin misunderstood her response.

"In effect, he was saying that he would not do the brochure, which he had committed to doing over a year prior. And my response, which I intended to go to the president, was, 'Whoopee, hooray . . . after a year and a half we're going to be able to get the brochure done,'" she says. "So we could move on."

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