Thursday, December 31, 2009


Brooklyn is beautiful this morning. Walking to work is rarely an enjoyable experience, especially in the winter time. But today, the last day of 2009, dime-sized snowflakes are falling, turning the loading docks into mini-wonderlands...and it's making me incredibly nostalgic.

Here are some gorgeous photos taken for Numéro Magazine last year.

The ethereal beauty of this silk is the perfect compliment to the soft snow falling outside my window...

Photo credit: Numéro 91, March 2008.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Lindsay Lohan is expanding her formerly leggings-only label 6126 into a full force line of contemporary apparel come Fall 2010.

Happy as I may be for 'ol LiLo, this got me thinking about the downfall of artistic development in the fashion industry. With celebrities launching clothing and accessories lines left and right, the concept of fashion design seems to be withering away. 

Still in reflection mode ahead of New Year's Eve, my mind is focused today on the positive: one of the most artistically inclined designers in history, Signora Elsa Schiaparelli.

Schiaparelli was a fabric architect; a true creator of style. And, more so than most designers can claim today, she was in touch with a world of talented artists, and brought their work to the forefront as a result of her own success.

Taking cues from Pablo Picasso and George Braque, as well as collaborating with the likes of Salvador Dali, Jean Cocteau, Leonor Fini and Alberto Giacometti, she pushed boundaries, forced a reconsideration of lines and proportions and pioneered the concept of wearable art.

Here's a look at my favorite piece from Schiap, the Skeleton Dress she created with Dali as part of the Circus Collection in 1938, once again blurring the definition of 'beauty'.

Photo credit: Victoria & Albert Museum, Textiles & Fashion Collection, from the exhibition: "Fashion: An Anthology by Cecil Beaton."

Monday, December 28, 2009

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GRUNGE REVISITED: Marc Jacobs Eat Your Heart Out

With the new year in sight, the most natural reaction (and easiest blog post) is to reflect on times past.

Fashionably speaking, reviewing the last year is like watching an episode of "My So-Called Life."

To the dismay of many, this tribute has nothing to do with Claire Danes and Jared Leto, but rather the re-invasion of Kurt Cobain-inspired haircuts (or lack thereof); beard growth to rival ZZ Top; and enough threadbare flannel to outfit an army of lumberjacks in Southwest Oregon.

Today, I'm honoring my favorite symbols of 90's grunge; the poster children that Marc Jacobs for after his 1992 collection for Perry Ellis: Kate Moss & Johnny Depp.


Monday, November 30, 2009

TALK IS CHEAP: Designer Diffusion, Part III

An important message to designers: Stop making cheap clothes.

Allow me to clarify. I am not, nor have I ever been against the production of moderately priced high-fashion. I can appreciate the novelty of Manolo for Payless as much as the next girl, and yes, I'd line up 'round the block at 4 a.m. to get a first look, too. But honestly, I'm not buying that crap.
With names like Jean-Paul Gaultier and Jimmy Choo diving into mass market design, I have to ask: Where does it stop?

I know times are tough and Bergdorf's isn't buying the same way they used to, but can some of these design houses please hold out and hold on to their brand image? Make a few bucks at a discount retailer this year, and next year top tier clients at Sak's and Neiman's aren't going to look twice. Know why? Because the stuff at Target and H&M is shite.
Yes, it's exciting to have bought a new Luella Bartley jacket, but if it costs $30, chances are, it's falling apart in two months. The point of high fashion is quality, and in a recession like the one we're sinking deeper into, it would seem to me that focusing on durability in both manufacturing and style would get the job done much more effectively than selling hoards of mass produced $20 t-shirts in a store where I can also purchase tampons and cereal.

Sonia Rykiel, Zac Posen, Anna've hurt me enough. But now the Mulleavy sisters - whose work I've loved since they hit the scene with a collection of just 10 pieces in 2005 - are also hitting up the big red bull's eye this Sunday.

Alas...I guess I'll have to see what all the fuss is about.

Photo credit: Rodarte's first advertisement; Spring 2009.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

PUSHING PRADA: If the Devil Reads It, Then I Do, Too.

When the Devil wore Prada, heads turned, books sold and movies were made. Just ask Anne Hathaway how influential Miuccia has been to the world.

The Prada book 708 glossy pages stuffed with 3,885 thumbnail images of runway looks; ad campaigns spanning more than 20 years; each and every store and every design made by Ms. Prada since 1988; plus collection design details, including background on concept, production and materials – looks like a thick piece of heaven.

Just in time to not save money this Black Friday, I think heading to the Prada store in SoHo to purchase this $125 confection seems like a worthy cause. The two other monstrous coffee table tomes due out this year, from Louis Vuitton and Maison Martin Margiela, just don’t have the same cache for me.

Photo credit: Prada promotional material.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

CAPPING THE LENS: Irving Penn Dies

Yesterday, Irving Penn died.

He was 92 years old, and had been working in fashion since the summer of 1937, when he began as an unpaid design assistant for Alexey Brodovitch at Harper’s Bazaar. Only three years later, Penn inherited Brodovitch’s position as director of advertising design for Saks Fifth Avenue.

Of course, we know Penn best through his work with Vogue – spanning some 66 years – as well as through the cumulative star power generated by his 42-year marriage to Lisa Fonssagrives, the Swedish-born model with whom he sculpted the world of fashion photography in the 1940s and 50s. Fonssagrives died in New York at age 80, in 1992.

About fifty years prior, in 1943, Penn met the man who would one day herald the young photographer as his protégé – then editorial director of Conde Nast Publications, Alexander Liberman.

Liberman helped cultivate the style for which Penn became famous. It was the starkly lit, glowingly austere prints and renowned technical skill that earned him recognition as one of the most artistic photographers of his time. Penn’s work “bridged the gap between commercial photography and fine art…he revolutionized the way fashion was presented to a mass audience,” writes Women’s Wear Daily.

Following the death of his longtime contemporary, Richard Avedon, in 2004, the death of Irving Penn is decidedly sad. It marks the end of an era, and pushes to the forefront a greater need for current photographers – think Annie Leibovitz, Mario Testino, Helmut Newton, Corinne Day and David LaChapelle – to mold their images for the world; not just for fashion, but for humanity, the way both Penn and Avedon sought to do. As the saying goes…a picture is worth 1,000 words.

Photo credit: Entitled "Café in Lima," Irving Penn photographs Jean Patchett for Vogue, February 15, 1949.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

COLD SHOULDER: Deciphering the Pad

If a rise in hemlines indicates the recession’s end, then how do we decode the return of the shoulder pad?

To the chagrin of some and the joy of many, our necks will be in good company this year if the blazers shown for spring 2009 get any play. It seems that, following the resurgence of strong shoulders last year and popularized by Christophe Decarnin for Balmain, this once-feared bastion of the 1980’s will be a seasonal mainstay once again.

Theorizing the sociological implication of strong shoulders (so what if I’m pretentious about fashion?), Ann Marie Hourihane of the Irish Times writes: “…sad to say, the shoulder pad has frequently been accessorized by the dole queue. The shoulder pad is a symptom of a culture’s willingness to work when work is scarce. The shoulder pad, when worn by women, signals fortitude in times of distress.”

Ms. Hourihane’s UK neighbor, Janice Turner of the London Times, takes it a step further: “Perhaps women clinging to their jobs are striving harder than ever to assert their power — shoulder pads too are back in town.”

So then, are reports calling an end to the recession completely moot? Skirts are getting shorter and shoulders are rising higher; but the translation of those observations into economic-speak presents a complete contradiction. Maybe the reemergence of shoulder pads is a mere indication that women are wising up to the fantastic contributions prominent shoulders can make to the female shape.

Betsey Johnson told Emili Vesilind of the LA Times that fashion's '80s redux makes perfect sense because "when times are threatening, they always inspire creativity." And in her estimation, "It's actually the first time anything creative [in fashion] has happened since the '80s. It feels the same now as it did then."

Betsey might be on to something. Let’s just hope creativity can pull us out of this slump and keep the pads, puffs and pagoda sleeves a comin’.

Photo credit: Harper's Bazaar UK, February 2009; Model Zuzana Gregorova.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

IN THE RED: Annie Leibovitz Gets to Work

Renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz, who just recently staved off near financial ruin by postponing the collection of her outstanding $24 million loan, is still seeing red.

But this time, the color has a more positive association – that is, contributions to the Red Cross in the form of bespoke leather goods.

Leibovitz, along with five other artistic icons, is
guest designing leatherwear to be assembled by Louis Vuitton's master craftsmen at its Asnieres workshop near Paris, which will then be sold at a Sotheby’s auction in London on November 17th, with proceeds benefiting the scarlet charity as it commemorates 150 years of global goodwill.

Having shot the likes of Sofia and Francis Ford Coppola for Vuitton's “core values” campaign, Leibovitz is familiar with spreading goodwill on an international scale – remember the
Demi Moore-nearly nude-pregancy shot? That was groundbreaking. How could we as a society have possibly functioned without the decades of unclothed celebrity mommies-to-be that followed? (I’m only being half sarcastic here.)

The slightly androgynous photographer stayed true to her utilitarian roots when designing for LV. She requested a spacious backpack – no handbags here, ladies – to accommodate personal effects and photo equipment, while leaving her hands free. The monogram canvas sack is trimmed in black leather and lined with red, cushioned microfiber compartments, and it doesn’t stand alone. With her own extensive photographic paraphernalia in mind, Lebovitz’s design includes a matching rectangular shoulder camera bag, with external zippered compartments for accessories.

other contributing designers are just as varied and unique as Leibovitz herself: There’s animal installation artist Damien Hurst, Oscar-winning composer Gustavo Santaolalla, Spanish chef Ferran Adrià, LV’s head of special orders Patrick-Louis Vuitton (also a fifth-generation family member), plus LV creative director Marc Jacobs.

While I’m happy to encourage the charitable spirit, I do wish Ms. Leibovitz would do some income-generating work so we don’t soon find her hustling chop-shop photos for
NYC tourists in Central Park…

Photo credit: Louis Vuitton advertisement, July 2008.

Friday, September 4, 2009


Each morning, in preparation for daily life, we get dressed. Well, hopefully, anyway. For some, there is no philosophy behind the day-to-day ensemble; it is merely a reflection of practicality, affordability and climate. For others, however, dressing is an expression of their inner self. Clothing can be used to evoke feelings, inspire sensations and garner reactions.

In considering the possibility that there is a large population identifiable with the former (and surely not reading this blog post), questions abound: What is fashion, and what should it be? A practical warping of fabric for function? A pretentious, self-indulgent industry swimming in false importance? Or, as I prefer to think, is it merely an aesthetic representation of the time in which we live? And, for that matter, can fashion be all of these things at once?

Whether you’re of the mind that Rei Kawakubo is a genius or a quack – or you think that’s some sort of Japanese noodle dish – there is one element that can surely bridge this distinct divide. That is, the element of history. Fashion, like art, can often form a basis for historical reference. The clothing of a given era reveals many things about its wearers. Who wore what where? How much money did they have? What do they do for a living? What did they do for fun? What were their political leanings? What music did they listen to? The list goes on.

One of the most validating trips I’ve taken of late was to the Fashion & Politics exhibit at the FIT Museum, which completely justified my regular psychoanalytical fashion babble. The showcase, “a chronological exploration of over 200 years of politics as expressed through fashion…not only refers to the maneuverings of government, but also encompasses cultural change, sexual codes, and social progress.”

Despite the museum’s no-photo policy, my gorgeous friend Tom brought a bit of the exhibit back for you, via his stunning fashion illustration skills. Check-out his handiwork above – proof at the very least that to create fashion, one must appreciate art.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

I’LL RACE YOU: Let’s Talk About Black Baby

Naomi Sims made fashion history. She was the first black model to appear on the cover of a mainstream women's magazine, Ladies' Home Journal in 1968. Then the cover of Life in 1969. The announcement of her death this morning, at the premature age of 61, was undoubtedly sad.

But I’m not one for morose musings, and I’m certainly not one to call a pig a cow. Before you immediately assume that I’m heartless and completely void of emotion, allow me to elaborate…

Often, when people die, we (family, friends, media, etc.) tend to romanticize their time on earth. We make them out to be better people than they were; embellish their accomplishments; inflate their level of influence; ignore their faults; forgive their sins; the list goes on. And, while I can jump on the bandwagon and commend Sims for her infiltration of the mass media and the magnanimous power she wielded over the "Black is Beautiful" movement in the 1960’s, what I’d really like to contest here is how far we as a society have come in our recognition and acceptance of multicultural beauty.

Sims certainly laid down the red carpet for future superstars – Pat Cleveland, Alva Chinn, Beverly Johnson, Iman, Naomi Campbell, Tyra Banks, Alek Wek, Liya Kebede, Sessilee Lopez, Jourdan Dunn – to sky-rocket to stardom in her wake. And last July, when Italian Vogue unveiled its black-only models issue (I bought all four covers), they demonstrated just how many successful black women have penetrated the world of international modeling. The folks in Italy also demonstrated a need that persists 40 years after Sims’ LHJ cover hit newsstands. If she was so influential, why were the publishers of Italian Vogue inclined to assemble this special issue in the first place?

Apparently, the world is still full of racist jerks.

That’s not to say this is anyone’s fault – I’m just pointing out a flaw in the system here. Sims worked hard to establish herself as a woman who cared about her legacy. In addition to pushing forward in her career despite early set-backs, she was adamant about maintaining her integrity even when it meant declining certain opportunity. She turned down the title role for the film Cleopatra Jones in 1973 after deeming the script’s portrayal of blacks as racist. And, after just five years in the business, she abandoned modeling altogether to make wigs specifically for black women. (Although I could point to the fact that these wigs were blatant attempts to mimic “white” beauty – the goal was to create a more realistic texture for straightened black hair; apparently a very desirable enterprise, because in just another five years, the manufacturer, Metropa Company, had $5 million in annual sales.)

Sims soon expanded into beauty salons, cosmetics and fragrances, and wrote several books, including All About Health and Beauty for the Black Woman; How to Be a Top Model; and All About Success for the Black Woman. She also wrote an advice column for teenage girls in Right On! magazine.

Jenice Armstrong of the Philadelphia Daily News wrote: “What Sims did back then for the collective self-esteem of black girls and women is incalculable. Women, particularly those with darker complexions, took pride in seeing someone who resembled them posing on magazine covers.”

I am unfortunately one of the blonde-haired, blue-eyed sheep that women of color often refer to when citing their distaste for the beauty status quo. And so, I cannot personally identify with Sims the way Armstrong does, but I’m a fan of her work nonetheless and I worship the ground that many contemporary black models walk on – Alek Wek: I would have your babies if you’d let me. My only hope is that someday magazines will be so thoroughly saturated with black, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian and white models – and all combinations thereof – that we’ll no longer need to dedicate entire issues to just one ethnicity, and we won’t feel obligated to herald the accomplishments of women who may or may not have spearheaded the development of social consciousness.

Photo credit: Life Magazine, October 17, 1969. Courtesy of Time & Life Pictures/ Getty Images.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


In honor of the news that select Italians may be rescuing Signore Lacroix from his near bankruptcy, I scampered off yesterday to finally see the Valentino docudrama with my lovely and dearest friend, Colleen.

Valentino: The Last Emperor is impeccably titled. Not only does the film reveal the state of unbridled opulence in which this famously tanned designer lives and works, it also showcases an amazing relationship that has withstood the test of time. That is, the relationship between Valentino Garavani and his business / life partner Giancarlo Giammetti; a relationship which, at the time of filming, had just capped nearly five decades, as the couple (not to mention like 50 billion other people) celebrated Valentino’s 45th year career anniversary.

In the film we witness the adorable pair preparing Valentino’s final couture show and accompanying celebration / exhibition, set appropriately, if not necessarily ostentatious, at the Colosseum in Rome. And, while I could gush over their precious bickering, emotional hand-holding and obvious mutual love and appreciation, I will stop myself because, really, you should just go see it. (That is, if you haven’t already. I am really behind the times with this one.)

Instead, I will focus on some other very interesting relationships that became apparent as Valentino sashayed one last time down the runway, following the models cloaked in his dreamlike creations. With tears in his eyes and a wave for Miss Universe to envy, the impossibly young-looking designer was greeted with a standing ovation. Among the celebrity-filled front row (Gwyneth; SJP; Anne Hathaway; Elizabeth Hurley) are Valentino’s peers, beaming like parents at a school play.

Karl Lagerfeld, Giorgio Armani, Diane Von Furstenberg, Donatella Versace, Carolina Herrera, Tom Ford and a gamut of others show support of Valentino with such gusto that I had to stop to think – in the new class of ever-evolving designers, who will be the cheerleaders of the next generation?

In effort to spread the love, I decided to play a fun game of mix ‘n match so our designer spring chickens can have BFFers, too!




Jack McCollough & Lazaro Hernandez for PROENZA SCHOULER ~ Kate & Laura Mulleavy for RODARTE

Stacey Bendet and Rebecca Matchett for ALICE + OLIVIA ~ Marcus Wainwright and David Neville for RAG AND BONE

Those are just some initial thoughts. Being artistically inclined, they’re sure to bicker, break-up, re-align and get back together. Lest we forget the celeb-set, I must make additional note of my superstar matchings, because we can assume that those famous outside of fashion would stick together within.
Sienna and Savannah Miller for Twenty8Twelve ~ Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen for

Gwen Stefani for L.A.M.B. ~ Kimora Lee Simmons for BABYPHAT

RACHEL ROY ~ Justin Timberlake and Trace Ayala for WILLIAM RAST
Now, if I only had paper dolls…

Photo credit: Image from VALENTINO: Themes and Variations by Pamela Golbin, Rizzoli New York, 2008. Red silk crepe batwing sleeve gown from Spring/Summer 1999 captured by photographer Ruven Afanador.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


There’s been buzz about Agyness Deyn possibly leaving the world of modeling. This news saddens me for several reasons. Not in the least is the fact that she is my neighbor, and the thought of her packing up her East Village digs and heading back to Manchester or somewhere random like Bangladesh (she would do that) is just depressing. I like bumping into her on the street and seeing her in Mudd and Veselka. She is like a walking work of art for the neighborhood; one which never fails to excite me upon sight. (Admittedly, I’ve followed her into bars, and twice changed direction on the street so I could walk near her. If only I’d been blessed with similarly 3-mile long legs, I’d have been able to keep up!)

Reading Cintra Wilson’s profile of Aggy in the Times last week (which took place at my favorite Ukranian diner – noted above!), I started thinking about the shift in cultural ideals of beauty, and decided that it just might be a good time for Ms. Deyn to take a brief hiatus from the fashion world – for her to record a cover album of The Clash greatest hits, or something.

Cintra got me thinking here:

When war fever cools, hot new looks become less sex cue-dependant, and “unconventional” models — Twiggy, Erin O’Connor, Kristen McMenamy, Ève Salvail (Jean Paul Gaultier’s skinhead muse) — are free to rise. Ms. Deyn’s look captures a collective desire to return to the “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” pogo-punk unisex spirit of the irreverent and permissive early 1980s, when girls could wear combat boots and boys could wear eyeliner, and everyone could wear magenta.
While we’re still inundated with invariably edgy influencers like Erin Wasson for RVCA and JT’s William Rast, and while magenta is one color certainly not disappearing from the runways, there is also a brimming backlash.

We’ve seen it in the forms of Alexandra Shulman’s anti-size zero model crusade, and staring at us through the eyes of the Brigitte Bardot-reincarnation Lara Stone on the latest W magazine cover. Then there’s Christian Dior’s latest couture collection – a series of looks that could easily have waltzed through the very same salon in 1947 when Mr. Dior unveiled his heralded “New Look.” A real sense of femininity is creeping back to high fashion.

There were gloves and hats and A-lines frolicking down the runways of Fall Couture 2009 – but some shows had the power to transport me to another world. Elie Saab created an ethereal wonderland of white gowns and cocktail dresses – what Jessica Michault wagered may be “a youthful haute couture alternative to the shimmering, after-dark ready-to-wear made popular by Balmain.”

Valentino and Givenchy may have kept it dark, but the gowns shown were long and luxurious – oozing with ruffles and girly accolades – none, however, were quite so decadent as those dreamt up by Mr. Karl Lagerfeld. Chanel’s couture collection embodied all that it must have been to be female circa 1950. Gloves and tights made of lace; suit after perfectly tailored suit in varying shades and textures of tweed; LBDs to make even Coco swoon; plus hats and hair bows and winged eyeliner to put the frosting on the proverbial fashion cupcake. And, lest we forget the gorgeous white ruffled concoction that was Lagerfeld’s Lara Stone finale!

Even hard-assed Jean Paul Gaultier – whose collection vacillated from futuristic diva to 1920s flapper – seemed caught in the midst of our schizophrenic fashion shift. If, like Ms. Wilson wrote, our perception of feminine beauty is guided by the effects of war, then perhaps it is President Obama’s domestic focus that’s wreaking havoc on a collective vision. War may still be raging abroad, but we’ve got bigger fish to fry.

Photo credit: Photographers Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin for V Magazine, September/October 2008.

Friday, July 10, 2009

HANGING BY A THREAD: Haute Couture Holds On

My version of cruel and unusual punishment was realized Monday when I read Suzy Menkes’ special report on the haute couture collections presented this week in Paris.

“In the closeted world of satin and sequins that is Parisian haute couture, there is uncertainty about the future.”

You may as well tell me there is uncertainty about the future of oxygen. Suffice to say, I was not appreciative of Suzy’s assessment, but I decided to cut her some slack and read on. Suzy’s article confirmed what we’ve been hearing for quite some time: The couture climate is looking bleak. No matter what John Galliano’s recession-resistant ranting and his gorgeous collection of Van Dyck-inspired gowns told us in January, one thing is for sure: High fashion is losing its foothold.

Christian Lacroix may very well be hawking fashion sketches beside the Seine before the seasons change; the models at Christian Dior walked shortened runways sans pants and John Galliano romanticized this year’s in-house show as an “intimate” gathering of 120 guests, notably minus the presence of one Anna Wintour.

“The change [to show in house] was made to express the spirit of couture rather than as a belt-tightening exercise,” writes Menkes, quoting Sidney Toledano, Dior Couture President and Chief Executive. Yes, yes, dear Sidney, of course it is. Does he think we’re blind, deaf and suffering from mild concussions? We’re not talking about a Marc Jacobs off-site show at The Armory here; this was inside Dior’s very own Avenue Montaigne salon. Sure, the show reportedly used some 4,000 roses as a backdrop, but think about what they saved on overhead.

Couturier Stéphane Rolland – who “gravitates to obvious glamour with plenty of artsy embellishment,” according to Women’s Wear Daily – was interviewed by Reuters before his show this week. His estimation of today’s market was thoroughly depressing: “The collections of the 1990s, the 2000s, which were all about spectacle – that's over." Instead, Rolland muted his latest work to a palette of soft white, grey and black, with the simplicity of draped dresses and tailored jackets, allowing peeks of decadence in exaggerated shoulders and pleated collars. This is still couture, after all, so the fabrics remained sumptuous and the shapes precocious, but Mr. Rolland was notably restrained.

"I think couturiers have understood that haute couture has to be about sellable, commercial pieces, exceptional ones of course with a true Parisian savoir-faire," Rolland said to Reuters. To that end, Dior’s Toledano also said he expected “very few haute couture houses to be in business in a decade's time.”

Sellable? Sure. Commercial? Ouch! Gentleman, you are making me sad.

Do not fear. In fashion, there is always someone showing silver lining. Gaultier, Givenchy, Chanel, Aramni Prive and plenty others put forth collections that appeared unaffected by the buzz surrounding the impending death of a fashion master. And, thankfully, the UK’s Daily Mail, whose tabloid-esque version of news is my guilty reading pleasure, jumped in to alleviate some worries about our dear friend Mr. Lacroix:

“If the reaction to Lacroix's show is anything to go by, the flamboyant designer will soon be back. Nearly all the 24 looks garnered a raucous round of applause, and loyal fans unfurled a banner reading 'Christian Lacroix forever' as the genial designer took a final lap around the catwalk.”

Long live Lacroix!

Photo credit: Getty Images of Christian Lacroix Fall 2009.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Following the passing of two major celebrities last Thursday – Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson, for those of you living under a rock – I trolled the endless virtual photo albums showcasing decades of success, scandal, and of course, of style.

A flurry of outlets jumped to brand the deceased as “fashion icons” and pay homage to the stars’ respective glory days: Think Farrah’s hair and Michael's Brooke Shields-era sequined blazers.

Notably, Farrah kept her signature flip full-bodied and blonde through the very end – chemotherapy be damned, the woman looked amazing! And Michael, well, the King of Pop morphed so many times in the past 50 years, he should officially override Linda Evangelista as The Chameleon in the Fashion Hall of Fame.

That was the beauty of MJ, though. His never-ending spiral into the androgynous caricature we came to expect made quite the impression on le monde de mode. I’m not just referencing the resurgence of military jackets via Balmain designer Christophe Decarnin, although I commend the dedication of die-hard devotees like Beyoncé and Rihanna. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Michael pioneered modern androgyny, making gender bending a force so prevalent in fashion today that the latest collections would be unrecognizable without his influence. (For the sake of argument, I’m ignoring David Bowie and Boy George, so bear with me.)

Just glance back a few days to Spring 2010 Men’s RTW: A pervasion of floral prints and pastels – from periwinkle, lilac, and primrose at Ballantyne to candy-colored cashmere at Bottega Veneta and Thierry Mulger. Fast forward to male tube tops and sheer overlaid suits at Jean-Paul Gaultier, which bring to mind Guy Trebay’s posthumous account of Michael's “curious and repellent, beautiful and alluring, sexy and asexual, masculine and feminine manifestations.”

With this recent transitioning of traditional womenswear, a few male models have even admitted to the pressures of fashion week dieting. And our cultural preoccupation with asexuality goes both ways – look to the rise of Agyness Deyn, the British-born peroxide sensation who exploded in 2006. Without her pixie cut, boyish features and distinctive style, she’d still be little Laura Hollins folding clothes back in Manchester.

Jackson has had a profound influence on the way the world views fashion – from the inside out. In a bold look at the singer’s life and death, AP Music writer Nekesa Mumbi Moody summed it up: “His one glove, white socks and glittery jackets made him a fashion trendsetter, making androgyny seem sexy and even safe.”

So now I wonder…who’s next? Since Samantha Ronson dumped LiLo, maybe she’ll take a crack in her free time?

Photo credit: Michael Jackson discography.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

HARRIET THE SPY: Museum as Muse

On Sunday, being the devoted daughter that I am, I ventured from the East Village via the M103 to meet my parents in Murray Hill for Father’s Day brunch before indulging in an afternoon of hedonistic art à la the MET’s Francis Bacon exhibit.

Despite initial reservations, I was more interested in Bacon’s work than I’d preemptively thought. The portraiture he produced through the 60’s and 70’s was deep, twisted and evocative; and, while I didn’t exactly get the warm fuzzies from the too-frequent imagery of crucifixion and mammal carcasses, I certainly felt appreciative of Mr. Bacon’s style and the retrospective as a whole. But, before I begin to bore you with the art chat here, let’s talk about the real highlight of my museum adventure:


Cloaked in layers of gauzy cotton, colorful linen scarves and a gorgeous pair of perfectly worn knee-length mahogany leather boots, the petite fashion designer trolled the exhibit with her well-attired husband, several friends and two tiny daughters in tow. I recognized her immediately (I am not a stalker; I was merely an avid watcher of the Style Network through most of high school) and began to do what any healthy, normal, fashion-obsessed individual would do: I followed her for the rest of the afternoon.

Not a stalker you say? Hah. It seems I spoke too soon. But you see, I was intrigued. Rowley, who had been out at the Love Heals charity event for HIV/ AIDS education only hours prior, was gazing longingly at each painting, carefully reading the captions and whispering thoughtfully to her seersucker-clad hubbie as they passed from one room to the next.

I had to know what she thought. Was she inspired? Would I somehow see Mr. Bacon’s work reflected in her next collection? Would Spring 2010 feature a series of green Lucite watches – as per the artist’s recurring accessory in his Self Portrait, circa 1973? Would his Picasso-esque renderings reappear in Rowley’s work via painterly prints and watercolor blends of silk chiffon (read: Alessandro Dell'Acqua)?

As I tip-toed behind Ms. Rowley, from canvas to imploring canvas, I wondered where other designers seek inspiration before they approach the drafting table.

A century ago, Coco Chanel and Paul Poiret borrowed from the male wardrobe, influencing top designers today – from Christian Lacroix to Nicolas Ghesquiere – who still cite Poiret’s anti-corset movement among their chief sources of inspiration. I’ve always found that gender-bending politics, art, cinema and theater are inextricably linked to fashion. But, to avoid a torturous history lesson here, I figured it best to think about where are today’s collections are finding their footing.

Here’s what the designers du jour had to say about their ‘aha!’ moments:

- The Mulleavy sisters, who just won 2009 CFDA Women’s Wear Designer of the Year for Rodarte, count imagery from horror movies – think The Lost Boys and The Birds – as gothic inspiration.

- Jason Wu’s Fall 2009 Collection reflects elements of everything from classic fairy tales and Brothers Grimm-style silhouettes to "the quirky-chic look" of Manhattan socialite and fashion icon Iris Apfel.

- Erdem Moralioglu, a budding young London-based designer, who has also drawn from the world of wonder, told (UK) that his Spring/Summer 2009 Collection stemmed from a 1970’s production of “A Midsummer Night's Dream,” produced by Peter Brook, inciting looks that are both “modern and hyper-romantic.”

- Michael Kors’ life among the jet-set typically fuels his designs, which echo the exotic locales he so regularly frequents. This autumn, however, the recession-attentive designer told The Washington Times’ Stephanie Green that “the harsh reality of city life, right around the corner,” spoke to him. He describes the result as something “a little less romantic and a little more powerful…tough luxe."

- Just for fun: Remember the torturous 80’s flashback episode of “Gossip Girl” this past season? Los Angeles costume designer Meredith Markworth-Pollack told Women’s Wear Daily she drew from a variety of sources, including pop music divas – Olivia Newton-John, Madonna and Pat Benatar – and the era’s major designers – Chanel, Betsey Johnson and Norma Kamali – for inspiration. (Not to mention the added delight of referencing the resurgence of 80’s style on today’s runways; e.g. Alexander Wang and Balmain.)
The award for Most Literal Translation of Museum to Runway goes to German leather designer Daniel Rodan. In Berlin earlier this month Rodan dressed models for a promotion of 'Mauerkleider - East Side Gallery goes Fashion,’ part of the 20th anniversary celebrations of the fall of the wall. Featuring a new collection of Berlin Wall art-themed clothing, the collection brings iconic art from the Gallery walls to the dresses themselves.

Photo credit: Photographer Tim Walker for British Vogue, 2007.

Friday, June 19, 2009

THICK AND THIN: Sizing up Plus Sizing

You know how it took Britney Spears like, half a millennia, to make her over-glorified comeback? On-lookers waited with fingers crossed and breath baited before she spoke or danced – or god forbid sang – in public; hoping she would be alright this time (simultaneously wondering why we cared), and then she’d go off and shave her head or beat a paparazzo with a golf umbrella. Well, one of the songs she produced whilst bookending the K-Fed era kept re-playing in my head today.

Primarily this one graph from "Piece of Me":

I'm Mrs. Lifestyles of the rich and famous
I'm Mrs. Oh my God that Britney's Shameless
I'm Mrs. Extra! Extra! this just in
I'm Mrs. she's too big now she's too thin
I don’t want to get all serious and women’s rights-y here, but HELL YEAH, BRITNEY. Someone said it. Women are constantly bombarded with conflicting images and messages addressing their physical appearance, especially their weight. And, while there are definitely way too many unhealthily overweight people in the world, the fact is, they weigh what they weigh right now. The fashion industry is slowing recognizing that growing market (no pun intended), not to mention the potential new revenue stream.

For one, Arcadia Group, parent company of Topshop, will soon unveil a collection by musician-turned-Kate Moss-groupie-turned-fashion designer Beth Ditto for Evans, the company’s plus-size division. And just last month, Forever 21 launched Faith 21, a plus-size addition to the store’s collections.

Automatically, my next question is: Who will Forever 21 be thieving designs from for this line? Surely not Ellen Tracey or Ann Taylor – a recent retail report notes that they’re actually dropping plus size production in light of the recession.

This move, however, makes no sense. Follow my logic here: Recession looms –> women indulge in stress-induced pints of Ben & Jerry’s; recession ends –> women need bigger sizes to accommodate results of Chubby Hubby habit. If I were a major retailer, I’d be investing in this market. Would it be wrong of me to suggest "putting your money where your mouth is," or have I gone too far with the food jokes?

While I’m not a major fan of Ditto, I would love to see a line co-produced by the likes of Crystal Renn – or heck, even Mia Tyler, if she promises to avoid appearing in future VH1 reality shows. Alas, the latest buzz around plus sizing could merely be a ploy to derail naysayers in their next crusade against anorexic runway models. Only time will tell.

Photo credit: Photgrapher Luis Sanchis for Australian Harper's Bazaar, April 2009.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

WHAT'S OLD IS NEW AGAIN: Karen Elson's Nashville

This morning, I decided it would be wonderful to visit Nashville.

Why Nashville, you ask? Well, in addition to being the
country music hub of America, it seems the ‘Athens of the South’ is also quite the burgeoning Mecca for vintage shopping.

My co-workers have enthusiastically cited museums,
music festivals, restaurants, performing arts venues and other cultural happenings that I MUST visit should I make the trek to Tennesee, but I have to admit that I’ve got a one-track mind here.

You see, I am a vintage fiend. Fiend.

“Ohhh you’re sooo original,” you think sarcastically as you read this, but listen up: This is a serious
illness, and I’m currently vetting treatment facilities. Until then, like any true addict, I’m seeking my next big fix.

Case in point:
Karen Elson’s boutique, Venus and Mars: The Showroom.

A couple of months ago,
Libby Callaway (former NY Post fashion editor, originally from Tenn.) visited this grand city for Blackbook, and got a chance to meet with Elson and business partner Amy Patterson, a wardrobe stylist based in Nashville. This is how she describes the store:

“V&M is a fashion lover’s paradise. It covers two floors of a small house packed with carefully curated men’s and women’s pieces dating from the late 1800s to the early 1980s—many of them picked up by Elson on international modeling gigs.”

WHO WOULDN’T WANT TO VISIT THIS PLACE? It sounds like the bloody
Six Flags of vintage clothing. Elson and Patterson should contract Callaway immediately to write all ad copy going forward. I am so sold.

That’s not all. As much as I secretly want to hide in the buses outside of V&M until Karen arrives and I can gush over her alabaster complexion in person, I will be much too busy scouring the other nearby shops:
Savant Vintage Couture, Local Honey, Hip Zipper Vintage and more. Believe you me, if I fly my caboose all the way to the dirrrty south, I’ll have a list in hand, and I shan’t return without several suitcases full.

Now I just need to get

Photo credit: Photographer Nick Knight for British Vogue, October 2008.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

TALK IS CHEAP: Designer Diffusion, Part II

So I’m psychic. This morning, shortly after I posted the below query on luxury designers dipping their toes into the mass market, Jimmy Choo and H&M announced their own collaboration. The capsule line follows Karl Lagerfeld, Rei Kawakubo and Matthew Williamson (mentioned below), in addition to other H&M diffusion divas, Stella McCartney, Viktor & Rolf, and Roberto Cavalli.

Announcing the news, founder and president of Jimmy Choo, Tamara Mellon
said: "We are privileged to be among the fashion greats who have been affiliated with H&M so far, and to be designing a collection appealing to fashion savvy, street smart women, and to be including some great pieces for men, too."

Wait, seriously? You’re excited to be among the fashion greats? There was a point in time when innovation meant something in this industry – think
Marc Jacobs spring of 1992 – he was such a pioneer! Now fashion conglomerates are just happy to be jumping on a bandwagon that, although financially successful for their predecessors, may seriously cut into their ongoing brand and value perception.

Perhaps I’m getting too heavy here. I just worry about what this spiral into a two-tiered fashion system will do to the industry long term. Still, maybe there is something to all of this… I am still completely tickled at the prospect of owning my own pair of Jimmy Choo for H&M shoes. Think they’ll do a cheap-o version of these?

Photo credit: Photographer Terry Richardson for Jimmy Choo adversitement, Fall 2008-Winter 2009.

TALK IS CHEAP: Designer Diffusion, Part I

Following the much-hyped (and in my opinion overblown) line launched this March by Alexander McQueen, it looks like Anna Sui will become the second in Target’s “Designer Collaboration” series. As we all know and love, Target is no stranger to high design. Having premiered Isaac Mizrahi’s (recently ended) initiative in 2003, the retailer also pioneered Go International, successfully showcasing young designers like Luella Bartley, Proenza Schouler and Erin Fetherston, now for more than three years – and still going strong, with Tracy Feith’s line in stores now.

It was Isaac, along with Target, who paved the way for a “cheap ‘n chic” mentality, and inevitably, the growing excess of diffusion or “capsule” collections under the umbrella of big-box retailers including H&M, Kohl’s, K-Mart, JCPenney and others.

In September 2007, Michael Stone, CEO of The Beanstalk Group, a New York-based licensing consulting firm, told Brandweek reporter Eric Newman: "It has become apparent that a designer can bring [his or her] line downstairs without negatively impacting the integrity, authenticity and credibility of the upstairs brand."

Does that still hold true? Ms. Sui’s line (which I’m excited to note pays homage to the ladies of “Gossip Girl”) will debut September 13, 2009, two very tumultuous years after Mr. Stone wagered that statement. The economy has taken a serious nosedive since, luring more designers into the realm of diffusion, which provides ample brand exposure and accessibility, not to mention the added revenue stream.

But now, five years after Karl Lagerfeld launched one of the first capsule collections for H&M, the market for secondary lines has surmounted to a point of over-saturation. (Important note here: after Lagerfeld’s collection sold out faster than you could say “old man with a pony tail,” ol’ Karl was famously PO-ed at the Swedish company, who refused to produce more of his line, choosing instead to rarify the pieces that were sold in stores and had quickly escalated to eBay; what the Chanel designer said amounted to “snobbery created by anti-snobbery.”)

My question in all of this: Do designers just now entering the game risk losing their previously established cache – both in quality and luxury? I think so.

Customers may have beat down doors for COMME des GARCONS last year, and even slept on Fifth Avenue for a shot at that glorious Matthew Williamson belt this spring, but designers perpetually run the risk of an instant brand downgrade when they work with lower quality fabrics and construction. I’m not exactly used to haute couture myself, but when my pearl-embellished Simply Vera grey cardigan started shedding like crazy, the $30 I spent suddenly seemed a bit steep. Is it fair that I ask for Kohl’s clothing to last through the season, or longer, or am I holding this item to a higher standard just because Ms. Wang’s name is on the label? And, if I am, what is so very wrong with that? Isn’t that why these designers joined major market retailing in the first place; to bring their eponymous brands – and all that is implied in that name – to the masses?

If it’s just about their annual bottom line, maybe Christian Lacroix should give H&M a call.

*I’m keeping this short and sweet because:

a) I am short and sweet, so it’s kind of a branding thing.
b) I want to know what you think.

-Do diffusion lines help or hurt luxury labels?
-What expectations do you have of these secondary lines in terms of quality and affordability?

Tell me what you think, and I’ll press on.

Photo credit: Commes des Garcons for H&M advertisement, November 2008.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

JELLY UP: Vivienne Westwood

I wore a pair of hot pink lattice-weave jelly sandals through the entire summer of 1990. I wore them to camp; to tennis lessons, to the soccer field (where I typically did not play), to the pool, in the pool, and beyond. Suffice to say, I rather liked those jelly sandals. C’mon, it was 1990; who didn’t worship jellies?

Why would I be reminiscing about such an uncomfortable – not to mention fairly unstylish – pair of shoes, you ask?

For one, jellies have a special place in my heart. They mark a brief but distinct period in my generation’s style evolution. A memory that falls somewhere in between The Heathers and Clueless; a time before
Winona went klepto* and definitely before we could’ve dreamed up Alicia Silverstone’s yellow plaid three-piece ensemble or her character’s virtual closet. I had long ago filed jellies away as a brief interlude in reality; a subversive place and time in which plastic shoes were trendy and thought to be especially so if a Disney princess was prominently featured upon the toe. (I was four years old, okay?)

But that doesn’t answer the question. Why jellies? Truth is, I got to thinking back nearly 20 years as the result of a pretty random conversation.

Follow my train of thought here:
(e.g. Facebook chat)

I’m brainstorming on quintessential summer wear. That’s what I’d like to explore next. You know, what clothes, shoes, accessories get you amped for warm weather. What makes you think back to the excitement of summer break? The countdown through the final days of school?

I dunno. My brain is totally focused on jelly fish right now. My friend is producing this documentary on jelly fish and I’m heading to this lecture later and…blah, blah, blah.

ME: OMG! Jellies! That is GENIUS! Vivienne Westwood’s Anglomania is such an amazing throwback!

STRAIGHT MALE FRIEND: Huh? Wait, what? Oh yeah, your blog. Yeah, cool idea.

Ugh, boys. I digress. A stroke of brilliance none-the-less.

The beauty of Viv’s Anglomania is multi-faceted.

1) She’s bringing back jellies! Heck yeah! Don’t tell me you weren’t getting all teary eyed and sentimental thinking back to your own adolescent summer spent in the darn things.

2) Um, I can actually buy them? In
partnership with Melissa, the line is definitely affordable, with pairs hovering in the $100 range, depending on style.

- These
tri-ankle-strap gladiators are only $88.

3) A far cry from the original jellies of 1979 (created by
Melissa), the Westwood-Melissa line is made of MEFLEX, a non-toxic plastic made from 100% recycled plastic – supposedly both breathable and eco-friendly.

Of course, the famously flame-haired Brit isn’t the first to dive into Melissa’s diffusion designer zone. Way before
Target had Go International or H&M was shooing away hoards of COMME des GARCONS & Matthew Williamson fans, Melissa partnered with some of the biggest names in fashion. In 1983, the Brazilian shoemaker was already collaborating with Jean-Paul Gaultier and Thierry Mugler in São Paulo.

A few more recent Melissa guest designers include:
Zaha Hadid, Judy Blame (Part of Louis Vuitton Design Team), Alexandre Herchcovitch, Cavalera and Isabela Capeto.

Speaking to the brand’s growing popularity, Melissa's creative director Edson Matsuo asked the New York Times back in April: “Why should modern design and taste only be characterized by expensive products for the wealthy classes?”

Good question, Matsuo, good question. The jelly sandal movement doesn’t exactly inspire socialism, but it’s a
bubblegum colored start if I ever saw one.

*In a twist of fate, yesterday was the anniversary of Ryder’s trial for the theft of almost $4,000 worth of designer clothing from Saks Fifth Avenue in New York.

Photo credit: Vivienne Westwood Anglomania + Melissa advertisement, Summer 2009.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


I can’t wait to see what PETA does when they get their hands on this one.

Now, I’m not the most animal friendly shopper on the planet – I eat meat, I wear leather, I’ve got oodles of vintage fur coats and stoles passed down from gloriously glamorous great grandmothers – but this
news about Hermes…well, I just don’t like it.

It seems the
French luxury goods group is going to start erecting silos in the Aussie outback because women are breaking down doors for their very own Birkin and Kelly bags. Recession, what?

At the Reuters
Global Luxury Summit in Paris (also in London, Tokyo, Dubai and New York) yesterday, Hermes CEO Patrick Thomas described the situation: "It can take three to four crocodiles to make one of our bags so we are now breeding our own crocodiles on our own farms, mainly in Australia.”

Well, jeez. I didn’t know you had to kill so many
giant lizards to make each purse. Now I understand. Really, that makes it okay to start breeding them for the sole purpose of slaughtering them, ripping their skin off, and making $50,000 handbags for rich old ladies. Apparently, the company can barely crank out the 3,000 crocodile bags per year it already produces (that’s between 9,000 – 12,000 crocs running naked in the jungle, for those of you who don’t have math skills quite like mine). And, although Hermes claims it can’t afford to invest in training new craftsmen to build out the other 60 percent of the company’s business – jewelry, watches, fragrances, clothing, etc. – they do have the Euros to lay down on Kiwi soil for farms and farmers and crocs and, you know…all types of slaughtering equipment. (Did that cross a line? Whatever, I’m making a point.)

Let’s take a step back. Is it just me, or doesn’t Hermes have some power here? I know $50,000 is a lot to charge for a purse, but if women are willing to pay that much, don’t you think they’d be amenable to say, $55 K, or even 60? Let’s play some Econ 101 games here; supply and demand type stuff and crank up the prices! Women will still be lining up ‘round the block, signing on to 5 year-long waiting lists, and doling out their hard-earned cash for a piece of that elusive style carried on by the likes of
Victoria Beckam and Katie Holmes. (Or does the pout + swagger + enlarged bag combo only come with anorexia and a famous hubbie?)

While Hermes gets to building, I’m waiting for
Pamela Anderson to go crazy in a Hep C freak-out and do plane-drops of red paint over the Australian countryside.


*Slightly off topic, but this turn of events makes me concerned for the elephants featured in last year’s Hermes ad campaign alongside South Indian supermodel
Lakshmi Menon.

*Don’t hold it against me if my future Sugar Daddy is so gracious as to provide me with my very own piece of the Hermes croc farm. I shan’t pass it up if it’s a gift…that would be rude.

Photo credit: Hermes advertisement, Fall 2007-Winter 2008.