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 Vogue.com (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.

Monday, June 8, 2009

PHOTOGENIC: Ruven Afanador

There was something oddly familiar to me about the images of Carmen, Crystal, Alek and Isabel in Ms. Toledo’s Nordstrom advert. Yes, I keep referring to this campaign – don’t judge me just yet, I have a point. True, I may have a sick obsession with FIT exhibitions and anything Alek Wek ever does, but for the moment, I’m focusing on this one particular photographer…

In 1995, Vera Wang published a small but significant promotional book featuring her fall bridal collection. Photographer Ruven Afanador and Creative Director / Producer Deborah Moses assembled a series of looks meant to capture the attention of high-end fashion buyers and planners, and instead – or simultaneously, I hope – seized the imagination of an artistically inclined fourth grader. Me!

And, alas, they never let go. Flipping from Afanador’s recent photos for Toledo / Nordstrom to my aged Vera Wang booklet, I began researching how else his work has subconsciously impacted my overly media-influenced existence.

Case in Point: The shot of Maggie Gyllenhaal seductively contemplating her first bite of a Granny Smith apple on the September 2006 Marie Claire cover – the only issue of the magazine I’ve ever purchased. That cover marked the kickoff of the mag’s redesign, and, oddly enough, it didn’t sell too well. For most of America, Maggie was too ‘downtown,’ and her slightly sensual prop, along with the rest of the new Marie Claire look, bordered on appearing too high-end.

Apparently, making produce sexy chucks you into the fray of luxury labels that only get ad attention from the likes of Gucci Group and LVMH. That issue sold around 380,000 copies – a serious decline from the previous year’s figure of 641,196.* What a sad realization for then newly appointed Editor in Chief Joanna Coles. Still, she’s taken some amazing strides since, and with Nina Garcia over from Elle, I must admit I’ve been inclined to buy copy #2. (You saw the He’s Just Not that Into You girls on the cover in March and dove for it, too…don’t lie.)

Ruven doesn’t stop there.
The recent work he’s done for Nordstrom’s designer ad campaign (see picture) highlights the lost art of fashion illustration, and the attempt to revitalize it by
marrying photography and illustration. As the daughter of an illustrator, I’ve always been sensitive to the changing face of the industry, and take note of campaigns or editorials that continue to patronize this dying art. I’m totally biased, but I’m all for a full-blown revival.

As a side note, this makes me sadly, but fondly, remember Kenneth Paul Block, who died in April after spending some 40 years illustrating for publications like Women’s Wear Daily and W Magazine, and designers including Oscar de la Renta, Perry Ellis, André Courrèges, Pierre Cardin, Hubert de Givenchy, Alix Grès and Coco Chanel.
On a lighter note, I discovered that Ruven also has a hold on my hair! As the photographer behind the ad campaign for L’Oreal Paris Preference featuring Doutzen Kroes, this Colombian photographer has been subtly influencing my color and brand selections for longer than I care to reveal.

So, a big thanks to Afanny, as I’ve affectionately taken to calling him, for the many ways he’s impacted my fashion centric OCD. More to come following my FIT museum visit.

* September 2005 Audit Bureau of Circulations figures cited in Women's Wear Daily, November 7, 2006.

Photo credit: Photographer Ruven Afanador for Nordstrom advertisement, September 2009.

Friday, June 5, 2009


Following my afternoon spent contemplating Isabel Toledo’s ascendance to the fashion throne, I got to thinking about another, like-named force in fashion history: Isabella Blow.

I will preface this conversation with the disclaimer: I LOVE Isabella Blow. She was a mysterious visionary; a tortured, talented, and avant garde force in fashion. To think, without Ms. Blow,
Alexander McQueen may never have made it clear of Central Saint Martins. And the world would have suffered.

After she
passed, I – in all earnestness – wore black for a solid week of mourning. (I also purchased an outrageous turquoise ostrich feather headband in her memory: Best. Money. Ever. Spent.)

Naturally, when you think Isabella Blow, your mind wanders to her signature accessory: The hat. The multi-tiered, sculptural headdresses that graced the cranium of this creative diva were very rarely actual hats, so to speak. Nonetheless, her fondness for elaborate headgear causes pain in my heart when I think of the pitiful anomaly that hats have become in our daily lives. There was a time when neither man, woman nor child would leave home without a hat.

Alas, times have changed
My initial reaction to the realization that we as a society no longer consider hats to be of great importance was quick and alarming: BRING HATS BACK! We must band together in body-heat-preserving unity and re-introduce the hat as a staple fashion accessory! But then, it occurred to me that finding hats in this day and age might not be so simple. (And when I say hats, I don’t mean of the baseball or ski resort variety.)

So, I did a bit of snooping about, and here is what I found:

--- An abominably limited selection at
Bergdorf’s, albeit with an exceptionally gorgeous, colorful display of Kokin Lacquered Fedoras – so all is not lost.

--- Greater diversity and versatility, but an ultimately less appealing spread at

--- A noticeably greater quantity at
Bloomingdales, but a selection so dull that I briefly considered impaling one of my eyeballs with the end of a Burberry visor.

That may only be three online shopping outlets, but you know what? I have no patience. Isabella would be ashamed. And, there is only one place that I choose to promote when it comes to hat purchasing, and that is because they are my neighbor:
The Barbara Feinman Millinery on East 7th Street.

Playing perfectly to my point that hats are a dying art form, Ms. Feinman reveals the “time-honored methods” of Feinman hats via her Web site: “Barbara Feinman Millinery is one of very few New York shops where hats are actually made on the premises. The hats are hand-blocked and hand-crafted from start to finish, using techniques and equipment that have scarcely changed since the 19th Century.”

Okay, so we typically like to see progress in fashion. Something that hasn’t changed in roughly 200 years may not be so thrilling to many, but, as they say, everything old is new again. It’s high time we get crackin’ on reviving decorative head wear.

Photo credit: Photographer Miguel Reveriego for The Daily Mail, 1996 (hat by Philip Treacy).


The Museum at FIT sent me the most fabulous email this week.

The bitty intern that sends out FIT newsletters has graciously told me: “This month's Harper's Bazaar includes a romantically moody Nordstrom ad campaign for MFIT's upcoming exhibition Isabel Toledo: Fashion from the Inside Out.”

Michelle Obama may have helped rocket the Cuban designer to stardom when she wore Ms. Toledo’s now infamous lemongrass yellow wool lace shift dress + matching overcoat to our young President’s inauguration, but Isabel’s not exactly new to the scene, and it’s time to pay a little respect.

Photographer Ruven Afanador channels the rising star (and FIT alum) in this series of black-and-white photos featuring Alex Wek, Carmen Dell'Orefice, Crystal Renn and Isabel herself, including accompanying typography designed by Isabel's husband, artist Ruben Toledo.

See the photos here…which do you like the best? I’m impartial to Carmen, but maybe that’s because I’ve just come from the Met exhibit, The Model as Muse: Embodying Fashion, and I’m still reeling with delight.

Photo credit: Photographer Miguel Villalobos for IQONS, February 2008.