31 July 2008

The Unsubtle Problems of Charity

Charity and fashion. Such a fitting pair, if you're inclined to believe the stereotypes. Fancy people buying fancy things that promise to contribute something to a good sounding cause. How very kind!

Saks Fifth Avenue will debut their Key to the Cure campaign in October with a tee-shirt designed by Karl Lagerfeld (yes, I know, it's a LOT of Karl...I'll scale back) and modeled by Gwyneth Paltrow, retailing for $40 with "over $35" going to the Women's Cancer Research Fund. It's kind of ugly though. If you're wanting more consumer charity options, Lucky Magazine usually has a page near the back of the book devoted to these products...the trend though is...worrisome .

In high school, I saved up to buy as much of the Ralph Lauren Pink Pony line as I could. It was perfect for my 17-year-old self. Current (well, it was then) yet also an announcement, to the people who mattered, that I was charitable and gracious. It said I really cared about breast cancer research. But then Charlotte wore it on an episode of Sex and the City and Giselle wore it out to some event and, well, yes, a LOT of celebrities were photographed in the shirt...and I came to realize that I just liked what it said about me, I liked the logo and I liked that it was pink. And what was contributed to charity? 10% of a $65 tee-shirt. It's pathetic. Essentially wearing the shirt is really telling the world that you're so happy to have donated $6.50 to breast cancer research AND are willing to give the other $58.50 to Ralph Lauren and it's factories for a regular tee shirt with oversized screen printed pink pony. I'm a label whore AND a fair weathered philanthropist?

This is extreme, I know. But I still haven't learned.

For about a year, I've had a monthly ritual of spotting Lauren Bush in some photos toting David Lauren and her FEED bag and finding myself on Amazon.com moments away from purchasing my very own FEED bag. (Miss Bush wears it everywhere and with everything, from flip flops to floor length gowns.) But I always stop short. I've never been able to find a very clear explanation of where my money would be going, and what "feeding a child for a school year" really means. Also, it's another rather ostentatious way to show the world that YES, I GIVE TO CHARITY. (Miss Bush's case is different since she IS promoting the charity.)

There is the case, that any money going to charity, research, etc is a good thing and we shouldn't judge people's motives or means - especially since revenue for these charities has probably been significantly bolstered by the retail/charity partnerships. It just all seems like a big farce for the consumer to say something about themselves...but that's what we do with everything we buy, I suppose.

30 July 2008

La Forme Et Le Fond

"She’s imaginative, clever, educated...It must be an embarrassment for the wives of other heads of state to see this beautiful creature who can wear anything and speak like that."
-Karl Lagerfeld

Flamingo Watching

If you'll indulge a little name dropping, earlier this month I had the privilege of meeting (well, literally running after, and awkwardly introducing myself to) Kay Ryan, who only weeks later was named Poet Laureate. Meghan O'Rourke has a terrific piece today on Ryan's poetry.

During our very brief conversation, I admitted that I'd read nothing of hers, and asked if she'd recommend something. "Flamingos...it's kind of what I started with as well."

She also wore classic Wayfarers. So very cool.

29 July 2008

The Two-Café Problem

Ross Douthat on Adam Gopnik:

"He's a classic example of the cosmopolitan as provincial: He has something clever to say about everything under the sun, but where something more than cleverness is called for he's often at a loss, or else inappropriately facile. His breadth is astonishing, his depth considerably less so; he's a liberal ironist who often seems unable to imagine how anyone could have ever been anything else."

I'm sure he's right, but I stubbornly love Gopnik's whimsical observations and grandiose conclusions (i.e. "A scowling gray universe relieved by pastry"), much to the dismay of a few close friends. He not only introduced me to G.K. Chesterton, but also to the forgotten brilliance and wit of William Dean Howells's fiction, and, most importantly, Charlie Ravioli.

Just quietly going mad...

"Now I am quietly waiting for
the catastrophe of my personality
to seem beautiful again,
and interesting, and modern."
-- Frank O'Hara, "Mayakovsky"
(Episode 1, Season 2, Mad Men)

Everyone is going mad for the fashions in Mad Men. The misogyny in Mad Men. The layered narrative in Mad Men. And thankfully, it's more than just the media getting worked up, as two million viewers chose to watch Sunday's brilliant season premiere. We love people on the verge of breakdown.

Mad Men isn't perfect. The pace of the show is almost unforgivably slow, and I do think sometimes the actors lose their characters in an attempt to make sure the audience "gets it." And the fashions, eh, are sometimes striking (please see January Jones as Betty Draper channeling Grace Kelly), but are more consistently awful and frumpy. The vampy Joan looks like she is about to pop out of four sides of her dresses. Sexy? Hardly.

I'm much more excited for the return of Blair Waldorf's tights.

28 July 2008


This just in from the Post..."Taking a cue from the grim economy, this fall's fashions at Banana Republic, Gap and H&M are featuring a distinctly Depression-era trend of cloche hats, pencil skirts, conductor caps and baggy, vintage-style dresses."

Honestly? The inspiration for fall fashions is the Great Depression? Wasn't this a morbid joke in Zoolander? The suggestion that a retailer would embrace the "styles" (if you can call them that) of that era as a trend is appalling and offensive to the generations of people who sported these clothes for their utility. Not to mention their inability to either purchase new clothes or maintain those that they owned. And Gap wants me to go out and purchase a brand new (but sort of vintage looking!) cloche hat to be on trend this fall? I'll pass.

During a short stint in merchandising for Abercrombie & Fitch, a retailer known for their torn jeans, "junked up" appliqué and a generally casual and sometimes disheveled look, my grandfather had a few unpleasant conversations with me, expressing his vehement disapproval of the sartorial choices of my employer.

Generational differences aside (there is an appeal to the "lived in look" in my humble opinion), his point was clothes should be a source of dignity for people, regardless of your tax bracket. Wearing dirty shirts, and ratty pants was an embarrassment for my grandfather and he stressed that he and everyone he knew took great pains to keep their wardrobes in a presentable conditions. It might sound a little "in my day we..." but I do think that clothing should be used as a form of respect for yourself and your company.

It won't occur to the teen buying the torn jeans or the newsboy cap that she may be offending my grandfather (and possibly others) but I do hope that the design teams at these companies won't repeat this offense...and if they do, next time hopefully they won't be so quick to acknowledge/glorify their influences.

Generally in economic slowdowns, or so the fashion rags would like us to think, styles get more conservative, classic - oxfords, tights, sober colors. If the economy is going to dictate our fashion choices, I'll opt for the refined and not the choices of necessity of the destitute.

24 July 2008

Dumpster Diving

I've been to many supposedly high-end sample and warehouse sales before, waited in lines for hours and hours with hundreds of girls vying for the same few items, and every experience was awful. Even the most staid people get feverish and uncivilized at the prospect of discounted designers, and the merchandise is never as good as you'd think. I can't even imagine the misery of a free event, where "a person walks in, takes what they want, and leaves." The Financial Times, however, seems to think this is the next big thing.

23 July 2008

It's Quilted

In 2005, Chanel's quilted handbag turned 50. And how did Mr. Lagerfeld choose to celebrate? By commissioning London-based architect Zaha Hadid to build a mobile museum that would house only quiltedhandbaginspiredart and, an awkward three years later, begin a two-year world tour. The bags have already visited Hong Kong, Tokyo and will soon be making their way to New York's Rumsey Playfield in Central Park on October 20.

Some people are disgusted, some excited. It's art. No, it's advertising. It's both? Regardless, it's tremendously boring. A 7,500-square-foot loop that can be dismantled, shipped and reconstructed. Forgive me if I'm failing to see something extraordinary here. It's certainly neat-looking, but don't roadies accomplish these feats all of the time? The cool website and video are very quick to proclaim that this IS the first "mobile museum," reminding us that it's "people who usually travel to museums, not museums to people." Oh, thanks.

Perhaps my bitterness is stemming from a recent read of the Dana Thomas book on the evolution of luxury goods. Clearly much of the art in this exhibit is tongue-in-cheek, as Mr. Lagerfeld is far too smart to get in the way of the artists he commissions. (Above is "Cristal Custom Commando," by Sylvie Fleury - a video installation inside the massive handbag.)

Also, Hadid was a terrific get for this experiment, coming off the recent completion of Cincinnati's Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Arts and a win of the 2004 Laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize. Notably, she has a reputation for being a bit fanciful and impractical with her designs (her website shows more drawings than completed projects) which might explain some of her attraction for Karl Lagerfeld.

Participation in the exhibit is certainly a good move for the artists, giving them the opportunity to captivate an audience of Chanel patrons. It's all a bit grand, though, for such somber economic times.

22 July 2008

Rawther Fierce

Christian Siriano, the petite and outspoken winner of Project Runway's 4th season, is set to design a line that will be central to the plot of 2009's "Eloise in Paris." Exciting? Well, we can be sure that this association will drum up lots of press, at least 3 Vogue photo spreads featuring Natalia Vodianova or some other woman-child model as Eloise, and a spun off line for H&M. It's "The Devil Wears Prada" for the Miley Cirus set - glamour, brushes with fame, and at least 20 shots of Montmartre and the Eiffel Tower. It's also a rather bleak move for another Project Runway alum.

Kay Thompson created the petulant 6-year-old Eloise ("A Book for Precocious Grown Ups") originally as a radio show character and then as a book in 1955 about a girl who lives on the very top floor of The Plaza Hotel with her pug, turtle, and British Nanny - taunting her guardians and the Hotel staff by ordering such things as "one roast-beef bone, one raisin and seven spoons" from room service, and pouring pitchers of water down the mail shoot. She's uncouth, terrorizes grown-ups, disobeys rules and is not a particularly attractive child.

The original four books were a terrific success, but in the early 1960s, Thompson suddenly decided that the world didn't need Eloise anymore - she had grown sick of the character and pulled all but the original from the market. Thanks to the nostalgic folks at Simon and Schuster, and the encouragement of Hilary Knight, the illustrator, the books were re-issued after Thompson's death, along with an elaborate marketing scheme and of course, the film.

There is nothing new about a story of wealthy, fanciful children tormenting their caretakers. I've always been hesitant to embrace such glorifications of poor behavior as I know I had a difficult time separating the fun of being monstrous from the true lesson of the story as a child (and probably still today). And of course the inevitable merchandising of the film and the new books is hardly what the wonderful Kay Thompson had in mind. The best hope for this movie is that Milena Canonero (Costume Designer for Marie Antoinette and The Darjeeling Limited - both of which were visually stunning) has signed on as a visual consultant. But, it is being directed by the eternally sappy Pottery Barn director Charles Shyer (Father of the Bride I and II, Baby Boom). As much as I complain, it will probably be guilty fun to watch the jet-setting toddler run around Paris trying to retrieve stolen couture.

The Drones Club

'You can't be a successful Dictator and design women's underclothing.'
'No, sir.'
'One or the other. Not both.'
'Precisely, sir.'
-The Code of the Woosters (1938)

For my lovely friend who is less than thrilled about the upcoming film adaptation of "Brideshead Revisited." She's picky with her upstairs/downstairs British satirists.

21 July 2008

A Matter of Arms

How exciting that sleeves, and not hemlines, are the new area of interest this fall. A particularly elegant area to emphasize, designers seem eager to experiment with embellishment, proportion, and length - sometimes resulting in something completely impractical and unwearable. The Slate piece linked above shows a photograph from the Junya Watanabe ready to wear show that, although striking (the mask might also have something to do with that), looks a bit like a straight jacket. But my, isn't it dramatic!

Sleeves call for intricate construction and a
proper fit, both of which are nightmares for mass retailers and production lines. Once again, it seems, sleeves may for a few months be a true signifier of wealth. Many of these looks do require the most sinewy of arms to pull off, though. Even toned arms have the potential to look ridiculous in a volume sleeve, though Lanvin's ribbon sleeve (left) is stunning and wearable even for the non-waifs. Regardless, it's fun, new and much more interesting to consider than the annual revelation that TWEED is BACK for fall!

It is likely, though, that Ann
e Shirley is to blame for my sleeve lust.
hat girl doesn't want puffy sleeves at the ball?


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