29 January 2009

Are you a Jackie or a Michelle?

New York Magazine has managed to stir up muck and resentment where there really needn't be any on the ever pertinent topic of Michelle Obama's clothes. Oh, and how the fashion industry is probably still racist.
But despite such liberal goodwill, the industry is overwhelmingly white, both in its makeup and its view of its customer. Not long ago, Stefano Pilati, the designer of Yves Saint Laurent, saw no problem telling Robin Givhan of the Washington Post that black models just don’t look right in his clothes...

...An even more vexing question when it comes to Michelle is the fact that she uses fashion but is not defined by her interest in it. She’s no Jackie Kennedy, whose tenure as First Lady is remembered precisely for her interest in style. This seems an unlikely course for Michelle Obama. Here is a beautiful, well-dressed woman for whom fashion is a sidebar. Hers is the kind of résumé that can induce a certain self-hatred among people who’ve devoted their lives to tracking hemlines and hairdos.

Michelle Obama seems poised to lead the fashion world to the promised land, where every woman can have great style. But for fashionistas, as of yet, that is a very confusing place to be.
I am in such a rage over this pointless article that I don't really even know where to begin. What in the world are they talking about? How did this get published? A fashion editor musing on the existence of a nice looking woman who has accomplishments beyond the realm of the runway and how this fact makes her feel badly about her life and singular mind as a result? Gripping.

I've never been a fan of the elitism of fashion editors (ironic, yes, I'm aware.) Fashion is not a particularly difficult thing to figure out, and you'd think that the existence of so many damn magazines and blogs (again, I know) devoted to the subject would mean that all of these writers and designers really do want to explain to the masses the art of dressing one's self. Yet when a 40-year-old woman who doesn't live for Balmain manages to put together an outfit, these editors start ge
tting very territorial.

It's as if to say "we all love her for her cute clothes, but it should really stop there." This is probably why all the glossies love Jackie Kennedy so much. She was ONLY about the clothes. Michelle has terrific style and knows what looks are appropriate for her status and figure and is a great reminder that women who don't spend hours a day obsessing over trends and meeting with their "friends on the 4th floor of Barney's" can manage to have lives, children and careers and still look nice.

Michelle Obama is a modern, professional woman and it would be a disservice to her intelligence and successes if she was indeed "remembered precisely for her interest in style." In this respect, I hope the comparisons to Jackie stop.

Mad Men asked women whether they were a Jackie or a Marilyn. The question for our (style) times is whether you are a Jackie or a Michelle. I don't care how similar their outfits or haircuts are, these women are fundamentally different and, Michelle at least, should be celebrated for that fact.

A Frozen DC Moment

This looks like fun.

Washington D.C. Reflecting Pond (1925)
from the New York Times photo archives

28 January 2009

No longer roseate now, nor soft, nor sweet

In an effort to fund more critical operations, Brandeis University has decided to close The Rose Art Museum and to sell off its extensive collection of postwar art.

It's heartbreaking to read the mission statement of a failed operation:
Founded in 1961, The Rose Art Museum of Brandeis University is an educational and cultural institution dedicated to collecting, preserving and exhibiting the finest of modern and contemporary art. The programs of the Rose adhere to the overall mission of the University, embracing its values of academic excellence, social justice, and freedom of expression.

An active participant in the academic, cultural, and social life of Brandeis, the Rose seeks to stimulate public awareness and disseminate knowledge of modern and contemporary art to enrich educational, cultural, and artistic communities regionally, nationally, and internationally.

The Rose affirms the principle that knowledge of the past informs an understanding of the present and provides the critical foundation for shaping the future. It promotes learning and understanding of the evolving meanings, ideas, and forms of visual art relevant to contemporary society.

An interesting thing to note, though, is where all the art came from. The New York Times reports:
When the museum opened in 1961, it had no acquisitions budget. So its collection grew mainly through gifts. Among the most significant was a $50,000 donation from the collectors Leon Mnuchin and his wife, Harriet Gevirtz-Mnuchin, to be used to buy contemporary art. The only restriction was that no individual work should cost more than $5,000. With that money, Sam Hunter, the museum’s founding director, was able to buy 21 paintings by then-young artists like Rauschenberg, Warhol, Lichtenstein and Mr. Johns that are among the most valuable works in the collection today.
Is it ethical to sell gifts?

As Jasper Johns, an artist who's works figured prominently at the museum, said, “I find it astonishing. I’ve never heard anything like it.”

23 January 2009

CORRECTION: The Absurdity Continues

Sorry, Kanye. I didn't realize the, er, extent of your relationship with Louis Vuitton when I wrote this.
Met her at a beauty salon
With a baby Louis Vuitton
Under her under arm

Last Call
I'm Kan, the Louis Vuitton Don
Bought my mom a purse, now she Louis Vuitton Mom
I ain't play the hand I was dealt, I changed my cards
I prayed to the skies and I changed my stars
I went to the malls and I balled too hard
'Oh my god, is that a Black Card?

'Cause this is Louis Vuitton dime night

There are probably others as well. But...wow...that's love.

So it appears that this collaboration on sneakers is exactly what Mr. West has always wanted. Maybe this is just me being sappy because it's beautiful outside and it's Friday and there is just so much damn hope floating around this city, but I find that kind of charming. Apologies for the condescension.

22 January 2009

The Absurdity Continues

Kanye West entered the ranks of celebrity guest designers in a baffling and pointless collaboration with Louis Vuitton, and apparently "surprised" an audience in Paris when the sneakers debuted only hours ago on the runway, according to the style blog of the LATimes, All the Rage.

The self-proclaimed "Louis Vuitton don," Mr. West fancies himself a sartorial expert, writing about fashion shows and styles on his blog rather frequently.

The Shoe
available in June(!)

I have more things to say about the now predictable path of fashionable celebrities re-imagining themselves as designers, but will save that for another post. For now, just sit back and bask in the sublime madness of a very talented artist whoring out his name for one of the more mocked and despised labels in the mass luxury goods industry.

We Own the Sky

Stunningly creative, this fan video of M83's anthem "We Own the Sky" is not to be missed. Shot through a projector, the video was created using paint, waveforms and 7200 frames of clear 16mm film.

The Director says:
The basic idea here is nothing new, as animators and experimental filmmakers alike—Stan Brakhage, most notably—have been painting directly on film since the medium existed. Given the cost of cameras and developing, in many ways it's an innovative low-budget solution to traditional filmmaking. Much of what Brakhage did, though, was purposefully silent—the films themselves were like visual songs—and here I wanted to coordinate with the shifts and repetitions in M83's song. I converted the song to fit the rules of 24 frames per second film speed and then printed off waveforms in 3-second intervals, which I then studied and noted, by frame, where certain changes happened. Then with acryllic paint and lots of time I painted this thing. Running it through my cheap projector (think 1980s Bell and Howell classroom model) nearly destroyed both the film and the machine, as excess paint jammed the mechanisms and flew around my room.

13 January 2009

Depression and Creativity

An emotional debate is raging concerning the effects of an economic depression on design, creativity and innovation. So is it positive or negative? To be fair, it's probably a little bit of both...but it's more fun to consider the extremes.

Michael Cannell in the International Herald Tribune:
The pain of layoffs notwithstanding, the design world could stand to come down a notch or two — and might actually find a new sense of relevance in the process. That was the case during the Great Depression, when an early wave of modernism flourished in the United States, partly because it efficiently addressed the middle-class need for a pared-down life without servants and other Victorian trappings...However dark the economic picture, it will most likely cause designers to shift their attention from consumer products to the more pressing needs of infrastructure, housing, city planning, transit and energy.
And the Design Observer response from Murray Moss:
Design loves a depression? I can assure you that design, along with painting, sculpture, photography, music, dance, fashion, the culinary arts, architecture, and theatre, loves a depression no more than it loves a war, a flood, or a plague. Michael Cannell's article is regressive and mean-spirited, and it demands a response. I deeply resent the tone of comeuppance in Mr. Cannell's article, his condescending, parochial-school-matronly, Calvinistic reproach of the design that flourished during what he refers to as the "economic boom."
I'd have to disagree with Murray Moss. Cannell's article isn't regressive at all, but Pollyanna-esque in its optimism. Moss latches on to Cannell's mention of the pricey extremes that design has reached in recent years and shuts down, ultimately coming across as a whiny, spoiled child who's allowance has been cut. Relevance and affordability shouldn't be looked upon negatively or as a punishment for past decadence, but an opportunity. Survival of the fittest?

Campana Brothers' Corallo chair ($8,910)

At least it's free...

Perhaps a little too Meta for my taste. Nevertheless, ladies and gentlemen, may I present the Poladroid.


11 January 2009

Embellished Simplicity at The Golden Globes

Forgive me if I'm completely incorrect, but I believe photos have never gone up this quickly for an awards show. Not even halfway through the broadcast, New York Magazine's website had 72 photos posted and tagged with names and designers. Knowing how tedious the task can be thanks to an all-nighter that I and some other interns and staffers pulled at People to rush the close of the Oscar 2005 issue, the immediacy of online updates is pretty cool. Awards shows used to be especially important to me. I remember the agony of waiting for People to go to press in high school, days after the Oscars or the Globes so I could obsess over the dresses and the fantasy of the event. My junior year of high school I even wrote and illustrated an "Oscar Night" Canterbury Tale...in iambic pentameter and everything. It was exceedingly odd.

The Globes are fun, albeit a bit pointless. People get to drink and sit at tables and it all seems very joyous. Also, this year there were some mercifully funny live blogs from the Fug Girls and The Hater.

8:47pm--"Hollywood's Most A-list party" Calm down, Golden Globes announcer. If you have to keep reminding us of how exclusive and magical the Golden Globes are, then they're obviously not exclusive and magical at all.

9:35pm--Yes! Tracy Morgan is the face of post-racial America!

9:37pm--"Deal with it, Cate Blanchett!" is my new ringtone.

9:44pm--Diddy is definitely not the teleprompter reader of post-racial America.

9:47pm--"As a real estate executive with amnesia, Christina Applegate, Samantha Who" These descriptions aren't doing these shows any favors.

But back to the clothes - none of my favorite celebrities were there this year - no Gwyneth Paltrow, Keira Knightley, or Natalie Portman unfortunately. Don't worry, I'm kind of over it. Anyway, my favorite looks this year were thus unbiased:

Anne Hathaway in Armani Prive

Evan Rachel Wood in Elie Saab

Kate Beckinsale in J.Mendel

Scenes from Home

Bottega Veneta consistently has the loveliest ad campaigns. They take care to actually show the clothes and the bags in the photographs. This might seem like an obvious goal of fashion advertising, however looking through magazines it becomes clear that most of the fashion houses are actually just selling an attitude, a feeling, a scene. Thus to see an outfit and its detailing is somewhat shocking. Additionally, they take risks by switching photographers each season, varying the moods and colors according to the whims of whom they have hired. Here are a few from the past couple of years:

By Annie Leibovitz

With the emaciated January magazines out, I was interested to see what fashion advertising had in store and discovered that it was much of the same - the oiled down models, the jaded expressions, the lavish, tropical settings - the jungle, a yacht, a private airfield. The ad for Dior's perfume "Miss Dior" shows a model in a poofy fuchsia dress being carried away by pastel balloons over Paris, clutching only a giant bottle of the aforementioned scent, juxtaposed with a close up of the model biting the bottle seductively. It's amusing.

Thus, I was pleasantly surprised to find the following photo from Bottega's Spring/Summer 2009 campaign.

Shot in a classic mid-century modern (or California Modern) home by Larry Sultan, there is a terrific feeling of real anxiety in this photograph. The staging is a bit melodramatic, but that's just me being picky. Larry Sultan is known for his photographic narratives of home life, first seen in "Pictures from Home" which featured his parents in their post-retirement lives (below), and then in his more exaggerated "The Valley" where he "looks at the transformation of middle-class suburban homes into stage sets for adult films. Essentially still frames from Boogie Nights.

It's clear that Mr. Sultan was the perfect choice to capture the present mood. In spite of the somber colors and expressions, he still somehow manages to make the clothes seem appealing. Maybe it's the same reason we find Mad Men so glamorous.

As for all of those other ads, well, in case you don't believe me, below is a sampling of the campaigns at large - pretty, but boring.

No contest.

09 January 2009

The Dishevelled Snob

The Moment recently profiled a new character on The City, Nevan Donahue and the novelty of his look. Mr. Stein describes:
A pair of boot-leg jeans, a gray polo shirt with its sad, half-popped collar and lowtop Chuck Taylors (worn with ankle socks); this is the outfit of a man unobsessed with looks, a fast-talking man, a man who doesn’t have time for fashion or leave-in conditioner. He also doesn’t seem to care what goes in his body. Eater of goldfish crackers, drinker of Arizona Iced Tea, you are truly a refreshing character. Strange to say for a wealthy Uptown brat, but Nevan Donahue is everyman. He’s the spitting image of a New Yorker.

This, friends, is hardly a new phenomenon for anyone living in the Northeast. The viewing audience may be just too used to watching the over-styled, over-tanned, Southern California fellows of the Hills or the dandies in the fashion business to have noticed, this arguably more terrifying breed of urbane gentlemen. Mr. Donahue is, by no means an "everyman," and seems an almost cliched version of, as Mr. Stein puts it, the "wealthy Uptown brat," making me wonder who Mr. Stein is writing this unhelpful piece of advice for...the same audience that believed the New York of The Devil Wears Prada, perhaps?

06 January 2009


The Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) is currently showing an exhibit on Seduction, running through June of 2009. It promises to be "the first chronological exploration of the role of sexuality in fashion...from the most subtle flirtations of the Victorian era to the explicitly sexy work of designers such as Jean-Paul Gaultier and Azzedine Alaïa." Below is a Halston owned by Lauren Bacall.

Virginia Postrel over at Deep Glamour has a nice write up on Seduction.

02 January 2009

Pivot Boutique

Should you find yourself in Chicago, Pivot Boutique is a beautiful and coherent addition to a city with surprisingly wonderful boutique options. It's one of the city's first high end, eco-themed clothing shops, located in the almost-gentrified Fulton Market District (thus still pretty hip) and happens to be owned by one of my journalism school classmates.

This vegetable dyed (still trying to figure that one out) silk dress by Elise Bergman is notably wonderful.

01 January 2009

The Crisis

With apologies for the absence, I've been thrown a bit thanks to a situation that I barely understand - the financial crisis. Given my own tax bracket, I suppose it was always slightly presumptuous for me to write about style and garments when it is not a world that I am part of. An observer though I may be, a consumer I certainly am not.

And in this sense, nothing will really change for me. So, I suppose, I'll just continue to observe and record what I can, and strive for truth and authenticity in a subject matter that is fundamentally frivolous.

Whatever else was going on with housing and lending and dividends and portfolios, consumer spending did seemed destined to reach a critical mass. I wrote about the wealthy teen syndrome on television, I read Dana Thomas' Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster and scoffed at the poor souls who actually thought a Gucci purse might raise their status and worth. The subject matter was not uncommon. We couldn't go on like that forever.

Since the crisis became real, and we all felt the pang of social responsibility, the glossy magazines have been making half-hearted attempts to acknowledge the dire situation of companies, advertisers and individual consumers. It's a difficult balance to strike. In one sense, I want them to make some radical shift and tell us how to maintain and repair and update all of the pieces that we already own. I want them to tell us the truth about why a handbag or jacket costs upwards of $1000, and really justify the craftsmanship, the detail, the design, so that the buyers can perhaps make an informed and rational decision.

But then again, these magazines have always been escapist for me, and most of my peers. Sure, there is the spending class who actually has cause to buy the expensive shoes, dresses and has a social need to stay "current." Though looking at the ads in these magazines, even before the crisis, and seeing Wal-Mart and Sears in Vogue, it is clear that most of their readers are not actually consumers of the high end. I never read W with a sense of practicality. I read it to look at lovely things and people.

Thus, perhaps the agenda of consumer magazines shouldn't change. Right now, though, they are hitting a particularly confusing and irresponsible blend of agendas. (In this month's Vogue, they recommend caring for your clothes and saving on tailoring bills with the help of a $975 Smythson ostrich-print calf-leather sewing kit.)

Of course the more interesting things are happening outside of the style magazine world (which, for better or worse, are forever beholden to advertisers) ranging from the weakening luxury goods industry and its implications to our own attitudes towards (not to sound too much like a grandparent here) the value of a dollar.

Style, taste and refinement won't disappear during this crisis, but will manifest in different forms. The prospect of change, a shift away from prices, status symbols and brand identity, is pretty exciting, and I hope that I do it justice through my documentation.

Happy 2009, folks.


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