Project Runway Recap: Leave Your Eating Shirt at Home

July 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

Victor's Jackie-O inspired dress should have been in the top 3, photo via MyLifetime

In the TV wasteland somewhere between cycles of America’s Next Top Model and legitimately-good-shows on summer hiatus, I have been in desperate need for my reality tv fix. So I have been continually pressing refresh at MyLifetime.com for the premier of Season 9 (yes, we’ve come that far) of Project Runway. And in further indication that Project Runway is the only reason why people watch Lifetime, the first episode maintains its 1.5 hour format and introduces 20 contestants. This is particularly cruel considering that most people only have enough room in their brains for 10 reality television contestants. But, Heidi tells us that 4 of them will be cut. ONLY 4?

Heidi and Tim herd the designers at Astor Wine & Spirits near Union Square, because obviously, some of them will be needing a stiff martini after their “audition” in front of Heidi, Tim, Nina Garcia and Michael Kors. We still can’t really tell who anybody is because there are just too damn many of them. Danielle seems to be positioning herself as the asshole of the season, sniffing, “I’m pretty confident in my work compared to the other designers… From what I’ve seen, I think I’m okay.” Bert, the oldest contestant ever on Project Runway, talks about how he abandoned fashion and resorted to alcoholism after two of his friends died of HIV. The most memorable contestant though, is Anya who looks like a supermodel. And she is! Well, sort of. She is Ms. Trinidad and Tobago and apparently, learned how to sew only 4 months ago. Michael is worried that she won’t have the sewing skills to do well, but Heidi likes her because they have that rapport that only super-attractive people have. In the end, Heidi prevails and Anya is through to the next round. Otherwise, the auditions and the subsequent “eliminations” are kind of awkward because we’re forced to watch strangers have their dreams unceremoniously crushed on national television. The other also contestants seem pretty uncomfortable about it. Anyway, on to the challenge!

Tim Gunn rouses the contestants at some ungodly hour for their first challenge, which is to “come as they are.” The designers are understandably bewildered, and resident funny lady Becky wails, “Can I at least put a bra on?” The designers have to make an outfit out of their sleepwear, a twist off of the Season  2 challenge, “The clothes off your back.” The producers throw the contestants a lifeline though and say they can use one a bedsheet.

Heidi opens the runway presentation looking particularly chic in a dark teal dress with a long slit to show off her leg, Klum-style. She introduces the judges and a bulbous looking Christina Ricci, who seems more than a little out of place. On to the good, the bad, and the ugly of the episode.

The Good

Bert wins! He turns his orange boxers (which Nina calls “adorable”) into an elegant, youthful dress with nice layering details. Michael calls the dress “the most interesting garment in terms of design.” The win gives Bert immunity, but more importantly sets him apart from the heap of designers. The first episode is also a fairly good predictor for future success. 50% of the winners of the first episode have gone on to the finale – Santino of season 2, Rami of season 4, Emilio of season 7, and Gretchen of season 8. (Austin Scarlett from season 1 lost his place in the finale to villainess Wendy Pepper).

Is Anya a wizard? We seriously doubt that she has only learned to sew four months ago, but in either case, her inexperience was not evident in her clothes. Her voluminous, grey pants are on trend, and impeccably made. The judges all take a moment to admire the fit on the model’s butt. There are also the gorgeous voluminous pants from Laura, whose look we liked a lot.

Victor’s tailored black-and-white number though, is our favorite. It’s chic, styled well, and doesn’t look like it was slept in.

Also, while we weren’t blown away by Olivier’s secretary look, we think his accent will charm the judges for sure. He’s our dark horse pick from the episode.

We also want to give a shout-out to Heidi who is acquitting herself well as a judge. Yes, she seems to be channeling Tyra at times, but overall she’s been funny, opinionated, and looking super sexy.

The Bad

So in keeping with her role as the mean girl of the season (she seems to be the Ivy of this season), Danielle, after hearing that she is safe, complains, “I am not in the right spot. What the hell.” Apparently she thought shorts in a sallow blue color could land her in the top 3.

The models are looking a little sad. Many of them look like slightly hungover hipsters in desperate need of some sun. Can’t Anya just model her outfits?

We’re also not fans of Anthony Ryan’s overall look, which also seems to be channeling hipster with a can of PBR. The top is cute enough, but the skirt is dangerously close to a Miley Cyrus upskirt photo disaster. Also, the weird fur running down the skirt looks like a skunk got run over by a truck.

The Ugly

Rafael deservedly gets the boot. His tights/sweatpants look like they would give a girl a serious case of camel toe. Christina Ricci says they are “off-putting” but that the shirt saves the outfit a bit. “Right?” she asks with doey eyes? Michael says no, “It looks like she went out to eat, ate too much, and had to unsnap her shirt.” Snap! Nina continues, “I don’t think Rafael understands that there is a problem. I think he thinks this tight stuff looks good.”

At least Julie knew her outfit was ugly from the get-go. As her pajama top-parachute pant combo walked down the runway, she says, “I was pretty confident that look was not going to fly.” Nina hates the pants, which have elastic on the sides. Michael thinks the pocket looks like a “I like myself kind of pocket.” *Wink, wink. Julie wasn’t in danger of leaving though, as Heidi openly declared she was trying to decide if she hated Josh’s look more than Rafael’s.

Josh has some serious fit problems. His clothes had little room for error and when he realized his model was bigger than the given measurements, he ended up plugging in fabric on both the white short shorts and in a stripe down the front of the tank top. His model ends up looking like an overweight tennis player.

Upcoming episodes: the designers go to Petland! Models on stilts! And tears, tears, TEARS.

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Mole Alert: Lady Gaga

July 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

Lady Gaga was this week’s surprise guest judge on my guilty pleasure “So You Think You Can Dance.” She came onto the show with her standard nonchalance and opulent costume, but she also brought with her another special something – a ripe mole on her right cheek. It was a nice addition to her aesthetic repertoire, a bit of “pretty -ugly” to compliment her carefully crafted look.

Street Style: Insadong, Seoul, Korea

July 28, 2011 § 3 Comments

This guy’s shirt caught my eye in Insadong this afternoon. It’s decked out in gold, Old World imagery – carriages, ropes, tassels – and cut like a folded-over rectangle with holes poked out for the head and limbs.

I like how looseness of the shirt and pants. I also love how the piercings and black leather bracelets give the look a bit of hardness.

There’s something revolutionary about a man a wearing gaudy silk print shirt, especially paired with drop crotch pants and silver Birkenstocks. It’s a feminine look that brings to mind luxurious Italian housewives and church lady scarves, but the the right kind of man can make it seem completely natural.

Fashion Mole on Racialicious

July 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

A recent article from Fashion Mole, Do Only White Models Get to be “Ugly,”  was reposted on Racialicious earlier this week!  See it here.

screenshot from Racialicious

Congratulations to Alex Jung, the author of the piece.

My Latest Obsession: Herrlicht Glasses

July 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

Some describe the Alexander Wang look as “model off-duty.” In that vein, I’d say the Fashion Mole look (or “lewk,” as the lingo now goes) is “museum curator off-duty,” with the central elements of this style being slight myopia and the right pair of frames. Enter Herrlicht, a German eyewear brand that carves simple, yet wholly unique eyewear from a variety of woods: maple, cherry, walnut, or fumed oak.

I’m personally obsessed with the HL 09 model in maple. They contrast well with my olive skin, and the soft shape compliments my rounded face.

HL 09s in maple (via Buzz-Beast.com)

Each pair of frames is hand made in Germany in a small shop overseen by founder Andreas Licht. He and his design crew keep individual wood grains intact on the glasses, which gives each pair a crafty quality.

Licht working in his studio

These frames are pretty elusive. The Herrlict website doesn’t offer online sales nor a stocklist. I did, however, find several pairs of Herrlict frames at Ic! Berlin in Taipei.

McQueen’s Art Nouveau Heels

July 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

Two pairs of Alexander McQueen shoes caught my eye from Tommy Ton’s street style photos for Style.com. They were rough and carried a heavy visual weight – their heels and soles appeared sculpted from bronze – yet they channeled a femininity and elegance that’s seemingly essential to womenswear today. McQueen designed them for his F/W ’10 collection, reflecting his dark spirit in a whimsical way.

McQueen shoes at Paris Fashion Week (via Jak & Jil)

And some more (via Style.com)

The shoes struck a resemblance to art nouveau metalwork from the turn of the 20th century architecture. Antoni Gaudí, one of the forefathers of art nouveau, often molded steel into organic, vegetal shapes to form columns, stair railings, and balconies, as he did at Casa Milá in Barcelona. In doing so, he hoped to create  buildings that looked and felt connected to nature.

Balconies at Gaudi's Casa Mila (nahowell222.blogspot.com)

The gold, vine-like heel in the first pair of McQueen shoes calls to mind columns seen in the work of Belgian architect Victor Horta, who pioneered the art nouveau movement alongside Gaudí. In his most famous building, Horta House (now Musée Horta), Horta used what look like gold ribbons to form dynamic columns and light fixtures. The motif was echoed on the walls, ceiling, and floor, where the forms were painted or recreated with mosaic tiles.

A staircase in Musee Horta (via design2share.com)

Light fixtures at Musee Horta (via farm3.static.flickr.com)

Columns from Musee Horta (via essentialarchitecture.com)

The invention of reinforced concrete (concrete supported by steel beams) toward the end of the 19th century allowed architects to construct buildings at larger scales, eventually leading to the skyscrapers that dominate skylines today. Some interpret art nouveau as a response to this. While technology brought people further away from nature and toward dehumanizing concrete jungles, art nouveau’s vine-like forms brought people a bit closer to it.

The Limits of Globalizing Fashion

July 25, 2011 § 1 Comment

Last week, in a post titled “Fashion is a Melting Pot,” Italian Vogue Editor Franca Sozzani praised the increasingly globalized nature of fashion, alluding to the growing number of non-Western designers participating and gaining respect in the Western sphere. To her, these designers have amassed international attention by incorporating elements of traditional dress from their home countries into a “contemporary” aesthetic. She writes:

“New fashion designers from emerging countries are proposing a new fashion inspired by their country’s tradition, considered not as ethnic element any longer, but as part of a historical know-how, re-adjusted to contemporary silhouettes and therefore wearable in all cities of the world… It’s not the folklore that is exported, yet the culture, the local craftsmanship, the colors and the mood.” [sic] 

There’s no doubt that more non-Western designers and designers with non-Western backgrounds are entering fashion. In the U.S., for example, some of the most celebrated emerging designers are either first or second-generation Asian Americans, like Alexander Wang (China), Doo-Ri Chung, (Korea), Thakoon Panichgul (Thailand), and Prabal Gurung (Nepal). For the past decade, Asian Americans have dominated the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) awards, highlighting the pivotal role they have had in shaping American fashion. Furthermore, outside the U.S., increasing numbers of non-Western designers are showing their collections at internationally recognized and media-heavy fashion weeks in Milan and Paris. South Korean brands Songzio and Juun J, for example, show their collections in Paris every year and General Idea, designed by Seoul-based Bumsuk Choi, shows in New York.

(from left to right) Wang, Doo.Ri, Thakoon, and Gurung

But amidst increasing numbers of non-Western designers in fashion, the caveat that limits how “global” fashion can become is the expectation that these designers cater to Western design tastes. When describing how fashion will continue to globalize, Sozzani wrote, “The new generations will keep getting here (New York, Paris, or Milan) from different countries and many of them are already studying in Italy, Great Britain, or America.” When talking about non-Western designers, Sozzani equates studying in Italy, Great Britain, or America as progress – steps toward success. While this may be true given the weight and the high caliber of designs schools in these countries, Sozzani elucidates a common practice among fashion people to place more value on studying and working in the West opposed to elsewhere.

The result of placing more value on the West pushes the globalization of fashion in many ways. For one, people wanting to succeed in international fashion feel pressured to study fashion abroad. At Parsons, arguably the most respected design school in the country, 32% of the undergraduate population comes from outside the U.S., mostly from China, India, Korea, Canada, and Mexico. In many cases, only very wealthy international students have the opportunity to study abroad in light of poor exchange rates, expensive airfare, and many colleges’ lack of financial aid for international students. These are very real financial limits for middle-to-lower class designers in the non-West. Furthermore, increased pressure for non-Western design students to study abroad devalues design education outside the Western world, removes talent from the local design scene, and prevents or slows the growth of fashion capitals outside the West.

Another result of constructing a Western-centric fashion industry is increased pressure on non-Western designers to abandon their own artistic autonomy and to replicate designs that already flourish in Western fashion. Last year, I attended Korean-based General Idea’s menswear show at New York Fashion Week. The first half of the collection was a parade of pieced shirts and newsboy looks that struck a striking resemblence to the work of Japanese designer Junya Watanabe, who has been showing his collections in Paris since the 80s. By contrast, the second half of the General Idea show had splotches of paint and large handwritten words scrawled across head-to-toe looks (including bags) á la Stephen Sprouse. The artistic reference was crass in light of Louis Vuitton’s collaboration with Stephen Sprouse in 2008, which resulted in a line of classic Louis leather bags covered in bright, painted-effect “Louis Vuitton” text. But one has to wonder why a designer who often copies Western trends is one of the only Korean designers who shows at New York Fashion Week. One interpretation is that his aesthetic, though unoriginal, was in line with what the Western design world wants to see.

If fashion wants the globalization process to become more egalitarian, it needs to give more weight to non-Western designers and design schools in the international fashion market. One way to do this is by more actively and thoroughly covering fashion weeks that take place outside New York, Paris, London, and Milan. This would grant local talent more access to buyers, editors, and the general public, thereby increasing their potential growth and making the current, very costly trend of showing in Europe or the U.S. obsolete.

(from left to right) Kawakubo, Yamamoto, and Watanabe

Non-Western designers with international clout also have a responsibility to increase the profile of their home countries. Japanese designers like Rei Kawakubo of Commes des Garcons, Yohji Yamamoto, and Junya Watanabe, for example, have been showing their collections in Paris for almost 3 decades with much critical and commercial success. They’ve become staples for major buyers and editors in the European fashion circuit. Suppose if these designers staged a collective revolt and showed in Tokyo instead of Paris every season. Editors and buyers would be forced to pay more attention to Tokyo as a fashion capital, thus allowing otehr Japanese designers more international exposure.

According to Sozzani, mixing a designer’s culture with that of others “must be true to one’s own history, otherwise, it is just an exercise in style, and ends up being too ethnical [sic] or too generic.” I agree, but what Sozzani doesn’t acknowledge is that in this “globalized” fashion industry, where non-Western designers work around Western expectations, non-Western designers must incorporate a large part of Western history into the telling of their own design stories. It is only this way that their histories will be heard.

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