August 30, 2011 § 1 Comment
Facebook leaked the 3 big stories of the VMAs before we had a chance to see it:
- Beyoncé is pregnant.
- Lady Gaga performed as her drag alter-ego, Jo Calderon.
- Britney Spears was present.
After going through the standard rigmarole of watching American tv in Seoul, we got to see what these stories were about, and the clothes that spoke of transformation. Beyoncé, whose latest album is more dining room than dance hall, already exhibited a maternal glow as she walked down the red carpet in an orange Lanvin caftan that gently revealed her baby bump. Lady Gaga eschewed the extravagant costumes that people have come to expect of her for an understated Dior Homme blazer that allowed her to perform as an entertaining, if overwrought, drag king. Britney’s ill-fitting romper signaled her transition from pop star princess to fading star. Her acceptance of the “Vanguard Award” – an honor bestowed on her by La Gaga himself – felt like a eulogy of a bygone career.
But fashion also did what fashion does, which is make celebrities look gorgeous. Kelly Rowland shone in a Falguni & Shane Peacock minidress embezzled with gold sequins, leather bands, and fluffy peacock feathers. It was the right fusion of fashion and fun, and it showed Roland can hold her own as a solo star. British soul singer Adele also looked stunning in a simple Burberry cocktail dress with retro, geometric detailing at the neck. She looked prim and proper, which seemed particularly appropriate when the camera cut to her horrified expressions during the on-stage antics of her much less civilized American counterparts (she looked particularly traumatized while watching Jo Calderone dancing [then falling?] on a piano after taking a swig from a beer).
We live in a celebrity fashion world that Lady Gaga has set into motion, and nowhere else do celebrities really just get to lose their $#%! than at the VMAs. Nicki Minaj recalled equal parts Gaga and Jean Paul Gaultier in a space-age Gehry-esque dress that looked as if it had been styled by a hoard of Harajuku girls. Tucked underneath the metal dress were a pink tutu and layers of printed stockings. She wore an ice cream cone around her neck and placed additional coils of yellow and pink locks on her head.
It was refreshing to see that there is a place for the critically panned Dior Couture show, which is right on top of Katy Perry’s head. Perry looked liked a high fashion cartoon – like Strawberry Shortcake gone couture – when she went on stage to accept her moonman for Video of the Year while sporting a giant cube of cheese on her head. Before that, she walked the red carpet in a short, cap-sleeve dress by Atelier Armani. It was sky blue and accented with neon yellow piping, hot pink flowers, and some carefully placed cut-outs. Baby, you’re a firework.
It was sad then to see someone’s inner firecracker die as it did when Miley Cyrus donned a monstrous Roberto Cavalli number. Rather than look fun, directional, or batshit crazy, the dress made her look old and depressing. If she had accessorized the dress with a pitch fork and seashell necklace à la Ursula from The Little Mermaid, she might have fit the occasion better.
Women weren’t the only fashion
victims stars of the night. Kanye continues his love affair with high fashion in a head-to-toe designer denim number consisting of Balmain jeans and an ombré denim shirt from Theyskens’ Theory. It was a pared down look that echoed West’s conspicuously polite behavior (we’re assuming he’s still smarting from the fallout after the 2009 VMAs). Bruno Mars looked equally dashing in a throw-back, periwinkle blazer with black lapel. He styled the look with an exaggerated pompadour, which might have looked good had it not enlarged his head and made his body resemble that of a lilliputian. For the first few seconds of his performance, we thought the producers had re-released the kids on stage from the Britney homage.
The VMAs aren’t really about looking good; we can save that for the Grammys or the Oscars. It’s an opportunity to try something that you can’t try anywhere else. What’s not to love about that?
August 29, 2011 § 3 Comments
Fashion’s conflicted love affair with Africa is on again. Louis Vuitton featured cobalt and berry Masai prints for its S/S 12 menswear show last June, while Thakoon fused Victorian tailoring with traditional East African patterns for F/W 11. Critics unanimously exalted both collections. Nicole Phelps of Style.com hailed Thakoon’s showing as “his freshest, most alive collection in a while,” and The New York Times Magazine proclaimed Louis Vuitton as the “winner” of Paris Fashion Week for menswear S/S 12.
Sure, the clothes were beautiful, as they tend to be from practiced and esteemed labels like Louis Vuitton and Thakoon. But the use of African aesthetics for the financial and cultural benefit of the West conjures a host of unanswered questions: Is this practice exploitative? What image of Africa does it create in the West? Should designers give back to the communities from which they benefit?
Africa has served as inspiration in Western fashion and more expansively, Western visual culture, for decades. In 1907, Pablo Picasso painted two women with African masks for his magnum opus Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. More recently, in 1997, John Galliano featured a series of reinterpreted Masai warrior costumes for his debut couture collection at Dior. Over a decade later, for Dior’s S/S 09 show, he styled his models with vase-like hair resembling ancient Congolese head dresses. And in a similar vein, Jean Paul Gaultier used African hunter shields, African carvings, the patterns of Masai beading as the inspiration for his Spring 2005 couture collection.
Fashion critics have largely praised Galliano and Gaultier’s use of African aesthetics in the context of “diversifying fashion.” In a review of The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk, a retrospective of Gaultier’s work at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Robin Givhan of The Daily Beast writes: “Gaultier looks outward at the swirl of life that engulfs him. And he is fully and optimistically engaged with it. Gaultier’s multicultural inspiration, which spans the entire breadth of his career, beginning in 1976, reminds us of the beauty of cultural diversity.”
As a foil to fashion’s praise for using African aesthetics in Western design, art critics have debated the merits of this practice with more skepticism. Arguably the most famous debate arose in response to a show in 1984 at the New York Museum of Modern Art titled, “‘Primitivism in 20th Century Art,” which sought to elucidate the connection between the work of European artists like Gauguin and Picasso with African “tribal” art. The show’s most aggressive critique came a couple of years later from writer Thomas McEvilley whose piece “Doctor Lawyer Indian Chief” in Art Forum, sharply criticized the exhibit’s lack of information and context about the tribal objects:
“No attempt is made to recover an emic, or inside, sense of what primitive esthetics really were or are… The point of view of Picasso and others… is the only focus of MOMA’s interest… By their absolute repression of primitive context, meaning, content, and intention… [the curators] have treated the primitives as less than human, less than cultural – as shadows of a culture, their selfhood, the Otherness, wrung out of them.”
The New Yorker summarized this argument: “In other words… people of color don’t exist unless whites say they do – and, even then, they exist only as they are seen by whites.”
Like the aforementioned MoMA exhibit, fashion shows that reference Africa can seem exploitative due to a lack of real connection to African culture or African people. The image of Africa on runways is almost entirely created by Western design teams that convey a shallow knowledge or appreciation for the communities they are referencing. To counter this, if designers want to utilize African culture in a responsible way, it must rethink the way it interacts with Africa itself.
One way Western designers could convey a deeper appreciation for Africa is by offering adequate historical or cultural context of their designs when they reference aspects of African culture. If Louis Vuitton offered more background information on Masai prints for his S/S 12 show, for example, viewers would have a better idea of what Masai prints signify and how they became so prominent among Masai tribes. The information could be placed in a pamphlet that accompanies the show’s gift bags or sits on each seat in the audience. This, to me, would ameliorate the feeling that the label was exploiting African culture and give the sense that the label was celebrating it.
Another way fashion could start projecting a more respectful perception of Africa is by incorporating African textiles into their designs. Today, most African-print textiles are manufactured in Europe or Asia – they’re African-inspired, not African. As writer Maya Lau suggests in a Huffington Post piece entitled Senegal’s Accidental Hipsters, the African textile industry is largely foundering in countries like Senegal. Investment in textiles from these countries would 1) feed into the local economy 2) maintain traditional, or at least local, ways of producing textiles, and 3) cultivate a more human relationship between Western fashion and Africa. If Western designers continue to use African prints, sourcing fabric from Africa would give both Westerners and Africans monetary benefits (it would be cheap for Western brands to manufacture in Africa and it would power the African economy) as well as social benefits (it would begin a symbiotic relationship between the West and Africa).
Yet another way for Western designers to convey a deeper appreciation for Africa is by giving back to the communities from which they borrow. After using Masai prints for his F/W 11 collection, Thakoon has done just this. According to Thakoon.com, the label will donate all proceeds from a particular Limited Edition Masai Plaid Scarf to an international children’s relief organization working to reduce rates of malnutrition in the Horn of Africa – the area where Masai Tribes are located. The donor-benefactor relationship isn’t ideal; however, it is one way for Thakoon to give back to the community that offered him so much for his latest collection.
The relationship between the West and Africa is long and complicated, and because of this, there are no real answers as to how to create a healthy relationship between Western fashion and Africa. Here, I’ve tried to offer some solutions and have highlighted others that are currently in the works. More than finding the best solution, however, I hope that designers start thinking more critically about their relationship with Africa and the best way for them to face the conflicts inherent in utilizing African designs. This way, at least fashion can begin to celebrate cultural diversity in a way that feels new, thoughtful, and genuine.
August 26, 2011 § Leave a comment
The episode begins, as it normally does, with a recap of the previous episode: Cecilia having a nervous breakdown and Julie’s elimination for her awful droat. But wait – Viktor and Bert are sniping at each other from Episode 3! Cut to a confessional of Bryce talking about how Bert is difficult to work with. I think I learned about this foreshadowing technique in 6th grade English class. SUBTLE, Lifetime. Significance: time for a team challenge where Bert is difficult to work with!
The designers wake up to see boxes from New Balance. Cecilia looks like the undead and doesn’t respond to Becky’s comments. Bert is acting more and more his age, as he cannot see the shoeboxes with placards in front of him. The designers anticipate the obvious (again, good with the foreshadowing) and prepare themselves to make some sort of activewear. They meet up with Heidi and Tim at the Armory near the Columbia Medical Campus (fun/depressing fact: the graduation ceremony for Master’s in Public Health is held on that track) who tells them that this will be a team challenge and that they will race to be captains. Upon hearing this, sad sack Cecilia shakes her head and trudges over to Tim to tell him that she just can’t do it anymore. Tim tells her, “We can’t want you to succeed more than you do.” Heidi looks pretty angry and she tells her, “If this is too hard for you, you can go anytime.” As the other designers are raring to go at the starting line, Cecilia tells them that she is off to go cry herself to sleep.
The designers are off! Joshua takes the lead and “whales” on them as he said he would. Olivier who looks a bit awkward out of his grandpa sweaters, is on his way to being a team captain when he takes a pretty bad stumble. Lifetime tries to jazz up the incident when Olivier gets his blood pressure read, but thankfully he’s fine. The team captains are, in order: Joshua, Bryce, Anthony Ryan, Viktor. Bert comes in last and it seems like Heidi could whale on him while wearing Louboutins. As has been foreshadowed: Nobody wants to work with Bert. Which is just fine with him, really, because he doesn’t “relate” to any of the other designers. Joshua picks Anya and Becky. Bryce chooses Kimberly and Danielle. And because Cecilia chose to leave before the race, Anthony Ryan, while he didn’t come in last, ends up with Bert. Viktor, who chose Olivier is pretty happy about this, especially after his last “partnership” with Bert. Instead, he and Olivier get to choose an eliminated designer and go with Josh C. Heidi says that he will join them later today (does she just have them on speed dial?). We’re happy to see him back, even if we have to differentiate between the Joshes again.
The challenge is an opportunity for Heidi to shill her line for New Balance. The designers must create looks that can be worn with the sneakers, and must incorporate material from the shoe – either suede and/or denim – into three, cohesive looks. The winner will have their look sold and manufactured as part of her line on Amazon. In the workroom, Tim tells the designers that they only have until 11 pm to complete all three looks.
Team Viktor and Team Bryce are getting along well together, but as FORESHADOWED, Anthony Ryan and Laura are getting frustrated with Bert who shuffles around muttering under his breath a lot. Joshua takes his leadership role very seriously and has Anya act as a sounding board and Becky, the seamstress. Becky is understandably frustrated with her diminuitive role and says, “I feel like I’m the intern who is there to sew.” Eventually she breaks down when Joshua tells her she makes “dowdy dresses” and that her demographic is “40 to death.” Becky begins to cry in the sewing room when Joshua snaps, “If you’re tired, take a nap. Because I don’t have time for it.” She eventually goes to cry in the bathroom stall. The cameraperson follows her and creeps around the corner just to get the money shot. CREEPSTERS.
Eventually Team Joshua rights itself as Anya comforts Becky, Joshua apologizes, and they all have a team hug. Yes, this is all still happening in the bathroom stall. Team Anthony Ryan, meanwhile is on fumes. What happens on the runway?
Viktor for the win! Nina thought their collection channeled “road warrior” chic. Viktor wins for a crumpled grey jersey dress worn with a motorcycle jacket with quilted sleeves. The look was cool and tough, and almost made New Balances look like an actual option to be worn not at the gym. Josh C.’s look was an easy t-shirt with a nice assymetrical v-neck worn with a leather holster. We also didn’t mind Olivier’s much-maligned “farm” skirt. Overall, the three looks were cohesive and had that model off-duty look Alexander Wang epitomizes.
Heidi also announces that Joshua wins! He doesn’t win for his look though, a monochromatic tank made of a “tribal” print with a black shredded vest over it, and short black shorts with denim panels on the side. The judges preferred Anya’s look, a maxi dress with a bright red racing stripe down the middle, and a gorgeous zippered racer back. The look was hip, urban, and very Anya. But because of the very clear leadership role that Joshua took (this was HIS collection), the judges awarded him the win.
Poor Becky. While it can’t feel good to be relegated to the role of a seamstress, what she did “design” was an ill-fitting top that she admitted was about “3 inches too short.”
From Team Bryce, Danielle decided to make yet another green, silk top. Michael Kors thought that the blouse looked like “a souffle that flopped” and the judges were perplexed that Danielle would make yet another (green) chiffon/silk number. Despite also having made a cute leather jacket, the top was enough to send her home.
Anthony Ryan’s outfit was ugly. The draping was messy; the shorts were a nightmare to behold. Michael Kors said, “You achieved the impossible: the shorts looks big and tight at the same time. She has camel toe in big shorts.” When the model turned to show the judges the back of the shorts, they just gasped.
Even uglier was what was to ensue during the crit. Anthony and Laura side with each other against Bert, who continues to act both 57-years-old and 7-years-old at the same time. After Michael Kors tells Anthony his model has camel toe, Bert snickers, “Got camel butt, too.” He raises his arms in triumph when teammate Laura also gets a bad review. While we agree that Anthony and Laura’s looks were pretty hideous, cheering on the loss of your teammates is pretty childish.
The judging was yet another face-off between Heidi and Nina/Michael – and we find ourselves, yet again, on Team Heidi. Heidi wanted to judge the designers based on the challenge itself, meaning that Anthony Ryan, who clearly had the worst look, should go home. Nina was not willing to let him go just yet, arguing, “He’s got more promise as a designer [than Danielle].” Heidi says, as she says every episode, “One day you’re in, the next day you’re out. It’s not fair to let him go on when someone else like Danielle made something alright.” But, as usual, Nina and Michael prevail and Anthony Ryan lives to undergo another challenge.
Heidi is right in that there is an understanding on Project Runway that for each episode, each designer is based on their work for that challenge. If she is the best for the week, she wins; if she is the worst, she loses. It is part of the excitement of the show that on any given day, anyone can go home. Obviously this philosophy has created problems. There are the Wendy Peppers who manage to squeeze by every episode because she wasn’t the worst. And yet for all of our kvetching that a Ricky (season 4) or a Vincent or an Angela (season 3) just needs to go home, what happened this episode – where the judges saved a designer whose work they have liked in the past over one who has been mediocre – feels unfair. While the judges may have exhibited such a bias in the past, never has it been so clearly stated that a designer’s past work gives him immunity. This episode, it wasn’t just Josh C. who got a second chance.
Next week: Can Josh C. make a go of it this time around?
August 25, 2011 § Leave a comment
It’s no secret that I’m a fool for polka dots. Big, small, black, white – I’ll take ’em any way they come. For this reason, I was pleased to see so many designers interpreting polka dots in new ways for their collections for F/W 11. Stella McCartney stuck black and white polka dots on sheer panels as a playful exploration of transparency, while Jacobs covered his collection in small, black polka dots to give it a dose of levity.
The polka dot patterns from McCartney and Jacobs have trickled to the street. Face Hunter, Street Peeper and The Sartorialist have recently captured the phenomenon in Beirut, Helsinki, Tokyo, and Stockholm.
The trend is mostly circulating in womenswear, but I’m crossing my fingers that retailers will amp up the polka dot factor for men. Afterall, my wardrobe could use a kick.
I just came across this video campain for Diane von Furstenberg’s F/W 11 collection directed by Diane’s daughter, Tatiana. Among other looks, it features two very polka-dotty ones. Enjoy!
August 23, 2011 § Leave a comment
Aside from the moving performances and the host of queer contestants, what I loved about NBC’s The Voice was judge Adam Levine’s penchant for all things denim: denim jeans, denim shirts, denim jackets. His most memorable denim item was a distressed, washed-out trucker jacket with the sleeves rolled-up to reveal his thicket of arm tats.
I found my own version of Levine’s perfectly beat-up denim jacket at Levi’s in Manila. I had to hide it from my mom lest she tried to patch up all the holes.
Despite the seeming chaos of the tears and excess stitching, the jacket details are harmoniously composed and add interesting textures. The overall effect coincides with my past obsession with the patched jean.
- Jacket- Levi’s
- Glasses- Viktor & Rolf
- Jeans- Superfine
- T-shirt- Alternative Earth
- Shoes- Keds
You can find a version of this jacket at any Levi’s store or online. This particular style is limited edition, so if you’re interested in purchasing it, do it soon!