Dolce & Gabbana, Joan Rivers, and a Touch of Sparkle

January 3, 2012 § 2 Comments

Sequin blazers at Dolce and Gabbana F/W '11

I kind of died over the sequin Dolce and Gabbana blazer Brad Goreski wore on the premiere of his new show, “It’s a Brad, Brad World.” He wore it to an award ceremony hosted by US Weekly, where he accepted an award for his signature personal style.

Brad Goreski in the blazer

Beyonce wore a magenta version of the same blazer for her performance of “Love on Top” at the MTV Video Music Awards last September. It offered some fun (but pretty modest) gender play and harkened back to the days of the Rat Pack.

Beyonce at the MTV VMAs

After doing some research on sequin blazers on the market just now, I learned that one of the best comes from none other than Joan Rivers, who apparently has her own line called “Touch of Sparkle.” The blazer comes in four colors – black, maroon, navy, and steel – and in sizes from XXS to 3X. This means that no matter who you are, Joan Rivers has a sequin blazer that’ll fit your taste AND your body!

Also, she’s her own model. Kind of amazing.

Buy your own Touch of Sparkle blazer from the QVC website here, and feel free to submit pictures of yourself wearing it, posing as Joan in the picture above.

Design Inspiration from the Steven F. Udvar Center

December 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

While on vacation in Washington, D.C., I found unexpected design inspiration at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, a companion facility to the  National Air and Space Museum. The Center houses a collection of aircrafts that were pivotal in American history, such as the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Enola Gay, and the first aircraft to achieve sustained flight with a pilot, the Wright Flyer.

The plane engines on display brought upon some intricate designs that I couldn’t help but reimagine as couture hats or costumes for a remake of Blade Runner.

The exhibition space itself was also beautiful. It’s housed in a giant hangar boasting a vaulted white ceiling and fancy light-effects.

There was also a small collection of cool leather headwear on display, as well as leather accessories and a fierce pair of fur mittens.

And my favorite detail of the museum: astronaut converse!

Fashion Mole on Racialicious, Part 4

September 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

Another Fashion Mole article, “How Can Fashion Create A Better Relationship with Africa?” was reposted on Racialicious. See it here.

Thank you to Editor Latoya Peterson an the rest of the Racialicious crew for their support.

America’s Next Top Tyra

September 17, 2011 § 2 Comments

The models wave to their legions of fans.

The Wikipedia entry for Tyra Banks begins as such: “Tyra Lynne Banks (born December 4, 1973) is an American model, media personality, actress, occasional singer, authoress and businesswoman.”

For this 17th “All Stars” cycle of America’s Next Top Model, the contestants will do their best to fill each of Tyra’s vast pumps. They will not just be modeling, but recording a single and choosing a fragrance for a perfume line. In addition to the Cover Girl contract, Vogue Italia spreads, and Express campaign, the winner will also receive a spot as a guest correspondent on Extra.”It’s not just about modeling,” announces Tyra, “It’s about star power!” This is a point that Tyra has tried to establish with varying degrees of regularity each season: you aren’t just a model; you’re a spokeswoman, an actress, and a host. You are selling a brand, she would say. This season, you are the brand.

After all, where else could ANTM have gone? Unlike Project Runway or Top Chef where contestants are judged on their craft and what they produce, for the women of ANTM their product has always been themselves – their bodies, their faces, and their “personalities.”

For their first photo shoot, Mr. Jay returns to give each of the women their “persona” from their respective cycle. For the most part, the women step up gamely to sell their characters, save for Bianca, now a working model signed with Ford, who balks at the idea of having to sell “loud and sassy” while sporting garish tracks of red hair. The rest of the women of color must similarly sell their race and class. Angelea, Bre, Camille, and Sheena are all variations on “hood” and “loud black diva.” Meanwhile Kayla sells her lesbian pride. The other (heterosexual) white contestants, on the other hand, receive personas like “angelic” (Shannon), “tough, California girl” (Alexandria), and “quirky doll” (Allison). Isis, the transgender contestant, gets “confidence” – an abstract idea rather than a persona, a sidestep from any identity.

The judging panel, replete with Ms. Multiple Personas herself, Nicki Minaj, sits on a stage in a public plaza in LA. The contestants must be subject not only to the panel, but more importantly, to a live audience. They are to walk down a runway, lined with spectators armed with digital cameras, as the judges critique their photos. Tyra tells them, “We’re looking for something extra special… Your personalities are also being judged. How you worked this crowd. How this crowd responded to you.” The women themselves continually reference their “fans” as though raised hands constitute a fan base.

Alexandria, fresh off her villainous turn from the previous cycle, is apparently still in people’s minds. The catwalk becomes her gauntlet as the crowd boos and shouts curses at her. She trembles as she approaches the mic stand, awaiting judgment. We, the people, are cruel.

The photos matter little. They look cheap, with the models meaninglessly Photoshopped onto the surface of the pool (is this a reference to Jesus?). Instead the judges discuss, with flagging levels of interest, the women’s potential to be “more” than just models, but also entrepreneurs, talk show hosts, singers, and actresses. Just like Tyra.

VMA Fashion 2011: Drag Kings with a Side of Cheese

August 30, 2011 § 1 Comment

(l-r) Katy Perry in Armani and, later, in Dior Couture

Facebook leaked the 3 big stories of the VMAs before we had a chance to see it:

  1. Beyoncé is pregnant.
  2. Lady Gaga performed as her drag alter-ego, Jo Calderon.
  3. 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.

(l-r) Joe Calderone, Britney Spears, and Beyonce

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).

(l-r) Jean Paul Gaultier Couture Fall 2009, Nicki Minaj, and Lady Gaga

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.

(l-r) Miley Cyrus, Kelly Rowland, and Adele

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?

Does Christian Louboutin Own Red Soles?

August 12, 2011 § 1 Comment

Louboutin with his signature red-soled shoes (via NYTimes.com)

Judge Victor Marrero refused to grant Christian Louboutin an injuntion against the production of four Yves Saint Laurent red-soled shoes from its 2011 Cruise collection. Judge Marrero ruled that the trademark Louboutin procured in 2008 for its red soles was probably “overly broad” to be a protected trademark.

It’s important to point out that Louboutin heels did not have red soles from the outset. According to a profile of Christian Louboutin in the March 28th issue of The New Yorker, Louboutin came up with the idea for red soles in 1993, the third year for the brand. He was trying to make a certain pair of shoes pop, when he saw an assistant painting her nails red. He snatched the nail polish from her and began painting the underside of the prototype. It was his eureka moment.

But as nothing is new in fashion, neither were Louboutin’s red soles. According to Valentino’s partner Giancarlo Giammetti, Valentino first showed red-soled shoes almost a quarter of a century ago in 1969, and then again, in 1983. Louboutin himself would have been about 5 years old at the time of the first shoe. Maybe there is a deeply ingrained childhood memory?

The question though, is what constitutes a trademark in fashion, and by extension, trademark infringement. The case brings to mind another popular case of trademark infringement when Polo Ralph Lauren sued the US Polo Association for the latter’s use of – gasp! – polo players. The USPA wanted to use its logo of two polo players to sell a perfume. Ralph Lauren sued, and won, arguing that the logo was too similar to theirs and would result in brand confusion.

The logos of Polo Ralph Lauren (left) and the US Polo Association (right)

As the photo above illustrates, the two logos seem different enough to warrant separate trademarks. But the absurdity of that case aside, what about something like red soles, which isn’t a logo, but rather a signature? It is undeniable that when one thinks of red-soled shoes, one thinks of Christian Louboutin. But does that preclude any other brand from painting their soles red?

YSL’s use of red shoes is more akin to Marc Jacobs’ sly reference to Common Projects sneakers. Common Projects sneakers, which are gorgeous exercises in minimalism, have serial numbers printed in gold along the side of the shoe. Marc Jacobs has recently been producing men’s sneakers in a similarly minimalist aeshetic with “Marc Jacobs” printed in gold along the side as well.

Marc Jacobs (left) and Common Projects (right)

Marc Jacobs is clearly “taking inspiration” from Common Projects and putting his own spin on it. While he doesn’t put serial numbers along the side, from a distance, the shoes could easily be mistaken for Common Projects, the way that the red-soled YSL shoes might be for Louboutins. Intent, while difficult to ascertain, is an important component here. Is the spirit of the design (and designer) to copy or to be inspired by another design? I doubt that YSL is going to continue lacquering their soles red from here on out, and come next season, they are probably already on to the next thing.

Yves Saint Laurent: A Pioneer for Models of Color

August 11, 2011 § 2 Comments

Saint Laurent with Mounia, his muse (via fashionbomb.com)

“L’Amour Fou” is the latest film to feed the trend of fashion designer documentaries, joining Valentino’s acclaimed “The Last Emperor (2008),” the elusive “Lagerfeld Confidential (2007),” and the soon-to-be-released “The Guts of Duckie Brown (2011). It traces the life of the late Algerian-born designer, Yves Saint Laurent, as framed by his widower Pierre Bergé’s narration and the epic Christie’s sale of his expansive art collection at the Grand Palais in Paris in 2009. Overall, you get the sense that Bergé, who had a heavy hand in shaping the story, used the project as a cathartic release. Instead of celebrating the life of his partner, he and the director, Pierre Thoretton, focus instead on Saint Laurent’s intense bouts of depression, excessive drug use, and occasional philandering. It was sad, really. But despite the film’s unexpectedly dour angle on narrating Saint Laurent’s life and work, it joyously celebrates, perhaps unknowingly, Saint Laurent’s pivotal role in placing models of color in the world of high fashion.

The movie never explicitly discusses Saint Laurent’s penchant for models of color; however, its streams of archival footage from Saint Laurent shows in the 60s, 70s, and 80s show a range of black models that often stepped on his runway and posed for his ad campaigns. The YouTube clip below gives offers a taste of this, featuring a montage of black models he often used in the 80s specifically: Naomi Campbell, Iman, Sonia Cole, Dalma Callado, Maureen Gallagher, his muse Katoucha Niane, and others.

Although Saint Laurent’s avid support for black models eluded the general public, fashion insiders readily acknowledge it. In an article from NowPublic published shortly after Saint Laurent’s death to a prolonged disease, writer Adrienne Anderson thoroughly discusses the designer’s role in breaking down barriers for women of color, offering a quote from an interview with Naomi Campbell that illustrates how Saint Laurent generously launched her career: “My first Vogue cover ever was because of this man, because when I said to him ‘Yves, they won’t give me a French Vogue cover, they won’t put a black girl on the cover’ and he was like ‘I’ll take care of that,’ and he did.” In August 1988, Naomi Campbell became the first black model to land the cover of French Vogue, which consequently opened the doors for jobs at Ralph Lauren, Versace, and Francois Nars soon thereafter.

Saint Laurent aggressively featured his designs in black magazines, a practice considered a precarious marketing risk at the time. In particular, he showcased his designs in the pages of Ebony Magazine as well as in the related Ebony Traveling Fashion Show. He was also known to cavort with Eunice Johnson, the producer of the Traveling Fashion Show and the reputed “black matriarch” of publishing.

Yves Saint Laurent once described his appreciation for black models in an interview with the French press, saying, “It’s extraordinary to work with black models.” His explanation takes an exotifying turn, however, as he continues, “because the body, the way they hold their head, the legs… is really very, very provocative.” His sexualization of black female bodies puts his motives into question. But perhaps he was merely using language that the fashion world often used at that time to describe models, a time when women like Cindy Crawford, Tyra Banks, Linda Evangelista, and Christy Turlington ruled the runways with their curvaceous forms. In other words, Saint Laurent’s view of black models as “provocative” might merely reflect a mantra or standard way of thinking about models of various races at the time. (I know this is a pretty generous analysis, and I encourage you to comment).

Despite the pleasure in learning about Saint Laurent’s use of models of color, it’s disheartening to realize that YSL’s current designer, Stefano Pilati, has broken away from that tradition. The most recent YSL womenswear show, Resort 2012, cast only one model of color. The collection before that, Fall/Winter 2011, featured only 2 out of a cast of 37. Unlike Saint Laurent, who set the standard for model casting in his day, Pilati merely follows it.

As fashion writer Guy Trebay wrote in The New York Times in response to a particularly racially-homogenous fashion season in 2007, the current runways are “fading to white.” The substantial number of black models seen on Saint Laurent’s runway shows are nowhere to be seen, and Asians and Latinas struggle to get booked. Although the days of Yves Saint Laurent-staged runways shows took place lightyears from now (speaking in the hyperspeed world of fashion), perhaps they were actually a glimpse into the future.

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