26 February 2010

Reflections on The September Issue: Connoisseurship v. The Corporate Push

Earlier this week I had the privilege of attending a panel discussion featuring Grace Coddington, André Leon Talley, and William Norwich, all of Vogue magazine, and R.J. Cutler, director of The September Issue. Despite the blizzard outside, a large audience turned up to hear the four panelists discuss the film, with Norwich serving as the group's moderator.

Mr. Leon Talley was characteristically attired in a large black (weatherproof?) caftan, a fur ushanka-looking cap, burgundy velvet pants and duck boots. Ms. Coddington, ever her demure self, wore a black sweaterdress, black tights and flats, conservative silver jewelry, and - the only color besides her famed hair - a classic red manicure.

Mr. Norwich began by asking Mr. Cutler if he'd had any trepidation about making The September Issue, and if at any time during the filming he had been afraid there was no story to tell. Mr. Cutler assured the audience that he was certain "at every moment" of the process that there was no film, and he acknowledged that he had been "driven by the terror" that he'd find no narrative within the over three hundred hours of footage he captured. He never gave up, though, because he found himself so taken by the meticulous dedication of his subjects to their work. He found that the Vogue executives were "people who care about what they do, do it extremely well and they do it under high stakes." Using a baseball analogy to describe the caliber of work he saw, he likened going into the Vogue headquarters to "walking into the clubhouse of the 1927 Yankees."

Mr. Norwich then asked the resident Vogue royalty if they were hesitant to appear in the documentary, given the recent democratization, corporatization, and some might say bastardization of fashion. He made reference to the slew of fashion-oriented reality TV shows, and the overwhelming number of new "celebrity designers" each season that seem to cheapen the art and process of fashion.

Ms. Coddington replied, with much conviction, that the speeding up of fashion necessarily dilutes its quality. She expressed dislike for the frenzied push for a constant flow of new product and said in no uncertain terms that this hysteria was complicit in the recent and tragic death of Alexander McQueen.

Mr. Leon Talley agreed, saying he missed the old school way of doing things: "New school is good but old school is better." (Interestingly, he made no mention of his upcoming appearances on America's Next Top Model, but took a jab at reality TV stars-cum-designers, saying, "Keeping Up With The Kardashians? Why would I want to keep up with a family that looks like that?")

Mr. Cutler said, and his fellow panelists agreed, that his film successfully shows the connoisseurship at Vogue, and how to take a slow and deliberate approach to the creative process. Apparently the mutual appreciation for this deliberate, artful approach has paved the way for future collaboration: Ms. Coddington and Mr. Cutler acknowledged that they're working together on a upcoming project that will put her book, Catwalk Cats, to film.

Mr. Norwich finished the Q&A by asking each panelist to comment on personal style. Ms. Coddington said a person's personality should be reflected in his or her style and emphasized that "it's hopeless to dress like someone else." Mr. Leon Talley agreed and said, "Your personal style should remain with you; it shouldn't come from the pages of Vogue."

The September Issue is now out on DVD. Included in the DVD set is special behind the scenes footage of The Met Ball, and also footage of Anna Wintour's preparation for her touching eulogy to Isabella Blow.

17 February 2010

Reed Krakoff's Feminist Fatale

The Reed Krakoff show featured smart, crisp lines, unfussy layers, a camouflage palette, and evoked a Rosie the Riveter "We Can Do It!" toughness. Models filed down the runway in leather bombers, blue wool slacks, sweaters with reinforced elbows, and tightly laced boots, as though they were marching off to war, or out of an Army Navy store. But the mood wasn't somber. On the contrary, there was a carefree, independent feel that recalled Amelia Earhart.There was the pragmatic, no-nonsense sensibility of Katharine Hepburn.
There was a sporty, baseball tee-inspired sweater. Slick leather skirts tied snugly at the waist were reminiscent of welders' or woodworkers' aprons.
But in the midst of all this utility, there were hints at luxury. I wrote earlier about anticipating a fundamental Americanness in Reed Krakoff's design, and the history of America is not complete without the history of the fur trade, specifically beaver fur. Its presence on the runway recalled the New World's rugged past and exoticism. In combining this with Krakoff's utilitarian tailoring, the collection successfully drew together two ends of America's vast sartorial spectrum.The result of this melding is a wardrobe for a feminist fatale, and considering the reception the collection has received, it's a look we can expect to see more of.
photo source

15 February 2010

Crisscross Will Make You Jump

A welcome and crisscrossed update on the ubiquitous bandage dress, by Hervé Léger. I love the smoky palette.

Made for Walking, or Ass-Kicking

I finally found boots to kick around Europe in. Last time I was there I was wearing beat up old Dr. Marten's, but they're brown and rugged and I feel like taking it up a notch and looking more Euro and less Lumberjack this time around, so I upgraded to Prada.
These boots were lovely and glossy when I bought them yesterday, but I wore them all around town today (to Ellis Island and back!) and they're already getting a worn-in look. I feel more SWAT team in them than Euro, but that's okay with me.

12 February 2010

Texturize, Mesmerize - Ports 1961


Glancing at Fall

Fall seems to feature a lot of dark layering, few if any prints, and subtle introductions of color (in these cases, variations on gold).

Yigal Azrouël. Booties continue to be big, as do menswear-inspired looks.
BCBG Max Azria. Asymmetry is everywhere. (P.S. That's Sophie Srej!)
Ruffian. Mid-calf boots also remain through Fall.

Wu Woos Michelle

Jason Wu was catapulted to fame a little over a year ago when Michelle Obama wore a gown of his to the inaugural ball, and Wu seems to be wooing the First Lady again with his latest collection.

This dress would work with a pair of Mrs. Obama's ever-present flats and J.Crew cardigan. I can even envision her wearing it with her Alaia belt.
This mustardy-gold color has been lovely on Mrs. Obama in the past, and the off the shoulder asymmetry would show off her famous biceps.
This dress would be a riskier move for Mrs. Obama, but it's not riskier than the Narciso Rodriguez dress she wore on election night 2008. Besides, the conservative silhouette makes the gilding a lot easier to pull off.

11 February 2010

Wintour on McQueen

"We are devastated to learn of the death of Alexander McQueen, one of the greatest talents of his generation. He brought a uniquely British sense of daring and aesthetic fearlessness to the global stage of fashion. In such a short career, Alexander McQueen’s influence was astonishing — from street style, to music culture and the world’s museums. His passing marks an insurmountable loss."

RIP Alexander McQueen

He was brilliant and his work was consistently beautiful, original, and fearless. His clothes were regal, theatrical, ornate, historical but timely, and above all, never trendy. His death is tragic, and there is now a void of creativity in the fashion world that none could fill like he did.Read his obituary in the Times.

06 February 2010

Anticipating Reed Krakoff

Marc Jacobs has been the de facto face of American design for a while, but not since the days of grunge has his work been idiosyncratically American. Lately, his work has been overshadowed by his frequent tabloid presence. Zac Posen was thought, for a time, to be the new wunderkind of American design with the potential for knocking Marc Jacobs off his throne, but his star seems to have fallen. Thakoon is a fashion darling, but my impression is that his fame is due in large part to his youth and the consistently high quality of his work, rather than his exceptional talent for innovation. Older American designers rely on heavy-handed, sometimes literal flag-waving (Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger), but their designs are too cautious and conservative to be pioneering. Ditto Donna Karan and others, whose work is good, to be sure, but whose inventiveness is debatable.

After Reed Krakoff's fashion week debut in less than two weeks, the fashion world may have a new American design pioneer. The level of anticipation surrounding his show is palpable, and the amount of press it's receiving is a testament to that fact. Once the reviews are in, critics may find themselves shouting a collective "Go West!", and New York could reclaim its place as the global fashion capital, paving the design path for the new decade. But there's no telling till the last model walks down the RK runway, so stay tuned.

"Art, design, and architecture influence everything I do... Right now, for me it's about re-embracing design that is unmistakably American—reimagining and reconfiguring it, while simultaneously elevating it, in a way." Regarding this image of a Lee Bontecou sculpture, Reed Krakoff said, "I'm really feeling for these kind of naive, industrial textures, but executed in a more refined, unexpected way." - Vogue

05 February 2010

The September Issue

The DVD of The September Issue is being released on the 23rd. When I saw it in the theater last year, I was frustrated by its overemphasis on the editorial process and its glossing over of moments that could've proved to be liminal and profoundly revealing of its central character. Although it was interesting to see Anna Wintour's selection process and the actual construction of a September Vogue issue, the subtext of the whole film was, supposedly, to provide insight into what makes Ms. Wintour function, and even -- some might say -- to humanize her.

Though her choices are interesting, more interesting is why she makes the choices she does. There is a particularly poignant moment in the film, in which she refers to the disparate career paths of herself and her siblings. Without ever changing her facial expression or tone, she seems to reveal a bitter sibling rivalry. She says, flatly and maybe sarcastically, that her siblings are saving the world, and they find her work vapid and meaningless.

I was stunned by her comment. As a middle child with five competitive siblings, this information was hugely revealing as it illuminated a great deal to me about Ms. Wintour's M.O.. But apparently it was not even slightly compelling to the director, R.J. Cutler, who let it come and go without comment and never returned to it. He seemed to find the dynamic between Grace Coddington and Ms. Wintour to be far more deserving of attention, and though it was interesting, how much more compelling would it have been if we were to have learned that Anna Wintour's decisions are influenced by a fierce desire to prove to her siblings, and the world, that fashion is neither vapid nor meaningless; or that it is, but who cares anyway when it is the source of her power?

Sophie Srej

It's been a while since I got excited about a model, but Hungarian model Sophie Srej has changed that.
I actually met her through mutual friends when she had only recently moved to New York and spoke just a few words of English. (Here we are in the Fall of 2008.)And look at her now, on Rodarte's runway! I was actually just flipping through the March issue of Marie Claire and came across a picture of her from this show. Keep your eye out for her! She's stunning, and clearly versatile.

03 February 2010


Okay, I promise I'll give Mario Testino a break soon, but I've been reading a lot about him lately. Despite being a big fan of his, I never realized he was born in Peru, and in fact has a photography book called Lima, Peru, which looks fantastic.

I was in Peru last year and found it absolutely breathtaking. It's no wonder people flock to it.During an interview with The Independent, Mr. Testino said, "I grew up in Peru in a very conventional Catholic upbringing, so sex was a taboo. But at the same time it was the 1960s; the sexual revolution. So I'm a contradiction."

Danish-Peruvian Helena Christensen was in Peru last year on behalf of Oxfam to document the effects of climate change in the country.

Read more about it here.