Model, A MemoirAugust 6, 2008
Model, A Memoir
author – Cheryl Diamond
It all became clear to me when a thirteen-year-old compatriot of mine pointed out that the publisher’s imprint on the book was the same as all of the candy-colored paperback summer novels she’d been reading. Until that moment, I was reading Cheryl Diamond’s new memoir Model with a fair amount of annoyance, getting hung up on repeated instances of glib commentary that drag the otherwise interesting story to a halt over and over again. The book has a note of the blog about it. You know the one-two blogging gambit: report the incident, then make a smart(-ass) comment about it.
But okay, Diamond was a sixteen year old girl during the year or so period that the book covers. And we now realize that the target market for the book is the young adult. And for that young adult, the story will be fairly thrilling because Miss Diamond, as reported by Miss Diamond, had an “everything’s-going-my-way” experience as an underage model wise beyond her years. She reports few disappointments, no mistakes, took the slings and arrows slung her way with aplomb, and got away with doing foolish things with no consequences. The reader’s mom will appreciate that Diamond doesn’t booze it up, take the coke offered to her, or refuse a burger.
On the upside, Diamond tells a fine story simply by capturing the kinds of outsized personalities that fashion attracts. And for those on the outside, the common practices and shenanigans of her agency will be illuminating if not scandalous. I was genuinely curious about how this story would play out…and did slog through the whole thing to get to the redemptive ending.
The told story has a distance that the Big Fish story often has: the fish is bigger, the travails exaggerated or minimized to cast storyteller as heroic or at least in a better light, and all of the edges are polished off.
Fashion At The EdgeFebruary 1, 2008
Fashion At The Edge
Yale University Press
In Fashion At The Edge, Caroline Evans looks at the experimental and the transgressive in fashion design, presentation, and photography in the 90s with a heavy dose of London. It’s a neat trick to knit together considerations of fads in fashion photography for violence, dissolution, and transgression (Corinne Day doing Nan Goldin in The Face plus loads of photos from Dazed & Confused…oh, and remember “heroin chic”) with chapters considering the deeply intellectual work of Martin Margiela and Hussein Chalayan.
From rags and armour to cruelty and haunted imagery, Evans excavates the perimeter of fashion. The tome is peppered with provocative, taboo-busting, and avant-garde work that is sometimes profound, sometimes exploitative and base and grotesque. The book drives home what a rarity Martin Margiela is, with his idea-based work that like good conceptual art critiques fashion itself, the methods of presentation, construction, commerce. Hussein Chalayan, while less subtle, engages in the same rigorous performative critique. In comparison, a lot of McQueen looks like cheap provocation.
And this is where the book might have better been two or perhaps three volumes rather than one. Besides sharing the time frame considered by the author, and besides making work that often doesn’t look like what you’ll find in your favorite boutique, some of the figures in the book have little in common.
Evans, who, at the time of publishing was Reader in Fashion Studies at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, creates delicious texts that intertwine wish-you-were-there reportage and crisp description with insightful analysis into which she brings references as diverse as Michel Foucault, Walter Benjamin, Guy Debord (comparing a Margiela show in which the models mill around on the sidewalk outside to a derive) in considering both fashion and the world it inhabits. This is the kind of serious consideration that serious fashion not destined for a shopping mall requires, more akin to art criticism than fashion reportage, and a great example of what a smart fashion book can be.
Portland Fashion WeekDecember 5, 2007
For six days and nights in a shipyard warehouse on the Willamette River north of downtown Portland, Portland Fashion Week showcased the products of a boom in Portland fashion design that is at an all-time high after eight years of growth. Portland has not only hundreds of independent fashion, jewelry, and accessories designers, it has seen the opening, in the last couple of years, of myriad local boutiques to stock and sell those goods.
You could blame the health of fashion in Portland on the city’s unique combination of cheap rent, holdover DIY mentality (the punk rock, “I could do that”), a design school, and a number of corporate apparel headquarters spinning off fashion entrepreneurs including adidas and Nike. But designers will tell you as well that Portland has a uniquely supportive and connected fashion community.
Portland Fashion Week was six nights of shows with between five and 10 designers each night, panel discussions, and pre- and after-parties. It was a unique hybrid of homegrown Portland talent and an invitational for sustainable fashion labels from elsewhere. Visiting sustainable lines included Del Forte Denim (SF), Habitual (TX), Izzy Lane (UK), and Lara Miller (CHI).
There were weaker nights, when t-shirt dresses and bridal gowns (very lovely bridal gowns) repetitively marched down the runway. And Portland Fashion Week had its share of lines that showed mainstream feminine dresses and separates that will no doubt sell well, but weren’t exhilarating, knock-your-socks-off design.
On the fourth night, things got interesting with a greater concentration of statement-making design than any other night of the week. The night featured The Collections, a loose group of designers who came of age as DIYers, but have now grown into fiercely independent designers who produce very limited edition or even one-of-a-kind pieces (often tailored to the wearer) with influences ranging from Chloe under Phoebe Philo to Threeasfour to Buckminster Fuller. Some of the designers embrace rigorous minimalism, some a nostalgic femininity with bows and ruffles, and some a sculptural boldness.
A few of The Collections designers showed fall 07. Linea by Jess Beebe did brilliant minimalism, her only flourish the exposed (inside-out) brass zippers on boiled wool jumpers and mini-dresses like the mini-dress in black whose cuffed six inch hem formed great pockets. And Liza Rietz’ an elegant form-based collection absent of ornamentation—a long dress with oversized draped pockets and kimono sleeves, a great charcoal draped circle coat, a long skirt with suspenders—was very good.
ParisiennesOctober 18, 2007
Look past the cover of Parisiennes, A Celebration of French Women, a large format coffee table book fronted by a photo of a trio of three gorgeous women in little black dresses, models waiting backstage at a fashion show in 1956. Because if the book were judged on cover alone, one would expect yet another compilation of vintage high fashion photos, devastatingly glamorous, untouchable, a fantasy.
Your first clue that this book will be something different is the fact that the introduction is written by noted feminist thinker, writer, and academic, Xavière Gauthier, who traces the experience of 20th century women in work, at home, at war. She elaborates on French women’s struggle for the vote, for reproductive rights, for economic independance , as well as their crucial and largely unheralded roles in the two world wars.
The photos of Parisian women are largely from archives of well-known male photographers, Robert Doisneau, Brassai, Jacques Henri Lartigue, Willy Ronis, Cecil Beaton with the exception of work by Janine Niepce, Élise Hardy, and Sabine Weiss.
Yes, there is glamour. Yes, there is sophistication. But this book primarily documents the public lives of everyday women, the grumpy looking concierge in a doorway in a Doisneau photo from 1949, the balloon seller in the Jardin des Tuileries in 1936, and the epitome of 70s style in the blonde crossing the street in bellbottoms, a wide belt at her hips, laden with ethnic jewelry. There are legislators, mothers with children, and gun-carrying women of the French Resistance.
If there is, in fact, a chapter on Elegance, there too is a chapter on Rebellion with photos of striking workers and suffragettes. And at the outset of each chapter, there is a brief essay, some straightforward, one, at the top of the chapter on Rebellion, quietly heroic and wrenching. From the photo of a young mother nursing her child to women with their hair in curlers and a chic gal in a miniskirt on a motorbike, this book is to say that yes, the women of Paris have photographed well, but also, they have lived.
The Fashion Designer Survival Guide: An InsiderJuly 24, 2007
The Fashion Designer Survival Guide: An Insider’s Look at Starting and Running Your Own Fashion Business
If you could sell good ideas, many of us would be rich. It’s getting the idea into object or working project that’s the trick. And when it comes to making a fashion business out of your unique aesthetic and clever sketches or even the one-of-a-kind dresses you sew at the kitchen table, you need more than a few tricks up your sleeve.
Imagine a business where a supplier refuses to sell to you, a factory agrees to make your product but shunts it aside repeatedly in favor of larger orders, and the retailer to whom you’ve sold your product charges you for all kinds of transgressions including delivering product early (!) or late, or hanging it on the wrong hangers. That’s the ugly side of the glamorous business of fashion.
For anyone who has dreamed of making a fashion business, a book like Mary Gehlhar’s The Fashion Designer Survival Guide, is more than a guidebook, it’s a critical wakeup call. Are you willing to do what it takes to take that brilliant little dress of yours through production? Are you prepared for the roadblocks you’ll face from the very vendors who are supposed to be working for you? And are you ready for the reality that less than 5-10% of your working time will be spent actually designing?
Gehlhar is so thorough—from financing, product development, production, marketing, press, and sales—that this book is being recommended by many as, yes, required reading for the aspiring independent designer. The text is filled with real-world examples and mini case studies. More importantly, it features feedback from top buyers like those at Saks and Barney’s. And important points are broken down clearly.
In an industry that’s so heavy on image. It’s easy to forget that the bottom line is the dollar. By digging deeply into the business of fashion, Gehlhar will likely intimidate and scare off many aspiring independent designers, but those who assimilate the information and act on this book’s recommendations are going to be the designers who will not only “survive” as the title suggests but succeed at the business of fashion.
Paris Fashion, A Cultural HistoryJune 20, 2007
Paris Fashion, A Cultural History
Designers at many of fashion’s most important houses may not be French, but the capital of the fashion world is still Paris. In spite of World War II, in spite of the rise of American sportswear designers, in spite of the decline in the number of couture clients and the advent of ready-to-wear, in spite of the rise of Milan and the buzz generated by London, the capital of the fashion world is still Paris.
Valerie Steele’s Paris Fashion, A Cultural History, published in 1986 when Christian Lacroix was just gaining notice, looks at a number of threads of the culture and history of Paris, how they intertwine with one another and intertwine with fashion. She renews the reputation of Jeanne Paquin, sidelined in the modern canon of fashion geniuses and examines the role of the woman in fashion in general noting important dressmakers, illustrators, and the professionalization and specialization of fashion which led to men taking the top jobs and leaving the lesser jobs to the women. She traces the evolving social lives of the moneyed and the requirements they exerted on and opportunities they opened up in fashion.. She looks at the revolutions of the working classes and what that meant for dress (women in pants, for one thing).
She looks at fashion through art and literature, looking at the theater of Parisian boulevards, at dandyism, and the rise of the department store (in 1830) through the lens of Baudelaire, Zola, and Proust as well as Cassat and Alfred Stevens. Steele draws generously from these writers’ descriptions of Parisian dress. But she also takes us on a fascinating stroll through fashion publications of their era, and delivers a massive endnotes pileup of sources that could serve as the fashion history-lovers Summer Reading List.
She also devotes attention to fashion illustrators and illustrations (of which Steele is a collector). She And she interestingly notes the importance of the Art Deco-era illustrators who depicted looks by Paul Poiret in a far more evocative manner than either traditional fashion illustrations or early photographs could do, going far to help create the image of and communicate the message of the designer.
What she constructs is a picture of a city, from the early-to-mid 1700s to the mid 1980s that has, through war and upheaval retained its allure and mystique as well as its ateliers and those brilliant craftspeople in the needle trades. At the same time, beginning with the “birth of fashion” which she traces to Italy, not Paris, and the rise of cities (Paris was a late bloomer), it’s interesting to note the repetition of themes surrounding and weaving in and out of fashion: scandal, outrage, fashion’s responsiveness to cultural change, and finally the paradox between the follower of fashion and her refusal to follow too far, at the end of the day, the lady, in Paris as elsewhere, decides which fashions will live or die.
Disco YearsMay 17, 2007
Ron Galella with foreword by Anthony Haden-Guest and introduction by Michael Musto
In these times when we’re gleefully remixing our retros, leggings (oh, and oversized shirts) which you’ll recall from the mid ’80s, ’60s a-line dresses, and a bit of Victoriana thrown in for good measure, it’s worthwhile to do a little recollecting/research into the looks as first worn. So the mod boxy little frocks I’ve been coveting were first worn with boxy heels and kind-of bubbled short hairdos, teased at the crown.
But because I was looking at the massive array of American Apparel leggings today, and because they won’t seem to go away (and maybe secretly I don’t want them to), the 1984 photo of singer Laura Branigan (“Gloria!”) in the photo book Disco Years by Ron Galella, is the look of the moment. Crouched down over her pumps and spandex leggings (technically footless tights, I think), Branigan turns right to look at the camera, her wild Brooke Shields eyebrows above her freckled nose. Over the leggings she wears a sequined shirt belted by a wide snake belt. Kind of looking like a pointier Stockard Channing, Branigan has just brought down the house at a club in Atlanta. It’s one of the few photos in the book that isn’t taken in New York, at or outside Studio 54, at Xenon or Area.
A step away from these leggings are the shiny stretch pants Liza Minelli wears dancing at New York Disco in 1977 with what must be a Halston white batwing tunic. Marisa Berenson, yes is likely in costume here, in those high-waist jeans for Margaux Hemingway’s Western party, but this photo is still an argument for the rising denim waistline.
Most of the photos in this compendium of snaps are strange, incidental action shots. They are stars and exhibitionist oddballs, unposed, caught on the fly. Stretching from the ’70s to early ’80s, the photos do capture an era (Jimmy McNichol in a Saturday Night Fever white three-piece suit, Diane von Furstenberg so lovely in 1972, picture after picture of Grace Jones, Cher in feathersï¿½ the sensational International Velvet is worth the price of the book alone). Oh, and there’s a photo of Sting with a mustache.
Unlike many nostalgic tomes, the moments this book captures do not make for a best-of-times argument (Liz Taylor is not at her best, but Bianca Jagger looks fantastic throughout). The vibe of many of the photos is alternately frenzied or fucked up. As Galella himself puts it, he and the other paparazzi were there to record the “life of the party” and what a party it was.
As a fashion sourcebook (because that’s the way I’m considering it at the moment), it’s not perfect. But that’s Nico on the trampoline at the disco, and so you have to look.
Claire McCardellApril 20, 2007
Among their collections, both created chic, simple little black dresses. Both used jersey at a time when it was not the staple fabric it is today, both appropriated clothes for sport as everyday wear, and both knew the value of a good pocket. What’s more, both freed women from restrictive undergarments. One was luxe, one was mass. One flourished in the years before WWII in Paris, the other got her break as the United States was isolated from European fashion houses during the WWII and blossomed in the prosperous Post-War years in America.
If Coco Chanel is widely recognized for having revolutionized womenswear, American Claire McCardell is that revolution’s second act, essentially inventing the category of sportswear for women.
When the American woman was cut off from her usual fashion source in Europe during WWII, MaCardell and others had a chance to shine, defining an American Look. Claire McCardell created clothes for women that were easy and stylish in their clean lines and simplicity. She designed unfussy clothes made for an active life, many of which were firsts. She’s known for loose dresses shaped to fit the wearer’s body with drawstrings or wrap-sashed waists, wrap dresses, playsuits. She was the first to do mix-and-match separates, pedal-pushers, tent dresses, and looks in denim. Her baby doll empire gathered black jersey dress would look fresh today, as would her goddess-y evening dresses.
It’s safe to say that you would not be dressing as you will this spring were it not for McCardell’s vision of fashion for an American woman who was strong, independent, playful and practical. You who will be wearing flats this spring can also thank McCardell for the first wave of popularity of ballet slippers during the ’40s and ’50s.
Against FashionMarch 17, 2007
Against Fashion: The Avant-Garde and Clothing
Clothing as Art 1850-1930
Radu Stern (MIT Press)
“One should either be a work of art or wear a work of art.”
Sometimes we are so absorbed in our circumscribed worlds, dealing with daily questions of what, and who and how, that we are hard-pressed to take a step back and ask some good why’s. Nowhere is this more true than in the world of fashion, where who’s and what’s dominate. Why do we wear what we do and what would it be like, what change might it affect if we wore something different, maybe something radically different (and we don’t mean this on a micro- or me-level). Even the artists among us rarely look at clothing any more as an agent for change. But there was a time when this was not the case.
The sociological import and impact of fashion is deliciously addressed by artists, manifesto writers and cultural thinkers in a series of essays collected in Against Fashion, edited by Radu Stern. There are texts calling for reform in dress from a feminist perspective by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, from an aesthete’s perspective by Oscar Wilde. But leave it to the Italian Futurists and their strident, brilliant manifestos
“One must absolutely proclaim the dictatorship of the artistic Genius in female fashion against the parliamentary interfering of unintelligent speculation and the routine.”
to call not only for revolution in design and materials (tinfoil, rubber, hemp, cardboard, and fish skin!) but to do it in the name of art, a new society, AND economy:
“The new fashions will be affordable to all the beautiful women, who are legion in Italy.”
The introductory overview chapters begin with fashion and modernity (Lipovetsky’s notion that fashion was not simply, “a sign of class ambition,” but changes in dress style linked to Modernity and the pursuit of the New) moving through various dress reform movements and more interestingly, proposals for a frequently utopian, art-infused sense of anti-fashion across Europe: aesthetic dress in England, the Wiener Werkstatte in Germany, Italian Futurism, and the Russian avant-garde. The impetus for reform varies, from nationalism (rejection of Parisian tyranny in dress) to practicality to social reform to a conceptualism only to be found in the mind of an artist. But the idea that artists should be invited into the conversation of what women (and men) wear is widespread.
The pictures are brilliant, with Wiener Werkstatte sketches, Giacomo Balla’s vibrant lemon-yellow, blue, and black “house dress,” Gustav Klimt in a dress of his own design, and gorgeous, dynamic geometric designs for Futurist suits and dresses.
The sense throughout is a thrilling elevation of fashion, not only as a vital pursuit for artists keen on interjecting art into the everyday, but as a tool for cultural and societal change. In an era in which the power of art in fashion is often novelty and the power of fashion itself is mainly reduced to economics and big names, it’s exciting to revisit times in which art and fashion collided and colluded in the attempt to Shake Things Up.
The World In VogueFebruary 10, 2007
The World In Vogue
editors Jessica Daves and Alexander Liberman, Bryan Holme and Katharine Tweed (The Viking Press)
It’s not a new book. In fact, it’s a giant tome that’s more than forty years old. But it tells us how we contextualize style today (and style here includes fashion but is larger than that), tells us something about how we think and write about it. And the book, really, is not at all about fashion although it is a compendium of articles and photos that appeared in what is now the world’s premier fashion magazine, Vogue. The World in Vogue, spans the years 1893 through 1963 (the year it was published), from bustles to blue jeans and the Wright Brothers to Telstar.
There is very little fashion editorial here. Rather than photos of Suzi, there are photos of George Bernard Shaw just before he died. There is Gertrude Stein on Pierre Balmain, Dior pages away from Picasso, and a thoughtful reflection on how complicated things get for the liberated woman. Photos of Sophia Loren or Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney are balanced with photos of astronaut John Glenn. It is an astonishingly wide swath that Vogue, for seventy years, cut through American culture, with work by and portraits (both literary and photographic) of some of the most important cultural movers (in dance, theater, visual art and more) of their times.
Perhaps it is that with a quote like the following then outgoing editor-in-chief Jessica Daves overstates Vogues mission and contribution.
“Vogue has sometimes been called a civilizing force. If that is true, perhaps it is because a civilization, to endure, needs voices to sing its praise. … A part of civilization is a regard for the gifted, an admiration of beauty, an understanding of the arts—the arts of daily living as well as the arts of painting or sculpture, writing or music or architecture. Civilization has in it, too, respect for the boldness of the frontiersmen in the sciences and in all the worlds of abstract ideas.”
But the fact remains that the book, pulling from Vogue archives, features writing by Jean Cocteau, Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, Frank Crowninshield, Truman Capote, W.H. Auden, Colette, John Steinbeck’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1962, and Guy Pène du Bois’ review of the famed Armory Show in 1913. There are paintings by Rousseau, Degas, Gaugin, Miro, de Kooning and photos of the devastating San Francisco earthquake and Buchenwald.
Once, style and the life well-lived were expected to dovetail with an appreciation for high culture (literature, the theater, dance, art) and the desire to be well-informed. Perhaps that is still the case. But in the intervening years as fashion magazines have proliferated, celebrity coverage has trumped solid cultural content, and service articles about plastic surgery, for example, fill the pages of Vogue and other fashion rags leaving the “worlds of abstract ideas” to other publications.
It’s a glorious collection of tidbits by our very best. Wonder that it was all in a ladies’ fashion rag. The World In Vogue is still to be had used for prices ranging from $10 to $50.