Friday, May 26, 2017

The Planner and The Scammer

I saw the picture almost immediately after it happened. I'd spent the previous decade getting my hands on pictures from every runway show and look book that I could. I clicked through images of accessory close-ups, atmosphere, and attendees until my wrist ached. But by 2014, I'd started to take less note of who was sitting front row. Fashion week was changing and the importance of that publicity venue was waning.

But there were still some shows where an invite mattered, where a front row seat meant something. Chanel and Dior and Louis Vuitton's elaborate runway productions are always chockablock full of their ambassadors, the women who help sell their shoes and leather goods and perfumes to the masses. Because these contracts last for years and are generally renewed repeatedly, the same faces are seen again and again. Creative directors step down or burn out, years pass, but still Charlize Theron is in Dior and Jennifer Connolly wears Louis Vuitton.

Miu Miu is one of the last shows to walk during Paris Fashion Week and always has a front row full of buzz. While many of the women given access to those seats end up in a Miu Miu campaign, the brand prefers to cycle through young actresses and models from season to season instead of committing to a few for long stretches. More importantly, the Miu Miu front row crowns those who are newly it, the term that entered our cultural lexicon with the Clara Bow silent movie of the same name and whose slippery concept rising stars, especially female ones, continue to chase to this day.

I think it's safe to assume that Rihanna was there simply because she liked the idea of it. The fashion side of the celebrity game has never seemed like a chore for her. In fact, she has always seemed to find real joy it it, and she was at a point in her career where she could do as she liked.


On the other hand, Lupita, fresh off her Oscar win for 12 Years a Slave, was a new name and a new face. She bookended her many red carpet appearances of the preceding fall and winter with Prada, the sister brand of Miu Miu, first at the movie's Toronto Film Festival premiere and finally on her triumphant night only days before the show.



I wasn't surprised to see her seated there taking a picture with the stars of 2013's Palme d'Or winner.


And I wasn’t surprised when she was selected as one of the faces of the Spring/Summer 2014 Miu Miu campaign.


But I was surprised to see the picture of these two seatmates return to my life a couple of months ago. The image had originally taken over Tumblr, but I am just old enough to not understand how Tumblr works or what happens there. It wasn't until it resurfaced on Twitter that I became aware of its second life as a meme. Hadn't this picture been around for years? I reminded myself that not everyone spends hours following the goings on of various fashion weeks. The excitement spread to the two women at the center of it all, and I let myself get a little giddy about it as other creatives jumped in to say they found it intriguing as well.

What is a scamming movie if not a cousin to a heist movie? And didn't I love heist movies?

I knew there were probably going to be issues around attribution and Hollywood is still itself, so when the fervor died down, I let the image drift to the back of my mind again. Then the news broke. It was happening. Something that would make many of us happy had been willed into existence. This year has been kind to very few of us, but here was something to celebrate. Instantly my mind ran off in search of an answer to a pressing question. What would these characters wear? It would be so easy to put them in seasons and seasons of Prada and Miu Miu's quirky chic. But a scammer must wear many masks and many masks calls for many brands.

I'm sitting on five seasons worth of bookmarks going all of the way back to Resort 2017. If I get out of my own way, I could still write something about many of those seasons. But Resort 2017 is over now, and this is my chance to finally give it the due it deserved.

I started with what they would wear when alone and hanging out together, possibly while constructing a new plan in the modern kitchen of a beautiful loft that some gullible man pays the rent for. Or maybe when they're tucked into a quiet corner of the neighborhood coffee shop where they've become close to a barista who supplies them with complimentary espresso. The clothes that you truly live in. Those worn when all of those performative parts of your personality are turned off. The ones that you wear with someone you trust.

For Both

At Sonia by Sonia Rykiel



At A.L.C.


For The Planner

At Sonia by Sonia Rykiel


At Sportmax


At Timo Weiland


At Alice + Olivia


At Mara Hoffman


For The Scammer

At Rachel Zoe


At Tomas Maier


At Haney


At Rodebjer


At Victor Alfaro


Then I chose one Resort 2017 collection as the core inspiration for each of their on wardrobes.

For The Planner, it was Holly Fulton's playful patterns.




For The Scammer, it was the luxe architectural feel of Maticevski.





From those points of reference, I went about the fun but somewhat overwhelming task of further flushing out their on closets.

The Planner with her offbeat prints and full skirts and Peter Pan collars.

At Sonia by Sonia Rykiel


At Tracy Reese


At Versace


At Delpozo


At Fausto Puglisi


At Alexander McQueen


At Victoria Victoria Beckham


At Nina Ricci


At Delpozo


At Fendi


The Scammer with her glamorous outerwear, architectural notes, and structured sex appeal.

At Boss


At Sally LaPointe


At Akris


At Emilio Pucci


At Bottega Veneta


At Courrèges


At Missoni


At Rochas


At Osman


At Monse


At Mugler


At Dion Lee



But this is only scratching the surface.


Images via, via

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Jumping In

Most of the years that I spent living at home in Boston bleed together. Did a certain event take place in 2010? Or 2012? Or 2013? Was I in a skinny phase brought on by distress or a larger one brought on by the depths of boredom? But inside that muddled timeline, there are those moments that stand out. In the spring of 2013, my mother came home with a clothing purchase. This in and of itself would not have been worth noting normally. At times she feigns ignorance about where my love of fashion comes from but I've never forgotten. It has always been her, the root and the source. What was noteworthy this time was the item purchased.

"Is that a jumpsuit?" Disgust laced my voice.
She hung it in a hall closet before turning to me.
"Yes," she replied.
"Are you actually going to wear it?"
"Of course. I used to wear them in the 70s."

I didn't question the latter but I had my doubts about the former. Although my love of clothes and shopping originates with her, the ways in which we pursue our conquests diverged long ago. My mother doesn’t try things on in stores. Instead she brings them home for the necessary testing before returning them if they aren’t quite right. There was a chance that in a few days the jumpsuit would return from whence it came. Or, less likely but still possible, that it would be consumed into the back of the closet, never to be heard from again. 

Sometimes I take to a class of clothing immediately. The moment skinny jeans became The Thing, I knew that I had to have a pair. With others, it takes time for me to come around. For years suits on women made me recoil. The options were limited. The manners in which I saw them worn were either uninteresting or unflattering. Now I cheer for them, the sharp and woolen as well as the luxe and velvet. I write long posts full of my favorites. I do celebratory dances in my bedroom when a woman walks the red carpet in one.

And yet, I haven’t bitten the suiting bullet myself. The last suit I bought was a gray, pinstriped Michael by Michael Kors number from the old Filene’s Basement that served me well during that first blush of post-collegiate life. It was an interview workhorse. A well-fitting workhorse, not like the shapeless rectangles that made me turn my nose up at suits for so long, but a workhorse all the same. On its last outing, I stood looking out at Boston Harbor from the well-appointed waiting room of an upscale insurance company that a staffing agency had sent me off to see and considered the possibility of a suit-wearing life. That was three moves and more than a decade ago.

My initial disgust at the jumpsuit’s rise was mostly logistical. I had worn many impractical clothes in my nearly 30 years but I hadn't had to strip to use the bathroom since the bodysuits and overalls of my 90s childhood. And my body had changed a lot since the age of 10. Puberty had left me busty but still somewhat slight of hip. Finding a single, pants-dominant piece that would fit both halves of me seemed impossible.

My mother kept the jumpsuit and even wore it a few times before I moved across the country the following spring. With the move, I suddenly had time that was my own and some disposable income. It was then that I began my quest for a jumpsuit.

Well I didn't know it was a quest when I started but I think that's usually the way of such things.

While my mother tries on nothing when in a store, I try on everything. It's not only about fit. It's a form of playing dress up. I don't linger too long, always take care not to damage the clothing in any way, and, because I cannot be helped, often leave with something even if that wasn't my intention. I like to know if I'm being too quick to judge a new trend, and the only way to do that is to put it on my body. To slowly turn in front of a mirror and examine it from all angles. To be able to categorize it as simply not for me, maybe only for me, or definitely not for anyone.

My time working in apparel retail only reinforced this habit. At the beginning of each new season, everyone would have to do a fit session to better acquaint themselves with the product and provide feedback to corporate. And so while on the clock I would take all of the major pieces of the new collection into a fitting room and test them out. Even now that the retail chapter of my life has ended, I continue to wander into stores for fit sessions. I live tweet my mall journeys and post pictures, always tilted slightly one way or the other, of suits and skirts and dresses and jeans.

I spent most of 2014 being "kind of blown away by" or "maybe [sold] on" the occasional jumpsuit seen on a celebrity at a red carpet event. I was warming to them outwardly but inwardly I struggled. I rarely took pictures of myself during jumpsuit try-ons. Something always felt off. The leg was too wide. It was too tight across the thighs. The crotch did unpleasant things. The top made my chest look as if it were bound. And yet I kept trying them on. It only took one pass at an off-the-shoulder top last summer to know that that trend was not for me. But in 2014 and early 2015, I couldn't shake myself free of the jumpsuit.

It took many frustrating months for me to find that first pair of skinny jeans, but I kept at it because I wanted them. I needed them. And what did I need nearly a decade later? A jumpsuit. I didn't know why. If I'm being honest, I rarely do when it comes to clothing with this strong a draw. There's no logic. Only longing. 

Almost exactly two years ago, I stepped into an H&M fitting room with a black, white, and gray jumpsuit covered in a big cat print. The color scheme was all me but on the hanger everything else about it was wrong. I rarely wear graphic prints. And it was, of course, a jumpsuit. I was years into my denial about them and happy to stay there. But then I put it on.
It was over. In an instant. Like magic. I couldn't find a single fault. More importantly, I was no longer interested in searching for one.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Second Skin

“I can’t believe I spent so much money on so little fabric.”

The dress didn’t look much shorter than my skirts and other dresses but once I tried it on I could see that it was cut closer to the body than I was used to. I gave my mother a smile and a thank you. It was easy to see why she had been drawn to it when looking for a present for me. It was a blue and white striped dress with thin lines of a bright yellow edging the blue stripes. In that way it was very me. The amount of blue and white striped clothing that I own borders on the obscene. Tees. Sweaters. Dresses. Blazers. Skirts. Too many items for my mother to not have taken notice of my addiction.

But that close cut kept me from wearing it until over a year later when I packed my bags and moved west.

After I bought my first pair of skinny jeans in my early 20s, I never looked back. I've dabbled here and there with a flare or a straight leg but for the most part my pants live close to my skin. I own more than one pair that requires me to hop around my room when pulling them on. But my skirts and dresses didn’t follow suit. The hemlines got shorter, much shorter, but they rarely sat close. If they did, they stayed buried deep in my closet. Even my pencil skirts, made of cotton and silk crepe, sit away from the surface of my skin. What rests beneath is only hinted at through the occasional, well-placed slit.

I wore that striped dress constantly during my first Los Angeles summer but that fact did not mean that I'd taken to it in the same way that I had to that first pair of skinny jeans years earlier. I loved it but was never exactly comfortable in it. My wardrobe was still in transition that first year, California Samantha still gestating, as my media-influenced ideas about Los Angeles style began to be replaced by the reality on the ground. I was surprised by the general looseness of everyone's clothes, especially the clothes of the people sharing my small corner of this sprawling city. The new pieces that entered my closet often took their lead from my neighbors' example. There were boxy shirt dresses and two jumpsuits with blouson tops. Seven soft and silky Everlane tees now live in my dresser. During my second summer, that striped dress made it out of my closet only twice.

It is possible to do something because you love it while also indulging in it because you fear its opposite.

A little over a month ago, I walked into the Urban Outfitters in Downtown Los Angeles in search of a pair of black ballet flats that I had seen on their website. They were nowhere to be found. I wandered to the sale section in search of nothing in particular and picked up a striped, knit skirt. When I stepped into the dressing room, I noted two things. Firstly, the skirt was longer than any I'd bought in the past couple of years. Secondly, it clung to every bit of me. To my hips and my thighs and my ass. If I were to throw a collarless tunic or a swing sweater on with it, as I often did with my skinny pants, it would look all wrong. There was no hiding in it.

I wasn't sure what I was thinking but I bought it. It was only $10 after all.


It didn't take long for me to wear it but then it never takes long for me to wear anything anymore. When I finally found a pair of denim overalls last Friday, I went home and immediately changed into them. I've learned that anything that I don't want to put on the moment I enter my door with it is something that I should return.


But just because I knew that I wanted to wear it didn't mean that I wasn't wary of it. That striped dress still sat in my closet waiting for the real heat of my third Los Angeles summer to descend or for me to get over myself, whichever came first. I thought of the skirt as a one-off. I was happy living my loose, swingy, and sometimes boxy life without much examination. But less than two weeks later, in a different store in search of a different item that was nowhere to be seen, I again wandered into the sale section where I came across a second skirt.


Firstly, it was longer than the last one. Secondly, it clung to every bit of me. To my hips and my thighs and my ass. There was no hiding in it. I wasn't sure what I was thinking but I bought it. It was only $10 after all.

I wore it almost immediately to a friend's reading on the west side that weekend. As I sat on the bus there trying not to fidget in it, I realized that maybe there was more to these impulse purchases. I sometimes forget that whimsy and happenstance should always be last on the list when I'm searching for a reason why I've done something. The skirts weren't evidence of a sea change per se but of a broadening of what I considered the right types of clothes for me.

Free from the worries and the turmoil of those years at home, an increased level of confidence has been creeping up on me. I shouldn't be surprised that it chose to manifest itself in my shopping habits.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Underneath

“No Padding Is Sexy Now!” It was raining softly that morning, which had drawn my gaze up and away from my phone as I headed into the mall on a recent Saturday. That “Now” caught my eye and pulled my focus from everything else. The pink striped border surrounding the store window. The image of a artfully windswept young woman frolicking...somewhere. The candy-colored bra that covered her perfectly perky breasts. It was in almost every way the same Victoria’s Secret image that I had seen repackaged over the years with different girls and different kinds of windswept hair. Usually my eyes would have slid over the image to focus on something else. But there was that “Now” asking me to inspect things in a way that I hadn’t felt the need to in years.






Many a mall retailer has had their moment in the sun, holding the style narrative by the throat and inspiring haters and imitators. Gap in the 1990s with its basics and its clever advertising campaigns for example. When one is in such control, it is easy to forget that it is a moment. There is a boom that will undoubtedly be followed by a bust. This is not pessimism, only realism and pragmatism. When one is not prepared for that bust, the fallout can be ugly. You can throw a stone and hit a story about the quagmire Gap Inc. still finds itself in almost a decade after its bust began. The good times lead to growth, of style lines and stores and expectations, so when the downside and the sharp pivot that often accompanies it come, there can be a derailment.

There was always a Victoria’s Secret catalog around the house during my childhood and adolescence. But then it was the 90s. There were a lot of catalogs in general. I remember this one more than the others because of its glossiness. Not the glossiness of the pages, all of the catalogs had that trait, but a glossiness of a different sort. Back then they sold a wide array of clothing, not just lingerie but a full swim and sportswear line as well. There were sun dresses and evening gowns. Bodysuits were everywhere alongside all sorts of tops with built-in bras. When I first began to take notice of the catalog, I, much to my chagrin, had no breasts to speak of. Inspired by a healthy diet of Judy Blume books and those catalogs, I prayed for the arrival of puberty with almost the same fervor that I prayed for my family to be kept safe and for my grades to remain excellent. Puberty came eventually and I relished the chance to finally wear the pretty little, soft-cupped, transitional bras for girls available at Filene’s.

Victoria's Secret isn't selling chinos, at least not anymore. It's not even really selling bras and underwear. What is it selling then? Corporate Sexiness. The padding is often thick. The lift is often high. Cheeks are firm. Nipples are never to be seen. The Pink line, made to tap into that enviable adolescent goldmine, is sweeter and softer but still covered in that sexy yet sexless sheen. They are selling an idea and a dream that can be tapped into only through the items that they have for sale. 

It wasn't only that idea and that dream and their accessibility that kept Victoria's Secret on top. How many other non-luxury retailers have lingerie as their primary focus? You can weave your way through Macy's or Marshall's or American Eagle to the lingerie section but few stores greet you at the door with a land full of bras and underwear and negligees. And because the main image has barely changed, that girl frolicking in an unknown somewhere with her windswept hair, you always know what you're going to get when you cross the threshold. Victoria's Secret's dream is presented in clear, bold type and you can find it in almost every mall in America and occasionally beamed into your home.

Chanel is also selling an idea and a dream but theirs is far harder to attain and much harder to define, and with that lack of definition comes a freedom of movement that Victoria's Secret lacks.

I spent the latter part of my adolescence giving little thought outside of function to the items that I wore under my clothes. I dabbled in “fun” underwear but I was a straight edge and a prude in a hate/hate relationship with my body. I was uncomfortable with these truths about myself but was yet to face that discomfort head on. And while I am loathe to admit it, many of my ideas about what lingerie was supposed to be and how one was supposed to look in it came from those catalogs and a small part of my prudish nature could be traced back to my discomfort with that Corporate Sexiness. 

What's eating at Victoria's Secret's control? The Fast Fashion giants, who are causing trouble for everyone, and a lack of traction in the much discussed athleisure market aren't helping but I think there is a broader cause for the slippage. 

No Padding Is Sexy Now!

Who says? Not Victoria's Secret at first. They are no longer the leader. They are the follower. Who are they following? There still isn't anyone who does exactly what they do. But the people who decide what is in style and, more importantly, what is not has broadened and deepened as the influence of the internet has grown. They came first for the clothes and the accessories but items are easier to pick away at than an idea, a story. Maybe that's why Victoria's Secret was blindsided?

They wouldn't be the first to underestimate the speed or strength of a sea change.