Monday, December 3, 2018

Déjà Vu

Phoebe Philo makes clothes for women. Hedi Slimane makes clothes for "women." 

I tweeted that to someone in the aftermath of the latter's first collection for Céline. Perhaps it was a tad unkind. A bit much. But I was upset. The dread I felt at the initial news of his appointment was so deep that I wiped it from my mind for a time. "I don't like this," I told a friend months after that announcement. She gently reminded me that I had already yelled about this particular subject to her. So I lived it twice, that rage and disappointment, before settling into a resigned posture. But as the fashion elite moved from New York to London to Milan and finally Paris in the early fall, my anxiety returned.

Sitting there at my desk watching the models stomp down the runway in a collection that was not at all new for Slimane, I considered laughing. From the first look with its short length and its oversized bow, it was obvious that we were being served Saint Laurent 2.0.

Can one successfully perform the same trick twice? I don't know although it was apparent on that morning that the decision makers at LVMH and Céline were betting heavily on the possibility. What I did know was that I could be unimpressed twice. When Slimane took over for Stefano Pilati at Yves Saint Laurent, I didn't have many expectations. I had heard of Slimane here and there in the fashion press before the news of his appointment was announced, but his tenure at Dior Homme ended before I began to turn my attention to menswear. I knew a couple of the buzzwords that circled his work. Skinny. Rocker. To my eye, there was a bit of sameness to all of it but then what did I know? Not much honestly about the business of menswear. And after many nervous seasons of chatter about Pilati's possible ousting, I knew that I would be fairly bitter about whoever replaced him no matter the style direction they chose to take the brand in.

After Céline 's Spring/Summer 2019 show ended, I dug through my tweets in search of my thoughts about his first Saint Laurent collection. I assumed that I had been mildly pissed but mostly indifferent. I was wrong.
Rage stings and it stains and this particular one apparently never left me.

I've never owned any Céline from the Philo era. I've never owned any Céline period. I've never more than touched it, fingertips brushing against a line of dresses on a rack as I walked the sales floor of various luxury department stores like the Barneys that sat in the mall where I spent the back half of my 20s treading water at a retail job. I was there often enough that one of the stylists in the women's ready-to-wear department would warmly greet me before leaving me to my worshipful reverie. These clothes and bags and shoes, so far outside of the reality of my life both then and now, are mostly a thought experiment for me. I look at runway and red carpet pictures and make sometimes delightful, sometimes insightful, sometimes snide assessments. I daydream often. About soft leather pencil skirts and cognac loafers and dresses of various (literal) stripes. In my life, the high fashion world lives in a liminal space between reality and mirage.

In spite of this distance, there are designers who create clothing with which I forge a personal connection. Or maybe that connection springs from said distance. I look but only barely touch and so a bit of the myth surrounding them remains intact. I can revere them because I am not aware of the flaws that live up close. Because of this distance I know that a not insignificant number of my biases are, at times, baseless. When I am being mature and reasonable and a bit cold, I stomp those biases dead as they begin to bloom. When I am none of those things, when I am rash and passionate, I can't help but let them grow.

The tip top of this industry is lacking in women at the fore, but it wasn't only Philo's womanhood that drew me to her designs first at Chloé and then at Céline. There are men who I love unabashedly and with few reservations. Dries Van Noten. Alber Elbaz (formerly of Lanvin). Billy Reid. Scott Sternberg (formerly of Band of Outsiders and currently of Entireworld) to name a few. And much like Slimane, a number of them started in menswear before moving into womenswear.

When the reservations do arise, they often come from the same place as my distaste for Slimane. A frustration when it becomes clear that these men have forgotten that they are designing for women and a woman's body. When it's obvious that just for a moment we became an abstract concept to them. Women are many things and our bodies are as varied as the stars that hang in the night sky so one might think this task wouldn't be all that difficult. Pick a woman, any woman, understand her to be a living, breathing, thinking thing and then continue from there. But that path trips up more people than you might imagine.
A friend and I were sitting on a familiar bar patio talking close that night. When I discuss fashion with people, the conversations are often mundane. This is lovely. That is horrifying. We remain on the surface level because I fear that a push deeper might begin to bore my partner. If not stopped, I can begin to spiral into arcane facts and sweeping pronouncements. I begin to talk about legacies born and history made. About the highly intellectual and the more earthbound emotions. The pieces that make me shriek or clap or shiver in anticipation. But there are times when I don't stop myself and become a different person. A talkative person. An easy person. None of that hard exterior that isn't really hard.

I wasn't expecting the shrieks or the claps or the shivers to appear as I watched the first Slimane for Céline show. I knew it wouldn't be like the morning I stood with my laptop sitting on my mother's ironing board becoming increasingly enthralled by an otherworldly Alexander McQueen show. I knew I wouldn't be consumed by a deep sadness and a deeper appreciation like I was when watching the closing, rainbow light show of Christopher Bailey's final collection for Burberry. I had come to appreciate, like, and even covet some of his work at Saint Laurent. His brief return to couture right before his departure comes to mind. In those proportions and with that craftsmanship, I became enamored with his vision for a moment. But only a moment.

I wanted something different here. Something new. Not necessarily for me and my body but something beyond that limited, stilted concept of a woman. Because I loved Philo's Céline. Because I loved the woman she was making clothes for. Because I had given my heart to the brand. A silly, juvenile move but, as is often the way with such things, it occurred without my knowledge. And when you give your heart to something or someone, you hope for a gift in return.

I wonder what she'll do next and what he'll do next. I hope for a Céline collection in this new era that stirs that joy and that lust, but I'm not sure if I'll ever find it with him.

Saint Laurent, Fall/Winter 2016


Céline, Spring/Summer 2019

Photos via

Friday, September 14, 2018

In Full Bloom

There are motifs that never disappear from fashion. They appear no matter the decade or the dominant color story of the season. They show up again and again despite the industry's thirst for the new. So we get used to them. We get bored of them. We scoff and talk about a lack of freshness and an abundance of predictability. I am not immune to this behavior. I wish that I were, but it is easy when one is fifty collections deep in a particular season to fall back on the glib and the snide because those are the simplest words to reach for through the fog of your mental exhaustion.

Floral prints greet us every spring and summer without fail and, as Miranda Priestly cuttingly noted, they are anything but groundbreaking. They are at a minimum expected. They are at a maximum uninspired.

It rained throughout the winter before last in Los Angeles. I dusted off my Chelsea-style rain boots and stomped through the rivers that ran down our poorly draining streets. At times, the rain shifted from heavy, steady drops to gray sheets of unpleasantness. The late spring of 2009 in my hometown of Boston had been a wet, dreary affair but winter rain is different. Winter rain here in this land generally full of sunshine is especially different. I finally understood why longtime residents and those for whom this part of California has always been home complain about rain so much. Little of the variety that I grew up with back east exists here. Warm spring rains. Humidity-busting summer downpours. Sun showers that compel you to tilt your face skyward, eyes closed as drops plop gently on your cheeks. Despite the monotony of that Los Angeles winter rain, I knew something joyful would greet me at the end of it all. Something I had not seen in my then three years in this city. Something that would finally arrive after years of a drought that predated my arrival.

The spring that followed dropped heavily upon the city. The hills and mountains were a deep green. Trees bowed their heads under the weight of fragrant flowers. Cacti I had never seen bloom suddenly sprouted petals in a deep coral hue. A friend lamented that she had moved back east just in time to miss Los Angeles' first true spring in years. Facebook and Instagram and Twitter were full of people trekking inland to see the Super bloom. I had not been behind the wheel of a car in over a decade, so I took joy in what I could like the views from the patio of the hilltop house where I rent a room and the vistas that blurred in my windows on long bus rides.

Fertility. Birth. Rebirth. By their nature, flowers are wrapped up in all of these signposts of spring. And for reasons that need no explanation, these signposts are often associated with the complex concept that is The Feminine. From there they get jumbled up with tangential ideas. Purity. Beauty. Romantic love. It is through these lenses that we often view floral prints. There are designers who can take these classic threads and create pieces that are inspiring and eye-catching, pieces that feel light and sweet but never shallow. In the past few years, I've found myself enamored with Luisa Beccaria. I look through her collections and imagine a world in which I would feel the urge to put dresses like those on my body. I wonder if some of the heaviness that burdens my mind and my soul would float off as if repelled by the goodness of the garments.

It takes a fine hand to play with that sweetness. One can easily swing into the saccharine or the cliché. Vogue puts a young, white, blonde actress who has recently passed into adulthood on its cover wearing a blooming headpiece and you shake your head at the lack of subtlety. Bothersome questions for which you already have the answers make your skin itch. Who is allowed the space to be "sweet"? Who is seen as "innocent" without any qualifiers? The next year Vogue wreaths the heads of two black women in flowers and you chide yourself for forgetting all that flowers can mean. But the questions remain because you know that part of the reason they meant more here was that they would never be used in that simplistic matter for these women or the girls who share their skin. An unfair assessment of the people in charge of crafting many of the images seen in this industry? Perhaps. Although a piece of you knows deep down that you're right.

As I've gotten older, I have become less and less of a fan of symbolic anvils or sledgehammers. Purity placed on a pedestal and discussions that flatten a woman's sexuality turn me off. A few years ago there was a collection with dresses that made the models appear to be emerging from a grouping of petals. "These girls are in bloom and ready to be plucked," they screamed. I rolled my eyes in response.

When the Spring/Summer 2018 collections began to walk down runways and stand languidly in presentation spaces last September, the floral prints were inescapable. This wasn't their usual return. This was overwhelming. This was intoxicating. This was Los Angeles in spring after a winter of hard rains. I was going to write about them then. I started to write about them then. But as with most of my recent projects not commissioned by someone else, I left a half-finished draft to rot in a neglected Word document.

I didn't expect an early screening of Crazy Rich Asians to be what brought me back here to these year-old paragraphs and half-finished thoughts, but on that mid-August evening there was our heroine, Rachel Chu, greeting the family of her boyfriend in a procession of flowers. Correction, the greeting had already happened and the flowers were nowhere to be seen dressed as she was first in a red cocktail dress favored by her mother and then in disco-tinged Missoni stripes borrowed from her friend. The flowers showed up in the back half of the movie when the conflicts that had been simmering beneath the surface came to the fore. They started quietly enough, a yellow flower against a deep blue backdrop that reminded me of a printed dress I'd worn in the fall of 7th grade. They culminated in a cloud of tulle in shades of sweet blue. "Why that color?" someone asked as I took to Twitter to discuss the movie after its release.

Cinderella obviously.

Flowers for fighting. Flowers for standing one's ground. Flowers for asserting one's worth. Not dainty or fragile. Anything but weak.

Two days ago I read back through my tweets about Spring/Summer 2018 to remind myself why I was compelled to start all of this a year ago. It couldn't have just been the abundance. Goodness knows I'll likely never feel the need to sit with a glass of rosé and scribble on and on in my notebook about the recent return of the peplum or the baffling resurgence of the bucket hat without the hope of a paycheck at the end of my trials. Once I was again among those clothes, it was instantly clear why these prints had grabbed me. It was that depth and that breadth. They had kept me from doing what would have been so easy, falling back on the glib and the snide because those would have been the simplest words to reach for through the fog of my mental exhaustion.

Flowers are for congratulation, celebration, and mourning. They can hide dark secrets and deep shames. They can mark the passage of time. So in no particular order, here is a small taste of what was offered a year ago.

At Zac Posen

At Preen by Thornton Bregazzi

At Alexander McQueen

 At Valentino

At Mary Katrantzou

At Markus Lupfer

At Delpozo

At Dries Van Noten

At Cushnie et Ochs (now Cushnie)

At Commes des Garçons

At Johanna Ortiz

At Erdem

At For Restless Sleepers

The fashion calendar is oddly timed and needs revising, but I've always loved the bittersweet feelings stirred up by looking at all of these sundresses and bathing suits and shorts as summer takes its last breathes. Of course I watch from afar now. But Los Angeles has been a bit moody recently, beset with a morning chill that sometimes takes until the late afternoon to lift, and so the bittersweet returned.

New York Fashion Week has ended now and everyone has moved on to London. Yellow was everywhere. Despite my distaste for them, bucket hats stuck around. The sheers menace that has haunted formalwear for nearly a decade seems to be going nowhere. The flowers were there as they always are but not in the same sweeping manner as the year prior. Maybe things will change in London, Milan, and Paris but I doubt it. This new set of collections will likely resemble the spring we most recently had in Los Angeles, beautiful yet muted in comparison to the one before.

Images via

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Put It Up

Sometimes things burrow beneath my skin and I can't shake the ill feelings that they cause. Slights and grudges and misspoken words take up space I'd prefer not to give them. I wish it weren't the case, especially at those times when the discussion is, if I think about it for a moment, far removed from me and this life that I'm living. But some feelings can't be helped because I know that the words igniting them are tied to bigger, nastier ideas.

At 3:20 AM on Saturday, May 19th, I sat in a Lake Tahoe hotel suite with a small group of friends as we waited for things to begin. I had arrived only three hours earlier after a number of travel woes. Too exhausted to sleep, I snatched a 90-minute nap before the day's festivities. And so while running on fumes with a navy and white fascinator on my head, a lounging jumpsuit and fancy robe on my body, and my laptop set on the coffee table in front of me with Twitter open, I settled in to experience a wedding I'd been waiting months to watch.
For my own well-being, I have steered clear of most of the wildly racist commentary that has been, well, everywhere since the world became aware of the relationship between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. But there was always going to be talk that found its way around my carefully constructed walls. The smaller, insidious comments have a way of sneaking in, and I shouldn't have been surprised that these painful pricks arrived via an area of my life that I leave the least protected.
Fashion Twitter, of which I consider myself a marginal member, is full of nitpickers. Where else can one find people yelling excitedly about someone flouting the theme at the annual Met Gala? Generally I find this social media corner a comfort. Here are other people who care not only about clothes but also about what people are trying to say with their clothes. It was no surprise then that when Meghan and Harry was confirmed, and especially after her Vanity Fair cover and subsequent appearance by his side at the Invictus Games in Toronto, the fashion media sat up and took notice. Women in such positions have the ability to make or break brands. Sometimes the making can lead to the breaking. This wasn't only about pretty clothes. It was also about business and symbolism. To ignore her choices at that point would have been foolish.
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex (née Markle) is biracial and not in the business of allowing anyone to forget that she is half-black. I have no official data on this front but it wouldn't be wild to assume that there have never been that many black people in St. George's Chapel at one time. Despite my body feeling broken on that still dark Saturday morning, my mind was delightfully awake and looking forward to the black gospel choir, the black bishop, and the black cellist who were to be part of the ceremony. As we watched the guests arrive, I was full of joy and thoughts of romance. And then, all of a sudden, I was full of red-hot rage.
It took quite awhile for my somewhat adolescent giddiness to subside after the engagement announcement, and so it wasn't until her third post-engagement official event in a rainy Cardiff, Wales that I begin to notice that one of Meghan's hairstyle had been termed a "messy bun."

I didn't see anything messy about it but then, outside of the sculptural coifs I remember seeing in pictures from the hair shows my older sister took part of in the 1990s, I have grown a personal distaste for hairdos that are stiff and shellacked. To my eyes, her hair looked relaxed and protective, a simple fix for anyone who has to worry about the havoc humidity will wreak on naturally curly hair that has been straightened.

A spot of emotional rot began to bloom within me, and as I realized that the conversation after her first official event with that hair had moved beyond basic descriptor to whether or not said "messy bun" was appropriate my uneasiness only grew. "Why not call it a loose chignon?" a friend asked recently. It was a good question coming from a rational place. But then she was not part of the demographic I was concerned with. Most, although not all, of the criticism was coming from the mouths of white women. A tweet saying that the updo wasn't "royal hair" floated across my timeline soon after that Cardiff event, and I was left wondering what exactly constituted "royal hair." I already knew the answer. My ears are attuned to dog whistles about black people, especially those concerning black women and girls.

I have lived 35 years with my hair. I have had strangers and acquaintances and "friends" make comments that no one asked for or feel free to touch it without permission. I have watched news segments and read stories about children sent home from school because their similar hair styled in any number of ways was seen as untamed. Unkempt. Inappropriate. I knew I wasn't upset at nothing.
There is something that happens to some white women, an ugliness that rises from their chests, when a black woman is successful. The success can be big or small. It can be in any arena. All that matters is the fact that she is existing and thriving. The darkness is only amplified when the success occurs in the public eye and when the position the black woman occupies is seen as enviable. There are too many examples to list here, enough examples to fill a dissertation, but all one has to do is look at any of the coverage of Michelle Obama during her time in the White House or, more specifically if you'd like, the many op-eds that were written about Beyoncé after her most recent pregnancy announcement. I wonder what it takes to put fingers to keyboard and write something dripping with that level of irrationality and hate. But then I know the answer to that question as well.
"Words mean things," I say to myself at times while making my way through essays or news stories or the quagmire of Twitter. I'm not only speaking of definitions, although there are some who choose to ignore even that basic foundation. I'm also speaking of the text within the text. Words don't only mean things. They mean things. They have been dragged through history's muck. They are stained by it, especially when used to describe certain groups. Especially when coming out of the mouth or the pen of the powerful few.
I am not innocent here. As I’ve gotten older and, one hopes, wiser, I try to think about why I feel the urge to use certain words to describe certain people and things. But I don’t catch everything. There are times when I put my foot firmly in my mouth. In those moments, I feel shame, disgust, and remorse. These are hard feelings to allow to sit inside you. They are hard feelings to allow to do their important work. It is easier to violently push them away or ignore them. It is easier to lash out at the person who has taken up the sometimes painful task of calling you on it. It is easier to apologize without ever actually saying that you are sorry.
What would a true admission of guilt mean? That you are fallible? That you are susceptible to intellectual frailty? That you occasionally let society and the legacy of our world’s tortured history infect your thoughts? If that is what it would mean, then I welcome you to being alive and awake in 2018.
I expected there to be both positive and negative critiques of the dress. I would expect nothing less of my fellow fashion watchers, and yet my stomach was in knots even before the "messy bun" statements sent me flying into a rage. A couple of days prior while looking at pictures of Meghan arriving in Windsor, a thought popped into my head unwanted and unbidden. “I hope she wears her hair down for the wedding so I don’t have to hear anyone’s nasty complaints about it.” I berated myself for retreating to the box I subjected my younger self to in an effort to dodge scrutiny and criticism when in predominately white spaces. It is a habit that I've mostly grown out of at this point but there are moments when I backslide.

I was tired. I am tired. Physically obviously but also mentally and emotionally. A year or two ago I would have been able to brush it off. Brushing it off has always been part of surviving. Why should I care about the statements of people who aren't even aware of the shit that they have internalized? Who has time for those who want to live an unexamined life for fear of the work that living the opposite would entail? And yet here I am more sensitive ever.

Sensitive and in the right.

Thankfully the sometimes cowardly ways of a woman watching from nearly 6,000 miles away had absolutely no effect on the styling decisions that were made for that perfectly sunny day. She wore her hair up all the better to complement the neckline of the dress that Clare Waight Keller had created for her. And when her future husband lifted her veil all I saw was a face beaming happiness.

In the hours following the wedding while still too tired to sleep, I read a couple of pieces about The Dress. Both reached the same conclusion about what was being said with her choice.

At The New York Times:

It was not a Cinderella choice, not one that spoke of fantasy or old-fashioned fairy tales, but one that placed the woman proudly front and center. It underscored Ms. Markle’s own independence by divesting her of frippery, while also respecting tradition and keeping her covered up. It celebrated female strength in the rigorous nature of its line — six exactingly placed seams — the substance of its fabric (double-bonded silk cady), and the choice of designer: a British woman who, as a statement from Kensington Palace read, had “served as the creative head of three globally influential fashion houses — Pringle of Scotland, Chloé, and now Givenchy.”

At The Washington Post:

The dress, designed by Clare Waight Keller, was free of extravagant embellishments. It was not covered in yards of delicate lace. It did not have a single ruffle — no pearls or crystals. Its beauty was in its architectural lines and its confident restraint. It was a romantic dress, but one that suggested a clear-eyed understanding that a real-life romance is not the stuff of fairy tales. The dress was a backdrop; it was in service to the woman. The woman. That’s what the dress emphasized. Not bridal whimsy. Not princess tropes. Not royal pomp. The former actress, the former blogger, the formerly single lady, now has the title Duchess of Sussex. But she is still Meghan.

It's a conclusion that I also came to and one that I believe extends to her hair and makeup.

I stayed away from pieces about those items. I still had walls to maintain after all even if they were doing their job poorly. And I still had things to enjoy in spite of it all.

Images via, via

Friday, March 23, 2018

A Mission, a Mark, a Brand, a Logo

I returned to my mother's house in the late spring of 2005 with a trunk filled with linens, books that I couldn't bear to resell, a stack of fashion magazines, a diploma, and a Coach bag. At least it had been sold to me as a Coach bag when I had foolishly overdrawn my account when buying it on eBay a few weeks prior to graduation. I had spent ages closely examining the shape of its iconic C's in the images posted by the seller. The colorful pieces of suede resembled waves and were assembled much as they had been when Summer Roberts carried the same bag in a different colorway on an episode of The O.C. The one that would soon be mine featured fabric strips full of those C's I craved in addition to the suede and leather. But when it arrived, it became obvious that it was not the real deal. It was the small things, like the uneven stitching along the edges of its straps, that revealed the truth to me. I knew others wouldn't nitpick it in the same way, would think its various shades of pink lovely, and would never question its authenticity. But I never carried it, could never bring myself to carry it. Instead I stuffed it with the bank statement outlining my folly and hid it in a closet.

I already owned a Coach bag, a simple, slouchy hobo in brown suede that had been a Christmas surprise after a first semester of pretty good grades during my freshman year of college. For reasons that could fill a novella, the pretty good grades were not long for this world. That hobo, however, went out with me last month as I drank wine while in the midst of a cliché fit of Valentine's Day melancholy. Those iconic C's live on the lining and nowhere else. On its surface with patches worn smooth with age and much use, the bag proclaims itself as coming from nowhere and belonging to no one. I've come to love that mystery, but at 22 and in the midst of reacquainting myself with my childhood love of fashion, I craved something that did the opposite.

I may not write about fashion collections in the way that I used to, Favorites of the Day and posts brimming with suits and coats, but I still make my way through every collection I can get my hands on. It was while in the middle of the Pre-Fall 2018 offerings that the logos popped out to me. There had been a sharp move away from them in ready-to-wear after the heady days of the first of the Murakami for Louis Vuitton collaborations, Juicy-stamped behinds, and Fendi baguettes carried by Carrie Bradshaw. To wear a logo is to strongly swear allegiance, to mark oneself. To act as ambassador and billboard. But as the economy shuddered near the end of 2000s, a fall into anonymity was to be expected, especially on the higher end. Things began to recover of course and other trends, colors and prints and blown out silhouettes came and went and came again, but the logos remained buried. Normcore became a buzzword then a joke then a way of life for those in certain circles. The influence of Everlane, Mansur Gavriel, and their cousins spread. Kinfolk with its minimal aesthetic was crowned The Last Lifestyle Magazine.

And so I forgot about the logos for a time. It was easy enough to do. I am in the midst a years-long journey of stripping my wardrobe bare of colors and prints and other things that might, at a cursory glance, stamp it as of a particular time. But I should have known better than to ignore them. This has been a decade of retreads to the point of worry, a circling of the same half-century for inspiration. In ten or twenty years will there be any way to know that an item of clothing is from the 2010s? There will be other context clues, hair and makeup and atmosphere, but the distance between a 2016 bodysuit and a 1993 bodysuit is small.

Why we returned to the 1970s or 1980s or 1990s at any particular point in the past eight years is a mystery that I generally don't try to solve. Mostly I sigh and think here come the strong shoulders again and again and again. Even as the extreme low rises and track suits of my college years reemerged, I thought little of the why and mostly of how fast time gets away from you. But I can't get this new wave of logomania out of my head. The Fall/Winter 2018 collections did nothing to help matters. The distaste among those sitting at the top of the fashion hierarchy seemed so strong for so long that I honestly thought the logos would never return, at least not to the ready-to-wear stage.

We've lived through a decade of dire retail news. "Apocalypse" has been thrown around a lot recently. Various strategies flung at walls to see what sticks. An increased focus on one's menswear arm. Transformation into a lifestyle brand. See Now, Buy Now. Chicken sans head is the perpetual mood. As the turmoil and angst continued even after the economy as a whole began to recover, logos were an easy target. They played the sad opposition in writing about the rise of the minimal squad. Easier to blame logos than some unwieldy shift in when we shop and where we shop and how much we shop. Yet the deeper I got into the Pre-Fall 2018 collections, the brighter the light shining off of the logos became. As that season wrapped up and everyone began preparing for the runways of New York, I received an email from Gap announcing their logo remix collection promoted by a group of bright young things.

The Gap of 2018 is not the Gap of my teens. If they were on this bandwagon then I had missed the signs of its coming. Or I had chosen to ignore them.

My indifferent feelings about a handful of brands and their creative directors are obvious to anyone adept at deciphering passive aggressive tweets. One friend is amused by all of this, my eye rolls and sighs and jokes about fashion nemeses. But it was there in their work, and in the land of athleisure, where the logos began reemerging. Jeremy Scott landed at Moschino. Demna Gvasalia and Vetements blew up seemingly overnight before he went on to replace Alexander Wang at a Balenciaga that didn't know what it wanted to be after Ghesquière's sudden departure. Alessandro Michele got promoted at Gucci.

One could put all of this on athleisure's rise. Yes, Valentino took a whirl through le sportif. And yes, Karl sent sneakers down Chanel's couture runways but that influence has always been more about style and silhouette than loud naming. The iconic Nike swoosh never went anywhere, the taint that covered ready-to-wear logos never really touching it, but neither did the staying power of it and its cousins have much to do with this particular return. And where does Supreme fit in this equation? There have been many many words written about the brand by people better equipped at understanding it than I. Best to leave it to them.

So let's start at the beginning as it seems only right that I go back and examine in order the points at which I closed my eyes. Scott was named the creative director of Moschino in the fall of 2013. (Somehow I'd forgotten that it happened that long ago. Anyone staying put for more than three years feels like a rarity nowadays, an achievement to be lauded.) The Moschino name is everywhere in Scott's work. Here it was that first season irreverently twisted and folded into a form reminiscent of McDonald's golden arches. And then there it was stamped on prescription pills and their accompanying bottles. His work immediately became the stuff of a fashion influencer's dreams as well as catnip for street style photographers. It was an aggressive wink at our consumer culture, and, therefore, you could almost convince yourself that these weren't the same as the logos of yore. They were fun! They were joking! Just don't look at them too hard or too long.

Gvalasia wasn't known for his brand's eponymous work, at least not at first. People weren't walking the streets in sweaters and tees stamped with Vetements. Instead DHL and its easily recognizable shades of yellow and red lived on tees costing hundreds of dollars. One might put this work in the same class as Scott and his golden Moschino arches but there was something more sly happening here, something that made my skin crawl. Could I put my finger on it? Not really. It would be odd to express a discomfort with late stage capitalism on a blog where I so often write of luxury but I think that might have been what it was. And so when Gvalasia landed at Balenciaga, my hackles went up. He wasn't really to blame for my apathy laced with distaste. I could deal with Vetements as an entity that had sway over the way that the fashion world was moving, but his appointment at Balenciaga, a brand that had been pivotal in my mid-late 2000s fashion reeducation, left me with a sinking, queasy feeling. Once there, he went the route Scott had taken at Moschino, albeit with a more serious tone, and I recoiled. I turned away from 2016 election throwbacks. I broke my pact with myself to merely subtweet those designers and brands that I did not care for. And at times, I stopped paying attention altogether.

And that brings us to Michele. Everything leads back to Michele nowadays, doesn't it? I'm still waiting for the inevitable bursting of that bubble, and in that in-between space, I forgot that everyone would need to fall in line in every possible way before the cracks would truly begin to appear. I forgot that I still needed to pay very close attention.

He has been doing the most traditional logo work of the trio. This was the interlocking G's as central talking point. This was the classic red, blue, and green stripes in fur coat form. This was Gucci front and center again and again. It was the old way. Yes, it was infused with his eccentric, sometimes chaotic, style profile (Guccify Yourself!), but it was still the old way. It was what I thought we were to leave buried in the past. This new yet old direction wasn't without controversy. Michele liked playing with the idea of fakes, sending pieces marked with Guccy down his runway, and ran into a wave of criticism when he took "inspiration" from the work of Dapper Dan, a king in that space. He mostly fended off that controversy by having Gucci team up with the man himself. This particular bit of the tale all makes sense if one thinks about it for a moment for in Michele's work there is an air of unconcern about the very thing that helped bring down the logo in the first place.

Fakes and knockoffs never stopped existing. In fact, I'd say that they've flourished in this decade. I spent months taking note of copies of a Rag & Bone sweater at stores ranging in price point from Charlotte Russe to H&M to Banana Republic. Before Nasty Gal's sale to Boohoo, their original offerings were often anything but. I walk through Zara picking out Dolce & Gabbana floral prints and Céline heel shapes. Is this new? Of course not. But the fast fashion juggernaut, another of the factors often cited when discussions of retail's demise occur, can't follow this new yet old trend. No one wants to risk the legal wrath of Fendi if you cover a sweater in their logos. Zara may be able to fend off the indie artists that it often steals from but they are not going to take on a well-established, heritage brand. (Forever 21 is an outlier in this regard. They are currently locked in legal battles with Adidas and Gucci although I think even they wouldn't go so far as to stamp another brand's name on, for example, a hoodie.) And so what have the logos and the like become now? They swear allegiance and mark their wearers. They let loyalists act as ambassador and billboard. They staunch the bleeding.

No wonder Gap was so drawn to the idea of them.

Early last month, I decided that it was time for the Everlane tote I used as my work bag to be retired. It had endured many bus rides, a vinaigrette incident, and an encounter with a shitting pigeon near the corner of 5th and Broadway in Downtown Los Angeles. But when I accidentally knocked iced coffee off of my desk and onto it, I knew it was the end. That day I took to Twitter asking which of three similarly anonymous options I should replace it with. I knew the answer already. I often do when asking such questions but I'm always curious to see if someone will change my mind. If they will expose me to some fact that I am missing. In the end, I went with the same bag with a coated base in black to better protect it from commute grime and my penchant for spilling. But that first gray Everlane hadn't always been my work go-to.

When I moved across the country four springs ago, I brought a red, quilted Coach tote with me. Much like the brown suede hobo, it had been a Christmas present from my mother. Not that I had done anything in the preceding six years of my life to earn it or deserve it. I think for my mother those college years represent the best version of Samantha, which is why she still sometimes defaults to Coach bag as gift. I never carried it in Boston. I couldn't imagine stuffing it into the small locker that I shared at my part-time retail job or bringing it along with me to the $6 movie matinees that I frequented. But in Los Angeles, in a new life, I thought it might have a place. I was drawn to its candy apple color and finish, but that finish would be its downfall. Five days a week on my shoulder or in my hand was too much for its straps, and they began to crack. It went back to my mother and then back to Coach but there was nothing to be done. I put it, still in the box in which it was mailed back to me, on the shelf in my closet next to an old comforter.

My new gray tote with its black base arrived soon after my informal Twitter poll, but there was something different about it. Pinned to one corner was an enamel pin, white with a black trim and inside its rectangular shape in black and raised was one word, EVERLANE. I unpinned it from the bag and looked it over before leaving it on the wooden ledge of a large mirror in my bedroom next to earrings and nail polishes and lipsticks.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Time Machine

It's a pretty standard awards show photograph. The stars of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Blake Lively, Amber Tamblyn, America Ferrera, and Alexis Bledel, stand arm in arm at the Nicklelodeon Kids' Choice Awards in the spring of 2005 and smile into the camera. They’re all dressed in some version of one of the dominant fashion items of the time: lowcut, flared jeans. Blake has a pink belt around her hips that ignores the loops at the waist of her cuffed, distressed denim. It's paired with a tank layered under a cropped, sheer, and sequined t-shirt. Amber is the most ornate of the bunch with her gold buttoned, sailor-style jeans, many long necklaces, bejeweled top, bejeweled earrings, and bejeweled belt, which sits high above her waist. America wears a lacy top and a metallic brocade blazer that tries and fails to challenge Amber's look for ornate dominance. Alexis, the most casual of the four, is wearing a floral print halter in a hue that fits in with the pink theme they all seem to have settled on. 

None of these looks would have struck me as anything but normal at the time. Every piece was certainly more expensive than anything living in my closet at that moment but otherwise they were similar in almost every way. In fact, somewhere in my dorm room that same spring was a floral print halter in black, white, and yellow that had returned to campus with me after my semester abroad.

I was on the cusp of 22 that spring and while I vividly remember other awards shows from that era, I was long past the age of caring about or paying attention to this one. The event came and went and rated barely a mention as I prepared for my final handful of weeks as an undergraduate. I would go and see the movie when it premiered in theaters a little over two months later, but this awards show appearance had nothing to do with that decision. I’ve always liked movies about female friendships that endure in the face of life’s trials and tribulations. I figured this latest installment would be worth my time. It didn’t disappoint, leaving me feeling happy and light and a bit teary. So when the sequel arrived three years later, I didn’t hesitate to once again make my way to the theater. While my movie watching habits had changed little in the interim, by 2008 my personal style had moved on in ways both big and small. The floral print halter top that I had only seen fit to wear once was buried and forgotten. In the middle of 2006, I bought my first pair of skinny jeans and was forever lost to anything with a wide leg. I stopped wearing heels. Those were the big, tectonic style shifts. But more important were the changes that were simply an effect of the passage of time. You wear through things. Colors fade. Your wardrobe turns over slowly until one day you look up and almost all of the old is gone.

That awards show picture didn’t reenter my life until the spring of 2015 when I came across it in a retrospective of early and mid-2000s red carpet looks. This time it stuck. Murmurs about the return of trends from that era, like bucket hats and the Juicy Couture track suit, had begun to enter my daily fashion reading and for that reason my brain couldn't shake the picture loose. Because the fashion industry can't help but examine its past and mine it for treasure, in the past decade, we've had the 1980s, 1990s, 1970s, and 1990s (again) all make their way back, in that order, to relevance and sales floors. And so for the past two years I have been unable to stop thinking about when, not if, the clothing and shoes that defined my collegiate life, platform flips flips and handkerchief hems that fell to some no man's land near my mid-calf, would have a true renaissance. When would this photo begin appearing on Tumblr or Pinterest as inspiration for someone’s spring aesthetic? Would I be prepared for that return?

When I entered college in the fall of 2001, I was free for the first time from the types of picture taking moments that define a childhood, first days of school and dances and portraits featuring loose ribbons and laser backgrounds. My response to that freedom was to rarely let others take pictures of me. I've always been mildly awkward in photographs, unsure how to stand or where to put my arms or how much to smile. But suddenly I had the chance to duck out of them, and I savored it. In that in between space before the arrival of the many, mostly unavoidable, ways in which we now capture and share images, there is a something resembling a Samantha-sized blank spot. The pictures that do exist are mostly of the physical sort, stuffed in their original envelopes from CVS and Walgreens instead of tucked safely into albums like those from my childhood. They live somewhere in my mother’s house where I left them when I moved across the country to Los Angeles in the spring of 2014. I assumed that those items, the items full of sentiment and memory instead of utility, would follow once I had settled in. But after nearly three years, I find myself surrounded by the new memories I have made here and few of the old.

When the 1980s and 1990s made their fashion returns, I was either living in my hometown of Boston or not far off in Brooklyn. Photographic evidence of what I wore the first time round either surrounded me, in albums or on walls in my childhood home, or could be easily seen with the purchase of a $15 bus ticket carrying me north. I could look at pictures of denim vests worn over long floral dresses or an old pair of neon platforms from The Wild Pair that inexplicably still took up space in my old bedroom and chuckle. Why was I doing that? would eventually lead to Do you remember when you were 13 and sneakily wore a crop top to camp only to have your ruse discovered by your mother who promptly grounded you for what would be the first and last time? And that was it. Suddenly I would be lost to reverie.

My memory has always been good. It holds on to things that I want it to as well as those I would rather not remember. But as I’ve gotten older, prompts have become more necessary for those trips into the past. Without the photographs, the few I allowed to be taken and the many that I wormed my way out of, I look at this awards show picture with its lack of belts worn either at all or as belts are generally meant to be worn, and remember that I never wore belts with my (almost definitely) bootcut jeans in the early 2000s. I can't do that anymore. Leaving without a belt situated firmly in the loops of my (almost definitely) skinny jeans leaves me unsettled now. But among the abandoned pictures is one of me taken soon after midnight on my 21st birthday on the dance floor of a London club. I am wearing a crisp cotton tube top from Topshop. It was white with diagonal pinstripes in a rainbow array and a side tie detail at the waist. I hadn’t learned how to effectively wear boxy items and was years away from realizing that strapless tops were not my friend and so I looked a little out of proportion. I am smiling and there is tinsel in my hair from a cracker that my roommates had snuck into the place. And my bootcut jeans are worn without a belt and the wide smile and the hand jauntily placed on one hip would make it appear that I could not care less. My only thoughts are about which colorful drink I would have next and where the chocolate confection my roommates had stuck a candle in had gone off to. There was no fear that I might look back one day and find myself ridiculous. There was no knowledge that looking at this past self would lead me down some rabbit hole about time and life and things old and new.

Because accessories and denim and birthdays aren't the only reasons I keep coming back to that image of four young women with questions rushing through my head. It’s the short amount of time that has elapsed between now and then. Trends seem to be returning at a faster rate, the fashion cycle shortening, and that quickening merry-go-round makes time appear to race forward in a flash. But then maybe it's not the clothes' fault, this odd nausea that comes and makes me want to scream "it's too soon!" Maybe I am simply getting older and time is becoming a far more slippery thing. Maybe things are moving at the same rate they always have and I am moving slower.

Image via

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