Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Shifting Winds

When one thinks of the fashion offerings that emerge from Milan semi-annually, what are the words that spring to mind? Sultry? Seductive? Some other s-fronted word of similar meaning? If one were talking about the Milan of old, these words would be apt descriptors. But in the fashion world, talk of a new mood has overtaken discussions about the city. Almost all of the chatter has been positive. The roots of this new landscape seem to have only sprouted recently but I believe an earlier event allowed them the space to take hold. The dizzying pace of change at brands, the pace that leaves no one safe from the whims of their board, their investors, or their own creative fatigue, has infected Milan as much as it has the other major fashion capitals. Despite all of the changes at houses like Jil Sander, Emilio Pucci, and Philosophy, to name a few, most of the discussions about the new Milan have centered on the most recent upheavals at Gucci.

After the exit of Tom Ford in 2004, Gucci experienced its fair share of turbulence before finally settling in with Frida Giannini at the creative helm and Patrizio di Marco presiding over the business concerns. But in late 2014, Giannini and di Marco were rather unceremoniously ousted and Alessandro Michele, a virtual unknown outside of the company, was quickly put in place as the creative lead. Sales had stagnated at the powerhouse brand, especially as the fashion world moved further and further away from its obsession with logos, and a change was coming eventually. However, no one predicted the manner in which it would arrive.

Everyone loves a bit of drama with a side of intrigue and while such fireworks can be thrilling, they can also distract one from the other, quieter causes of certain effects. Milan has always been about more than simply sex. The work of Miuccia Prada exists in its own peculiar and often charming galaxy. Jil Sander continues to put forth a sleek minimalism whether or not its founder is in control. The full-throttle glamour of Giorgio Armani still dazzles. But not all that long ago the influence of brands such as Versace, Roberto Cavalli, Dolce & Gabbana, and more recently Dsquared² and Fausto Puglisi, could at times seem to overwhelm the city’s fashion narrative.

In the late 2000s, with the financial crisis yet to consume us all, Dolce & Gabbana left that fold and set off a ripple with effects unknown at that time. The Fall 2007 show, fronted by then catwalk regular Gisele, was shiny, tight, and sexy. Dolce & Gabbana had always done that better than most.

But when Natasha Poly walked down the runway the next season in a full-skirted confection in a color that resembled the sky on a perfect, spring day, it was the opening of a new chapter for the brand.

That romantic, feminine mood built from look to look until the finale, which featured blown-out florals with the hint of graffiti to them in skirts even fuller than the one that opened the show.

I remember looking at the pictures and questioning what had caused this seismic shift. There had been no shakeups in the creative leadership like those seen at Gucci in the preceding years. I pored over the images from the collection in search of the reason behind the move. Some brands foster excitement by making 180 degree turns every season while others stir up similar feelings by finding new ways to express that which has always defined them. I had gotten used to Dolce & Gabbana being the former. At the time I assumed the change would be short-lived, a brief cleansing breath taken before a return to a status quo that was nowhere near broken.

But I was wrong. That first look marked a sea change that as of their most recent collection continues to reign. The sex isn't gone. I think it would have been impossible to remove completely as it is so tied up in the DNA of the brand. It's more that it's been transformed, living side by side with an abundance of romance and the long, winding history of Italy. The stories being told don't always land. The most recent collection featured picture postcard references that were a bit on the nose for my taste, but there is an unwavering dedication to this new narrative, not only in the collections but in the advertisements meant to sell them to the fashion masses.

The Before (Fall 2007)

The After (Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2015)

The new Dolce & Gabbana proved to me was that such a change could stick without the turmoil that usually precedes it. No one was threatened or fired or poached. But turmoil makes these types of moves a less risky endeavor. Everyone expects change after the fireworks. No one expects it, or necessarily accepts it, when there is seeming calm.

Near the beginning of my personal fashion education, I often scoffed at Milan a bit, dismissing its influence on the greater fashion world as one note. (Shedding my more prudish sensibilities is a work in progress and although addressed here and there would be best dealt with at length some other time.) And because of that "one note" bias, I believed the city incapable of the ingenuity and flexibility and creativity of New York and London and Paris. It took a change, a change that I loved wholeheartedly, for me to admit that not only I had also appreciated what was being done in the before but that the before contained more layers than I had imagined.

Runway images via

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Tied Up

My knowledge of menswear lags far behind my knowledge of womenswear. This should not come as a surprise. I’ve been zipping and buttoning, squeezing and shoving myself into clothes for decades. And beyond the dressing of my own self, I’ve spent my life observing how other women dress. Being born into a family full of them, spending nearly half of my school years surrounded by them, the ways in which girls and women dress themselves was long ago demystified. When I began my more thorough fashion education near the end of college, there was a substantial foundation on which to build.

I've always been curious about menswear but until recently I didn't pay as much attention to it, didn't go through their runway shows and religiously devour their fashion magazines. And the observational skills that throughout my life provided me with reams of information about womenswear could become easily derailed. To be honest, they are still susceptible to derailment. When I see a man, his clothes are not always the first thing that I notice. Height and eyes and shoulders and that faint waft of cologne, those things catch my eye and hold my interest. Clothing is usually secondary. And even when I do notice it first, those other pieces, the height and eyes and shoulders and cologne, come in to crowd my thoughts.

It wasn't until I moved back to Boston in 2009, unemployed and emotionally bruised after the failures of New York, that things began to change. I got a holiday position at a clothing store that had once dominated my adolescence. I hoped that I would be able to stay on for awhile once the season came to a close. I ended up there for nearly five years. But that story, the long, winding tale of my underemployment, is best saved for another day and a different venue. Three years into my time there, as the brand's footprint in that corner of the mall expanded, I moved across the hall for the holiday season to act as a temporary manager at our men’s suiting shop.

Working retail during the holiday season is a particular kind of beast but this was a smaller, calmer situation. Yes, people came in frantically searching for gifts and weekends could be hectic and overwhelming but generally there was quiet. When things slowed, which they often did on weekdays, and there was nothing to fold or refold, I liked to spend time with the ties. It was the table that most easily fell into messiness. Near the front and filled with confections asking to be touched, shoppers often stopped there first. It wasn’t particularly shocking. Ties are considered an easy, sometimes lazy, gift and it was the gift giving season after all.

I got very handy at wrapping them nicely in tissue paper before placing them into long, narrow boxes. But I always demured when asked to tie the box up with some ribbon. I never learned how to get my hands to move in quite the right way.

They were organized by color on the table from warm to cool. Everything was always warm to cool. The sameness of things was one of the pieces of retail that I enjoyed. Colors always moved in the same direction. Sweaters were always folded one of two ways. Not too long into my tenure at the company I was able to let my mind slip off to other places while completing tasks. Places that weren’t whatever store I happened to be working in.

But the monotony of the task wasn’t the only reason that I was drawn to the ties.

I never had tomboy leanings when I was younger. I preferred full skirts and ruffled socks and patterned tights as a little girl. My adult closet houses numerous dresses and skirts. I had obviously seen ties but never had a reason or an impulse to examine them up close. Even when working in the larger store in its previously co-ed days, I rarely had a chance to peruse the menswear. I'd proven myself adept at tasks that were not selling and could most often be found behind a register or in the stockroom. But being near the menswear had made my curiosity about it grow. So when I finally found myself surrounded by it, I was flush with excitement.

The ties were folded in half on the table, two or three of each style placed next to each other. I liked the way the silk ones shined. I loved running my fingers down the length of the knit ones and feeling their textures. I liked picking them up, striped and pin dotted and solid, and seeing how they complemented, or clashed, with various shirts. But most of all I liked to bask in how pretty they were. Pretty, of course, is a descriptor often avoided in the world of menswear. But that’s what they were and that was why I liked them so much.

Sooner than I would have liked, I was back across the hall surrounded by the familiar trappings of women's clothing. I hadn't finished the lessons that one of the personal stylist's was giving a handful of us on how to properly pin a suit for tailoring. My four-in-hand still needed work. Bowties perplexed me. I missed the thrill of discovery. I've always loved learning and there was little new for me to pick up back across the hall with the skirts and the dresses.

I started to casually hang out at both of the men's shops. Sometimes I would pick up shifts at the one selling our casual menswear. I began doing some of my shopping there as well. Collecting ginghams and sweaters. And I began paying attention. To what arrived in new collections and what flew out of the stores and what lingered. To what fabrics and colors the suits arrived in when the seasons changed. To the range of denim and chino fits. I began visiting the other men's stores in the mall and conducting the types of fact finding missions that I had been undertaking in women's stores for years. And slowly, very slowly, the pieces began to come together.

On Saturday mornings, as Silver Lake begins to stretch its legs, I like to walk down my section of Sunset Boulevard with my earbuds firmly in place and take in the goings on. I file away everyone's clothes, put what they're wearing away for later distillation and understanding. I push away those things that would muddy the process. And I find myself smiling more than usual.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Sunny Side

My memory holds on to pieces of days and events and images with an iron grip that I sometimes wish were a little weaker. Although I don’t know why it holds onto so much, I am often aware of why at times it chooses to push some of its collected fragments to the forefront. A song plays. A pleasant and familiar smell fills the air. The sun filters through the trees in just the right way. And then something inside me stirs. But it’s only often that I know the source of the push. Often but not always.

The site that I use to sift through the various collections out of the various fashion capitals is changing directions come fall, so I spent a large part of a somewhat recent weekend sitting cross-legged on my bed and swapping out pictures on posts labeled “Fashion Month.” There were over 250 to fix. I was, for a time, rather prolific when it came to such matters. The reasons were two-fold. I was learning, still am, and the collections were part of my education. And I needed to keep my underemployment-induced boredom at bay. Or to at least dampen its effects.

Though exhausting, the image replacement exercise felt anything but dull. I was able to experience how much, and how little, my opinions have changed. My growing love of florals and suits. My initial distaste for brights. My brief flirtation with them. My recent rededication to all things navy and gray and cream. It was when going through a collection featured in a long ago Favorite of the Day post from the Spring/Summer 2012 season that I rediscovered a much-loved dress.

While examining it again, I came to realize how much it resembled one that I’d recently added to my closet.

Most of my clothing purchases happen accidentally. Shopping trips with specific goals in mind, especially when undertaken with others in tow, often end in frustration and terse words. But then it’s easy to shop accidentally when one’s curiosity leads to frequent store wanderings. I like examining clothing stores, their layouts and their merchandise, and thinking about what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong. It’s a habit with roots that stretch back before my four and a half years in apparel retail, a habit that existed even before my internship at a small buying office in Manhattan in late 2008 and early 2009. I step into stores noting where they keep their menswear section and lightly touching garments that catch my eye. I return home full of questions and conclusions and, sometimes, with a gift for myself.

It was on one of those accidental shopping trips a few days before my most recent birthday that I wandered into a Madewell. Yet again I was in the middle of, though not yet aware that I was in the middle of, a dress buying moment. After years of skinny jeans, it seems that I’ve come back round to the dress. I never abandoned them really. I’d simply come to buy them at a slower rate. But unlike the dresses that I’d collected during my years of living at home, dresses meant for a certain type of work life or peppered with girly confections, the dresses I’ve found myself drawn to for the past few months are much simpler. No bells. Barely any whistles. A few sequins. Navy and black and white and little more. I’ve been gifted dresses that fall outside of these parameters but gifts are another matter altogether.

That day I picked up a shirtdress from the sale section with a boxy silhouette and a block of navy at its bottom that cooled off its bright white top half. Navy and white in combination is a staple of my wardrobe but boxiness is a characteristic that I generally avoid in my clothing. It rarely does my body any favors. But my curiosity often leads me to try on those things that normally make me wary. The size was off at first. I held out little hope that the one I needed would be found in the back but asked for it anyway. When the sales girl returned waving it above her head, I did a little dance in front of the fitting room. While contemplating whether or not I should make it mine, I took a picture and posted it on Twitter.

The connections appear to me often but not always.

I woke up the following Saturday, the day after my birthday, possibly still drunk and definitely suffering from a shameover of immense proportions but with somewhere that I needed to be. Having a friend with a birthday close to yours can be fun when you're younger but my just turned 32-year-old body responded with anger that I was making it do anything but stay in bed watching romcoms and eating pizza. I calculated how long it would take my Uber to deliver me to the scheduled brunch and a Bloody Mary and thanked my overachieving self for choosing an outfit the previous day.

I had worn something more complicated for my own birthday. A jumpsuit. My first jumpsuit. But for a day about someone else, I'd decided to wear that week's purchase and take the more laidback California Samantha out for a spin. Because that was what I had been doing unconsciously doing with all of that dress buying. Getting to the heart of whom I wanted California Samantha to be. And all those years ago, long before I knew that I would pack up and leave my family, my friends, and my books for a life here, an image was already being created. And it started with that dress and that Jenni Kayne collection (and many Jenni Kayne collections that followed).

Who is California Samantha? Well she is evolving. She likes simple dresses in easy shapes. She likes skirts of a similar fashion. She has been stripped of the layers that previously dominated her life. When she decided to cull her closet last month, all of the items she consigned or gave to friends were colorful and printed and, in more ways than one, restrictive. Her skinny jeans have lost their place as default. 

She appears relaxed even when she is not.

Photos via

Friday, June 12, 2015

Shifting Natures

In the month of May, I added six dresses to my wardrobe. I soon assigned half of them to the Work side of my closet. I don’t need to dress in a business-like manner for my job. But during all of those years in retail, I collected clothing meant for the life that I desperately wanted but that I believed might never materialize. Casting those items aside seemed foolish.

It wasn’t simply the possession of the dresses that made me want to create a definitive style for Work Samantha. It was that I needed her. Work Samantha is an outlet for the more restrained side of my fashion nature, the side that dominated in my previous life. Work Samantha wears shift dresses and stripes. She wears skinny, olive wool pants and gray, glenplaid skimmers. She is structured, penned in, and held together. Sometimes she will wear a print with some color in it. Her presence allows me to continue wearing the clothes that I am not yet ready to part with while I explore who exactly California Samantha is and, in turn, what she likes to wear. But that's not the entire story. In recent years, I've rarely been one to choose how she dresses based on necessity alone. I also want Work Samantha, or at least elements of her. Those years back at home were so muddled that I like the idea of creating two style sides to myself, one serious and one less so.

It might seem disingenuous, this conscious play with the multiplicity of my nature, but the self is many things and sometimes I need to let one of the many parts of myself out for a bit of air.
I went back to Boston a few weeks ago for the first time since Thanksgiving. It was a relaxing trip, which I wasn’t exactly expecting for a number of reasons that aren’t worth exploring here. When I visit, my mother always tries to send me back with things. This habit was easier to indulge when I lived in Brooklyn. You can load someone down with food and beauty products when they are taking a four hour trip on a questionable bus. But flying cross country does not lend itself to such gifts. So I turned down the roasted Cornish hen that she offered and any number of other things but in the end decided to take a dress along.

My mother wasn’t sure that I would like it. This is a game that we’ve been playing for years. The things that she thinks I will love, I look at askance. The things that she is unsure of, I take to enthusiastically. It springs, I think, from our rather different styles and the rift in the mother/daughter relationship that often appears during the latter’s move into adulthood.

But I loved it instantly. The shape of the dress was simple. A shift dress with a high neck. Perfect for work in an office tower. On it was a print, one of those hand-drawn renderings of a stereotypical, pretty European streetscape. A street that one might see on a Rick Steves’ program on PBS. A picture that a freshman might buy from her college’s poster sale and put on her wall.

I never did that. I’m not a “pictures on the wall” person. The street scene that covered this new dress instead reminded me of an old dress. A very old dress. A dress that I believe still lives somewhere in my mother’s house.

Once I began attending a private, girls’ school in the fifth grade, the first day of school outfit became a big deal for me. My education prior to that had taken place at a small Catholic school where I was hemmed in by the constraints of my little plaid uniform. So it was with much thought that I approached this new opportunity. For the first few years, most of my ensembles were composed of pretty standard fare for a child of the early 90s. Pieces from Limited Too. White Keds worn with purple socks that I scrunched excessively. But eighth grade would see me finally break from all of that and transition into…Delia*s.

It wasn’t a unique shift in any way. It became obvious at the time of the brand's recent, and short-lived, demise just how important those clothes and that little square-shaped catalog had been to numerous others who had also come of age in the 1990s. But it was still a treat when my mother said that I could pick something out of it for that first day of school. 1996 had already been a big year for me. I turned 13. I got contact lenses. I had my first real crush. I wore my first, and last, crop top, which led to my first, and last, grounding. I felt ready for something that was not the dress of a child. Something that screamed ADULT.

The one that I chose was a shift dress covered in a print. A print of a stereotypical, pretty European streetscape. It was a little snug when it arrived but I dealt with it. I wasn’t going to let the continuing weight gain that started soon after I entered puberty stop me from wearing it on that first day. I had the rest of my adolescence to deal with those types of internal arguments. And I did feel like an adult in it. I stood up a little straighter. I walked a little differently.

Once the dramatics of the first day passed, I returned to the normal, everyday clothes one might expect of a young teenager not trying to make all that much noise. (There was a lot of Gap.) And for all of that excitement surrounding its arrival, I don’t remember wearing that dress more than once.

When I returned to Los Angeles, I wasted little time before I wore its cousin to work. As is always the case when I wear a color or a print, it got a handful of compliments. Instead of the usual clipped Thank You and subtle head shake that I usually give in response to such praise, I smiled broadly.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Finding the Center

On the penultimate day of Paris Fashion Week, I sat clutching my phone with the screen brightness turned all the way up and the sound turned all the way down. The bus is not the best place to watch a fashion show, but my move has stretched the time difference between myself and Europe so I do what is needed. The waiting was hard. I’ve settled into a certain routine on my early morning bus rides to work. My fingers ached to close the browser page and play with one of the apps that I often used to wake my mind up. But instead I stared at a darkened room full of people and tried to stop my eyes from drooping.

I eventually succumbed to the urge to check in on things, as if there were anything else going on at that hour. When I returned to the browser page to find the show had started, I began to think that I had landed at the wrong site somehow. The clothes looked different. Not bad. Far from bad. Just different.

The Valentino of Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli has never had the flash bang of the brand in its first iteration. But a shift in message isn’t unexpected after a change in creative leadership. The Dior of Dior wasn’t the Dior of Saint Laurent wasn’t the Dior of Galliano isn’t the Dior of Simon. After the early bumps that such changes often bring (I was, and still am, a fan of Alessandra Facchinetti’s work at the brand and loved her one and only couture collection), things have settled into a rhythm. I'd gotten used to a degree of change, a little to the left or a little to the right, that didn't lead one all that far from their now well-established center, a center filled with romance. And so in its groggy state, my mind expected to see something that instantly clicked as current Valentino.

Instead there was geometry, trigonometry, in stark white and black.

Although the Paris collections' obsession with those two non-colors was not new, I hadn’t expected to see quite so much of it here. The clouds and and rainbows and hearts and galaxies of recent collections still floated around my head muddying the waters.

But I liked it. Liked the hard edge that triangles and stripes can bring that paisleys and flowers cannot. The geometry eventually gave way to multiple threads. Dresses made of strips of lace, not wholly unexpected, in colors suggesting something murky and a bit sinister.

The flowers and galaxies and butterflies eventually found their way into the proceedings but with a darker mood to them.

And finally there were pieces so austere that they seemed to reference the church. But that wasn't what I saw, or maybe it wasn't what I wanted to see. I saw a kind of armor that played

The romance-filled center was still there. It had merely been tempered with a far darker element.

The shows of the last day of Paris Fashion Week all happened long before my morning bus ride, so it was still images that informed my opinion of the Louis Vuitton collection. I'd always enjoyed the drama of Marc Jacobs' tenure at the brand. Each season proving a 180 degree shift from the last. But Nicolas Ghèsquiere has taken a different tack. There is a through line, a growing vision of what he wants the brand to be and the type of woman who wears those clothes.

It's all cool sophistication that references a Parisian style without shouting it from the rooftop.

It has been different work from that which he produced during his tenure at Balenciaga where he sometimes followed a tack similar to that of Jacobs, rockers one season, women from a future not yet imagined in another. However, near the end the themes seemed to be converging.

But in his short time at Louis Vuitton, dramatic swings have been nowhere sight.

Fall 2014

Resort 2015

Spring 2015

Pre-Fall 2015

A center.

Photos via

Friday, March 6, 2015

Learning Curves

At the end of my first Los Angeles summer, I traveled out to Westwood to see Sunset Boulevard for the first time. The Billy Wilder Theater, housed inside UCLA’s Hammer Museum, was in the midst of presenting an Edith Head retrospective.

I did my usual once over of the room and noted that I was one of the youngest people there by a longshot. Unsurprising. I’m not sure many 30-somethings spend their Friday nights watching old movies in a quest to feed their obsession with a particular costume designer. Most of the seats were filled with people who appeared to be regulars of the theater’s programming. Snippets of their greetings to each other floated about the space before we all settled in for the introduction.

From the moment I first saw Ingrid Bergman appear in Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious a handful of years earlier, I realized that I would need to make it a point to become well-acquainted with the work of Head. But I spent most of that summer making friends and learning this new city, so it should come as no surprise that I failed rather gloriously at my original plan to see all of the films being shown. But I didn’t want to miss Sunset Boulevard. It felt necessary, a way to understand the industry that runs this town.

After the movie ended, I stood waiting for the bus that would take me to Beverly Hills so that I could wait for the bus that would take me back to Silver Lake and home. I replayed pieces of the film in my mind and felt like I was finally in on a joke, my cultural competency on the rise. Oh that's why people say that phrase. And as it was after every instance of my first viewing a classic film, another thought flew into my head. Oh that's why people design those clothes.

Film and fashion live side by side, and sometimes intertwined, in my mind. Scribbled among the notes from that long gestating and still unfinished Prada project are the names of films that I need to watch. Grease and Bonnie & Clyde and La Dolce Vita. When searching for a way to explain the looks worn by many of my neighbors, I looked to those early 90s films that sought to dissect and define Generation X. I am a lover of stories in all their forms and these two forms of storytelling are among my favorite. It was these two, along with the books that have always played a dominant role in my life, which kept me afloat in the midst of the darkness that encompassed my long employment woes. I abandoned both for a time in the haze of adolescence, and because I came back to them at similar times, in similar distress, my understanding of them goes hand in hand.

There are gaps in my knowledge, gaps that leave me grasping to decipher what I’m seeing and feeling and touching, and because I hate not knowing I've spent the better part of the past decade trying to fill them. During those post-collegiate years lived at home, I waited for DVDs carrying films from a range of decades to arrive in the mail. I hid in the corner of bookstores reading heavy histories of Yves Saint Laurent and high heels. I visited museums and stood as close as I could to the couture gowns on display for special exhibitions. And when all else failed, I leaned on one to aide my comprehension of the other.

A couple of months ago my Swarm app clued me into the fact that I had checked into a movie theater at least once a week for four straight months. I inhaled deeply. It didn't feel like I had spent that much of my fall and winter in darkened rooms watching images flash across the screen while feeding my addiction to fountain Cherry Coke and dropping popcorn down various sweaters. But then there had been all those films seen for free at AFI fest. And that sleet-filled trek to one of my favorite theaters in the Boston area for a viewing of Force Majeure during my trip back east for Thanksgiving. And two showings of Gone Girl while it was camped out at the Vista. I finally ended the streak, I'd say fittingly, in week 20 with Jupiter Ascending.

It is a ridiculous, bombastic movie and I enjoyed every bit of it. I didn't let myself examine it too deeply. From time to time I allow myself that simple joy, the joy of loving something without tearing it apart and examining its guts. But I can't turn off my mind completely. It is always buzzing. So as we hopped from realm to realm, I felt something nagging at me. Near the end of the movie, I realized what it was. In the costumes of each world was embodied the work of a few of the designers I've spent so much of the last decade exploring.

Gareth Pugh, Fall 2010

Alexander McQueen, Spring 2012

Elie Saab Couture, Spring 2010

Elie Saab Couture, Fall 2014

And so as we floated from Saab to McQueen before reaching the climax of the film in the dark and sometimes twisted world of Pugh, I felt that I knew what to expect before the characters even opened their mouths to speak. And in that way, a dizzying, silly swirl of a movie felt grounded.

When all else fails, I lean on one to aide my comprehension of the other.

Runway Photos via