Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Prada Leeches Bag

Prada Python Pitone Pietre Shoulder Bag,$1,895 at Saks

I'm not sure why Prada decided to ruin a perfectly fine snakeskin bag with leech-like black resin stones. It's almost as if Miuccia Prada had been watching Stand By Me before she created this monstrosity. Most of her spring bags are covered with these creepy and cheap-looking gems in various tacky colors--I'm sure you've seen the garish ads in all of the fashion magazines. Of all of the new spring bags, only Marc Jacobs' uglies can compete with these.

New Spring Jewelry Accessory: The Ethnic Bangle

Above Left to Right: Marc Jacobs, Anna Sui

Above Left to Right: 3.1 Philip Lim, Aquilano.Rimondi
Each season, a particular jewelry item takes center stage. Last season, it was the statement necklace; this upcoming spring season it's the ethnic bangle, piled up on one arm as another kind of statement jewelry. In all of my life, I must admit the closest I ever came to enjoying bangles were twofold: a) jelly bracelets, a byproduct of the tacky '80s; and b) the musical band Bangles, whose hit "Manic Monday" still resonates with me. Personally, I prefer cuffs any day to bangles, which I find to be clunky and uncomfortable (due to my extra-small wrists). However, paired with the right outfit, ethnic bangles can add a flash of color to an otherwise dull outfit.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Gap Cashmere Sweaters

Gap Cashmere Sweater, on sale for $54.99 (down from $110)

After repeated frustrations with J.Crew cashmere sweaters (the quick pilling after one season of wear finally got to me), I decided to turn elsewhere for my cashmere sweater fix. A co-worker surprised me by praising Gap sweaters for their ability to withstand seasons of wear and tear. (So far, Vince sweaters have never failed me, but then again, they're double the price of J.Crew sweaters.) I purchased a gray version of the above sweater at $89, but after seeing the price reduction, I called Gap and asked for the difference, which they graciously approved (most companies have a 14 day price reduction limit). You can't beat $55 for a decently-made cashmere sweater, and the fit was perfect (being smaller on top, I purchased the "petite" version). The sweater is also available in off-white, pink, camel, gray, and black.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Frothy Floral Sandals

Christian Louboutin Petal Sandal, $995 at Bergdorf Goodman

From my most recent posts, you would hardly suspect that it's Christmas time (Happy Holidays, by the way!) and freezing in the Big Apple. That's because a certain fashionista dreams of warmer days when the weather outside is frightful. With most of Fall/Winter items sold out (or selling out), retailers are bringing in Resort wear, which usually means warm weather escapes to the Bahamas; unfortunately, this year's financial woes have put an end to that. Oddly enough, as I sit here in the City of Brotherly Love (yes, that's right--Philly is my hometown), I'm shocked to hear that it'll be 60 degrees tomorrow. 60 degrees!! Just a few days ago, the thermostat read a frigid 15 degrees.

While "Resort" wear has become more and more seasonless due to the fickleness of Mother Nature, designers still churn out standard Resort wear: sandals, tunics, skimpy dresses. These particular sandals--something the now-mythical Carrie Bradshaw would have worn--are all the rage right now with magazines. They're fun, cute, ridiculous, surprising, sexy, and feminine--all at once. I can't decide what to think of them. They've got the potential to ruin or make an outfit. If I had unlimited cash and a huge shoe museum, they'd be there--on display in a glass cage.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

If Sexy Were A Dress...

it would be this white hot Preen bandage dress ($995 at Net-a-porter)!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Not So Mellow Yellows

Christian Louboutin "Fluorescent Green" Platform Pumps, $735 at Saks

Photo Credit: The Sartorialist (The woman in the image is wearing YSL's Tribute Platforms)
Sometimes it just takes a mesmerizing photo (like the one shot by the Sartorialist) to redefine one's personal style boundaries. Once upon a time, I would never have gone near bright yellow shoes (being Asian, I shied away from yellow for years); however, these Christian Louboutin platforms arouse my curiosity. They remind me of primary school yellow (long school buses, yellow submarines, and modern Crayola crayons), but when paired with neutrals like khaki, denim (blue and gray), and blush, the color suddenly matures like precocious New York City adolescents. They'll add a spring to your step as you remember that Spring is only a few months away.

Monday, December 15, 2008

JUMPstarting One's Wardrobe?

McQ Wool Tuxedo Jumpsuit, $670 at Net-a-porter

Two jumpsuits from Proenza Schouler's Spring 2009 line
A friend of mine once declared her undying love for jumpsuits. She likened them to the adult onesies worn by Captain James T. Kirk's crew on the Starship Enterprise--a form-fitting, no-brainer uniform to be worn on every and any occasion.
For years, I shunned jumpsuits like they were the Bubonic Plague. Truthfully, I think they remind me of tacky denim overalls and one-piece swimming suits (impossible and inconvenient to take off when wet). I mean, what does one do every time one goes to the bathroom? Disrobe completely? (Another friend at a dinner party complained about the gigantic gaps on the edges of bathroom doors. Imagine a co-worker peering in on you naked as you take off your jumpsuit. The horror!) And while I certainly love Star Trek (a byproduct of growing up with geeky brothers), I don't want to look like Uhura or Spock.
After years of such icy thoughts about jumpsuits, I'm starting to finally defrost. Proenza Schouler's two rocking jumpsuits--one in crisp, clean white and the other in bold leather--have me rethinking my age-old aversion. Jumpsuits are dresses with legs--and I love dresses for their ease and freedom. Now if only those pesky gaps didn't exist in my school bathroom...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Zac Posen Pre-Fall 2009

I'm starting to think that this recession is doing wonders for designers these days. They're forced to be their most creative in order to compel the fashionista to spend her hard-earned dough on their irresistible creations. And Zac Posen's pre-fall 2009 line is certainly that. I've always been drawn to the fashions from the forties and fifties--those decades really celebrated a woman's curvy body--and these inspired looks seem like necessary additions to any woman's wardrobe.

Some of my favorite looks:

1. Oooh...look at this creamy, vixen-y number in a stunning shade--something Jean Harlow would have worn:

2. Red hot!

3. A sexy and prim suit, all at once:

4. Perfect for a Hollywood starlet like Scarlett Johannson:

Rachel Roy Pre-Fall 2009

Rachel Roy's clothes are always impeccably made, ethnically inspired, and uber-feminine, but her pre-fall 2009 line also featured some edgy looks that have me impatiently waiting for May.

Some of my favorite looks:

1.A fierce look, complete with a textured zebra-like print and sheer top with shoulder accents (I'd wear the top with a camisole, of course!):

2. I usually don't care for dresses that look like separates, but this one is fantastic. I'm a sucker for anything gray:

3. I love the contrast of the prim LBD with the subversive cage sandals.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

McQueen's New Ride

Alexander McQueen Leather Biker Jacket, $4, 995 at Net-a-porter

Speaking of leather biker jackets--feast your eyes on this McQueen beauty: perfect leather skin, glistening gold hardware, chic and tidy cinched belt. Too bad it's a not-so-cool five grand.

The Soft Biker Jacket

From Left: Marc by Marc Jacobs Wilhelmena Biker Cardigan, $350 at Net-a-porter; Splendid Fleece Motorcycle Jacket, $169 at Bergdorf Goodman

The spring runway shows made it clear that the biker jacket is not going away any time soon, and now we have the next evolutionary stage in the biker jacket craze: the soft biker jacket, which features breathable fabrics (wool, cotton, fleece) that downplay the hard edginess of the traditional leather skin. This easy-to-wear piece serves a dual purpose (sweater or jacket) and can be comfortably and casually worn underneath your heavy winter coat. If you're bold enough, pair this with those tough leather leggings we've seen on celebrities like Anne Hathaway, or soften the style with a winter floral dress.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Character, Not Caricature

Examples of caricature at work: Julie Macklowe looking like a slutty schoolgirl (far left); Dita von Teese looking like a Fifties movie star (right)

Somebody at work made an off-hand comment about how I was "born with a silver spoon in [my] mouth." That, like many other casual throw-away judgments I've heard lately, were soon described by a close friend as my "caricature, not [my] character." She knew (by virtue of her knowing me) that these untrue statements were based on some overblown misconception from my sartorial image.

Although I certainly do not dress with a particular stereotype in mind, it appears that we all sometimes fall into a caricature: some hyperbolic idea of ourselves that is propagated by either ourselves or others. Our individual style aesthetic is usually informed by some external type: rocker-chick, uptown socialite, preppy schoolgirl, emo goth, sporty girl next door, conservative professional. These sartorial types help us express what we see as our inner character, but when we adhere too rigidly to these types, we venture dangerously into caricature.

It is, however, difficult to alter any opinion that associates "style" with "money." When I hear that view, I must, to paraphrase Polonius' oft-quoted line, be true to my own self, for apparel oft proclaims the woman.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Roland Mouret Lust

RM by Roland Mouret Perec Origami Pleat Top; Dax Sleeveless Top, both $1,450 at Net-a-porter

I'll admit it: I've had a crush on Roland Mouret for quite some time now. His work is streamlined yet architectural, classic yet modern, and chic yet edgy. The celebrities who wear his clothes are often photographed for their impeccable taste (remember Victoria Beckham in that hot pink stunner on the soccer field? Jennifer Lopez in that white wonder at Fashion Week?).

Unfortunately, I tried on one of his delectable creations only to be disappointed by the fit. While I usually do not have too much trouble with fit, I do occasionally struggle with designers who either leave too much room in the bust area or leave too little room in the hip area (Narciso Rodriguez is one such designer). As a result, I tend to avoid the hassle of tailoring the garment unless I'm blinded by overwhelming love and assuaged by a lower price point, which mitigates the cost of tailoring. Roland Mouret didn't make the cut (pun intended) that day, and I resigned myself to pining from afar.

These two peplum tops, however, are proving quite difficult to resist. I recently purchased a gorgeous electric blue peplum vest from Yves Saint Laurent--an outstanding piece that I will cherish for as long as I can. These two vests/tops rival that one, and its nature as a separate ensures a likely fit. But alas--the price point is unsettling during sale season/ this dismal economy. It appears that I shall have to sadly resume my quiet pining.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Bad Plaid

Photo Credit: Jak & Jil Blog
3.1 Philip Lim Plaid Shirt, $215 at Net-a-porter
When did plaid become cool? To me, plaid conjures up images of rolled-up prep-school kilts that never kept me warm in the winter; huge, burly lumberjacks mercilessly sawing through an enormous tree trunk; tacky, cheap, vinyl table cloths at the local pennysaver; and sanguine Scottish men with bagpipes. Somehow, plaid seems wrong.
And yet, everywhere I turn, there it is. At first, I reluctantly accepted them on uber-gorgeous models ("they can get away with it," I would grumble). Then it slowly began creeping up on me, until at last I see that Net-a-porter, my go-to website for all things chic, has even predominately featured it as a must-have item. Apparently, it's rocker-chic, as Little J would say and sport.
Argh. I remember a time back in college of a certain Thumbelina who was not so fashionable. A time when she wore an oversized flannel plaid shirt with jeans. And every time I remember it, I cringe.
While the rest of the world may subscribe to the temporary madness of plaid, I prefer to decidedly abstain. The only problem with this resolution is that in the humble corner of my closet, an orange and brown plaid skirt patiently waits to be worn. And although I haven't the heart to throw out something of my mother's from the 1970s, I'll at least allow it to quietly exist.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

That Model Look

Photo Credit: Jak & Jil Blog

Photo Credit: The Sartorialist
I've come to recognize that in the world of fashion insiders (models, editors, socialites), simplicity reigns supreme. That chic factor can be broken down into several key components--all very imitable:
1. Wear a lot of black, mainly on one's legs. Choose skinny jeans, tights, or leggings to elongate one's figure.
2. Always choose the most stylish (edgy or sophisticated) pair of pumps, sandals, flats, or boots that you can find. Heels instantly elevate the look.
3. Choose a simple color palette, and narrow your color choices to no more than three complimentary shades.
4. Carry a high fashion bag. Invest in only one if that is all you can afford.
5. Buy a black leather biker jacket or a well-tailored black jacket to throw over everything.
In short, the uniform is quite simple: dark tights/pants; fitted jacket; a statement bag and shoes. For variety, exchange the pants for a skirt or dress (to the knee or above for everyday), or exchange the jacket for a cardigan.
If you examine the photos of chic women, you'll notice that three general principles apply: 1) Simplicity (what I've spelled out above); 2) Fit (the clothes always fit the body perfectly); 3) Proportion (Tim Gunn talks about the rule of thirds; the head to the waist is one third, the waist to the knees is another third, and the knees to the feet is the last third. Make sure your body is split in thirds, not in halves, for the most flattering look).
While it is preferable to invest in the best quality items you can, ultimately it's not about price. Dressing simply is what's chic.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Sale Madness; Ruby Slippers

Sale season--especially after Thanksgiving--has a Dionysian effect on people. Drastic, desperate sales (I can hardly believe these 70% off sales) transform even the calmest, disinterested shopper into a grabby, hysterical one. Take the manic crowd who trampled over a poor Walmart worker on Black Friday.

Since the economy has taken a nosedive, I've become quite the opposite. I purchase only things that truly have a "soul-stirring" effect, to quote Tim Gunn. As I was navigating through the overcrowded stores and streets today, I found myself quite bored by the plethora of stock on the shelves. Nothing really stood out--nothing, that is, until I came across the most divinely sequined ruby red Mary Janes from Miu Miu. My heart leaped; my eyes dazzled. The Wizard of Oz is a classic favorite of mine, and for years I have searched in vain for a modern version of those ruby slippers Dorothy wore on the yellow-brick road. Saks recently displayed various versions of the slippers from famous shoe designers, but even those were too fantastic to be worn (as I mentioned previously, I cannot wear five inch heels). Besides, they weren't purchasable. But these--these were flats! And on sale! Perhaps I had been too harsh on Miuccia Prada; perhaps the shoe gods were blessing me; perhaps a shoe dream really does come true.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Don't Walk A Mile In These (Prada) Shoes

I came across the first photo in the most current issue of WWD (Women's Wear Daily), and the Sartorialist recently posted this image as well (that's his gentlemanly hand offering assistance on the right). Out of curiosity, I went to YouTube to see for myself what happened on Prada's Spring Runway show. Instead of the fearless struts we are accustomed to, I witnessed the painful, stunted wobbles of these normally graceful models. The poor girl above finally--and defiantly--took these stilts off after several treacherous slips.

Although the Sartorialist pointed out that the socks the girls wore were to blame (which I admit is partially true), I'm aghast at the higher and higher heights shoes these days are scaling. Are we women actually expected to wear 5-6 inch shoes? (My limit is 3.) Someone on the Sartorialist's blog likened this trend to foot binding in China, and I completely agree. To some extent, "women must labor to be beautiful," but when danger and pain are involved, I draw the line. Two-to-three-inch heels can empower a woman; five-to-six-inch heels can only impair a woman. It's unfortunate that Miuccia Prada, of all people, couldn't see this.

Monday, November 17, 2008

"Luxury Is A Dirty Word"

In last Friday's New York Times "Fashion and Style" section, reporter Alex Williams made a bevy of dismal analogies about the end of the "luxe" era of living: “ 'Luxe' is starting to look as out of fashion as square-toed shoes," "bejeweled fashionistas are pegged as tone-deaf Marie Antoinettes," and "roast chicken will be very popular." The incessant droning of "recession" and "depression" has now shaped the new trend: "no-frills consumption."

While I certainly sympathize with the plight of many who have witnessed first hand the instability of the market, I also furrow my brow and shake my head at those who are quick to judge anyone who appears to exemplify outward wealth or luxury. After all, one never knows how much another actually spends on an item (consignment store? sample sale?). Poor and rich alike should not feel shame for their financial status, nor should a hard-working individual feel excessive guilt when indulging in a well-deserved treat. And while we've certainly progressed in many ways beyond the rigid frigidity of our Puritan roots, we also still mimic that draconian finger-pointing when morality gets hopelessly mixed in with money.

For me, it's not about the demonization of luxury or the revision of a national trend; it's about Suze Orman's simple but revealing question: "Can you afford it?" The biggest lesson to learn from this fiscal crisis is to reconsider how we spend our money, not what we spend it on.

To read "In Hard Times, No More Fancy Pants," go to

Friday, November 14, 2008

LBD= Little Blue Dress

Tracy Reese Embellished Strapless Wool Dress, $400 at Eluxury

Although the cliche is true--"you can never go wrong with a little black dress"--I personally find it somewhat predicable. I tend to avoid black dresses unless they have a unique texture or flattering silhouette. Blue dresses, however, offer a slight twist on the standard LBD, and this one by Tracy Reese works for day (with a gray jacket or cardigan) or night (with a clutch and glittery heels). The silver sequins along the bustline add shape and interest to a well-cut dress--perfect for that holiday party you're attending next month.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Autumn and Winter Florals

Burberry Prorsum Floral Embroidered Skirt, $1,595 at Net-a-porter

Lela Rose Flower Overlay Skirt, $750 at Bergdorf Goodman
After my curmudgeonly posts the other day, I felt compelled to share two insanely gorgeous skirts from the incoming Resort lines at Burberry and Lela Rose, two of my favorite designers. Designers tend to produce less gimmicky yet on trend items for their Resort collections, and these two skirts feature heavier florals appropriate for the cool fall and winter months. The first one by Burberry reminds me of fallen leaves in Central Park on a crisp fall day, and its peachy-gray sheen has a magical, storybook quality to it. (I haven't felt this skirt, but I imagine it has a slight crinkle to it--one that whispers back at every touch like crunchy leaves under one's feet.) And the Lela Rose. She is the master of the floral overlay (I have a gorgeous white applique sleeveless blouse of hers), and the dark moodiness of this skirt anchors its sweetness. They're both just the thing to wear on a chilly, dark, "California dreamin'" day.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Logo-Friendly Has Replaced Eco-Friendly at Chanel

After the advent of eco-conscious bags (Anya Hindmarch's "I'm not a plastic bag" skyrocketed that trend), it became cool to sport a reusable tote in lieu of a plastic bag. Chanel's "Essential Handbag" almost looks like a reusable shopping bag with its ginormous logo and store location emblazoned on the front--almost, that is, until you realize that this tacky bag is made of leather and therefore pokes fun at all of the environmentally conscious people out there who actually care about using vegan, organic, and eco-friendly products. Shame on you, Karl Lagerfeld!

Child's Play

Bottega Veneta Small Toggle Leather Tote, $1,850 at Net-a-porter

For 95% of the time, Tomas Maier can do no wrong; for the other 5% of the time, his playful creativity borders on childishness. The above tote incurs my wrath for two reasons: 1) It looks like an embarrassing Longchamp knock-off; 2) It looks like it belongs to a seven year old. I must confess that I abhor anything rainbow-colored (it always looks juvenile and messy to me), and I am tempted to snip off the colorful leather balls with a methodical fury akin to my attacks on grammatical errors.

Kimora Lee Simmons' all too cutesy "Hello Kitty" line also grates on my last nerve. (I admit that despite my childhood love of stickers, I was more of a tomboy than a girly girl, mainly because I grew up with two brothers.) The "glam" versions, often encrusted with diamonds and other precious stones, retail for very adult prices (the pendant on the left is worth $7,500). The thought of a grown woman wearing these ridiculous pendants has me shrugging my figurative shoulders.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Cocoon Jackets: A Throwback To The Eighties

Miu Miu Cropped Cocoon Jacket, $1,180

Fendi Cropped Collarless Jacket, $1, 180

Two weeks ago on Gossip Girl, Lily Bass, Serena's oft-espoused mother, wore a black cocoon-shaped Fendi dress, and I remember thinking that the shape made her look old and dated (even though I knew that the Fendi dress was au courant). Seeing these two cocoon jackets recently on Net-a-porter confirms that instinctual suspicion: they remind me of big-haired, shoulder-pad-wearing Eighties women a la Melanie Griffin in Working Girl. And if I must tell the fashion truth, they also remind me of a certain vice-presidential candidate I recently bashed.
The Eighties were the most miserable fashion era to date. And while other decades and times somehow used exaggerated shapes as intriguing aesthetic concepts (the hoop-skirt as erotic fetish, the bell-bottom as political counterculture), the Eighties used enlarged shapes as garish examples of hyperbole and caricature. The big shoulder was synonymous with newfound feminine power, but it had to be large and masculine to be noticed.
While these looks certainly tone down the football shoulders of yesterday, I still cringe at the overt reminders of a time when women's presence in the boardroom required literal as well as figurative enlargement. Today, women can be feminine without compromising their toughness or others' respect. Thankfully, we don't have to look like a football to kick one.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Gray Boot: The New Boot Staple

Sergio Rossi Metal cuff boots $1,380 at Net-a-porter

For years, black and brown boots dominated my shoe closet, and as useful as these myriad incarnations of taupe, chocolate, and black were, I found myself turning to lighter shades to compliment my winter whites and brighter hues. (One pale pink pair has served me well.) The gray/ silver shoe has become a new staple, so it is only logical for its sister boot to also step in. These are the top three contenders vying for my money (let me know which one you prefer):

1. Chinese Laundry "Turbo" Boot, $109 at Macy's: Blake Lively once confessed that she adored a pair of Chinese Laundry boots (which she apparently wore on the set of Gossip Girl), and I can see why. The over-the-knee style is all the rage and manages to keep your oft-neglected knees toasty.

2. Belle by Sigerson Morrison Suede Knee-high Boot, $575 at Net-a-porter: I adore the charming and friendly 2 inch kitten heel, the classic shape, and the calming shade. Perfecto!

3. Gianvito Rossi Daily High Boots, $1,245 at Saks: The large feminine bow in the back and the folded-over top add complex details to an otherwise basic boot.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Palin(g) Closet Woes

Palin in a $2,500 Valentino jacket
Source: The Huffington Post

Palin in Asheville, North Carolina yesterday
Source: The Times Online
Despite Americans' love of fashionable political icons (Jackie O. and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy come to mind), the public has recently reviled Sarah Palin's $150,000 designer wardrobe--and for good reason. It is not the designer labels, nor the smart dressing. And in another economic time, the cost would not have garnered such hostile reactions from the public and such vehement denials and justifications from Palin herself. It is the shameless whoring for votes from superficial means.
By superficial, I do not mean "fashion" or "style"--Michelle Obama has clearly proven that style does not warrant a high price tag--but the naive, artless, and artificial attempts of some to attach a false and insincere sense of style to a woman who claims that she is just "a soccer mom." Palin is simply the mannequin that displays a political ideology. The clothes themselves are meaningless to her, and she wears her Valentino jacket as a "prop" rather than as a genuine expression of personal style.
Truly fashionable political women, like the two I referenced above, dress the way they do out of a heartfelt, lifelong love affair with fashion and all it represents: individuality, expression, and panache. Their passion is what we are drawn to, not the cost per item. Palin is one who, oddly enough, looks the same in both her Valentino jacket and in her "own jeans"--she wears what she thinks defines her, as either a Vice-Presidential candidate or as a soccer mom. If she understood that style comes from within and not from some external marketing ploy, we'd be less incredulous of what we perceive as insincerity.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Age-Proofing One's Wardrobe?

Peter Som Tweed Jacket, $2,395 at Bergdorf Goodman

As I sat reading through my new November edition of Bazaar magazine (although the cover looks more like a July Fourth one), I was somewhat taken aback by the inclusion of this long jacket in the "Fabulous At Every Age" segment. I had seen it when the Resort collections appeared on Style.com, and I remember coveting it for its chic ease and calming shades of cream, baby blue, and honey--but I did not think of it as belonging to the "70+" age group. I had to stop. Was I, like the sullen Katie Holmes, dressing far beyond my years?

Perhaps my clothing choices have been influenced by my job, one that demands some age separation from my teenaged students. (I've faced careless scoldings from colleagues in the elevators for not having my "elevator pass" and other such nonsense for years, but as of late it hasn't happened as frequently as it used to.) These days, editors have sent out mixed messages; on the one hand, women are no longer bound by meaningless age restrictions ("forty is the new thirty"), but on the other hand, we are told to dress our age ("Fabulous at every age"). Which, pray tell, is it? What's a girl/teenager/ woman/mother/grandmother to do?

Well, there are certain items that are age-proof: classic, quality items that stand the test of time, such as jeans, Chanel jackets, trench coats, pumps. Both a teenager and a grandmother could wear said items without a raised eyebrow (that is, if your income bracket allows for it). And it also true that there are certain items that are age-specific: youthful or mature items that show tell-tale signs of age, such as baby doll dresses, extremely abbreviated miniskirts, and Armani jackets (it's the cut I'm referring to here, not the price). But for women who are somewhere between twenty-five and fifty-five, that line is a blurry one.

The reality is that it's not the item itself that defines youthfulness or maturity but the panache with which it is worn. If I were to wear the above jacket with matching pearl earrings and necklace, a white pencil skirt, and pumps, I would certainly look more mature than I am, but if I were to wear it with wedges and a large cocktail ring, I would look my age--which is somewhere in the shadowy zone between twenty-five and fifty-five.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Crime Of Fashion: Plagiarism On Project Runway

Left: Alexander McQueen Fall 2008; Right: Kenley Collins on Project Runway

Left: Balenciaga Spring 2008; Right: Kenley Collins on Project Runway
As an educator, I've been forced to face the ugly result of Internet convenience: plagiarized work. (Since September, I've already found three cases of plagiarism from online sources.) Although fashion is no stranger to that--just peruse the copious vendors in Chinatown for a lesson in knock-offs--, I still find it shocking to see it done so blatantly on a show/competition like Project Runway. And even though the judges did call Kenley on that (a charge which she vociferously denied), they seemed more irritated than outraged. The above examples clearly illustrate what is obvious copying--a crime of fashion that should have automatically eliminated Kenley from progressing to the tents at Bryant Park.
Critic Harold Bloom has written about the "anxiety of influence" that writers feel when they metaphorically look up to their gifted predecessors. In some ways, it is true that "there is nothing new under the sun," and we are all, in various ways, required to borrow and build on the ideas of others. But when artistic integrity is called into question--and here I firmly believe designers are in the same category as writers or artists--it is absolutely critical to establish a honest individual perspective. There is a fine line between obsequious referencing and exact recreations (note even the subtle details on the first example, down to the feather on the head and the white shoes). Kenley's inability to make that distinction is what ultimately caused her to lose to her much more talented competitor, Leanne.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Dutchess: A Political Fashion Show

Note: Several aspects of the plot will be disclosed here.

After persuading my husband that he did, indeed, want to watch "The Dutchess," a lush period film about the fashionable Dutchess Georgiana Cavendish of Devonshire, with me, I sat down with very few expectations other than knowing I was about to see a film about a miserable aristocratic marriage. It was certainly all that--at some times, it was tediously painful to watch--, but I was surprised by all of the references to fashion in it.
In an early scene, Georgiana tells her marble husband (played by the once handsome but now ever-increasingly creepy Ralph Fiennes) that her dress is of her own design, and as he mechanically undresses her on their wedding night, he complains about the complicated nature of the female dress. She somewhat flippantly responds by telling him that it is their way of "expressing themselves," like the way men have their ways of expressing themselves. What becomes clear throughout the film is that as Georgiana's long-suffering silent submission increases, so does the lavishness of her costumes. Her gowns become more exquisite, her jewels more ornate--all in an attempt to express some part of herself that she sees slowly slipping away. During a political rally, in which her presence alone is able to generate a larger crowd, she is wearing a gentleman's military jacket (see the above photo) as a sartorial message of freedom, another theme throughout the film. (I could hardly deny the political deja vu of the debater who calls urgently for "change.") When she is the most rebellious, her curly hair is natural and flowing, with nary a wig in sight. Unfortunately, as her husband points out, this call for freedom is a dream and not the reality she wishes for; in her reality, three daughters count for nothing when a husband wants an heir, and a woman is not allowed the romantic freedom of an affair the way a man is.
At the height of her despair, her extremely large bouffant (an expensive wig, of course) catches on fire. A member in the crowd pulls it off and throws it to the ground, and after the Duke shouts for someone to douse it, it fizzles in a kind of symbolic show. Ironically enough, it is then that the Duke discovers that she is pregnant, and we later find out it is with the male heir he is so desperate to sire. However, it is not, as Georgiana's mother persuades her to believe, the end of her suffering.
While I won't disclose the ending, I will say that while the character attempts to challenge her restrictive life, she understands that freedom comes mostly through her sartorial and maternal choices. As I am currently teaching The Scarlet Letter, I can't help but also make a comparison to Hester's extravagant expression of her imagination through her daughter Pearl's fanciful outfits: a direct act of rebellion against the somber lifelessness of the Puritan culture.
Thankfully, we live in a different age, when fashion is not the only outlet of a woman's creative expression. But when we dress, do we do so out of a desire to conform or out of a desire to challenge and to express?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Price Gouging + Economic Recession=Frugal Fashionistas

Devi Kroell Python Boots, $1,990

Net-a-porter sends its clients a "Look Book" at the start of each season to
help them narrow down their coveted must-have items, and when I saw these Devi Kroell python boots, I went ga-ga over them. They were perfect: flats, python, metallic...and then I saw the price tag when they appeared this week. Two thousand dollars. Are you kidding me?
While product inflation naturally occurs over time, the fashion world has astronomically increased its prices over the last five years. When I got engaged in 2004, for example, my husband bought me a tweed Chanel bag for roughly $1,600; today that same bag would be priced at $2, 700. A few years ago, my knee-high black Dior boots were priced at $800, a price I remember cringing at (I later bought them on sale); today, those same boots would be priced at $1, 200. Somehow, over time, I have become inured to the rising costs, but with the economy on the verge of imploding, I have suddenly awakened to what I now recognize as price gouging.
While this so-called realization may seem obvious to many, consider this from the fashionista's perspective. She pays for fashion and quality--two traits that usually, but not always, require a higher price. The subtle change in pricing occurs so steadily and so insidiously, like a growing cancer that goes undetected. She has become used to paying $500 for a pair of shoes, $1,500-3,000 for a handbag, and $1,500 for a dress. And if she is able to pay for said items, she invests in what she believes to be quality merchandise. She may even believe that the higher price tag makes the item more attractive in its inaccessibility. And because she sees it everywhere she turns, she accepts it.
Whether that fashionista is forced to alter her shopping paradigm by increased financial woes or not, the question remains: are these items worth it? I will admit--I will continue to buy these items, but I will also do so with increasing skepticism. Instead of buying those two thousand dollar boots, I could purchase two one thousand dollar boots (in leather, of course). If I waited until they went on sale, I could buy one of those designer boots for $500--or I could purchase two pairs from a lesser known designer for the same amount. Ultimately, one must question where the value comes from--the tag or the shopper?