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, 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?

Monday, October 6, 2008

History As Her Miu(se)?

After Miuccia Prada completely horrified me with her inexplicable Prada spring 2009 collection, I waited eagerly with fearful anticipation for her sister line, Miu Miu. Prada doesn't always paint with the same brush (this fall is clear evidence of that; Prada focused on lace, while Miu Miu focused on sporty looks), and while I wasn't completely endeared, I wasn't repulsed, either. The reappearance of an asymmetrical skirt line concerned me (I don't see how aprons could ever be the new skirt accessory), but this collection was more controlled and tasteful than her eponymous line. With history as her muse, Prada incorporated ancient historical references that made me question my comfort zone. Here are the looks that inspired more than a "humph" from me:

1. This saffron and mud sheath is strangely enticing, despite the fact that it features a prominent head on the bottom. The short length and the fitted silhouette make it work, to borrow Tim Gunn's motto.

2. This is a strapless version of the above design, without the garish tribal head staring at you. Unfortunately, it appears somewhat frumpy despite the extra swath of exposed skin at the top:

3. Moth-eaten holes appeared as a running motif throughout her collection, which would normally have me--and my grandmother--running for the proverbial hills. Yet the deconstructed look, which I can only stomach in certain looks (like a Yigal Azrouel dress I have which features loose gold threads over a fitted white sheath), is cooler than cool here:

4. And now for the bags--which were exceptionally fantastic. This camel, milk chocolate, and dark chocolate bag is better suited for fall than spring, but it nevertheless has a cool chic quotient that can't be denied:

This cranberry whipsnake satchel is to die for:

...And it is downright capable of producing mobs of desperate fashionistas in a white/gray version (*I must have this bag!*):

5. Prada's shoes are always a delight because of their capacity to surprise.

These merlot python T-straps are fantastic staples for any wardrobe:

I adore the burlap fabric and muted, inky spots on these:

These black and gray swirl T-straps are not for the faint of heart:

If I could bear the awkward position of these, I'd wear them to death:

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Celeb Sightings

THURSDAY: Ivanka Trump at BCBG/Max Azria on Fifth Avenue, shopping: She looked pulled together, wearing a work-chic long coat, perfect pumps, and an exotic bag.

TODAY: Taylor Momsen on Fifth Avenue, outside of Saks Fifth Avenue: She was crossing the street and hollering at somebody (I'm presuming her mother). She looked like a rock-chic punk.

NOTE: Both are photos from other web sites. I didn't have the good sense to take a photo.

Cheap Chic: Banana Republic Cuffs

Banana Republic, like J. Crew, has been cranking out stellar jewelry for ridiculously low prices--just in time for the costume jewelry craze. The above cuff looks like something one would find at Barney's--the dark tortoise, the coral cabochon, and the dainty crystals all work harmoniously to resemble a vintage piece to cherish. Instead of the $5k price tag you'd pay at Barney's, this find is only $44. My only objection is its large size, which doesn't fit petite wrists like mine.

The following two cuffs are cut smaller and work best for medium-sized wrists:

The stark white cuff would look amazing with a white shift dress, and the exotic turquoise and green cuff would stand out beautifully on a minimalist work look. Both cuffs are a mere $39.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Five Fall Must-Haves

In a tight economy, a girl's got to prioritize her fall shopping list. Although these five items are on trend, they are also investments that will carry you from season to season.

The belt is the single most important accessory for fall, and the spring shows testified to its staying power. A belt can transform a look entirely. Choose one that is rich in embellishment or personality.
My Pick: This Fendi powerhouse will instantly make you look thinner and will make your outfit sleeker.

#2: CLOTHING MUST HAVE: The Long Jacket:
I've always been fond of the cropped jacket, but this season, the long "boyfriend" jacket takes center stage. Wear it belted or loose over a dress or skinny jeans.

My Pick: This belted dark beauty by BCBG achieves the best of both worlds: it is both feminine (it can be worn as a minidress) and masculine.

#3: SHOE MUST-HAVE: The Bootie
The bootie, or shoe boot, is a versatile addition to your shoe wardrobe. Wear it with anything--jeans, pants, dresses, skirts, you name it.
My Pick: These Christian Louboutin Astraqueen shoe boots ($895 at net-a-porter) are hot. Choose one that has some tough embellishment for extra glam.

#4: JEWELRY MUST HAVE: The Statement Necklace
Although the cuff is also having a moment, a statement necklace instantly embellishes your outfit. Wear it with jeans and a jacket for a dressy casual look, or wear it with a formal dress for an important occasion.

My Pick: I'm patiently waiting for my Lanvin Art Deco piece to arrive. Isn't it fabulous?!

#5: HANDBAG MUST HAVE: The Softly Structured Satchel:
The satchel has been going strong for several seasons now, and for good reason: it is roomy, soft, and polished. Choose an exotic one to invest in if you can bear the expense.

My Pick: This Bottega Veneta carryall in ostrich (with crocodile trim) will last you a lifetime.