GaGaggle!
December 2, 2009

Lady GaGa is on the January cover of Elle and I’m only half-surprised. She’s toned down her trademark bizarre appearance in her latest TV appearances on Jay Leno and the AMAs and starting to work the sexpot vibe, albeit the 2009 version of sexpot – big blonde bouncy curls, no pants just panties, tattered Balmain-style leather.

I saw the GaGa shots on Jezebel, which continues to fascinate me. They do have a lot of fashion content amid the post-feminist postings, like the thoughtful stories – yesterday’s about Lacroix – from Jenna, formerly Tatiana, the Anonymous Model (long story but basically she quit the runway and dropped her decoy byline). Also frequent red-carpet roundups. And, of course, their famed preoccupation with the airbrushing sins, inflated egos and mundane content (their view, not necessarily mine) of the “ladymags”, the fashion MSM – Bazaar, Elle, and especially Vogue.

So wading into the comments section of their post about the GaGa both bemused me with its youthful (at least I hope it was youthful) enthusiasms and frightened me a little about the future of women as fashion consumers. First there is dismissal of GaGa’s sexy turn, “…she looks like every other sexy-faced-fake-eyelashed-skinny-corset-wearing pop star out there.” Some back and forth follows – is she bi, what does it mean, does it matter?

Then, like the shark approaching in Jaws, comes the comment about the cover image itself: “I hate to be the one to point out an airbrush FAIL…but doesn’t her right arm look freakishly small at the armpit/ shoulder joint area?” Twelve posts follow about whether it really is the dastardly retouching or just foreshortening because of the photographer’s angle. Nothing’s really settled, but moving on, one commenter exclaims, “I hate ladymags, but I am buying the fuck out of this!

The convo then skips through a few posters comparing notes because their dads like GaGa, her makeup, her poses, and then a discussion of what to wear to a GaGa concert: “The lack of pants is key. We are all wearing redonkulous dresses from Forever 21 with crazy colored leggings.

Lastly comes the question of her artistic cred, including the touchingly honest, “You win, Lady Gaga. My head hurts whenever you do anything, but I’m okay with that.” Then the possibly naive, “Yes, she puts a lot of it out there for the world to see, but it’s obviously done by her because that is a part of who she is, not because she thinks it will sell records.”

And then, finally, a larger cultural context, “She also does a great job of referencing the fetish community and probably challenging vanilla and middle america more than they quite realize. Rock on Gaga…” What could I possibly I add? Rock on, indeed.

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Standard Gold
November 30, 2009

I was a little surprised to see that Vogue chose to dress the always-stunning Cate Blanchett in a gold column gown for their December cover – the dress is almost a dead ringer for the gown she wore on the cover of Vanity Fair earlier this year. Don’t get me wrong, the lady would look glamorous in a gunny sack but, for red-carpet outings, she often picks choices from the further realms of fashion: McQueen, Gaultier and showstoppers from the Armani Privé runway. So Vogue had the perfect opportunity to put a fashion iconoclast in something a bit more memorable. But instead it was same gold, same old.

Cut and Pastie
October 5, 2009

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No it’s not the Paris Las Vegas casino you’re looking at but actual Paris, France, where newly-named “artistic director” Lindsay Lohan, along with heretofore-unknown-and-maybe-she-should-have-kept-it-that-way designer Estrella Archs, debuted their first collection Sunday for the formerly fabled but slowly expiring house of Emmanuel Ungaro. Leggings Linds, hired for her purported cool-girl factor (and, let’s face it, her ability to bring exploding cameras in her wake) made her big design statement by reviving the pastie, in heart-shaped glitter no less. Maybe she heard the show was at the Carrousel de Lido rather than its actual setting at the Carrousel de Louvre (which WWD dubbed “the geezer venue.”)

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In addition to the pasties, which, call me crazy, do sort of seem relevant 00020mgiven this underwear-as-daywear runway season, the designing duo also offered skirts so short that one apparently exposed the rump of one of the models, crayola-bright silk harem pants and Lego-heeled footwear, topped off here and there with white fur stoles slung over the shoulder. Classy. Fuchsia minis at the top of the show were about the only vague reference to Ungaro of old, although who could remember what that even looked like, given the revolving runway of four previous designers who have tried and failed to revive the house in recent years.

Mean-girl editors silently fled after the show but the press pile-on was brutal, with the New York Times noting that Lohan’s task was “something akin to a McDonald’s fry cook taking the reins of a three-star Michelin restaurant.” But Ungaro’s head, Mounir Moufarrage (once notorious in fashion but ultimately vindicated when he abruptly replaced Karl Lagerfeld at Chloe with then-untested Stella McCartney in 1997), stubbornly insisted that controversy, not couture, was the name of the glam game in the face of a recession.

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Depressingly, that’s only the half of it. Ungaro has lost so much ground at this point – when was the last time you saw a piece in the stores? – that it’s hard to remember, as former WWD publisher John Fairchild wrote in his cranky but tenderhearted ’80s memoir Chic Savages, “whatever purity there is, in look and concept, it is the creation of Yves St. Laurent, Giorgio Armani and Emanuel Ungaro.” From that dizzying height, the designer, who first apprenticed with Balenciaga and Courreges and went on to dress all the society boldface names through the ’90s, faded out, quietly giving up his couture collection in 2002 after he had designated Giambattista Valli as his successor. Valli was later ousted, as the company was sold and then resold and haplessly cycled through several designers.

The fashion landscape is littered with doomed attempts to replace a house’s original designer (Blass closed; Ferre and Valentino are teetering); somehow it’s especially challenging if the designer is of recent vintage – it seems to work better when the work is only a dim memory – so, say, the luxurious simplicity of a Lanvin can be embraced and updated or else the sumptuous dressmaking of a Balmain can be junked completely for an avant-garde new image as in the case of Paris’s towering men of the hour, Alber Ebaz and Christophe Decarnin, respectively.

harpers-bazaar-2008-dec-lindsay-lohanUpdating the clothes of yesterday’s maestros to appeal to today’s customers is a thankless task, unless you’re Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel, effortlessly creating clothes both mothers and daughters would kill for. But the money men like Moufarrage keep thinking they can strike gold too, betting the bank on a celebrity and her pasties.  They’re not the only ones to hitch their star to the famous; magazines led the way. In the Times piece Harper’s Bazaar editor Glenda Bailey won’t comment on the collection, she’s “running for the door.” But she didn’t run so fast when it came to putting Linds on her cover.

Cover Me…and Me…and Me!
September 24, 2009

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Gee, it’s getting a little crowded on the newstand. I don’t mean the number of magazines, but the number of people that seem to be crowding onto each magazine cover. If you’ve looked around lately, you can’t help but see plenty of heads among cover_self_100the headlines and sometimes it’s hard to understand at a running glance what they’re doing there, all smooshed together. Redbook offers Melrose Place’s Ashlee Simpson, movie actress Alicia Silverstone and Friday Night Light’s Connie Britton (who at first I mistook for the slimmed-down Nia Vardalos!) as their candidates for “hotties” of any age this month. Self also offers a trio, of Kristen Bell, Kristin Davis and Malin Ackerman of the movie rom com Couples Retreat, which I guess you could call a post-wedding He’s Not That Into You … Anymore. And then there’s Ladies Home Journal, which supersizes the concept by cramming all five of the ladies of The View into one shot. Besides having to share that precious cover oxygen with all of her pink-clad cohorts, poor Barbara Walters looks like she’s about to be strangled by the bottom headline deck. I’ll bet Babs would like to Refresh Somebody’s Life, once she stops gasping for breath.

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Even fashion magazines are getting into the act with the sorta-sapphic coupling of dewy Drew Barrymore and a glamorously wenchy Ellen Page on the cover of the current Marie Claire. This duo has been getting the most bang for their media buck – first they frolicked with their other roller-derby-saga Whip It cast-mates in the fashion pages of V magazine before they “got a room” on their MC cover. Of course we’ve all seen group covers before, like Vanity Fair’s annual movie issue or Vogue’s random model-stacked anniversary numbers. And obviously some of these October-issue ladies of the month are no doubt overjoyed because otherwise they would never get a cover on their own. Conversely, someone iconic like Drew enhances her good-natured “one of the gals” image by sharing her cover “candy” with her co-star – most actresses in insecurity-laden Hollywood aren’t that generous, to put it mildly.

But this new cover oversharing seems like something else – a desperate grab at something, anything, as magazines flail about in the new-media seas, looking for any port in a storm. And I think these cover multitudes are working against their interest most of the time – the monthlies are starting to look like the tabloids, with all those little faces. Is that what they really want? A single cover subject somehow embodies what a magazine is really about, what it endorses, what makes it unique. A crowd? Not so much.


Call Her Anna
September 22, 2009

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The September Issue, the documentary about Vogue, Anna Wintour (seen above in a scene with photographer Mario Testino) and the making of the magazine’s largest-ever September 2007 issue, brought with it a ton of publicity, culminating in her appearance on David Letterman’s show just before Fashion Week. Finally the film has opened in LA (and it expands across the country this coming weekend) and, for all you Anna-philes out there, the movie reveals some amusing and arcane remnants to ponder about the legendary editor.

1. Anna doesn’t like black! I had never realized this before but think, quick, have you ever seen her photographed in a little black dress? And she isn’t very partial to it in the pages of her magazine either. In one segment, Anna’s palpable gloom is hilarious as YSL’s designer Stephano Pilati determinedly tries to assure her that the muted morass of his new collection includes some murky green and red. She doesn’t see it (and, really, neither do we).

2. Anna lives in a cottage! Or rather, a ersatz cottage inside a Village townhouse with goldenrod decorator-sponged walls (so ’90s!), pretty painted pottery and a jumble of coats hanging in the entryway. I don’t know why I was so surprised – her ex-husband was an academic, not the corporate type like Miranda Priestly’s withering spouse in The Devil Wears Prada. But in contrast with her chilly, walk-the-plank office….

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3. Anna loves prints!  You can take the girl out of England but you can’t take England out of the girl, apparently.  Her uniform is unvarying – a print dress (often Prada) worn with or without a cardigan.  Add fur at the slightest hint of a breeze. Delicate Manolos in summer (no lumbering Louboutin platforms for her!) and sleek boots in winter. More often than not, she accessorizes only with what appears to be a very fine vintage citrine necklace. Customarily a floral print gives your run-of-the-mill fashionista the worst kind of the heebie-jeebies so it’s kind of perversely wonderful that they’re the unvarying uniforn of the queen.

The September Issue: Vogue
September 11, 2009

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When I started this little romp around the fall fashion issues of the big magazines, I thought The September Issue, the Vogue documentary that was my inspiration, would have opened nationwide but in fact only New York got it early and finally today it opens here in L.A.  So much has changed since that epochal flying-high September portrayed in the film – this year’s fashion issue clocks in at 200 or so pages less for starters.subscribe We will probably never see the likes of that 4-pound  2007 doorstop again. This year’s model boasts cover girl Charlize Theron, pretty, pared down with no accessories, certainly a big “get” but otherwise standard fare – nothing seems to link her image with fashion at this moment.  Inside she’s given a vaguely Georgia O’Keefe treatment, photographed in the high desert, styled with white T-shirts and men’s button-downs under long dark gowns, a conceit I feel like I’ve already seen too many times before.  Also old and quaintly amusing in that unintended Vogue way is the Last Look coda from the back page – a Manolo (of course) Blahnik lizard “take” on a Timberland boot, modified with sky-high heel and open toe – “fully equipped for any urban stomping ground” (at $1,595). Don’t get me wrong: when paging through the magazine I really don’t care what the items cost and I find some critics’ harping on Vogue‘s pricey merch to be oh so dull and dreary – it’s all a fantasy so just go with it. But the Manolo bootie is kind of like your grandma uttering the word “bootie” in reference to a hoochie  rap song. I cringe.

All is forgiven though by the opening fashion spread: who else but Vogue would lead off with most-likely-the-supermodel-of-today Natalia Vodianova as Little Red Riding Hood in a crimson collection of capes and other assorted get-ups?  Subtly recalling editor-god emeritus Diana Vreeland and her red reveries while also conjuring up the all-too-real recessionary wolf currently prowling around fashion’s fantastic forest, it’s also a proverbial Eve’s apple temptingly thrust at the consumer/reader to rush right out and buy something – and make it red! That’s Wintour’s commercial genius still firing on all cylinders.

The September Issue: W
September 1, 2009

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It’s September, it’s W magazine and Kate Moss is on the cover – and all’s right with the world. And what’s she wearing?  I’ll give you a hint – it’s September and it’s W magazine. That’s right folks: P-R-A-D-A.  With a cover line touting Miuccia and “Her Surprising New Collection.” Well, none of this is a surprise, but it still manages to be a very handsome cover, and sexy too – a tangle of golden curls and a seriously red-lipped pout prove Kate’s still got it – and how.

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Within the issue, W really outdid itself this time around. The magazine is the closest thing we have in the U.S. to the sublimely artistic pages of the Vogues Italian and French. And sometimes W goes overboard, veering way too precious, with stories built around frustratingly esoteric concepts that go on for spread after spread (20 pages, no problem!) But for this issue they brought out the all-stars, the photographer’s photographers,  and a haunting array of themes – starting with fashion’s hottest lensmen, Mert and Marcus, who bring a deliciously twisted Visconti-esque vision to what would otherwise be a predictable fall fashion story, the English country house party.

M and M do double duty with the aforementioned cover and the kinky inside portfolio of Kate Moss in Prada’s fall collection with a Weimar vibe. Jurgen Teller provides an ominous boho Woodstock fantasy featuring Jennifer Jason Leigh and Dree Hemingway. And Madonna’s favorite, Steven Klein, goes there in a naughty schoolboy reverie that summons Lara Stone as a dorm dominatrix in lots of power jackets.

But what I kept turning back to was stylist Alex White’s haute bag lady (photographed by Craig McDean) – pictures where parts of the outfits were crafted from designer shopping bags. Sometimes laying in the street, sometimes lounging in the studio, doll-like Sasha Pivovarova struck me as about as fragile as fashion itself these days: a little spent, not so much homeless as rootless, and coming out of an era when the name on the shopping bag often seemed more important than the clothes inside. And now she’s waiting. Waiting.

The September Issue: Elle
August 27, 2009

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Elle, Elle, Elle…was it just last year that your fall fashion issue featured Jessica Simpson on the cover in jeans and a flannel shirt? Well this year, you’ve stepped up with a major “get” and give us Jennifer Aniston in black strapless leather (provoking a WHO-WORE-IT-BEST frenzy in cyberspace since tabloid rival Angelina Jolie, who likes to wear the same things over and over on the red carpet, has donned the same look at least twice.) There was also an artyJennifer-Aniston-Photos_inmagblock black-and-white subscriber cover with a tighter shot of her in down-home  jeans and biker jacket and a Sharpie-scrawled “JENNIFER!” headline.  I guess the leather dress shot was just a fashion tease, because the portfolio inside is just the usual “dressed-down” T-shirt, jean shorts and work shirt. But back up just a minute, because way before the feature “well”, Elle does what it does best – distilling current trends (all 25…numbered!) and the myriad ways you can find them across all price points. These pages are succinct and placed in the front of the book, not shunted to the back pages like Vogue does. Even if you don’t buy their exact suggestions, the pages are so crisp that the mental image of number 9. Deep V-Neck Blouses or whatever is seared on the brain for handy reference later when you’re in the mall. Elle also has a sense of humor – in their full-on ’80s trend pages they cite “The People’s Princess” with witty houndstooth shoes and a tartan Bo-Peep jacket alongside more-often seen memes like “Pretty in Pink” and “Brat Pack”.

So the front-of-the book pages are loaded with “merch” but it’s all so festive it comes off as great reader service not overweening commercialism. Farther along things get more problematic, when in the middle of endless bucolic outdoor portfolios (not one fashion shoot was done in studio), you linger over a beat-of-the-city-chic story and then notice all the clothes in the entire 10-page spead are by, um, Tommy Hilfiger.  This is directly followed by a four-page Marc Jacobs”beauty” portfolio touting Lola, his new frangrance, which includes the requisite portrait of Jacobs as well as a model dreamily lolling around in a blanket of roses with an oversized version of the perfume’s bottle.

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I guess it’s like those irritating pop-ups for this weekend’s rom-com when you’re just trying to read the LA Times online or like more product-placement wedged into your favorite sitcom since most people speed through the commercials when they get around to watching them on their DVR.  I know it’s tough out  there for magazines but I hope Elle at least got Tommy to chip in on the production costs of the “feature.”

The September Issue: Harper’s Bazaar
August 24, 2009

Bazaar 1004In honor of this Friday’s release of the Anna Wintour documentary, The September Issue, I thought I’d take a look at the current September or fall fashion issues currently on the stands. When I was working as a fashion editor, I was always employed at general-interest magazines  so I had to produce stories that functioned as both fashion content for the already stylish and entertainment for the style-challenged reader. That was the first thing I thought of while flipping through the fall fashion issue of Harper’s Bazaar. Each of the best portfolios has a vastly different look, from Jean Paul Goode’s pictures of Naomi bonding with the great beasts of Africa (including wrestling with an alligator!) to show off clothes in animal prints to Karl Lagereld’s Peggy-Guggenheim-in-Venice fantasy to Terry Richardson’s subscriber cover and portfolio of Agyness Deyn as a style tribute to the King of Pop – in sparkle-plenty styles from Dries, Balmain and Stella. Since we’re in the second round of Michael Jackson covers (GQ has a Michael Jackson cover this month too) and they still seem to be selling, it’s curious that on the newstand the Bazaar cover is yet another starlet on standby, Leighton Meister of Gossip Girl (though seemingly dressed from Jennifer Lopez’ s closet).  Bazaar 1005Maybe it’s just the concept of two covers that I don’t get – like a tree falling silently in a forest, is a cover really a cover if it’s not out there on the newstand competing with all the other covers?  And that’s where I think the Deyn cover would have shined, by looking completely different than all the other business-as-usual fashion covers of celebrity portraits. It’s almost a pop-art poster it’s so stylized an image and that’s a good thing for covers – they’re really an ad for each magazine, saying “Buy Me!”  That’s why I think the current uproar in some circles about cover retouching (unless it’s so bad that the person is rendered unrecognizable) kind of misses the point – a cover is not really supposed to be a a documentary photograph. It’s an advertising tool and if you have to slim out a celebrity’s arm or clean up their complexion to get somebody to look twice, pick the magazine up and buy the damn thing, then the cover has done its job!

3SHORT TAKE: I picked up the fashion issue of New York magazine last week on a newstand but I didn’t end up buying it because it largely consisted of text pieces – notably a full-bore dissection of Annie Leibovitz’s financial implosion and a halfhearted dissection of Christian Lacroix’s  – that I had already scanned online. But the real letdown was looking at the portfolios – of which there exactly two – one an array of arty b&w images backstage at fashion shows (how fresh, how new, as a friend of mine used to say) and second a portfolio of a few runway photos (!!!) grouped by trend, hugely blown up over several mind-numbing pages. Since I  (and everyone else in the world)  had seen this type of thing on the web for months already from style.com on down the blogroll, you have to wonder what were they thinking? It hardly needs to be said, but if a fashion issue doesn’t offer something visually compelling in its print version, then why bother?