Weight for It
October 15, 2009

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Boy, fashion is barely standing on its spindly little legs this week, sorta collapsing under its own weight – or lack of it. By now you all know about Ralph Lauren model Filippa Hamilton – first she was deflated by a round of extreme retouching by her employer and lizzie-miller-2then we found out she had already been taken out of the lineup and fired altogether six months ago when her size-4 figure reportedly became too big for the clothes. From the news today comes a report that overweight women’s self-esteem plunges when they look at any model, whether she’s toothpick thin or flaunts a few extra pounds (like Lizzie Miller, left) Skinny girls had the opposite reaction: they always felt better when they looked at a model, whatever her size. In France and England, meanwhile, there’s a move to label Photoshop-crazy retouched images on a sliding scale with a health warning like they do for smoking. And in Germany, leading mag Brigitte will no longer use models in its pages, only “real women” that readers could identify with. Of course, Bavaria’s favorite-son fashionista Karl Lagerfeld dismissed that with a wave of his gloved hand: “No one wants to see curvy women,” Lagerfeld was quoted.”You’ve got fat mothers with their bags of chips sitting in front of the television and saying that thin models are ugly.” Nice.

There’s no denying that Ralph’s retouching was absurd, however limited they say the use of the image was intended to be. According to insiders speaking out in blog comments,amd_lauren there was even a reaction inside the company before the picture was released. On the matter of Hamilton’s dismissal, their statement that she did not live up to the terms of her contract probably means that yes, her now size-4 body didn’t fit into their samples. No doubt that’s true – she’s 23 now and has been working for the company since she was 15, so she’s not a gangly teen-age girl anymore. And unfortunately that’s the problem and it’s a lot bigger than Lauren – the runways of the world are now populated by the beautiful beanpoles and the entire fashion system of runway and sample garments has been “downsized” to their 0 to 2 frames. The reign of the shapely supermodel, being long over, has been replaced by underdevloped hordes of mostly Slavic teens, like the Prada model at the top of the page.  And it’s Prada, headed by a woman I must point out, that usually gets the credit for turning the industry to the look-alike and lanky Lolita’s. They wanted the clothes to stand out and the girls to disappear on the runway; well it seems they got their wish and then some.

As for magazines, Diana Vreeland famously said they were “the places that people dream,” and now some people see only a nightmare. Overheated blog Jezebel doesn’t even believe the skinny on skinnies – that they like looking at models.  No, no, no – models are part of the “beauty-industrial complex (that) is basically designed to enscript” women everywhere. (Are they armed? Is Agent Orange the new trendy color?) I know the topic is serious, but the true wisdom comes from a reader who notes that models are, like always, just models – beautifully shaped and cellulite-free – whatever their size. Women need to look elsewhere for their self-esteem.”The “plus” and “real” women never look like us,” she adds. “It’s easier to ignore the message sent by the skinny model.”

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Paree Prairie
October 6, 2009

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Seeing pics of the Chanel spring show Tuesday in Paris, I guess now they can change the lyric to, “How you gonna keep em off of the farm after they’ve seen Paree?” Even after penning my ode to the cool chic(k) the other day, little did I guess that Kountry Karl would take it to the hay-strewn limit, as the song says, one more time.

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But there is was – the cute floral frocks, delicate prairie palette and country-couture covetables like calico-flower bags and burlap wood-heeled clogs sporting the trademark Double C “brand”. Chanel tweeds even got the hayseed treatment and, at the end, Karl’s new favorite runway “rooster” Baptiste Giabiconi romped barefoot in the barnyard with the babes.

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Chanel’s take was masterful by all accounts but acres of ecru and bales of beige across all the runways might get a little played out in stores this spring, as Style.com noted in its review of Chloe’s more conventional collection, filled with workaday button-downs, roomy trousers and, yes, boyfriend jackets. Retailers are going to work hard “if their selling floors aren’t going to stretch like an executive dust bowl as far as the eye can see.” Sounds like some good ole’ country horse sense to us.

01050mSHORT TAKE: During New York Fashion Week, I first ran this photo and wrote about how panties were the top choice for the bottom of this season, running rampant on every runway. A week later, I was reading the New York Times, where Eric Wilson labeled the inner-wear initiative, “the Spanx trend”, accompanied by the same shot. The stylist in me wants to point out that the retro shapes being revived this season – granny panties and tighty whiteys – were around long before the advent of what is euphemistically termed “shapewear.” (And no disrespect intended, as come award season, loves me some Spanx!) But hey, or hay as you might rightly say, Couturealist was more than happy to get there first.

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.


Off – and Farther Off – the Runway
September 21, 2009

Courtesy of the hilarious Tom & Lorenzo of Project Rungay blog fame, I thought these pictures of some of the Emmy gowns from yesterday next to shots from their original showing on the runway give a hint at what their stylists, both rightly or wrongly, might have been thinking.

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Skorting the Issue
September 17, 2009

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It’s spring again for 2010, at least on the runway this week, and a young man’s fancy turns to…halter tops. At least that’s the view from designer Thom Browne, he of the signature shrunken jackets and shin-baring trousers.  But with his runway boys sporting oversize polka-dots, lipstick rosebuds and those halters (along with mini-skorts and cuffed gaucho pants), Browne hit a nerve that seems awfully close to the surface. Women’s Wear Daily couldn’t wait to pounce: “The clothes were ridiculous…add the lipstick and its officially a drag show…to make unwearable art that takes no account of the wearer’s dignity is only dodging the challenge.”

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I don’t know for sure but I think WWD might be feeling their masculinity’s a little threatened. Ya think? But have they stepped outside lately?  When every twenty-something man around seems to have waxed his eyebrows, how far away is lipstick, really?  And the neoprene mini-skort?  I picked up a Barneys fall catalogue recently only to find on the cover a swell Raf Simon’s double-breasted suit, topped not with a smart topcoat or trench but instead with a “neoprene shrug, $375.”

And then there’s the skort, which actually might be the garment of the future, combining shorts in back and a skirt panel in front – intersex styling that’s functional, non- patriarchal and anatomically neuter.  And people used to think we were all gonna run around in spacesuits in the 21st Century! One early-adopter has already made the skort his uniform and he’s pretty influential – top-o-the-heap designer Marc Jacobs lives in his, day in and day out, only changing his shirt from black to white, accessorized in summer with a sandal and winter with a combat boot.

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Sometimes when he’s out and about, he adds a smart black leather envelope bag – a clutch really.  I’m sure it’s all about utility to Jacobs  but there’s probably a Women’s Wear editor somewhere breaking out in a sweat just at the thought. It’s all right, because this week’s fashion issue of the New Yorker has just the answer:

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Good ‘n Panty
September 16, 2009

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I’m not at Fashion Week this season, but from the looks of things for next spring New York designers have got their creative wad in a panty. Whether tight-y and white-y, a step away from nude, or in blazing color, the high-waisted  granny-underwear shape is no longer just an unseen foundation. This panty stands alone, whether in Alexander Wang’s sheer-sided party version paired with a sparkly sweater, Derek Lam’s sophisticated off-the-shoulder Park Avenue playsuit or Marc Jacobs’ satin-paneled shorties,

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layered over another emphatically high-waisted panty in sheer swiss. And he adds a matching bra layered over the shirt in his Rei Kawakubo-inspired collection – Good Things Comme To Those Who Wait? This may have all started back in July at Dior Haute Couture when John Galliano, inspired by photos of post-war models half-dressed in their cabine, sent out his models in just part of a look, a tailored “Bar” jacket here over a hand-made lacy-garter belt or a beaded lantern-shaped skirt there shown with an exquisite brassiere. But that was an arch concept for the Paris salon; here is New York we’re seeing the playful side of the panty raid.

Boobies Prize?
September 14, 2009

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Count me in with people saying that Project Runway feels kind of dull this season. In the show’s move to Lifetime Television for Women from Bravo Television for Gays and the Women Who Love Them, we have too many look-alike contestants, too many substitute judges (last week’s episode without Nina Garcia and Michael Kors – c’mon!), and not enough design-room drama, which TV critic Richard Dawson hilariously nailed in his wrap-up. It’s not just the move to LA, though the show seems curiously flat without the oxygen-deprived hustle and bustle of New York. Last-week’s challenge supposedly turned the tables by asking the models to dictate to the designers what they wanted to wear and create a look for an industry party that would get them noticed. A few of the designers threw a little shade on each other and then . . . the fashion show started. Really, that was it. Compare that to the family-feuding episode a few seasons back when sisters and moms gave the design orders and tears flowed, threats were made and dark-star contestant Jeffrey of the frightening neck tattoo went after somebody’s mom.  Maybe it was just a dream I had.

Anyway, when the judging unfolded so did an interesting (to me, at least) fashion and cultural history teachable moment. Dreadlocks daddy Epperson was called out by Heidi Klum because his applique-lashed jersey dress didn’t hoist up the model’s modestly-sized bosom sufficiently to Heidi’s admittedly Victoria’s Secret- based definition of “Angel” perky. It dawned on me that the 50-year-old designer came of age in the freewheeling bra-less ’70s when a breast was just a breast, in its natural and un-underwired state, unfettered under poor-boy T-shirts by day and brassy disco acetate by night. It was a time long ago and far away – before the aggressive uplift of  lacy boob-booster bras and unyielding conical surgical implants made perfectly-rounded bosoms the norm they are today.

suitOf course my theory got all shot to hell a few minutes later in the same episode because the winning designer Althea’s model projected a much more generous anatomical expanse that didn’t seem to be catching much of the benefit of any of the Secret’s silky uplifiting support either. Curiously, Heidi and the other judges said not a word.  They were too busy raving about the cute little suit jacket, maybe, to notice she was, as the song says, busting out all over. Not to mention the further figure-distorting effect of the high-waisted mini. Well she wanted to get noticed at the party, right? And we all know that whether in Los Angeles or New York, that would be no problem.

Jezzie-nation
September 8, 2009

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Are you a Jezzie?  For the uninitiated, that would be a reader of Jezebel, part of the Gawker family of fine blogging products. “Celebrity, sex, fashion for women” it promises, and all without any kind of supposed airbrushing – visual or mental.  Jezebel wants to keep it real, you see, so no rosy idealized vision here.  Skinny size-zero models, unyielding bad-mommy Anna Wintour and dictatorial (male) designers top its fashion enemies list,  and a casual reader might be forgiven for thinking, “Who are these crazies who think fashion is just a grand conspiracy to keep women down?”

Any post that touches on body image automatically sets off at least 100 comments and this weekend’s “Do Women Want To See Themselves In Fashion Magazines” opened another floodgate. If you’ve been living in a media-deprived cave you may not have heard, but recently model Lizzie Miller was photographed in Glamour and became a “we-need-to-see-more-of-this!!!” rallying cry all out of proportion to her slight tummy roll. One dissent came in a Times of London article in which author India Knight suggested that putting “real” size 12 models in magazines might make women actually feel worse about themselves because they would be comparing themselves with all-too-real women of their own stature rather than an obviously fantasy “stick-figure” model.

Jezebel’s Hortense (love her moniker!) counters with, “perhaps women wouldn’t find fashion to be as difficult or overwhelming or, as in Knight’s case, joyless…if we could actually see ourselves in the pictures, as well.”

But then the comments roll in, and eventually we hear from a Ms. hippichx sez PEACE:

“if for no other freaking reason, i think women of all sizes should be portrayed so we can see how clothing hangs on different types of women. i may be skinny, but i have an hourglass shape. i’ve always wanted to wear those drop waist dresses, but they look ridiculous on me…. something i was unaware of until i tried one on. while the body of the woman may not be attainable (no matter what the size) they are modeling a product, and that product should be. why the hell would a size sixteen woman want to purchase something they have never seen on somebody with a similar body? and even then, there are all different kinds of size sixteen bodies….it took me decades to get used to the fact that i am, in fact, curvy. that this is something i should embrace and emphasize with my clothing, rather than hopping on the latest bandwagon and looking ridiculous in whatever is in style. stick thin curveless robots are clothes hangers. if i wanted to see how something looked on a hanger, i would go to the mall.”

Sing it sister!!!  Still, it’s almost too easy to take potshots at overwrought tirades like this – I’d bet money she’s in her ’20s, so I doubt it took her “decades” to realize she was curvy; she wants to see everything modeled by every size in magazines yet can barely be bothered to try anything on herself; and most importantly “if for no other freaking reason” – she thinks it’s her unarguable right. And maybe it is.

That’s what fascinates me most about Jezebel and its devoted sisterhood of the traveling rants. Like it or not, hippichx sez PEACE is the future of fashion. Wrong, actually. For her generation, she is the now.

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: 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?