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'Fashion Shows Are No Longer About Clothes'

September 15th, 2007 by tatterdemalion

I am sometimes a little afraid of sounding a bit like a broken record. But it’s been more than a year since I did a post like this, so I think I can comment on Thursdays (Sept. 13, 2007) WSJ article, “Shunning the Runway at Fashion Week”. I have long felt that my interest in design clothes was at complete odds with the fashion industry. This article by Christina Binkley completely reinforces that. In it, she says,

That’s because fashion shows are no longer about buying and selling clothes. Instead they have become major marketing events to generate buzz, establish images, and win good play in the all-important fashion magazines.

The public-savvy Marc Jacobs could be the poster child for this tactic. . .The collection that the exuberant Mr. Jacobs showed was Dali-esque—heels protruding horizontally from the sole at the ball of the foot, strips of fabric draped over satiny lingerie that evoked the 1920s rather than today’s engineered brassieres. It was romantic, artful and thought-provoking—but exactly the sort of thing that would scream “fashion victim” if worn on the street.

Emphasis mine. Reading that big about how it was “romantic, artful and thought-provoking” makes me once again realized what a drooling, uncultured barbarian I am. Not that it makes me even a tiny bit sorry that I am, mind you. Here is the collection in question. If you are a drooling, uncultured barbarian, look through it at your own risk; you will find it painful on many levels. If you are cultured, enlightened and modern, no doubt you will find it romantic, artful and thought-provoking. Being the uncultured fool that I am, I am quite willing to give up romance, art, and anything thought-provoking if it will spare me having to looking through this hideous montage again.

Binkley continues,

Asked backstage if his clothes weren’t inaccessible to most consumers—the ones who have made him rich and famous—Mr. Jacobs said, “They’re supposed to be—nothing is for everyone.” Yet the collection did its job. Its shock value received admiring reviews, and the glam attendees and after-party generated big publicity for the Marc Jacobs label.

To me, asking someone who is interested in sewing if they’re going to be part of fashion shows is like asking a writer if they hope to write trashy tabloids. The goal for each is shock, ‘glamour’, and partying, after all. But quite honestly, I think that everyone agrees that to ask someone who was interested in seriously pursuing the craft of writing if he would be “honored” to write a tabloid would be just plain insulting. Even if that was the way he’d get the most amount of readership. So why is it assumed that it would be an honor for a seamstress to have her work going down a runway?

Oh, and about that glamour.

Increasingly, the New York fashion shows have become events not just for fashion companies but for those hoping to be associated with the glamour of fashion.

The thing is, I can never find any glamour in fashion. Or else, as an uncultured barbarian, I’ve given up on glamour, too. But to me, all the models always look like chemotherapy patients. I find no glamour cancer. I’ve known enough people who’ve had it; some who survived and some who didn’t. But I can tell you that there is no glamour or beauty in cancer, or chemotherapy treatments. I find it greatly disturbing to see so many people being paraded about who look seriously ill and depressed—and that people laud this as “glamour”. The models look ill-treated and abused. If it means I have to be uncultured and give up glamour to feel compassion towards the women and revulsion towards those who tout this as a look of beauty, I am all too glad to give it up—culture, art, romance, glamour, fashion, enlightenment and anything else which glorifies it as any sort of ideal.

There are still, apparently, a very few designers who agree with me. Or at least one, anyway. Elie Tahari has “eschewed fashion’s runway shows for more than 20 years,” though with his goals for expansion he fears he might have to begin. He confesses to preferring women who actually, well, “look like women”. (Which, when you put it that way, makes you wonder exactly what sort of creature the women on the runways look like.)

Should Mr. Tahari begin holding runway shows, he’d need to fundamentally alter his buiness. Since runway models are very, very thin, Mr. Tahari, who designs for real women, would need to cut another set of patterns to fit the six-foot-tall, size-2 women. “If I were to do a show, our entire fit would have to change,” he told me this week. “It would affect the whole psychology of how I do business.”

Here is Mr. Tahari’s Spring 2008 collection, which is much, much less likely you to leave you screaming and tearing at your eyes in an effort to relieve yourself of the horribleness of it all.

I do understand how, in some ways, clothing can be an art and can be used to express things. Isn’t that what costumes are all about? But even costumes have to fit and be worn by real people, in all different shapes and sizes. Fashion is simply absurd. I suppose people would say it is an art, just an art categorized under modern art, which I believe is defined as “that which is harsh on the ears, hard on the eyes, unpleasant to the taste, and widely admired by those who wish to feel superior.” The art of the common man, the un-modern man, the barbarian, is so accessible as to be uncouth. Particularly smirked upon is the work of the folk-artist, the one who actually uses the pieces of art one makes. The intricately pieced quilt, capable of not only being a breath-taking study in color but also of keeping one warm through the winter? How quaint. Baskets hand-woven in pleasing and practical shapes? How droll. These things are not high art.

And so it follows that the “high” art of clothing must also be ugly, uncomfortable, unsuitable, and unpleasant, and those clothes which are both becoming and practical to be scorned as “low” and unworthy work. Yet I still cannot help but think that latter takes more skill and effort than the former—and if I am wrong, it is twice the tragedy, that so much should be spent on so little.

Interested in sewing and in clothes that I am, you won’t be seeing my work on the runways. I am far too uncultured for them, which I do not regret.

Posted in Articles, Couture, Design, WSJ | 2 Comments »

He said it, not me!

July 26th, 2007 by tatterdemalion

I was bemused—no, bemused is the wrong word. I always thought that “bemused” meant slightly puzzled or surprised amusment, but the dictionaries all seem to think it refers more to being “confused” or “engrossed in thought”. Though MW is willing to admit that it could refer to “wry amusement”, which is a little closer to what I thought.

Anyway, today’s WSJ ran an article by Christina Binkley on the back of the personal journal on using clothes to drive home a point. It wasn’t really anything new to me, but I just wanted to share the final paragraph:

Interestingly, given the level of thought he gives to all of this, Mr. Barrack says he will someimes throw it all out the window if the people he’s dealing with show that they have intellecutal depth. He notes, “Often, the people who are the most impeccable are the least substantive.”

Posted in Articles, WSJ | No Comments »

So What Does 'Couture' Mean, Anyway?

May 6th, 2007 by tatterdemalion

That’s the title of an article that ran recently (Tuesday, April 26, 2007, Personal Journal) in the Wall Street Journal. I’ve talked about this subject before; this article, written by Christina Binkley, basically said the same thing I did, in it’s own words.

We Americans have bitten off yet another tasty French concept, and chewed it into submission, thereby revealing the extent of our naivete. “For you it means ‘expensive,'” Pamela Golbin, curator of the Louvre museum’s costume collection, told me a few months ago, with a smile.

In the most technical, literal meaning, “haute” means “high”, and “couture” means sewing. Which means it’s really funny when the article points out that there is now “couture” paper, and “couture” paint, showing just how obviously (and to what extent) people are chewing up the word “couture” to mean whatever they want it to mean.

The French government has the phrase “haute couture” regulated to death, and so most people just say “couture” and give the word it’s own meaning. For myself, the meaning I’ve always given to “couture” is about the highest level of sewing, custom made to a particular person. It’s the parallel to, say, fine wood-working. The craftsmanship the highest of it’s kind. While this definition doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the official meaning of the phrase “haute couture”, it does say a lot about me, and what I’m looking for.

Likewise, the meaning that the majority of Americans have attached to the word might not have much to do with the official meaning, but it does have a lot to say about Americans. While I focus on the concrete aspects—workmanship, and actually having something to do with sewing—most people focus abstract aspects—the prestige, the exclusiveness. As the article notes,

. . .the term couture has been stretched beyond accuracy for years. But lately, as America’s love affair with luxury goods reaches a fevered pitch, the word has become ubiquitous in the U.S. The only term that may be even more abused is “luxury” itself.

This desire of Americans to have all that is exclusive was further highlighted by two other recent WSJ articles. One, from the May 2, 2007 Marketplace, was titled “Liz Claiborne’s Unexpected Stumble”. (Liz, by the way, recently bought Juicy Couture.)

. . .middle-market retailers like J.C.Penney Co. and Kohl’s Corp. are demanding exclusive brands that can’t be found elsewhere.

“This is a big-picture conversation. There is a major change in channel dynamics,” Liz Claiborne Chief Executive William McComb, who joined he company in November from Johnson & Johnson, said in an interview. “Neiman’s doesn’t want to carry what Bloomingdale’s carries. Penney’s and Kohl’s are in a bitter battle. They all think they can press the vendor world for exclusives.”

That’s putting huge pressure on Liz Claiborne and its rivals to rethink the way they do business.

Does anyone see any issues with everyone being exclusive? Yeah. The other article is called “In Praise of Less Praise”, by Jeffrey Zaslow (May 3, 2007, Personal Journal). This article was a follow up to the author’s previous article on praise in today’s workplace. His last example in this article touched on this issue.

Readers wrote about soccer leagues that don’t keep score to avoid hurt feelings; so the kids keep score in their heads. And parents have to pay “trophy fees” before sports seasons even start. Kids know these trophies are bought and not earned.

Several readers sent me dialogue from the 2004 animated film “The Incredibles.” There’s a scene in which the superhero mom tells her son, “Everyone’s special!” The boy mutters: “Which is another way of saying no one is.”

Naturally, your average consumer doesn’t want to believe that everyone is special. They just want to believe that they are special, or exclusive, or whatever term you want to use. And if that will get more customers, than the companies want them to believe it. So the companies want everyone to believe that they are special, so everyone will by from them, so they pretend to be exclusive. (Got that?) Hence, the newfound popularity of the word “couture”, which is being used to basically mean, “you’re special person if you (can) buy this product.”

And how is the French-government-regulated haute couture doing? Well, not so hot. There are only 8 or so companies that still meet the strict rules, and the number declines every year. Binkley comments,

Perhaps because their profits aren’t threatened by rock-‘n’-roll T-shirts and cotton baby-wear, haute couture designers seem resigned to our culture of couture this-and-that.

Basically, in my words, Americans aren’t killing the meaning of the word, so much as that couture is already dead anyway.

Participants see themselves at the forefront of new design, without the tug of crass commerce. But they acknowledge that while their work is prestigious it is largely unprofitable.

I read: Since they assume themselves to be so high-class, they think they can make ugly gowns that no one wants, simply for art’s sake. I mean, would you pay $50,000 for this? Or this? No? Not even if the dorky metal-squished-grasshopper-headpiece was included? Oh, you have no appreciation for art. No one is sophisticated enough to appreciate couture any more. The tragedy, the tragedy.

You know, at the founding of couture, the Great and Famous Charles Worth himself made clothes that were meant to be worn. I know, I know, it seems like such a foreign idea to haute couture these days, but really, he did. As Secrets of the Couturiers (by Frances Kennett) says,

. . .one of his customers describes: ‘For a private fancy dress ball at the Tuileries last Monday, Worth made costumes to the tune of 200,000 dollars, and yet there were not 400 ladies invited’. Given the increasing competition among new couturiers in Paris (largely generated by his own efforts) it is unlikely that Worth made more than 100 of the 400 models. . . But there had to be short cuts or new techniques to cope with the volume of work.

If modern couturiers have artsied themselves out of an audience, they’ve only themselves to blame. There’s plenty of people willing to spend mind-blowing amounts of money on clothes—as the ubiquitous references to $700 jeans can attest—but you have to make clothes that people are willing to wear first, you know. This just ain’t gonna cut it. I mean, I might wear that if you paid me, but certainly not the other way around.

So people slap the word on things that people will wear. Like velour track-suits, and cotton t-shirts. Hey, I like cotton t-shirts!

And I know I’m special.

Just like everyone else.

(But I won’t pay $700 for a pair of jeans. Sorry.)

Posted in Articles, Contemplations, Couture, WSJ | 2 Comments »

Something on the Runway I might wear!

February 28th, 2007 by tatterdemalion

This skirt by the duo 6267 caught my eye. Clipped from The Wall Street Journal, February 23, 2007, in the Marketplace section. (The article was called A Duo called 6267 Adds a Spark in Milan.) I like the contrast between the fitted overskirt and pleated texture of the underskirt.

pleated skirt

Posted in Scrapbook, WSJ | 2 Comments »

The best part of Theater is the costumes

February 28th, 2007 by tatterdemalion

I clipped this from The Wall Street Journal, the February 23, 2007 Review: Theater. The picture is credited to Paul Kolnik, but this is only a small piece of that photo. (The play being reviewed was ‘Salvage’.) I like what they did with the shoulders.

Jacket

Posted in Scrapbook, WSJ | No Comments »

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