29 September 2009

Bonjour, Tristesse

"Bonjour, Tristesse," the delightful novel by Francoise Sagan (real name Francoise Quoirez) first entered my fashion radar a few years ago while reading the August 2005 issue of Vanity Fair. I always analyze their choices for the International Best Dressed List, particularly anyone who is involved in the fashion industry. Carine Roitfeld, the Editor in Chief of French Vogue, was profiled, so, of course, I paid particular attention. Inductees are asked questions such as "What is your favorite piece of couture clothing?" or "What charitable cause is most important to you?" As a response to "What is your favorite book?" Carine replied "Bonjour, Tristesse." I made a mental note at that point to read it (though, four years later, I still hadn't). The book entered my fashion radar again more recently when I was idly roaming through the features on vogue.com. A contributing Vogue stylist (also French) cited "Bonjour, Tristesse" as her favorite book. It was settled. If this was a book that was important to the fashion cognoscenti, I simply had to read it. I asked my father (the most well-read person I know) if he had read the book (of course, he had read it in both English and French), and if he could procure a copy for me. A day after a copy arrived from the library, my dad found a vintage edition for thirty-five cents.

I am so happy that I read this book! It is the tale of a young girl, Celine, and the summer that has tragic consequences for both Celine and her debonair, womanizing father, Raymond. Penned when Francoise Sagan was herself a young woman of only 18 or 19, the prose perfectly captures the attitudes and mannerisms of a young girl who is just beginning to grow into a young woman. More than a coming-of-age tale, the book illuminates what happens when the bohemian world of Celine and Raymond collides with the bourgeois world of a chic Parisienne, Anne. Two hapless lovers of Celine (Cyril) and Raymond (Elsa), respectively, unwittingly play a role in the tragedy that unfolds. The drama of "Bonjour, Tristesse" is set against the beauty and lavish splendor of the French Riviera at a time in life when both Celine and her father were prodigal libertines. One can only leave with the sense that this lifestyle will sharply change for both... or then again, will they ever change?

A film version of the book was made in 1958 with Jean Seberg as the young Cecile and David Niven as her father. For now, I can only speak of my great enthusiasm for the book, which I highly recommend to all lovers of the written word.

27 September 2009

Paradise, also known as "The September Issue"

I have just returned from two hours spent in blessed fashion heaven. Of course, I am referring to "The September Issue," R.J. Cutler's riveting documentary about the creation of the September 2007 issue of Vogue. Though the film clocked in at just under two hours, I could spend days analyzing and discussing the minutiae of the film. So, here are just a few of my highlights and observations from the film:

- For fashion enthusiasts, The September Issue was a veritable who's who in the fashion industry with Anna, Grace Coddington, Sally Singer, Tonne Goodman, Elissa Santissi, ALT, Meredith Melling Burke, Charles Churchward, Mario Testino, Patrick Demarchelier, Jean Paul Gaultier, Thakoon, Karl Lagerfeld (!!) et al making appearances or "starring" in the film. I was a little disappointed that we didn't get to see more from my two favorite Vogue editors, Hamish Bowles (European Editor at Large) and Alexandra Kotur (Style Director). We also caught a glimpse of junior Voguettes in the background, decked out in killer heels and pushing racks and racks of clothing. Thrilling.

- Bee Shaffer. It was intriguing to see the dynamics between mother and daughter, even if Bee was slightly hypocritical and, in my opinion, completely wrong-headed in her criticism of her mother's profession. I say that she is a tad bit hypocritical when lambasting the fashion industry because she herself is a contributing editor at Teen Vogue (perhaps at the behest of Anna, much like Anna's own father thrust his profession of choice upon her?). Then again, I sort of know where Bee is coming from when she laughs at an industry that she considers silly and inconsequential. I have felt this way myself before (though, of course, not about fashion!!). So, Bee, I understand how you feel. I'm also thrilled to hear that Bee has plans to join the masses in law school, leaving an open position at Conde Nast for someone who truly wants it (me, me!).

- The inimitable Andre Leon Talley. Is there anyone else truly as fabulous on the planet as ALT? You can't help but smile every time he speaks, from his "famine of beauty" exaltation to his over-the-top descriptions of his own clothing. The highlight had to be ALT playing tennis swathed in monogrammed Louis Vuitton apparel. On anyone else, I would find this kind of logomania ersatz and pretentious. On ALT, it just marks the quotidian luxuriousness that has become his trademark.

- Power. The viewer gets a real sense of just how much influence Anna wields over the fashion industry. She hand-picked Thakoon Panichgul for the Gap partnership and, what do you know, he was chosen for it. She suggested that Oscar de la Renta cut a lackluster look from his line and he at least considered the idea. She doubted the relevance of a look and tens of thousands of dollars of work was scrapped from the magazine, much to the dismay of Grace Coddington, the mastermind behind said look. The bottom line is that Anna can make or break someone's chances in this industry.

- I completely agree with the critics who said that Grace Coddington, Vogue's spirited Creative Director, emerged as the shining star of the film. I couldn't help but tear up when Grace spoke of her immense passion for fashion. Hers is the kind of enthusiasm and perseverance that stems from utter devotion. I sometimes sense that while Anna has dollar bill signs flashing across her eyes, Grace has luminous models in diaphanous couture prancing through the Jardin des Tuileries. Fashion forever holds the allure and fantasy for her, as it does for me. My sister, who saw the film with me, remarked that I am "more of a Grace than an Anna." Yes, a hundred times yes!

- Overall, I found this documentary to be informative and exhilarating. I loved seeing my favorite editors- people whose careers I have followed for close to a decade- in their natural habitat. I can't wait to own the DVD so I can analyze it in greater depth (I would love to see the titles of the books in Sally Singer's office, so I can read them myself!).

If fashion means this much to you, as it does to me, you will not be disappointed, and, even if it does not, there is a great chance that you will be delighted.

24 September 2009

A fish out of water

I should start by saying that I do not work in the fashion industry. I majored in political science and Spanish in college, studied British politics at Oxford, and worked for a U.S. Senator for the past three years. So, why would someone with this background be inclined to write about fashion (with some reflections on travel and literature thrown in for good measure) and, more important, have some real knowledge on the topic? Because fashion is my life's passion, or raison d'etre, if you will. It is the calling that I have devoted almost all of my free time to since about the age of 14, and, I daresay, my knowledge on the field is practically encyclopedic.

In high school, I was convinced that fashion was not erudite or serious enough to be made into a career, so I decided to invest my time in a field that seemed more respectable, obtainable, and realistic. Let's face it, writing for Vogue isn't exactly the easiest thing to achieve, especially if you are neither a Rockefeller nor married to one. So I treated my interest in fashion like any other hobby. I spent my time reading fashion magazines, visiting fashion exhibits in museums throughout Europe, analyzing trends and theories, familiarising myself with the notable fashion critics and scholars (Christopher Breward, Amy Fine Collins, Cathy Horyn, Terri Agins, Robin Givhan, and Suzy Menkes, just to name a few of my favorites), and studying Vogue throughout the decades. By the time I had graduated from college, this hobby had truly become an all-encompassing aspect of my life, something that I owed to myself to fully explore.

A professor at the London College of Fashion described me as a "fish out of water" and that is truly what I am. I hope to use this blog as a way to take my many thoughts on fashion out of my head and onto paper, er, screen.

And tomorrow is an exciting day since "The September Issue" finally opens in theatres in Ohio! After months of watching the trailer, I'll finally get to see for myself what all of the excitement is about. Stay tuned for tomorrow's review!

** The picture is of my all-time favorite Vogue cover- the issue that really ignited my interest in fashion.**