30 November 2009

Music Made for the Runway

Admittedly, the first time I took interest in the musical duo La Roux was not because of their music. I just loved the cover of their CD, "La Roux," and couldn't stop admiring the copper mohawk of singer Elly Jackson. With a cover that cool, I figured the music had to be pretty cool, too.

It turns out that I was right.

"La Roux" is one of the best complete CDs I've listened to in a long time. Not since Duffy's "Rockferry" have I liked every single song on a CD. Singer Elly Jackson and songwriter Ben Langmaid scored with a debut album that has been creeping up the charts already in the UK. The music style of La Roux definitely suits my taste in music, so it's not surprising that I would love every track. The songs are a mix of pop, electro, techno, and dance beats- perfect for tearing up the dance floor, grooving in your car, or, if you're Magdalena Frackowiak or Arlenis Sosa, walking the runway.

If this CD would have been out back when Tom Ford was designing for Gucci and YSL Rive Gauche, this is definitely the kind of music that he would have played during his shows. "Colourless Colour" especially strikes me as a Ford song, with song lyrics even referencing fashion ("Once in fashion and soon to be seen....once in fashion and soon to be rediscovered"). That song was, seriously, made for the catwalk. The beats are just too perfect. Since Ford has left fashion to *gasp* direct movies, perhaps Donatella Versace, Jean Paul Gaultier, or Karl Lagerfeld might be interested in playing "La Roux" during their fashion shows.

Though I enjoyed every song, my favorite tracks are "Colourless Colour," "Bulletproof," "In for the Kill," "Cover My Eyes," and "I'm not your Toy." "Cover My Eyes" is particularly haunting and somber at the same time. Thankfully, the entire CD is something that can be played from start to finish without a weak spot. I haven't purchased a CD since last year, but I recently added "La Roux" to my amazon wish list.

Fashionable, edgy, relaxing, energizing. The CD fits all of those descriptions...and more.

25 November 2009

Orlando: Fashion's Greatest Literary Hero

I have been on a huge Virginia Woolf kick for the last couple months. The craze was ignited by one of the many discussions on books my friend Emily and I used to have at our respective offices. She couldn't believe that I hadn't read any of Woolf's major novels, so I decided to remedy that, not knowing that Woolf would turn out to be one of my favorite writers. I began with "To the Lighthouse" and hated it. I persevered, though, and continued on to "The Waves," "A Room of One's Own," "Mrs. Dalloway," "Between the Acts," and most recently "Orlando," which just might be one of my favorites.

"Orlando," though it was probably not Woolf's intention, was truly a book for fashion lovers of all sorts. Even Karl Lagerfeld cited Orlando as his favorite hero of literature (in the VF Proust Questionnaire, naturally). If you have already read the book, then I am sure you completely understand why a venerated fashion designer might remark that. If not, I'll do my best to elucidate some of the more fashion-y passages in Woolf's most fanciful novel, "Orlando."

Along with being an ode to fashion, "Orlando" transcends time and gender, for young Orlando began his life as a member of the court of Queen Elizabeth I and ended it as a young woman in 1920s England. The young woman he became had a striking resemblance to Oscar Wilde, strangely enough. Take a glimpse at the photos in the Harcourt edition and you may leave with the same response. Anyhow, back to the clothes. Orlando was quite the snazzy dresser as both a male and female. This notion of morphing genders was defined as gynomorphosis, for the individual retained masculine traits but transformed them into the feminine counterpart. So, Orlando fluctuated from petticoats and gossamer to stirrups and overcoats, or vice verse.

Clothes were always central to Orlando's being and even accounted for the changes in his/her mindset, attitude, and behavior:

"The change of clothes had, some philosophers will say, much to do with it. Vain trifles as they may seem, clothes have, they say, more important offices than merely to keep us warm. They change our view of the world and the world's view of us."

Isn't that the truth? Clothes are hardly frivolous and irrelevant, and I was thrilled that Woolf reminded us of that.

Clothes transform us:

"There is much to support the view that it is clothes that wear us and not we them; we may make them take the mould of arm or breast, but they mould our hearts, our brain, our tongues to their liking."

Who has not felt differently inside when dressed one way as opposed to another? I know that I feel most confident when I am dressed up- in skirts, dresses, suits, or other stylishly sophisticated, yet conservative, creations. I can be in a foul mood when I am under dressed- denim and no blazer, flats when I should be in heels, etc. Clothes do more than cover our bodies: they provide confidence. Clothes can change your outlook, redefine you, and improve your morale. Clothing can also define the genders, as in the case of Orlando, or leave it for interpretation, like androgyny. Clothing is so much more than merely something worn out of utility and necessity.

"Orlando" was dedicated to Woolf's lover, Vita Sackville-West, and so it was thought that this book was something of a love letter to her. Perhaps it was also meant to encourage others to look beyond gender stereotypes and characteristics, to see each person as an individual, and to let that be the basis for judgement.

"Orlando" pushed these boundaries, even if the plot was pure time-traveling fantasy.

Virginia Woolf also reminded her readers of the never-ending significance and power of clothing.

Surely that was why Karl Lagerfeld considered Orlando to be the greatest hero of fiction.
** Quotations are from the Harcourt edition of "Orlando" by Virginia Woolf

24 November 2009

Bazaar's Best Dressed 2009

Though December is not an exciting time in fashion, the December issues of my most beloved magazines are among my favorites for the entire year. That is chiefly due to the fabulous best dressed lists which are compiled for December. Topping the list of, well, lists is definitely Harper's Bazaar. Each year their best dressed list is organized, original, and insightful, succinctly capturing the year's most prominent trends and inspiring looks.

Here are my highlights from Bazaar's wonderful best dressed list for 2009:

1) Michelle Obama in everything from Thakoon to J.Crew to Jason Wu. Our First Lady stole the show across the board this year.

2) Emma Watson in shiny gold Burberry Prorsum. Burberry's new campaign face sparkled from head to toe in 2009 with winning look after winning look.

3) Model/actress Amber Valletta in Proenza Schouler. I'm not sure where she wore this metallic number, but it caught my eye instantly.

4) Jennifer Connelly in Balmain and the most knocked-off shoes of the year. This also happened to be my favorite look for 2009. No wonder Connelly is the new face for Balmain's ads.

5) Blake Lively in bubblegum pink Michael Kors. Simple, yet sophisticated and sweet. Just like Lively herself.

6) Ashley Olsen in a white, long-sleeved, floor-length dress from her own line, the Row. I love just about everything Ashley Olsen wears and this was definitely one of my favorites.

7) Poppy Delevingne in a dress from Ralph Lauren Collection, leather jacket, and flat gladiator sandals. This outfit first appeared in one of Vogue's weekly best dressed lists, and it remained one of my favorite looks from 2009.

8) Leighton Meester in short, geometric Louis Vuitton and bright red platform heels. Love, love, love this dress!

9) Gwyneth Paltrow in Burberry Prorsum. I wasn't sure about this ruched skirt-graphic t-shirt look at first, but it eventually won me over. Not the most exciting look I've seen from Paltrow, but definitely interesting.

10) Agyness Deyn in Giles. The British style-maker turned heads all year in her unique and, at times, avant garde looks. This white blazer and short black dress was one of her many winning looks.

** To see the complete list of stand-out looks for 2009 from Harper's Bazaar, be sure to check out the December issue, or the feature online!

23 November 2009

Oscar for Valentino?

The Cut announced last week that the documentary on Valentino, "The Last Emperor," had made the short list for Oscar nods in the documentary category, but Anna's movie, "The September Issue," did not. Is anyone surprised by this? "The Last Emperor" was a thrilling, moving, utterly electrifying film, and "The September Issue" well, was none of those things to anyone who isn't a die hard fashion fanatic. If one takes a closer look at the two films, it's pretty obvious that "The Last Emperor" was clearly the better film.

I've only seen "The September Issue" once, but I've seen the Valentino documentary more times than I should probably reveal. I might be approaching twenty. I'll leave it at that. Right from the start, "The Last Emperor" has the audience hooked, with a little montage of hits from Valentino's long and illustrious career (great opening song too, by the way!). The movie then proceeds to unfold with both professional and personal drama in the House of Valentino. The viewer is introduced to Valentino's long-time partner and business associate, Giancarlo Giammeti, who is probably the sexiest septuagenarian on the planet, I must say. Throughout the film, viewers get a glimpse at their very special relationship, the kind of relationship that one can only hope to have after fifty years. I believe it has been said before, but someone really needs to give them a reality show, if it can be done in a classy way, that is.

The first highlight of the film was without a doubt the scene when Valentino received the French Legion of Honor, and proceeded to deliver an emotional acceptance speech, honoring Giancarlo, much to Giancarlo's surprise and chagrin. In the scene prior to the award ceremony, Giancarlo is being interviewed explaining that Valentino will never tell him how he feels or if he even appreciates him at all. Then, in the next scene, Valentino says, among flowing tears, that his eternal gratitude goes to Giancarlo and that he would like to thank him from the bottom of his heart. Cue tears in the audience at this point, too.

The film didn't just make one cry, though. It was an all-access, behind-the-scenes look at Valentino's dressmaking process (even his seamstresses were filmed!), his lavish lifestyle (chateau in Paris, ski lodge in Gstaad, private planes, etc.), and his relationship with Giancarlo (I loved the scene where they argue about which street in Rome it was where they first met). "The September Issue" did not feel quite so complete to me. Granted, that could have been because the subject matter was limited, but I still think they could have expounded on more of the hidden aspects of life at the world's most famous magazine. I'm not sure if the viewer left with a new understanding of what happens at Vogue, other than the fact that Anna and Grace are at constant odds with one another (but we fashion nuts already knew this). Perhaps there was one touching scene when Anna explained that her family members aren't exactly impressed with the work she does at that little, small-town publication, Vogue.

Again, with the Valentino documentary, a completely new side of the designer was portrayed. Valentino was funny, witty, and charming. Giancarlo was intelligent, business-savvy, and dedicated. In "The September Issue," Anna just seemed domineering, power-hungry, and, well, a bit of a bitch at times. (I can't believe I just typed that about Anna! Hopefully, the fashion gods will not strike me down now!) It was Grace Coddington who appeared as if she truly cared about what the magazine represented (emphasis on represented, for it no longer seems to be just about fashion, sadly).

The endings of the two respective films were completely different, too. One was moving and memorable (hint: it wasn't "The September Issue"). And I can't even recall how the other ended... "The Last Emperor" closed with the 45th anniversary celebration of Valentino's career. Mannequins wearing outfits from the last four decades were adorned on the walls, socialites and celebrities from all over the world were invited for the final runway show, and acrobats strung on high wires in front of the Colosseum amidst fireworks served as the finale. Who could forget when Valentino took Karl Lagerfeld's hand and personally walked him through the exhibit? Or, after the show, when Lagerfeld said to Valentino, "Compared with us, the rest are making rags?" And, of course, there could not have been a dry eye in the audience when Valentino took his final bow, with "O mio babbino caro" playing, friends standing and cheering, and a tall blonde woman off to the right pumping her fists dramatically as Valentino walked by (Who was that woman??). I've played this part so many times that I can still see it fresh in my mind. Most importantly, the viewer was left with a better understanding of Valentino's enormous contributions to the history of fashion and how he was truly irreplaceable ("After me, the flood," he coyly remarked at the very end.). With the close of "The September Issue," I was disenchanted and started to wonder if maybe fashion was a little too frivolous, after all. Wasn't R.J. Cutler supposed to convince the audience otherwise?

Is it any surprise that it is Valentino, and not Anna, who might be up for an Oscar next year? No. It shouldn't be.

19 November 2009

From the Proust Questionnaire: Part Deux

In his tribute to Yves Saint Laurent, after the great couturier passed, Andre Leon Talley revealed in Vogue that YSL had named every guest room in his house in Paris after a character in "Remembrance of Things Past." ALT very coyly admitted that his guest room was named after a character who enjoys peeping through door holes into male brothels, observing particularly scandalous things.

What is it about Proust that makes us reveal so much?

Decide for yourself because here is the final part of the Proust Questionnaire.

The Fashion Vagabond

16. What are your favorite names? Honor, Olivia, Marguerite, Joseph, George, Francis, Clarence, Charlotte

17. What is it that you most dislike? Being in one place

18. Which talent would you most like to have? being able to play the piano or dance ballet

19. How would you like to die? very old

20. What is your current state of mind? anxious, almost always

21. What is your motto? It's not mine, but, "if you refuse to accept anything but the best, you will very often get it."

22. What is your greatest fear? Not seeing all of the world

23. What is your greatest extravagance? International travel- it's my only extravagance

24. What is your favorite journey? It's a cliche, but how about the journey of life? My favorite completed journey would be the time my sister and I were stuck on the Circle Line for two or three hours.

25. What is your most treasured possession? photos and anything from my father


16. What are your favorite names? Elizabeth, Charlotte, Anne, Catherine, Henry, Peter, Edmund, Jamie, Lucy, Jane, Felicity, Michael, Matthew, Andrew

17. What is it that you most dislike? dishonesty and faithlessness

18. Which talent would you most like to have? being able to draw

19. How would you like to die? in bed

20. What is your current state of mind? anxious, I've got an audition in an hour.

21. What is your motto? No regrets.

22. What is your greatest fear? Snakes

23. What is your greatest extravagance? Makeup and books (tie)

24. What is your favorite journey? the spiritual one

25. What is your most treasured possession? my rosary from the Vatican

** Stay tuned, Proust lovers! We might have a small reading circle forming here. Emily and I have already begun discussing our strategy for conquering "Remembrance of Things Past," particularly which edition to use, since we're both very particular about our book editions. My boyfriend, another bibliophile and mental giant, will also be reading with us. Emily will most likely handle the organization of the reading, so watch for more information in the coming months! **

18 November 2009

The World in Vogue: Society, with a little fashion thrown in

I raced to the nearest bookstore yesterday so I could finally get a glimpse of the newest Vogue tome, "The World in Vogue." This book has been sitting in my Amazon.com queue for months, patiently waiting for me to purchase it. November 17th marked the first day the book was available to the masses, though a cocktail party had been held for the two main collaborators, Hamish Bowles, European Editor at Large, and Alexandra Kotur, Style Director, on October 21st.

The 300-page book was an impressive effort, with photos from the magazine throughout the past six decades divided into different subjects like parties, places, models and muses, et cetera. If you are familiar with the magazine at all, chances are very high that you have already seen most of these photographs and read most of the featured articles. I definitely felt a sense of deja vu while flipping vigorously through the book.

The tone of this book was one of immense privilege and wealth, even more so than the magazine itself. Hamish Bowles made this clear during the introduction, though, taking the reader through the cycle of socialites who have graced Vogue's pages over the past one hundred years. Society is vital, he seemed to announce. Vital to life, important to fashion, central to Vogue.

After gazing through the book twice, I realized just how far removed from normal life everything the magazine portrays is. Lauren Davis's wedding to Andres Santo Domingo in Cartagena, with every socialite in tow; Plum Sykes's wedding to Toby Rollins at a family estate in Hertfordshire; Marina Rust and Aerin Lauder at palatial family homes; Valentino's mammoth home outside of Paris (which the reader should have become intimately acquainted with during the recent Valentino documentary); Truman Capote's Black and White balls; Babe Paley; Talitha Getty. The list goes on and on. It's not that I didn't enjoy reading about these glamorously over-the-top occasions. I just wondered if the emphasis on money, society, and privilege was too great in this book. Perhaps I missed something, but fashion itself seemed to be occluded.

A few months ago, some of my friends and I casually debated this notion that fashion and society are inextricably linked. Of course, of course, my friends said. You can't have one without the other, for that would be like asking which came first, the chicken or the egg. At the time, I thought it was possible for high fashion to exist away from the world of high society and privilege. Now, I'm not so sure, and "The World in Vogue" made me all the more skeptical.

(** photo is from Vogue's website, www.style.com)

16 November 2009

From the Proust Questionnaire: Part Un

Anyone who has ever read an issue of Vanity Fair is no doubt familiar with the Proust Questionnaire, a series of questions once asked by the famed writer Marcel Proust himself. Since the magazine has embarked on the trend of featuring the questionnaire, everyone from Karl Lagerfeld to Lee Radziwell has completed the survey. I thought it would be interesting to pose the same questions to my best friend, and fellow blogger and bibliophile, Emily. Emily and I have also considered tackling Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past" next year, so it seemed especially fitting that she would participate. And be sure to check out her blog, http://bucketofparts.blogspot.com/, which is a revered blog on life after an organ transplant (with posts on books, the ballet, art, and more sprinkled in for good measure).

Proust believed that the questionnaire provided insight into the private thoughts and feelings of friends, associates, et al.
This is the first installment from the questionnaire, so we'll see if he was correct.

The Fashion Vagabond:

1. What is your most marked characteristic? My sense of style

2. What is the quality you most like in a man? Intelligence, especially being well-read

3. What is the quality you most like in a woman? Grace

4. What do you most value in your friends? Support

5. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Being a consummate perfectionist

6. Favorite occupation? writer and editor

7. What is your idea of perfect happiness? Walking the Popple (my much beloved chihuahua)

8. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Not having the desire to travel and see the world

9. In which country would you like to live? England (again!)

10. Who are your favorite writers? Iris Murdoch, Virginia Woolf, D.H. Lawrence, Paul Theroux, Joseph Epstein, Robin Givhan, Dostoevsky, Sylvia Plath, Plum Sykes

11. Who are your favorite poets? Anne Bradstreet, Czeslaw Milosz, Ovid, Christina Rossetti

12. Who is your favorite hero of fiction? the White Rabbit

13. Who is your favorite heroine of fiction? Clarissa Dalloway

14. Favorite composers? Beethoven, Mozart, Hayden, Tschaikovsky, Schubert

15. Favorite painters? Monet, Renoir, Degas, Cezanne, El Greco


1. What is your most marked characteristic? My voice

2. What is the quality you most like in a man? Dependability

3. What is the quality you most like in a woman? Kindness

4. What do you most value in your friends? Loyalty

5. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? my impatience

6. Favorite occupation? opera singer

7. What is your idea of perfect happiness? Being able to stay at home, write, and practice music all day. And perform at night.

8. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? nothing

9. In which country would you like to live? England

10. Who are your favorite writers? Austen, Dickens, Jodi Picout, Oscar Wilde, Shakespeare, C.S. Lewis, Alexander McCall Smith, Richard Paul Evans, Gregory Maguire, Virginia Woolf

11. Who are your favorite poets? Shakespeare,Oscar Wilde, Christina Rossetti, John Milton, Dante

12. Who is your favorite hero of fiction? Mr. Darcy

13. Who is your favorite heroine of fiction? Elizabeth Bennet

14. Favorite composers? Beethoven, Rachmanioff, Barber, Verdi, Phillip Glass, Frank Wildhorn

15. Favorite painters? Vermeer, Renoir

Monday Morning Rituals

We all have our Monday morning rituals, whether that be by beginning the day with a cup of coffee, skimming the NYT online, or listening to NPR en route to the office. My Monday morning routine encompasses all of these things, but my Monday morning ritual is a bit different.

I cannot begin the day until I have checked Vogue.com's weekly Ten Best Dressed list. The list, which is compiled by Style Director Alexandra Kotur, usually appears online early in the morning each Monday, unless there was a big event that week which could possibly keep Ms. Kotur otherwise engaged. Such was the case during the week of the Costume Institute Gala. I was without my best dressed list for well over a week. I don't know how I managed to function. Fear not, though. Ms. Kotur always atones by providing us with an extra-long list for said functions, like the Oscars and, of course, the Galas.

I love this weekly list because it provides a brief snapshot into the world of last week's glamorous parties, store openings, art gallery shows, premiers, and more. Models, actors, socialites, Vogue editors, and the occasional random person that even I haven't heard of grace the list. Sometimes I like to joke that the list should be renamed the Nine Best Dressed...and Lauren Santo Domingo because she appears more often on the list than anyone else. Even Vogue resident International Best Dressed List appointee (Vanity Fair's iconic best dressed list and the one that everyone wants to be on), Marina Rust Conor, does not appear on the list as often as LSD. In fact, I do not even recall seeing Anna herself on the list as frequently as LSD.

So, who made the list this week, you ask? Well, Lauren Santo Domingo (in Carolina Herrera) and nine other young ladies including Sienna Miller (in a rather pedestrian outfit of denim, a white t-shirt, and black blazer), model Natasha Poly (in Alexander Wang), rock daughter Zoe Kravitz, model Arlenis Sosa (in Herve Leger), British model Erin O'Connor, model Liya Kebede (in Stella McCartney), Kate Moss (on the list almost as often as LSD), and Giovanna Battaglia (the person I'm not familiar with this week). The theme was "keeping it casual," so perhaps that is why many of the outfits were a little understated. I didn't see any stand-out ensembles, though I was quite taken with what Ms. Battaglia was sporting.

Be sure to check out next week's list! The list, which can be found at http://www.vogue.com/, is updated every Monday and has its own heading (Best Dressed) on the web page. Now that I have checked the list, I can safely and calmly proceed with the rest of my day. Phew.

(** photo credit: Vogue's website at http://www.style.com)

11 November 2009

Fashion: reality or fantasy?

I just read the November 4th transcript to the NPR discussion with Cindi Lieve, the editor in chief of Glamour, and Robin Givhan, the Pulitzer Prize-winning fashion critic for The Washington Post. The conversation was titled "Should fashion reflect fantasy or reality?" with the emphasis on the newly energized debate of thin versus curvy runway models. The implication by both commentators seemed to be that fashion is currently projecting fantasy with the influx of very thin models, as opposed to mimicking the reality that most women are heavier than runway models.

I am not at all bothered by the idea of plus-size models walking alongside Daria Werbowy and Chanel Iman, but what I find so deeply perplexing is this notion that the integrity of fashion as a mirror for reality is somehow being compromised by the onslaught of thin models, and, even more baffling, that realism could be restored to fashion by showcasing heavier models. Both fashion experts seem to suggest that fashion could somehow be "real" if it were Lizzie Miller, the model in Glamour's now infamous September issue, wearing a $60,000 Chanel gown instead of the very thin Magdalena Frackowiak. Somehow, if it is a plus-size model sporting a $20,000 bag, suddenly realism has been restored and all is right with the world again. To this, I have to wonder, what has ever been "real" about high fashion??

Sure, it is real in the sense that it exists. I'm not denying the existence of Karl Lagerfeld or Alexander Wang here. Yet, with the constant use of the word "real," indicating curvy models, in describing the antidote to fashion's problems, it seems that critics are suggesting that the problem with fashion is not that it is out of touch with reality because the clothing is too expensive or that the topics in high fashion magazines are too extreme. No; the problem is that the models are too thin, and that is why fashion has lost touch with reality, after, presumably, representing real life all this time before.

If we look at the three main fashion magazines, Vogue, W, and Harper's Bazaar, we see that there is not an ounce of reality portrayed, and that is certainly not because the models are too thin. We read about Plum Sykes purchasing a bespoke suit (translation: really, really expensive suit) in London, the wedding of Vogue socialite Lauren Davis to the uber wealthy Andres Santo Domingo, the new $500 miracle face creams, and the It-Girls fresh off the private jet from Moscow or Rio. So, what, I have to wonder, is real or average about that? And could heavier models in the pages of the photo editorials somehow trump this? Ah, no. Of course not. But, how closely should fashion, fashion magazines, and models mimic the quotidian normalcy of everyday life? Would people even read Vogue if it were merely a glorified Pottery Barn catalog? Cancel my subscription the moment that happens!

For me, the great joy in fashion has always been that it has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with reality. There is an element of escapism one feels when reading Harper's Bazaar or W that cannot be easily achieved through other outlets. Maybe that is what I love most about fashion. It has the power to transform the dull and average into something wondrously beautiful. Like Valentino said, "I love beauty. It's not my fault."

In short, fashion has never ever reflected reality, but the reason for this has never been, nor ever will be, because the models are too thin. Fashion has always been about fantasy.

09 November 2009

Anna Wintour and Michelle Obama: Bringing Fashion Back to D.C.

When I read that Anna Wintour had been appointed to some kind of committee in the White House, my interest in politics legitimately piqued for the first time in, well, ever. Usually when a political topic comes up, I hit the metaphorical snooze button with lightning speed.

NY Magazine's fashion blog, The Cut, reported a few days ago that Anna would be serving on the Committee on the Arts and Humanities along with SJP and other leaders in the fashion and arts worlds. The committee will be representing the interests of fashion, arts, and other cultural fields.

Does this mean that D.C. might be turning into a fashion-focused city a la Paris or Milan? I don't know if we can go that far, but it is still good news for the fashion community. I'm not surprised that Anna has been asked to join the committee, which First Lady Michelle Obama will be chairing (even if only as an honorary chair). Michelle Obama has done much for American fashion already in her short time in the White House. Instead of de la Renta and Michael Kors, we have a first lady who is wearing Jason Wu, Isabel Toledo, and even J.Crew. Could it be that Michelle Obama might be the catalyst for interest in fashion in the same way that SATC led the average American viewer to have the previously esoteric name of Manolo Blahnik rolling off the tongue? I genuinely believe so, and not just because I adore Michelle Obama so much (I love, love, LOVE Michelle Obama!).

With Anna Wintour and Michelle Obama in the White House, fashion finally has an unbeatable duo representing its interests. I, for one, am thrilled.

04 November 2009

Lima or Louboutins? My age-old dilemma continues...

I am searching for fall and winter boots for the first time...ever. I've never been one for boots, always preferring flats or heels with textured tights to keep me warm through the cold months. It may seem silly to wear tights and flats through snow and sleet, but I'm constantly in a knee-length skirt or dress, so it just makes better sense for my formal style.

Yet, this season, with an influx of boots in all shapes and sizes (over-the-knee, ankle, "shooties"), I thought it would be both fashionable and, well, practical to branch out of my comfort zone and into fabulous boots. I'm keen on two different and distinct styles: slouchy suede or leather boots that I can wear over denim (I initially fought this trend once it popped up in the U.S., but why fight what actually works?) and dressy "shooties" or ankle boots for holiday parties and functions.

Thanks to the fine buyers at Bergdorf Goodman, I have already stumbled upon two fantastically chic ankle boots that would both jazz up my winter wardrobe... and stymie my travel plans for 2010. My winter line-up is in desperate need of some festive embellishments and additions, but my boyfriend and I had discussed taking a trip (anywhere in the world- my choice!) to celebrate our five-year anniversary in March. Sure, I would love to splurge on either of these shoe styles, but Hong Kong, Lima, or Istanbul potentially await. And, at close to $1600 for the above shoes, that's our airfare!

So, here, for all to covet, are the shoes that could possibly leave my passport a stamp or two short next year.

(Photo is off to the right, as I'm still dealing with technical difficulties with uploading images. I may have mentioned before that I'm more of a pen-and-Moleskine writer than blogger, so I'm still not proficient with the ins and outs of the blogger website.)

03 November 2009

At Last, At Last: "Coco Before Chanel"

After months of beginning each day in the office by watching the trailer to "Coco Before Chanel" (much like I did with "The September Issue" and the Valentino documentary), the wait is finally over. I saw Anne Fontaine's wonderful film last night, and was both surprised and delighted.

I was surprised by the film because I thought it would have focused more on Chanel's work and career, not to mention her rise to the pinnacle of the fashion world. I was expecting to see a scene on her rivalry with Christian Dior or Elsa Schiaparelli and more explanations regarding her transition from designing hats in Deauville to her feat in presenting her signature collection in Paris. It seemed that in one scene we are shown her early career in hat-making...and then ten minutes later Chanel is in her rue Cambon office presenting an entire collection of dresses, tweed jackets, and elegant ball gowns- all of the classics which have defined her aesthetic. I would have liked to have seen more development here. No attention was paid to her long absence from fashion during WWII or how she made her triumphant comeback after 30 years away from the industry.

Yet I was delighted with the focus on the more personal attributes and characteristics of this great couturier, the lesser-known Chanel, if you will. Audrey Tautou's performance was impeccable, and it is impossible to imagine how any other actress could have captured Chanel in such an alluringly accurate way. There was a fierce independence streak and fiery attitude in Chanel to which I could deeply relate. Not only was Audrey Tautou a perfect physical match to Chanel, but she portrayed all of these qualities authentically and convincingly.

Perhaps the most significant part of the film was Chanel's relationship with the Englishman Arthur "Boy" Capel, for this is what the viewer remembers most. The film didn't really gain momentum until Boy emerged and it quickly lost interest with his departure from the screen. Introduced to Capel while she was the live-in "geisha" to the wealthy Etienne Balsan, Coco and Boy soon fell in love. Their relationship was complicated by many factors- Coco's position in the Balsan household, Boy's friendship with Balsan, Boy's upcoming nuptials, etc., etc. It was never meant to be, and Chanel knew this, saying, "I always knew I'd never be anyone's wife." The young Coco was correct in her prediction, for Chanel never married.

The significance of Coco's relationship with Boy reminded me of other biopics of famous female artists that have emerged on screen recently. In "Becoming Jane," it is not Jane Austen's work that captivates the viewers most, but her heartbreaking realisation that she and the love of her life, Tom LeFroy, can never be together. In "La Vie en Rose," the biopic on Edith Piaf, I most recall the scene in which her great love dies tragically. The same is the case in both "Miss Potter" and even "Iris," the biopic on Iris Murdoch, in which a young Iris Murdoch declares, "You are my world," to her future husband, John Bayley. Their talent and artistic contributions were not overshadowed by their relationships, but the viewer fully grasps the monumental impact of the respective men in their lives and work.

Perhaps this is because it is the relationships one has with friends, family, and lovers that truly define a life, even an exemplary one like that of Gabrielle Chanel, arguably the greatest couturier to ever live. The greatest, in my opinion.
Though the film was full of surprises and even omissions, Chanel's impact on fashion was always made clear. Whether she was in a simple striped shirt cinched at the waist with a bow, a white blouse and pearls, or a long dress without *gasp* a corset, Chanel was indeed portrayed as a woman ahead of her time. And the film never missed the mark in conveying this.

01 November 2009

Preparing for "Coco Before Chanel"

"Coco Before Chanel," the biopic on the iconic designer starring Audrey Tautou, is now in theatres across the country. So, yes, the long wait is finally over! Before viewers waltz in to see the film, possibly knowing little about the real woman herself, I thought it would be wise to revisit some of the other biographical material already available on Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel as sort of a primer before the main event. The film is sub-titled so non-French speaking viewers may already feel a bit lost during the movie. Here is my attempt to provide the foundation for an outstanding viewing of "Coco Before Chanel."

Chanel in Film

The 2008 biopic, "Coco Chanel," starring Shirley MacLaine, is a wonderful place to begin. The movie originally debuted on Lifetime in 2008 and is now available on DVD. I know that Shirley MacLaine, who played the adult Chanel, was supposed to be the undisputed star of this production, but I actually thought that Brigitte Boucher, who played the younger Chanel, was far better at portraying the real-life Chanel. Ms. Boucher's Chanel was believable, heart-felt, and undeniably strong. As for the movie itself, it was both inspirational and emotional while being true to the designer's life. The ending is particularly bittersweet when the viewer fully grasps the indelible legacy of the great Gabrielle Chanel. Yes, I had glistening tears during the Chanel retrospective.

Clocking in at just over two hours, this is a wonderful place to begin one's education on Chanel.

Chanel in Print

If you have time to read about Chanel's life before seeing the film, I would highly recommend beginning with the definitive biography on her life by Axel Madsen, "Chanel: A Woman of Her Own." Now available in paperback, this biography traces Chanel's life from birth through the height of her career to her place at the pinnacle of the world of haute couture. The biography is also sprinkled with the names of high society doyennes, world leaders, iconic musicians, and other characters who floated in and out of Chanel's life. This book truly belongs in the collection of any true fashion lover's home library, but if you have not read it yet, now is your chance.

I would also recommend reading "Chanel and Her World" by Edmonde Charles-Roux, a former editor-in-chief of French Vogue. Not available in paperback, this book is a bit more expensive (Amazon.com has it listed for $37.80) but ultimately worth reading. Charles-Roux was fortunate enough to be an intimate friend of Chanel, so the tributes and reflections are unique to this biography. If the hardback price is a bit daunting, perhaps one's local library will carry this gem of a book.

Chanel in Retrospect

The Metropolitan Museum of Art curated a collection of the couturier's work in 2005 and, fortunately for those of us who did not make the voyage to Manhattan for the viewing, a book was created to commemorate the historic event. With curators like Andrew Bolton and Harold Koda (two of my absolute idols), you know the presentation will be of immeasurable quality. With photographs of the collection and contributors like Karl Lagerfeld (!!!), the corresponding book certainly does not disappoint. If this piece is not already in your personal collection, it is available through Amazon.com's marketplace sellers and, of course, is likely to be found in your local library.

Chanel Lives

The legacy of Gabrielle Chanel is not only found in film, books, and museum collections. In fact, the contributions of Chanel are felt all around us. As one of the most significant and influential artists of the twentieth century, her life lives on and, thanks to Karl Lagerfeld, an entirely new generation of fashion and art connoisseurs have been exposed to the wonder and allure of Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel.

Chanel will always have a special place in my heart. After viewing "Coco Before Chanel," I hope this eminent designer, artist, forward-thinker, and woman will have a fond place in yours as well.