26 January 2010

A&F: Unsinkable No More?

Holiday sales are down for the second year in a row at Abercrombie & Fitch. This leads me to wonder, optimistically, if we might be seeing the end of this faux fashion chain for good. I won't get ahead of myself and daydream that A&F will fall like a house of cards, but dismal holiday sales are never a good sign in retail.

The folks at Abercrombie have attributed this decline to a "broken business model" or a shift away from "aspirational pricing." Can't we just call this what it is? Kids can no longer spend freely with their parents' money and those who do have money rolling in from mom and pop are choosing to spend more wisely at lower-priced, more fashionable stores. In short, the jig is up, Abercrombie. The kids aren't buying the crap Michael Jeffries is churning out (season after season after season...does anything ever change there??).

Perhaps the "broken business model" is a model that was flawed from the beginning. Ridiculously overpriced, poorly made clothing housed in dark, noisy chambers sold by hapless kids who think, misguidedly, that they're cooler than you because they're being paid eight bucks an hour to sell this devoid-of-originality crap to teens who haven't developed a sense of style yet. That isn't exactly a winning business philosophy.

This business philosophy, to outsiders, looks a lot more exclusionary, which means that Jeffries has achieved his mission. In a 2006 interview in Salon.com, A&F's CEO, Michael Jeffries, was quoted as saying: "Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don't belong [in our clothes], and they can't belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don't alienate anybody, but you don't excite anybody, either."

I don't know about you, but I've never met a "cool kid" who worked at Abercrombie. (Disclaimer: The corporate headquarters are different. I'm just talking about the retail stores here.)

So, I'm left with one question.

Would anyone who cares about the future of fashion be sad to see Abercrombie & Fitch cower away quietly into obscurity? I know that tastes in fashion are as varied as the food options in Manhattan, but there's almost always one thing that fashion-followers can agree on when it comes to style: A&F has got to go.

Vogue Readers' Choice Results are In

A few weeks back, the editors at Vogue gave their readers the opportunity to select the decade's most important moments in fashion. For each year, readers were able to choose one woman whose look embodied fashion, glamour, and originality. And now the results are in!

Here are the women the readers selected as the decade's most influential style-setters:

2000: Charlize Theron in orange Vera Wang at the Academy Awards

2001: Julia Roberts in vintage Valentino at the Academy Awards

2002: Reese Witherspoon in sophisticated Valentino at the Academy Awards

2003: Kate Hudson in glittering Versace, also at the Academy Awards (noticing a trend here?)

2004: Nicole Kidman in a Nina Ricci dress and Lanvin flats out and about shopping in NYC (finally, a non-awards show selection!)

2005: Cate Blanchett in ethereal purple Jean Paul Gaultier at the Golden Globes

2006: Michelle Williams in mustard Vera Wang at the...Academy Awards

2007: Reese Witherspoon (again) in show-stopping bright yellow Nina Ricci at the Golden Globes, which was also my favorite look from among the readers' choices

2008: Penelope Cruz in L'Wren Scott in Berlin at the International Film Festival (surely we've seen more memorable looks from Penelope Cruz than this?)

2009: First Lady Michelle Obama in regal Azzedine Alaia, championing in a new decade of original style (I think I've mentioned this before, but I love, love, love our First Lady!)

I must say that overall I'm pretty disappointed with these results. Nearly every dress was selected from an awards show. In other words, the best looks of the decade were selected by stylists, which I find very disheartening. Only Nicole Kidman and Michelle Obama were selected in outfits that they themselves likely elected to wear. Also, where was Kate Moss?? Is it possible that the decade in fashion can be summed up without Kate Moss, the ultimate trend-setter and rule-breaker? Where were the fashion originals, like Daphne Guiness? No socialites or women-about-New York? You can't get through fifty pages in Vogue without coming across LSD, Marina Rust, or Lisa Airan at least a dozen times. Could it be that the readers really do not care about socialites or privileged Vogue editors? Now, that is not something I have a hard time believing. Clearly, the editors at Vogue did not intervene here...

Nevertheless, what the readers have selected is a glorified In Style or People list of Hollywood A-listers. These looks say nothing about the years in terms of fashion. Where were the designers of the past decade? They were missing as well. The only newcomers that were selected were Olivier Theyskeins and L'Wren Scott. I was happy to see Valentino so widely represented, but he has already established himself as a household name in fashion. It would be nice to see other talented designers given that opportunity.

I would have expected these kinds of results from any other magazine, but I expected more from the readers of Vogue.


** To see who I cast my vote for, check out my earlier post titled "The Decade's Best Dressed." ** To view the corresponding photos, check out the full list at www.vogue.com.

21 January 2010

The Perfect Outfit

Jennifer Connelly made Vogue's weekly best dressed list this past week and I must say that this is quite possibly my favorite ensemble ever. In short, it is the perfect outfit.

Why am I so infatuated with this sophisticated, yet casual look? For starters, I love how this look shuns all of those tired adages about what not to do when it comes to fashion. A winter-y scarf with open-toed sandals. Opaque tights with sandals. White shoes before or after Labor Day (I'm not exactly sure how that silly saying goes because I, of course, ignore it.). The list just goes on.

The perfect look was created by- who else?- Nicholas Ghesquiere for Balenciaga and it was worn to a late night television show in New York. Alexandra Kotur captured the look for Vogue's ten best dressed list, thus bringing the outfit to my attention.

This is precisely how I like to dress. I would wear this outfit from head to toe in a heartbeat. One can never go wrong with a tailored blazer and the one that Connelly is sporting sits in the most flattering way. I also love the layered scarf look. Scarves have really exploded as a trend in the U.S. over the past three years or so. I remember seeing scarves everywhere when I studied in Oxford in 2004, but not so much when I returned home. Now it seems that the scarf is indeed the accessory of the moment. In fact, at a recent dinner party, only one young lady at the table was seen without a scarf. Interesting, eh? I also love this amazing graphic-print skirt. I never dress in all black, so it's absolutely essential that an outfit have color, pattern, texture, and depth (something that just can't be achieved wearing all black). And, finally, the killer shoes with opaque tights are exquisite. I wear skirts more often than trousers, so I love, love, love tights, particularly patterned and textured tights. Again, this is another trend (along with leggings and footless tights) that seems to have exploded in the past two to three years. I can't get enough. Tights are also budget-friendly and versatile enough to jazz up any outfit.

If Jennifer Connelly ever tires of this perfect outfit, I'd be happy to take it off her hands!

(photo courtesy of Vogue.com)

20 January 2010

The Lost Island of Vogue Editors

I always wonder where people go when they leave Vogue. I like to pretend that former Vogue editors drift away to a lost island of sorts. After all, how could one top a job at the most prominent and influential fashion magazine on the planet? Who cares if you're forced to give up Fiji water and take the Subway in lieu of private Town Cars? Wouldn't the real mystery be "how can I live forever so I never have to leave Vogue?"

Apparently, if you're Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, Vogue's former Director of Special Events (a position now held by Sylvana Soto-Ward), the answer is off to Fashion Week. The Cut broke the news today that Ms. Winston Wolkoff would be leading New York's biggest fashion event into the future. Not only has the event welcomed a new director, but the location will also be shifting from Bryant Park to Lincoln Center's Damrosch Park. I did not realize that fashion week had been held in Bryant Park so long, but the tents have been its home for almost two decades. I'm not familiar with Damrosch Park, so I'm not sure why the change in location was warranted. Are there any Manhattanites out there who can give us the inside scoop on this new location?

Not surprisingly, it was Anna who "recommended" Ms. Winston Wolkoff for the job. I suppose this would be akin to having a letter of recommendation from Barack Obama if you want to work in politics. Anna certainly knows how to exert her authority to the fullest extent. Ms. Winston Wolkoff even admitted, in a sort of tongue-in-cheek kind of way, that even the meanies at PETA do not scare her. Well, sure, after working for Anna for thirteen years...

I must admit that New York Fashion Week is the fashion week I pay the least amount of attention to, but I'll be curious to see what a former Voguette has up her stylish sleeves when the event is held at Lincoln Park in September.

Until then, I'll call off the search party to the lost island.

17 January 2010

100,000 Years of Beauty

One hundred is no small milestone. If you're L'Oreal Corporation and celebrating one hundred years of being in the beauty business, it's an absolutely gigantic milestone. And so, "100,000 Years of Beauty" was commissioned to commemorate L'Oreal's achievement. "100, 000 Years of Beauty" feels more like a gift to all fashion and beauty lovers, though, so thank you, L'Oreal.

I was fortunate enough to receive this five-book compendium on beauty as a gift a few months ago. I was so excited to receive such a beautiful gift that I sat down and read (or skimmed) each book from cover to cover with a giant cup of tea. The collection is overwhelming, not only in sheer size and weight, but in scope as well. This was a dramatic undertaking, and I'd love to know how long the contributors spent on this book. The glossy, colorful pages are filled with artwork, pictures of sculptures, ceramic tiles, beauty ads, photography, products, and more. It begins in prehistory and moves on to antiquity, the classical age (my favorite of the books!), modernity, and ends by speculating what the future of fashion and beauty will bring. The articles range from brief to a few pages and were contributed by scholars on the subjects of beauty, art, fashion, literature, and costume from all over the world- universities, research institutes, and, of course, L'Oreal.

The presentation, like the books themselves, is spectacular. The five books are housed in a pyramid-like structure that is a shiny black case. Ideal for the coffee table, but these enlightening books are truly meant to be read and studied. All of this beauty comes at a price, as beauty usually does. "100,000 Years of Beauty" can be purchased on Amazon.com for $300, though, at last check, it was either sold out or temporary unavailable. Had I not received the books as a special gift, I'd be off to the library.

If you do happen to get your hands on this beautiful commemorative book, please let me know what you think!

13 January 2010

Tony Blair to Work for LVMH?

Skimming through the headlines on The Cut this morning, I noticed one name in particular that did not fit in with the others: Tony Blair, of course. What is Tony Blair doing being referenced on The Cut and, furthermore, what is he doing in the fashion world now that he is no longer at the helm of England?

According to British Elle, Blair might be signing on to work as an adviser for LVHM! How fabulous would that be? I love Tony Blair and I love LVMH, so combining the two together sounds like a wonderful idea, at least in theory. I didn't even know that he and Bernauld Arnault were pals, but apparently they are.

I love the idea of a formerly successful political leader being a part of a huge European conglomerate, but I wonder if the equation could work the other way. Could Barack Obama ask Michael Kors to be his VP when he runs again? Or how about asking Alber Elbaz to serve as the Secretary of State? I might actually be interested in politics if folks like Elbaz, Karl Lagerfeld, and Nicholas Ghesquiere were elected (or appointed!) officials.

Stay posted to see if the tip turns out to be true regarding Blair and LVMH. And in the meantime, I'm going to start working on my Michael Kors for VP campaign buttons (sorry, Joe!).

12 January 2010

Cover Conundrum

I think I've been placed on a subscription list to Tiger Beat or BOP by mistake.

I opened my mailbox, expecting the February issue of Harper's Bazaar, and out popped the cover of a magazine with Miley Cyrus. Surely, that couldn't be my beloved Bazaar, I thought. The subscriber cover (not the one featured at right) was elegant and understated, though. Fashionable, yet modest. I liked the cover. I was just surprised to find another Teeny Bopper on the cover of a serious fashion magazine. I would expect this sort of thing from In Style or Elle (especially since she already appeared on a cover) or Glamour, but not Bazaar, which continues to surprise me with their young cover choices and even younger contributing writers.

I remember reading a Letter to the Editor in Vanity Fair one month where a reader said that the magazine needed to wake up and smell the money and realize that the youth of America is where the money is right now. Perhaps the same ideal has been infiltrating Harper's Bazaar lately. Is that the state of fashion journalism in America right now?

I would really love to get back to seeing models on the cover of fashion magazines. Remember those days? When you pulled out a shiny new issue of Vogue from your mailbox and Karolina Kurkova or Carmen Kass were on the cover? Sigh. Boy, am I nostalgic for those days. Instead, we are left with Twilight stars, Milley Cyrus, and Cate Blanchett month after month after month...

How about Chanel Iman on a cover?? She's been one of my favorite models for months now, mostly because she is just so captivating and gorgeous. She looks perfect in everything she wears. Her looks are original and unique (even more so than Lara Stone and Karlie Kloss, in my opinion). Why can't we have Chanel Iman on the cover of a major fashion magazine without there being a silly theme?

I'd take beauty as a theme over Miley Cyrus and other teen stars any day.

08 January 2010

Tax the Tanners

If the Senate gets its way (which I hope they do!), we might see fewer Oompa Loompas walking around in the near future.

That's right. Fewer bright orange, Banana Boat-glistening bodies walking around sporting their carcinogenic tans.

The Senate has proposed a 10% tax on indoor tanning beds, hoping that the price increase will dissuade folks from baking in the fake sun which is linked to the deadliest form of skin cancer, melanoma. Unfortunately, opponents of the bill have angrily cried out that the proposal discriminates against women, since most young tanners and salon owners tend to be women. Shouldn't these women feel like someone is finally advocating on their behalf? Trying to limit their risk of developing cancer? That feels more like a gift than a gag to me.

Nevertheless, there is hope that this tax will at least cause first-time tanners to run in the opposite direction. With as many carcinogens as we are exposed to these days, why would you want to voluntarily expose yourself to even more risks?

I'd love to know how you feel about this proposal. Should the government take active measures to approve "sin taxes?" Taxes on sugary drinks, high-calorie junk foods, cigarettes, alcohol, etc. as a means to lower the use or intake? The government has tried to impose high taxes on that most dangerous of addictions- cigarettes- yet people are still lining up to destroy not only their own health but the health of those around them. So, could a tax on tanning work? And, more important, is it the government's responsibility to regulate its use?

Send your comments my way!

06 January 2010

The Shape Issue

I used to think that politics and religion were the most taboo subjects, but apparently the most controversial subject- at least when it comes to fashion these days- is that of shape. I forget when the age-old thin/plus-size debate was reinvigorated, but the debate seems to have reached an all-time high. Glamour has featured nude "plus-size" models. V has paired a plus-size model with a thin model. Robin Givhan has discussed the issue in both The Washington Post and NPR. If you follow fashion closely, this debate is inescapable. It's really a shame, too, because this is really one of the least important aspects of the industry, in my opinion. I've tried to overlook this and just focus on what I love about fashion, but, alas, I no longer can. So, please, allow me just this one little rant.

My main criticism of this dialogue comparing thin (or "skinny") models with plus-size models is this notion that plus-size models are "real" women and only plus-size models are "real" women. I'm so tired of hearing phrases like "real women have curves" or "this is what real women look like." I may be a size zero, but I assure you that I have a pulse. I am a "real" woman, too. Newsflash: "real" women come in all shapes, sizes, colors, heights, races, etc, etc. It is very offensive and unnecessary to pin-point one shape or size as the defining characteristic of what constitutes "real" women.

Vogue should understand this wrath better than any publication. No other issue throughout the year incites more rage than the annual "Shape Issue." Year after year, readers write in complaining that the Shape Issue misrepresents women, that the magazine failed to recognize a reader's personal shape or size, and that there are more sizes than Vogue features. Vogue breaks the shapes down into the following dimensions: tall, short, thin, curvy, athletic, and pregnant. How could any person on the planet not fall into one of those categories? In my estimation, a person can be a combination of body types (i.e. short and pregnant, tall and curvy, pregnant and athletic), or a person could be between shapes (i.e. not tall enough to be considered "tall" or not exactly curvy either). Nevertheless, the Vogue editors and writers get their heads chewed off for failing to recognize one shape or another, despite their best attempt at being all-inclusive. You think they would learn their lesson and not even bother with the obligatory Shape Issue. Stay tuned after the April 2010 issue is released for a run-down on this year's criticism...

My other complaint here is that plus-size women are assumed to be the more pleasing body type to men. Well, if women come in all shapes and sizes, wouldn't it be possible that there is a man out there who likes each possible body type? No, apparently. Only Crystal Renn is attractive to men. Forget Carmen Kass, Natalia, Linda V, Liya Kebede, et al. If you're not plus-size, men aren't interested. Even Giselle, the girl Rolling Stone once deemed "the most beautiful girl in the world," is not appealing to men (well, aside from Tom Brady). How is it helpful to try to deduce what body type is better than another? Isn't this harmful to thin girls? Making them believe that as long as they are thin, they won't be attractive to the opposite sex? This seems just as harmful to me as convincing women that they must lose weight in order to be attractive.

And, finally, could we stop referring to thin girls as "skinny?" "Skinny" used to have a negative connotation and I believe that it still does, just like "fat" or "overweight" are shunned in favor of the more politically correct "plus size." "Skinny" is not a complimentary word.

With that being said, could the magazines just leave this issue alone? Could they feature beautiful models regardless of their shape without drawing attention to one body type or another by featuring certain models nude? Stop pointing fingers and using labels. Just feature beautiful, lively, healthy models and readers will be happy.

Segregation should not be happening in 2010. I'll rely on Anna to take the lead in breaking down this barrier.
OK, rant over.

05 January 2010

Off the Tourist Trail in 2010

Making plans to travel in 2010? "Off the Tourist Trail" is a fabulous new travel book that is here to assist you! The new guidebook is hands-down the best travel resource I've seen in years. Even Bill Bryson, who wrote the introduction, agrees. This is not a book to be missed if you have a serious case of the travel bug.

What makes "Off the Tourist Trail" so special is the unique premise of the book. Instead of advising the traveler on the old stand-by destinations of Rome, Machu Picchu, and the Great Wall of China, this book offers lesser-known alternatives to consider in lieu of each more famous destination. Along with landmarks, the book provides alternatives to festivals, museums, cultural and religious sites, and even cities that are off the radar. Each section also provides practical information like how to get there, when to go, where to stay, and an official tourist website. With suggestions like Luang Prabang, Laos; Tartu, Estonia; Sidi Ifni, Morocco; and Riga, Latvia in the mix, only the seriously adventurous traveler need apply. These destinations are not for the faint of heart!

Instead of Stonehenge, how about Avebury? Or the Ring O'Brodgar in the Orkney Islands or even the Wassu Stone Circles in Gambia? Already visited the Acropolis? Why not observe those in Agrigento and Selinunte in Sicily or Assos in Turkey. Been to Petra? How about Lalibela, Ethiopia instead? Have you been awe-struck by the Basilica San Marco in Venice? Head to the Haghia Sophia in Istanbul then.

The recommendations on exploring the lesser-known parts of cities and regions are top-notch too. "Off the Tourist Trail" provides information for those who have already explored London, Paris, NYC, China, and India to the fullest and now what to see some of the more hidden gems of each respective locale. If you have already sampled the cuisine in Paris, why not head to Lyon? Already stayed under the Tuscan sun? Head to Umbria for a more unique experience. Already queued at the MOMA? Check out some of Manhattan's smaller galleries. Bathed in the Greek Islands? Head to Croatia's islands or the Azores off Portugal.

Though the alternatives suggested in the book are (for the most part) not too off the beaten path that they compromise the traveler's safety, a few of the recommendations were a little suspect. For the traveler who has already marveled at the Pyramids in Giza, the book recommends observing those of Meroe in Sudan. The pyramids may be north of Khartoum and very far north from the current strife in Darfur, but Sudan is still a place to be avoided. The same goes for Sana'a, Yemen which was recommended as a delightful alternative to the Arab city of Marrakesh (along with Aleppo and Tunis). If you've been following the news over the past couple weeks, you know what's been going on over in Yemen and, more important, you know that it is definitely a place to be avoided right now. It's safe to say that if a destination is on the State Department's list, it should not be on your list.

With that being said, this is still a book worth reading and owning. Bill Bryson said it best in his introduction: "There is good news and bad news to report. The bad news is that there are more fantastic things in the world to see than you can ever possibly hope to get to. You're just not going to live long enough. The good news is that there are more fantastic things in the world to see than you can ever possibly hope to get to."

The world is out there just waiting to be discovered, and "Off the Tourist Trail" is happy to provide the map. I, for one, plan on seeing as many of those destinations in 2010 as I can. I hope you'll do the same.

Happy travels, friends!