Saturday, August 20, 2011

7 Things I Learned About Fashion in Brussels

Brussels, Belgium
1.   "Gypsies" layer beautifully.
Culturally significant, pretty and utilitarian fabrics in varying patterns and colors are harmoniously worn in a unique way that is often imitated but rarely executed so honestly.  

2.  I like punk.
Belgian punks changed how I regarded the style.  Observing people owning the look at all ages and income levels made me see the aesthetic properties.  It wasn't about shock value or being deliberately anti-fashion.

 After leaving New Orleans to spend months in an Islamic country, 
you would take a photo of a bar at 6AM too.  Don't judge me.
3.  Not all major European cities are fashion obsessed.
No one appeared to be trying really hard to look "in vogue".  Very unpretentious place.  I loved that.  

4.  Awesome eyewear goes a long way.
I drooled over show-stopping frames almost everywhere I went. 

 My father and a friend at Grand Place
5.  Old European cities have great vintage clothes.
Period.  See the post on the Place du Jeu de Balle Flea Market.

6.  Six or seven pastel candy colored pieces in an outfit is OK with me.
I noticed a woman that appeared as if she just stepped out of Willy Wonka's Imagination Room with an edible outfit.  I was surprised I liked it.  Dior's Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2011-2012 collection masterfully paired these colors with black and white prints.

 Dad covered in pigeons at Grand Place
7.  I fell in love with black again.
In a city that embraces minimalist fashion you can't help but appreciate the complex world of black.  Watch Ann Demeulemeester's Fall/Winter 2011-2012 collection that applies strong detailing to an all black motif.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

"It" Took The Snap Out of My Garters.

"It" 1927 Silent Film

Pleated Skirt at Natural Waist Belted with Sweater,
 T Straps, Scarf and Beret
Clara Bow

"IT" is that quality possessed by some which draws all others with its magnetic force. With "IT" you win all men if you are a woman—and all women if you are a man. "IT" can be a quality of the mind as well as a physical attraction."
Elinor Glyn
Opening Title of the 1927 film "It"

And so "It" begins.  The 1927 romantic comedy that made me fall in love with 20s fashion.  Watching Clara Bow bounce around bra-less as Betty Lou Spence, manipulating wealthy playboys, and defending fatherless infants changed how I regarded the decade’s daywear for good.  Her silhouettes were far from cylindrical; Bow's slim bodices and delicately pleated skirts met at or slightly below her natural waist highlighting her adorable figure.  

In one of my favorite scenes Betty convinces socialite Monty to take her to the Ritz after finding out her object of affection would be in attendance.  To prepare, Bow’s character resourcefully removes the sleeves and collar from her work dress, wraps a tulle scarf around her neck and pins an enormous floral arrangement at her waist.  Blatantly underdressed but well equipped with sheer sex appeal, Betty Lou catches the eye of Mr. Waltham, her employer and owner of the world’s largest department store, in spite of the highbrow blonde with whom he is dining. 

As a working class shopgirl simply brimming with "It", Clara's wardrobe was simple compared to the decadent productions of the era.  Nonetheless, the role catapulted her to an iconic status and immortalized her as the first "It" girl.

Friday, August 12, 2011

7 Things I Learned About Fashion in Guinea

The Republic of Guinea
1.  Made-to-measure clothing is a basic human right not a luxury.  
Regardless of socio-economic class, everyone has access to custom tailored garments in Guinea.  The cost is comparable to that of ready-to-wear and it keeps artisans employed. 
 Vintage Topcoat, West African Print Cotton Pants with Oxford Shirt and Kufi
2.  Old Guinean men blend European and traditional African clothing the best.
Shades, scarf, kufi (hat), African print tailored shirt, European pants (tailored, of course) and designer sandals.  Baller.

 Dixinn, Conakry Elders in European and Traditional African Clothing
3.  Rapper 50 Cent has a line of boxer shorts sold in almost every major market in Guinea.  
His name is on the waist band...

 West African Print Cotton Pant Set, Shades and Shoulder Bag
4.  Print and textile design are powerful.
Color, print and pattern have a clear language.  In Guinea the silhouettes are somewhat consistent yet different ethnic groups and territories use varying techniques and imagery to distinguish their work.  Furthermore, European designs reworked in traditional African fabrics are almost completely removed from their original context. 

 Saturated Colors and Custom Tailoring in African Brocade (Bazin) and Wax Print Fabric
5.  The ritual and communal nature of getting dressed.
Women participated in each other's beauty routines.  They tended to one another's clothing, hair and make up and collectively took pride in the result.  

Wedding Party Preparation, Gold Dusted Parts in Hair
6.  Posture is extremely important.
Almost everyone I consciously observed was naturally erect and centered.  This balance gave them an air of regality and confidence which is key to pulling off any look. 

Custom Tailored and Trimmed Lapa and Top
7.  Women's Wear Daily is one of the best fashion publications in circulation.
Their 100 year anniversary edition was my chosen read for the long flight.  Needless to say I studied it front to cover throughout my trip until it practically disintegrated. 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Balmain: Restrained Rock

Balmain Fall/Winter 2011-2012

Relaxed Shirt Haphazardly Tucked into Luxurious Mini

In a relaxed glam rocker kinda way, the house of Balmain showed us how far a great pair of pants and a fancy jacket can go.  Presented in vivid metallic leathers and heavily embellished fabrics, these pieces anchor easy-to-wear blouses, if any, and no jewelry at all.  Love it.  
Epaulettes are exaggerated with fur and sequins while glittering mini shift dresses and skirts flash in opposing linear patterns.  All ensembles are paired with calfskin lace-up boots in black and white, including deeply cuffed cropped pants and even deeper V neck jumpers.

Overall, this show conjured a host of looks the average person can wear using garments that are easy to find, they already have or can manipulate.  Most of the styles can be easily thrifted or purchased at second-hand retailers with a little imagination and a lot of tailoring.  Ensuring the fit is polished and the strong shoulder classy (Long Island accent) are chief among all other details when re-interpreting this look in your wardrobe.  

Worthy of recognition, the mastermind behind the Fall 2011 collection is unclear due to the recent shifts in this esteemed fashion house.  Head designer, jean-loving Christophe Decarnin, failed to appear at the March premier and was later replaced by 25 year old Olivier Rousteing in April.  Some sources state Balmain's runway show stylist Melanie Ward is to credit for the line.  Who knows.  

Nonetheless, it's smart and the soundtrack is awesome so watch it for yourself.
Click here to view the full show on Youtube.

 Side Slashed T with Embellished Jacket

 Mod Combination, Mini Shift Dress and Boot

Ultra Blue Leather Jacket and White Boot

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


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Natacha Rambova

"Why Change Your Wife?"   
Sofa with phonograph and bar in arm rests
 As a part of my continuing education, *ha!*, I recently watched the Cecil B. Demille silent film, “Why Change Your Wife?” (1920), starring Gloria Swanson.  The heavily adorned sets and costumes were beyond lavish; rich down to the smallest detail.  It was a visual smörgåsbord served on platinum trimmed porcelain dinnerware by the awe-inspiring costume designer Natacha Rambova. 

Add her to your heroine database.

Dancer, designer, actress, writer, producer and entrepreneur Natacha Rambova (1897-1966) was born Winifred Kimball Shaughnessy in Salt Lake City, Utah.  Early in life she displayed the creative, independent and industrious nature that would set the stage for her legacy, rejecting the constraints and conveniences of her wealthy upbringing. 

Though merely half of her films have survived and few were commercially successful, she is heralded as a style innovator and icon for her design contributions to ballet, Broadway, film and fashion between 1916 and 1933.  Known for her exotic and foreign effects, Natacha researched historical facts to ensure accuracy in her designs and played a major role in bringing the Art Deco style aesthetic to Hollywood from Europe in the 20s.  

 …and she was Mrs. Rudolph Valentino for a spell.  Their controversial relationship often, unfortunately, smothers her artistic contributions to culture and fashion so we'll move on...

A notorious shopper, her signature style, long hair in braided chignons and turbans gave her a mysterious sexiness that defied time and space.  As an advocate of self expression through fashion, Rambova opened a couture boutique on Fifth Avenue in 1927 and started a clothing line after her first year.

Natacha’s ensuing forays in business included real estate development and Egyptology.  A long time spiritualist and student of ancient religions, Rambova helped decipher ancient inscriptions and conducted classes on myths and symbolism until her death in the mid 60s.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Whistler's Mother: Fashion Icon?

Arrangement in Grey and Black: The Artist's Mother, 1871
Oil on Canvas
James Abbott McNeill Whistler (July 10, 1834 — July 17, 1903),  American

The Arrangement in Grey series by Whistler has always intrigued me.  A master of tonal nuances, his work has inspired a number of monochromatic "studies", if you will, within my wardrobe which is a guiding force in my personal style aesthetic.  The cultural significance of the above painting is evident in its nickname and often parodied composition yet the true genius is in the palette.  I believe the same can be said for any great outfit.