when reality kills the fantasy

or, what final fashion is

Sometimes I say that Final Fashion is just a meaningless alliteration – but over the course of many years it has come to have a few definitions in my mind, the most amusing one being: that moment when reality intrudes on the fantasy of fashion.

I adore these moments. The other weekend while bedridden I discovered My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding which is a series of poignant, high-camp crashes between fairy-tales and physics. These young brides are enamoured with the gowns of Disney princesses, which they not only imitate but elaborate on. The brides ignore the fact that the princesses are two dimensional and the proportions of their dresses will not move with the same animated verve and bounce in reality. In fact, these dresses require their wearers to push them along with an oddly appropriate tough-little-girl kicking motion.

Every time I watch a gypsy bride kick her hem down the aisle, I think: that’s final fashion.

When an item of clothing or cosmetic procedure reaches the point of final fashion, it starts to physically impede, limit opportunities and even harm. Shoes that trip up entire casts of models, like in the Prada Spring 2009 show. Skirts that bind legs so tight walking is impossible. Glasses that no one can see through. Face tattoos that render people unemployable. Botox that paralyzes actresses’ ability to emote.

The instance where fashion fails to impress and instead absurdly breaks its own spell is the beginning of the end of a trend. That is final fashion.

click click – 28-02-12

Welcome to click click, the sporadic review of what I find worth clicking on the internet.

These diptychs of stylish couples swapping outfits by artist Hana Pesut delightfully bend and blend gender perceptions.

Karma-matic for incoming linkers and commenters –

  • The Blogust – one of the sweetest shoutouts I’ve ever received thanks to Michelle Bobb-Parris
  • Bloggers Style: Spring Shoes – FLARE.com features my new blue brogues.
  • Ruby Bastille“books ~ style ~ food ~ fantasticness”
  • life in the m lane“A change of plans, a change of direction,  a need for adventure – life is meant for living, why not do it with wonderful inspirations.”
  • Verging On Serious“ramblings from a health-nut in New York City”
  • The Blonde Muse“21 year old hedonist queen of wanderlust”
  • Farbenfreude“My free time is spent on the beautiful things in life”
  • Paper Doll Circle“general paperdoll scuttlebutt – lavishly illustrated with great images of current, rare and unique paperdolls”

LFW sketches and confessions

Tuesday was the last sunny day in the courtyard, and my last day street style sketching. As far as fashion weeks go, this one in London has been a bit adverse. I got food poisoning on the weekend and lost two days, missed a couple of the few shows I did get invitations for. Since then I’ve been operating on an empty stomach and Fear Of Missing Out.

Once I was sketching in the yard, I forgot how bad I felt. Tuesday was much busier – a lot more action. More people to draw, more people who came and said hey. It was non-stop until the sun disappeared around 3:30pm and I felt shivery.

At that point I was kindly handed an invitation to Aminaka Wilmont and got to go inside the big tent for the first and only time this season. As I sat down in my fourth row seat, I felt a veil of negative emotion settle over me. I don’t like to think of myself as much of a downer, but I think the effort I had asked of my shattered constitution had broken me down too far.

In that moment I understood that love is not the only intention you can channel into creativity. You can also use the negative. As I absorbed the show (it wasn’t like watching) I let my arm go like a limp automaton, not even trying to avoid spraying paint on my unlucky seat mates. The music and the beauty was appropriately dark, though I don’t remember much about the clothing.

The resulting sketches were wet and sticky, and without a doubt the best I had done all week. I put them on one of the big speakers at the end of the runway to dry as the audience was filing out. It was in this very conspicuous position, where the catwalk meets the doors backstage, where I felt as if all my years of hopes and dreams were dripping off of me like so much wet paint, and I burst into tears. I had been working all week, trying so hard to do good work, to get attention and appreciation, so I was both devastated and relieved to be completely alone and ignored in the blind eye of the hurricane.

I stuffed the sketches into my Sainsbury’s shopping bag, smudging and ruining most of them, and got on the bus to go home, disappearing into the crowd of London’s uncaring commuters.

On reflection, that must be how so many designers must feel in that very same physical position. Except they must feel it exponentially, because the stakes are so much higher. Imagine working so hard, season after season, long after your status as the hot new thing has cooled off. Any recognition you get stops feeling good, because no matter who says you’re great, you’re still struggling and any progress is so incremental. And no matter how much effort and money you spend, you could still experience a career-ending reversal of fortune on the fulcrum of fickle fashion.

An emotional hangover after fashion week isn’t uncommon, this one felt deeper and darker than usual.


sketching street style at LFW

When my invitation count ended up being, in spite of my utter lack of importance, pitiful, I decided to do something a bit different this season. I went to the art store and bought a travel easel so weather willing, I can set up studio in the courtyard of Somerset House and make my marks alongside the photobloggers as the beautiful people enter or exit or go blithely wherever they’re invited. This setup allows me to sketch bigger than I ever can on my knee at a fashion show, and unlike my fellow courtyard rats, I’m not chained to reality.

The sun has blessed me with a couple beautiful days and I’ve been burning through more ££s of paper than I care to contemplate. Here’s a selection of what looks good enough to post so far. Show sketches are on their way too – and I’m getting ready for another courtyard session this afternoon.

drawing – Dr. Martens first love

Dr. Martens Canada asked me to submit an image that represented “first love” which is an appropriate coincidence because my experience of first love was simultaneous with the acquisition of my first new (not second-hand) pair of Dr. Martens, a chunky, 90s-style 1460 quad, their much-worn appearance is recorded here.

The specificity of the boot style is important – as is the motorcycle (his first, a much-loved vintage Honda 400 if I recall correctly). The tightness of the illustration is important, because we both liked to draw, and descriptive detail and obsessive cross-hatching echoes the way we drew then. Everything else is just smudged in, obscured by obsolete technology, remaining only in our brains and perhaps boxes in our parent’s homes.

click click – 13-02-12

Welcome to click click, the sporadic review of what I find worth clicking on the internet.

These images of Paris front rows past are from a wonderful retrospective on The Cut.

  • Intimate Hangover – I was thinking the other day about Agathe from Style Bytes – if you recognize that name you’ve been hanging around fashion blogs for as long as I have. This article, even in awkward translation, is a poignant retrospective on the euthanasia of a popular blog.
  • Theatre of Fashion – it is rare that I come across a fashion blog as inspiring to me as this one. Amber posts about costume, history, theatre, film and fashion with impressive depth of research and a wealth of rare images.
  • Made Better in Japan – obsessed with detail and accuracy, the Japanese are earnestly recreating new and improved vintage Americana. It looks exactly the same but the almost scientific theory behind it couldn’t be more different from the casual rebellion that the original styles represented.
  • Thoughts on a Word – if the etymology of beauty fascinates you, there’s a deep well of content here. I’m only halfway through, to be honest.
  • Who Can You Trust? – a wordy exploration on the practice of naming styles of garments. I’m not sure anthropomorphizing cropped jeans really is a poetic way to create warm quasi-relationships in a cold technological age. A good name won’t make a top seller – but it helps hit garment become more memorable – not to mention more searchable in the age of online shopping.
  • New York Fashion Week: Why I slept through it last time, and why I sort of want to again – how much youthful hope and energy gets burned every season producing repetitive, soulless, quasi-commercial “content” – it makes you wonder why so many people have the magazine dream in the first place. Working at fashion week doesn’t have to be this way – pick your career (and your attitude) wisely and you can make money and have fun like Rachel at A Material World.
  • The Best Clothing Inspires Fear – Cintra Wilson discusses aesthetic strategies of protest.
  • What Your Street Style Pose Says About You – a “body language expert” takes on street style and… I don’t think she nailed it. See my take here. While we’re on the topic of streets and poses too, this is an amusing art concept.

Karma babes –

street style signals

Walking Away – I’m too busy to have my photo taken. Can’t stop, I’m always late and they’re holding up the show just for me. The wind is in my hair. If you want my photo, shoot fast. Fabulous never waits!

On the Phone – I’m talking to someone on the phone because I’m a visual person, I don’t like reading. Yes you can take my photo but I can’t stop listening to this very important call. They’re telling me things that make me smile enigmatically, but I don’t have a big enough vocabulary to tell you what’s so funny.

Fingering an iPhone – even though I’m at fashion week, what’s happening inside this magic slice of toast is waaay more amazing. My fingers are as soft as butter.

Shoulders Raised – it’s so cold in the Northern hemisphere! Make sure my coat is outside of the frame because it doesn’t go with my new spring outfit. I’m really fashionable underneath my parka, see?

Arms Akimbo – look at my belly… now look lower. YEAH. I am a REAL man, even though I like clothes, you can tell because I’m taking up as much space as I possibly can. Even my double monkstraps are very far apart. I think you’ll have to move back to get all of me in the photo.

Looking Down, Scratching Head – are you sure you want to take a photo of little me? You like this outfit? But it’s hideous! I just fell into it by accident this morning after tripping over my Litas. I guess you can take a picture of me as long as my face isn’t visible. This is truly mortifying. I hope your website isn’t that popular.

Clutching a Bag that has a Handle this is how they hold bags in fashion shows, and since I like mindlessly following trends this is how I hold my bag now too. I know it has a handle but I don’t have to use it because I don’t really need the use of my hands anyway. I’m just here to see and be seen, you know?

Pigeon Toes – I’m as twee as can be! I was born after 1990! Tee hee!

Head Tilted to Side – I shaved half my head, and now everything is askew! But I don’t mind because I like seeing the world differently. The Earth I walk on is on a 45 degree angle. I don’t follow trends or obey the law of gravity. I also only wear one sleeve of my coat at a time, and have mismatching shoes and earrings. Did I mention I’m different?

Hands in Pockets – there is no such thing as a manly “pose”, so I’ll casually put my hands in my pockets and stand as STRAIGHT as possible. Actually, just my fingers are in my pockets because my drop crotch pants are so tight, but also somehow still falling down. This way I can simultaneously push my pants lower and hold them up at the same time. Notice where my thumbs are pointing?

Holding Bag in Crooked Elbow – UGH, fashion week is so exhausting I have to put my entire survival kit into this massive designer bag. Carrying around 500 ml spray mist face refresher, SLR, iPad, all the requisite chargers, an extra pair of platform clogs and two unpaid interns in this bag is REAL WORK. It is so heavy I have to carry it on my elbow so I don’t chip my nail art.

Legs Crossedwhy is there always a lineup for the women’s toilet at Fashion Week? I guess while I’m waiting you can take my picture.

bellies in and bellies out

Whatever her function, it is clear that the graceful bulges of the Venus of Willendorf are an idealized exaggeration of the female form. Even though she is at least 25,000 years old, to my eyes she is an obvious fashion figure. The belly doesn’t get the glorification much any more. And yet, every so often in modern western history (and I’m sure outside of it, though I am oblivious) the belly gets to stand out.

This idealized torso, possibly of the Egyptian queen and famed beauty Nefertiti and dating to around 1350 BC, is quite slender while still featuring a pronounced belly. The Egyptian ideal is quite exaggerated. While ancient Greek representations of female forms were certainly not thin by modern standards, they were balanced proportionally, with the belly not standing out any more than any other feature.

Jan van Eyck’s 1434 masterpiece The Arnolifini Portrait features a fashionable couple, possibly celebrating their betrothal. Many modern viewers wonder if she was pregnant – all evidence points to no, and as you can see in this van Eyck depiction of Saint Catherine (on the right), the woman is just wearing contemporary fashion. The Arnolfini family were merchants, and are showing off their wealth with abundant quantities of fabric. Her gesture is possibly meant to indicate hopes for a fruitful marriage – hopes that were never realized.

The high-waisted silhouette featuring a convex belly was a long running trend for the 15th and 16th century female form – whether depicted dressed or undressed, by Botticelli in 1482 (as above) or by Cranach in 1528. These are fashionable bellies, not pregnant bellies, though it seems obvious that their fecund appearance was a significant part of their attraction. This trend very gradually, and in different ways in various geographical regions, began to evolve into the conical, geometrical torso of the Elizabethan woman.

The peascod belly (this example from 1569) is a bit more ridiculous to modern eyes – as it was to commenters at the time. The garment that clothed a man’s torso – the doublet – went through various phases over a few centuries, from more padding in the chest during medieval times, then less padding, and then more padding again. In the 16th century, the padding extended at the lower torso. The male belly became an abstract shape, described as a “peascod”. Echoed in armour, this protrusion was sometimes almost pointy.

The look was achieved with padding and was balanced out with padded sleeves, codpieces, stuffed hose and square toes – a bombastic silhouette most famously worn by Henry VIII. In this case, the look seems to be about abundance in a different form – masculine girth was probably meant to evoke solidity and strength – and later on as fashion turned, reeked of excess and machismo.

These young princes in 1637 are wearing heritage armour with distinctive peascod shaping, though by this time the style for this shape in the doublet had fallen out of favour.

Female and male waists alike remained nipped in throughout the 17th and 18th centuries until the French Revolution. A sudden resurgence in classical styles created a dramatic change in fashion and for a couple decades, women abandoned the waist. While the belly isn’t exactly the focal point of this trend, displaying a sense of relaxed roundness (these fashion plate examples are from 1806) does seem to be considered attractive.

Outstanding stomachs have been absent from modern fashion ever since. Even when styles are relatively waistless, as in the 1920s or the 1960s, the concavity of desirable bellies remains a constant. When lower torsos do appear in the spotlight, it’s only under two circumstances – here capably demonstrated by pop singer Christina Aguilera:

The turn-of-our-century trend for midriffs doesn’t quite compare to the other examples I’ve cited because the focus is on the absence rather than the presence of a belly. Still, expansive gaps between upper and lower garments do draw all the attention to the navel, and as with the other feminine examples, it is very sexual.

The trend towards displaying the pregnant belly – shocking as recent as 1991 when Demi Moore graced Vanity Fair – has now become a mundane facebook trope. Google “belly” and most of what you’ll find is garishly painted, proudly exhibited pregnant bellies. Pregnancy, which used to be something to conceal, has become something of a bulls-eye, with or without apparent irony. Does that indicate that fashion is full-circle cycling towards to fertility worship?

Sort of like square toes, bellies only seem to make sporadic appearances, and without any sort of obvious recurring pattern. It also seems like it is wholly out of our control – the hue and cry over the absurdity of the peascod belly did nothing to end its thrust. Modern campaigns meant to promote the idea of all bodies being considered beautiful – belly-ful or otherwise – are more than a bit hopeless. In history as now, bellies are only idealized under occasional circumstances.

paper doll – Naomi Campbell

A new paper doll! It has been over six months since the last one. This one is inspired by another British fashion model, Naomi Campbell, and some of the memorable outfits and items she has worn over her significant career. Making this doll, I was struck by Campbell’s amaranthine beauty – her body is so finely formed even fashion designers hesitate to cover it up with much – and her super-sweet smile. In this format, I can only capture a fraction of the essence of this incredible female.

You can purchase a high-resolution, print-quality PDF of this doll personal use, to print, cut out, display and play with, for just $9 USD.