A Final Plea for the Department Store

May 7

Miles Franklin

Here we are again, only six months after writing my farewell to Barney’s, discussing yet another potential luxury department store bankruptcy. Acknowledging now that the closure of major department stores is less a compilation of random retail flukes and more a trend that will continue well into the future, I feel that it is important to give a very biased argument in favor of luxury department stores. 

Neiman Marcus Chicago, on the famed Magnificent Mile. Image  Via
Neiman Marcus Chicago, on the famed Magnificent Mile. Image Via

Before I launch into my pro-department store attack in a bid to make you sentimental for the era of brick and mortar shopping, I feel it is necessary to touch on Neiman Marcus’ presence in the world of fashion and shopping, as well as the economic conditions which threaten it with bankruptcy. First, it’s important to note that Neiman Marcus represents a sizable piece of the luxury retail space, operating 42 premier locations, 30 Last Call (outlet) locations, and of course the two iconic Bergdorf Goodman stores which have been Manhattan staples for more than a century. Neiman Marcus Group has long been fiscally unsound, and was subject to a leveraged buyout in 2013 which helped the company earn it’s nearly $5 billion debt. Despite this formidable financial burden, Neiman Marcus, and companies like it, operate fairly normally in times of economic growth because they balance their large debt with a consistent cash flow to pay towards the debt. In times of economic stasis or instability, though, companies like Neiman Marcus lose nearly all of their revenue, leaving only the mounting debt and nothing with which to pay it. Unfortunately, the telltale signs of liquidity issues have already started to emerge for the company, which missed a nearly $6 million interest payment on debt in April. The additional and unprecedented burden that the coronavirus has placed on the retail market doesn’t help either, as UBS reports that around 100,000 stores may face closure before the end of the decade, and retail sales fell nearly 9 percent in March according to the Washington Post.

Neiman Marcus Hudson Yards opened March 15th of 2019 and holds 188,000 square feet of retail space.  Image    via
Neiman Marcus Hudson Yards opened March 15th of 2019 and holds 188,000 square feet of retail space. Image via

While the coronavirus outbreak will no doubt have ramifications for the foreseeable future, it is true that we will one day return Michigan Avenue, Wilshire Boulevard, or Hudson Yards, and it is in anticipation of this return that I implore you to explore the magic of the department store. Even as there are many reasons to shop online, stay at home orders being but one, the benefits of browsing in person are so much greater; for us Chicago-based fashion enthusiasts, is there a joy greater than walking down the Magnificent Mile with coffee in hand and a few friends in tow, browsing stores and trying clothes on in real time? If the social experience that physical shopping offers doesn’t excite you, at least think of the practicality and wonder of the prospect. Department stores offer the chance to seek out the brands which you already love, whilst simultaneously discovering new ones. Often one can shop, eat, and relax within the same retail space, Althea at the top of Saks being a particularly tasty example from Chicago. All of this is simply to say that I believe the department store, and brick and mortar shopping more generally, deserves to live on. Many established and formidable fashion houses either started at, or had significant help from, American department stores. To this day, whimsical shrines to garments remain the place to see and be seen. Where would Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and The City, Cher from Clueless, or Blair Waldorf of Gossip Girl be without the department store? 

Bergdorf Goodman, a Neiman Marcus owned Manhattan staple for more than a century. Image  Via
Bergdorf Goodman, a Neiman Marcus owned Manhattan staple for more than a century. Image Via

With potential purchasing interest from Saks Fifth Avenue, the current question is, will Coronavirus finally sound the death knell for luxury department stores, and if not, will they remain after the distant return to normalcy? By now, my position on the matter is painfully obvious. While it’s clear that my affinity for blazing through floors and floors of clothing is not shared by consumers in general, I hope that I’ve at least made a few people curious.

featured image via

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Catwalk: A Revealing Foray Into 90s Fashion Culture

Miles Franklin

Christy Turlington, the subject of  Catwalk  and the eminent supermodel of the 1990s. Image  via
Christy Turlington, the subject of Catwalk and the eminent supermodel of the 1990s. Image via

Nostalgia for 1990s and 2000s fashion, with all its attendant glamour and spectacle, seemed to have reached its pinnacle in the summer of 2019, when Instagram models and reality TV stars posted glossy photos wearing Chanel swimsuits and Dior Saddle Bags aboard yachts in the Mediterranean. Despite all of the frivolity and social media flexing that almost overnight turned a 20 year old, $200 derelict Dior bag into a $6,000 piece of vintage art, it was certainly exciting to see so many people introduced to what was arguably the most ambitious and reckless decade of fashion, the 1990s.

For people interested in diving a bit deeper into the culture of the fashion world during that glorious period, I want to introduce Catwalk, a 1995 documentary direct by Robert Leacock which follows Christy Turlington, Kate Moss, and Naomi Campbell through the three infamously chaotic weeks of fashion shows in Milan, Paris, and New York. In addition to capturing a baffling number of tastemakers in one film, including such legends as Gianni & Donatella Versace, Karl Lagerfeld, Anna Wintour, John Galliano, André Leon Talley, Jean-Paul Gaultier, RuPaul among many others, the documentary also grapples with, and exposes, difficult questions and stereotypes that have long plagued the modeling and fashion industries.

(From left) Carla Bruni, Linda Evangelista, and Naomi Campbell wear Chanel for Vogue in 1994. Image  via
(From left) Carla Bruni, Linda Evangelista, and Naomi Campbell wear Chanel for Vogue in 1994. Image via

Avoiding superfluous descriptions of the content of the documentary, it is worth noting that the production quality is far above what one might expect from a “day-in-the-life” sort of film; with a gorgeous original soundtrack by none other than pop culture’s darling, Malcolm McLaren, scenes that alternate between black & white and color cinematography, surprisingly disarming monologues, and inherently intimate meetings between models and designers, one is left with both sympathy and reverence for the supermodel.

One particularly endearing moment occurs when an exhausted Turlington arrives back to her hotel room and reflects candidly on the difficulty of maintaining relationships and the lack of rest for months at a time that are inherent in her work. It is in vulnerable moments like this one, shot in black & white, where we see the often overlooked consequences of life as a supermodel, consequences which are overshadowed by the glamorous, fast-paced, and overwhelmingly positive conceptions of this line of work. It is part of the genius of this documentary to uplift these moments of fabulous freedom and allure while also throwing them into relief with moments of much more serious contemplation.

Kate Moss walking the runway for John Galliano’s Spring/Summer 1994 show. Image  via
Kate Moss walking the runway for John Galliano’s Spring/Summer 1994 show. Image via

It is yet another part of this documentary’s genius to show the lifelong friendships established between supermodels and the army of people it takes to prepare them for the runway, while simultaneously highlighting the rivalries and dissension within the industry. Turlington is at turns discussing relationship issues and aesthetic affinites with Isaac Mizrahi, and engaging in fruitless career comparisons with other models, making faces at the camera in a manner eerily similar to John Krasinski’s character, Jim, in The Office. Paralleling the polarity of Turlington’s interactions are the scenes showing the models undergoing drastic changes to their appearances for shows which can all too often occur back-to-back and require, for instance, purple hair in the morning and natural hair in the afternoon; it is clear that, in addition taking mental and emotional tolls, modelling at this level takes a physical one as well.

Naomi Campbell walks for Chanel spring 1995. Image  via
Naomi Campbell walks for Chanel spring 1995. Image via

Concerning the topic of appearances, it would be unfair to brush under the rug all of the problematic moments in this documentary, most of which involve issues of appearance and presentation. Two scenes in particular come to mind, the first being a Jean-Paul Gaultier show the premise of which was a very thinly veiled exoticism composed of mock tribal tattoos and facial jewelry on predominantly white models, and the second being a painful scene in which the cinematographer asks André Leon Talley for thoughts concerning John Galliano’s Spring/Summer 1994 show, to which he replies, “a man who respects femininity, and a man who has an appreciation of romance, and a woman who wants to look like a woman.

Of course, he’s not making clothes to go to work, but he’s making clothes for women who want to look like women.” This comment, which flatly states that looking like a women means wearing intricate, heavy couture dresses and also insinuates that acting like a woman entails not working or at the very least dressing like one is not working, was out of place in 1995 and is certainly even more disappointing to hear today, especially from the otherwise brilliant mind of Talley who is himself a champion of diversifying fashion.

Christy Turlington walks for Jean-Paul Gaultier spring 1994, a highly problematic collection. Image  via
Christy Turlington walks for Jean-Paul Gaultier spring 1994, a highly problematic collection. Image via

The documentary ends with a scene in which an artist paints a minimalistic portrait of Christy Turlington, and the viewer cannot help but feel that they, too, have stared her in the face and distilled a more complete, essential, picture of her and her occupation. Because Catwalk so impartially reveals the beauty and vileness of the world of high fashion and supermodels, all the while doing so with stunning cinematography and a superb soundtrack, I am inclined to recommend it to veterans of vintage fashion as well as fashion fledglings.

Cover image via (From left) Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, and Christy Turlington, 3 elite 90s supermodels who often worked together.

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John Hughes Films and 80s Fashion

John Hughes Films and 80s Fashion

Miles Franklin

The last several months have been the most challenging and uncertain time many of us have ever faced. With record numbers of people losing jobs, students being forced to return home from school, and nearly all of us risking our health and that of others simply to make a run to the grocery store, there is much that appears bleak right now. As pertains to those of us who love to dress and are now stuck at home without a reason to carefully consider our garments every day, self-quarantining can feel like a creative block. Wishing to bring some inconsequential drama back into my life in lieu of the gossip my friends and I would regularly exchange in campus coffee shops, I turned to rewatching John Hughes cult classics like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, and Sixteen Candles. While watching Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Pretty in Pink in particular, I was surprised to find so much iconic mid-80s fashion on display, and in the spirit of staying at home while still remaining inspired by how people dress, I present the most fashionable characters in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Pretty in Pink.

1. Sloane Peterson

Sloane (Mia Sara) pictured with Ferris (Matthew Broderick) and Cameron (Alan Ruck). Image  Via
Sloane (Mia Sara) pictured with Ferris (Matthew Broderick) and Cameron (Alan Ruck). Image Via

Sloane Peterson, played by Mia Sara, was Ferris Bueller’s effortlessly gorgeous girlfriend. Throughout the movie, Sloane is seen wearing a white, cropped fringe jacket with gray above-the-knee shorts and beaded white boots to match the jacket. The cowgirl-meets-Los Angeles aesthetic is completed by Sloane’s light brown leather crossbody bag, and the Cartier Must de Cartier watch that sits on her wrist alongside a delicate bracelet. Combining this ensemble with the demeanor of the character that Sara plays ensured Sloane’s status as an 80s teen movie icon.

Sloane’s Cartier Must de Cartier watch. Image  Via
Sloane’s Cartier Must de Cartier watch. Image Via

2. Jeanie Bueller

Jeanie Bueller (Jennifer Grey) wearing her iconic black tote bag. Image  Via
Jeanie Bueller (Jennifer Grey) wearing her iconic black tote bag. Image Via

Jeanie Bueller’s contribution as a fashionable character in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off has less to do with her outfit per se, and more to do with her accessories, chief among them being her quirky, angular 80s car (which Ferris is quite jealous of) and her tote bag that she’s seen angrily lugging around throughout the film. Perhaps intentionally, Jeanie’s bag is featured quite prominently in many of her scenes; it’s a glossy black tote covered in large, distinctive patches which seem to be logos of some kind, and the bag itself sticks out particularly because of how dark it is in contrast to her bright pink sweater. Then, of course, there’s her car; a white, 1985 Pontiac Fiero which Jeanie is seen throwing around the road in several scenes, eventually skidding to a halt in the Bueller’s driveway towards the end of the film. Given Jeanie’s brooding and decidedly perturbed disposition, the bag and the car both seem to be more extensions of her personality rather than simply objects she uses.

Jeanie’s car parked in front of the Bueller’s quintessential suburbian home. Image  Via
Jeanie’s car parked in front of the Bueller’s quintessential suburbian home. Image Via

3. Katie Bueller

Katie Bueller (Cindy Pickett) epitomizing 80’s business casual. Image  Via
Katie Bueller (Cindy Pickett) epitomizing 80’s business casual. Image Via

As one of Ferris’ responsible and doting parents in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Katie Bueller is perhaps the most unexpected character from the film to make it into an article about 80s fashion in teen films, yet a closer look at her outfit reveals some interesting insights into business casual dressing in the 1980s. Pieces of her look that stand out include her shiny one piece necklace, gaudy earrings, and belt with an asymmetrical geometric buckle (sadly not pictured).

Moving on to Pretty in Pink, a movie which follows a few days in the high school experience of a girl who makes many of her own outfits, it is only fair that we first highlight the fashion prowess of the protagonist Andie Walsh, played perhaps unsurprisingly by Molly Ringwald (a staple in many John Hughes films).

4. Andie Walsh

Andie Walsh (Molly Ringwald) in one of her well layered ensembles. Image  Via
Andie Walsh (Molly Ringwald) in one of her well layered ensembles. Image Via

Perhaps what is so compelling about Andie Walsh in Pretty in Pink is not her outfits themselves, but the fact that they had been handmade. The storyline of the movie prominently features scenes of classism and highlights the financial disparity between the students of Andie’s school in frequently shocking, if not terribly nuanced scenes, so Andie’s intricate handmade outfits not only serve to please aesthetically, but also to mock the de facto uniform of the wealthy students. As such, Andie’s outfits are often wonderfully layered and complementary to her sunny yet serious attitude, and the movie culminates in the unveiling of the pink (shocking!) dress she created to wear to the prom.

Andie’s triumphantly pink prom dress. Image  Via
Andie’s triumphantly pink prom dress. Image Via

5. Iona

Iona (Annie Potts) shortly after assailing Duckie with staples. Image  Via
Iona (Annie Potts) shortly after assailing Duckie with staples. Image Via

Iona, the owner of the record store at which Andie works, so perfectly embodies the stereotypical outlandishness of the 80s club kid that her looks end up being unashamedly kitsch, moving wonderfully from one pole of eccentricity to the other. Throughout the course of the film, Iona presents a 50s version of herself (in a pink dress which is to become part of Andie’s pink dress), a version of herself who wears spiked hair and elbow length gloves, and a version of herself who wears white hair and would have looked perfectly at home in a scene from Beverly Hills Cop. 

6. Duckie Dale

Finally we arrive at Andie Walsh’s best friend and longtime admirer, Duckie Dale, who is so named in large part because of his duckbill-like white shoes. Duckie’s outfits largely play into his trademark goofiness, his shoes being case-in-point, and ensure that taking him seriously is an impossibility. Ultimately, though, there is still something admirable about the confidence he demonstrates through his wardrobe.

Duckie Dale (Jon Cryer) causing a scene. Image  Via
Duckie Dale (Jon Cryer) causing a scene. Image Via

Having made what I believe is far too long a list of fashionable characters from movies by a single director/screenwriter from a time in film that is long past, I hope I have, at the very least, added a few cult classics to your watch list. Now that we’re all stuck at home spending an inordinate amount of time in front of screens, rewatching our favorite films with an eye to how they may have influenced our styles is a whimsical but worthwhile endeavor at any time, but especially today.

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Five Thoughtful Designer Storefronts

Before my interest in fashion and handbags really took off, my main aesthetic concern was architecture. As my interest in fashion began to develop, I found myself making pilgrimages to the various physical locations of the designers whose work I most appreciated, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that many of them take great care to create sophisticated, often playful, facades for their stores. In an effort to exalt the connections between architecture and fashion, I am excited to share with you five thoughtful designer storefronts.

1. Hermès, Amsterdam

Customer leaves Hermès in Amsterdam with the coveted orange bag. Image  Via
Customer leaves Hermès in Amsterdam with the coveted orange bag. Image Via

Hermès made headlines in 2019 when, in Amsterdam, it opened a two-storey boutique in a building with a facade composed of glass bricks. Designed by MVRDV as a townhouse, and once occupied by Chanel, the glass facade of the store immediately fascinates passersby who can look through the wall and make out shapes and colors inside of the store. The structure known as Crystal Houses, which occupies a prominent plot on one of Amsterdam’s most well-known retail streets, seems to challenge both the architectural homogeneity of the street as well as Hermès’ own conservatism.


2. Dior Flagship, Paris

Pedestrians pass under the frosted limbs of Dior’s Christmas installation in Paris. Image  Via
Pedestrians pass under the frosted limbs of Dior’s Christmas installation in Paris. Image Via

Dior’s Paris flagship store, located on the Avenue Montaigne, is known for reinventing its facade with each passing season. Though every iteration of the store’s facade is worth talking about, Dior absolutely shattered expectations with it’s Christmas 2018/2019 installation; an elegantly proportioned, yet all-consuming white Christmas tree which glowed a warm yellow at night and shielded customers as they entered and exited the boutique. Though I’ve attached my favorite photo of the tree, I think it’s well worth your while to Google this one and browse further.

3. Louis Vuitton, New York and London

Three-dimensional Louis Vuitton monogram in London. Image  Via
Three-dimensional Louis Vuitton monogram in London. Image Via

Two storefronts well known for their constant reinvention are Louis Vuitton’s New York and London flagships. As with Dior, it is certainly true that every Louis Vuitton location adopts a universal, seasonally changing design language to keep each location recognizable and current. But while Dior makes its biggest statement in Paris, Louis Vuitton goes all out in Manhattan and London. Under the visual creative direction of Faye Mcleod (@fayedreamsaloton instagram), a new, colorful, three-dimensional explosive look was created for the LV monogram.

This new visual was painted onto the 10+ storey facade of Louis Vuitton’s Midtown Manhattan location, and was rendered in metal and attached to scaffolding at LV’s New Bond Street location in London for a genuinely three-dimensional experience. This 3D rainbow monogram motif was also installed in Louis Vuitton boutique windows across the world, taking the shape of hearts, orbs, and even a full size Christmas tree in LV’s Place Vendôme location in Paris.


4. Goyard, Monte Carlo

The facade of Goyard’s Monte-Carlo flagship, fronted immediately by the Monaco Grand Prix circuit. Image  Via
The facade of Goyard’s Monte-Carlo flagship, fronted immediately by the Monaco Grand Prix circuit. Image Via

Having had an intermittent presence in Monte-Carlo since the end of the 19th century, Maison Goyard has recently returned, opening up at an address along the city’s famed Avenue de Monte-Carlo. While I am appreciative of the storefront itself (a pared down, monochromatic single-storey glass and stone facade with immaculate white awnings printed with “GOYARD,” the whole store topped by a lush pedestrian walkway), the store’s location is much more interesting. As can be seen in the photograph, the store sits right along the famous route of the Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix—perhaps the single most important circuit in Formula 1 since its inauguration by Prince Pierre in 1929. The physical situation of the store not only implicates it in the excitement of nearly a century of sporting history, but also ensures that the Goyard banners will be seen anytime filming occurs along the track.


5. Burberry, Chicago

The Burberry storefront situated on Chicago’s famous Magnificent Mile. Image  Via
The Burberry storefront situated on Chicago’s famous Magnificent Mile. Image Via

Finally, as MODA is based in Chicago, I feel that it is only fair to include a storefront from our very own city. It may not come as a surprise to Chicagoans that I have selected Burberry on the Magnificent Mile. Positioned across from The Roastery, the largest Starbucks location in the world, is the glossy, midnight black Burberry boutique. At first glance, it appears to be simply a large and tall volume, cut up the center by windows that display products and ad campaigns. What one finds upon closer inspection, however, is that the building is actually festooned with the historical Burberry check, rendered three-dimensionally to stand out slightly from the building itself. Even more spectacular is the bright white light which emanates from behind the check at night, casting an elegant yet whimsical glow against the polished structure.

The next time you find yourself window shopping or looking for something in a store, take some time to appreciate your physical surroundings, because someone spent a great deal of time designing the visual impact with you in mind.

Featured Image via

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PHX Gallery, Where Exception Becomes Convention

PHX Gallery is a must-see for people whose love of Comme des Garçons reaches deeper than PLAY T-shirts and Converse collaborations.

Established in 2014 by Joachim and Carly Lapotre, PHX Gallery undoubtedly stands as one of Chicago’s best kept secrets, and is a must-see for people whose love of Comme des Garçons reaches deeper than PLAY T-shirts and Converse collaborations. Located in Chicago’s River North neighborhood, the gallery sits inside an unpretentious—yet clean and airy—warehouse, which is also home to other small galleries and studios. 

An unassuming set of glass double doors, framed with crown molding and a set of Venetian blinds, diligently protected the gallery from prying eyes. Image: PHX Gallery

A warm, intelligent, and funny Parisian, Joachim led me to an unassuming set of glass double doors, framed with crown molding and a set of venetian blinds that diligently protected the gallery from prying eyes. The moment Joachim opened the door, I was immediately immersed into a world where fringe fashion and furniture are the rule, not the exception. A small, intimate space looking out onto the street and the building across the way, the room is the perfect setting in which to learn about Comme des Garçons and post-modernist furniture. Immediately to the left of the doors, a set of Prorok rattan armchairs by Borek Sipek for Driade from the late 1980s nestled protectively around a glowing and tactile yellow foam lamp by Masayo Ave for Antonangeli Illuminazione from the 1990s, which itself was perched upon a miniature white ionic column. In one of the chairs rested a sophisticated leather Boston bag from Comme des Garçons, and this entire scene was backdropped by mid-century ceramic wall crucifixes from Belgium. 

The feeling and visual gravity of the curious sheer black linen dress by Watanabe for Comme des Garçons from 2014, alternating from mesh to faux leather circles placed seemingly at random, were incredible. Image: PHX Gallery

After I took in this magnificent scene, Joachim walked me through the multiple racks of vintage Comme des Garçons clothing, which encapsulate almost 40 years of Japanese avant-garde design from Rei Kawakubo and perhaps her most famous disciple and collaborator, Junya Watanabe. Describing the myriad of ways in which Kawakubo subtly (and not so subtly) defies conventional ideas of gender, form, and design, Joachim’s passion shone brightly and enveloped me further in the fantastic world of Comme des Garçons. Stopping at one particular piece, a curious sheer black linen dress by Watanabe for Comme des Garçons from 2014, Joachim encouraged me to try it on, an invitation I accepted without hesitation. The feeling and visual gravity of the garment, alternating from mesh to faux leather circles placed seemingly at random, were incredible.  

The feeling and visual gravity of the curious sheer black linen dress by Watanabe for Comme des Garçons from 2014, alternating from mesh to faux leather circles placed seemingly at random, were incredible. Image: PHX Gallery

Another standout that highlighted Kawakubo and Watanabe’s interest in creating seemingly ordinary clothes  was an asymmetric “hooded shirt” from 2011. What seemed from the front to be an ordinary button-down shirt, revealed itself upon closer inspection to be a hoodie, with orange stripes on the front and a red polka dot pattern on the back. Conversation about avant-garde Japanese clothing could have lasted forever, but we eventually began discussing the equally impressive collection of furniture and objets d’art placed throughout the room.

I was immediately immersed into a world where fringe fashion and furniture are the rule, not the exception. Image: PHX Gallery

After being introduced to Memphis Group, Ettore Sottsass, and the postmodernist furniture movement through a 2018 show in New York’s chic SoHo district titled Raquel’s Dream House (curated by Raquel Cayre, who runs the fabulous Instagram account @ettoresottsass), I became a veritable fan of postmodernist furniture and objects. To that end, Joachim and I eagerly discussed Memphis Group legends such as the Super Lamp by Martine Bedin and the Carlton bookcase designed by Sottsass himself, all the while immersed in a constellation of post-modernist creations including the Shiva Vase Prototype from 1973 (which you have to see to believe), several Keith Haring rugs, and a few curious glass and ceramic vases, which were in turn interspersed between a collection of prints by Memphis veteran Nathalie Du Pasquier. A particular highlight of this unparalleled collection was the selection of lighting: a Divan 2 Pendant by Simon Henningsen for Lyfa hung in one corner, casting striking shadows upon the white walls, while a Murano Glass Lamp by Angelo Mangiarotti for Pollux Skipper rested on the floor, creating oblong rings of warm, yellow light across the wooden boards. A designer in his own right, Joachim revealed to me several of his own designs, ranging from delicate, glass blown vases to large, geometric, ceramic sake pitchers.  

From a visitor’s perspective, perhaps the greatest joy of PHX Gallery is that most things are for sale. After scheduling an appointment to browse all that’s on offer, guests can join the list of PHX’s clients in purchasing rare and covetable pieces of design history. In fact, it seems that the only person in the gallery who cannot take pieces home is Joachim himself, who declared with admirable restraint: “Curators cannot be collectors.” 

Seemingly ordinary clothes take on a more astonishing significance upon closer inspections. Image: PHX Gallery
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Three Sustainable Brands Forging Unique Identities

It goes without saying that the fashion industry is undergoing a critical moment of self-evaluation regarding its sustainability practices. Almost daily it seems, new brands are emerging with the goal of creating clothing that is environmentally conscious and ethically sustainable. In fact, a quick google search will reveal hundreds of clothing brands at various price points that occupy this new space of “sustainable fashion”. So why, when there are so many environmentally and ethically conscious brands out there, does it seem that this category of clothing has adopted a single, refined aesthetic consisting mainly of earthy tones, simple cuts, and unexciting silhouettes? Wanting to call attention to this self-imposed creative barrier, I looked at three ethically and environmentally sustainable clothing brands with unique visual identities, proving that sustainable clothing does not require its own proprietary aesthetic that visually separates it from fashion more generally.

With a statement about resisting the aesthetics of sustainability on it’s own website, ECOALF sets out with the intention of creating on-trend clothing from recycled materials. Amongst the wide range of products ECOALF offers, are gorgeous and durable winter coats in a variety of shapes and color ways, and graphic tees with provocative imagery and statements. ECOALF also offers a selection of visually interesting, yet functional, bags and backpacks. Happily, ECOALF’s price range is quite wide which makes it accessible to shoppers of most budgets, though it should be noted that sustainably sourced clothing tends to be more expensive, in part because its producers are paid living wages.

Stylish winter coats are a trademark of ECOALF. Image  Via
Stylish winter coats are a trademark of ECOALF. Image Via

At a decidedly higher price point, Matter Prints is a purveyor of sustainable and ethical clothing and accessories that specializes in creating basic clothing in sophisticated but relaxed prints and patterns. Though it is true that the shapes of the pieces are largely uninteresting, the bold, eye-catching patterns applied to the pieces add visual excitement and prevent Matter from falling into the monotony of the traditional sustainable aesthetic.

Sophisticated yet fun prints define Matter Prints’ aesthetic. Image  Via
Sophisticated yet fun prints define Matter Prints’ aesthetic. Image Via

Having skyrocketed in popularity over the last several months, it is an understatement to say that VEJA Sneakers deserves a spot on this list. Founded 15 years ago after troubling evidence emerged concerning the conditions of shoe production around the world, VEJA has remained committed to producing ethically sourced, environmentally conscious vegan shoes made from rubber and recycled plastic bottles among other materials. Ironically, VEJA is so good at designing and producing fashionable, comfortable shoes, that many people who know of the brand are unaware of its mission of sustainability. In this regard, VEJA is an exemplary sustainable fashion brand that has established its own visual identity without feeling it necessary to make explicit ties to sustainability. Prices for VEJA shoes range between $95 and $200 making them expensive, but not out of the realm of reasonability for sustainable clothing.

Meghan Markle wearing VEJA trainers. Image  Via
Meghan Markle wearing VEJA trainers. Image Via

There must be a reason why sustainable clothing brands have largely tried to assimilate under a set of shared aesthetic principles, but as was the case with electric vehicle designers working too hard to ensure that their designs “looked electric”, the bid to visually distinguish sustainable fashion from the larger sphere of fashion may serve to alienate customers who care for the environment but don’t feel that it is necessary for their clothes to announce that care. For those who care about the survival of humanity but fear being labeled a treehugger, there is ECOALF, Matter Prints, and VEJA.

Featured Image via

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Richard Mille To Open a Boutique in Chicago


Strolling along the world famous Oak Street in Chicago’s Near North Side, one passes the storefronts of legendary labels such as Moncler, Van Cleef & Arpels, Graff, Harry Winston, and Chanel. Historically, an Oak Street address has been a marker of success for jewelers and watchmakers, and it appears that the avant-garde watchmaker Richard Mille intends to keep this tradition with its imminent opening set to occur at 109 East Oak Street. This location will be RM’s sixth in the United States, as currently only Geneva Seal on Oak Street is authorized to sell Richard Mille products, and will further efforts toward solidifying Chicago as a city with an entrenched watch scene. Having little more to go on than a temporary shroud over the storefront announcing its future presence adjacent to Razny Jewelers, perhaps a proper introduction to Richard Mille is in order for Chicagoans.

First and foremost, Richard Mille is known for its aesthetically and materially revolutionary timepieces inspired by and used in Formula 1. In fact, the brand’s founder, Richard Mille, introduced his first timepiece in 2001 after leaving Mauboussin citing creative constraints. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, a particular sect of people in watchmaking became discontent with the constant production of watches that were advanced technologically, but all more or less resembled one another. Founded in 1991, it was really Franck Muller who broke the glass ceiling and, with strong sales and famous clientele, proved to the watchmaking world that expensive watches need not necessarily also be serious watches. Owing much to Franck Muller but naturally taking watchmaking to the next level, Richard Mille has from its beginnings been a brand inspired by Formula 1, and this is reflected in everything the brand does, from the naming schemes of its pieces, to sponsoring F1 teams and drivers, and even in its advertisements, where Richard Mille refers to its products as “A racing machine on the wrist”. As pertains to advertising, Richard Mille is famous for gracing the wrists of celebrities from many different spheres, including Margot Robbie, Felipe Massa, Rafael Nadal, Romain Grosjean, Bubba Watson, and Pharrell Williams, with Watson and Pharrell lending their names to special edition RM’s.

Formula 1 Driver for Ferrari, Charles Leclerc is partnered with Richard Mille. Image via

At this point, it’s important to address the elephant in the room, and that’s the astronomical price tags attached to any Richard Mille product, price tags which are especially difficult to justify considering that RM is such a young brand. Though any piece serves as a fine example, it seems that the public has been especially shocked by Richard Mille’s sapphire pieces, or pieces like the RM 19-02, an artistic watch which houses a tourbillon complication inside of a flower bud, the bud opening to reveal the complication at the push of a button. The sapphire pieces regularly retail for over $1.5 million U.S. dollars, while the RM 19-02 is not far behind at $1.1 million U.S. Though many would say that there is no explanation for such eye-watering prices, Richard Mille, a company at which each piece is produced through a revolutionary process, with revolutionary materials, and in small quantities, the costs of production are obscenely high. Each sapphire watch RM produces, for example, is machined from a single block of sapphire, taking more than 1,000 hours for the piece to go from raw stone to watch case. Not only is it incredibly difficult and expensive to source such a large piece of sapphire, but the machinery necessary for transforming raw sapphire into a watch case is in itself rather costly. Adding to this the fact that Richard Mille insists on manufacturing unique components, down to the screws, for nearly all of its products, the high cost of entry into this brand is more understandable.

The RM 56-02, a Sapphire Richard Mille.  Image  Via
The RM 56-02, a Sapphire Richard Mille. Image via

All of this to say, regardless of one’s opinions on how much is too much to pay for an object essentially meant to tell time, Chicago’s watch scene has much to gain from the opening of this legendary, cutting edge marque. Though no official details have been released concerning the date at which the boutique will be opened, it is safe to say that I remain anxious for the not-too-distant day when the racing machine comes to Oak Street.

The RM 07-02, a Sapphire Lady’s watch that gained infamy for its $1 million+ price tag.  Image  Via
The RM 07-02, a Sapphire Lady’s watch that gained infamy for its $1 million+ price tag. Image via

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The Bauhaus Movement’s Complicated Chicago Story

The Art Institute’s centenary exhibit on the Bauhaus provides a refreshingly critical retrospective on the movement’s complicated relationship with Chicago.

Petal Occasional Table by Richard Shultz for Knoll Associates
Petal Occasional Table by Richard Shultz for Knoll Associates

When Nazi Germany forced the Bauhaus school of design in Weimar, Germany to permanently close its doors in 1933, many of its members felt that their revolutionary work in design was unfinished. Resolved to continue the work begun by the Bauhaus and its famed professors, such as Wassily Kandinsky and Walter Gropius, a group of instructors took root in the United States, taking particular interest in Chicago and the American Midwest. Among these transplants were Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and László Moholy-Nagy, who were both invited to teach at the New Bauhaus, now the Institute of Design (ID) at the Illinois Institute of Technology (ITT). Beginning in the mid-1930s, Moholy-Nagy and Mies created a modernist legacy in architecture and the arts with the help of their pupils and contemporaries. Their influence is still deeply felt in Chicago to this day.

 Because the media has extensively covered superstar figures such as Moholy-Nagy and Mies, it is quite refreshing to see an exhibition focused largely on the works of their previously anonymous students, emerging a century after the founding of the original Bauhaus. Importantly, many of the lessons taught at both the original Bauhaus and its American schools dealt with the qualities and characteristics of individual materials, favoring intimate interaction with objects and great design over formal artistic or architectural training. As such, many of the pieces on display in the small but densely populated space at the Art Institute are vaguely architectural but maintain a deeper focus on the simple form and materiality of everyday objects within the industrial context of the 20th century. This philosophy is readily apparent in works such as Institute of Design Foundation Course Wire Exercise, in which a delicate wire-framed sculpture vaguely references industrial hallmarks, like skyscrapers and metalworking. Similarly, Hall of Sport and Culture, Collage, dated from the early 1970s, features a football player, a pair of dancers, and a crowd set within the context of what appears to be a sort of building, itself resting on color blocks. In fact, the work was equally inspired by a building in Detroit as it was by modern art, film, and the emerging technique of collage.

The exhibit also seeks to correct for the historical lack of recognition of the many women who studied in the Chicago Bauhaus schools. One such figure who is featured prominently is Dori Altschuler, whose work during her time at the ID recently received recognition from several national publications, as well as from the journal Arts & Architecture in 1952. Altschuler’s use of recycled shopping bag materials to make architectural sculptures is particularly interesting within the contemporary context of natural resource conservation, as it seems that she—and the Bauhaus movement in general—was well ahead of her contemporaries in understanding the existential threat that urbanism and modernization posed on the planet’s natural resources.

Flexible Interlocking Structures, Dori (Hahn) Altschuler

Despite their innumerable contributions to design, architecture, and art, the Bauhaus’s insistence on unified, homogenous urban spaces master-planned by privileged Europeans and Americans allowed for the creation of troubling projects, notably on Chicago’s South Side. Enacting a plan that eerily recalls Georges-Eugène Haussmann’s classist transformation of Paris during the 19th century, Mies and IIT demolished large tracts of land on the South Side, displacing large populations of low-income Black families and businesses under the guise of “urban renewal.” The effects of this process are still glaringly obvious today, when the de facto segregation of wealthy, white Chicagoans and low-income Black Chicagoans remains an unsolved issue. Standing almost as an allegorical testament to this shameful period, Mies van der Rohe’s School of Social Service Administration, completed in 1965 for the University of Chicago, sits prominently along 60th Street, which has long represented the border between the vast property of the University and its wealthy inhabitants, and the Woodlawn community occupied primarily by low-income residents of color.

Viewing the contributions and controversies of the Chicago Bauhaus era in equal proportion, Bauhaus in Chicago: Design in the City presents perhaps the most comprehensive and most progressive retrospective on the movement. On view through April 26, 2020 in Gallery 283 of the modern wing, this show is not one to miss.

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Fashion and the Attention Economy

In an era defined by attention-seeking, pop-art inspired designer clothing, where immediate brand recognition and camera-readiness take precedence over the quality of a garment, it is easier than ever before to dismiss the work of a designer or creative director who values the depth and integrity of a piece of clothing more than its ability to make a fleeting impression on the street. 

The current state of streetwear. Image  Via
The current state of streetwear. Image via 

Viewed primarily through YouTube videos and Vogue Runway stills, it is the designers who give deference to the feel and sounds of a garment, qualities which cannot be captured by photography, who are pushed to the periphery of the collective sphere of fashion, while monogrammed tracksuits and logo-covered handbags are showered with seemingly endless affection. And, while I dare not claim complete immunity to logomania, in writing this article I hope to pique interest in the less considered aspects of clothing, such as texture, sound, and context. 

One lovely fall afternoon, desperate to avoid schoolwork, I wandered into Powell’s Bookstore on 57th street and went to the fashion section, where I happened upon two photo-books by the accomplished Juergen Teller for Nicolas Ghesquière at Louis Vuitton. Flipping through the pages of Season Three, which documents Louis Vuitton ready-to-wear from 2015, I became lost in the intense textures and sculpture of the garments which could only be thoughtfully appreciated in these intimate, close-up photos or in person. The difference between viewing Ghesquière’s work this way and viewing it through somewhat anticlimactic YouTube videos or stills was dramatic; this series of photos transformed an indifferent viewer of Ghesquière’s work into a bonafide fan, and led me to become a regular window-shopper along Chicago’s Rush and Oak streets, where I began to examine and understand the three-dimensional, layered beauty in Maria Grazia Chiuri’s couture, and felt the magnificent texture of Goyard’s eponymous Goyardine canvas. In the case of M.G.C.’s work at Dior in particular, critics have been quick to point out the apparent lack of visual excitement and engagement that her couture offers to viewers, forgetting that couture is first and foremost designed and constructed for the sensorial enjoyment of the wearer, and as such the time needed to create these intricate garments can easily exceed 140 hours. It seems, though, that by and large, the public fails to acknowledge the process and simply critiques the raw visual impact of the final product, and this is perhaps the most devastating symptom of the emphasis on visual excitement in fashion.

One of a series of intimate portraits by Juergen Teller for Louis Vuitton, 2015. Image  Via
One of a series of intimate portraits by Juergen Teller for Louis Vuitton, 2015. Image via

This tactile exploration of carefully considered textures and sounds in clothing put me on the path toward finding other brands that held often-overlooked qualities of clothing in high regard. The work of Japanese designers like Keisuke Konda, who once famously used rice bags to create clothes with unique textures, and Mint Designs, a brand which emphasizes the unique qualities of different fabrics and textiles rather than focusing primarily on the form and cut of a garment, as is the modus operandi for both European and American designers. In focusing on the process of garment construction itself, which necessitates considering every facet of a piece of clothing equally, avant-garde Japanese designers in particular, Rei Kawakubo and Issey Miyake among them, have excelled in reframing what makes a piece of clothing remarkable.

Mint Designs, Tokyo Fall 2020. Image  Via
Mint Designs, Tokyo Fall 2020. Image via

As my search for clothing and designers that seek to connect with their audience on a deeper level than simply visual continues, I encourage those who make quick judgements about a designer’s talent based on photos or videos to visit one of their boutiques in person or at the very least consider the context and complexity of their creations before writing them off; after all, who knows how many wonderful designers and garments we have dismissed in the past simply because we were too lazy and dismissive to consider them for longer than the runtime of an FF Channel video? While the world around us becomes ever more digital and streamlined, it is more important than ever before to advocate for quality, texture, and variety in fashion.

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Luxury Train Travel in the East

When one thinks of luxury travel, a certain set of assumptions usually come to mind. First class plane tickets, glamorous and lavishly appointed hotel rooms, exotic restaurant experiences, and European destinations, to name a few. However, for those travelers who have become disillusioned or simply bored with the quintessential European vacation, there are luxury trains, and specifically luxury trains in the Eastern Hemisphere. Offering stunning views, seasonal & local cuisine, and a fresh perspective on immersion in some of the world’s most interesting locales, vacations by rail are the new way to see the world. Having become bored with the standard vacation myself, I stumbled upon luxury train travel on YouTube and was instantly hooked, so it is with great enthusiasm that I present these exciting alternative adventures.

1. The Seven Stars Kyushu

For those who wish to indulge in a luxurious yet unpretentious rail vacation, The Seven Stars in Kyushu sets the bar. Situated on the island of Kyushu, Japan’s third largest island, The Seven Stars in Kyushu has aimed to take advantage of the island’s natural splendor since 2013, and gains its unique name from the seven prefectures on the island of Kyushu. In another nod to its namesake, The train contains seven cars and 14 guest compartments, allowing for a maximum guest occupancy of 28 which ensures that each guest has the opportunity to revel in all that the train has to offer. Trips range from 2 days & 1 night to 4 days & 3 nights, including stops at various prefectures throughout the island which allows guests the opportunity to experience both the island’s stunning natural beauty and cultural richness at close range, though one may just as well opt to stay on the train and take in the landscape through the floor-to-ceiling windows in certain cars. To that end, The Seven Stars is replete with amenities which allow guests to reflect on their experiences in an atmosphere consciously created to harmoniously blend Japanese and Western design; guests can socialize and drink in the Blue Moon saloon car, or experience seasonally changing local cuisine in the sophisticated atmosphere of the Jupiter dining car. Because of the seamless blend of Japanese hospitality and dramatic scenery, potential guests of the Seven Stars in Kyushu are chosen by lottery and typically book several years in advance, despite the fact that tickets can cost in excess of $10,000 U.S.

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2. Shiki-Shima

Taking a decidedly more modern approach to luxury train travel, the Train Suite Shiki-Shima explores the interior of eastern Japan on trips ranging from 2 days & 1 night to 4 days & 3 nights. The train’s unusual exterior appearance belie its spectacularly airy interior which consists of unparalleled views from each of its 10 cars which can house a maximum of 34 guests. In fact, a quick visit to the train’s website will reveal the terrace cars, two cars on the front and end of the train which are shaped to optimize the views of the passing terrain, and it should also be mentioned that the movie featured on the website is well worth your time. While the Seven Stars in Kyushu tops the list for its seamless blending of old & new, Japanese & Western, those who want a more modern experience will likely prefer this option.

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3. Maharaja’s Express

For those seeking a much more opulent experience that makes little concession to modesty, there is the Maharajas’ Express in India. With longer trips averaging 7 days & 6 nights, Maharajas’ Express is already a leading option for those who want a more comprehensive rail vacation. Overtly recreating the opulence of the Royal Era in India, the train is laden with red carpets, jewel-studded beds, and each of the 14 guest carriages is even named after the precious jewels of various Maharajas. Routes available to guests on the Maharajas’ Express center around visits to a number of India’s greatest commercial centers, or visits to historical sites of Indian royalty. Of particular sensory interest is the Mayur Mahal restaurant car, where guests are transported to a bygone era of luxury dining complete with luxuriously embellished furniture and soft, golden lighting.

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4. Rovos Rail

Currently celebrating its 30th year in operation, South Africa’s Rovos Rail operates eight different routes, in addition to special packages. The Rovos Rail can carry a maximum of 72 passengers, making it the most accessible of all the trains on this list. A unique and distinguishing feature of Rovos Rail is it’s history of bringing storied and decommissioned train cars back into service, interesting both for the novel and historic experience this engenders, but also because it recycles train cars rather than necessitating the production of new ones, and though sustainability is not a focus of Rovos Rail or of the luxury train industry in general, Rovos Rail seems to be setting a precedent here that should be followed by the luxury train industry if possible. If one wishes to see South Africa in a way that not many have, Rovos Rail is a prime option.

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