Against everyone’s innocent predictions last March, we are now coming up on a full year of life under stay-at-home orders and working from home. And, while dressing as if our video calls were red carpet events (at least up top) was a fun way to delay Zoom fatigue for a few months, it seems that recently, many of us are opting for clothes which come as close to pajamas as the office dress code allows. It is my professional opinion that jewelry, and lots of it, is our nearly effortless solution to the conundrum of less than put together WFH outfits.
It is undoubtedly the case that my advocacy for Zoom-friendly jewelry comes from my life-consuming attachment to jewels as well as my unhealthy quarantine habit of buying pieces at every opportunity, but take this bias as an indication that my taste is flawless rather than as a sign that my emphasis on jewelry is horribly overstated. As pertains to Zoom-friendly jewelry, necklaces are the best investment since your neck is more likely to be visible in a video call than bracelets or rings. And the logic is probably quite clear to those of us who have stopped putting effort into dressing sharply for 8 a.m. team check-ins.
Clothing has to be changed daily, washed after every use, and kept as far away from food and drink as humanly possible, which is asking a lot since WFH means eating and drinking coffee around the clock. High quality jewelry, on the other hand, does not have to be changed daily, can go without washing for extended periods of time, and can be submerged in coffee, marinara sauce, rosé, or any combination thereof without a major problem. A daily necklace of high quality materials is, without contest, the laziest way to appear put together, but why stop at one?
This is where my quarantine obsession, #neckmess comes in. For a few years now, the fun 60s era trend of layering an array of pendant, sautoir, and station necklaces has been back in vogue, championed in part by the iconic Gwyneth Paltrow, who is fond of layering fabulous pieces on screen and off. As demonstrated by the lovely Mrs. Goop, hallmark themes of #neckmess include astrological, zodiac, and nature-inspired pendants that hang from a mixture of glamorously long and intimately short choker chains. Of course, as with everything else in life, jewelry should be fun and personal, so feel free to step outside the bounds of the traditional limits and rock any piece that sparks joy.
For example, my friends at Tiffany & Co. on The Magnificent Mile helped me create the breathtaking neck chandelier that you see above; rather than being astrologically motivated, our creation favored natural motifs rendered in diamonds from the Paper Flowers collection, the Tiffany T collection, and the Elsa Peretti line. And, because this article is really nothing more than my thinly-veiled attempt to get you to flood my DM’s with pictures of jewelry, for god’s sake please send any and all #neckmess photos to @milesfrankliin on Instagram!
Every now and again I have the opportunity to pour onto paper an idea that I think is truly new to the fashion industry. I love covering trends, art exhibits, and the ins and outs of high end fashion, but when something that is truly new emerges, my giddy excitement for the world of clothing is ignited anew. Having deep passion for both clothing and rare cars, L’ART DE L’AUTOMOBILE is a particularly exciting addition to the high end streetwear market, the automobile collector’s market, and to car/fashion culture more generally.
Given my disposition toward couture and high end ready-to-wear collections from established designers, it is surprising even to myself that I would be writing about a streetwear brand that, in addition to selling million dollar vehicles, produces t-shirts, hoodies, and stickers emblazoned with pop-art and brand logos. Yet L’ART is appealing to me and to many other people who would not classify themselves as streetwear lovers at least in part because the company has tapped into a genuine sense of community grounded in their deep roots in Parisian automotive culture, and this community makes itself known both online and in the streets (cars from Paris to Manhattan can be seen brandishing L’ART insignia).
Having crafted for itself an image of carefree yet glamorous youth through an Instagram page boasting more than 125k followers, among them Kendall Jenner, Tyler, The Creator, and automotive royalty Ted Gushue, L’ART DE L’AUTOMOBILE has secured its rightful position in the garment industry and in the car scene.
The level of success that L’ART has attained as a purveyor of apparel is impressive when one considers that its first collection of clothing became available only in 2016. Certainly, having a pre-existing loyal customer base and a cult following among celebrities, as is the case for the brand’s founder, the legendary Arthur Kar, can help get a project off the ground, but the leader of such an idiosyncratic endeavor would have to offer something that was properly unique to the fashion industry, and Kar found his niche.
Our current moment of fashion is one of ascetic minimalism; from Loewe to Bottega Veneta to Celine, our culture is awash in tones of beige, gold, white and black, and subdued prints and patterns. While there are many things to be gained from minimalism in fashion, especially for older buyers, it is certainly the case that younger people want to lead a more laid back, rebellious and emotional existence, and eye catching, highly contemporary streetwear that appeals to younger and freer sensibilities can offer that.
Following from its highly stylized Instagram account, L’ART’s apparel designs are cheeky, outrageous, and profoundly in tune with the mix of grunge and glamour that so appeals to teens and twenty-somethings. A quick browse of their apparel site reveals t-shirts featuring burning cars (an unmistakable reference to a million dollar Ferrari F40 which burned to the ground in Monaco just this year), stickers depicting a Mercedes Benz G-Class on cinder blocks after having its wheels stolen, and even Vans sneakers that the famous footwear company produced in collaboration with L’ART.
The brand has become so popular that it is now regularly available at Dover Street Market, Slam Jam, Notre, and The Broken Arm in Paris. A testament to the brand’s overwhelming success, and my personal frustration, can also be gleaned from the fact that the apparel website is frequently sold out.
Launching a streetwear brand is a rather precarious endeavor in a time when the market for logo tees and shockingly priced basics is more than saturated, but L’ART DE L’AUTOMOBILE proves that one can still succeed in the space if one’s brand is authentic, savvy, and hyper aware of the condition of young people around the world. In this sense, L’ART is a refreshing take on a recent yet already tired tradition, and it is also a sign of things to come.
Cover Image (Arthur Kar of L’ART visiting the Porsche Museum)
We once again find ourselves in the midst of “holiday season”, that hazy period of making merry and spending money that runs generally from the end of October through mid January, and this means that it’s time to think about what gifts you’re giving to others and to yourself. As a young person, I’d like to think that I have my finger on the pulse of what people my age are looking for in a gift, and as such I’ve here outlined 10 outstanding gifts ranging from $10 -$300 that would be perfect for the twenty-somethings in your life; ranging from functional to ornamental, here are my picks for the best gifts of 2020.
Casio A168WA-1 (Between $10-$20)
For a machine that has such a complicated name, this Casio watch is delightfully simple and intuitive. A watch is an absolute necessity for anyone of college age for a variety of self-evident reasons, and one with a simple digital readout, alarm clock and timer functions, some water resistance, and a user-rated battery life of up to ten years is a no-brainer choice. Not only is the watch functional, but it is also attractively packaged, featuring a stainless steel bracelet and rugged but minimalist design.
2. VEJA V-10 Sneakers ($150)
I’ve already covered VEJA for MODA at least twice, but they are such good shoes that I genuinely think they deserve a spot on this list. These shoes are in line with current trends, are genuinely sustainable, and have an easy time fitting into a variety of wardrobes. Because I’ve already said so much about these exceptional shoes in other pieces, I will link to my in-depth VEJA review here.
3. French Press ($15-$100)
College students consume more coffee than we’d like to admit, and after a while it’s time to move on from the Keurig machine and the dining hall mystery brews. Not only is the French Press a more involved process than is using a regular coffee maker, it is also a more rewarding one that almost acts as a form of hands on meditation in the morning in a way that a coffee machine cannot mimic. I’ve linked one of the prettiest cold presses I could find, but rest assured that there are many more cost effective options on the market.
4. Fitbit health watch (from $69)
College kids and young people, just beginning our careers, overwhelmed by schoolwork, and attempting to maintain flourishing social lives all at once, tend to neglect our physical health at various periods. As such, a simple health-tracking watch can be a surprisingly useful reminder to get outside and breathe a little.
5. Wireless earbuds ($5-$500)
Wireless earbuds are an almost perfect gift for a young and fashionable person, combining utility with style in a compact and appealing package. Though Apple Airpods are the de facto industry standard, they are hardly the only option on the market and in fact have several considerable drawbacks including their price point and lack of personalization. A perfunctory browse on the internet is enough to find a pair of earbuds that fit the style and needs of the person you’re shopping for.
6. Weighted blanket ($70-$300)
It’s no secret that people in their twenties often have trouble sleeping, stemming from our less than stellar habits of high caffeine consumption (see number three on the list) and seemingly endless hours of screen time. As such, uninterrupted sleep can be hard to come by. A weighted blanket will not only help with sleep, the extra heft is surprisingly calming, but it can also further personalize a bedroom or living space.
7. Longchamp Le Pliage tote ($145-$200)
Though I recommend a Longchamp Le Pliage as a particularly good tote bag for a busy college student, it should be obvious that sturdy and stylish totes exist at virtually every price point. I recommend the Le Pliage specifically because it is my personal school/work bag, and it has weathered my abuse gracefully, whether stuffed to the brim with the latest grocery store finds or all of my textbooks and my laptop.
8. Disposable camera ($15-$40)
In addition to providing photos with a vintage feel, disposable cameras make themselves useful in moments of spontaneous creativity; in an era dominated by smartphone cameras which offer a dizzying array of editing and processing options, the mechanically grounded feel of a disposable camera can offer a healthy and artistic outlet for stressed college students.
9. Patterned/Fuzzy socks ($10-$70)
Nothing says “I love you” like a funky pair of socks or two. Socks are a deceptively genius gift because, in addition to having that goldilocks combination of utility and style, whenever the receiver looks toward the ground they will think of you!
10. Paravel backpack ($195)
If the young person on your list requires a backpack instead of a tote, I think none currently available are as cute as the Paravel Scooter backpack. Available in several color schemes and monogrammable for an additional fee, this adorable leather and canvas piece is cute and easily wearable. Of course, there are a number of other options on the market should this particular backpack prove inadequate in any way.
“Diamonds are a girl’s best friend” goes the perennial 20th century proclamation of the innately feminine love for precious jewels. At the same time that this phrase was coined, the late 1940s, De Beers, which once controlled over 80% of the world’s diamond supply, launched its enduring “A diamond is forever” campaign, which spawned the modern practice of sealing a marital engagement with a diamond. Though it is true that both of the above turns of phrase continue to drive the purchase of high volumes of diamonds and other precious stones for women, it is also true that male celebrities are stylishly pushing for more inclusive conceptions of the ways in which men can interact with jewels.
One might rightly scoff at the idea that men wearing jewelry is new, and it is at this point that I must refine my focus. Of course men have historically worn jewelry, but it has been men’s jewelry as opposed to women’s jewelry; a frail yet highly enforced dichotomy that is acutely representative of the broader Western proclivity for dividing all facets of life along gender lines. While the 20th century and part of the 21st century narrowly defined men’s jewelry as bulky, relatively dull, and gemless pieces such as cufflinks and timepieces, the last five years have seen some of the most aggressive de-gendering of even the most traditionally feminine jewelry styles, such as the brooch and lapel pin. In an effort to both celebrate and amplify the democratization of high jewelry that has unfolded in fabulous style on red carpets for the past several years, I share with you five times male celebrities have shined in ethereal jewels.
5. Pharrell Williams, 2017 Academy Awards
Pharrell seems to appear frequently in my writing, and this is no mistake. As one of the only people alive to have collaborated with Chanel as an individual, and as the inspiration for a million dollar Richard Mille timepiece, it is perhaps no surprise that Pharrell comes up frequently when discussing celebrities who push the boundaries in fashion and jewelry. In 2017, Pharrell walked the red carpet in a predominantly black Chanel suit, offset by a dazzling broach of white diamonds which appear to be set in either white gold or platinum with pearls.
4. John Legend, Vanity Fair Oscar Party 2019
In 2019, John Legend wore a Dennis Tsui brooch of diamonds, blue sapphires, and a large yellow sapphire set in white gold. The brooch, named the Galaxy Pin, is notable for three reasons. The first notable facet of the Galaxy Pin is its designer, Dennis Tsui, who is a rising star in the world of high jewelry. Having only recently entered the high jewelry space, it is a testament to Tsui’s creative genius that he would so quickly be tapped to provide John Legend’s red carpet flash. The second noteworthy aspect of this brooch is its movement; rather than simply being a static piece of jewelry pinned to a lapel, there is also a gracefully proportioned chain which is accented with a yellow stone (probably a sapphire, possibly a yellow diamond) which is itself set in a magnificent halo of white diamonds. Finally, the presence of colored jewels in the Galaxy Pin sets it apart from equally beautiful yet less interesting pieces produced purely of monochromatic stones.
3. Timothée Chalamet, 2020 Academy Awards
Though I cannot in good conscience rank Timothée Chalamet’s Academy lapel pin as the best example of men’s brooch/lapel pin wearing on the red carpet, I must admit that it is my personal favorite. Having a deep sweet spot in my heart for Cartier jewels, colored stones, and vintage pieces, this 1955 ruby, diamond, and platinum lapel pin sweeps me off of my feet. As a piece viewed in a vacuum and devoid of context, it is already magnificent; large, clear, and creatively arranged diamonds set off by Burmese rubies (a distinction that is important to draw as rubies from Burma are of the highest clarity, and the deepest blood red) in several different cuts makes this piece exemplary of Cartier’s jewelry design language during the first sixty years of the 20th century. Pairing this sumptuous lapel pin with a characteristically restrained Prada ensemble guaranteed Chalamet’s outfit a spot in the best looks of 2020.
The late and great Chadwick Boseman, in addition to being a guiding light and source of inspiration for countless young people, was also a confident wearer of fine jewels. At the 2019 Screen Actors Guild Awards, Boseman donned three Tiffany & Co. Schlumberger clips of white gold, yellow gold, and diamonds. It is not often that men are seen wearing jewelry inspired by delicate flora, and the simple daring of this choice makes it all the more stunning to see on the red carpet.
1. Billy Porter, 2019 Golden Globes
The trifecta of Oscar Heyman flower brooches which cascaded down Billy Porter’s lapel at the 2019 Golden Globes were sadly overshadowed by the rest of his exceptional ensemble, itself a piece of art designed by Randi Rahm. The brooches, awash in vivid colors and sprays of vibrant diamonds, partially utilize a setting technique pioneered by the legendary house of Van Cleef & Arpels in the 1930s, known as the invisible setting. This technique is one in which the stones are set such that the mountings are not visible, thus allowing the stones to shine ever more brilliantly in the absence of prongs. The top brooch appears to be of white diamonds and green enamel flower petals, the middle of white diamonds and yellow sapphires (or possibly yellow diamonds), and the bottom brooch of white diamonds and invisibly set rubies.
At a moment in the near future, life will return to normal and we will once again inevitably find ourselves passively taking in the glamour of celebrities on red carpet events. When that moment comes, I hope you will not look only at the garments with awe and wonder, but also the jewels.
To fashionphiles around the globe who take interest in all things luxury, Gucci’s recent capsule, titled ‘Fake/Not,’ probably comes as a surprise. But, to those who have followed Gucci and Alessandro Michele since 2015, a capsule collection that deliberately brands each of its items as fakes seems like a most authentic and intoxicating culmination of Michele’s aesthetics.
Before Michele, Gucci had been in a decade long creative rut. With the departure of Tom Ford in 2005, the brand went from a cutting edge fixture of the fashion world that celebrated and embraced eroticism to one that struggled to find its creative niche and, as such, also struggled to find clients. From 2006 to 2014, Gucci languished under the creative direction of Frida Giannini, who left the brand just after its CEO, and Giannini’s romantic partner Patrizio di Marco, did. Giannini’s departure, setting aside the personal drama that surrounded it, left Gucci with the problem of appointing a creative director who would reinvigorate the glamorous but boring brand, yet Michele was far from the obvious choice. In fact, it is quite the testament to Mr. Michele that, in 2020, he is a well recognized name in fashion considering that he rose to the position of creative director only five years earlier, after having led Gucci’s accessories department since 2003. But, when one totally redirects the creative vision of a name as influential as Gucci, changing its clientele and more than doubling its annual revenue in the process, one is guaranteed to rise to prominence.
Though a person can see the pronounced visual departure in Gucci’s collections since that fortuitous unveiling of the Fall 2015 Ready-to-Wear collection, Michele’s more meaningful contribution to Gucci, and to the worlds of fashion and expensive living in general, has been a sort of liberation. Breaking ranks with its contemporaries at Prada, Fendi, Balenciaga, Christian Dior, and more, Gucci has become the rosy voice of reason that finally popped the bubble which separated the worlds of high fashion and contemporary politics/ideologies. Alessandro Michele’s Gucci does away with constructions of gender, value, belonging, and conservatism, and radically re-asserts that designer clothing should be cutting edge, of the moment, and accepting of a wide audience of people, regardless of their ability to monetarily support the brand; Michele’s Gucci is one of ideas, and radical ones.
From runway shows that feature models gingerly clutching replications of their own heads in their palms, to trousers with large tags which read “Gucci Orgasmique”, nothing is sacred in the land of the new Gucci. By working to dismantle the artificial barriers of gender, economic status, and “good taste” in his work, Michele has been steadily moving towards the ultimate dichotomy which is present in all of his work, that of real vs. fake, since 2015. And, especially in light of the collaboration with Dapper Dan which began in 2017, making the fake real and the real fake has been perpetually on Gucci’s radar.
The capsule collection ‘Fake/Not’ takes the final step in freeing Gucci from the classed and WASPy grips of the world of high fashion. Taking one of the most readily copied designer motifs in the world, the interlocking double G on brown canvas, and covering it gaudily in Gucci’s signature bicolor stripes and the words ‘FAKE’ on one side of each piece and ‘NOT’ on the other, Michele seems to ideologically erase the final barrier separating authentic Gucci products from those uncanny fakes which can commonly be found littering New York’s Canal Street or Hong Kong’s famous counterfeit markets.
While brands like Chanel frantically prosecute producers of counterfeit items and even actively dissuade customers from buying their products secondhand, Gucci is leaping headfirst into the richness of creativity and passion which exist within the world of Gucci inspired garments. Here lies Michele’s final frontier, Gucci’s complete awakening, and the most dazzling flowering of both yet; Gucci is for neither binary gender, it is for neither rich nor poor, it is for no particular kind of person at all. Gucci, and specifically its iconic print, is for anyone who wants it, because ultimately, real Gucci is fake, and fake Gucci is real.
In the world of day to day shoes, few trends have been louder in recent years than that of the designer trainer. From Balenciaga, to Gucci, to Louis Vuitton and even Chanel, $1,000 trainers have gone from fringe to norm. And, while this not so subtle trend of balkingly expensive shoes has recently taken up much of the conversational space in the footwear world, fashionable sneakers have once again been steadily gaining a loyal following in the background.
The world of luxury sneakers, a world of slim fitting, minimalist and often white profiles, was once a small one with only a few players. But, for at least the past six years, luxury sneakers have been on the rise as the young get older and dress codes both at work and in social circles consequently relax. The market for these (nearly) all occasion shoes has also been bolstered by celebrity endorsements, as the likes of Meghan Markle, Gwyneth Paltrow, and the entire cast of The Politician are consistently photographed in the high-end, low effort style. But, if you’re reading this article to decide if you’re a fan of luxury sneakers or to decide from whom to buy, you likely already know everything I’ve just laid out. However, the question must be asked; which of these beautifully simple shoes will you buy? I think the answer should be VEJA.
As it stands, the consumer is spoiled for choice when shopping for an upscale, everyday white sneaker, but the France-based VEJA sets itself apart through its frankly unprecedented standards for transparency and environmental sustainability. VEJA, in Portuguese, means “look”, and the brand actively encourages the consumer to look more deeply into not just the final product on the foot, but exactly how that product came to be. Because VEJA itself exhaustively details its ethical/sustainable practices (https://project.veja-store.com/en/intro/) in addition to publishing its as yet unresolved shortcomings (https://project.veja-store.com/en/single/limits), I will simply hit the highlights. VEJA’s materials are sourced in Brazil, where wild rubber is farmed responsibly by locals in the Amazon Rainforest and pesticide/fertilizer free cotton is farmed in the NorthEast, and these materials are then crafted into sneakers in a factory in Porto Alegre in humane conditions. Since producing its first shoe in 2005, VEJA has sold more than two million pairs of sneakers worldwide, all while avoiding advertising. VEJA says that foregoing advertising and its attendant costs has allowed it to invest significantly more of its resources in its employees, raw materials, and innovation, which has led most notably to vegetal tanned leather and B-mesh, a revolutionary new material made solely from recycled plastic bottles.
Now having had all of this information thrown at you, you may still be unsure that VEJA is the sneaker for you, considering the fact that I’ve only extolled the company’s ethics and said nothing of how the product actually feels. But, having owned the V-10 sneaker and the brand’s new, 53% recycled Condor running shoe for a few months, I’d love nothing more than to furnish you with yet another reason to spend your money here.
The primary concerns I hear raised with the V-10 sneaker are that they are uncomfortable, too expensive, and do not always fit true to size. As pertains to the comfort of the shoe, it is important to note that any sneaker with a slim profile and a tight fit over the foot will be uncomfortable, but the V-10s were only so initially; after a few days of wear, I experienced no discomfort. As concerns price, I counter with the fact that many luxury sneakers cost four or five times the price of a V-10, while offering little more in the way of comfort or durability, and certainly offering less in the way of social responsibility. Finally, I must note that my pair of V-10s fit true to size, though I have friends who have had to go through the simple process of switching sizes. Truthfully, it’s a wonderful sneaker that feels good and goes with any outfit.
Having praised and defended the V-10, I now take up the task of drawing your attention to the Condor. I feel that doing so is especially important since the world of running shoes is rather new to VEJA, and I have to say that the Condor is a phenomenal first effort; superbly cushioned, well insulated from the havoc that Chicago streets can wreak on less well protected feet, and pretty! Though my Condors show all of the signs of intense running (copious amounts of dry mud, grass stains, and the occasional bloodstain), I still find them pretty enough to wear on occasions outside of exercise.
Ultimately, you have to follow your heart when choosing a pair of sneakers; choosing incorrectly can have catastrophic consequences for your instagram feed or for your chances at working in Silicon Valley. But, at any chance I get, I steer people toward VEJA. Your wardrobe needs them, and so does the world.
We asked four young Black people to address the problem and offer guidance for the future.By: Miles Franklin
If you’ve been following fashion for the past several years, chances are you’ve noticed that brands at all price points have been gradually making concerted efforts to represent Black bodies. While the increased presence of Black bodies in fashion has generally constituted a positive change, it is evident that there are still a few glaring issues with both the quality and quantity of Black representation in fashion. For example, it seems that the world of high fashion has taken to casting dark-skinned Black models—and dark-skinned Black models only—which has ironically flipped the bias traditionally referred to as colorism. In fact, one needs only to perform a perfunctory browse through Vogue Runway to find that the world of high fashion does cast Black models, so long as their skin is dark and they are thin. While brands like Fashion Nova and Uniqlo do a much better job casting Black models all along the spectrum of skin tone, they often choose to represent either Black women who are thin and have white features or Black women who embody the “Mammy” archetype, which reduces plus-size Black women to an identity tied only to their physicality. And though it is true that there are Black people who are thin and have “white” features, and Black people who are overweight, it is also true that there are Black bodies which exist everywhere in between—and beyond—this dichotomy.
Since the murder of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement have catalyzed meaningful introspection concerning the inequitable treatment of Black Americans across all industries, it is obvious that the time for fashion to further its commitment to the genuine representation of Black bodies is now. With that in mind, we asked four young Black people to address the problem and offer guidance on how fashion brands, and the culture of fashion as a whole, can most genuinely move forward.
Nadaya Davis, an arts, culture, and fashion writer and student at the University of Chicago, thinks that issues with the representation of Black bodies in fashion start with the very pretext upon which the fashion industry is based. “There are key issues with how Black folks are represented in fashion. How does one push true representation on an industry that doesn’t represent reality at all? It’s a system that’s inherently flawed. The thing about the modeling and fashion industry is that everything needs to be exceptional. Beautiful. Ethereal. Untouchable! When brands use bodies that they deem exceptional as the face of their ads, it comes off as ‘Hey, look at us! We can be beautiful, too!’ It’s not ‘Hey, we’re people. This is what different people look like.’ I think that’s why marketing tactics in the fashion industry so often fail at their attempts of body positivity or come off as insincere; these models are still hand-picked by a staff of people who deem them ‘worthy enough,’ and there will always be people who won’t be. It’s especially true with Black bodies, because there are much more sinister factors involved. You have the white woman who, when her body is deemed ‘acceptable’ by the brand, is definitely in. Then you have the Black woman; you think about her skin (is she too dark? is she too light?), her hair (is it too kinky? is it too loose?), her features (are they too Euro-centric? are they Euro-centric enough?), her body (is she too thick? does she have a waist?).”
And complicating matters even beyond the fact that the fashion industry is one in which exceptionality is, well, not exceptional, it is clear that Black bodies are seen as “representable,” particularly when they fall under a few distinct categories. Model Kendra Austin says, “I find that the depiction of Black bodies in fashion media is largely rooted in exoticism and fetish—and is, frankly, lazy. There are a few ‘acceptable’ versions of Blackness, notably all thin, that are welcome—the visibly mixed, the dark-skinned African model, the freckled model. These are all gorgeous forms that Blackness can take, but are not reflective of what the average Black American looks like. Are we not interesting enough? Further, I find that the exoticism of these casting choices lends itself to lazy art direction. Black models with fetishized features get fewer options for wardrobe, hair, and makeup because ‘they’re perfect enough already,’ which is actually another way to say ‘we cast them so we wouldn’t have to do the work to present them in imaginative ways like everyone else,’ and this mentality shows. As a fat Black woman with small breasts and an average hip-to-waist ratio, I seldom see other models with my shape. Most curvy models exemplify ‘the Birth of Venus’ type—tan to brown, tall, huge chests and hips, and an itty-bitty waist. This is what Black women are to many. I rarely see size 14 dark-skin models unless we’re talking about the exception or the exotic. Editorial/high fashion loves to use a singular size 8 racially ambiguous Black person on their runway and call it an inclusive show. It’s incredibly disordered—size 8 folks at home shouldn’t be told they’re abnormal when they can find almost all clothing in their size and aren’t systematically oppressed, but what are the rest of us size 14 folks supposed to think of ourselves if THAT is inclusive?”
The reluctance to equitably cast a realistic range of Black models has real consequences for the countless Black people who do not fit into the strict confines of fashion’s ideas of Blackness. Ashe Turner, a dancer, model, and influencer, says, “As an alternative Black girl, I don’t see myself represented in the fashion industry. There’s almost no Black representation in alternative fashion. I am definitely privileged because I am skinny and have light skin, but having locs definitely makes some people see me as ‘too Black.’ I don’t fit neatly into any Black stereotype, so growing up I had to find my own path due to lack of representation.”
Then there are the nearly insurmountable obstacles that gender-nonconforming Black models face—obstacles which come in addition to, and not instead of, the barriers that cisgender Black models already grapple with. Kendra Austin continues, “I’m seeing a shift in the industry to include nonbinary and gender fluidity, which is a [millennium] overdue, but it seems that queerness is only allowed when it’s thin and white or racially ambiguous. I want to see more fat, Black, queer, and gender-defying folks in these campaigns. They exist, and erasure is no longer acceptable. Black Coke-bottle-shaped femmes, like your caretaker and favorite best friend on TV, are just a slice of the Blackness pie.”
Being a firm believer in the idea that one should only offer criticism if one can also offer solutions, I asked the young creatives I interviewed to suggest next steps for the fashion world. And because these solutions come directly from young Black creatives who have firsthand experience navigating the challenging landscape of being Black in fashion, you can be sure that they are not idealistic or unreasonable.
Cameron Reed, a burgeoning fashion and conceptual art photographer, offers a broad invitation for industry-wide change, saying, “As a photographer, influencer, and creative, the best advice I could give to them is to be more open to letting Black creatives in. There is a lot of gatekeeping in these industries that keeps them exclusive. That’s my best advice; be more open-minded to looking past skin color and stereotypes. At the end of the day, it’s up to them if they want to change. We just need to have people that look like us that are in high places already to help push for even greater change since they have influential voices.”
Austin says, “The most pressing issue is not the diversity, but the equity. Inclusion is not just casting a Black body, or a fat body, or a queer body, but providing equitable resources for that person to do their job well, factoring in the leaps and bounds they made to get into the room. We need stylists who can fit our bodies, we need hairstylists who can handle our textures, we need makeup artists who work with our complexions. There are too many talented creatives in this industry to be hiring folks who refuse to do their jobs. To be clear, it is refusal to learn and evolve, and we shouldn’t be supporting laziness. I walk on set and depend on these people to do my job as the lowest on the totem pole. I’m sick of having to correct ‘experts’ in their craft when fairer and thinner models don’t have to. Now I’m doing three to four jobs without their day rate.”
And to any company working in the fashion arena, Austin lays out six concrete steps that can be taken to create a less hostile and more genuinely inclusive space for Black models: “Prioritize Black talent in the immediate future; vet clients for racist and colorist casting processes; make sure that Black models are being paid appropriately; make sure that there are makeup artists, hair teams, and stylists who are capable of working with Black bodies, tones, and textures on set prior to sending a model to set; launch an internal task force to prioritize the hiring of Black people in leadership and booker roles; and partner with a greater number of small Black businesses and clients.”
It is true that the landscape of the fashion/modeling industries has changed dramatically in the past few decades, but of course, there will always be room for improvement in a line of work that is founded on fantasy instead of reality.
This week I had the pleasure of speaking with @pimplesandprada, arguably the most exciting of the recent wave of archival fashion/pop culture accounts with over 3,000 posts and nearly 50k followers. I use the qualifying terms “archival” and “fashion/pop culture” with the utmost liberty, as the account’s curator, Madison Potter, notes that her page might more aptly be called a moodboard which contains at once pop-culture memes, paparazzi photos from all of the great moments of the last 30 years, film stills, and even photos of the curator herself. Asked about the inspiration for the account, she relates;
“So in high school I was super into tumblr (like I’m talking 2013-2014 tumblr, the peak!) and I grew a large following there. But, as tumblr died and people moved on I didn’t have anywhere else to get content. I hated pinterest (don’t know why I love it now, no hate on Pinterest) but I’ve always needed this sort of expression I get out of creating mood boards. I got really into photography which led me to looking at editorials, fashion photography books, and photographers. Again, I hated Pinterest so I had this envelope on my phone where I kept all my inspiration. I had an iPhone 5 with NO storage (rip) and eventually would have to delete personal pictures to keep my inspiration photos. I decided to just make an instagram account as a place to keep these photos. That’s how it happened, I didn’t even know about other “mood” accounts or anything.”
Given away in the very name of the account is the fact that the Potter’s favorite designer brand is Prada, and, being based in Chicago and now finishing her senior year at Columbia College with a bachelors in advertising and a concentration in strategy with a minor in fashion, one can understand the attraction to Miuccia Prada’s chic, metropolitan practicality.
For those who just became followers, @pimplesandprada is definitely worth stalking, but the future of the page is just as bright as the past; concerning future content Potter says, “Well, more of me! Before COVID19 I was pushing styled content and more photos of me! I had to take a pause on that, but you’ll definitely be seeing a mix of my current content and photos of me after the stay at home order is lifted!”
So, unable for the time being to admire fits on the street, @pimplesandprada is a wonderful way to stay inspired.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.