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Fashion


I am, as some of you may or may not know, a creature of many inclinations, proclivities and preoccupations, most of which are all too apparent on this blog. I’ve written about food, children, music, fashion, books, discoveries – whatever riles me up, gets my goat or get me going – it’s all fair game, all fodder for the blogosphere, all smelted down, distilled and poured into that great Gundestrup Cauldron I call MoltenMetalMama.

In fact, the blogosphere is where I have been known to spend a good portion of my time online, because there is always some hidden gem to find, some diamond in the rough that maybe, baby, can expand my own horizons for good or bad, make me laugh – or just make me feel privileged to be a part of this marvel we call Life On Planet Earth.

So, people, I read a few of them, and they are as diverse as my own self.

I also, as I’m sure you know, am a devoted reader of the online edition of New York Times, not because I live there but simply because I like to be informed in a way that does not insult my intelligence (or lack thereof) and which also is nearly as diverse as the city of its origin. I don’t always agree with the editorial stance, and many things in said august purveyor of information have riled me up no end, but – again, like the city it comes from, it’s anything but boring.

The three highlights of my drab and dreary week are Thursdays – because of the Style section – Fridays, when the Book Review ticks into my inbox, and Sundays, because I love getting buried in papers on Sundays.

The NY Times did a feature one Thursday, not too long ago, on a particular blog that had been striking terror in the hearts of many insiders on the NY fashion scene. This blog was particularly snarky, sometimes vicious and always thought-provoking, especially since it was obviously written – quite well and often beautifully, I say – by someone who knew all the dirt from the inside, and no one knew who was hiding behind it.

Well, the NY Times blew that whistle. Now, I was really intrigued. Snark is good, vicious is excellent, so off I went. Besides, I love cats.

Enter one Very Cool Cat, Fluff Chance of The Emperor’s Old Clothes Fluff has a mouth and many pointed teeth, none of which he is at all afraid to use.

For a longtime devotee of the fabulously frivolous, his blog was a revelation.

I read through all the reviews of Spring-Summer/Fall-Winter/Resort/Couture/RTW (Ready-to-wear) in many other places, and let me tell you, sooner or later, verbal hyperglycaemia will set in. More sugar than in the Magnolia Bakery, more sycophantic claptrap lipservice and mutually advantageous back-slapping – or worse – than you can find at any point on any corporate ladder. My head starts to hurt, and my brain needs a countershot of neural insulin. Now, I like fluffy, frivolous and verbose overload as much as the next woman, but geez, people – c’mon! Get real! Lay off that thesaurus entry for “fantabulous” and – open your eyes!

So few of them dare. It might cost them advertising, a job, an editorial spread, a mention of just how “now and happening!” these people’s opinions are.

So refreshing to find honesty, integrity and a view to The Big Picture, in an articulate voice. Fluff has Been There, Done It. He sees all the bs of the business and will never call it roses, lilies or any other flower, come to that. But Fluff also knows a thing or two about that Big Picture, which is not at all about clothes, or who will be wearing whose, or even momentary sartorial insanity.

It’s about the bottom line, people. Fashion, lest we forget, is a b-u-s-i-n-e-s-s.

Very rarely, so rarely it merits headlines of its own, is a collection about that Other Thang, that other monster, the big pink elephant in the room the mercenary and mercantile, crisis-stricken industry has completely overlooked in the wild hunt for the Next New Fantabulous.

It’s called creativity. It’s called vision. It’s called expressing something unique and uniquely visionary, which may or may not be beautiful or commercially viable or even, dare I say it, commercially exploitable. It’s called putting that vision on the line for your peers and contemporaries to either applaud or berate, but by Golly, it will out, it will be done, it will say – something and it will, if you’re open enough and tolerant enough, change your perspective, a little or a lot.

Enter one of the Greats in my personal fashion pantheon – Alexander McQueen. Love him or loathe him, just don’t ignore him. I’ve always had a thing for McQueen, ever since that birthday I received a David Bowie CD as a present and he was wearing a frock coat of the Union Jack made by – Alexander McQueen. I had never seen anything so flawlessly cut – or executed – since the heyday of Yves Saint Laurent’s Mondrian dresses.

When I staggered out of bed to my Mac this morning, Fluff had been at it again, and to my delight, he was writing about Alexander McQueen. I had to read it, even though it was 5 AM. Somewhere in the depths of the first cup of latte of the day, I decided that I had to contribute my own two cents, because Fluff saw what I, too, had seen – a visionary collection, a breathtaking and mind-blowing artistic statement unlike any others, or any others anyone had ever experienced. Just as he did for his last collection, Mr. McQueen took no prisoners, made no compromises, and definitely no excuses. Here was what he had to say and this was how he said it, and all we paltry, pathetic mortals could do was clang our disbelieving jaws to the floor in awe – and not a little delight at the heretical thought – that finally, at last, enfin, mes amis! someone had DARED.

Titanium balls – or ovaries, even – should always be applauded and certainly encouraged.

I saw it – and said it, in my comment, and such being the impact of the blogosphere, Fluff completely made my day by replying to my comment by personal email, thanking me for my comment.

A solitary voice in the void, many miles and lightyears away from hip and happening, had made the cat meow.

Fluff, the pleasure is always mine. Some day, I can hope, you might forgive me that I wrote about it!

I had to. And when Fluff meows, I will listen!

Honesty is always refreshing, in a day and age when it is in increasingly short supply, and should be applauded, just like titanium gonads!

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There’s a big stink in the media these days. A cold wind is blowing through the hallowed halls of something many people have taken for granted, if they’ve known about it at all, but – it”s a big stink in two words.

Size Zero.

We’re not talking about brain cells (although with some of the comments from fashion luminaries, you might call that into question), or the shrinkage of the polar ice caps, but something far less consequential, and far more influential, in the minds of far too many – women.

Size zero is an artificial construct invented by manufacturers of women’s clothing to, so decrees official dogma, accommodate the needs of women who were too thin to fit into the smallest previous size, previously called size 4. It was created in those halcyon days of obvious consumer spending and It bags, and sure enough, before long, there were entire armies of Size Zero declarees, heaving giant sighs of relief – if they weren’t heaving up their dinners – that finally, they were able to find something that – fit. It wasn’t long before other scandals started appearing – the notable shrinkage of several celebrities, the likewise notable skrinkage of catwalk models, and worst of all, the death of several models to anorexia. This, in turn, led to banning models with a BMI of less than 18 (which is still technically underweight) in certain countries, and just last week, in an unprecedented move, the German fashion magazine Brigitte made an editorial decision to no longer feature professional models, but – the horror! – real – women. The art department had grown awfully tired of having to retouch boobs and butts on models that had neither, just so they could look – human.

Naturally, such an august personage as Kaiser Karl (Lagerfeld), chief designer for Fendi, Chanel and his own eponymous brand and Grand Pooh Bah Arbiter Non Plus Ultra of all things fashionable, had to wade into that debacle and provide his immortal 20,000€ (per word) opinions. “Of course real women hate models. They’re all a bunch of fat mummies who sit on their sofas eating potato chips in front of their televisions.”

Note the context. Real. Women. Fat. Mummies. Eating. (the very idea!) Potato chips. The sum entire of all things repellant – and repulsive – to his mind.

Well, even the former Duchess of Windsor said it – one cannot be too rich – or too thin.

The problem is, fashion has always been an aspirational business. It’s not about what you, Ms. Ordinaire, can do, or at least can Look As If – not at all.

It’s what You Can Aspire To. Since the 1920s, the – fashionable – ideal has gravitated toward the tall, the long-waisted and long-limbed ectomorphic, unattainable by just about every means at our disposal even today – unless, of course, you’re born that way. Very few of us so-called “real” women are. And in a day and age where the Privileged West has a historical unpredecented access to any and all foodgroups imaginable, where obesity and Type 2 diabetes are increasingly becoming commonplace industrial-world diseases, the whole size issue is revealing quite a lot about what lies behind it.

Control, and the lack thereof. If you have control of your own bestial appetites, if you watch what you eat, if you exercise like a maniac and work at your looks like a dog, then – you’re OK. You’re – cool.

If not, if Black Forest cake turns you on, and eating it in bed with someone as uninhibited and bestial as yourself floats your boat, if you happen to think that life is too short to deny yourself all manner of sensual pleasures, then you are condemned and damned to be terminally, fatally unhip and uncool the rest of your days, unless – and sometimes, in spite of – whatever you simultaneously cultivate your interior as well, in which case, you might only be cool if you’re talented enough. A few short years ago, the lead singer of the band The Gossip, a defiantly Rubenesque Beth Ditto, was called “a fat pig”, to her face and by Kaiser Karl. who later rescinded and apologized – because, let’s face it, the lady has talent. Not only talent, but a very healthy amount of self esteem as well. She appeared on the cover, in all her naked glory, of a British music magazine and was plastered in billboards – likewise naked – all over London.

In a size zero age, that takes titanium ovaries, and titanium ovaries should always be applauded.

Another case, this one involving Ralph Lauren, has made a stink. One of his house models – used for several years running in all advertising campaigns, catalogs, lookbooks etc – had the nerve to complain that her photo had been retouched to absurdity. Her head was much larger than her waist. This was not the photo she remembered.

She was promptly fired for spilling the beans, on the grounds that she was now, at 27, “too old”.

Right. Which makes your truly something just above “fossil”.

The sinister thing, the scary thing, the thing that keeps me awake at night, is not that I shall never be a size zero, or even semi-close. What frightens me most is just how much the whole size debate/issue/debacle deflects and distracts from something far more disturbing. If you can’t get a woman’s goat on grounds of her intellect, her job status, her qualities as a human being – then, you at least have free reign and ditto license to call her – fat. Even if she isn’t. So long as she diverges even slightly from the “ideal” – go ahead – hit her, make her feel inadequate, make her sense her shortcomings, hit her where you know it hurts.

Anything to distract her from the sad and sorry fact that this is not an equal world, and anything to remind her that whatever else she accomplishes, whatever else she is, she is also – fat. And a woman.

The Cardinal Sin.

Evolutionary biology teaches us that attractiveness is all about sexual competition. It’s all about landing the best mate to propagate the species with. And this is where the controversy gets increasingly strange and contradictory.

In my 46+ years on planet Earth, 31 of which I have been, to a larger or lesser extent, sexually active, I have never, ever lived up to any idea of “fashionable”. I’m built like a V – my shoulders are wider than my hips, my bust is larger than my pelvis, and I’m one of the “lucky” ones who can carry up to 20 extra lbs without it being immediately apparent, at least to the casual observer. If I lose too much weight – which is to say, I approach the “normal” range of certain insurance company weight tables, people start asking me if I have some terminal disease. At my thinnest, I was a US size 8 below, size 10 or even 12 on top. Nothing even close to perfect.

Yet, in spite of it, or because of it, I’ve never had any problems with the opposite sex. On days I’ve felt like crap and looked the part to prove it, I’ve been propositioned by men a good deal younger than myself. On days I’ve made a definite effort, I’ve gotten no reactions at all, or at least, not the ones I wanted. So I came to realize that in the attraction stakes, what a man may define as “sexy” has less to do with “ideal” and much, much more to do with attitude.

My sister knows. She’s my polar opposite – a small, definite A. Even so, she somehow manages to exude her own brand of va-va-voom – not unlike Sophia Loren in her heyday (although they look nothing alike), and like Sophia, a Virgo – and even so, she’s not had trouble, either. She is also the most fashionable woman I know.

We know our limitations. We know we will never be anyone’s idea of size zero, unless you’re talking our computational skills after the second bottle of champagne. We know we live in the real world of Real Women, and we are very much looking forward to see what Brigitte – or other women’s magazines who are brave enough to buck the trend – will do to show just how beautiful we really are!

Even in those moments we’ve parked our post-baby Fat Mummy tracksuit bottoms in front of the TV to watch Disney movies with our progeny, eating potato chips.

Some people out there may loathe that particular ideal, of an Ingres odalisque sleeping in all her curvy splendor, but to many of us – and even to our men – that odalisque is a woman, and that is what a real woman looks like.

Kaiser Karl be damned!

Image: Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Ètude d’après la Dormeuse de Naples, 1839, V&A Museum, London

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Lest readers have any illusions as to what yours truly is really like at a given moment – let’s start with this moment. It is, in my part of the world. 10:34 AM on a windy, rain-soaked Sunday. On the TV, you’ll find yet another iteration of Winnie The Pooh playing, while Damien is coloring in one of his books. Pencils, print-outs of coloring pages and pencil shavings are everywhere. The Resident Buttkicker is being loud, proud and ubiquitous on one of his forums. Meanwhile, here I sit in all my Sunday morning glory, parked in front of my MacBook and the third jumbo cup of cafe au lait for the day, drop dead grungy, in a shapeless gray sweatshirt and gray yoga pants. I have a dim recollection of brushing my hair yesterday, but I’m not too sure about that. It is not the kind of outfit that furthers anything so ambitious as make-up.

In other words, I look like – crap. It fits the way I feel right now. The beginnings of a bad cold are lurking somewhere in my immune system, and I know my body is at war.

It is, in other words, the perfect time to do something stupid, silly, frivolous and utterly superfluous. It is time for the full-screen version of the Fall-Winter 2009 Paris fashion shows, and I’ve already made it a point this year to see abso-effing – lutely everything in New York, London and Milan.

Let’s overlook the banal reality that I will very likely rarely be able to afford anything I see. Let’s overlook the sad and sorry fact that I’ll never be a 100 lb, six foot walking clothes rack with endless legs and no cleavage to get in the way of “la ligne”. Let us also please overlook the fact that with a few notable exceptions, designers will never make clothes for my kind – you know, a woman of the real world. A woman who is neither 23 nor impossibly tall, neither drop-dead stunning nor possessing a Titanium Amex card.

“Not our kind, darling” I can almost hear Miranda Priestley, played by Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada”, sneer condescendingly. “Hopelessly ordinary.”

But if you think that the exposition of extremes known as Fall-Winter 2009, or any other season for that matter, has no effect on you, and what you dream about when you window shop and wish you could afford to buy, then think again. You’
re watching the CNN highlights and headlines version, the Screaming New Sensation edition. Eventually, wily makers of knockoffs and copyists will water the extremes down and digest them for the hoi polloi – that would be you and me.

If, like me, you came of age in that wretched-excess era known as the Eighties, then this coming fall and winter, you will drop into a time-warp. Those clothes you once pulled over your head with such exuberance, the Day-Glo Pepto-Bismol pink fluffy angora sweaters, the ultra-minis, the skinny-lapel jackets with NFL-approved shoulders, the Black is the New Black – will be back with a vengeance, and this time around, you’re not even close to 23. Or close to having any disposable income, for that matter. The only disposable commodity near you would be your thighs, and alas, cellulite can’t be recycled.

As I worked my way through four different fashion events and who knows how many designers hellbent on scaring most of us half to death with those shoulder pads and clothes fit for some post-apocalyptic Gothic Hades, where all hope truly Is abandoned and they supply the armor to prove it, I realized a few things. No one I know will ever be so hip it hurts. No one I know, not even my fashionista sister, would be caught dead in Rick Owens. And no one but me would ever be so depressed about it, either.

On the other hand. Sometimes, frivolity serves a purpose. Sometimes, you want to think that the most Earth-shattering decision in your life will be the breadth of your shoulder pads. Sometimes, you want to appreciate the occasional breathless Beautiful moment. Sometimes, you just want to sit back, enjoy the show, and watch the world’s foremost fabric artists have the world’s most expensive clothes racks strut their stuff. Sometimes, even the sublimely ridiculous, out-there statements of, well, let’s be generous and call it what is – creativity – can contain a beauty and an architecture of construction that takes your breath away, even if you would never in a zillion years of lipo actually wear it.

And sometimes, even as you live your sorry life far, far away from the lofty reality and heady heights of the fashion world, escapism can be a good thing. For one thing, I can dream of the day when I buy most everything from Anna Sui and Ossie Clark.

Dreams, after all, are what those people are really selling.

Dreams with some very serious shoulder pads.

(Photo courtesy of http://www.style.com, Marcio Madeira)

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