Sunday, October 31, 2010

In Defence of Project Runway

...Or rather its winner, I wanted to say a few words. I thought Gretchen Jones delivered a disappointing collection, based on her first looks and what I've seen of her line mothlove online. But she deserved the win--all three collections were badly flawed or spotty and hers was, overall, the most promising. Maybe I want her to be more like Rachel Comey, or No. 6, or Isabel Marant than she really is--but the lines, shapes, textures all suggested a designer who was working in 2010-11, not one who made fun but somewhat 80s clothes (Mondo) or made a Chicos meets upholstery fabric line (Andy).

Reading a few posts across the blogosphere, including some from portals I thought were more connected with fashion (NY Magazine's The Cut,, has only made me more aware that the viewers for fashion-themed reality shows know little about fashion. And, really, why should they? The Food Network has made a celebrity of Sandra Lee, who clearly doesn't like cooking and whose taste in table decor runs to broken chairs sprayed gold, covered in fringe and upended on table tops. I liked Mondo too--and would probably have a lot more fun hanging with him and Michael C. But that doesn't mean that he should have won PR. Close call, yes. Online tantrums and name-calling from his fans when he didn't win, no.

The winners for Project Runway are often not the ones anybody in fashion would pick and while this season may have bucked the trend with its winner, I'm not sure that it was her best work. But the lack of knowledge about fashion that drives these comments irritates me, fashion snob that I am. No, Mondo's work isn't cutting edge, nor was Seth Aaron's, nor virtually any of the collections that have graced the show's stage. The girl Alison from a few years back, Leanne and Gretchen have been about the only fashion forward designers I can remember, the only ones with some kind of finger on the pulse who didn't make pretty dresses, costumes or dull department store wear. If you don't know anything about fashion, don't critique on that ground--you can say you don't like it, but not that you think it is old fashioned, lacks style, or draw invalid comparisons.

Season one may have got it right with Jay McCarroll, but largely because the show was still underneath the radar at that time and wasn't thinking about pandering to viewers who wanted a reality soap, nor to advertisers wanting satisfied consumer-viewers to buy cat food, cosmetics or car insurance. Chloe Dao's clothing made her models look like badly upholstered couches but showed that a nice face, inoffensive designs and recognition of audience tastes had already shifted the formula. Subsequent seasons may have delivered few recognizable winners outside of the PR fan circuit because fashion was not the primary objective in picking a winner. With two exceptions--Christian Siriano and Leanne (to my mind the most talented winner by a wide margin)--the winners have been anything from mediocre to comically bad--take, for instance, the tasteless fur-centric Eastern Eurotrash collection from Irina (painted as the show's bitch with some talent) or the tacky and dated Seth Aaron collection. Not surprisingly, these two returned to the anonymity from whence they came once the memories of their seasons ended, Henderson held dear only by the fans that loved his screen persona.

I preferred the first season of Project Runway when talent held firmer sway and the marvels of the workroom were center stage. Not that these figures weren't without personality--to pretend that was the case not only overlooks the marvelous Jay and Austin Scarlett,  the supreme villainy of Wendy Pepper and the already well honed conventions of reality TV. These shows are watched for their characters, something Bravo and Magical Elves knew long before the first audition for Project Runway. And, yes, I will admit to loving some of the show's characters, particularly Austin, Jay, Santino Rice and Chris March. Were they all good designers? Not necessarily, although their batting average was higher than most (including most winners).

As most reality shows now unwind in a convergence economy where devoted bloggers hold sway and can become important, even instrumental, parts of a show's reception, the worst tendencies emerge. The character-centered discourse I can understand and accept--it is the larger part of the rationale behind reality TV and most people wouldn't watch a group of quiet or dull talented workers sewing and sketching away, regardless of their disclaimers. Maybe I'm a total fashion snob, but I get more upset about the strange selections of winning collections. This time, as with Leanne, Jay and maybe Christian, the show got it right. If all three finalists hadn't failed to deliver, I'd celebrate more, but until then, I hope Gretchen Jones has a good career and would love to find a couple of her dresses from this fall--that is, if the collection was ever produced.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


This little number from No. 6. I hope I can get it on sale as a Christmas gift to myself...

Janie Bryant

So, yesterday's class did indeed benefit from a guest speaker--Mad Men's costume designer, Janie Bryant. I was very lucky indeed--the mother of one of my students (in my Media and Fashion seminar) is Bryant's agent, and the student was proactive and arranged her visit at the last minute. As a huge Mad Man fan, a scholar and fan of fashion and media from that period, I was beyond myself with excitement. So were my friends--two of whom, the incomparable Ben and Brynn--who came to class with me.

As with all of these events, it's difficult to walk that fine line between scholarly questions, fandom and requests for career advice. All three merged, with some success, as I found myself taking on a kind of moderator/interviewer role (sort of a James Lipton in pink tights). We started and ended with an episode of Mad Men--season two's "Maidenform," as a relatively large percentage of the students had never watched the show, to my surprise, I have to admit. Still, if I was 20 and living in NYC, interning and going to classes, I may not have watched either--my television viewing was at an all-time low during my undergrad years and that was well before the DVR.

Funnily enough, Janie Bryant said that the early 1960s wasn't her favorite period in fashion--not that she dislikes it, but she is currently into the 80s, 70s and 50s more--I imagine working with this period may have made it less novel for her. In terms of her own clothes, she was wearing what looked like some very expensive black leggings, amazing high heeled strappy tan ankle boots that looked like they were Chloe, a black sweater, white t-shirt and a beautiful (and expensive looking) black and white tweed jacket with some great vintage rings. Not very 60s at all.

It seems that Trudy Campbell is one of her favorite characters to dress (she prevaricated a bit on this)--she is modern and can afford to dress in more recent styles. Meghan wore the first mini skirt to be seen on Mad Men in the season finale. There was much discussion about Pete Campbell blue, about Trudy's pink baby doll maternity nightie (cut down from a much longer original), Joan's pen and sheath dresses (the pen necklace cost 50 cents at the Rose Bowl flea market) and Betty's struggles against her housewife role, seen in her sweetheart line crinolines and her occasional forays into more modern lines--particularly her black ensemble from Italy.

Also worthy of note, Janie Bryant's new book which I paged through. It's available from amazon and in my shopping cart as we speak--it looks really nice. And she's also doing a line for QVC that can be seen on November 1--I forget the exact time.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


It's midterm time and I am super busy with work, hence my silence. I may have a nice surprise for my students in Media and Fashion tomorrow and hope it works out so I can share the story here. Fingers crossed as if this works out it will be an amazing class and one I'll remember forever.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Ever since June 26-27 2007, I've regretted not buying certain items from the wonderful Mayle sample sale (I remember the dates not because I am obsessive but because they were the two days after my birthday). One item that increasingly appealed to me was the Valentine dress, which I initially saw as a bit too costume-y and precious for me but then came to look more reminiscent of something Anna Karina would wear in an early Godard film. Of course, by the time I realized I wanted it, I was not alone and any supply had completely dried up--a story repeated for so many of us so often with so many Mayle covets. As I have a broad back and shoulders and as Mayle runs small there, particularly in dresses with sleeves, I feared the worst: I would need a 10. Not only was I after a much coveted dress but in a size made in very limited numbers.

A few weeks ago, Valentine appeared on ebay. It was listed as a small, but the photo revealed a size 10 tag. I emailed the seller and, yes, it was true--the dress was originally a 10, but had been altered down to a 4-6. The top was largely untouched. Everywhere else it was a different story. I kept an eye on it though, hoping it would be possible to alter it back. The seller warned me that the silk (a beautifully soft fabric) was fragile and the seams may not look good if opened back up. Still, I won the auction for a very reasonable price and the dress came on its way. It arrived yesterday. I tried it on and thought the worst for a moment--the back was tight. Then I noticed that the seams had been taken in--or, rather, two new seams added down the back, that finished just shy of the shoulders. Last night, I was exhausted after yoga and work, so I painstakingly unraveled most of the two seams (I still have some threads to remove from the top). I eschewed a seam ripper--the fabric is too fragile to risk it near a blade--and instead gently pulled threads, occasionally using a pencil. I just put it on this morning and it fits! I could not have sized down. There are puncture marks from the seams but they look like a decoration and I'm hoping judicial use of an iron will work some magic. Overall, though, I'm very happy with my find.

Monday, October 18, 2010


If these (dead) animals weren't over 100 years old I'd be mourning their loss (hopefully of natural causes). But the bizarre Victorian death culture/cuteness/insanity factor makes me want to visit such feats of taxidermy.

Kittens' tea party.

Kitten wedding.

Now on display at the Museum of Everything in Primrose Hill (until Christmas). I think I have to see if I can get a friend to go with me. But I still hope they all died at old ages of natural causes.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


In between reading about fashion, tie-ins, consumerism and cinema for my grad class, I've had a cup of tea and surfed over a few e-commerce sites. Here are some of the items I covet but likely will only enjoy looking at from afar.

Opening Ceremony par Robert Clegerie velvet heels. At $745, they are a little (or lot) too much for my budget but I am smitten with those straps and soft round toes, not to mention the delicious color. They also come in fucsia. I'm just hoping that somehow a pair in either color in my size goes on deep markdown at some point. Of course, I actually need a pair of Hunter wellies and a pair of shoes in which I can teach...

Rachel Comey Mummer boots. If I could be sure these would fit my wide feet and be comfortable, I'd find a way to get a pair. I could justify the patent leather as rain resistant--or I could try. Green and purple  are two of my favorite colors and I love the pairing. I can dream about wearing these with purple tights.

Rachel Comey dress from Domahoka. I love this fabric so much but, alas, Doris isn't stocking this one in my size. It will be another one to gaze on from afar.

I'm also frustrated that I can't find long sleeved, patterned above the knee dresses. Those were the number one non-Mayle dress item I was seeking this season but it appears that I'm on my own here. I know what I'm looking for but cannot find much that works.

Friday Meet Up

I've been horribly busy recently and likely will be swamped until the end of the semester. Work is unbelievable and I am barely keeping up. Other than yoga and acupuncture, I basically work, sleep, eat and try to keep up with class prep, grading and emails. My own research has basically bitten the dust which is beyond frustrating as I am so ready to write. I guess that book proposal will be finished at the end of the year, if not the beginning of the next one.

But I did have a nice break Friday night after a long day of teaching (basically 10-6.10 p.m). I met up with Marti who was in town for a work event, and then headed over to the East Village with her, finding some consignment Mayle on the way, none of it in my size. We had dinner at Supper with a large group of Mayle-related friends, including Jen, Thessaly, Alison and Muna. It was a lovely break and as always it was great to see Marti. I'm hoping that she will, indeed, be back in November (as looks likely).


So they arrived, if not without a little drama in the interim. After reading the comments, I thought it might be best to try a pair on. So on Tuesday, I met up with Caroline, popped into the pop-up and then quickly headed down to Creatures of Comfort and tried on the size 10. They fit. I guess all the RC shoes I previously tried on at the SS were there for a reason (and besides, were old). So I frantically called Le Train Bleu, went for a quick tea with Caroline, and then back to my office where I fired off an email to change my order. I have to say they were amazing and prompt. I am now the owner of the black croc penpals in a size 10. I love the color more and they fit me--likely far better than the 11s. Now I have my eye on the Barbaros, but I have to be a little more restrained as it will be Christmas soon and I have to get my ticket home.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Penpal Boots

I have been thinking a lot about the Mayle pop-up. Truthfully much of what's there is too expensive for me, so I may just stop at the one coat (already purchased) and the sandals. This does not mean I have a lot of money to throw around but it does mean that I can look for the pieces that are on my list of essentials for fall. I need ankle boots and rain boots and another pair of comfortable winter shoes so I don't wear my s2a flats to death.

I really want a pair of Rachel Comey Barbaro boots but with my wide feet I assume I will need an 11 (I've never been able to get my feet into (my usual) size 10 Comey shoes and sometimes boots run smaller). These don't appear to exist, at least not online, although I haven't given up on finding a pair. I did find a pair of size 11 Penpal boots at Le Train Bleu. With 30% off, they were $243 with shipping. The color wasn't my favorite but I think it will work. I just hope the size will too--as a size 10 with wide feet I am still a little wary. Here they are:

Now if these work, I am sure I'll need the 11 Barbaros! But I am trying to be good. I just have to wear shoes and boots I can stand in for a long time, what with teaching and the rigors of subway steps.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Billy's Bakery

I'm trying very hard to eschew junk food and sugar. Although I love English chocolate, it's relatively easy to avoid that temptation even though it is available in New York. Once every now and then, though, a girl has to have her treats. And so this weekend, we're off to Billy's Bakery--a place I sneaked out to just last week with my friend Ben. One of my favorite items is the ice box cake, pictured below.

It is as light and as delicious as it looks. But I might also be tempted by something else, like this:

Or maybe this:

Actually, if it was possible and if it didn't mean a sugar coma and nausea, I think I'd like all three.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

More Mayle

It's another busy week but I sneaked into Mayle before office hours--it is just two blocks away from work which may or may not be a good thing.

A few more pieces are in. The Sylvestre blouse comes in black silk, the ivory/pink silk and the floral used for the as yet unseen Leilani dress from the lookbook. It has a seventies feel (more Helmut Newton 70s with some romantic touches, rather than leisure suit 70s) and has a deep v-neck, covered buttons up the front and on the sleeves, a gentle ruffle around the neck and a ruffle detail near the top of the sleeves. It is fitted at the waist, has a peplum and slight dolman sleeves. It is very pretty but not too sweet and costs $495. It also runs big--a 6 was fine on me and the 8 drowned me.

A must-have military style coat is in--or rather the prototype is. Jane is making adjustments and it is currently only for pre-order. It made me feel glamorous and I imagine it may be another splurge.

A romper/jumpsuit has come in--again, the prototype. It has spaghetti straps with a kind of halter effect with another strap going around the back. It buttons up the front (covered buttons), has a pair of loosely draped ruffles at the front and skinny legs with buttons at the bottom that are cut like the leather pants with a slight ruffle. It is $575 and comes in black and in the floral used for Leilani and the Sylvestre blouse.

I also saw that they had some grey pants--one cropped with a deep cuff. As these were not on the rack I doubt they are the production versions. Most merchandise is still pre-orders.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


I know some people don't like being a bridesmaid but I've never felt that way. To me, it's an amazing honor to be asked to be part of somebody's wedding, and it offers me a chance to dress up. As a little girl, I always wanted to be a bridesmaid (the nearest I could get to being a fairy princess, I suppose), and I was quite impatient for the opportunity. When my Dad's sister married, I was the little bridesmaid but I had secretly hoped for a more ruffly dress than the simple long puff-sleeved lavender number I ended up wearing. In retrospect, it was actually a pretty and quite adult dress, but it didn't have as much seven year-old girl appeal.

This week, my friend Lisa called me just before I left to teach and asked me to be a bridesmaid for her wedding this spring in Santa Barbara. I was delighted. We were grad school roommates and she is one of my dearest friends, even though distance (or time zones) and work prevent us from talking as much as we'd like. We always share a hotel room at our annual conference and this is a photo of us taken on the first day of SCMS this spring in the elevator. Just being around her is a joy.

I am so honored to be invited to be part of Lisa's wedding and eagerly wait to find out more about what it will be like--and, of course, what we will wear!

2 Great Jones

It has been another busy week. Teaching an overload and having three new course preps leaves me little time to myself. I have made sure I go to yoga three or four times a week but otherwise the second half of the week (Wed-Fri night) is solid teaching and Sun-Tues really is just course prep with the occasional bout of writing. I've learned to take Saturday off, otherwise I feel tired all week and my teaching suffers. Obviously I would love to pop into Mayle every day, especially as it is just 2 1/2 blocks from Tisch, but once I'm in school, I'm busy with students and I don't even think about anything else.

On Friday, after my Fashion and Media class ended at 6.10, I finally walked over to Mayle. The pop-up is in the lovely large space formerly used for the Samples for EcoCompassion store and has been remade to look quintessentially Mayle. Two very long curtains on circular rails constitute dressing rooms and have an elegant sweep. There is a candle burning, but this one is not the familiar Votivo Red Currant. Instead I heard Jane say that one of its ingredients was vevitier.

Jane was working the shop when I went in. I also saw Geri from Poupette, whose jewelry I love. I got a chance to talk to Jane and thanked her for coming back to fashion, even if it is just for a quick visit. She looked relaxed and very pretty and was as kind and graceful as ever.

More items had come in since last week. There are samples of the boots and the sandal clog, which comes in black, brown and black with a dark blue suede heel. The Bebel dresses--the long and short Stevie Nicks style lace numbers--are in. I was taken with the short one in leopard lace but its long and very wide bell sleeves are not compatible with my life of reading, writing and dealing with dry erase boards. If I had an event to go to, or a lifestyle where I had to dress up more, I would seriously consider buying it.

Other new arrivals included the Anais dress--a short sleeved v-neck dress with a ruffled front in the ivory/pink print and in black washed silk. It has a sash at the waist and rows of buttons at the sleeves. Alas, the 6 was the largest size in so far and while I actually got it on, the narrow skirt and slim fit made me look like a sausage in its casing. It is a beautiful dress and I am sure it will look a lot better when I get to try it in an 8 or 10. I suspect this one runs a little small whereas the Bebel runs large--the 4 was more than big enough on me.

The other new arrival was the black wool Marie-Helene dress. Somewhat form fitting, this frock has an open scooped neck, a near empire waist/high waist, a straight but not tight skirt with three panels at the front, the middle slightly shorter than the two that flank it. It also has button trim, including buttons fastening what may be faux pocket tops near the waist. It is an extremely slimming dress. It may run a little on the small side--the 10 was a perfect fit for me--but it is quite beautiful and very wearable. It only comes in black hence my hesitation about getting it. It costs $575 and is very well made.

I left wanting so much. I know I cannot have all that I want, but the sandals are a must have. They evidently run small so I signed myself up for the 11, per Jane's advice.

I am thinking seriously about the Marie-Helene dress but I hear the lace romper is now in and the indigo version also appeals very strongly to me. I'm eager to see the Leilani dress as well--the one from the lookbook with the medium sized flowers. I am not sure which one will come home with me, but I am very impressed with all the items I tried on. The short tweed jackets were also in--in pink and a pale burgundy color. They were quite lovely (the fabric is amazing) but they were cropped which is not something that works on my body. Perhaps that's just as well as it further limits temptation!