Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Oscar Rant

This year's Academy Awards were the dullest I've ever seen. That says a lot, given that the show itself is usually turgid with the red carpet being perhaps the only reason to watch. Still, watch I do, even though this year I multitasked and searched through 1920s Photoplays during the show.

I'll perhaps post on the dismal state of Oscar Fashion later, if I can grab the time. But in the meantime, I was particularly incensed by one of the Academy's major omissions in a year when a neo-silent film was one of the big winners, leading them to play an ostensible and largely ill-informed "tribute" to Hollywood's past. During the in memoriam section, there was no mention of Barbara Kent, who died this fall. Granted, most people have not heard of her but they haven't heard of most of the technicians, screenwriters etc. who receive tributes (as they should).

Barbara Kent was the last surviving adult silent film leading lady. She died in October aged 103. While she wasn't one of the silent era's major stars, she had a decent, if relatively short, career from 1926-32, transitioning into the talkies with ease. But alas the Academy doesn't seem to have a historian on staff or even a film buff, or someone who knows how to use google. Colour me disgusted.

Collaboration Frustration

Most of this season's clothes are leaving me cold. I'm not feeling inspired by either my go-to designers or stores. Rachel Comey's move upmarket has coincided with the evaporation of much of her inspiration, style and whimsy. J Crew is looking as dull to me as it did years ago and I'm not finding much on blogs, NYC fashion week 2012 or in stores that whets my appetite.

There are exceptions. London Fashion week excited me and two recent/upcoming designer collaborations thrilled me. Alas, because of the nature of the collaboration beast (ebay vultures, limited stock, excessive hype) I'm likely to end up with nothing. The lines that have me fantasizing about some miracle are Marni for H&M (I want most of it, covet large portions of the line and can see it integrating into my wardrobe, enlivening what I have and being worn forever) and Mary Katrantzou for Topshop. The former has yet to launch but it's sadly predictable what will happen--long lines of people who sleep outside, grab everything and post it to ebay immediately for the price of real Marni. If only H&M would make more, release it, restock, they could stop this madness. There's still tons of grossly marked up former collaboration pieces on ebay going back to Stella McCartney and Karl Lagerfeld, so I have no doubts that the disgusting people who ruin it for everybody will be doing their damndest to spoil the collaboration again. It's interesting to speculate what proportion of these so highly desired collaboration pieces will never be worn as a result of this combination of greed and herd mentality.

As for Mary Katrantzou, I went to Topshop last week to see the dresses as I'd heard they were incredibly expensive--$400-$750 (no typo). Of course, I got the day wrong by a week. Not only did the line go on sale today, the dresses sold out in minutes even with a one per person limit. I'm not so much sad as left perplexed. Granted, these pieces were cheaper than her main line but clearly very few were made, and the price point seems insane given that the quality was reportedly not that good. I could get a $100 t-shirt but I'm not interested.

There's always the upcoming Karen Walker for Anthropologie but I'm probably better off saving what little disposable income I have this semester. Or losing weight to fit into the Jill Stuart resort dresses.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


Even though I had Monday off for Presidents' Day, this week has been a little crazy. I've a conference coming up in three weeks and the paper is currently a bunch of ideas, a series of notes and some thoughts. I can write 10 pages relatively quickly but in that same time, I also have an article due (on 1910s fashion, Progressivism, recognition, female spectacle, agency and feminine filmic and costume literacy), a chapter due (for the second book--as requested by the press that I'm hoping to place it with)--this one on the femininity and the analytical mode--and I have to finish the hopefully revisions on my first book by the end of March (these aren't substantial but there's a couple of tricky issues to untangle in the intro). So, rather than blogging, this is some of what I've been looking at over the last few days. The books I've been reading and the notes I've taken have been a little less attractive than the world of 1920s fan magazines.

And this is what I watched tonight as part of my research for the chapter.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


The last few days seem to have been filled with odd misconnections, as one of my colleagues observed. Students have fallen sick, messages seem to have been waylaid and students have forgotten appointments and office hours. There was even a mess up with my medical insurance that meant one doctor's appointment became two on two consecutive days. Perhaps it was best that today was a day to regroup, to continue taking notes on the book I'm reading for this chapter and leave the more intricate work on writing until tomorrow. I have Monday off for Presidents' Day so that's a concerted ten day span to get the bulk of this chapter written. It has to be done before we get back into the real work of the semester, including the conference paper and essay I have to write.

Obviously, Valentine's Day was low key, given that I teach until 9.20 on Tuesdays. But it was sweet nonetheless, with Evan getting me a large box of Godiva truffles that I plan to eat sparingly to make the joy last longer. We'll be celebrating on Saturday night with organic Japanese in the Lower East Side.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Memory Lane

Yesterday I did something quite unusual. I took Saturday off and after my usual exercise classes, I went for a movie, coffee, a walk around Soho and then dinner. The movie was W.E.--preposterous, beautiful and heavily marked by Madonna's world view. I went with Ben and Brynn and await Ben's review as it will likely be spot on and well written as always. Despite all its flaws, it was incredibly useful as an example for at least two chapters of my book. Before the movie, we hit Billy's Bakery for treats--banana pudding for Ben, a red velvet cupcake for Brynn and chocolate marbled cheesecake for me--which we ate during the previews and opening act. Afterwards, we went to a cafe, postmortemed the movie and then headed our own ways.

As I was in Soho, I did a little window-shopping, which reminded me of weekends a decade ago where I'd hit up the same stores and plan what I'd buy in the sales. For the first time in a long while I went to Jill Stuart, a long ago favourite for her well made vintage-inspired dresses and blouses. I was surprised to find some beautiful resort dresses reminiscent of the 1940s that I'll try to buy on sale, along with a few lovely 1920s style dresses for spring (possibly a little too pastel for me but attractive nonetheless). The quality of the clothes and their designs made me wonder why this is a label too often overlooked, not widely carried by online boutiques and generally seen as very different from some of the independent designers like Lyell in its heyday. Certainly Stuart opts for more bright colours and girly fabrics and has at times gone overboard with embellishments but her vintage style day dresses, whether 1920s, 40s or 60s inspired, the craftsmanship of her line and her sometimes spot-on vintage style prints are certainly worth considering as options in a fairly limited market. I'm not interested in her more prom queen offerings or her cheap Jill line which has much of the charm of bridesmaid's dresses, but I'm certainly penciling Jill Stuart back on my list--but only on sale. I'm no longer able to afford or justify $400+ dresses. It's a shame so few of her garments make it to ebay and also a shame that her lookbooks favour a very girlish--juvenile?--aesthetic/styling but the dresses below otherwise have a great deal of potential.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Inexorable Move Upmarket or The Travails of the Middle

That this title could refer to the current economic climate is clearly not coincidental. My focus here, however, is the continuing transformation of the independent/contemporary market (or, I suppose, that sweet spot where they overlap). Specifically, I was reading the Fall 2012 Rachel Comey Fashion Week slideshow and commentary on this morning and was struck by two points--her renunciation of prints in favour of more upmarket or "incredibly lush fabrics," and secondly, Comey's own admission that she had "decided to grow the higher-end side of the brand a bit." Obviously, this statement is not without its own ambiguity--it leaves room for a lower- or middle-end side, and it begs the question of which side will be emphasized. My suspicion is that she's moving upmarket, possibly leaving some items (maybe shoes) at the same price point.

I remember looking at her price points for Fall 2011 and Spring 2012 and noticed a strong upward trajectory--dresses that looked a lot like ones from past seasons that had retailed in the $400s were now in the $600s, an increase near 50% in some cases--and from what I remember, her prices were even lower not so long ago. Given that some of these dresses use the same patterns as earlier seasons, I suspect this was not entirely an economic decision but a subtle rebrand. It's also not cheap to use prints--if you use your own prints like Comey, the costs are substantial and her use of US labour is to be commended. So there are, perhaps, reasons for her pricing to increase, but given her statement, I believe there's more involved in rethinking the brand in an economy where the middle--even the top end of the middle who can afford her dresses as is--are being squeezed. Don't get me wrong--I think $400-$500 for a dress is still very expensive and positions Comey's clothing for affluent consumers and those of us who scour sales/sample sales for pieces. But these are not the demographics for the higher end, a market that continues to do better than ever.

It makes economic sense I guess and may be necessary if you want to continue to have ethical production standards and use US labour (which could also be a selling point to higher-end consumers). But I suspect this is the slow creep further upmarket that other brands have displayed--from Miu Miu, Isabel Marant and A.P.C. to Mayle and Lyell, both of which registered notable and hefty increases in pricing in their last seasons.

It's a shame too as Comey's clothing is often well made, despite its sometimes simple lines, holds up well and is ethically made. I have several of her dresses, although I will be selling three of them that I don't wear, many pairs of her shoes and a pair of pants. In a climate where many of us have discussed the quality of clothing and the ethics of production, her line has been one of the few to withstand scrutiny and wear. But any further move upmarket will put her brand out of my reach, except on ebay and sites like Community Closet Sale and Laws of General Economy.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

I don't really wear t-shirts

But how can I resist these? Proceeds go to NYU's Interdisciplinary Melanoma Cooperative Group and they feature three of my favourite cartoon characters. If I get one, the only issue would be which one? Part of me thinks Eric, but Randy and Butters are so close to my heart. I think the color and quality of the t-shirt will be the deciding factor. $35 each at Marc by Marc Jacobs stores and online.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Hating Mass Market Collaborations

A few years ago (longer than I'd like to think) H&M announced their collaboration with Stella McCartney. I'd ignored the Karl Lagerfeld one (while I can admire his Chanel looks from afar, I was never impressed with his own label or for much of his work with Fendi). I may have been a bit green but the world was different then and so I decided to work an hour early that day and pop into one of the Broadway H&Ms around 9-10 am. Walking in, I saw nothing and asked the sales assistant where I could find the stock only to be told to look in the dressing rooms for what was left. I was very surprised that so much stock had sold in an hour as I remembered the Karl items hanging around for some time. I had my list (I remember a dress and the skinny pants were on it) and managed to find a silk camisole I'd liked (well made but I think I wore it once), a black silk skirt I wanted (but in a larger size, again well made) and a pair of wide legged pants that were more of an afterthought and, at the time, a size too large. Those pants are still wearing well and are incredible--now slightly tight (reminding me of the weight I need to lose), I have worn them every winter and they still look and feel expensive. The construction, fabric details, including covered buttons, remind me of far higher priced items. The quality of the items I saw were great but as the hoarders are still trying to off-load pieces on ebay, some still for inflated prices, one problem with collaborations remains strong.

Stella for H&M is one reason why I still hold out futile hope for collaborations--futile in terms of quality and in terms of accessibility (no reasonable shopper should be expected to stay up all night in the hopes that they are in the right time zone to get what they need online--Target I am looking at you--or spend the night camping outside stores to have a chance to buy as is now the case with H&M). It was not the only good collaboration that fruitlessly keeps my hopes high and frustrations higher for the few such partnerships that still interest me. When Phillip Lim collaborated with Uniqlo, I got up at the crack of dawn (younger and with less responsibilities then) and waited in line while all of us outside watched fashion insiders hanging out with the man himself, sipping champagne and eating canapes while they picked up freebies). At least it was a sunny early summer/late spring day, so waiting wasn't unpleasant. There was also a lot of stock, Lim himself and champagne and canapes for those of us in line. Again, the quality of the items was far superior to what's available today and the plaid dress I purchased is still holding up well as a summer regular--the linen dress was also great and still in good shape but it attracts a little too much cat fur for regular wearing (my mistake for getting the black). I paid less than $90 for both which counts as a great deal.

Another fabulous collaboration was the Gap's first with Roland Mouret. I got up super early as this was going to be very limited but as there was next to no press it was me, the Style Channel and about three other people waiting outside the Lex Ave store before it opened. One of those people was an ebay vulture who put her arm through an entire rack of dresses as I was looking for a S and told me to F*** off as she swept them all to the cashier and ran down the stairs with her bags. The staff were so nice--laughed at her and showed me the large stash of merchandise in the back of the store, replenished the racks, found me my dresses which fit well and shared the horror story with their colleagues. I got home, logged on ebay and there she was. As the stock was all drastically marked down within weeks I'm sure she sold very little and hopefully got what she deserved. I bought two dresses--one, alas, was a great style but scratchy and I was allergic to the wool heavy fabric so I didn't wear it. The other I still wear today and occasionally scout ebay for a second (my only regret was just getting one). It's held up like a dream and is a workhorse. But still a collaboration lured me to ignore my best instincts and buy something I should have left on the shelves. Nice as it was, this collaboration watered down Mouret's corseted style and origami folds, but I think the dress I got was ultimately far more wearable and more in keeping with my lifestyle. Gap collaborations were, in general, OK. Availability not too limited, website that didn't crash, returns easy to make and the quality was decent--but the restrictions (white shirts, khaki) really let them down. I bought the Thakoon petal dress and it's very nice and still holds up but how much better would it be in a Steven Alan style plaid or a darker, more wearable colour?

These collaborations are part of the problem, however, in that they make me believe that perhaps I'll luck out again, even as I know that the frenzy has increased as the quality has nosedived.

No surprise, Target is a particular offender here. Given the shoddy quality of the actual items (versus the glossy images in their ads/lookbook), they really should be able to make their stock in far larger quantities. I presume the Stella/H&M and even Mouret/Gap were decent quality because they may have been loss leaders to gain press (the old PR stunt) but Target's stuff is generally no better made than their routine offerings so limiting stock quantities is pure misguided PR that only feeds ebay hoarders (a vile phenomenon exemplifying one of the worst traits in our culture). I've only had two experiences with Target collabs--the Proenza Schouler pop up at Opening Ceremony where only the largest sizes were available after the fashion in-crowd shopped. I got a green striped long sleeved t which would have been great had I been able to get a smaller size and the palm tree dress which was also too big, an odd fit and disintegrated after I wore it once. I also purchased two Liberty of London pieces--one of which was canceled--getting a cotton nightie that was OK but only worth what I paid. Most of these collaborations are cheap and ugly but clearly popular as the Missoni demonstrated. I was interested in a couple of Jason Wu pieces but as their website launched the collection at 2 am EST and sold out immediately, like most on the East Coast there was no way I could get any of it. It's likely a blessing in disguise as I'm again falling for the advertised pieces not the real thing which is likely shoddily made in cheap fabrics.

After a parade of ugly collaborations (Versace, Cavalli) or overpriced poorly made cocktail dresses (Lanvin), the collaboration that is really guaranteed to frustrate me is the upcoming Marni for H&M. I love Marni and hope the quality here will aspire to Stella levels but it is all moot as there is no way I will (a) spend a night camping out to get it, (b) want to deal with aggressive shoppers who only want to take the stuff home and put it up on ebay for inflated prices and (c) refuse to support such scalpers.

Given the largely negative feedback these collaborations provoke--the shortage of supply created/made worse by the resellers, the disappointing quality, the anger amongst those who wanted items and sacrificed sleep and comfort to get nothing, the bad will they instill among the frustrated and, perhaps most significantly, the way they feed the cycle of consumer greed and desperation--I can't help hate them. I hate myself for falling victim to so much of their publicity, wasting time thinking about buying them, even as some of their earlier incarnations have been valuable assets in my closet.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Mayle Emmanuelle Jacket for Sale

I've vowed to clean out my closets one item a week. So far, the Rachel Comey dress I posted last week is still available, but I'm adding to the list my Mayle Emmanuelle jacket from Jane's last fall collection (2008). I bought this as part of my Mayle collecting mania without thought for the fact I rarely, if ever, wear jackets. I feel the cold and usually opt for coats earlier than most and while fond of shorter coats, I don't wear jackets. So this is effectively unworn. I had someone ask about it last year and hung onto it for them but I'm putting it back out in the world. I'll take photos tonight and add to these, but, in the meantime here it is.

The jacket can be worn several ways and can have either a plain or a military look depending on how you do up the buttons or leave it open. It's a size 10 (runs a little small--good for an 8 or a small 10) wool gabardine--the same fabric as the Ludovine coat--and retailed for $755. I'm selling it for $225 including postage or best offer. If interested, email me at moya[dot]luckett[at]gmail[dot]com.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Capsule Wardrobe

I realize this looks like I'm jumping on a bandwagon as many bloggers have recently posted about consumerism, quality and excessive spending on clothing--see here, here and here, for example. Last year I recognized that I couldn't carry on consuming clothing as before--I'd accumulated too much, at costs to the environment, our living space, my bank account, etc. While I pride myself on being a savvy shopper--not paying full price and waiting for sales, my discovery that I owned 85 sweaters and too many striped shirts was a wake up call. Investing in silk dresses when I live in a climate that's either too hot and humid or too cold to wear them doesn't make a huge amount of sense, so I've tried to build on what I wear a lot and avoid the dual ills of stockpiling and fantasy purchases. Still, I've not been that good--when things go bad, I buy. I'm also tempted against my better judgment by the Jason Wu for Target even though I well know that the pretty dresses in the promo shots will look cheap and scratchy in the flesh. But really what I need to do is stop, as the example below demonstrates. It's just that it's not that easy.

Whenever I go home to England, I travel light. I have had my baggage lost before and it's not fun. Also not fun--dragging heavy bags through airports, on public transport and across Britain. I usually carry a soft bodied bag that limits me to a few items and maybe one pair of shoes--in the winter, with heavy clothing, I can bring even less, especially when I'm also carrying Christmas presents. I do store a few things at home--I have underwear, nightwear, tights, a couple of dresses and a skirt or two. I think hard about packing--I wear heavy items (jeans, knits, shirts) to travel, and, if its winter, boots and a jacket or coat. I bring 2 or 3 dresses--generally one that can be dressed up, a cardigan, maybe 2, plain dark skirt and pants, maybe another skirt, a few tops--striped long sleeved ts, plaid shirt or 2 and a couple of more dressy tops. I may add another skirt, a few different color pairs of tights and, if it's winter, another couple of sweaters. Amazingly, I find I have more options with a few items. I never run out of ideas, I never find myself without anything to wear and it always looks like I have an extensive wardrobe. Back in NYC, I often struggle to find something to wear.

Maybe it's because the weather in England is more temperate that I don't need to worry about the same degree of temperature fluctuations--there's little chance of insane cold or blistering heat and humidity. But I think there is something to the less is more ethos, including the way it causes me to think about what I need to wear and how to put it together. Certainly, I bring some of my favourite items with me but there is more than that involved. I think the clutter distracts and prevents me from being able to see what I have.

So this year is a year to pare back. I still recognize I have the key problems of "investing" in those sale pieces I know I'll wear a lot, and often stockpiling those items (like J Crew cashmere boyfriend cardigans which really don't pill) in the even they will not be as affordable in future years as well as falling for some beautiful but perhaps unwearable/unnecessary items that capture my heart. I'm going to watch out for both weaknesses this year and marshal my willpower and discipline.

I set up Community Closet Sale partly for these reasons--I have lots of lovely clothing that I don't wear and maybe wore once or twice, if at all. I come back to the same favourites--three Rachel Comey dresses, my green plaid Rag and Bone Victorian blouse, my Lyell/Tocca blouses, my blue and white plaid Madewell shirt, my black Rag and Bone pants, my black Lyell box pleat skirt, my Earnest Sewn denim skirt and my cashmere J Crew/Club Monaco/Inhabit crew neck sweaters and boyfriend cardigans and my J Crew striped long sleeved tops. There are other pieces I wear a lot--and of course several of my Lyell (and Tocca) and Mayle coats get heavy wear--but not all of them. I'm also struck by how many of these items are several seasons or even several years old. Of course extreme weather (cold and hot) leads to major changes--the wide leg pants come out in the winter and the cotton dresses in the summer. But you get the point. This wardrobe itself is very much like the ones I bring home to England--not always the most exquisite items I own, but the ones I actually wear.

Searching the Vogue Archives

One of the major advantages of working at NYU is the library--even though books tend to be missing from the shelves, the digital resources and interlibrary loans are phenomenal. This week, one of my students in my fashion tutorial notified me that Bobst had subscribed to the mythical and expensive Vogue archives database. Given that I'm writing this book on femininity, the news was most welcome.

This morning and early afternoon, I poked around and performed some key word searches. The first thing I noticed was the class address--in the 1910s and 1920s, Vogue really was not aimed at a classless audience. Hollywood stars were barely mentioned and its features and fashion displayed not an upwardly mobile fantasy but revealed an exclusive address towards old money and class elites. I wasn't really surprised--although it meant there was little that I could find for my chapter--but on their own, these omissions reinforce my gut sense about the importance of movies, movie fan magazines (many of them also digitized online) and other forms of mass market publishing. With Clara Bow, Gloria Swanson, Norma Talmadge and others largely absent from the pages of Vogue--even from its journalism--I have better grounds to mount much of my argument, which in some ways relies on these class/cultural distinctions.

Other than that, the Vogue database is a feast for the eyes. Here are a few images (sadly none from in colour) that I thought I'd share before going back to work. The first shows styles from 1917, the second features an ad with amazing 1924 dresses.