Inscrutable, lost-soul luxury. The horrid, addled faces of those models! These clothes are geared either at wealthy pubescent halfwits or women of untold and lonely strength; women with enough personality to contend with an intentionally cloying dollhouse chintziness, or, disappearing into the clothes, letting their sublime ditziness speak for them, lazy-eyed moth-girls, whose nameless bodies are taken, without affection or pleasure, several times nightly by men who wear jewels in bed and ask, dully, to pee on them if they don’t mind.
Prologue to another fashion post
Fashion time again. Actually, fashion time was several weeks ago but I’m not the as-it-happens type of blogger. Time again for me to make my customary excuses as to why I’m even the least bit interested. Here it goes: I like that I’m far enough away from it that it’ll never be real, never be more than an imaginary art form up in the clouds to me. I like all the baloney and decadence. I even kind of like seeing pictures of Anna Wintour and Andre Leon Talley sitting beside each other like a couple of old billy goats, each wanting to be the other’s sex.
But I’m also interested in the craft and the way a collection has a certain, sometimes abstract, structure to it. I like the “conceptualism,” or playfulness, or whatever it is you call it when things veer away from wearability. And I like seeing the opposite: elegant, comfortable-looking clothes and skillful construction. There’s also the theatrical side of it, which is kind of anti-theatrical, but theatre nonetheless. If you watch a few fashion shows online - a lot of the houses are doing that now - you’ll soon see how they’re tuned intentionally to the key of boredom. It’s probably actually hard to make something new, expensive, and spotlit look boring, but they do their best. Boredom being the ultimate sign of class, I guess - the ultimate luxury.
I like some of the extremely close-up detail views that you can see on fashion sites like Vogue.com, too, these particular ones, to give credit where it’s due, by Olivier Claisse.
A while ago it was the photos of the museum-goers sitting opposite Marina Abramovic at MOMA, now I’m finding a similar fascination in these photos, ostensibly detailing the clothes and make-up, but more of interest for the eyes, skin, necks of the models walking the runways, and for the photography itself which is so unartistic and functional that it almost does that mysterious turnaround and becomes an object of aesthetic interest. (The boredom / interest continuum always seems to be circular.)
Igmar Bergman said something in an interview once about his reliance on close-ups, how all you needed to do to keep the interest of a human being was to show him another human being close up (that may be a loose paraphrase - it’s been a long time since I read that interview). Speaking for myself, I’ve seen that theory proven true time and again, these photographs the latest case. Beauty doesn’t enter into it. It’s that the photos are big (bigger than they are on this page, almost scale), and you’re looking, in a way that we seldom do - I go as far as cropping them in different ways, at the parts that make up a human.
There’s another reasonI find them interesting. Whether you’re able, in your head, to distance these photos and their form (or lack of it - same difference) from their use (pre-shopping shopping, getting the saliva flowing), doesn’t make much difference, since it’s their absolute functionality that is the whole point, what you’re looking at is photography at its most raw, something unshaped by artistry in a way that even family photos are not wholly. It reminds me of what Werner Herzog has said about porn films, karate films, and Fred Astaire films being the most real, the most truthful kinds of filmmaking. You’re looking at the medium at its essence.
And then, as you’re browsing through the collections, there are the times when you’re just looking at beautiful women wearing clothes made for bodies exactly like theirs. That’s nice too, even for straight guys.
Most of all, I like being a pupil. I like not knowing. I like looking into the crystal ball of expert opinion - Suzy Menkes, Cathy Horyn, Sarah Mower, Mark Holgate, Tim Blanks, - and finding out which way the winds of critical whim are blowing.
All of this was just meant to be introductory, by the way. I meant to post a few pictures from some of the shows I thought were cool, like I did last time. But I’ll save that for another post now, I think, since this has stretched on a little longer than I expected. Hopefully, later this week.
I haven’t been doing much with my blog lately but, lo, golden week is upon us, so here now is an index of what I’ve been looking at, reading about, or wanting to write about lately. For the most part, I’m using my desktop as a guide here (it’s cluttered with jpegs I grab and don’t file). Some of this stuff I intend to write more about at some point, hopefully this week. But for the time being, and in the interest of cleaning up my desktops - mental and computorial (alas, not the physical one), the following assortment of jpegs, links, etc…
Sharon Stone visits Marina Abramovic at MOMA. I think I like this photo because I imagine Sharon Stone, the real, middle-aged woman, getting up, putting her hair back, going to a museum, committing to an unfamiliar art experience just like everyone else, open to it, unjaded. Maybe I just like thinking about this other person, this other Sharon Stone, whoever she is. Other than that, she just looks beautiful anyway, more so for the absence of make-up. The whole photo series (in which you’ll see some other recognizable faces) is fascinating just as a display of physiognomic variety. Okay, there is a white majority, but there might also be a female majority (as well as a fairly high quotient of art schoolers, if I’m any judge). As Ingmar Bergman knew, close-ups are always interesting - we never tire of the human face. Jerry Saltz, in his review of the exhibit, alert to this so-intrinsic-you-almost-miss-it content: “Abramovic gets you to understand why many animals hate being looked at by humans. There’s something powerful and uncanny and pure about an unbroken gaze.”
Marina Abramovic herself, on the other hand… I’m not sure. If an up or down thumb were asked of me (just supposing), I don’t know which way I’d go. From photos I’ve seen and especially reading the online buzz about this exhibit, I can’t help feeling that were seeing self-imposed suffering and a strange kind of projected sainthood as spectacle, which makes me really uncomfortable about it. I’m not saying there’s nothing else there, just that that side of it, which is fundamental, annoys me. This I’ve been wanting to write more about, but I’m trying not to simply respond with my gut, my cynical gut, on this. I’m trying to give it the benefit of the doubt.
One thing that has to be positive (or does it?): people are talking about it, and talking about art. One discussion I found particularly interesting was the one below Jerry Saltz’s brief article for New York. I didn’t think the article itself was anything special, but Saltz held court on his own comments board, defending himself against a typically antagonistic crowd of posters and laying out not only a defense of the exhibit but practically a statement of principles for his critical practice. Frankly, I liked Jerry the engaged commenter more than Jerry the critic this time.
Still on the Abramovic topic…
Apparently, one performer in the show was dismissed for penile misconduct (ie. erection) at the family-friendly institution. Reading the metafilter messageboard, I came across this disquieting but ripe-for-John Waters-satire art-school tale:
“In one of my drawing classes we had a male model and a physiotherapist with a pack of Crayola washable markers for a lesson in anatomy: The physio used different colors to outline various muscle groups (e.g., the deltoid) and then had the model move to demonstrate how the muscle contracted and bulged in various ways (e.g., lifting his arm caused the deltoid to get shorter and wider, and this was easily visible with purple outline and contour lines). Very useful demonstration, except that for the entire three hours, the model had a full erection, and a slow dribble of semen; occasionally he’d make a furtive gesture to wipe it away. Bizarrely, we all sat there for all three hours, pretending this wasn’t happening. On break, we made jokes about the leaky model, and then returned. In retrospect I think that it was the peculiar atmosphere of art school: This is art, and this the body, and everything it does (and that comes out of it) is natural and nothing to be ashamed of. So we spent three hours watching a man ejaculate. Fortunately that model wasn’t invited back.”
Recent Chris Ofili paintings. Still trying to find out what’s going on in these private little affairs. I kind of like them though.
Old Comme des Garcons. Lumps and Bumps, 1997.
Elizabeth Murray: The Lowdown. I was thinking about Murray and Bruce Nauman, two artists whose (totally polar) work didn’t appeal to me at first blush at all but which I’ve come to love. It’s nice to have your taste pried open now and again, to have to broaden your definition of what art is and what the right thing to do is.
Fischli and Weiss, on the other hand, has always worked for me. (A midpoint between Murray and Nauman?) They seem fun when so much art has forsworn that frivolous commodity. They’re coming to Kanazawa for their first solo show in Asia in September. Can’t wait!
Speaking of fun, here’s its opposite: the new International Style. Who made these paintings? No. Guess again? No. No, you’re never going to get it. They’re by Adrian Ghenie. But it could have been any one of a hundred artists (let alone countless hundreds of students) making paintings like this right now. A little bit Tuymans, a little Neo Rauch - I don’t know the exact recipe, but I know I see this everywhere and it’s already intensely lame. Let me guess: they’ve something to do with memory, history, and dreams. Very well done, and drab, drab, drab.
30 Rock: the best thing being produced by the United States right now? Jane Krakowski (as Jenna Maroney) - and not Alec Baldwin - the best part of the show?
Every month near my apartment there’s a market for antiques, junk, etc. Who knows what this item is for? I guess I’d hope it’s for displaying clothes. But weird.
New Bolano story in the New Yorker. Strange and thrilling reading.
I’m afraid of the future of Joan Rivers. Could her face be the apocalypse?
Before I launch into another fashion post, let me start by saying that I don’t go to fashion shows, I don’t go to stores and buy clothes or handle them. I look at runway photos. They’re frontal views and they have to fit into the frame of a twenty inch screen. I’ve started, over the last few years, paying attention to fashion the same way I started getting into film, painting, and every other art form I have, simply following my nose, whose zealotry for creativity in its many forms I trust to steer me right. What kind of art fashion is and how it stands up against others are thorny questions and seem to me a little vulgar, a little ungrateful in this fledgling state of my interest. But one definition of art is creativity that supercedes the demands of function and, going by that definition, though it’s a pretty broad one, the shows I’ve been looking at would absolutely classify. And who cares whether its art or not, for that matter.
The thing I’ve been struck by reading fashion reviews and blogs is how similar the language is to that used to talk about other arts. Actually, its often quite a bit better. It’s brief, describes the pieces, makes a few aesthetic calls, and entertains. But the concerns are the same. It’s about innovation, influence, history, futurity, and of course, the voracious present. That it’s for sale should hardly trouble our consciences; all art is business these days, nothing gets done without a glance toward the market. At least fashion designers are forthright about it - demonstrably, if not always in word: to listen to their interviews, you wouldn’t necessarily know it.
Sarah Mower’s reviews for Style.com have been wonderful: crisp, opinionated, breezy, and all within a few hours of seeing the shows. By way of killing two birds with one stone, I’m going to paste in two of her reviews, of two shows I was looking at a couple weeks ago, when I meant to post this. I still mean to get around to posting my own comments, such as they might be, on a few of the shows, but, you know, in the meantime, somebody who knows what they’re talking about…
To take a lead now in the headlong rush and cacophony of multi-platform fashion-news generation, it takes a clear mind to figure out what women want, and what we’re lacking. And, far more radically, to address aspects of the system that have been (to say the least) annoying the hell out of many. Miuccia Prada did that today with a calm shrug.
“It’s normal clothes,” she said backstage before her show. “Classics. Revising the things I did in the nineties.” Behind her, models, hair done up in sixties beehives, were changing. Among them were Doutzen Kroes, Catherine McNeil, Lara Stone, and Miranda Kerr, young women whose relatively curvaceous beauty has generally exempted them from being cast as exemplars of female gorgeousness on runways such as Prada’s for the past few years.
The clothes themselves were a deliberate, and quietly humorous, compliment to the womanly. If it’s the possession of breasts that’s been bothering model-casting agents for the past few years, this collection was a nightmare scenario for them. The ample bust was the unavoidable focal point of the silhouette, picked out in balconies of lace ruffles and upstanding pointy-bra formations on raised-waist, wide-skirted dresses and coats. Any girl on the runway who didn’t have the natural Bardot-esque equipment was bestowed with it by means of frothy fabric placements, but the eye naturally migrated to the ones who did. The others, young and pretty as they are, marched on in the usual kind of anonymity. In fashion, appreciating the exceptional is always more interesting.
Model politics apart, this was not a one-issue shape-lib show. For aficionados, the collection was, as the designer promised, a thorough revisiting of Prada’s strengths. She worked the house double-face cashmere into flattering dance-skirted fifties-sixties dresses and skirts, detailed jackets and coats with double-layered collars of cable knit and fur, cut A-line skirts in patent leather, and reprised her signature scratchy-grid prints. Then she broke into an extended riff on Prada knitwear, made into tweedy peacoat-ed suits and chunky belted sweaters. By the time she sent out black coats, smothered with jet embroidery, the entire repertoire of brand Prada—down to the pointy pumps and kooky tweedy socks—had been refreshed and reconsolidated.
It was nice to see that Prada envisages this being worn by women other than the zombie army of teen models that has roamed her runway recently—and that has influenced others to mimic that uniform aesthetic. Customers, she can be assured, will like that shift—but will it have a bigger ripple effect than that? Miuccia Prada is a fashion-industry influencer. Let’s see who scrambles to follow the leader.
Comme des Garcons
Rei Kawakubo is at her most effusive when she gives two words rather than one to account for a collection. “Inside decoration” was her description for Fall, but that still leaves a lot of room for others to stab around at what the clothes looked like, and what they were about. If indeed they can be said to beabout anything other than an exercise in pure form.
Pillow-form outcrops of padding placed on shoulders, hips, backs, and bodices were the essence of Kawakubo’s experiments this time. In resolute defiance of conventional notions of female body enhancement, they added bulk and heft to all the places fashion avoids if it seeks to flatter and make sexy—two things that have never been part of the job description Kawakubo has accepted. We are on different terms here, forced into the field of the visual associations the designer triggers, rather than struggling to sum it up in the usual ways.
It’s funny where the mind goes when that happens. What, for instance, were the coiled sections of interior padding arranged between waist and knee in garments that can loosely—very loosely—be described as shorts? Were they something akin to the folds of a shar-pei’s skin, or (dare we think it?) a reference to intestines? Then, when Kawakubo turned from black to white, were the smooth, undulating mounds on the skirts starting to look like freshly fallen drifts of snow? Beautiful, but was it intended?
For students of Comme des Garçons, the hunchbacked and pigeon-breasted zones of wadding might be reminiscent of the notorious “lumps and bumps” collection of Spring 1997. That landmark work has kept fashion theoreticians writing treatises ever since, but it’s never been satisfactorily explained, and certainly no further elucidation has ever come from Kawakubo. Her work is only ever offered as a fashion Rorschach test, within which we find out about what discomfits, annoys, confounds, and maybe tickles us when our expectations are denied. In the age of instant communication from shows, the impenetrability of Kawakubo’s design at this particular moment might also be construed as a piece of passive resistance to dumbed-down commentary. Capture this one in 140 characters, Twitterati!
Speaking of Prada, I kind of have to give it to this ad for its spring 2010 campaign. The music, the less-than-24 fps video, the way the logo is stamped on the screen every twenty seconds, almost parodic in branding it, and the clothes, too - all cool, in that slightly dirty (for being too clean), commodity-fetishist sense.
Kawakubo Rei, Comme des Garçons
“I am not conscious of any intellectual approach as such. My approach is simple. It is nothing other than what I am thinking at the time I make each piece of clothing, whether I think it is strong and beautiful. The result is something that other people decide.”
Yeah, I admit it - I’ve been a smalltime fashion follower for the last several years, in as much as looking at pictures of runway shows for a few weeks out of the year is following fashion. It may have started from reading New Yorker style issue profiles of Rick Owens, Marc Jacobs, Alber Elbaz, etc, and then been nurtured watching Project Runway, one of the more talent-based and least cold-blooded reality shows out there. Whatever the origin of my interest was, because I know almost nothing about it, fashion holds the same fascination for me that jazz had when I first heard it and had no idea what was going on, what was good or bad, or what the rules were. One thing I know is that my fascination has nothing to do with clothing. It’s got more to do with, as I said, my remoteness from it, which makes it a mysterious and wonderful thing, with seeing imagination and far-flung craftsmanship find their way through the cracks of business (some people might balk at the idea of fashion being an art form, but is it any different from the film industry?), and with seeing how the shows themselves are sometimes like a kind of sullen, decadent theatre.
Comme des Garçons, Spring 2010.
Among the handful of designers that I’ve been watching over the last several seasons is Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons. I guess you’d say her designs are way off in the conceptual corner of the industry. I have yet, anyway, to see anyone wearing anything remotely as alien on the street - and I live in Japan. Her Spring 2009 collection had geometric, architectural forms, and white wigs like down feathers bursting out of these black egg-like shapes; Fall 2009 saw cocoon-like wraps tightened around everything, somewhat constricting, but beautiful, like latter-day kimonos (video, part one here and part two here). The Spring 2010 clothes are hard to describe. Would it be an insult to say that some of the dresses look like aleatoric upholstery? The NY Times’ Cathy Horyn, an obvious fan, does a better job talking about them:
“Some of the collaged jackets and tailcoats consisted of more than 20 pieces of different fabrics: gray pinstripes, dotted velvet, brocades, black sequined scraps. And many of the pieces were shaped like a tailored shoulder, as if Ms. Kawakubo had collected the discarded shoulders in her studio. If you’ve ever seen such pieces lying around in a studio, you will know what I mean when I say they seem to possess their own energy.”
Comme des Garçons, Fall 2009.
Comme des Garçons, Spring 2009.
Here is a short interview with Kawakubo, from which the quote at the top is taken, in Interview magazine. And here, if you can be bothered reading it in a flickr set, is a 2005 New Yorker article. Equally difficult to read, a big jpeg of a little interview in Vogue from 1987. She has a way of striking a tone at once modest and self-effacing and curtly haughty in interviews - and why shouldn’t she, I guess; a self-made bottom-up success, knows where she started and how she got where she is. A couple more little bits from the interviews:
“It’s not personality. It’s hard work. When Estée Lauder accepted her achievement award at the Fashion Group last fall she said she didn’t get where she got by chance. She worked. It’s the same with me. I worked hard every day. That’s all it is - a lot of hard work.”
“It would have more meaning for me to hear what critics have to say if their values and their ways of living were deeper and more serious.”
“There is surely worth in making simple things, and there is worth when utility is the concept. But art need not be bourgeois, necessarily. There is nothing bourgeois, for example, about hair artist Julien d’Ys great creation for this collection, where hair, hat, and makeup become one.”
“Comme des Garçons has always traveled at its own pace and will continue to do so. In good times and bad times the company is more or less the same.”
Stuff I’m reading on the internet today
Nice thumbnail review of Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles by Richard Brody.
A short Lawrence Weschler sketch in the New York Review of Books about David Hockney’s foray into iphone art. It’s interesting how Hockney’s gone from being the darling of the so-called British pop-art movement to being a genuine outsider artist, basically by going wherever his impulses and enthusiasms lead him. I give him credit for that, even when the results don’t always do much for me. Lawrence Weschler is a great essayist and has written about Hockney before - about an earlier Hockney “side-passion”, photography - in his book Vermeer in Bosnia.
Speaking of following your interests where they lead you, I’ve kind of been enjoying (guiltily - I’m Manitoban) reading about the world of fashion and looking at runway photos for the past few years. Today, that’s a little like reading the obituaries as Lindsay Lohan is taking an awful - and probably much deserved - beating (biff, pop, boom, bam, smack, bang, etc.) in the media and in twitter buzz for her first collection at the helm of Emanuel Ungaro. “Her first collection” and “at the helm” are relative, I suppose; she worked together with a designer, Estrella Archs, so that begs the question, What was she? According to the early press, she brought the cheapness and the skankiness. This picture itself tells the unhappy story…
priceless anecdotes drawn from my real experiences and souvenir jpegs of lost time
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