Monday, September 01, 2014

Almost Sweater Weather!

Wouldn't you know it, as soon as I want to do a fall fashion post, temperatures jump to 90F. Not so much sweater weather, although this past week has been hopeful: brisk mornings that required a sweatshirt on my usual walk to and from the gym, and the air had this crisp quality I love so much, with the under-taste of apples and yellow leaves. Oh well,the fall is on pause for now, but to celebrate this almost-fall, I'd like to talk about almost-sweaters.

I love cashmere and wool, and the heavy fluid knits in oversized and shrunken silhouettes. But lately my concept of sweaters has expanded to include the sort of in-between garments that are not quite jackets, not quite knits, and yet they are worn as toppers and technically can substitute for either. Here are some favorite pieces:

COS pullover: it is made in woven wool, with a beautiful drape. Wears like a suit, with an ease of a sweater -- perfect with a collared shirt and dress pants.
 Isabel Marant boiled wool jacket. Even though it is technically a jacket, the fabric (thick, soft and woolly) has the give of a knit. During last winter's polar vortex, I layered it under coats, and never looked back.

Shockingly versatile double-faced wool piece by Protagonist. The wool is thick and structured, so that this pullover has an architectural character, and yet functions like a knit. I lived in it last winter and cannot wait to start wearing it again. Here it is at the American Museum of Natural History:

(Layered over Protagonist silk top, with Carin Wester trousers and Emerson Fry trainers).

Recently, I added another piece to my collection of these liminal garments: a wool and suede jacket by Primerova. It is an open jacket in very soft, grey heavy fabric reminiscent of a thick grandpa cardigan. Suede inserts on the shoulders and suede self-belt give it added character, and it can be layered over shirts, t-shirts, other knits, or worn on its own. In the pictures below, I am wearing it with Alexander McQueen belt (it's the one from Spring 2013 beekeeper-themed collection, and I am obsessed with it! There are tiny jeweled bees on the buckle.)

Shoes are Alexander Wang, and the skirt is from Viktor Luna's sample sale. I like the slightly messy look of the jacket here, but of course it can be worn in a more structured way. So I will count among my versatile almost-sweaters (or not-quite jackets), and cannot wait for the temperatures to cool off enough to wear it with long-sleeve t-shirts and tweed pants. Here's to hoping for a long and cool September!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Why Outfit Posts?

(Top -COS, pants- Theyskens Theory, shoes - Maje). Minimal and clean look; I am really in love with these pants -- they are made of really structured heavy silk, and thus are simultaneously very tailored and very fluid. Also, being short and wide, they are not traditionally flattering, but I do love the way they look, especially with this boxy top in structured cotton. 

For the longest time, I avoided doing outfit pics. Partly because to me fashion blog means talking about fashion at large; outfit snaps seem to indicate personal style blogs to my eye. Most fashion blogs nowadays seem to be personal style ones, where the main focus is on the pics and not a whole lot of actual analysis going on.

This blog tended in the opposite direction: I talk a lot about emerging and/or international designers, about intersection between garment industry and social justice, between fashion and cultural dominance of the West. I also talk about sartorial visibility of the other and sartorial invisibility of women over 40; I talk about feminists that curiously seem to share the general contempt toward all things traditionally feminine, including fashion and clothes, with cis straight men. Diluting this with outfit pictures seemed unnecessary until recently. And that brings me to my second reason.

Talking about all this is important, sure, but I also started to think that maybe I need to show some of it as well. After all, I am a cultural outsider, an academic, a woman over 40 - all of those not terribly common in the personal style blogosphere. And as I grapple with (in)visibility of all these categories, it seemed fitting to show myself.

I don't think that I have any insights or advice to offer when it comes to styling. But I do hope to have a visual record of what I wear on a daily basis. These are mostly work outfits; my wardrobe is a mix of small indie labels, designer stuff from seasons past, vintage, and fairly little high street. This is my backyard, and a lot of the pictures are taken before going to work or after getting home. And these are the clothes in which I  negotiate academic and outsider spaces. Putting them here feels a bit strange, a bit vulnerable. And this too is an important reason, perhaps. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Outfit of the day-Sunday

I decided to start making more regular outfit posts, highlighting pieces by favorite designers. It's a change for this blog, and I will probably try to verbalize some of the reasons for it as (if) I continue. Short version: visibility.

Today, I'm wearing a blouse by PRIMEROVA (see the post on Moscow Shopping for details). Pants are APC, and the shoes are my trusty Miu Miu slingbacks - they are five years old, and simply don't seem to wear out! The topper is by Emerson Fry, another indie designer that staked out a permanent place in my closet. The belt is vintage Jill Stuart. I've been trying to play with patterns and textures a bit; I like the effect although it is not quite my usual minimal and mostly achromatic aesthetic.

I rarely wear makeup in my outfit pictures- this is by design. While I do wear some basic makeup for work (tinted moisturizer, blush, lipstick or tinted balm), in pictures I prefer to look less polished. I am not sure why that is, but I have a sense that it feels less staged this way. Anyway, here're the pics! 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Morality of Health

There was much of outpouring of grief regarding Robin Williams' suicide; there was also much (needed) talk about how people with depression are stigmatized, and how suicide is not a failure but the very tragic outcome of a serious illness. I am glad this conversation is happening, but I cringe every time when someone says "They would never say that about someone who died of cancer", because they would and they DO. We live in the society that has made health a moral obligation, and illness a moral failure (which makes death downright embarrassing, and this is I guess why we cart off our dead in night to funeral homes).

We frame talk of disease in terms of fighting a war. We talk about the power of positive thinking. We assign blame. (Oh, you have diabetes? Are you overweight? Oh, you have colon cancer? Were you eating enough fiber? etc etc.) It is bad: if you or someone you love have been diagnosed with a serious illness, most everyone you know will share a personal anecdote about their cousin/friend/friend's cousin who was diagnosed with (some unspecified) cancer and was given six months to live (always six months for some reason), but who prayed/thought positive thoughts/ate macrobiotic diet and was "cured", and then all doctors were amazed and called it a miracle. The story never changes -- even wording is the same. It's the all-penetrating meme that masquerades as a concerned friend offering hope but in reality it is simply another manifestation of the virulent idea that you are responsible for your own health, and if you die of cancer, it is because you were not positive-thinking hard enough.

It comes I think from what David Ehrenfeld called "the arrogance of humanism": the persistent belief that humans are in control of their minds, bodies, environment, and therefore we can fix things when they go wrong. Combine it with the libertarian love of "personal responsibility" and boostrapping, so much promoted by the wealthy and other dominant groups. They want everyone to be self-reliant, so that the governments do not have to support the poor and the sick. Poverty and ill-health are a lot alike in some regards: everyone would like the poor and the sick to just go away, or at least have the decency and admit it's their own fault. Meanwhile, of course neither illness nor poverty are ever the fault of the afflicted persons. And of course they overlap a lot. It is amazing how convinced we become by this rhetoric.

You can see that in many facets of weight-loss campaigning, the implication being that it is not about aesthetic preferences of the society (it is) but because of concern about fat people's health (it isn't). And it is common knowledge that doctors routinely discriminate against overweight patients (especially women), assigning every illness to their being overweight, and recommending weight-loss as panacea. Those who die from complications of bariatric surgeries are treated as (ultimate irony) obesity-related deaths. And the death of a fat person is a double failure: failure to control flesh and failure to effectively battle illness. No matter what happens to an overweight person will be their fault, and they will be chastised by concern-trolling strangers for every trespass, no matter how small -- eating in public or having the gall to have high blood pressure.

So here we are, when every person diagnosed with cancer is "fighting bravely" and often "losing the battle with cancer". Every newly diagnosed will be gently questioned about their life choices to ascertain what was the cause of their illness (and if they were simply too poor to move away from a toxic dump near their birthplace, well that's just too bad). Because people are reluctant to embrace the fact that misfortune -- health-related or financial -- is often random, and might strike anyone at any time. no matter how many servings of vegetables they eat per day. Depression and other mental illness is no different: it is stigmatized, just like most other chronic illnesses, and it is attributed to something the person who has it had done wrong. Admitting the randomness would mean realizing that it could strike us, regardless of how many things we do to guard against it. And this fear, I think, is the ultimate cause of the failure of empathy and humanity that manifests every time someone calls Robin Williams a coward. Death is never a failure, but it is always sad.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Moscow Shopping

I have recently came back from Moscow, where I did a bit of shopping for clothes -- not something I usually do while there, because the prices generally tend to be a bit high, and I usually get jewelry or souvenirs. However, this time around I happened to stumble upon a couple of store that carry designers (Russian as well as Scandinavian) not readily available in the US, at the prices I can live with. And oh! I visited Razu.Mikhina showroom (I wrote about her designs previously here.) Not to mention, I got to meet Daria herself, which was a thrill all of itself.

Daria's showroom is located in the Vinzavod -- a center for contemporary art in downtown Moscow, filled with art galleries and indie stores, and shops for art supplies and little cafes.

The place has a really great energy, and Razu Mikhina showroom fits right in. Here are some pictures of the showroom as well as the workroom upstairs, which houses fabrics and samples of seasons past:

 (Who has two thumbs, comes to the showroom full of the most colorful clothes ever, and buys the white shirt above? This guy!)


I very much enjoyed the visit, and besides above-mentioned white shirt, I also scored one of Daria's gorgeous crepe-de-chine dresses. Here it is in action on a recent vacation:

Elsewhere in downtown Moscow, I found two stores I haven't been previously aware of. One is Nomer 8 (Number 8), a lovely basement space in the very heart of downtown Moscow, near Chistye Prudy. Like many worthwhile places, it is hidden in one of many spacious yards, so you have to look for it:

Here it is!

Inside, there are racks and racks of clothes by a variety of Russian designers, most of whom are small, independent, or just starting out -- no Sergeenko or Gazinskaya here, and thankfully the prices are quite reasonable. 

Some pieces by Casa Della Luna (the fish stripe shirt and the sweatshirt below), Podolyan (I think), and Primerova:

 Of course I bought the sweatshirt. I also picked up a couple of pieces by Olga Primerova, who is probably my personal favorite discovery on this trip. Her designs are remarkable in that they combine somewhat old-fashioned romanticism (of the sort you would find in some of Sergeenko's designs) with modern practicality:

Consider this light-weight cotton blouse, made unique by organza trim along the stand-up collar. This long voluminous skirt (cotton) has pockets, and is just a perfect piece for pretty much any season:

(I got this one in black and white check, and it's amazing!)

Seriously, if you are ever in Moscow and want to check out some of the less known local designers, Nomer 8 is the place. Not to mention, it has a lovely ambiance, helpful sales staff, and a nice jewelry selection.

Finally, I wanted to mention Traffik -- located walking distance from Nomer 8, in case you're planning a big shopping excursion and want to see some of the loveliest ponds and boulevards of Moscow. 

It's a beautifully designed and well-curated two-storied space that carries men's and women's clothes by a number of smaller, non-obvious brands, mostly European. I was pleased to stumble upon a few Rodebjer pieces on sale. I do love Rodebjer aesthetic, but always balk at the full prices (and shipping costs), mostly because while the cuts are very nice, their fabrics tend toward synthetic. So I was thrilled to nab a pair of their fluid, drapey pants.

So here we are! These are the places I will be visiting every time I'm in Moscow. And if you are ever there and are a fashion addict, these are highly recommended. And if you are not and just want to pick up a few souvenirs, fun art objects or hand-made wallets, go to Vinzavod and spend an afternoon. And stop by OchevidnoeNeverojatnoe. Promise you won't regret it!

Saturday, March 22, 2014


(Kate Wendelborn, designer of Protagonist)

Last week, I was fortunate enough to visit The Apartment once again -- this time to preview the second Protagonist collection. I waxed poetic about this new label before; I will likely continue to do so for years to come, because it pretty much has everything I look for in clothes: timeless, simple silhouettes with interesting details; luxury fabrics; fluid, skimming cuts; and philosophy based on simplicity and paring down. I am intensely curious to see how the designer, Kate Wendelborn, will evolve the idea of simplicity. As is, the shapes, cut in thankfully substantial, dense fabrics (even the silk crepe feels dense rather than flimsy, with a distinct albeit subtle sheen) with a fairly basic (although by no means simplistic) silhouette are pretty near perfect. The tanks accommodate bra straps and the seams are angled; the backs are longer than fronts; the detailing, be it the narrow swath of fabric of a deconstructed turtleneck, or a double layered fabric, or a smocked cropped hemline, or eccentrically long cuffs (reminiscent of sleevelets of Dickensenian clerks) are not only aesthetically pleasing but also enhancing the drape of the fabric. Moreover, these details also seem to be well on their way to becoming the brand's signatures. So the clothes are not only gorgeous but also functional.

 (Clothes on the racks in The Apartment's dreamy closet)

The attention to detail always pleases me: for example, I noticed that the closures, that used to be invisible hooks in the first collection, are now buttons, and that the cuts are slightly roomier. Of course I tried on a few things, so here are some hazy dressing room selfies:

I was especially pleased to chat a bit with the designer herself; Kate Wendelborn won me over by the unabashed joy with which she talked about her collection. It is clear that she designs the sort of clothes she likes to wear (which, to me, is a huge reason for preferring female designers -- they actually give thought to comfort and wearabilty, although apparently in some circles it is seen as a detriment). She looked stunning in all white Protagonist ensemble, favoring a minimal and clean achromatic look (and I was thrilled to hear that she is going to expand into making pants.) She talked about her plans for the future (knitwear! Prints for people who don't wear prints! So exciting!) and her approach to sourcing quality fabrics, and this conversation got me thinking again: Protagonist's clothes are undoubtedly luxe, and yet quite down to earth, which seems to be not unusual lately (cf this article on Celine and sartorial invisibility.)

It seems to be a definite trend in current fashion that luxury is simplicity: with fast fashion retailers mimicking whatever walks down the runways in a matter of weeks, the trends are becoming irrelevant. Quality is manifesting in the simple cuts manufactured in good textiles, and this is something I've seen lately with smaller designers. While the large fashion houses often seem to increase their profit margins by employing cheap labor, outsourcing manufacturing, and choosing synthetic fabrics (I will be dead in the cold cold ground before I pay a three-figure sum for anything in poly), it is the smaller independent houses that take time to source high quality textiles. In case of Protagonist, the weight and the drape are divine, and not something that could ever be mistaken for Zara. 

I will probably have more to say on all of these things -- the undervalued women designers and the difference in invisibility between Celine and Normcore, and on quality of textiles becoming the main signifier of luxury as opposed to visible embellishments of the eighties. For now though, I just want to scroll through the lookbook for Protagonist's second season, and dream about their fall collection. because there is always something new to look forward to, especially in fashion.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Links a la Mode - Independent Fashion Bloggers

Honored to be included with this week's Independent Fashion Bloggers roundup! A few great posts here, and of course I appreciate my little blog being included again.



This week in fashion has been bittersweet. First we lost a very talented woman, L'Wren Scott. Then the end of a particularly brutal Winter, Spring has officially begun. It's the changing of the guard, endings and beginnings, reminding us that nothing is forever. We have several links that challenge both old ideas (racism, sexism, both) and how to bring in the new (setting our Spring budget, getting to the gym, improving our diets) and even a nicely written post sympathizing with Fashion Blogger's significant others -- they have it so hard putting up with us!

Links à la Mode: March 20th

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