Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Simon Doonan is a feminist

The titular conclusion is the result of my reading Simon Doonan's ECCENTRIC GLAMOUR: Creating an Insanely More Fabulous You. As the name suggest, this is a book on style, but it is oh so much more than that.

First of all, Mr. Doonan is a clever man who enjoys a well-turned phrase, and who is honest to a fault. After lamenting pornification of mass culture in general and women's fashion in particular, he presents a shocking notion: that women should dress to please themselves rather than men around them. He talks about his experience on America's Next Top Model, and observes that it has never occurred to the contestants that a) clothes send a message about who you are and thus a prime vehicle for personal expression; b) clothes can express anything other than sexual availability or "a general commitment to porn industry".

He then takes a few swipes at the multitude of products that promise to reduce fine wrinkles and lines, and correctly traces the problem to Hollywood. He also points out that Hollywood actresses/models HAVE to look young, otherwise their careers are over -- a limitation most regular women do not have (although he DOES overlook the fact that even for the regular women so much value is placed on looks that this pressure exists -- although not in terms of employment.)

He talks about the looks-ist fashion industry and the loss of joy in fashion, and all the while encourages the reader to develop on individual (preferably eccentric) personal style -- and as such, the book is light on practical advice (because how do you write a How-To for something so deeply personal?), but offers a few well-chosen and startlingly appealing suggestions, like buying a crate of lipstick. Why? Read the book, he explains it better than I could. He advocates including burritos with goody bags at fashion shows and discourages female proctologists from wearing Comme des Garcons while on duty. Believe me, it all makes sense.

Then there are interviews with people who achieved that fabulously individual eccentric glamour -- Tilda Swinton and Isabel Toledo, my personal favorites, were included and their interviews (as well as a slew of others, not limited to women -- Hamish Bowles, for one, is also featured) offered a marvelous perspective on style and individuality, and the relation between the two.

So the book is funny (with chapters titled "Frenchwomen Don't Know Diddly" and "Dressing Down Is a Crime Against Humanity", how could it not be?) and cooky and all sorts of cool, but what struck me after I finished it is how deeply and unconsciously feminist it is. Mr. Doonan doesn't dwell much on patriarchal oppression -- he only encourages women to focus on expressing themselves rather than pleasing others, on shunning all sorts of mandates; he talks about exercise but doesn't demand weight loss, he seems frustrated with fashion industry's self-importance and disdain for regular women. And regardless of whether one might get inspired to start wearing conceptual fashion or decide that self-expression through clothes is not one's thing, one can take away from this book a firm believe that it is all right to buckle the trends and go against the mainstream.

(Thanks a lot to Deb Layne for the tip).

Friday, September 25, 2009

Friday Miscellannea

1. LAST DRINK BIRD HEAD is a charity anthology, available for pre-order here

It features EIGHTY amazing writers (Peter Straub, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Brian Evenson, Henry Kaiser, Gene Wolfe, Hal Duncan, Rikki Ducornet, Holly Phillips, Stephen R. Donaldson, K.J. Bishop, Michael Swanwick, Ellen Kushner, Daniel Abraham, Jay Lake, Liz Williams, Tanith Lee, Sarah Monette, Conrad Williams, Marly Youmans, Jeff Ford among others), is edited by the power duo of Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, and contains my story based on an actual Coptic recipe for curing blindness. It's gruesome!

2. Last night's episode of Project Runway demonstrated several things: first, designers are usually not good at storytelling. Seriously, people. Vampires? Alien females looking for men? Ugh. Second, despite a bad story, Ra'mon's dress suited his concept and he didn't deserve to go home. As much as it pains me to admit, Louise (who was one of my early favorites) didn't come through this week. Thirdly, judges should lay off Gordana. The woman can sew, her personality comes across in her workmanship, and... at this point it looks like they're just picking at her for NO REASON. Fourthly, there was one good concept paired with the design that should've won: Epperson's. Loved the deconstructed denim ball gown with a corset/obi belt and a gun hidden in the ruffly underskirts. Looooved it. You go, Epperson!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Monday and PR

1. Project Runway: Johnny learned the hard way that lying when a) cameras are rolling and b) a bunch of people are witnessing the lie tends to not work out. Irina won -- I liked her coat on principle although I wish she painted it.

Gordana should've been in top three, not the bottom three, as her garment was pretty and really well made, and didn't look like paper.

I also like Logan's bamboo dress, but not as much as Ra'mon's patterened separates, with a really interesting color combo:

I didn't like Johnny's and Nicolas's (Nicolas should be next to go), and Epperson's looked ok close up, but walking down the runway it looked like a poncho/cape thing a kid would make by folding a newspaper in half.

Shirin's thing could've been ok with application of some color (also, she is chatty. The rest of the designers: get over it. I felt awful for Shirin when everything she said was met with stony silence, and it in turn made her to talk more -- totally a nervous thing, looks like.) The rest were not memorable enough to comment upon.

2. I have a new favorite designer -- Marcus Constable. Just look at his latest collection, inspired by Aubrey Beardsley (according to Fashionista). I love Beardsley -- in fact, have loved him since I was sixteen, and learned to draw by copying (not tracing) his drawings by hand. Anyway, here's the Constable show:

3. I finished the longest short story I've ever written -- 9,000 words. I also like it a lot. Hope it sells.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

New story is up

"Fungal Gardens" is up at Apex Magazine website. It's mostly about evil fungi. People told me it's creepy.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Oh, Project Runway.

So last night episode sported a bizarre judging panel: first, Michael Kors is gone, and now Nina Garcia sent in a replacement (I did watch "Running in Heels", so seeing Zoe Glassner gave me warm fuzzies). But designer-wise, could they find someone less obscure? Who was that guy?

Anyway, important part:

Althea won with this:

I do really like the cut of this little jacket, although am less crazy about the skirt. Also, a grey top is perhaps safe, but I love grey-black combo.

However, the two dresses that I liked a lot didn't make it into top three. Clearly, the judges fault.

First, Gordana surprised and delighted with this peach dress:

I like the simplicity of the cut a lot, as well as the braided detailing in the center. It also moved really well. Lovely, all in all.

Finally, Nicolas also surpassed my expectations. Until last night, I didn't like any of his designs, but this is just so classic and pretty. The tall collar is an especially great detail.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Short Story Sale

My story "You Dream" will appear in DARK FAITH anthology, edited by the illustrious Maurice Broaddus.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Around the blogosphere: an irregular series

One of my favorite fashion blogs is The Sartorialist, who recently posted some commentary regarding Lizzy Miller, a plus-sized model who made an appearance in Glamour.

As expected, the responses ranged from "good for her" to "OMG she's so unhealthy" (because you can totally determine someone's state of health just by looking at them. Take note, medical establishment). However, I would like to skirt around the Miller herself (who is a beautiful person) and talk a little bit about a) the role fashion models are currently playing in the society; b) the relationship between fashion industry and a (larger) female body.

a) There seems to be quite a bit of angst directed at models -- for being too thin, for not being thin enough, for being unhealthy, for setting an unrealistic ideal etc etc. And the "ideal" bit is, IMO, the core of the issue -- we have elevated models from their job of looking on runway and having their picture taken while showcasing clothing to role models. And this is really it: we don't feel anxious and inadequate when faced with doctors, for example, because there's no expectation for us all to be able to perform an occasional surgery. However, models shifted from representatives of a certain profession to representatives of the entire womankind.

And once that happens, arguments that "models should be thin to walk runway and make clothes look pretty" become moot: we've decided that they are more than that. So if we're going to treat models as representatives of all women, yes, more size diversity would be awesome. OTOH, if they are just to do their modeling job, than one body type best suited for it is perfectly fine. It's when we conflate the two that the anxieties start.

b) Another question asked in The Sartorialist post is "However, do you think that this economic crisis has forced the fashion community to open it's eyes a little bit to what the customers want?"

Which is a good question, but the underlying assumption seems to be that models are intermediaries between the consumer and the fashion industry -- ambassadors if you will, and a plus-sized model is ostensibly a signal that the industry is ready to embrace a larger consumer.

Which is a terribly roundabout way, don't you think? How about making clothes in sizes bigger than 10 (a common cutoff point for many designers.) Women in sizes 12+ might not necessarily NEED a model representing them, although that part is nice. What they need are clothes they can fit into. And as one retailer after another is dropping plus sizes or moves them to internet only status (looking at you, Old Navy), the message is clearly the opposite:fashion industry hates fat so much that it would shoot itself in the foot. Instead of reaching out to potential consumers, they tell women in sizes 12+: "You are so disgusting that I would rather go out of business than dress you." So their pleas about suffering under recession will ring hollow, as long as they continue to ignore a significant portion of their customers. As much as I like Lizzie Miller, I don't think she can change that -- the fashion industry has to go beyond gestures to actual, you know, clothes.