Thursday, February 04, 2010

Isabel Toledo and Bravo TV

So I've been reading about Isabel Toledo. I also read about her losing Vogue/CFDA Award to Trovata. The book, thankfully, doesn't shy away from saying about how biased fashion is against women -- which is especially tragic, since this is one of the very few industries that heterosexual men have, for the most part, left to women and gay men. And even here, we see women constantly devalued.

Kell on Earth, the new Bravo show with Kelly Cutrone (the owner of PR firm People's Revolution) is an interesting illustration of this. On one hand, Kelly is an epitome of a strong-headed, decisive business owner; on the other, consistently through the first episode when a female employee made a mistake, she was chewed out; when a man did, women covered for him. This article confirms this general impression: Kelly herself gushes about the men in the office, while presenting women as silly worriers. Interestingly, in this show as well as Bravo's Rachel Zoe Project, men are seen mostly preening and discussing their lives, while women are seen doing the actual work. I am curious to see if this pattern holds throughout the series.

Anyway, back to Toledo. In the interviews, she frequently refuses the label "designer" and calls herself a dressmaker or a seamstress; her rationale for that is that the dressmaker is the one who knows and understands fabrics, what they can and cannot do; the seamstress is the one who constructs clothes (Toledo herself is also somewhat of an engineer). Some of her jersey dresses are built from very soft, drapey fabric suspended from thick twisting seams -- very much like bridges. It takes KNOWING how to sew, to make stuff like that. The designers who just sketch and hand the sketch over to an atelier cannot do that.

And speaking of: Launch My Line had its finale Wednesday. This show highlighted for me that the 'designers' on it were of the sketching variety, with actual work done by someone else; people who can imagine a piece of clothing but not make it, who have no idea of the fabrics' capabilities. Those are the people who WANT to be called designers -- the artists, the visionaries, not seamstress or dressmakers (not to mention, the latter two terms are deeply gendered. The seamstresses are commonly devalued because they are female.) The result is somewhat bland, predictable, and what judges call "on trend" -- which is a generous term that describes the same stuff you see everywhere, from Tobi to Black Label to Target. Merle's convertible line was more interesting than the others, but she didn't win. The other two were mini dresses for the clubbing scene and the maxi and day dresses in simple shapes and bright colors. The latter won -- it's pretty good, but it's by no means unique. And really, how can you infuse a garment with personality if all you know about clothes is what you've seen on the runway or on celebrities?

This celebrity- and hype-driven fashion, the endless trends, is also something Toledo spoke out against. She doesn't do fashion shows; after seeing Kell on Earth, I can see why. The seating discussion was funny -- they cannot seat Vogue and Harper's Bazaar people next to each other because they're competitors; they cannot seat Us mag people behind celebrities because the tabloid reporters would eavesdrop. The seating chart is a great exercise in managing egos, and most of it has nothing to do with fashion. Isabel Toledo said that in the times where everyone shouts, she would remain silent; after watching Bravo, I can see why.

No comments: