Saturday, February 26, 2011

Oh, fashion industry pt. 11,285

Exhibit A: "Christian Dior has an unequivocal zero-tolerance policy regarding anti-Semitism and racism."

Exhibit B

Monday, February 14, 2011

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Ella Lai -- more clothes, with bonus politics

 Thanks to a recent nudge, I realized that I meant to review some Ella Lai pieces -- since this is where most of my clothing budget for the last few months went. The lapse was entirely due to my failure to actually photograph some of the detailing I meant to talk about, because while some pieces are quite self-explanatory, others require additional deconstruction.

Anyway, I have her white shirt, which is really the most amazing shirt I own -- after all my complaining about the impossibility of finding a good white shirt, Ella made me one.  Beautifully tailored, no gaping, stiff collar -- what else can you possibly want in a shirt? Also, the darting on it as such that it is clearly shaped for a female body, and yet avoids that typical fitted nipped-in at the waist look -- it looks like a dress shirt, and fits well.

Also, since I live in cropped wool pants, I got these -- also perfectly fitted, in thin stretchy wool. I love them to death -- also notice that the bottom of the pant leg is lined in black silk, so they can be rolled up and look like you meant it. The leather belt is also fun, and it is tied rather than buckled, giving it unusual (and jaunty!) look.

For more detailed review however, I will talk about three pieces that won me over by unique detailing. First up, this dress.It is very fitted, and what I especially love about it is the high horizontal seam below the bust and open pleat at the bust:

As you can imagine, it makes for a very good fit, without bagging or blousing or being too tight. The dress is fully lined in what feels like blended silk in a very pretty steel-gray color, with a kick pleat in the back -- so it's fitted, and yet plenty comfortable. ALso, notice that my version doesn't have the puffed sleeve. Customization!

Then there are these pants. They are awesomely slouchy, the bottom of the leg is lined in gray silk for nonchalant rolling (and I really do love that, because rolled pants CAN look like the wearer was just too lazy to hem; not so with beautiful silk lining!) Anyway, I love them:

(This is me at a conference in Atlanta, where I was wearing the hell out of these pants.) Not only they look good and are comfy, but they also have the best closure ever: two buttons. No zippers, nothing but two buttons:


And last but not least: my favorite jacket. Ella was kind enough to significantly modify a much longer gray jacket, to make mine camel, pure wool, shrunken, and perfect. The collar is lined in shantung silk, and can be worn up or down:

Of course, it is lined in blended silk, and as you can see from seaming and pocket detail, it is really well built. So my wool and silk uniform has been updated with some key pieces, all of which are classic and yet so originally and wittily constructed that they are never boring and really stand apart from all others.

And here's the thing. These pieces all run between $50 and $100, which might seem high if you're used to Target and Old Navy. But these items are designed by someone who cares deeply about her work and takes pride in her craftsmanship -- the attention to detail, the seam quality, the fabric selection (that's some nice wool on that jacket). Not to mention, these are made for your measurements. And considering this, these pieces are not at all expensive. I can email the person who is making them, we can discuss color swatches, she can change length or a sleeve shape or the neckline if I ask her to. The interaction with the person who makes your clothes is important: it gets one thinking about the practices in mass manufactured clothing, and the human rights and environmental abuses become more difficult to ignore.

And I get the usual argument of "$50 bucks will buy me 10 shirts in Walmart/Target/ON", I really do. I'd be a liar if I said that I don't own any ethically suspect pieces myself. And it takes experiences like this for me to realize that I like knowing where my clothes come from. I like knowing that were not made using child labor or that the manufacturer didn't completely ignore local environmental laws. It's the issue of price and cost, really: every cheap piece of clothing has a cost associated with it. Ten bucks is the price, but what is the cost in lost jobs in the US, in the exploited workers overseas, in the environmental damage -- herbicide pollution from cheap cotton production, eutrophication of lakes, desertification, salinization of soils... This is the sort of thing we all are paying for -- be it in increased medical cost, or lost wages, or decreased bargaining power as international conglomerates continue to increase their political influence. They call it externalization: for every sweatshop they build, they are the ones getting the profit, and we are left with splitting the cost and thinking that we somehow got the better of the bargain, because hey, a dress for the price of a latte!

So I'm trying really hard to ditch the mass-produced and stick to thrifted and handmade, with a dash of off-the-rack items from companies and designers who at least claim to care about ethics. And I don't think true quality is possible without it.