Friday, July 31, 2009


So recently I was thinking about importance of details in both fiction and clothing design. I guess it could be said about just any art, but these two have been on my mind lately.

Just reading work by the beginning writers, one notices that very frequently there's lack of texture -- that is, the details that would make story alive and interesting are not there. There are houses instead of, say, three story brownstones, and the protagonists get into cars instead of beat up hutchbacks with busted shocks. Everything is so vague and generic that there's nothing for the reader's mind to catch onto, words and sentence slide in and out meaningless, impressionless. Details not only give the fiction the sense of veracity, but also texture -- that variation between the piercing and soft, rough and smooth -- that makes any story worth reading.

Now, texture of course is very important in clothing. Textile arts, for example are pretty much entirely dedicated to texture and patterns, as can be seen here:

This is a shawl made by Vilte, a Lithuanian fiber artist who employs a unique felting technique to create this incredible detailed landscapes, using only one color. This is what texture does. And in fiction, one has to create texture with words -- that is, by definition, a very uniform medium. So the variation in texture -- syntax, sentence length, etc. is necessary to make the work interesting.

And I know I've been talking a lot about designer wear, and what makes it different. Attention to detail is what sets apart really special items of clothing, and designers who become famous do just that. For example, take this simple woolen shirt by Catherine Malandrino:

What makes it truly amazing is the sleeve detail, enlarged here:

The ruching there is just exquisite, and it's a small detail that makes this piece so different from everything else. Lesson for a fiction writer: a single embellishment may have a great impact.

Same idea here, on this Olga Kapustina's skirt: very simple silhouette, but notice the stitching on the waist:

Now look at this coat by Alexander Wang:

It's a woolen peacoat that drapes absolutely beautifully. The appeal here is in unexpected combination of a traditionally coat-like silhouette with a more sweater fabric. This little jolt of unexpected elevates both items of clothing and short stories above the average. A beautiful shape is a must. (

Embellishments in both fiction and design can get excessive, and in both cases the lavish decorations might work. For example, a blouse by Anna Sui:

Lots of lace and pleating and a bow. It works because the details, even though abundant, are not slapped on randomly but rather are very intentional:

Notice the curving edge of the lace, and how accurately it is fitted. (BTW, this blouse is being sold on ebay as we speak. Just saying.)

On the opposite end, something very spare can be very beautiful -- your simple prose equivalent:

This dress by Ports 1961 is very simply and cleanly cut, but also it has this cowl on the back:


Now, this is important for writers too: not all the work you've put into something should be out there, slapping the reader in the face. Some things will be subtle, visible only from certain angles, and yet it is those underpinnings, this almost-hidden craftsmanship that makes the whole hang together.

And some details remain hidden entirely, only to be discovered once one gets very close to a particular item. In fiction, we call them Easter eggs -- little unexpected surprises, inside jokes for those who are paying attention. You can get the same in clothing -- Betsey Johnson's work is a great example of little hidden images. This is what's on the lining of one of her raincoats:

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Fashion Show post-mortem

Well, I am pleased that Anna has won. I was a fan since show 2 and the pleated pencil skirt (to be fair, I am such a sucker for pencil skirts), and I was happy to see her get her due. A few pieces from the final collection are being sold on Bravo website, except that the dress I loved last week isn't there. Not that I would actually buy it, but I'm surprised that it was overlooked.

I was a bit sad for James-Paul, who is adorkable. I also loved him when he said that there's plenty of time to make sensible wearable clothes, but the runway show was his one chance to show his vision. I have a lot of respect for his integrity; I also liked how he resisted being molded, and that he was very explicit about how his cultural heritage and being a PoC affected his aesthetic sensibility. I sincerely hope that Comme des Garcons hires him. It's the house that comes to mind in terms of fitting his sensibilities without demanding a compromise. This is what I mean:

The rest of Fall 2009 RTW collection -- seriously, take a gander. Monochromatic and beautiful.

I was frankly surprised that Daniella was the judges' choices. I mean, I understand why -- she is young, she's on trend, and her clothes could be sold at Forever 21 tomorrow. And the show was supposed to be about wearability and daily utility (incidentally, this why it's not Project Runway -- totally different point). Still, while Anna stuff was beautifully constructed and pretty and fun and James-Paul's was just interesting and genius, Daniella's was neither. It was all right. She did a lot of shoulder pads, and she's 22 -- too young to actually remember the eighties. I don't think anyone who does could wear shoulder pads non-ironically. I guess at a show like that I want to see people either bucking the trend or inventing their own, not catering to the most recent and the most uninspired.

Overall, I enjoyed this season and I hope they come back. I also hope that they will learn not to make fun of people with accents. Seriously, Isaac Mizrahi.

Cover for the Czech edition of TSHoM

The Czech edition of The Secret History of Moscow now has a cover. Isn't it pretty?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Custom Jeans

About a month ago, I learned about free jeans for bloggers campaign by a startup company, Thimbler. I sent my URL, because hey, free jeans! Plus, they are custom-made. I was curious to see how much difference would custom fit make. Luckily, they accepted my bid and I headed to the website, to order jeans.

First, the website is awesome. Easy to navigate, it has a great plus-size section with a model who is actually plus-sized (bonus!) She is also a regular contributor to the company blog. Overall, the site gave the impression of being very friendly to plus-sized population, and they have a small but lovely selection of custom items. Also, 20% off right now! Just saying.

Anyway, jeans. The interface was quite user-friendly – you select your style and wash (I went with straight leg, dark wash) and then head over to the customization page. You enter some measurements (waist, hip, thigh, inseam/outseam) into provided boxes. Bonus: when you click on each box, it tells you how and where to measure, without a need for separate instructions page. I loved this little feature. After the measurements, you get to select fit – such as your hip shape (apple, pear, straight, hourglass), belly shape (flat, rounded, etc) and butt shape (flat, average... you get the idea). They also have little pictures for every descriptor, so selecting the right one is easy. Very well thought-out system, allegedly based on scans of 10,000 actual bodies. Yay technology!

I ordered the jeans July 1st and received them July 20th – not a bad lag. And the jeans are great. They have a really nicely designed waistband that doesn't gap on the back, made of good quality very soft medium weight denim with just a bit of stretch. These jeans fit me like a glove. Seriously, the most comfortable pair of jeans I ever owned. They look great too -- see for yourselves:

Another cool thing is that they put your name on the tag. It cracked me up because it reminded me of kindergarten, but it is kinda cool. Also, notice the button and stitching (click to embiggen):

Overall, awesome jeans. I don't own many pairs (three altogether), but whenever I need another one, I'll be ordering from Thimbler. They are cheaper than most designer jeans, they are made just for you, and made really really well. What's not to love?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Oh Etsy, I love you so.

I really do. Besides vintage shirts and affordable jewelry, Etsy is an amazing place to discover wonderful new designers. Which, of course, leads to coveting things, and since actual shopping is out of the question for the moment, I'll settle for the next best thing: posting about the things I'm currently drooling over and genius people who designed them. In no particular order:

A beautiful dress by Layla (LedThread), who makes such simple and beautiful pieces. Unique hems and fluid simple grace make her work so appealing, and make sure to check out the obi belts.

On the other hand, Prizy Sebastian's cotton tank is all about elaborate and very feminine ruffles. The rest of Prizy's pieces are also nicely detailed -- I'm such a sucker for pleats and pintucks, and there's plenty of that.

I first learned about Holly Stalder's designs from Painfully Hip, and was absolutely taken with flowy ruffly shapes and exaggerated sleeves and backless dresses. She also carries more affordable ready-made pieces, such as this little tank embellished with pretty lace. It's a brilliant example of a simple basic item made unique by a talented designer with a great eye for detail.

This shirt/jacket by Lindsay Weatherread is so beautiful I cannot wait to get my hands on it. Seriously, I promised myself this shirt when I sell another book. Just look at it:

It's a piece of art, and it doesn't look too overdone when you wear it. How cool is that? Also, check out the pleating on the sleeves, it is so precise and well done.

The last item of clothing is a jacket made by Idea2Life. I just love the cut of this jacket, the combination of something very flowy and unstructured with crisp, precise pleats. It's such a perfect fall piece; added bonus -- no fussing trying to guess your size.

Finally, a bag. I don't really have any statement bags, mine are all brown and functional (except a clutch or two), but this one I just adore. I love the cut and the texture of it, love the braided handle with the bow. Love that it comes in a bigger size and different color combinations. It's made my Andrea (of Amarie), who is apparently a genius in coming up with irresistible textures and shapes.

Most importantly, these six things exemplify the very idea of a designer items: they all show a singular sensibility, and there's something unexpected about every single one of them, be it the intricate detailing or a very simple silhouette done with amazing craftsmanship. You can't find things like these anywhere else, and this is really it: designer items are not about labels or price points but rather about artistic vision executed with quality. I'm excited about Alexander Wang's latest collection because I know it'll delight and surprise in a way that Forever21 simply can't. And Etsy is an amazing place to look for passion and workmanship of the up-and-coming artists and to sample their vision before they become too famous.

And these are my top six things from Etsy! Do you have a favorite Etsy designer? Link in comments, I love gaping at all the talent that can be found there.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Just when I'm about to quit writing forever, something nice like this happens. (Thanks to Jennifer Jackson, Awesome Agent, for the heads-up). Yay!

Also, The Fashion Show tonight was surprising. Reco did not deserve to be kicked off, the feathered dress notwithstanding (seriously, the thing looked like a giant lobelia. Sort of like this one:


Except, you know, colorful. Still, he didn't deserve to go. Daniella's clothes, on the other hand, although not terrible, were poorly constructed and fitted. Not my thing.

Anna's stuff was awesome as usual, especially one floral dress. It's #4 here.

I do feel that she was maybe repeating a bit, but I appreciate the sense of retrospective. As always, great details, amazingly well-made. If I had to summarize Anna's designs in one word, it would be: PLEEEAAATS!!!! Team Anna all the way.

Finally, James-Paul: awesome awesome coats. Monochromatic but experimental and textured and amazingly made. The theme was a bit dicey: use of western clothing by non-Western peoples, and the shift in function inherent in such adaptation. I dug the idea as well as the skirt/sack/veil thingie. Wasn't thrilled about animal bones though. Srsly, James-Paul.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Credit where credit is due

It occurred to me that I rarely give public thanks, and it's probably worthwhile to remedy this situation. So, my first public thanks go to Dave Paretti of Olly Paretti and Son (Waterford, NJ) who recently redid our kitchen tile and did a beautiful job. Here's the floor:

Backsplash behind the stove:

You can also see the travertine backsplash next to it. So, if you're in South Jersey/Philly area and need some tile work done, Dave is the man to go to. He's a true craftsman who does a wonderful job. No matter what HGTV tells you, it takes a long time to become this good at laying tile. Also, many thanks to Al Franchetti, our general contractor.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Friday bits

Attila after a thorough flower inspection:

And my b-day gift:

Meanwhile, The Fashion Show is down to the final four: Anna, James-Paul, Daniella and Reco. By all rights Anna should win this, but I worry a little that since selecting the winner is left to the voters. James-Paul probably doesn't have a chance because he's so idiosyncratic.

Daniella surprised me this week -- a beautifully designed dress. And Anna's pattern choice was a little disappointing for me. I mean, I dig a floral. Giant cabbage roses bigger than the model's head -- not so much. Also, Reco's purple-and-pink chiffon number was NOT better than James-Paul's.

So, James-Paul. He was roundly criticized for his dress, but I liked it. I liked the skirt and the stiff structured bits lined with champaign silk. Black velvet I wasn't crazy about, and the neckline of that dress would've been so much better if he made it a V instead of round, with some pleats or gathers at the bust or shoulder.

Finally, Johnny who was kicked off for basically ripping off someone else's design (and then blaming his helper for not stopping him -- classy!) The only time he won a challenge was when they were paying homage and he created a convincing Versace tribute. I'm surprised that he lasted this long, given lack of a singular vision. I mean, I may not normally like Reco's designs, but the man has an identifiable style. Johnny doesn't. Daniella didn't before, but she is starting to develop into something interesting -- I'm actually looking forward to her final collection.

So yeah, The Fashion Show is certainly a lot less flamboyant than Project Runway, but I've grown attached to it. Mizrahi remains awesome.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Meet my mom, the risk-taker

My mom just vacationed in Indonesia, together with my sister. Apparently, awesome time was had by all (with a possible exception of one lizard and one elephant.)

Here's mom and a giant lizard, making an uneasy but sweet acquaintance:

My mom trusts my sister, even to the point of tottering elephants, flimsy-looking footholds, and water of unknown depth. What can possibly go wrong?

Then several birds tried to carry her off:

While other birds looked on:

Notice the red eye on that last one.

Apparently, best vacation ever!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Lyudmila Ulitskaya -- some thoughts


Last time my parents visited, they brought me Lyudmila Ulitskaya's DANIEL STEIN, INTERPRETER. I finally got around to reading it, and, eighty pages in, I have to say that it's a wonderfully dense and chewy book. There's a number of things about it that got me thinking very intently.

One, the structure. It's a fractured book that leaps from 1942 Poland to the modern day US, Israel, France…. And it is told in letters, diaries, graduation addresses, memoirs, audiotape transcripts etc. It weaves back and forth, from one narrator to the next, and this is an interesting thing: the protagonist of the book is almost always in the background, present in other people's stories as a figment of their memories, a footnote, a "and there was this strange little man on the train, he showed us some small icons". Very rarely he speaks directly or someone (usually a family member) speaks directly OF him. And this is what makes it work: people are not telling Daniel's story, they are telling their own. He's only relevant as perceived by them, as seen out of the corner of one's eye.

Two, this is a book that largely deals with Jewish identity. And there are quite interesting things there too. When Western writers and filmmakers speak of the Holocaust (much in the same way as what happens when they speak of any other injustice), Jewish survivors tend to be painted as meek victims, either bearing and surviving with quiet resignation or cowering somewhere in hiding. Basically, passive, surviving or being prosecuted. Ulitskaya actually writes abut Jewish guerillas in Russian and Polish forests, living in shelters dug in the ground. One of the protagonists is born in one such guerilla camp and spends the first month of her life in a sleeve cut off her mother's winter coat. Her mother, a fanatical communist, goes from prison to guerillas to war to labor camp with the same possessed dedication – and she is anything but a victim.

I think there's a temptation to take any persecuted group and construe them as completely helpless, as someone whose salvation can only be expected from without (Schindler's List etc). This is a mistake I see done again with (more recently) Muslim women, when those would-be saviors forget that those who they are saving might be in possession of some agency as well. Helpers, yes, I can get behind that. Saviors, however, have to be careful.

Anyway, Jewish identity. One of the characters talks about Jews as ethnicity vs Jews as a religious entity, practitioners of Judaism. Throughout European history, Jewish persecution was framed as a religious issue – even in the terrible late 19th-early 20th century in Russia, they were pressured to convert to Christianity to avoid persecution. And yet, during Pogroms it seems that sufficiently Jewish-looking individuals were persecuted all the same, whether they were wearing a cross or not. And of course during WWII the religious aspect became irrelevant – it was the ethnicity that became the final liability.

So Ulitskaya talks about it, about how "Jewishness" has always been defined from outside, either as a religious or an ethnic construct. "Jews are those who non-Jews THINK are Jews," says one of her characters. And it struck me that this is the core of all persecution and discrimination – the inability to define oneself. If you're defined by others, you are by that definition are not free. And it dovetailed nicely with things I've been babbling about at Wiscon, about multiculturalism being possible only when a minority is given a voice in the mainstream culture – ie, when a minority can add its self-perception to the outside, majority, construct of them. When they get to construct the consensus reality, so to speak.

Then there's religion. The protagonist is a Polish Jew who becomes a Catholic priest. Who is then denied citizenship in Israel because of his Catholicism and despite his ethnicity. Who is scorned because he worked for Gestapo during the war even though he became an interpreter there to help other Jews and was responsible for saving hundreds of lives. Who converted from atheism to Catholicism, thus annoying his secular and religious friends and relatives. So in addition to everything else, there's this complex interplay between religion and ethnicity and family obligations and all that dense dense stuff. As I said, I'm only 80 pages in, but I'm thinking about the things she's saying pretty much non-stop. Expect further updates and natterings.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Cats and their fetishes

Cats are weird. Aja, for example, has a shoe fetish. Yesterday, she started her day by guarding these:

And then spent about fifteen minutes rubbing her face in these:

Meanwhile, her sister Attila was stealthy:

Here's the closeup:

Oh, animals.

Well, this is a first

Apparently, THE ALCHEMY OF STONE just inspired its first piece of art:

Look how pretty! It made me incredibly happy, to have something I wrote to be a catalyst for another person's art.

Friday, July 03, 2009

More fashion!

I am so impressed with Victoria's Secret Fall preview. I love their clothing -- they make a ton of work-appropriate affordable separates and good quality blouses, but this collection just blew me away. Here is the whole thing.

I especially like this trench coat:

And I am definitely lusting after this jacket:

Even the harem pants, the trend I have despised from the very beginning, are made somehow tolerable:

If I ever had to wander a post-apocalyptic desert, I would definitely wear those pants.

There are also several well-made tops and a beautifully cut shirt dress, but these are my favorites. Well done, VS! I definitely approve the continued transition towards more structured, well cut and well made clothes.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

It's a TV kind of morning

Well, I've been working out every day pretty much since I got back from Wiscon. That means a lot of elliptical time ( at 1 hour/day), and since this is when I watch TV, I got to watch a lot of TV lately. Which prompted this note: Dear TV, please stop sucking. Also, since when are Jon and Kate cultural icons? Too many J&K references. And Speidi references. And I miss the days when you had to do something to become famous. Like, juggle or something.

And then there's The Fashion Show. Last night was hilarious: the Tarot reading (and the journey to the site of said reading) exposed our remaining designers as a naive, sheltered, and ultimately sweet lot. Isaac Mizrahi continued to be entertaining. I like how he manages to be simultaneously affected and sincere.

James-Paul continues to be uncomfortable about human body, you know, existing. He complained about his model having a curvature to her spine, which made it difficult for him to dress. You'd think he was talking about a Quasimodo-level hump. But no, a perfectly normal girl, who probably never lived in a belfry. She just had a spine that failed to be razor straight. I really feel that James-Paul would be a lot more at ease with the world if people were geometric planes. Poor kid. Also: what's with the droopy shoulder airbags?

So they designed outfits inspired by their Tarot readings. Reco took a welcome departure from stripperwear, and designed something quite nice (black pantsuit with white piping, jacket with ruffles. You know how I feel about ruffles.) But it was Anna all the way, with a very architectural floral dress in gorgeous white and red. She also won the mini challenge, which placed her little cami-and-shorts combo into Saks. Team Anna!

Merlin was kicked off this time. I suppose I would feel bad since his design was not the worst if he hasn't been so unpleasant throughout. Also, note to self: when kicked off a reality show, make sure to not dis the remaining competitors by implying that they are sellouts catering to the judges, and self is the only uncompromizing artist. Esp. after self designed something generic.

Daniella and Johnny were their usual blah. I think either of them should've went before Merlin, for lack of being in any way interesting. At this point, I'm fairly confident that Reco, Anna and James-Paul will be in the final four. The last slot is between Daniella and Johnny, and I really don't care which one of them it is. Oh, how I wish it was Angel.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Random stuff


This is yet another reason why I love Painfully Hip: circus!
Just look at it! It makes me so happy.

This blog is an amazing confluence of vintage fashion, thrifting, gorgeous photography, links to other places with gorgeous photography (such as wardrobe remix, discount codes, and other random things. Just great great stuff.

Working on a new short story, after selling another one last week (cannot divulge details yet). Also, just finished dealing with difficulties of mail-ordering stuff from the US to be shipped to Russia (it's my mom's birthday tomorrow). Lessons learned: Lush offers AMAZING customer service, and all problems can be solved by a phone call to England.

The gift will be late, but my dad just informed me that that's ok: mom went to Indonesia for two weeks. With my sister. On one day's notice. Sounds like an awesome birthday, doesn't it?

Pretty new cover!

Second printing of THE ALCHEMY OF STONE will be available in November, with a great new cover. Cover here