Thursday, July 21, 2011

Links a la Mode -- IFB.

It's an honor to be included again. Thanks, and wee!

Style is what you make it. We are all different and beautiful in our own ways. Many of us have different techniques to display how we want to present ourselves. Some people are very "structured" "prim and proper" and live by a color scheme while others go wild with mixing patterns and have the "unpolished" and "don't care" look. It's all about where you get your inspiration from and your personality in general.

Here are some classic quotes on style:

  • "Fashion fades, style is eternal." -YSL
  • "Fashion is not something that exist only in dresses. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening." -Coco Chanel
  • "'Style' is an expression of individualism mixed with charisma. Fashion is something that comes after style." -John Fairchild

Links à la Mode: July 21st

Bikini Sale at Shopbop: Parker bikinis, Tori Praver, Salt Swimwear, OndadeMar, Naelie, Zimmerman, Juicy Couture, Rosa Cha, Vix, Tyler Rose, & Brette Sandler
If you would like to submit your link for next week’s Links à la Mode, please register first, then post your links HERE. The HTML code for this week will be found in the Links a la Mode group will be published later today. ~Jennine

Friday, July 15, 2011

Project Runway returns

And yes, I'm super-excited! Lifetime released the portfolios of its 20 (!) designers. There's also Facebook "Like" button, which only teaches us that being named Gunnar Deatherage will win every popularity contest.

Since I am a nerd, I did look at the portfolios though. So here are some designs that struck me as interesting. At this point, it's pretty much impossible to gauge anyone's chances, but here're some clothes that seemed cool. All pictures are from Lifetime website, disclaimer disclaimer.

First, Becky.

She lists Vivienne Westwood as one of her favorite designers. I can tell, and also thumbs up! I'll be rooting for you, Becky.

Then we have Danielle, whose online portfolio shows many nice outfits with sharp tailoring. Go look, because none of my faves were available to grab in the Photos section. But this gives you some idea:

As many others, she listed McQueen as her favorite designer. Approve!

Cecilia, who likes Nirvana and Adele:

Some nice tailoring and inventive cuts.

Fallene. OK, while I don't love all of her designs, this one is my favorite from the bunch. Love the styling, the whole thing:

Adorable and interesting! Thumbs up.

Finally, there's Viktor, who likes Comme des Garcons, and it shows:

Could he be the avant garde guy who complains a lot about being misunderstood and is then eliminated in episode 4 because the tortured artist thing has played out? We can only hope.

So here are my early favorites. What are yours?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

FFB: Fashion and Class and Copyright

(Image via The Shophound; the top row is Forever 21; the bottom -- Trovata).

This is a part of Feminist Fashion Bloggers monthly themed post; the roundup is here.

So sure, I wrote about copyright and how horrible current intellectual property laws are before. And now the Congress is considering a bill that will push the whole ridiculousness further: fashion designs will be considered copyrightable, and explicitly prohibit “deliberate copies that are substantially identical to the protected designs”.

There are many reasons why it's a horrible idea: copying, after all, is how trends are created, disseminated, and abandoned -- that is, this is the process driving fashion innovation forward. Secondly, what "substantially identical" actually means is of course subject to debate. Placement of a ruffle? Color? Overall silhouette? The court will decide!

But I want to get off the anti-copyright thing for a while, and talk about the strong undercurrent of class contempt permeating the discussion. First we have the trend-setters, the original designers, the luxe goods crowd -- Chanels, Vuittons, Lanvins, etc. I can understand their annoyance at copying of logos. I mean, when I see someone with a Chanel bag, I just assume it's a fake. So this brand devaluation has to be upsetting even though it increases brand recognition and doesn't actually cut into sales. (It's not like if you deprive people from fake double C's they'll start feverishly saving every penny to afford the real $3,000 bag.) But I get the logo thing.

Moreover, fake branding betrays aspirational mindset: because really, one can get a great quality vintage leather quilted bag on a chain without the double C's for a fraction of a price on Etsy or ebay. And it will last longer and look better than anything sold by street vendors. All you have to do is to let go of your aspiration to a luxe brand, and the esthetics can be yours.

Well, not if the new bill can help it. If it passes, no more nice unbranded cheap bags. Because really, do we want the plebs to wear stuff that looks identical to the latest runway?
There are of course plenty of reasons to not shop at Forever 21 and H&M and other fast fashion places. Knockoffs isn't one of them.

Luxury designers too are finding themselves in a bind: quality is slipping due to their increasing reliance on dubious labor practices and weakening of unions, the economic downturn is forcing people to bargain-shop, and the internet with its blogs and instant dissemination is certainly doing away with the whiff of exclusivity and special access of fashion shows. The very phrase "democratization of fashion" has an undercurrent of regret about it, so it's no wonder that many are willing to find ways to restrict access and enforce the boundaries of who is allowed into fashion and who is not.

But what does it all have to do with feminism? I often complain that capitalism made citizens into consumers, that voting with our wallets is the only sort of influence we're allowed to have (and we should not be satisfied with it); fashion is the demand for consumption targeted mostly at women. And we expand feminism to include intersectionality of oppression, if we allow ourselves to talk not only about the patriarchy but racial oppression and unfair labor practices, the power differential between different groups, then we have to recognize that the new bill will do nothing to limit the injustices of the world; it will only enforce aspirational consumption, without the no-brand-name loophole. Will it make Forever 21 go away? No; it will only make the difference between the luxe and the cheap more obvious. It won't reduce the unfair labor practices; it will only make visual class ID easier.

So ultimately the bill isn't about the protection of IP: Chanel and Forever 21 have ridiculously different consumer bases, so claims of financial harm are at best exaggerated. It's about keeping consumers in their place -- preoccupied with consumption. And of course about being able to see who has latest runway access.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Historical Nerdery: Heart of Iron, Part 4


Religion is one of those things one is not supposed to talk about in polite company, but thankfully books have no such obligation. Heart of Iron is not specifically about religion, but religion does play a role. The Crimean War is interesting to me because in it a Christian nation (England) allied with the Ottoman Empire against another Christian nation (Russia). Alliances and wars are drawn and fought along religious lines more often than not, so that seemed like a curious case, perhaps signaling that in the modernized world, politics and economic interest would overrule old-fashioned superstitions. On the other hand, considering the number of foreign invasions Russia had undergone, it apparently was considered sufficiently alien -- and while I don't want to go into the whole Byzantium vs Rome thing, Eastern Orthodoxies seemed to have been a direct opposition to Romanized west.

Anyway. Since in Heart of Iron Russia is undergoing rapid industrialization, it seemed reasonable that religion would be pushed back a bit, and the Orthodox Church would have a little less political prominence. So Sasha is religious but not terribly devout, and she isn't the type of person to question her religious upbringing much. I mean, cross-dressing and university seemed unconventional enough; making her an apostate on top of it would've been a bit much.

On the other hand, I could not abandon religion entirely, since the Taiping rebellion features prominently, and it was based on Christian heterodoxy: Hong Xiquan believed himself to be Jesus' younger brother. In the bibliography section, there's a link to Hong's biography, God's Chinese Son -- a fascinating book of a fascinating life. And as far as I was concerned while writing Heart of Iron, the fact that the Taiping were Christians created as much of a barrier as a facilitation in making their (fictional) alliance with Russia. After all, shared religions can be quite helpful in finding common ground; and yet common religion differing in some details (as in pretty much any Christian branch) can be profoundly dividing.

Additionally, I feel that the fact that Hong claimed to be God's son (and thus the younger brother of Jesus) was especially tainted by no small amount of racism: while self-proclaimed prophets and messiahs are not uncommon, those who are critiqued the harshest are the ones who are perceived as having the least right to such claims. With doctrines of racial superiority quite dominant in Europe at the time, I suspect that the idea of God having a non-white son was particularly scandalous.

Of course, I couldn't be satisfied with a mere conflict between Anglicans, Russian Orthodox and Taiping Christianity. I enjoy diverse religious landscapes, and so in the book you will hear from a variety of viewpoints - from traditional Chinese religions, to some Norse beliefs, to downright heresies. Cornet Volzhenko, for one, is the follower of the charismatic Rotmistr Ivankov. Not to give too much away, but there is one Hussar regiment in the book which does as much (or more) philosophizing as fighting, and they are as liberal with their religious influences as I am with history.

So here's a teaser:

“Valhalla,” the rotmistr said and sobered up visibly. “Not because of what you think, Menshov—not just weapons or the flying wenches . . . whatever they are called.”
“Valkyrie,” Petrovsky offered in a reverential tone, his eyes glistening. I guessed that he harbored some ideas of his own as well.
“Right,” the Rotmistr said, nodding. He pulled a wine bottle from under the bench where it fit for easy storage, and topped off the mugs of both cornets. He handed the bottle with the leftovers to me, and I guessed that I was to drink directly from it. “But flying wenches or no, this is not why. You know that in the great hall, in Odin’s hall—and Odin is the one who takes the warriors fallen in battle—they drink and then they fight, and whoever falls in that battle wakes up whole again, so he can drink and fight and die again. In Valhalla, it’s not like heaven, where you get to stay alive forever and play some lute or harp . . . there, the world is destroyed every day, and then rebuilt anew, so nothing is ever old, ever stale.”
I took a cautious sip of the wine. “But everyone gets resurrected and they’re still the same.”
The rotmistr wagged his thick, calloused finger at me, dirt around his fingernail black as gunpowder, and I suspected that it had become incorporated into his skin and could never be washed out. “No one is the same after resurrection. Read the classics, Menshov. Cannot step twice in the same river, and everything changes even if you go away from home for a week. What do you think happens to everything, to the world, if you daily destroy and rebuild it? It changes, because nothing can ever be recreated perfectly.”
“So what do you want with it?” I asked, wine making me bolder. “You want to be killed and resurrected too?”
He shook his head, sly. “No no. I’d sit in the corner and watch and take notes, on how everything becomes different from day to day to day. I would keep track of all the small alterations, of all the tiny fault lines and cracks that appear from one resurrection to the next. And I will be there when everything finally crumbles to dust.”

And here you have it. This book is by no means a study in religion, but I hope that I sketched in enough of it to give depth and verisimilitude to people and their beliefs.