Saturday, October 17, 2015

Bodily Geometries

It's an interesting thing, our relationship with our bodies; even this construction implies them as separate entities our cerebral selves have some uneasy and often tenuous discourse with. And yet of course we are corporeal - the reminder often unpleasant to academics. Is it why they are so often dismissive of fashion, because fashion is so obviously embodied, and thus stands in opposition of intellect and art? It is certainly not artful by the Kantian standards, for it is entirely too immediate, corporeal and female (Kant's aesthetics, on the other hand, sees art as exclusively cerebral, appreciated only by remote senses of vision and hearing, and unambiguously male.) So contempt for fashion, often couched in language of triviality of such pursuits, seem to stem more often than not from the contempt for the feminine and the embodied, illustrating how entwined the two are to this day in collective psyche.
So anyway, bodies. I wrote before about how we present, highlight, conceal our bodies through dress; I wrote about flattering and not-sexy dressing. But I don't think I ever talked about my perceptions of my own body and how the idea of it shapes much of what I wear and how I wear it.
However, first things first: another designer I recently fell in love with is Lara Khoury who hails from Beirut, Lebanon.  Her latest collection is beautiful, softly draped with an occasional punctuation of deconstructed elements and structured shapes. The collection speaks to and of a multitude of experiences - softness and rawness, immigration and staying behind, severity and excess. The pleated dresses juxtaposed against heavy coats, wide woolen pants next to tulle, the plurality of shapes and hemlines. High necks and exposed backs, sweeping and draping, this collection is about cleaving, in both senses of the world: the designer's  description speaks of the experiences of the Lebanese diaspora and their families who stayed behind, of tearing away and hugging close. The collection miraculously hangs together (cleaving again) despite its seeming contradictions of pastels and stark black and whites, modest necklines and exposed skin. Leaving and staying, torn raw and sealed in a beautiful lantern of pleated tulle.
As I said, in love.
Contrary to my instinct, I didn't go for the structured pieces - partly because I wanted to try something new, partly due to my realization that I might have more than a reasonable number of sculpted white tops. Instead, I went for a different shape altogether, softly draped and voluminous. 

The piece is beautifully made and constructed, in cotton gauze with subtly arresting unraveling edges and interesting shape. And yet, my first reaction was, "Is it supposed to fit like this?" (The designer was kind enough to reassure me that it was indeed the right fit).

I am no stranger to oversized fits. Figure flattery is not high on the list of my dressing priorities. The top is gorgeous and I love it to bits, but seeing it on myself was an interesting if unfamiliar experience. It felt different somehow. I had to wonder what's  going on.

Of course, most of my oversized pieces are quite sculptural, often in stiff woven fabrics like this Cin+Oko top and Litkovskaya pants:

(Shoes are rag&bone mules)

The volume these clothes create is a separate  space in which my body exists without filling it.

 It is a carapace, an exoskeleton, a shell that does not suggest softness. And this angularity is actually what I am used to projecting by the way I dress, and I think it is rooted in self-perception. Conflating femininity and softness is a cliche; I do wonder about it though, only because I perceive my body as fairly sharp, fairly angular, with bone and muscle defining its shape to me rather than breasts or hips. In my self-image, I am never soft (even when I am).
I can do slouchy as well:

Even though this cashmere sweater by Protagonist is fairly soft, it has enough weight to create its own shape, with my body maintaining its separate distinct identity  underneath. The skirt is a nice counterpoint in another substantial knit (merino wool, Iris&Ink). Proenza Schouler boots work here, I think, instead of more expected pumps. They feel more grounded against the shades of white, heavy and flat.

And finally, here's the Lara Khoury top: it is oversized and yet drapes close to my body, neither following its shape precisely as a tailored fit would nor making a shell for it. Instead, it imposes its softness over my contour, and I suspect that this is why it felt so alien at first. 

(I'm wearing Lara Khoury blouse with Isabel Marant pants and Carin Wester shoes.)

I love it, and it does something different from my usual clothes. I wanted to try something  new but didn't expect the novelty to be so conceptual, so dizzying at first. This single piece made me realize that even though I think of dressing in terms of silhouettes,  I have failed to recognize the importance I've assigned to angularity and stiff shapes, basing my entire wardrobe on it. Even the strictly feminine pieces I wear tend to be sharp (such as high heels in the otherwise masculine look) rather than floppy and soft. But now I think I  am ready to play a bit with softer versions of femininity.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Vault Show

Yesterday, had a chance to attend a fashion event in Philly - Vault Show, organized by Philadelphia Fashion Week crew, was a show featuring some local designers. It's a smaller venue, so you get a chance to see everything up close, and the designers also say a few words, which is nice. Here are some highlights!

First up, Ayasa Afi:

Me, in Bitte Kai Rand jumpsuit, Alexander McQueen belt, Dutch Basics necklace and Rachel Comey heels.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Yojiro Kake

Another obsession: as always, it starts with an aesthetic, a unique eye for a silhouette, something that I haven't seen before and yet recognize as mine. This time it is both sculptural and fluid, like the frozen ridges of waterfalls. Fabrics like oil slicks on puddles on a rainy day, Comme des Garçons meets McQueen by the way of Issey Miyake. Minimal avant-garde. In other words, my jam.

Then there are fabrics: how many perfectly nice garments are ruined by thoughtless deployment of polyester and acetate, acrylics that pill and blends that hang limply and without purpose? The more I pay attention to clothes, the more I realize that textiles are where it's at. 

But let me start from the beginning: I came across Yojiro Kake at Not Just A Label, a lovely site dedicated to smaller designers. Yojiro Kake's aesthetic was arresting, and his attention to detail compelling. I don't want to repeat my previous post, where I waxed poetic about INAISCE, but I feel that I'm developing a more defined personal style and I always recognize brands that embody it.

After salivating at the AW 2014 lookbook, I made contact with Oka HuiYun Lin, a friendly and super nice partner of Yojiro, and she helped me to directly order a couple of pieces. (Periodic disclaimer: all clothes featured here are mine - that is, I paid for them.No content of this blog is sponsored ever, by anyone.) I opted for this amazing rich red shirt with a caped back, made in luxurious technicl textile:

Look at that color!

And that drape!

Here's some detail closeup:

The second piece I ordered was this wool cape blazer. The Italian wool is wonderful -- sumptuous and drapey, the cut is sublime, and the finishing of the seams shows the quality of craftsmanship that today sadly only exists in smaller brands who make quality of production their priority, and vintage. Here's a bunch of gratuitous pics of my new blazer! (Pants are by Crippen, shoes are Maje, and the necklace is by DutchBasics, my go-to for pretty and minimal handmade jewelry. 

Yojiro's SS2015 lookbook is also online now, go take a look. Functional and wearable avant-garde is not easy to find! Also, they have a Facebook page, where they post a lot of pretty pictures.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Inaisce and Things That Matter

So let's talk about what matters in fashion. It will of course be different things for everyone, but to me it's the following: beauty, functionality, imagination, ethics, fair labor, natural textiles and fibers. Not in that order.

As I get older, I find that I rarely get tempted by famous brands and almost never by fast fashion. I want fewer things, but I want them to be exceptional. And I do like meeting people who make these exceptional clothes. 

This is all to say that I was slow in finding INAISCE but once I did I fell in love: the subdued palette of charcoal greys, black and whisper-whites, the nubby wools, the cuts that are tailored and relaxed, luxe yet austere, spoke to me on the emotional, aesthetic, and tactile levels. The fact that the clothes are made in NYC from luxurious fabrics from Italy and Japan locked me into the obsession mode: I had to see these clothes in person; and I had to meet the person who made them.

Lucky for me, Jona Sees - the designer and mastermind of Inaisce - was kind and available. His atelier space is located in a renovated church building in Brooklyn, and it is gorgeous: hardwood floors and wooden beams, soft light, the smell of clean pine... I mean, perfection. And this is before I even saw the clothes! 

Most recent collection is a great amalgamation of past and new silhouettes and fabrications - cozy knits and structured jackets and pants in textured wools and high-tech cupro, gorgeous capes... I could go on. The past collections were also there, spread throughout the closets. It was basically a fairyland. If there was Narnia in one of those closets, I would not go and stay with the leather skirts and swishy woolen dresses.

Anyway, see for yourself! 

And what of Jona? It is always a pleasure meeting a creative mind; sense of humor is a bonus, as well as a warm personality. I also appreciate the designers who wear their own clothes. Jona is pretty far from a typical fashion person, but similar to my favorite designers: passion and conviction and curiosity about the world is something they all have in common. They also design for themselves, which I think is important: most of my favorite designers are women for that reason. They design with bodies and bra straps and humans sitting down in mind. Male designers that I do like usually skew unisex (JW Anderson, Haider Ackerman). Jona ' s clothes are definitely in this category.

He also has an almost Zoran - like understanding of fabrics: good textile speaks for itself, something I appreciate greatly. I saw the same understanding in Izumi Hongo of VanHongo, Titania Inglis, Daria Razumikhina, Kate Wendelborn of Protagonist, Lilia Litkovskaya. It is not coincidental then that all of these designers choose mostly natural fibers, ethically made textiles. I see a theme developing.

So yes, I bought a gorgeous piece from a previous collection (grey wool dress - sleeveless jacket) and pre-ordered another. Here're some pics of my new acquisition, worn with VanHongo velvet pants and basic black turtleneck. I tried for a few different angles to show the geometric complexity of the cut that results in a beautifully streamlined silhouette. Basically, magic!

It is always exciting for me to find another clothing brand I love; it is doubly so when it embodies all the things that matter in fashion so well.

Spring and return to blogging

And this is how it always goes: I decide to blog more regularly and then the semester hits, stories and scripts become due, and the weather is too horrible to contemplate stepping outside voluntarily.
Thankfully, spring has arrived - at least, I can resume my regular walks; no need to wear two coats and a blanket anymore. Look, we even went out to an Easter brunch! (And took out some gardening supplies.)

This is my Issey Miyake Pleats Please dress. Shoes are LD Tuttle.

Of course it's still a bit chilly so I'm wearing a vintage Japanese kimono. Cuff was a gift from a friend.

I intend to start posting again with some regularity; I did recently travel to NYC to see the Bjork exhibit at MOMA  (underwhelming but had its moments and reignited my interest in her music videos), and to visit with Jona Sees of Inaisce, which was amazing. Full report forthcoming!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Not another detox post!

Yes, sorry about this one! This time of year internet and other media is bursting with body- and food-shaming masquerading as health advice, and quick fixes and sales on activewear are thick on the ground. This is not what this post is.

Look, your liver, kidneys, and intestines are all doing a fine job eliminating toxins. You cannot make your body more alkaline by eating certain foods. However, there are foods that help with digestion as well as peristalsis, and seasonal eating makes perfect sense at least in the temperate zone: temperatures and day length do affect metabolism as well as local food availability, and our bodies do respond to both. 

So with that in mind, I want to offer a few of my favorite kitchen things to do in the colder months. Most of them are vegetable-based, and thus are basically healthy and good for you. They are also seasonally appropriate in terms of either availability or fitting in with winter cravings for hearty fare. They make me happy in winter; I hope they'll make you happy too!

1. Fermented vegetables. Not quite pickles, since most pickling methods involve vinegar. These only need Lactobacillus to kick off lactic fermentation - lactic acid keeps the pH low and thus prevents harmful bacteria (Clostridium botulinum being the deadly one) from growing. On the pic above, there are two jars of cauliflower and one of beets, but pretty much anything can be fermented - carrots, cabbage, peppers, tomatoes etc.

Cut up the veggies in bite-sized pieces, fill the jars 3/4 way to the top. Prepare brine: 1-2 liters of water, 3-4 tablespoons  of sea salt, and spices of choice. I used bay leaf, dill and cumin seeds, coriander, and black tea for tannins. You can heat the brine but let it cool before adding to the veggies. You can let the nature take its course, or you can add Lactobacillus with some brine from a previous batch, or a spoonful of juice from store-bought kimchi or sauerkraut, or whey from Greek yogurt. Close the lids and let ferment at room temp. Open the jar once a day to taste the pickles and let out the gas. 3-5 days is usually plenty. After the pickles are done, move them to the fridge. Enjoy for the taste, probiotics, and seasonality -- they keep for a few months in the fridge!

2. Winter smoothies. I tend to make them without ice or frozen bananas, and add cold-weather spices, such as ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, and cloves. The bright-green one pictured above is made with two cups of spinach, one cup of almond milk, one whole pear cut into pieces, a sprig of mint, two dashes of turmeric and ginger each (use fresh ginger if available), one tablespoon of flaxseed meal, sweetener to taste -I used a teaspoon of honey and a tablespoon of sea buckthorn berries pureed with sugar, because I am Russian and we feel strongly about health benefits of sea buckthorn.

3. Homemade kefir. Another Russian thing, but also probiotics and deliciousness. If you consume dairy, this is the stuff: sugar has been eaten by Lactobacillus so it's all low sugar, great protein, and probiotics. You can buy kefir grains (sometimes called Tibetan milk fungus) online. 

4. Root vegetables. They are the seasonal staple of temperate zone and national food of all cold European countries (along with fish!) Beets are a given, and sweet potatoes are always nice. I usually convert my salads to root-veggie based in the winter, as they feel heartier that usual summer greens. Here's the one I made today: daikon radish and carrots grated on the largest holes of a standard box grater, seasoned with sea salt and sea buckthorn oil. You may prefer any other vegetable oil, such as sunflower or olive.

The red color is due to the oil as well as the carrots. 

I like these foods because they are delicious yet healthy, filling but not excessively so. And they make me like winter just a little bit more!