The Daily

Fashion & Style

The Sartorial Kafka

July 3, 2014 | by

Kafka was born on this day in 1883.

Kafka-as-pupil

Kafka before 1900.

But while I thought I was distinguishing myself—I had no other motive than the desire to distinguish myself and my joy in making an impression and in the impression itself—it was only as a result of giving it insufficient thought that I endured always having to go around dressed in the wretched clothes which my parents had made for me by one customer after another, longest by a tailor in Nusle. I naturally noticed—it was obvious—that I was unusually badly dressed, and even had an eye for others who were well dressed, but for years on end my mind did not succeed in recognizing in my clothes the cause of my miserable appearance. Since even at that time, more in tendency than in fact, I was on the way to underestimating myself, I was convinced that it was only on me that clothes assumed this appearance, first looking stiff as a board, then hanging in wrinkles. I did not want new clothes at all, for if I was going to look ugly in any case, I wanted at least to be comfortable and also to avoid exhibiting the ugliness of the new clothes to the world that had grown accustomed to the old ones. These always long-drawn-out refusals on the frequent occasions when my mother (who with the eyes of an adult was still able to find differences between these new clothes and the old ones) wanted to have new clothes of this sort made for me, had this effect upon me that, with my parents concurring, I had to conclude that I was not at all concerned about my appearance.

—Kafka’s diary, December 26, 1911.

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Live Long and Prosper

February 27, 2014 | by

saturday's generation

Milton Glaser Collection Box 57 Folder 14: mechanical for Bloomingdale’s advertisement, c. 1970; image via Container List.

Saturday is a special day for buying and doing beautiful things. A whole day stretching ahead. It’s a new lifestyle. A man. A woman. Art exhibits. Antiquing. Movies. Cocktails. Shopping. … together. You’re searching for a special gown. You want something different. You find it at Regalia, a fully-lined chiffon and velvet gown with matching hot pants. You know fashion. You’re a member of Saturday’s Generation. —Schenectady Gazette ad for Regalia Boutique, 1971

Recently, Gothamist featured a 1976 60 Minutes story on said “Saturday’s Generation”—a short-lived term for the young people who “walk and glide, trip and mince, and stride” through a Bloomingdale’s of a Saturday, doing and buying beautiful things and picking each other up.

In the segment, Blair Sabol (of the Village Voice) describes Saturday’s Generation in terms that, today, may as well be a foreign language, but that seem to spell out proto-yuppie. “I think of a couple, and they live on the Upper East Side, and they have chrome and glass furniture, and they’ve got the brie cheese, and they’re wearing the Famous Amos T-shirt, and they’ve got the right patch jeans … that’s a very heavy identity.” Read More »

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Customer Service

January 23, 2014 | by

Loehmanns Romley Flickr

Photo: Romley, via Flickr

I grew up in the suburbs of New York City, in one of the handful of commuter towns along the Hudson. One of these villages contained a bookstore—a good one, with a fine selection of titles and a section devoted to attractive wrapping paper and greeting cards. However, the owner was so unfailingly nasty and abusive to her customers that my mother and I came to regard it as a challenge to make it in and out of the shop without incurring her wrath.

We seldom succeeded. Anything might set her off: an innocuous question, a breach of obscure etiquette, a sneeze. Needless to say, she had a hard time keeping staff. Everyone was scared of her, and the atmosphere of the store was one of silent terror.

There was only one occasion on which we saw anyone break through the ice. My mom and I had been compelled to patronize the shop after failing to find Miss Rumphius anywhere else, and we had steeled ourselves for the arctic blast of the proprietor’s contempt. But when we walked in, we met with an amazing scene. A plump, jolly woman was leaning against the counter and thumbing through a novelty book—something about Jewish wit and wisdom, shaped like a large bagel.

“Oh, wait—listen to this one!” she was saying. “When the temple was destroyed … the Jews built Loehmann’s!” She went off into gales of laughter.

The shop owner remained stony-faced. Then:

“It’s true,” she said, matter-of-factly. Read More »

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Precious Cargo

June 28, 2013 | by

Handbag, Hermès, French, 1998 Alligator skin and metal Accessi

I practiced, practiced, practiced my versions of Rio de Janeiro’s local customs throughout July 2003, from ordering an açai with granola at the corner juice bar to people-watching, while being watched, on the beach. One internationally accepted custom that varies in local execution is looking put-together while not attracting the attention of pickpockets or scammers. I studied the poses and gestures of Carioca women–esse jeitinho, that little way of doing it–so that I might communicate, without over-communicating, that my sporty red fabric cross-body bag and my canvas tote held nothing worth pinching.

The usual contents of my two bags: a notebook, a cell phone with a prepaid SIM card, some cash, a bottle of water, and a book or two if I was headed to PUC, Rio’s Catholic University nestled at the edge of the lush Tijuca Forest, or to the Botafogo neighborhood to visit the Rui Barbosa Foundation’s special archives, which include the literary papers of Vinícius de Moraes, Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Manuel Bandeira, João Cabral de Melo Neto, and Clarice Lispector, all translated into English by Elizabeth Bishop during her years in Brazil.

One afternoon I decided to walk from PUC, in Rio’s Gávea neighborhood, to my apartment in Ipanema. July is the coldest month in Rio, with an average temperature of 18°C (64°F), and this particular day was cloudy, so almost no one was on the beach. As I entered Ipanema by way of the bustling foot traffic on Rua Visconde de Pirajá, I noticed that the street vendors, who usually displayed their wares on large pieces of dark fabric that could be made quickly into knapsacks if the police arrived, held the day’s items tightly to their chests. A cluster of women, and a few men, jostled each other with arms outstretched to buy.

I stopped and stared at what was being sold: dark brown handbags stamped in a gold monogram pattern and decorated with pink smiling flowers arranged in whimsical irregularity. The flowers beckoned me with their red mouths, which I then noticed were open, midlaughter. The prospective buyers’ tensed expressions, and the fact that others on the sidewalk were studying the scene, made me ask myself, Do I want one too?

I had witnessed, and wanted, an extravaganza of counterfeit Louis Vuitton handbags in the cherry blossom motif created by Takashi Murakami and commissioned by Marc Jacobs. Some say these are among the most counterfeited handbags ever. Read More »

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Subversive Chic: Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada

June 21, 2012 | by

Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada use girlish sensibilities to subvert expectations of age-appropriate dressing.

With fashion, true love isn’t about the money. It’s about the conversation. By that I mean decoding the statements on the runway each season and bringing them into culture simply by going about my everyday life. Conversing with someone on the street using the lines and proportions of our clothing: “Nice denim rip. You layered two T-shirts? That collar/hemline/texture is slightly off, and I like it.” I learned how to read these cues and appreciate making odd bits look chic from studying the work of Miuccia Prada.

The other day, I tried explaining to a friend whose primary associations with Prada are 1998 Jay Z lyrics (“I like a lot of Prada, Alize and vodka”) why this summer I took pleasure in making a boys lacrosse penny elegant for evening. I picked it up in a Maryland thrift store for two dollars. To most, a practice jersey is as far from a fete like the MoMA’s Party in the Garden as one could get. In that crowd, if you say P.S. you mean Proenza Schouler, and Stella is followed by McCartney more often than Artois.

I wore it underneath a silk blazer, with a skirt of tiered fringe. The empowerment I felt was real—there is something about taking a garment of unexpected origin and making it reference something completely new (look at Alexander Wang’s brilliant athletic-inspired collection this season) that excites me.

I think of Prada as being synonymous with intelligence and controlled tension; the pith of confidence. Her clothes remind me that I haven’t seen everything, and even on a Hannah Horvath budget, I try to maintain allegiance to her pursuit of self-defined beauty. I feel strong taking a risk, and every morning I try to assemble a look that would make Miuccia say, This is right.

Read More »

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On the Scent

February 20, 2012 | by

In 2008 Luca Turin, a European biochemist who’d done groundbreaking research on how olfaction works, joined forces with Tania Sanchez, a thirtyish American, to produce an English edition of his cult hit French perfume guide. The result, their Perfumes: The Guide, has a wide readership among people who admire good perfume, but it deserves a wider one among people who admire good criticism of any kind. I found it in the “fashion” section of a classy bookstore, and in retrospect this seems like finding Madame Bovary shelved with the historical romances.

Unfortunately, though, Perfumes has the side effect of making the reader—well, this reader—embark immediately on the kind of quest that leads her to a lot of esoteric corners of the internet and shoddy midtown shops. But more on that later.

I picked up Perfumes on a whim, expecting standard women’s magazine perfume writing: imaginary fruits and lavish adjectives, nonsense marketing descriptions bracketed with pseudoscientific junk about how smells awaken our reptilian base nature. Sanchez seems to have anticipated this concern. “Smell psychologists and the uncritical journalists who love them get a lot of mileage out of calling smell the most primitive sense. But as with all of the work of evolutionary psychologists, the conclusions that support our desires and reinforce our prejudices are those of which we should be most wary,” she writes.

I read the rest of that page standing up in the store and finished the introduction on line at the cash register.

Sanchez goes on to debunk any and all fixed ideas anyone might have had about perfume in an economical four pages. She describes the ways the industry has discouraged serious perfume criticism, from concealing the identities of fragrances’ authors to lying about formulas and content. She explains why this is a golden age of perfume criticism (the Internet). She dismisses the notion that talking about our pleasures ruins them. “The fact is,” she announces in closing, “this stuff is worth loving. As with the tawdriest pop melody, there is a base pleasure in perfume, in just about any perfume, even the cheapest and most starved of ideas, that is better than no perfume at all.”

And then the real fun begins: the reviews. Read More »

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