The Daily

Fashion & Style

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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At the Bazaar

September 26, 2011 | by

Ralph Gibson, Caroline Winberg (Harper’s Bazaar, May 2005).

It’s easy to overlook that Vogue, seemingly eponymous with the word fashion, debuted after Harper’s Bazaar, America’s first fashion magazine. Steeped longer in the Victorianism that defined the nineteenth century, Bazaar set about cataloguing the changes that an era of colonialism and industrialization brought to women’s dress. The original weekly (titled Harper’s Bazar) saw its first printing in November of 1867, as a slim, sixteen-page newsprint volume featuring drawings and articles on every aspect of fashion. The news item “Colors” reads more like an issue of political importance. (“Bismarck, or gold-brown, is the prevailing shade, and reappears in some guise almost every where. The new shades of green are its only formidable rivals. The deep green known as ‘Invisible,’ now called ‘Mermaid,’ is in great favor.”) An early cover from an 1868 issue shows hand-drawn hairstyles alongside paper-doll-like figures, nodding at French sophistication with hairdo trends like the “diadem of curls” and the “fleur de lis coiffure of braids.”

Harper’s Bazaar: A Decade of Style” at the International Center of Photography catalogues the transformations that technology of a different sort wrought on women’s bodies. The collection of more than thirty images—vivid color photographs from the past decade under editor Glenda Bailey—features work by famed fashion photographers such as Patrick Demarchelier, Terry Richardson, and Peter Lindbergh, as well as art-world luminaries like Nan Goldin and Chuck Close. Read More »

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The Gilded Age

September 15, 2011 | by

“Yes, there’s an elevator,” a worried guest was assured on Tuesday night in the lobby of the Ace Hotel. This was no small concern. The event she was on hand to attend, cohosted by Ari Seth Cohen and Tavi Gevinson, was located in the basement. And the crowd was largely over eighty.

The evening was a celebration of Ari Seth Cohen’s street-style blog, Advanced Style. As the name suggests, the ladies of the silver-haired set are Cohen’s muses; the site contains a mix of known fashion royalty, like Iris Apfel and Beatrix Ost, and strangers whose dashing ensembles catch the photographer’s eye. It was both disconcerting and wonderful to see the parade of extravagantly dressed grandes dames enter the aggressively hip Ace, which had been rendered especially youthful by the descent of New York Fashion Week attendees.

Fashion Week parties, as anyone can tell you, are largely about exclusion: lists, velvet ropes, and stony-faced, implacable bouncers. This one was no different, but instead of models and actresses, the women being ushered to the head of the line and pursued by photographers were white-haired, turbaned, and carrying canes. Periodically, organizers scanned the crowded hotel lobby: when they spotted a hat or a caftan, the old lady in question was whisked ceremoniously downstairs to Liberty Hall.

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Tailor-Made

June 9, 2011 | by

Richard Anderson.

“Wanted,” the advertisement read, “sixteen- or seventeen-year-old apprentice cutter for Savile Row firm. Energetic … Intelligent … Smart appearance …” I was skeptical (what the hell was a cutter?) but Dad made the call and we were granted an appointment at ten the following Tuesday. I had never heard of Huntsman before. For that matter, I am not sure that I had ever heard of Savile Row.”

So began, somewhat ignominiously, Richard Anderson’s career as a bespoke tailor. Today, Anderson is “The King of Savile Row,” as The Independent called him—but in 1982 he was a teenager with failing grades who showed up for an interview in white socks, a short-sleeved shirt, and a school blazer.

Anderson’s memoir, Bespoke: Savile Row Ripped and Smoothed, has been called the Kitchen Confidential of the tailoring world, an insider’s look at the industry and one that exposes a certain amount of its foibles and eccentricity. But what’s even more of a revelation than the ins and outs of cutting and fitting is the sheer thoroughness of the traditional apprenticeship, which Anderson served. Even thirty years ago when Anderson got his start, the kind of ground-up dues paying he describes was on the wane; in an era of overnight success, it’s almost unimaginable.

It’s no shock that, since everything’s ripe for the TV picking, even Savile Row got its own BBC special—a reality program that made it look, says Anderson, “quite glamorous.” And as a result, he now gets some ten or fifteen letters a weeks from prospective employees. However, their notion of apprenticeship doesn’t involve sweeping or cutting, let alone the kind of respect for institutional authority that was the backbone of Anderson’s training. “They tend to think they’d quite enjoy designing,” Anderson explains dryly, adding that they also tend to be older and “there’s a big difference between a seventeen-year-old kid just out of school and a twenty-something who’s seen a bit of the world.” Especially one in today’s England, he need not add.

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Neiman Marcus Fantasy Gifts

December 23, 2010 | by

In 1939, Neiman Marcus published their first Christmas book, a catalogue of extravagant, humorous, astonishing, and often jewel-encrusted gifts. Over the Top: 50 Years of Fantasy Gifts from the Neiman Marcus Christmas Book, recently published by Assouline, celebrates the Chinese junks, minisubs, urban windmills, bags of diamonds, sailplanes, animal-shaped desks, Warhol portraits, and Jack Nicklaus custom backyard golf courses that only the top 1 percent could comfortably afford.

The first cover, in 1951, featured artwork by Saul Steinberg, with subsequent covers created by a host of notables, such as Robert Indiana, Ludwig Bemelmans, Al Hirschfeld, Victor Vassarely, Chuck Jones, and Ben Shahn. His & Hers gifts became a frequent staple of outrageous indulgence beginning in 1960 with His & Hers Beechcraft Airplanes ($176,000). Ensuing examples rivaled for the title of most ostentatious: His & Hers Camels (1967; $4,125), His & Hers Hot Air Balloons (1964; $6,850 each), His & Hers Authentic Mummy Cases (1971; $16,000), His & Hers Robots (2003; $400,000), and His & Hers Name Your Own Jewels (1985; $2,000,000).

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The Windows of Bergdorf Goodman

December 23, 2010 | by

A window featuring a Roberto Cavalli dress.

On a recent winter afternoon, I sat down for tea with Linda Fargo and David Hoey of Bergdorf Goodman, on the top floor of the store, in the restaurant overlooking southern Central Park. Fargo, who has an immaculate silver bob, is clad in a black Balenciaga dress, capped with a furry Mongolian gilet by Vera Wang, her throat studded with a necklace by a designer named Grazia Bozza, whom she discovered while vacationing in Capri. Hoey is wearing a Band of Outsiders suit—“a journeyman’s vest,” he explains. “It’s a symbol of a real working man who rolls up his sleeves.”

And roll up his sleeves he must, even at Fifth Avenue’s most refined department store. Hoey and Fargo are the masterminds behind Bergdorf’s window displays, and they had invited me to come talk with them about their work and their new book, a $550 lavender-sheathed tome (“Our signature color,” explains Fargo) published by Assouline. Titled Windows of Bergdorf Goodman, the book catalogs more than ten years of their work, interspersed with remarks and witty one-liners from some of Bergdorf's closets friends (Bette Midler, Vogue editor Hamish Bowles, and street photographer Bill Cunningham, to name a few).

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