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Posts Tagged ‘fashion’

The Gay Lothario

October 28, 2015 | by

A caricature of Coates as Lothario.

Strange as it seems now, there was a time when I was responsible for writing a best- and worst-dressed list. I had no qualifications, I felt uncomfortable doing it, and I admired extravagantly those celebrities who had the gall to flout convention and throw themselves squarely into the “bad” category like early Christian martyrs among lions. I was reminded of this unlikely interlude in my career while looking at the fashions from this weekend’s MTV Europe Music Awards, many extravagantly ludicrous. Visible underwear! Macramé! Polychrome! Monochrome! Bieber! The mind boggled, the soul leaped.

A pilloried celeb is usually defiant, and understandably. There are varying degrees of ingenuousness often correlated to the degree of celebrity involved, but the gist is usually: haters be damned. The best of all sartorial retorts, though, belongs to the celebrated London macaroni and amateur of drama, Mr. Robert “Romeo” Coates, whose early nineteenth-century exploits are chronicled in Edith Sitwell’s peerless English EccentricsRead More »

Dressed for Success

October 21, 2015 | by

Barbara Pym. Mayotte Magnus © The Barbara Pym Society

Sarah Jessica Parker, the actress and shoe designer, has named a shoe after Donna Tartt, the writer. The Tartt is a glittery Mary Jane with a chunky low heel. The color is called Scintillate. It retails for $385 and sold out within hours on 

Here’s how Neiman Marcus describes Parker’s shoe line:

She became a fashion icon starring as the quintessential shoe-obsessed New Yorker. Now Sarah Jessica Parker is taking the next natural step: designing her shoe collection. The SJP Collection is her own expression of style with personal touches woven throughout. Take for instance, the grosgrain ribbon details. Adorning every shoe, they’re a nod to the ribbons Parker wore in her hair as a young girl. Some design elements borrow from the legendary wardrobe she wore as Carrie in the show Sex in the City. Even the names of each shoe, such as “Sophia” and “Raquel,” reference her favorite fashion influencers. To create the collection, Parker turned to a familiar name in the industry. George Malkemus (the shoe-guru himself) teamed up to share his thirty years of design expertise. The results? Classic styles that feel as current now as they will in seasons to come. And to ensure they’ll last, every pair has been crafted by artisans in Italy.

But with all respect to Parker and “the Tartt,” when I think of literary fashion influencers, I think of Barbara Pym. Read More »

The True True Detective, and Other News

August 20, 2015 | by


Two covers from True Detective, a true-crime magazine. Image via io9

  • “Several times the proper business of bed has been interrupted by mosquitoes,” Virginia Woolf wrote to a friend on her honeymoon with Leonard, which does not appear to have been an unqualified success: “They bloody the wall by morning—they always choose my left eye, Leonard’s right ear, whatever position they chance to find us in. This does not sound to you a happy life, I know; but you see, that in between the crevices we stuff an enormous amount of exciting conversation—also literature.” Books: the eternal consolation prize.
  • Subdued, black, drab, ruffled, veiled—the fashions of Victorian widows have once again wandered on to the catwalk. Rejoice. “The original moment when such styles took a somber turn was in 1861, after the death of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s great love. For the last forty years of her life, the monarch wore only black and expected everyone else to follow suit. A vogue emerged for gorily erotic storytelling tinged with mysticism. The image of the sexually experienced widow was regarded as a destabilizing factor, with her mourning frocks and jet jewelry subtly advertising the charms of the bereaved to potential second husbands. Darkness, then and now, becomes her.”
  • And what would these fashions be without black, the official color of death? The history of black is a history of perfectionism, a quest to find the blackest black, a black that could be, as the members of Spinal Tap put it, “none more black.” “In the words of the French artist Pierre Soulages, black ‘opens up a mental field all of its own.’ He began his epic journey into blackness in 1947, when he started creating abstract expressionist works using a dark walnut stain to make bold slashes across canvas. By the 1950s he was working in oils, thickly smeared onto surfaces using a palette knife. And in 1979, he began a new series of works in a style he dubbed ‘Outrenoir’—roughly translated as ‘beyond black’—with canvases completely saturated in black.”
  • Also back in style: gin, that most disreputable of liquors. Britain has seen fifty-six new gin distilleries open in the past two years, suggesting that it may finally have shrugged off any lingering resentment from the time of Georgian London, when “the city’s fetid backstreets spawned the Gin Craze, causing decades of soul-searching among philanthropists, politicians and magistrates about the wretched lives of the poor. Gin’s reputation as the crack cocaine of its day was cemented with lurid press tales about gin-fuelled degradation and squalor, culminating in William Hogarth’s infamous 1751 engraving Gin Lane.”
  • Before True Detective the mediocre TV show, there was True Detective, the mediocre true-crime rag, which ran from 1924 to 1996. The magazine had an appetite for the lurid, which, combined with its deeply lax editorial standards, made it very successful: “Consider these three not at all atypical tales of crime detection from a typical issue of True Detective: ‘I Was Raped,’ ‘I Hit Her with the Bowling Pin,’ and ‘Sex Monster At Large’ … The covers reached peaks of exploitation not seen since the ‘shudder pulps’ of the 1930s. They pictured screaming, scantily clad models frequently bound, often gagged … Editing appeared to be almost non-existent, as guidelines carefully instructed writers to leave margins wide enough so manuscripts could fit the typesetter’s copy holder.”

Wack Job

May 4, 2015 | by


József Rippl-Rónai, Woman Dressed in Polka Dot Dress (detail), 1889.

Nothing can make you feel older than thrift shopping. As you walk the aisles, thumbing through the racks, young you keeps up a running monologue: That 1940s square-dancing outfit is cool! Look at those Polynesian-print slacks and the matching vest! You’d look like an awesome fifties-pulp lesbian cover model if you wore this shirt and tie! Sure, that leather dress is totally unflattering—but it’s neat! And five dollars! Have you ever worn your other five fake-fur chubbies? No, but maybe now’s the time! 

And time was, you’d have bought all these things. Each would have symbolized a you you might have been, or could have been for a day—an identity you could don or pretend you’d don. At the very least, the cheap thrill of the moment would have overridden any other concern. Who cared if your closet looked like it belonged to a hoarder pied piper? Anything was good enough for class, or for the existence of a creatively inclined, sensitive young person in the urban wild. Read More »

The Fabric of a Life: An Interview with Yasmina Reza

February 20, 2015 | by

Yasmina Reza. Photo © Pascal Victor/ArtComArt

Last week, Yasmina Reza, who lives in Paris, came to New York to promote the American publication of her latest novel, Happy Are the Happy. I met her in the lobby of the Carlyle Hotel. As she pointed out, it looks a lot like a hallway, with doors on every side.

Happy Are the Happy isn’t entirely unlike that hallway: the book is a gallery of portraits, with each chapter opening a door on a new scene. Characters pass through each other’s lives—some connected closely, as, say, mothers and daughters, and others linked only casually, as two strangers in a doctor’s office.

Quietly glamorous in light makeup, her dark wavy hair undone, Reza looked slender in a plaid miniskirt and green mohair sweater. In conversation, she seems effortlessly poised and speaks as she writes, with elegant precision. We talked about the frivolous and the profound, what it means to be French, theater today, and Michel Houellebecq. 

We were speaking in French; the following is my translation.

Your American publisher, Judith Gurewich, warned me that you don’t like interviews.

It’s not that I don’t like interviews, I don’t like promoting myself. I don’t like the feeling of having to step outside the work in order to sell it. And sometimes professional journalists can be nightmares—they’re only waiting for you to make a faux pas. They have nothing personal invested, they’re not really there. It’s all business.

Like Charlie Rose?

Yes, I refused to go on the Charlie Rose show because he’s a perfect example of that kind of professional journalist, who just asks a series of smart prewritten questions and doesn’t bother listening to the answers. It feels like being faced with a brilliant question machine. It’s a horrible experience that I’d rather not put myself through.

In your play The Unexpected Man—a series of internal monologues between two characters on a train—an aging novelist describes his early works as so far removed that they might as well be someone else’s. At the time you were just starting out as a writer, so you had to be guessing. Now that twenty years have passed, does it feel true?

Writing is so prophetic—at twenty, you already know everything there is to know, you don’t need to have experienced life to be able to write about it. There’s an intuitive phenomenon at work that’s almost clairvoyant. I’m not only speaking for myself. Many other writers have shared this impression. Read More »

En Vogue

February 12, 2015 | by


Photo: Vetatur Fumare, via Flickr

Late last night I posted a picture of myself to a social media account. Not the most flattering picture, and a particularly ridiculous one: I’m standing in front of my bathroom mirror, phone clearly visible in my hand, and staring off at—what? The shower curtain? The radiator?—with a deliberately distracted air and the Flemish-Madonna mirror-face that my family has always mocked. Why, I didn’t see you there with the camera in your own hand! it seems to say. 

I’d taken this photo because I wanted to send a friend a picture of my garment: a mod, nubbly green tweed coat—or maybe it’s a dress—from the early sixties, with a swing cut and two large pockets in the front. It zips up the back. The high neck chafes after a few minutes, and it takes all my flexibility to manage both the zipper and the buttoned half-belt (also in back). Ever since I bought the coat-dress in a California thrift shop, I’d been saving it for just such an occasion: a fashion event, where I needed something bizarre enough to make it look as though I know what I’m about. Read More »