November 16, 2012
Along with the requisite high-tech gadgets and gizmos, it wouldn’t be a James Bond movie without 007 sporting an impeccably fitted dinner jacket (usually accompanied by some high-stakes hijinks). The dinner jacket—or tuxedo, as it’s less elegantly referred to in the United States, or smoking (as in le smoking), as it’s wonderfully called in some parts of Europe—has been around since the late 19th century when the Prince of Wales lopped of the tails of his tailcoat for less formal, but still fancy, dinner parties. It’s thought to have made its way across the pond after the prince invited the wealthy James Potter of Tuxedo Park, New York, to his estate in 1886. For the occasion, Potter had a dinner suit made at the prince’s British tailor, Henry Poole & Co. When he returned to the States, he wore the get-up to his country club, the Tuxedo Club, and thus tuxedos were born in the U.S.
Sean Connery, along with some expert tailoring, established the classic Bond dinner jacket look. Made by bespoke tailor Anthony Sinclair, the first dinner jacket premiered on the silver screen in the 1962 Bond film, Dr. No. Sinclair was known for crafting a slimmer-fitting, pared-down style of suiting, or the “conduit cut” as it became known.
The comprehensive site The Suits of James Bond details the inaugural dinner jacket:
The shawl collar and all other silk trimmings are in midnight blue satin silk. A nice feature is the silk gauntlet cuffs, the turn-back at the end of the cuffs. It’s an Edwardian decoration, and perhaps the only purpose of them is when they wear out they can be replaced. Otherwise, the cuff fastens normally with four silk-covered buttons. Like any proper single-breasted dinner jacket, this one fastens at the front with only one button.
The 1974 Bond film, The Man With the Golden Gun, introduces us to the white dinner jacket (cream dupioni silk, to be exact). While most of 007′s dinner jackets over the space of 23 films are timeless, this one, worn by Roger Moore, is more pre-disco, with its wide lapels, oversized bow tie and Moore’s Bain de Soleil bronzed complexion. Again, The Suits of James Bond explains:
The cut is Cyril Castle’s classic double-breasted 6 button with 2 to button and has a narrower wrap. The shoulders narrow and gently padded. The jacket has double vents and the pockets are slanted and jetted. The cuffs button 1 with a turnback detail and don’t have the link button feature that Roger Moore wears on his other suits in the film.
Fast forward to Daniel Craig as James Bond in the recently opened Skyfall. Classic and updated for 2012 (and paired with a less treacherously oversized bow tie), the Tom Ford navy suit jacket has that super-fitted, semi-shrunken look of a Thom Browne suit. Deferring to The Suits of James Bond for jacket details:
The shoulders are straight and narrow with roped sleeveheads. It’s a traditional button one with a shawl collar, faced in black satin silk. Also in satin silk are the buttons and pocket jettings. The dinner jacket has three buttons on the cuffs and a single vent, a first for Bond on a dinner jacket. I’m not sure the reason why a single vent was chosen; it’s too sporty for semi-formal wear and it’s really only something Americans do. It’s the only non-traditional detail in the outfit.
Forty of the exact same suit, with slight variations, were used to make Skyfall (reinforced knees, blood splattered or longer sleeves, depending on the action-packed sequence). Thankfully, no ruffled polyester shirts, belled pant legs or turquoise cummerbunds were harmed in the making of this latest Bond thriller.
October 23, 2012
This weekend, I saw the documentary, The Eye Has to Travel, a portrait of the legendary fashion editor and larger-than-life eccentric Diana Vreeland. Just like her friend Coco Chanel, who was well-known for her quips, or Chanelisms as they were often called, Vreeland also had her own one-liners on life and style.
Frequently during the film Vreeland tossed around the word “vulgar.” “Never fear being vulgar, just boring,” was one of her familiar sayings. Another was “Vulgarity is a very important ingredient in life. I’m a great believer in vulgarity—if it’s got vitality. A little bad taste is like a nice splash of paprika. We all need a splash of bad taste—it’s hearty, it’s healthy, it’s physical. I think we could use more of it. No taste is what I’m against.”
Vulgar. I don’t hear the word that often. It doesn’t appear much in the lexicon of fashion writing these days. But I have been more attuned to it since I’ve been reading excerpts of Etiquette by Emily Post for the series on dress codes and etiquette. The lady of manners uses the descriptor repeatedly and relentlessly in the chapter “The Clothes of a Lady.”
The Oxford dictionary defines vulgar as: “1) Lacking sophistication or good taste: a vulgar check suit, 2) making explicit and offensive reference to sex or bodily functions; coarse and rude: a vulgar joke, 3) dated characteristic of or belonging to ordinary people.”
I’ve excerpted a few (amusing) quotes from the 1945 edition of Post’s Etiquette from the chapter, “The Clothes of a Lady.” (Italics are my own.)
“The Clothes of the Lady” chapter introduction:
Not even the most beautiful background could in itself suggest a brilliant gathering if the majority of those present were frumps—or vulgarians! Rather be frumpy than vulgar! Much. Frumps are often celebrities in disguise—but a person of vulgar appearance is pretty sure to be vulgar all through.
Vulgar clothes are those which, no matter what the fashion of the moment may be, are always too elaborate for the occasion. . . . A woman may be stared at because she is ill-behaved, or because she looks like a freak of the circus or because she is enchanting to behold. If you are much stared at, what sort of stare do you usually meet?
Frumps are not very typical of America; vulgarians are somewhat more numerous; but most numerous of all are the quietly dressed, unnoticeable men and women who make up the representative backbone in every city.
On the Woman Who is Chic
’Chic’ (pronounced sheek) is a borrowed adjective, but unfortunately no word in our language expresses its meaning. Our adjective ‘elegant’—which before it was vulgarized, most nearly approached it—rather suggested the mother of the young woman who is chic.
On Principles of Taste Apart From Fashion
A lady in a ball dress with nothing added to the head looks a little like being hatless in the street. This sounds like a contradiction of the criticism of the vulgarian. But because a diadem or a jeweled filet or other ornament is beautiful at a ball, it does not follow that all these should be put on together and worn in a restaurant—which is just what the vulgarian would do.
Emily Post, obviously an anti-vulgarian, and Diana Vreeland, an advocate for that trait over dullness, would have had a heated debate about its merits or lack thereof. I’d stand on the sidelines, enthralled and entertained, as both of their maxims feel so far removed from my life, and, in my opinion, the way we describe—and clothe—ourselves today. Though I would side with Vreeland.
October 2, 2012
“I’m from the generation that came to New York to meet their idols. In my case it was Andy Warhol and Antonio Lopez.”
What do Jerry Hall, Jessica Lange and Grace Jones have in common? Antonio Lopez. Without him, these women, along with other “Antonio Girls,” as he called his coterie of beauties, might not be the household names they are today. An influential fashion world figure from the 1960s to the ’80s, Antonio had an eye for spotting talent and illustrating beauty, transforming aspiring models and actresses into pinnacles of glamour.
Spanning three decades, the Puerto Rican-born, Bronx-raised fashion illustrator’s work could often be seen in the pages of the New York Times, Vogue, Women’s Wear Daily and Interview. He effortlessly invoked surrealistic, abstract and Pop art, and referenced contemporary youth culture with ease. Using pencil, ink, charcoal, watercolor and film, Antonio captured the human form and the fashions adorning it, bringing a breezy, sexy sensibility to his fashion imagery.
After working in the late ’60s with his “Girls,” Antonio moved to Paris in the early ’70s and steeped himself in French culture. That boiled down to night-clubbing with the likes of Karl Lagerfeld (whose apartment served as his crash pad), Yves Saint Laurent, Paloma Picasso and others, many of whom were subjects of his drawings, Instamatic photographs, and Polaroids from that time.
What was particularly striking about Antonio’s work was his uncanny ability to morph his illustration style from one subject or designer to the next. So by the early ’80s, he’d been hired to execute ad campaigns for YSL, Norma Kamali, Valentino, Missoni and Versace. And in a cyclical turn of events, his interpretations frequently influenced those designers’ collections the following season.
In 1987 at age 44, Antonio died far too young from AIDS-related complications. Because of the stigma at that time associated with AIDS, the fickle nature of fashion and the lack of Internet, his work had been fading into fashion history—until now!
Through October 20, you can see some of Antonio’s most renowned illustrations as well as some never before seen in Antonio’s World at the Suzanne Geiss gallery in New York City. Concurrent with the show, in September Rizzoli published Antonio Lopez: Fashion, Art, Sex, and Disco, a book of his illustrations.
All Photos Adam Reich. Copyright the Estate of Antonio Lopez and Juan Ramos. Courtesy the Suzanne Geiss Company.
September 14, 2012
Yesterday, while riding the F train into Manhattan from Brooklyn, I saw Elizabeth Sweetheart. She was sitting on the subway, wearing lime green from head to toe, glowing. Her hair, backpack, necklace, nail polish—everything—was that vibrant shade. Before she got off the train in downtown Brooklyn, I introduced myself to her quickly and asked if I could snap her photo on my phone. I don’t know what prompted me to ask the only other question I had time to blurt out before we arrived at her stop – How long have you been dressing in green? Her response: 16 years. And then she was gone.
With New York Fashion Week winding down, and one waiflike model after another taking to the runways wearing designer clothes most of us could never afford, I found Elizabeth, and her decade-and-a-half-long monochromatic look, to be a refreshing reminder of what style can also be. Of course, watching the shows to see what’s on the fashion horizon (patterns, prints, bold colors, if you’re curious…) and what trends we can expect to trickle into stores like H & M and Forever 21 is one fun way, yes. But, as Elizabeth’s sartorial inclinations reinforced, it can also be a decision to not take things too seriously and do it your own way.
We’ve seen these kinds of D.I.Y. stylistic interpretations throughout history, and to equally satisfying results. Take, for instance, this dress, highlighted in a recent post on the Smithsonian’s Around the Mall blog about how the Institution’s costume collections, although historic and D.C.-based, contribute to the New York Fashion Week conversation:
Feedsack dresses were an economic necessity for the hard-hit farming families of the 1920s and ’30s. But that doesn’t mean women didn’t take pride in creating one-of-a-kind designs. The bag manufacturers even began responding to market demand, according to the American History Museum, by printing ever-more colorful patterns on their products. Fashionable and frugal, the feedsack trend continued through WWII with regional contests for women to show off their skills.
But back to Elizabeth. So there she was, a petite, 70-something-year-old woman, squished between two people on the F train, just being her vibrant self. After taking her photo and exchanging a few words, I posted the image on Facebook only to learn that not only is she a New York institution, but she’s also just a lady who can be seen running errands in Carroll Garden, Brooklyn, in one of her many pairs of hand-dyed green overalls. As she explained to New York Magazine in 2008: “I’m from Nova Scotia, where green is in your surroundings. I missed nature when I moved to New York. I started wearing green nail polish, and it spread all over me.”
September 7, 2012
Today kicked off New York Fashion Week, the debut of the Spring 2013 designer collections, and for the next seven days, if you don’t catch them on the runway, you may run into six-foot-tall models on the subway, post-show, in cut-offs and T-shirts, faces still made up.
Twice a year, like clockwork, I expect a few NYFW constants: lithe models teetering (or taking a spill) on the catwalk; Anna Wintour, expressionless, seated in the front row; popping flashbulbs; PR girls with headsets; celebrities rubbing elbows. It’s been like that as long as I can remember, but in the scheme of things, that isn’t all that long. How did this annual see-or-be-seen spectacle come to be?
When U.S. journalists couldn’t travel to Paris Fashion Week after Germany occupied France during World War II, a fashion week in New York was the creative response. Fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert dreamed up an event where editors could direct their attention to the sartorial splendor of American fashion designers who had gotten very little love from national or international press. Until that time, U.S. designers and editors had relied heavily on Parisian couture for inspiration.
But in 1943, that all changed with the first Press Week, the term Lambert coined before it was officially called Fashion Week. On their home turf (or, well, runway), American designers presented their American-influenced clothing constructed from American-made materials to editors (and only editors—buyers weren’t allowed to attend the fashion shows and instead made showroom visits).
Rather than the later practice of editors, buyers, bloggers and groupies frantically crisscrossing the city to get from one show to the next, in those days, the shows came to the editors. They planted themselves at the Pierre and Plaza hotels, taking copious notes from show to show.
Lambert’s vision worked. Editors began name-checking designers who showed at Press Week—Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, Mollie Parnis, Pauline Trigere and others—in magazines like Vogue and Bazaar, an about-face from the U.S.’s Francophilic inclinations.
Fashion Week continued uninterrupted through the decades, and by the ’70s and ’80s, shows were being staged in creative spaces around New York like lofts, galleries, nightclubs and restaurants. But, after an incident in 1990 during a Michael Kors show in a gritty loft, the tide shifted again. When bits of the plaster ceiling collapsed onto the well-coiffed heads of fashion editors, Fern Mallis, then executive director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (the organizing body of Fashion Week), decided it was time for an upgrade. She’s quoted as saying, “The general sentiment was, ‘We love fashion but we don’t want to die for it.’ ”
So, after a couple of experiments and a lot of cajoling, Mallis not only persuaded the privately owned Bryant Park to erect two white tents, but also persuaded designers to show their collections under those tents. In the spring of 1994, the first shows took place at the park, drawing greater international attention to U.S. designers. The shows continued unabated until September 11, 2001, when Fashion Week, scheduled to begin on the day of the terrorist attacks, was canceled. In 2009, many designers downsized or opted out from Fashion Week because of the poor economy. In 2010, after some hiccups at Bryant Park, Fashion Week moved to Lincoln Center where it remains today.
Even though glitz and glamour take center stage during New York Fashion Week, it’s worth noting that showings still take place in old loft and tight showrooms, on unexpected catwalks and with runway-free presentations. Harkening back to decades past, these events are put on by up-and-comers and independent designers who are willing to think outside the tent.