Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Red Dot

From "The Red Dot" episode of Seinfeld

Office Cleaning Lady: "When I was a little girl in Panama, a rich American came to our town and he was wearing the softest most beautiful sweater. I said to him, "what do you call this most beautiful fabric?", and he said "they call it cashmere". I repeated the words "cashmere, cashmere". I asked if I could have it, and he said "No. Get away from me." Then he started walk away. But I grabbed onto his leg screaming for him to give me the sweater and he dragged me through the street. And then he kicked at me with the other foot and threw some change at me. Oh, but I didn't want the change Georgie. I wanted the cashmere."

This is taken from what is probably my favorite episode of Seinfeld. It stuck with me primarily for two reasons. First because my mother is Panamanian and it's rare that the country gets a shout out unless someone on the nightly news is talking about Pineapple Face. Second, I remember this one so well because I felt the same way about cashmere when I was younger.

Cashmere meant twin sets and pearls, long drives in the countryside and friends named Muffy and Chipper. I still remember how happy I was when I got my first twin set for Christmas many years ago. In my mind I imagined that the soft fibers had been hand trimmed using manicure scissors from the soft underbelly of a Himalayan goat (no older than three) who had been raised on a diet of butter and Mozart from infancy. I still love the stuff.

Perusing my junk mail box I saw a coupon from The Gap. Because I haven't completely weened myself from over shopping, I went to the site and low and behold, saw several nicely priced cashmere sweaters. Before I could click "proceed to checkout," I started wondering. Just when did cashmere get so inexpensive anyway? Is there a difference between the $89 sweater from The Gap and the $300 model at Neiman's?

It turns out the answer is yes and no depending on what you buy. Cashmere has apparently become big business and free trade means that with import restrictions a thing of the past China has flooded the market with the woolly stuff to satisfy demand for luxury at low prices.Upscale and mid-level retailers typically buy from the same markets.

Some cheap cashmere is actually deceptively labeled, containing fiber blends or wool from goats of Outer Mongolia instead of Inner Mongolia. Apparently, the Outty goats have coarser hair.

More expensive doesn't necessarily mean better. What you want to look for in quality cashmere is density. The denser the better. Second, you want a high ply or number of strands used to make the weave. Last, quality cashmere is made from long soft fibers, not short rough ones. First, the denser the cashmere, the better quality it is. Second, the higher the ply - the number of strands used - the more luxurious the piece of clothing. Third, the optimum fibres to have are those that are soft and long, as opposed to short and rough: long fibres pull together to make a stronger yarn, and are therefore more durable. Lastly, the best weavers are usually in Italy so if that ballet neck sweater you're fondling meets all these critera, then you've probably got gold in your hands that will last for ages if properly cared for.

Something else to think about is the effect that the cashmere frenzy has had on the environment. Even though the cashmere itself is a natural product. The availability of cheap cashmere means that overgrazing of the delicate farmlands in China has become a problem.

So back to that Gap sweater. I haven't ordered yet. The website gives very little detail about the origin of the cashmere so I'll have to hold off before using that coupon,

Photos: Wikipedia, Neiman Marcus, The Gap

Two Beautiful Fall Coats from The French Connection

L to R: "deliver" coat $268.00 & felt bow tie jacket

I love love love the first coat. It's the happy medium for the woman like me who can't quite commit to wearing a cape for fear of being called "Black Zorro" by her friends. I also think it would go nicely with anything from skinny jeans to a knee length dress or skirt.

One would have to be a bit more cautious however with the felt jacket. The balloon sleeves and generously sized neck bow are downright poetic but on the wrong person the jacket could go from chic to big-dumb-mustard-clown in the blink of an eye.

Project Runway's Nina Garcia on Style

My family and I just moved back to the US from a two year stint in Luxembourg. Because of that, I am not current on the goings-ons on most television shows.

One show that I really missed watching when I was away was Project Runway. The UK counterpart (called Project Catwalk was a bit dull by comparison and when they replaced Elizabeth Hurley with Kelly Osbourne in the second season, it became even less watchable, if you can imagine that.)

All this to say that I really don't know how people feel in general about ELLE magazine fashion director Nina Garcia. I vaguely remember her being a bit of a cold fish on the show but not nearly as bitchy as Michael Kors.

Well like most everyone with a pulse on a hit reality show, Nina has a book on style hitting the shelves soon. Now, I have a not-so-secret addiction to these books so I'm already poised to add this one to my holds list at the public library. I ran across this excerpt at Gawker that I thought I'd share. There's no new information here but it looks to be a fun read, I just hope that it has loads of photographs.

Anything that sounds like it won't make sense usually looks amazing. The uptown with the downtown. The soft with the hard. The casual with the elegant. Trust me, it works. Unpredictable is far more interesting than predictable. It is what is going to make you look different and interesting, which is the hallmark of a stylish woman. Mixing it up is not about looking staged. It is supposed to be personal. Keep those items that are uniquely you....Style is about these imperfect mixes and these unusual juxtapositions, it takes time and trial to perfect the mix. It can't look staged, it has to look effortless.

The Quest for the Perfect Wardrobe II

I'm still going through boxes of clothes, trying to narrow down my wardrobe into something more manageable. This is much more difficult than I anticipated for several reasons. First of all, anyone looking at my clothes packed away not so neatly in those boxes would think that they belonged to a lunatic. A hundred conflicting crashing prints, patterns and fabrics with nothing tying them together. Piles of clothes with the tags still hanging on reminding me of how foolish I have been with my spending. Things that don't fit, never fit and never will fit. It was enough to give me a massive headache. I am committed to the concept of a "capsule" wardrobe but I feel now like I don't even have to basics to build from. I shoved my box into a corner and was ready to leave it out on the curb when I read this post today by fashionista-ta in the "French Wardrobe" thread on TFS:
  • Segregate in one closet a capsule wardrobe for the coming season. Wear it and see how it works for you. If you find gaps, go "shopping" in your storage area to fill them.
  • Include a couple items you haven't worn or haven't worn much, and give yourself an assignment to see if you can integrate them. If it's not possible, that may pave the path to the next step ...
Hallelujah! It makes sense. Instead of fretting over how to incorporate my flimsy summer clothes into my wardrobe, I'll just focus on Fall instead. It sounds like such a small thing but it has really helped me to focus. I know I already have dresses covered but I think investing in a good quality cashmere sweater or two, a coat and some nice slacks will head me off in the right direction.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Alek Wek Opens Up About Exploitation in Modeling

Wek recounts the event in her soon to be published autobiography.

The calendar in question was made for Lavazza Italian coffee and showed the beauty against a giant coffee cup. Her flawless dark brown skin was to represent espresso. According to Fashion First, although she thought the images were beautiful she was uncomfortable with the manner in which her image was exploited. She says:

I can't help but compare them to all the images of black people that have been used in marketing over the decades. There was the big-lipped jungle-dweller on the blackamoor ceramic mugs sold in the Forties; the golliwog badges given away with jam; Little Black Sambo, who decorated the walls of an American restaurant chain in the 1960s; and Uncle Ben, whose apparently benign image still sells rice...

When asked by Vogue, the company CEO Ennio Ranaboldo defends the image which he saw artistic.

I think she raises a really interesting point. I remember when I first started seeing Alek in magazines. If my memories are correct, she was usually photographed alone and with rather exotic treatments. Never cast as straight forward beauty, she was usually regarded as some "exotic other." In fashion speak, this meant lots of feathers, body paint, sand, and usually a animal skin or two thrown in for good measure. When she finally appeared on the cover of Elle, I nearly fainted from delight.

Of course, the entire modeling industry is about exploitation but at the same time, I always hated reading mini-bios on Wek that made it sound like she tanning goat hides when the fashion world "discovered" her and put her on display. Iman got the same treatment when she first emerged. I actually remember someone telling me in all seriousness, that Iman was discovered while riding on the back of a giraffe in Africa (never mind which country.)

I'm interested to see what the response (if any) will be from the fashion industry with both Alek and Naomi's recent comments entering the blogosphere. Something tells me it will be business as usual, but I am pleased to see more people speaking out about these issues.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Tim Gunn's Guide to Style

Tim Gunn teams with Veronica Webb to give style advice. This is what Tivo was made for.

Venus Williams to Design Line for Steve & Barry's

According to Brandweek, Venus Williams will follow in the footsteps of Sarah Jessica Parker and design a line of lifestyle and activewear for mall retailer Steve & Barry's. The collection will be called EleVen. The collection will hit stores sometime in November and, like all Steve and Barry's items, nothig in the collection will cost more than $20. The line is named for the street on which Venus and her sisters grew up in California.
I'm curious to see what Venus comes up with. Unlike most celebrities that lend their names to collections, Venus did attend design school though I've never really admired her personal style.

Picture Source: LSA

Tracy Reese Handbags

I've always admired Tracy Reese's feminine dresses and separates but I'm really feeling her new handbag collection. There's none of that "it" bag pizzazz here, just well constructed leather bags (some with contrast stitiching and faux ivory handles) that transistions easily from day to evening. These are classically styled everyday bags that won't go out of style as soon as you bring it home. I especially have my eye on the 'Pilar' double handle tote bag. Fortunately several of these are on sale now at

Moschino: A Second Look

Several days later and I'm still thinking about this ad. I'm not sure what Peter Lindberg was going for with this image (it certainly is thought provoking) but I still don't like it.

It's one of those things...tough to grasp at first but then over time it slowly becomes clearer.

Initially I just thought it was because of it's gimmicky approach (there are also versions of this ad featuring White and Asian models though neither of those ads has a nude model in them.)

Then I was irked by the segregation of the models by race. It is so rare to see Black and Asian models in major ad campaigns so what it the point of placing them in fashion ghettos instead of mixing them together?

Next, I was bothered by the nude model. Now, I'm used to seeing naked ladies in fashion magazine ads but I didn't notice, until I looked at all three ads again at TFS, that this ad is the only one with a happy grinning naked lady surrounded by sourpuss expressions.

Everything is deliberate in fashion photography. You can't convince me otherwise. So why bright red? Why are all the models nearly the exact same skin color? I have a huge family and you'd be hard pressed to find two people in it that are the same shade of brown. So who made that casting decision? I can picture someone at an agency going through a stack of cards, rejecting models that weren't "black" enough. Don't get me started on the wigs. I have a teeny-weenie afro myself so it's not that afro itself that bugs me, it's just the why this?

If you are a Black woman in her mid-30s like me, then no doubt you remember when Mattel came out with the first Black Barbie doll. I got one for Christmas that year. My mom bought it under protest because she hated how the doll was styled. Guess what she looked like...I wonder what my mom would say about this ad, 27 years later.

Jezebel Tallies it Up

I found this interesting. Jezebel has done an informal tally of the merchandise featured in several women's fashion magazines in September. Here are the results for the second installment, which pulls out the 10-key on September's Elle and Vogue phonebooks.

Apparel: $825,764 (Most expensive: $61,000 Dolce & Gabbana beaded dress. Least expensive: $48 Splendid cotton shirt)
Accessories: $350,569 (Most expensive: $44,600 De Grisogono watch. Least expensive: $38 Wolford velvet leggings)
Beauty: $103 (Most expensive: $50 Lancome Destiny Cube. Least expensive, $25 Lancome Le Crayon Kohl Oriental Duo)
Other: $6921 (Most expensive: $1,830 Gothic armchair. Least expensive: $20 Mary Mulcahy napkins)
Total Shit: $1,183,357

Apparel: $263,368 (Most expensive: $5290 Carolina Herrera Wool Coat. Least expensive: $25 Isaac Mizrahi for Target shirt)
Accessories: $301,116 (Most expensive: $6,400 Betteridge equestrian brooch. Least expensive: $7 socks by Ralph Lauren)
Beauty: $364 (Most expensive: $188 Dermaquest Peptide serum. Least expensive: $6 Prada face wipe)
Other: $73,001,215 (Most expensive: $73 million Mark Rothko painting. Least expensive: $15 old-school telephone)
Total Shit: $73,566,063 ($566,063 without painting)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Gavin Douglas

At 24 years old Gavin Douglas is already one of London's most promising new designers. He taken home a slew of honors including Fashion Fringe and the Young Avant-Garde Designer of the Year Award.

His Spring/Summer collection was inspired by a London exhibition titled "The Black Victorians" which was lauded for its mix of historic detailing and modern sensibility.

Looking at his Fall collection, all I can think of is future/sex ala Sean Young in Blade Runner. I love the mix of fabrics and color in his collection. Everything is here: leather, feathers,'s like a space aged bordello. The complete opposite of anything I'd actually buy but so so pretty to look at.

Selected pieces available at Yoox

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Jil Sanders

I know that some people will probably find this collection uninteresting but I love the non-trendiness of it. Raf Simons is well regarded for his somewhat avante-gard menswear collection, so I was curious to see what he would do at Jil Sanders. This represents everything I look for in clothing these days, sleek silhouettes and incredible detailing. I'm all about this type of conservative chic. I think put it best when they celebrated its beautifully disciplined... purity of form.

Size Does Matter

Top to Bottom: Balenciaga Weekender ($1,962), Givenchy Patent Large Nightingale ($1,695), Marc by Marc Jacobs Delancy Tote ($698), Mulberry Large Mabel ($1,495.)

Vogue may have made a push for small clutch type bags this fall but personally, I will never be able to give up big bags. The bigger the better in fact. I actually feel naked if I'm not toting around an extra large piece of leather. I view it as a form of protection.

I come from a long line of suitcase sized bag carriers. My mother kept everything imaginable in her purse: wigs, makeup, notepads, the occasional piece of flatware, and even full sized condiments ("never leave the house without your lipstick and a bottle of your favorite hot sauce" was her motto.)

I, on the other hand, was greatly influenced by repeated viewings of "Let's Make a Deal" as a child. The part when host Monte Hall would go into the audience and offer $100 to the first woman able to pull a random item (be it a toothbrush, can of hairspray, or sewing kit) out of her bag became my obsession. Since then I've always had a list of essential items cluttering up the inside of my bag "just in case" I run into someone in need.

I've never run into Mr. Hall on the street but if you see me and are in desperate need of a lint brush, I'm here to help.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Naomi Speaks Out About Discrimination in Modeling Industry

Naomi Campbell (AAP)

Supermodel Naomi Campbell has lambasted top fashion magazines for avoiding black models in favour of fair-skinned beauties.

The London-born supermodel targeted Vogue in particular for its almost exclusive use of pale-skinned models.

"Black models are being sidelined by the major modelling agencies," Campbell said in an interview reported in The Times.

"It is a pity that people don't appreciate black beauty."

The 37 year old plans to set up a new modelling program in Kenya in an effort to bring greater balance and diversity to glossy magazines.

Campbell is a regular visitor to the Kenyan coast, where her former boyfriend Flavio Briatore owns a hotel.

She has reportedly been impressed by local beauties and sees a market for African faces on the world stage.

Cambell first appeared on the cover of Vogue in 1987 when she was 17 years old — and was one of the first to gain the tag 'supermodel'.

It has been more than five years since she graced the magazine's cover, and she now believes Vogue is reluctant to use black models.

"Even myself, I get a raw deal from my own country in England," she said during interviews at Briatore’s hotel.

"Only white models, some of whom are not as prominent as I am, are put on splash pages.

"I don't want to quit modelling until I find that black models get equal prominence and recognition by the world media and information instruments."

She's not saying anything that the rest of us haven't been complaining about for years but I'm glad she's speaking out. It's sad that there were more Black high-profile models working 15 years ago than there are now.



Photographed by Peter Lindbergh. Of course the ad caught my eye because of all the Black models. Apparently, it's part of a series. There are "Asian" and "White" versions too. I'm always happy to see black models getting work but this feels kind of gimmicky. I miss seeing beautiful dark-skinned girls in fashion magazines.

The Other Fall Shoe

Pumps with cone, stacked, and tree trunk sized heels are a nice alternative for the woman who either: can't manage more than a teeter or a hobble in razor thin stilettos, is sick to death of ballet flats (the horror!), or hates the lace-up Oxford pumps that are literally everywhere this fall.

It seems like every other page in September's Vogue features has a thick heeled pump in an advertisement or editorial.

The season's must-have appears to be Prada's offering. I love the multi-hued Sfumato Mary Jane from the sleek ankle strap to the heel -- which looks like the lovechild of a Japanese brush stroke and the rear talon of some fashionable bird of prey.

Alas, I still haven't given up on my flats. But if I could, I would buy that shoe just to use it as a centerpiece on the coffee table. The price is $550 at Bergdorf.

Zoe Saldana - Instyle September 2007

Not very interesting choice but still a nice spread. She looks like an entirely different woman when she's not smiling. Her beautiful smile really lights up her face.

Source: Kochie332

Paula Patton in Vogue

This year's Vogue phonebook is much better than I was anticipating.

In spite of the boring and oddly styled cover image, there are actually a few good articles this time around (including one on Michelle Obama - now SHE would have been an incredible cover choice!) and loads of ads full of covet worthy items that I can't possibly afford.

Beautiful actress Paula Patton even guest edits one of the Index-Checklist back pages.

Source: Luxx/TFS

Liya Kebede at Home

From InStyle Magazine, pics of her Upper East Side apartment. I love the way she incorporates tradition pieces of furniture in her modern space. I would have loved to see her closet!

Source: Luxx/TFS