Sunday, October 18, 2009

model of the week: r'el dade

R'el Dade
Marilyn Modeling Agency

Tall, Texan, and this editorial in Numero. Do you need to know anything else?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

the dreamers

Fashion month has officially ended. New York. London. Milan. Paris. Gone and on to the next season in February. What does it all mean? Does anyone really care? The relief is akin to coming down from a sugar rush or the feeling of elation after a really good film. It was all fun, fleeting, but over in a flash and it's on to the next thing. In Matt Tyrnauer's "Valentino: The Last Emperor" and RJ Cutler's "The September Issue" the vortex of fun, fleeting, and flash is looked at from a distance as if it were on display at a museum, which isn't necessarily a criticism, but maybe a reality of a business and art that's based on dream building and intangible ideas that are purely superficial with a glint of reality. The paradox in both films is that the audience is treated to the world "The Devil Wears Prada", but under the guise of it being a serious documentary, but is everything we're seeing serious? Weekend getaways in Gstaad and tennis games with Louis Vuitton carry alls is not exactly serious material. Maybe that's not the point, but "Valentino" and "September Issue" raise interest issues of beauty, access, wealth, power, and the factory of dreams that is film and fashion.

The first thing to note about both films is that neither is terribly great, but good in ways that were perhaps unintended. They're reasonably entertaining portraits of a world most are unfamiliar with and for those that are familair with, the world seems even more glamorous, immediate, and tantalizing. For those who are fashion obsessed these two documentaries are the equivalent of Holly Golightly standing in front of Tiffany's on an early morning midtown rise. The dream of fashion is within reach, yet still has the distance that makes it so appealing. Exclusive with the promise of inclusive. Cinematically speaking both films look flat, with the exception of a wonderfully quiet moment in "The September Issue" with Grace Coddington in Versailles looking pensively into the distance as her mass of flame colored hair blows in the wind. What does work and what makes them such engaging films is their depiction of class, wealth, and power. Valentino Garavani and Anna Wintour are living high above in the proverbial Ayn Rand tower, doling out glamour, beauty, and illusion of wealth. Whether that's a dangerous threshold of power to have, where would we be without Valentino red or knowing how to mix and match designer labels? The arbiters of fashion teach us how to dress and essentially live. If we are what we eat, then we are also most certainly what we wear.

"The Devil Wears Prada" is an interesting turning point for a lot of things. Meryl Streep's unstoppable career was solidified with David Frankel's farce of fashion and work place antics. It makes you wonder why the wealth of important leading roles aren't going to Streep's contemporaries like Diane Keaton, Jill Clayburgh, Jane Fonda, and Sally Field, who are either stuck in romantic comedy film hell as the unattractive mother in law or some dreadful television serial. It was also the first major summer movie in the 2000's that connected to women that didn't rely on the star 90's big names Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan, Sandra Bullock, or Demi Moore, nor their unsuccessful next in line replacements like Reese Witherspoon, Jessica Biel, or Jessica Alba. I'm not sure it made a star out of Anne Hathaway, but it sure promised. It was also film about full on fashion. The numerous costume change sequences, the coat and bag throwing sequences, the inevitable gala sequence in which we see the stars all gussied up. Living in a post-"Sex in the City", fashion obsessed blogosphere, and celebrities as models world, fashion is enjoying a bit of a pop cultural zeitgeist moment. "The Devil Wears Prada" was at the right place at the right time and said something about fashion that had not quite been articulated before. One of the best scenes in the film is when Anne Hathaway's character naively claims fashion is just fashion. Not important. Not real. Not influential. Streep in only the way someone who has played everything from Woody Allen's lesbian ex-wife to Julia Child, gives a fantastic speech about how the blue sweater Hathaway's character is wearing is the result of the carefully crafted minds of magazine editors and high fashion designers who set the trends that trickle down to the affordable clothing most people who think they don't know or care about fashion, are actually just as complicit in fashion as those that pay thousands of dollars for over the knee boots and 80's revival mini-dresses. It's an excellent point that drives "Valentino" and "The September Issue." We laugh at the pugs wearing diamond earrings in the excessive world of Valentino set to the unironic tune of Nino Rota's score from "La Dolca Vita" or find the caricatures of the fashion magazine industry endlessly compelling for their one liners and seemingly religious dedication to their artifice, but as Streep articulates, everyone participates in fashion whether they're aware or not. The worlds of these two documentaries present the extreme side of fashion, but it's the extreme that feeds and influences the mainstream. Dream, beauty, money, power, rinse and repeat.

Beyond the influence of trends and the power of decisions and money, "Valentino" and "The September Issue" also try to penetrate the two very guarded people that once the lights go up and the credits roll, I wasn't entirely convinced I knew them better or more intimately, but the attempt is honorable and there are scenes in both films that are more revealing than perhaps intended. In "Valentino", Mr. Valentino gleefully recounts his childhood spent watching American movies of the 30's and 40's that present glamour with such unashamed joy and exuberance. Diluted isn't the right word and too harsh to describe the state of euphoria Valentino seems to be in and live in, but his work became his life and that parade of red dresses was not only the red carpet but also his real life. It's a rare way to live, but to Valentino it's the world he's created and it's the world the movie wants its audience to be seduced by in the same way it has seduced Valentino. Does the movie tell us anything about his family? No. Do we learn about a hidden softer side? Not entirely. Do we care? Why would we when his life is an endless platter of pretty dresses, pretty people, and really good parties? One of the film's great scenes finds Valentino frustrated by the creative control of not only his upcoming ready to wear collection, which would be one of his last, and the filmmakers capturing his world in between the not so controlled moments. He throws a fit like a child that he isn't being filmed enough or in the right way and that the hair tests on the models is nothing like he imagined. Perhaps Valentino has bought into his own dream too much. Can he always be the star in his own show in the way the women he adores from a bygone film era once were? It's humorous and ultimately human.

When a film includes one of its characters exclaiming, "My eyes are starved! There's a famine of beauty! A famine of beauty, honey!" you might not expect to glean much from the work other than there are some in this world that truly believe there is a famine of beauty. RJ Cutler's "The September Issue" is a film that is primarily about trying to penetrate the impenetrable. Cutler was graciously given access to the inner works of the offices of Vogue magazine, but the best scenes take place outside of the magazine in worlds in which viewers have never seen before. Early in the film, Wintour attends a breakfast meeting with the retailers from top department stores like Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, and Saks, in which her vision of the upcoming trends for the season are considered very seriously in terms of what the buyers will put on their floor. Essentially, Wintour will decide on the blue sweater that ends up in the discount bin we will all purchase. Everything comes back to "Devil Wears Prada" so it seems. Another scene worth mentioning is when Cutler probes Wintour about her family. She cautiously and carefully describes how different her profession is compared to the work of her siblings who work in public service and more tangibly significant work. You get the sense that Wintour loves what she does and understands its importance, but maybe she recognizes the dreams she creates with Vogue are in fact dreams. Although fashion evolves and yet cyclical in the same breath, there is an end. Dreams only last as long as we're asleep. Film only lasts for its running time and fashion only lasts each season. The money, the influence, and the honest passion of those in the fashion industry are illuminated in "Valentino" and "The September Issue", and that's what sticks. In that context, the clothes are the eye candy to gorge on for an hour and a half, but after the sugar rush is over, these films leave traces of the realities of an industry easily lampooned, but as Streep says at the end of "Devil Wears Prada", it's a world that everybody wants to be a part of.

wanted: gomorrah

directed by Matteo Garrone, 2009
Available November 24, 2009
Criterion Collection

"Gomorrah" is a great film on many levels, if not solely for its perfect opening and closing scenes. Everything else in between is pretty good too, but the violent opening and closing moments are some of the most beautifully cinematic and chilling scenes I've seen all year. This is high on my list of gifts I'd like to find under the tree this year.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

song of the week: "irm"

I've heard nothing but good things about Lars Von Trier's "Antichrist" from the brave who saw at the New York Film Festival. For whatever reason French actresses are especially astute at portraying quiet hysteria and beautiful madness (as evident by Isabelle Huppert's fantastic turn in Claire Denis's "White Material, a festival pick I saw and loved) and from what I hear, Charlotte Gainsbourg really goes for it and then some in Von Trier's brutal satire of liberal bourgeoisie and the horror of grief and loss. Gainsbourg has a new album due out early next year that already had my interest piqued with the news that it would be a largely collaborative effort between her and Beck, another fearless performer willing to explore new territories in his own continually spontaneous art. One of the first singles from the album is "IRM", French for MRI, is a curious source of inspiration. Gainsbourg was involved in a serious water skiing accident that caused her to endure six months of rehabilitation after a brain hemorrhage. The drone of MRI's is conveyed with the bouncy clash of mechanic sounding blips and kinks. It's groovy and yet part of a dark personal history. You can listen to the song here. I can't wait for her performance in "Antichrist" and the follow up to her phenomenal last album, "5:55."

"and all i saw was sock."

Vanity Fair, "The Hollywood Issue
April 2003

Take a look at those socks. Look closely. Go on. It's Jude Law's right ankle. That subtle flash of pink amongst the otherwise neutral palette is style defined. That image of subtle sartorial impact had a big effect on me when I bought this issue almost seven years ago. I'm not interested in copycating the look, but I bought a couple of pairs of socks at Uniqlo today in shades of kelly green, blue-grey, and stoplight red and I'm waiting for the moment that I can carefully have my pant leg expose a shot of color. Jude Law might be a movie star that never became a true movie star, but style is style and you can't ignore that peek of pink is pretty badass.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

tribute: the eye

Gisele, New York, April 1 1999
Photographed by Irving Penn
I think this was the image that secured my love for Brazilian supermodels. Rest in peace Irving Penn and many thanks.


Thursday, October 1, 2009


3 things:
2. How was this movie never completed?
3. Why didn't I get tickets to the documentary about this unfinished would be masterpiece at the New York Film Festival?

the coat

Billy Reid
Peacoat, $675

The air is a little more crisp this week, which means the oppressive heat of summer is behind us and fall/winter is starting to settle in. It's not cold enough to break out the heavier outerwear yet, but when that day comes I want to be prepared with this Billy Reid peacoat. Made in Italy with a high quality wool and an impeccable fit, it's the embodiment of an "investment piece." That might be a big buzz phrase for the current trend of reinterpreted classics, but what's good is good and this is a fine piece of outerwear.