Fresh style insights, tips and commentary by Michelle Tea, Michael Braithwaite, Leo Plass, Page McBee and Carrie Leilam Love.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Snake Eats Its Tail: On Fashion As Life

I have recently discovered the excellent online magazine Feature Shoot, which profiles fine art and commercial photographers. I was particularly impressed by the work of Ryan Pfluger, whose portraits look edgy and soft all at once. His models, like in the piece above, have a subtlety to their fashion that I really appreciate. It's like a bunch of my most casually fashionable friends got sculpted into well-lit art.

I am really interested in aesthetics that toe the line between performance and authenticity. Fashion as mask, fashion as extension of self. I like when people look considered, like this gentleman lazing about in the summertime in his sweet, sweet shoes:

I also like to think that the way we express ourselves visually is an extension of the ephemera we absorb and think about in our daily lives: our rebellion/consumption of mainstream culture, our memories, what's on our corner, our icons, our movies and our art. In a lot of ways our interactions with the world is a massive feedback loop, a snake eating its tail. Our art becomes commentary becomes real becomes art. And it's all style.

Case in point: no one can deny the influence of Mad Men on fashion but, from where I'm standing, that influence happened very organically. I remember spending time in LA when the first season was airing and everywhere you looked there were guys in suits. Now, reading my previous posts, you might know that I find it absurd when dudes formalize their outfits willy-nilly, but I appreciated that something about the style spoke to all those aspiring actors and other industry types in the City of Angels. I respect their nostalgia for a big city glamor predating bedazzled t-shirts, a time of formality and buttoned-up mystery.

Even Michelle Obama drew comparisons to Jackie O at President Obama's inauguration. Perhaps the First Lady felt as inspired by the look of the brooding television series as the rest of us did? Or, maybe, she just felt inspired by Jackie O, who was clearly the most fashionable first lady before her. Either way, her outfit echoed  the street style emerging that year and probably, also, cemented its reign. What could be more glamorous than an inauguration? TV became life became history became TV again:

Point is, style is everywhere: in our architecture and our politics, our graphic design and our literature. I love that sometimes fashion just explodes into being and that people have emotional relationships with their clothes; relationships laced with history and nostalgia and idealism and desire. I love that sometimes people really are wearing their hearts on their sleeves. 

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hand Knit, Hiking and Hobos

FINALLY! The hobo is given his due. I've admired hobo fashion, or 'hobo chic' as I call it, for quite a while. Is it the accidental nature of how they obtained their articles, or, something more? The deeper eccentric within them? Hobos should not have a bad rap. Back in the day some of them donned really cool names, like, Ramblers, Wayward travelers, Drifters, Wanderers, or coined by Jack Kerouac, Dharma Bums. Don't get me wrong, not all homeless people are wearing awesomely executed outfits. Just the other night as I enjoyed an uncanny warm SF evening by sitting at a sidewalk cafe eating dinner a group of 'street' teens walked by. All clad in new vibrant skater vans shoes and checkered backpacks, only slightly grimed from the street life. I thought, 'go home kids', and bit my tongue so as not to actually yell it at them. But, on a different recent day as I drove home I looked out my window to see a hobo wearing an off-white henley, army jacket, denim drawstring pants, and electric blue athletic shoes his hair pulled back and graying beard setting it all off and thought, 'right on brother'.

Recently a Parsons School graduate, Julia Chesky, shot an editorial based on The Pushcart War, a book I have not read but now certainly want to. She shot with Art Director Ali Lee and Chris with a (homeless) model. It is titled 'The Original Hipster'.

“Our lovely model, Chris, has lived on Mercer Street for a few decades by choice. I’m calling this series The Original Hipster because on most days he doesn’t even look like he’s truly homeless.“ Julia Chesky

Check out these hand knit numbers by Phuong Thuy Nguyen. The collection is titled Unconventional Body Objects.

Insane right? That second one is like a knit jelly fish.

Are you going rock climbing this winter? Hiking in the Appalachian Mountains? Or, perhaps these could be your cure for stuffy subway rides. Check out the Moncler V fall/winter 2010 collection. They've got coats that you can strap to your back when you feel beads of sweat start to roll down your face. Or, when you don't feel like paying to check your coat.

Takahiro Miyashita former Number (N)ine designer recently debuted his new line, The Soloist for Fall 2010. Personally, I'm not that into his clothes which I would describe as Burning Man meets tropical S&M. But these hats and boots of his are fucking nice.

I'm digging Whillas & Gunn's spring/summer 2011 collection. Whillas & Gunn are an offshoot brand of Kakuda Traders Australia a family outerwear company. Whillas & Gunn take the rugged Australian outback vibe and give it a more urban tailored look.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Shout Out to Africa!!

The above clip is the only part of the 2005 movie Beauty Shop I really remember. I don't know why Djimon Hounsou and his dimples were shouting out Africa, I just remember feeling overwhelmingly proud of being of the Diaspora and considering writing a very convincing letter to Mr. Hounsou asking him to father my wife and I's babies.

I kind of had the same feeling when checking out the styling adventures of my facebook friend Ola Shobowale. Check out this recent editorial he helped style in New African Woman magazine:

I don't know Ola in real life. I don't even remember how we became facebook friends. But when he posted these photos of the lead singer in my favorite band, Shingai Shoniwa of the Noisettes, wearing unapologetically bold colors and prints and Irregular Choice shoes by Danny Sullivan (who you might remember from last week's post) I fell in love.

I am not a cultural anthropologist, but one thing I do know is black people like to dress up. If you are the one black person who does not like to dress up, or the self-righteous friend of the one black person who does not like to dress up, relax, you can keep your black card. I'm just sayin.

The main point is, even though all of these outfits are dressy, I can absolutely see Shingai traipsing around the streets of London in these getups just for coffee. Or, as the shoot implies, to go buy records. What do you expect from a chick who hangs herself by the knees from balconies whilst singing, just to entertain you?

I was at this show, btw. It was at the Rickshaw Stop in SF. She sweated on me. It was amazing.

In this shot she is wearing a necklace with a bunch of things that look like giant beer caps. We already had Shingai + Irregular Choice Shoes and now we add BEER?! I'm foaming.

Mixing patterns is dangerous fashion territory -- it's like cutting a blow-fish, if you get it wrong, it's deadly, but pulled off right you have a treat and delicacy. This garment totally makes the cut.

The next set of pics that showed up in my facebook feed from Ola were from an editorial shoot for Pride magazine. Which is not a magazine about being Gay and Happy! It is like the UK version of Essence, which, unsurprisingly, is a little more stylish and sophisticated than its US counterpart.

I love this. High Tea is more British than anything could be, and these two gorgeous black women seem to be both enjoying and mocking the practice in equal parts, which is basically the number-one rule of surviving quotidian rituals of the colonizer, imho.

Anytime I see anything containing sugar in Britain I think of Slavery. You should too. No Slavery = No Sugar. Each one of those precious jam jars on that shelf owes its existence to a terrible history. But also, I love jam, on scones, with tea, and even moreso when wearing a petticoat and red stilettos. Something about this photo makes me feel like it acknowledges all of those conflicting narratives.

What is she thinking? One time, I was watching Project Catwalk (the UK version of Project Runway) and one of the contestants kind of cried a teeny bit because he had been harshly critiqued, and Elizabeth Hurly who was one of the judges says to him, "Stop your blubbering. Remember you're English." Whoa. Since the model above has little interpretable expression, I'm assuming Elizabeth Hurly stopped by the set just before this was taken.

This last is my favorite. These girls are doing so many things. Mainstream colonizing culture is very confusing. As a member of a minority culture, you are supposed to get as close as you can to being completely assimilated, but you are also supposed to "know your place" and not try to be too much like the dominant culture. It's like the Price is Right. As close as you can get to whiteness without going over. (For the price of this Showcase I'll guess a chemical relaxer, a love of French cheeses, and institutional power, Bob!! What??? I went over??? Noooooooo.....)

In this pic, these girls are either complying with the colonizing demand to be everything without being anything, OR they are saying FUCK YOU and claiming it all. Maybe it's both, but as for the latter: Colonizing culture says: Don't Be African!! They say: we're standing on your tea table wearing African fabrics!! Colonizing culture says: Don't try to be British!! They say: I look good in my petticoat and my ankles are crossed primly as as a princess!! And it's totally fashionable!!

Today, while searching through Ola's photos for the purposes of writing this blog, I saw this:

...and then immediately went here and ordered my copy of the magazine pictured above. Pop Africana is a new magazine being edited by Oroma Elewa, a young Nijerian woman living in NYC. The website says "Pop Africana is a fashion, art and culture magazine led by a team of creatives who pride themselves on delivering a rejuvenated image of Africa." It's modern, it's hip, it's fashionable without being vacuous, but loveliest of all it's Black. Capital B. Thank you Ola Shobowale, for introducing this African-American girl to Black British Style. You rule.

Shout Out to Africa!!


Tuesday, July 27, 2010


What you see above is a giant turkey or chicken foot aside some animal skulls with facial piercings. We are in Tattooluum, a tattoo parlor in Tulum, a beach town named for its famed ruins in the Yucatan. I went with some of the writers I'd been sharing condo ocho with, so we could get the word ocho tattooed on us somewhere. Some tattoos are not about design, decoration, or personal history, they're about wanting to tattoo a moment right onto you. The ocho moment had been a moment of ocean witchery, dreaming the same dreams as one another, thinking the same thoughts, saying the same words, and in general a sharp sense of oneself as a witchy sort of person. Ocho! In astrology the 8th house is the place ruled by Scorpio, a super spooky sign, so it feels correct now to have the word scripted tiny on the inside of my ankle. What was even more correct was so walk into Tattooluum and find the shop manned by a couple of females, including Daniela, who gave us tattoos, told us about the Mayan full moon party on the beach and had such cute style and great tattoos I had to take her picture:

Her dress is a shirt she sort of finagled into a smock, and then she tossed that micro-mini cut-off skirt over it. Totally great. Thanks, Daniela!

Avenue Tulum is sort of the main drag in Tulum, with tons of little places to shop.

The sight of this wall of purses triggered some sort of chemical reaction in my brain. Maybe it's because they all look like giant caramels to me and I want to eat them? Anyway, they live at Casa Hernandez, but they were born and raised in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas. They come in lots of different styles. Here is my favorite:

It's the perfect writer's bag, because there is that little slot for your pen, and the first, smaller pocket would fit a notebook or a journal or a copy of Poems, Protest and a Dream: Selected Writings by Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, the radical nun who wrote feminist treatise and poetry and whose work was the first writing to be published on a printing press in Mexico.

This is Gonzalo Jimenez, an artist making awesome feathered and seashelled earrings out of his store and studio, Cabanas Ecologicas, as well as crafting excellent oceanic dreamcatchers, the webs made from scissored hammocks and the frames and ornaments collected from the flotsam and jetsam that washes up on the shores of Tulum.

The ceiling of dreamcatchers and wall of earrings had so enchanted me, I failed to register a very young girl torturing a puppy behind me. So, if Gonzalo aims to transport people to other, kinder worlds via his earthy crafts, well done, my man!

Hi, cute saddle bags! Not as in bags for the saddle of your horse, but bags made to look like the saddle of the horse you have in fact never been on. Stepping into Papalote Galeria, one becomes instantly hushed and allows a sort of reverence to overtake you. You are no longer in a the blanket and bikini stalls ambling up and down Avenue Tulum, you're in a boutique with some seriously special, well-made pieces by local designers and craftspeople.

These handmade gladiator sandals are a bit rough around the edges, but I like it.

Mexico is just full of amazing bags, which is hard for me because I fucking love hoarding bags, but when you know you have a problem it's hard to keep indulging it. I will surely leave this country with a new one, but which? Here's a bag the likes of I've never seen before. It's like a giant canteen or ancient wine flask or something. Not only is it totally interesting, but that soft leather strap felt so good on my shoulder, like the hand of a kindly, mystical being saying, 'Just get it, Michelle. It's only money, and we're all going to die someday.'

There is so much beaded stuff in Mexico - more on this, soon - and all of it is awesome, but these eagle necklaces are especially dramatic. Papalote had lots of excellent jewelry, including cuffs made from sea fan, the lacy purple sea plants that affix themselves to hunks of coral and sort of wave, fan-like, in the currents. Pretty!

Should I have gotten this cute, plaid poncho? Probably. I like it's high neckline and attached scarf, and it would look great with a belt. Alas it looked like it had been dangling on the awning of this shop for about twenty-five years, so I passed. It's still cute, tho.

On the right, with the pink bean beads, we got Nayeli Aparicio, who for five years has been running her super fun store Mexicarte in Akumal Village, near where I'm staying. The pink adobe structure, all lit up with Christmas lights, was one of the first things we saw when we arrived here after dark, fairly lost and totally discombobulated. The patio holds baskets full of paper mache animal heads on sticks and hung with streamers; old church relics; handcrafted treasure boxes with rusty old keys. Inside there are arts and crafts from all over Mexico, and Nayeli spends much of her time trekking across the country to buy directly from the artisans. The woman on the left is her assistant, Amalia, who has worked with Nayeli from the start and just helped her open a second store, in Tulum, this winter.

I freak out when I walk into Mexicarte in the same way a kid freaks out when their It's A Small World boat floats them into a magical land of jerkily dancing glitter dolls. Every inch of the hot pink shop is covered with bright and beautiful things to behold, like these awesome bean necklaces! Most of these strands are just your regular ornamentation, but these special colorines bean beads:

. . . are kept their natural color and worn to keep bad vibes at bay! Nayeli says, " The people use it for protection from bad energy. Or, when a baby is born, they use it for protection from bad eyes." And what fashion plate doesn't need protection from the envious glare of the bad eye, hmmm?

I have two beaded bracelets from Mexicarte; one has an eagle with a dragon in its claw (okay, maybe its a snake) and the other is a grand, white eagle. Both were made, like the bands above, by artists from the indigenous Huicholes community. Most all Huichole art depicts their mystical cosmology; the eagle is one of their main gods. Taking peyote is also a major aspect of Huicholes culture and religious practice, and the visions seen while in such a hallucinogenic state are transformed into motifs in their jewelry and crafts. I would love my eagle bracelets without thinking that the artist had a psychedelic religious experience before making them, but knowing that they're the transmission of a mystic vision makes them pretty much the coolest. Also, the dangling beaded earrings I had always taken to be flowers are in fact peyote blossoms!

Nayeli pressed pause on the generous tutorial she was giving me, and left to help some European tourists confused about whether Frida Kahlo was a man or a woman. "That's a woman," Nayeli said about the painting on the tiny hand-mirror the European tourist was considering. "It was the 1930s. They did not have cosmetics." Meanwhile, I went to check out the cluster of bags dangling in the doorway. Pinzon bags are all over the Yucatan, and they're so cute. I love this style with the wooden handle, and it comes in many different sizes, including one big enough to carry a computer. Yes! They also make the cutest backpacks, and totes like this one:

These teeny bags are super cute and remind me of 80s-era cheapie Jordache bags - pleather pouches on long strings you wore sideways across your body untile the pleather started peeling or the string snapped, about a month. These are smaller, but I think they're sturdier.

Okay, gotta jet to to Farmacia and pick up a year's supply of antibiotics, lady-problem pills, Viagra, cold sore meds, prescription-strength skin issue cures, and perhaps another tube of pure Retinol to bring back to the USA, where such goods are hard to get sans health insurance. Adios!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Attack of the Intelligent Woman

Wow. Last week's post was heavy, huh! Let's add some levity this week.

BIG NEWS! I have my first real designer crush in ten years. It's on the Paris-based design house, Celine. Really though, it's on Phoebe Philo because Phoebe Philo is the brains behind the much improved Celine look. Celine was originally founded in 1945 as a handmade children's shoe business. Who knew that Post War Paris needed meticulously made shoes for its children? Apparently it did and Celine eventually grew to encompass relatively boring women's designs. Supposedly, Michael Kors reinvigorated the company when he took over as creative director in 1997, but I can't imagine Michael Kors reinvigorating much of anything. He seems best suited for bad tans and designs for unimaginative women from Long Island. To each their own, I suppose.

Enter Phoebe Philo. After taking over as creative director in 2008, she has managed to revamp Celine as a line for fashionable, intelligent women in their 30s. That's me (depending on the day)! Her 2011 resort line has such great highlights as this outfit designed by the few people who are lucky enough to have both long legs AND a long torso:

And then there's this adorable ensemble:

Or my favorite (check out the band of leather ringing the bottom of the skirt):

Sadly, I can't do anything but admire Celine's resort line from afar, as there is never any opportunity for me to wear such squarely summer-chic clothes in the Bay Area. I suppose I could adorn myself and head out to the warmth of the outlying suburbs, but I don't really want to wander around semi-farm country in my resort attire. Hey, cows! One of your kind made the ring at the bottom of my skirt! Thanks?

Since we only ever subtly alternate between Autumn and Spring here, I've begun charting my strategy for when the rest of the Northern Hemisphere catches up and I can begin sporting my new Fall duds. RE-enter Celine. Philo used three words to describe the Fall line: "Strong. Powerful. Reduced." And it is. The lines are smart and clean and each design offers some unexpected element that gives it a unique personality.

Philo's vision manages to straddle the divide between an experimental young adulthood and a sophisticated adulthood. Too often, it seems like we either hold on desperately to the looks we developed at 22 (see my gripe about precious vintage/aka why are you wearing a bow in your hair and that cutesy dress when you're 35 it doesn't make sense or look right) or we're encouraged to graduate into some hellish Anne Taylor (or Michael Kors, that orange s.o.b.) reality. I realize that there are other options and issues beyond this dichotomy, but I'm simply noting what I see around San Francisco and Oakland (and Portland, to some extent) and really, this is just a blog. I can't get into all the details of every subset everywhere. I just know that my days of dressing like a dance party or a pot luck are happily over and I'm not about to get lured into some "business casual" model of adult preppy.

But I can totally wear a navy sweater with a Rolls Royce on it!

Or a turtleneck sweater fit for casual business meetings
or a crisp New England sailing jaunt.

Similarly, the outerwear collection for Celine's Fall line embraces a contemporary version of the "smart woman" a la Katharine Hepburn.

Katharine Hepburn, looking like you wouldn't fuck with her, as usual.

The diversity of Philo's daywear options is incredible, but what might be most striking is her pointed departure from the dress. Nearly every designer in recent memory has relied heavily on the dress as the staple for their collections. How on Earth you would reasonably wear a dress in the Winter or even Fall has always escaped me. Philo, thankfully, has chosen to focus on sweaters, pants suits, tunics, jackets, and coats. Her designs aren't flashy, they're not physically revealing and that's part of what makes them so compelling. Philo, 36, designs for women who are creative, self-possessed and comfortable in their adult sexuality. Thank you, Phoebe Philo. I am woman, hear me confidently and calmly be a wild success.