Lady Noire

Marion Cotillard as Lady Dior in new ad campaign

A still from the Dior internet mini movie
Four part series

(First clip released May 20, 2009)

The ads:
Marion Cotillard, photographed by Peter Lindbergh, on top of the Eiffel Tower.

The film:
Directed by Olivier Dahan, of La Vie En Rose, in style of Hitchcock-esque thriller.

Cotillard, a natural choice. French and fresh from her Academy Award win.
The Eiffel Tower, one of the most iconic and romantic (albeit cliched) landmarks in the world.
The Lady Dior handbag, echoing its own intricate pattern and design with that of the wrought-iron tower.
The piece tries to imitate the golden age of film noir, with its enigmatic characters, dramatic mood lighting, intriguing plot, and gripping score.
Over the top and pricey, the finished film matches the handbag it's trying to sell.

Breaking down the ensemble of elements: 6 minutes of footage, exotic locale, rising young star, distinguished director, lackluster plot, major product placement, heavy homages to eras past, it is reminiscent of the Chanel commercial released earlier this month. It is a formula that seems to work. Somehow, the public identifies with this Lady Noire. Her luxury goods holds the key to her life.

See the full clip here.


channeling chanel

Chanel Resort Collection 2010
(Unveiled May 14, 2009)

"A cruise show on a boardwalk snaking along the Venice Lido with the sun about to set, gentle waves rolling in, and a whisper of a breeze to make sinuous shapes flutter in movement…it couldn't have been a more poetic or, given the times, more uniquely audacious Chanel moment. "I wanted to reinvent the mystique," said Karl Lagerfeld, talking about locating the collection in one of Coco Chanel's favorite summer haunts—she visited Venice for almost ten years beginning in 1919 and met Diaghilev here. But Lagerfeld might also have been speaking about reinstating the long-lost leisurely sensation of a fashion show as an exceptional one-off experience. The 350 guests reclining on sun beds in the famous white tented cabanas certainly felt privileged to be witnessing the extreme glamour of the designer's learned-but-light invocation of an important part of Coco Chanel's biography, one that was overlaid with passing allusions to Visconti, Fellini, the Venice carnival, and the city's art treasures.

"Coco on the Lido," as Lagerfeld called it, started with a tableau of figures in tricorne hats and cloaks—cover-ups for a play on girdles and bras as bathing suits. Next came Tatjana Patitz promenading in creamy lace as the picture-hatted Edwardian mother in Death in Venice, her sailor-suited son Tadzio and his two sisters in ingenue fan-pleated dresses trailing behind. From there, the sequence took off into matelot- and gondolier-inspired stripes, interpreted in long-line fine-knit cardigans and playful beachwear with funny red and white striped wedge booties. The references kept streaming out—a halterneck dress fashioned in plissé knit to suggest Fortuny, the deep Doge red and the golden lion motif of the city flag, shimmery sequins and glass embroidery made to imitate the light of Venice glancing off water.

But for all that, not to mention the silent-movie hair and makeup that strung it together, the show avoided too slavish a narrative. There were moments of silliness as well: The Chanel sunglasses recast as Venetian masquerade lorgnettes and the flashes of eroticism in the exposed corsetry spelled fun for the novelty-seeker. But the star pieces here were pure Chanel, un-themed save for their classic elegance: a long black column with a sexily tied narrow trailing scarf, a cream sequin-edged matching jacket and dress, and the unmistakable frothy silk blouses of the rue Cambon. In spite of all his extensive erudition on the art, culture, and personalities of the Venetian past, Lagerfeld concluded, "I don't use it to make costume. I was actually more interested in the café society of the thirties and the life Chanel lived here, which is gone now." [Style.com]

In this very literal sense, the boardwalk is the runway. All the signals of luxury allude to a time and place that has long been mythologized in cultural memory. The transformation of self through these non-verbal cues fit all the criteria of packaging a hypothetical and stereotypical kit of opulence. But kudos to Karl Lagerfeld, who has always excelled at this.


il faut que je leche les vitrines

tuNeues' shiny new book "Luxury Stores"
Part of their "Top of the World" Series

"Since the first hunter-gatherers, humans have sought out things of beauty and excellence—a quest epitomized by the elegant stores displayed in this sumptuous 396-page volume which is packed with hundreds of stunning photographs, as well as informative texts. Each can be considered a pinnacle of the shopping experience. With a carefully chosen selection of goods and services located all over the world, these shops do indeed cater to every whim. Combining the aesthetics of high art with service worthy of royalty, every one is an experience to treasure." [teNeue]

What is the architecture of luxury?
The structure of its image, packaging, psychologies?
Materiality transcends the individual, as fulfillment is acquired just by merely ogling...
and at a picture book only, much less the window displays themselves.
Mythologies hard at work - iconography of our times and of others.


power puff

Cigarettes as status symbol.
In China, the brand of smokes one carries/offers to others reveals a lot about their social class and situation. The marketing, the size and shape of box, the iconography, the colours, and the style of character calligraphy all contribute to build a story for each.

Hongmei, 5 RMB ($0.70) and Baisha 4 RMB ($0.60) are among the cheapest cigarettes sold in China. Very popular with the migrant worker population. No nonsense.

Popular among the working middle class is Hongtashan, 7 RMB ($1). The majority of which are manual workers. Often brands are favoured within the local region they are produced. Double Happiness, also 7 RMB ($1), is recognized as a good business brand, indicating the alliance is also a personal one.

Panda, 120 RMB ($18) was a favourite of Deng Xiaoping, as the panda symbolizes positive diplomatic relations (though China recently stopped the tradition of gifting live pandas to allied nations). Zhong Hua 45 RMB ($7) is also up there with its lavish yet solid look.

[Wallpaper* June 2009 issue]


Party 24/7

Flashy rendering of Roberto Cavalli's first nightclub, Dubai
From July 2008

The actual club, which opened last Thursday
Photos: New York Magazine

Here's the pitch:
shiny black quartz floors
walls "dripping with Swarovski crystals"
buy watches and jewelry and eat Italian food specially chosen by Cavalli himself
top floor sushi bar
offers light lunch, lunch, aperitif, pre-dinner, dinner and disco set
the experience of a luxury Club from day to night, "in true Cavalli style"

A hedonistic haven of non-stop consumerism. What recession?

Also, this is a great example of the problem with the photoshopped moneyshots. Read: false advertising.


Model as Muse

"Exploring the reciprocal relationship between high fashion and evolving ideals of beauty, The Model as Muse: Embodying Fashion focuses on iconic models of the twentieth century and their roles in projecting, and sometimes inspiring, the fashion of their respective eras. The exhibition, organized by historical period from 1947 to 1997, features haute couture and ready-to-wear masterworks accompanied by fashion photography and video footage of models who epitomized their epochs." (The Costume Institute of The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

In a nutshell:

1950s - Madame Grès, Christian Dior, and Balenciaga
1960s - Rudi Gernreich, Yves Saint Laurent, and Cardin
1970s - Giorgio di Sant’Angelo and Halston
1980s - Christian Lacroix, Versace, Comme des Garcons, and Calvin Klein
1990s - Marc Jacobs, John Galliano, and Alexander McQueen

1950s - Dorian Leigh, Lisa Fonssagrives, Dovima, Sunny Harnett, and Suzy Parker
1960s - Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy
1970s - Jerry Hall and Lauren Hutton
1980s - Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell, and Linda Evangelista
1990s - Kate Moss & Gisele Bundchen

1950s - femme fatale, utmost elegance
1960s - swinging sexiness
1970s - the athletic look
1980s - idealized glamour, dissolving boundaries between runway, editorial, and advertising
1990s - minimalist, edgy, street-inflected

It comes at an opportune time. Celebrity culture is tired. Campaigns fronted by actors are “not selling” as effectively as they did back in the late Nineties (when Hollywood became the focal point of fashion). And furthermore, it occurs at a time when it seems there is no defining designer, model, or look for this decade that is now coming to a close. Almost everything is in the form of recycling, "homages" as a euphemism...


If we don't buy shoes, the terrorists have won.

Corporations always try their hardest to predict what you will buy next.
Market segmentation & data analysis is nothing new.
But PRIZM (Potential Rating Index for ZIP Markets) makes it much more accessible & fun (despite its horridly ugly website).

There are 62 clusters based on census data, demographic surveys, and public information.
Just enter the zip code you live in (yeah...USA only for now) and the most prevalent groups are sorted and explained further.

I did a co-op work term in New York City back in 2007. I lived in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, so that makes my zip 11205.

What PRIZM said about my neighbourhood makeup:

16 - Bohemian Mix
66 - Low Rise Living
31 - Urban Achiever
39 - Urban Elder
04 - Young Digerati

"Young Digerati are tech-savvy and live in fashionable neighborhoods on the urban fringe. Affluent, highly educated, and ethnically mixed, Young Digerati communities are typically filled with trendy apartments and condos, fitness clubs and clothing boutiques, casual restaurants and all types of bars--from juice to coffee to microbrew."

I would say that summed it up pretty well.


The Fall of Public Man

The Fall of Public Man
Richard Sennett

A Literature Review

The phenomenon of validating the self has glorified substantiated personality at the expense of public life. This is the argument Sennett proposes in The Fall of Public Man, well-supported in many facets but all in a tone of conscientious leftist narrative.

At the very start, Sennett makes it clear that there is a “public problem”. Just as the last embers of the Ancient Roman Republic gave way to burgeoning of Christianity, “to know oneself has become an end, instead of a means through which one knows the world.” (p.4) And he argues that as long as there is an increase in self-absorption and privatization of the psyche, there will be a decrease in stimulation and expression of feeling in society as a whole. Modern psychology was founded on the belief that when the inner workings of the self were understood, one would be liberated to participate fully in life. However, now more than ever, individuals are trapped in their own life-histories. As Marc Augé spoke of supermodernity and the excess of time, where the expansion of the collective memory increases the times that an individual’s own history coincides with history at large, we now believe facts over systems. We have come to expect “intimacy”, which much of social life cannot yield. We confuse individual experience to rationalize mutual self-disclosure as community bonding. So much so that public life is now seen as too formal, and not capable of bringing “self-fulfilment.” The problem with this, Sennett stresses, is that forces of domination remain unchallenged and the loss of objective primacy of social institutions degrades public life.

The main causes of this change in the last two centuries are the rise of industrial capitalism, secularism, and the effects of an ancien régime.

Industrial capitalism has contributed to the “mystification” of material life so that family relations is the new standard, with public life seen as morally inferior. In this way, there is an emphasis on protecting the self from it, further eroding public life.

Secularism has made the immanent and the instant realities unto itself. This means that the self & its sensations are prioritized. Without religion, the remaining basic human rights the Western world commonly posit are: “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. In this way, psychic gratification can be an end to itself. And without the walls of a structured system, isolation is the only protection. As a defense against being read by others, people become mute in public.

The ancien régime used public experience as the grounds for the formation of social order. But now, it is the grounds to for the formation of personality. As urban amenities began to be used by a broader spectrum of society, the new groups of consumers were essentially strangers, and the gather of meaningful audience with established etiquette diminished.

The architectural circumstances

The growth of cities is never as simple as an additive process. And as the 18th century dawned, the reorganization of public squares started to differ from those of the late Medieval and Renaissance period. Previously, a public square was a free zone, with buskers, hawkers, anyone who had any business. Then with the precedents of Piazza Obliqua by Bernini in Rome and Louis XIV’s Versailles by Hardouin-Mansard, the monumental square arose. They exemplified the vastness of space through the power of formal arrangement and design. They were no longer about enclosure or taming of space. This new urban form had a lot less sociability about them. In this way, these structured spaces gave way to a new group of assemblage typologies: cafes, pedestrian park, and theatres. It was the only way to gather a milieu of strangers with more similar causes. But the vast public social interactions of previous times had already started to fade.

The social circumstances

In the mid-17th century, upon greeting someone new, flattery to the higher ranked individual was a means of establishing a bond. This naturally led to gossip, though it was somewhat uni-directional. Then in the mid-18th century, to gossip amongst strangers amongst these open grounds could only happen at a certain stage of friendship. Gone was the instant terrain of topics since hierarchies were unknown or non-existent. There were also inhibitions to distance oneself since the spheres of public and private were starting to blur. Civility could no longer be thought of through communication without being intimate. What we are left with today are a stock pile of phrases for greeting others so as to acknowledge or flatter without being personal. Even physical love had been redefined in the last two hundred years. Eroticism has turned into sexuality. Before, physical love was about the social relationship and the belief in emotional actions towards others. With sexuality, it implies it is a personal identity of a sort. It is the belief in emotional states of being. It is much more inward and does not account for social associations. Previously, the body was a way to symbolize and categorize the self through established emblems. Now it is to express one’s individuality. And since personality became the focus, the rise of the charismatic public figure was preferred over the policies made.

As Sennett’s The Fall of Public Man was written in 1974, it would be interesting to see how his arguments stand up to current times. We still have the body as a mannequin, for messages of identity to strangers. And celebrity worship is at an all-time high, since the personality is of interest, instead of the notions they stand for.

Body as mannequin
Clothes are often thought of as contrivance, decoration, convention. In the 1750’s, it was obvious by glance to denote the rank of an individual, due to sumptuary laws. And although it wasn’t followed to the exact clause, the fact people used the conventions was proof enough that the system worked. But the costumes were a disembodied imagery. The object of costume itself was the message, as it was to blot out individual character and act solely as a symbol. For example, wigs, hats, vest coats, adornment objects, face paint, masks… were all to hide the individualized self and so as to be categorized into some other group. And as much as we argue that today we revel in dressing as eccentric as we want, most of us essentially follow the same system, only that now it is with luxury brands. The messages manifested in branding work because they are known by society at large. The Hermès Birkin bag essentially sends the same message as the powdered La Belle Poule wig of the mid-18th century.

Personality, not power or policy
Political credibility is not much more than the superimposition of the private upon public imagery. With the individual psyche so highly prized over public policy, the example Sennett gives with regards to Lamartine is no different than the Lewinsky scandal with ex-president of the United States Clinton. Or the Eliot Spitzer scandal last year. On the positive side, it is also similar to the Barrack Obama phenomenon we have seen of late. There have been more hours of media coverage on his first 50 days in office than Bush and Clinton combined. And with public expression equating to personal representation, celebrity worship is much more prevalent and relevant. It explains our society’s obsession with people who have essentially done nothing for the betterment of our society. There is not even a need to mention names. Furthering this, the creation of things like Facebook, Twitter, or even this blog are symptoms of these narcissistic times, the tyranny of intimacy, denying the worth of the impersonal and public life.

Sennett most rightfully struck a chord with emphasizing the loss of the public identity. The impersonal individual can no longer act outwardly beyond inner-influences. The absorption of intimate affairs may mark the fall of civility. Erosion of boundaries, though often viewed as progress, is in this case of an imbalance that needs to be addressed. Or is it too ironic that this plea comes from the most individualistic, unedited outlet of our time?

The Scent of a Woman

A good, if not too kitschy, example of a brand’s promises manifested through film and architecture is the new commercial by director Jean-Pierre Jeunet for Chanel No. 5 featuring actress Audrey Tautou and model Travis Davenport (released today).

The story manages to allude to the universe and era of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel through the narrative of the Orient-Express and its Art Deco aesthetics. The intimate spaces of each passenger-car, the refined old-time elegance, and the bold scenery all contribute to the myth of the brand. There is also a scene of Tautou walking through the Istanbul grand bazaar, evoking the Eurasian mystique through its architecture and streetsacpes. As for the clothes, Tautou was dressed in an atemporal manner, in tune with Chanel's casual style and liking for sailors trousers. Imagery of 5 is sprinkled throughout, and ends in the famous intertwined C’s through mosaic tiles on the central train station floor, as Billie Holiday croons "I'm a Fool to Want You".

And judging from the actual scent of it, perhaps we are fools to want you, Chanel No. 5.


SoHo Nostalgia

Chuck Close


"I paid $150 a month for a raw loft on Greene Street, and all my friends who were already living here laughed, thinking it was outrageous to pay that much. The loft had no heat. I painted for an entire year with gloves on and just my trigger finger sticking out to the button on the airbrush. Literally, the coffee would freeze in its mug; the toilet would freeze overnight. We slept under a pile of blankets. Soho was rats and rags and garbage trucks: There were occasional wars between one Mafia-owned waste-management company and another during which one would burn the other's trucks. There might have been twenty artists-or people of any kind-living between Houston and Canal; you could have shot a cannon down Greene Street and never hit anybody. But we all lived within a few blocks of each other: Brice Marden, Richard Serra, Nancy Graves, Phil Glass. We were in someone's loft every night, either listening to a composer like Steve Reich or watching dancers like Yvonne Rainer and Trisha Brown...After work we'd go over to this cafeteria in what is now the Odeon, and we'd sit around and dream up ideas on the back of napkins." [New York Magazine, April 20, 2009]

We all know who else sketches on the backs of napkins for their grand ideas....
Anyhow, name dropping withstanding, SoHo in the 1960s pre-gentrification was quite the fascinating petri dish of culture. And then, Banana Republic happened.

Luxury's Darwinism

No one wants to pay full price for designer goods anymore. It is now an expectation that prices are slashed. This fall, retailers like Saks, Neiman Marcus, and Nordstrom have asked designers to lower prices because they themselves don’t want to pay full price for things.

Oscar de la Renta begrudgingly has done so. A blouse that might have close $900 will now be $725.
Chloé has already marked down 35% less than last year.
J. Mendel cocktail dresses that used to be $3500 will now start at $1700.
Thanks for the help, really, don’t just give them away.

But actually, some refused. Chanel, Prada, and Versace among others.
“We want to respect those clients who have always given us faith and have bought our products convinced they were buying a quality product.” –Versace
[The Cut, Can Luxury Survive this Economy?]

That’s interesting. Never mind the ridiculously high budgets of flagship stores and ad campaigns. There has been plenty of documentation on horrid factory conditions for so-called quality products.

The downward spiral has yet to halt. In a world where money and logos were once the ultimate prize, retailers and luxury-goods houses are adjusting to the terms “discounting,” “shifting stock” and “stealth buying.”

The flight to quality that so many luxury-goods experts confidently predicted at the start of the global meltdown has yet to materialize. [Wall Street Journal, Buyer’s Market]

We’ve evolved into consumerists, not investors.


button up

In our (as we like to believe) equal-opportunity, post-feminist, non-discriminating world, ever notice why the buttons on men's clothing do up differently than women's? It is an antiquated leftover of aristocratic times, when it was decreed that men's buttons should be done up in accordance to a right-handed man on the inside of a shirt but a woman's should be for the convenience of a right-handed maid buttoning from outside of the shirt. So I guess it was assumed that women would forever be dressed by their maids (or we'd all become left-handed sooner or later...and who dressed the maids?) This also meant that a lady could be more easily undressed by a right-handed man. These ghosts of couture past speak to the nature of covering oneself as an evolved process, shaped by society, propogated often without thought of its implications on social roles.

Let them eat cake.

This season's couture shows were quite the "Let them eat cake" moment. With these struggling economic times, the collections did not hold back on ostentatious design. But with this slightly hysterical indulgence, where do these yards and yards of silk, embroidery, and chiffon go without being entirely ironic? Where would this expensive taste be tasteful? Can the haute couture world completely sustain itself in a hermetic bubble without influence of the rest of society? Does the beauty and skill of a sensational piece justify its own creation? A thinly veiled illusion of stability or an actual beacon of hope for the near future? At the same time, it is because of the recession that people start on their path of their true dreams. The depressed rental market, the low job prospect back at home, the blind bravado spurred on by crazy times, all become reasons that serve to shake people loose from their roots, instead of anchoring themselves down. As their last excuses for not persuing their ambitions melt away, the inspired become inspirational.

[Vanity Fair, May 2009 issue & New York Magazine April 20,2009 issue]