Street Cred

An inherent dichotomy of the fashion world is at the source of its inspiration.

The dominating historical model is via top-down, from the inception at the courts of royalty filtered outward to the rest of society. But in contemporary times, the more immediate stimulus of the streets has caused quite the stir. The irony of the exclusive but disseminated against the colloquial but edited does not cause as much friction as we might think.

Several pioneers come to mind:

Scott Schuman of “The Satorialist” – Sept 2005 (NYC)
Garance Doré of the self-titled blog – June 2006 (Paris)
Jean-Phillipe Delhomme of “The Unknown Hipster” – April 2009 (NYC)
Yvan Rodic of “Facehunter” – January 2006 (London)
Liisa Jokinen & Sampo Karjalainen of “Hel Looks” – July 2005 (Helsinki)

The Satorialist
With Scott Schuman, he claims his source of inspiration in a photograph of a man on an empty street taken by German photographer August Sander. He also notes the influence of the Seeberger brothers who were responsible for the Parisian postcard photographs of the early 20th century, recording the upper echelons of society. Not to mention Amy Arbus who documented New York life and i-D magazine of the 80’s with their “straight up” photography of club kids and street styles. His main philosophy, he claims, is to echo in his own photography how fashion designers hunt for inspiration. It is selective but inclusive. He prefers the stylish over the trendy, and that is why he is so successful. He tends to photograph those who will define the future terrain rather than tread on the current topography. But none of this indigenous hunting hinders prospects of collaboration with international heavy-hitters. Due to his exposure with his blog (3 million hits per month), he now works with publications like Condé Nast and was named by Time Magazine as a Top 100 Design Influencer. He also has a compilation book of the blog to be published September 2009, by Penguin.

Garance Doré
“Une fille comme moi”
Doré started as an illustrator and was frustrated with the lack of contact with her readers. She also wanted a more spontaneous outlet for her work. So her posts of filled with portraits, scans and photographs of her notebook sketches (with a hint of Japan anime in the eyes), and short musings on stylish people.

The Unknown Hipster
“Information without the invitation”
Delhomme created an anonymous persona for this blog and satirizes the self-important world of fashion in a teasing manner. A great excerpt: “She ignored me in the same way art ignores people in a museum”. His lively illustrations in pencil crayon and paint add an idiosyncratic touch to the otherwise overdone endeavor of crashing fêtes. He also has a book published called “The Cultivated Life”. And his artwork has been employed in Barney’s advertising campaigns.

In these examples, it is clear that the catalyst of fashion isn’t exclusively behind closed doors but of individual and collective identities and behaviours. The creative potential captured on the streets and channelled through these blogs begins to define the social capacity to invent, absorb, and celebrate the endeavor of fashion and coveted objects.

Running Abstract....

The Architecture of Luxury Goods

This thesis explores the relationships between the consumer and architecture of selling luxury goods. The need to buy and the desire to buy has refined itself over and over again. From the great covered arcades of Louis XIV to grand department stores, the past has shown us that the politics of a plan or the spectacle of a window display always alluded to more than itself. In pilgrimages to retail cathedrals of today, one seems to expect to find secular salvation. The ultimate goal is to, even if only momentarily, transcend the here and now, to appreciate the incredible, and to cross a boundary to able to associate the self with a higher purpose.

An area often labelled trivial to academic study, most critics of mass culture have pigeonholed the relation of person to object as vicarious, fetishistic, or even sinful. But unlike the Marxist interpretation of “objectification”, the consumer is not estranged from the objects they produce, but rather it is a process of development that can only co-exist with society and culture at its conception. And the strategies people use to assimilate these acquired objects into their lives range from the daily to the cosmological. Consequently, a designer’s promises are consecrated in the glass, concrete, and steel of its houses of merchandise, the contrived displays on the runway, and the polished world of its advertising campaigns. The analysis of their imagery into discussions of psychologies, mythologies, and subtexts deconstructs their attractive packaging down to iconic, and often times ironic, spaces that define current societal desires. The breakdown of the physical anatomy of the product, the context of their creation, and the mechanisms of how they are marketed declare volumes on our culture’s collective notions on value and beauty. The proposal presents a hypothetical sanctuary of luxury, a perverse extension of a Joseph Cornell Box, as an annotated assemblage of transcendental materialism.


Part of a complete breakfast

The original trailer to 1961's "Breakfast at Tiffany's," starring Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard, in Technicolor!

It makes me wonder how different a ripple it would have made in our pond of contemporary pop culture if Marilyn Monroe had been cast instead, as Truman Capote had requested.



A parody of WWD and fashion's answer to The Onion:

WWWWD is "a lie that makes us realize truth."


Breakfast at Tiffany's

Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Truman Capote

A Literature Review

“Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, the 1958 novella by Truman Capote, is many things to many people. Unlike the movie that spawned from it in 1961, it is the written piece that is saturated with more complexity of emotions, less sanitized scenes, and a clearer portrait of Capote’s vision of the unorthodox Holly Golightly. Taking place in Upper East Side Manhattan in the final years of World War II, Capote was said to have gathered much of his raw material from the gossip columns, personal experiences, as well as the lives of his eccentric friends from New York City. The original inspiration for Holly Golightly herself was rumoured to be a meld of several of Capote’s close socialite companions: Babe Paley, Gloria Vanderbilt, Carol Marcus, and Oona O’Neil. Even the impoverished and rural past of Holly Golightly’s character was speculated to have been based on Capote’s mother Lily Mae, with Holly’s true name by birth as “Lulamae”. And notwithstanding, many biographers and critics have likened Capote’s own life to be written into the character of Holly Golightly herself.

So in knowing his sources of stimulus, there are many themes that attracted me to view this novel through the lens of luxury, society, and the individual.

All throughout the story, Holly Golightly maintains a child-like naivete, but at the same time exudes a street-smart sensuality. It is a paradox that she actually fabricates for herself. The projection of self as deliberate artifice reoccurs again and again as the narrator recalls his memories of Holly. Her own transience is epitomized with her mailbox label: “Miss Holiday Golightly, Traveling” (11), as if she is not at home yet, but rather, still looking. She insists upon this ephemerality very clearly: “I’ll never get used to anything. Anybody that does, they might as well be dead” (19). And her outward appearance follows suit. Her persona is entirely crafted, her accent adopted, her vocabulary tweaked, her hair dyed, her clothes and jewellery contrived. When she is about to read the final news from her lover José by post, she asks for a moment, in order to put on a shield of beauty to protect her ego:

“Guided by her compact mirror, she powdered, painted every vestige of twelve-year-old out of her face. She shaped her lips with one tube, colored her cheeks from another. She pencilled the rims of her eyes, blued the lids, sprinkled her neck with 4711; attached pearls to her ears and donned her dark glasses; thus armoured, and after a displeased appraisal of her manicure’s shabby condition, she ripped open the letter” (98, 99).

She fashions herself into an object for commodity – mostly for her line of work, but also for what she believes as symbols of social success. And this ambition is not kept to herself, but others clearly know it too. They call her a real phoney, because “she believes all this crap she believes. You can’t talk her out of it” (30). So the objects of luxury she surrounds herself with and aspire to attain are not a means to an end, but rather, the end. Her social relations are almost always defined and perpetuated by financial gain, except for the one with the narrator.

The role of Tiffany & Co. in the story is small but critical. It is rumoured that the title is from an anecdote that floated around Capote’s social circle about an uncultivated patron who, when asked which is the best restaurant in town to dine at, had said: “Let’s have breakfast at Tiffany’s.” In this tale, it merely needs to stand in as the cornerstone of happiness. Holly Golightly says it is the only place where she can go to in order to cure her of the “mean reds”, her sporadic fits of fearful anxiety. This reflects the shift of the consumer culture in our society mid-last-century. She sighs: “Not that I give a hoot about jewelry…[it’s] the quietness and the proud look of it…that lovely smell of silver and alligator wallets” (39, 40). The luxury goods themselves are not the specific reasons why she loves the place per se, but rather she adores what it represents as a concept. And in the end, with her last postcard to the narrator about her new life, she scribbles, “Brazil was beastly but Buenos Aires the best. Not Tiffany’s, but almost” (110). So, although her idealized destination has fiscal, materialistic, and frivolous dispositions, it is the feeling within its walls that she covets. In this respect, she is fabulously naïve, yet utterly relatable. It is the very pulse advertisements and marketing campaigns tap into, and makes us all into real phoneys.


Maison E. Goyard

Beyond the overly exposed, heavily counterfeited Louis Vuitton, there is another brand known for it's sturdy trunks and luggage and its unmistakable printed canvas that originated from Paris from the mid-1800s: Maison E. Goyard.

"The fabric represents three chevrons, juxtaposed to form a Y. This evokes not only the name of the Maison itself, but also the universal allegory of the tree; symbolizing both Man, along with three centuries of the Goyard family history and their “Compagnon de Rivière” ancestors." [wikipedia]

There is quite a lengthy history explaining its origins on the official site. And in trying to maintain its "retail ethos" of a "time-honoured practise" of "intimate retail experiences", it still purports special pieces like Malle Cavier Prunier and Malle Cocktail. The design and architecture within those pieces are refined and beautiful, but seen in the context of two centuries after its inception, ridiculously démodé. There is a fine line between antiquated and obsolete...


Calling itself the "collective fashion consciousness", LOOKBOOK.nu "is an international social experiment in style. It was inspired by street fashion blogs like the Sartorialist as well as "What are you wearing today?" forum threads across the internet." [lookbook.nu]

Essentially a forum for posting your looks while giving a chance for others to "hype" it up to gain "karma", this site basically affirms the scale of globalization. Just take a look at the labels they all wear, the silhouettes they all conform to, the random snippets of pop culture sound bytes they all quote from for posts.

How many of these photos are calculated, carefully constructed compilations of items of clothing deemed worthy but try to be of the nonchalant vein of a spontaneous spring stroll? Oh, to be aloof, blase, and contrived at the same time. The fabricated scenes are much improved, also, when there is a wonderful building in the background non?


luxury linguistics

I guess no one who wants to be taken seriously in this field of designer goods can be caught saying "ver-SAYS" instead of "ver-SA-chee". So, kind of hilariously, the Imperial Hotel Management College (I.H.M.C.) in Vancouver assembled for students in the "Luxury Studies" program a collection of clips for the correct pronunciation:

The rest here.

piazza san "luxury goods" marco


Roger Federer for Rolex Oyster Day-Date Watch, 2008

The Piazzetta di San Marco by Canaletto, 1738

Chopard Eyewear "Sky of Sighs" Campaign by Oliviero Toscani

The Doge's Palace in Venice by Claude Monet, 1908

Jerry Saltz speaking of the Venice Biennale on now:
"The first thing I noticed when I arrived in Venice ... was the volume of advertising. The Bridge of Sighs is totally surrounded by huge colorful billboards for a clothing store. The entire face of the Academia Gallery is completely covered in a gigantic billboard of the Russian boxer Vladimir Klitschko, wearing a red robe and holding gold roller skates, with the word “Curator” next to his head. Maybe sinking malls have no other way of making money." [New York Magazine]

At least when I did a Flickr search: venice+billboard, more "venice beach, california" than "venice, italy" resulted. All the same, it is a shame, it is a reality, and it must be really profitable.


The Essence of Style

The Essence of Style: How the French Invented High Fashion, Fine Food, Chic Cafes, Style, Sophistication, and Glamour

Joan DeJean

A Literature Review

“For the French, taste is the most fruitful of businesses.” –Jacques Necker, 18th c. Genevan banker

Joan DeJean has a simple and bold thesis in “The Essence of Style”: that almost everything that is considered to by high style today can be traced back to the French around the reign of Louis XIV. This encompasses the areas of décor, cafes, coiffeurs, boutiques, leisure shopping, tourism, fashion, the fashion press, champagne, the cult of the celebrity and even streetlights. So over three hundred years ago, deJean posits, there was already the tyranny of name brands and consumer culture that was inflamed by advertisers who relied on sex to seduce. An interesting notion, if one previously thought this to be a purely modern phenomenon.

And indeed, many of the arguments seem convincing, citing that in the Renaissance, it was actually the pearl that symbolized wealth and beauty, while treatises of that time ranked the diamond 18th. But in the 1600’s Louis XIV developed a taste for the clear gem that Jean Baptiste Tavernier started to bring back from his travels to India. Until finally in 1669, Louis XIV spent over (to what is equivalent today as) $75 million on diamonds. DeJean also explains how she was able to convert the antiquated currency by comparing it in ratio to a labourer’s annual salary and costs of living (p. 15).

And there are a lot more interesting factoids like that to follow.

In décor, they collected lavish engravings to dazzle the room, as interior decorating became a new art of living as the necessary backdrop for a life of quality. The use of the large mirror was first put to use, effectively opening up rooms and spaces like never before. The mirror also transformed the toilette into a three-hour ritual, which essentially propelled the French cosmetic industry ahead of anywhere else in Europe.

Of course fashion was a big piece of this puzzle, with Louis XIV being such a shoe fetishist. The mule was the most glamorous shoe of the time, with a curvy heel dubbed, even today, as the “Louis”. And the French fashion industry reduced not only geographical distances, as dolls were sent around Europe with miniature versions of the latest fashions, but also social distances. Couturiers started to adapt ideas at moderately priced lines so that the mid-level stores could also sell them. Fine clothing used to be prohibitively expensive, costing well over annual salaries, and barely changed over long periods of time. Now, instead of, or at least not only, a display of wealth, they are about a “fashion personality”. Today, women spend three times more than men on average. But it was for the first time, in 1650, that the industry saw this paradigm shift and women began to out-purchase men (p. 40). While women were never previously targeted by press, this shift made the latest fashion as the news that was most desirable. The Mercure Galant spoke of “seasons”, “trends”, and “in colours.” (p. 48) Hair was not an exception. The “coiffeur” as a distinct profession was born. The invention of the salon materialized with no more house calls (p. 11). And also, the accessory became the backbone of the fashion industry. It was a superfluous change that was simple and more affordable. And in the 1690, fashion became a method of escapism, as the world beyond the sheltered couture microcosm was full of countryside famine, war threats, bankruptcy of the nation and brutal winters (p. 44). In this sense, it is very similar that in the face of economic disaster, we have a mini-phenomenon like the “Lipstick Index.”

The café scene was first made fashionable in the Saint-Germain-des-Pres neighbourhood. They made it chic, and made it cher (pg. 11). It also attracted a very different type of clientele than their counterparts elsewhere in Europe. It became a place that elegant women went to show off their latest fashion and hair.

And with this new fashion, shopping was also reinvented. Prior to the age of Louis XIV, fashion was often negotiated through home visits. People rarely shopped in public as the conditions were not designed for shoppers to linger. They were more like storehouses for merchandise with no attention to décor. The bottom half of the shop’s shutters folded down to make a table on which the products were displayed, and the top half folded upwards to form an awning. Thus, customers would remain in the street, never entering the premises. It was revolutionary to show off a range of offerings with displays inside the space. To have luxury goods in surroundingss that were worthy of the purchasers, to entice consumers into the store with designated window displays, these concepts were all new (p.12). And shoppers were waited on by attractive shopgirls dressed in the latest fashion, a tactic completely unique to the Parisian scene. As precursors to the chic boutiques we now know, many original high-end shops by the century’s end already began to cluster at, the still famed, rue Saint-Honoré.

Convincing people to buy for the sake of buying was complete. Thus, shopping became a whole experience, not just another chore. The market became a shopping theatre where consumers spent money because they felt that their lives were somehow transformed for the better by the event. Value was no longer only about price and performance but rather by other factors: aesthetics, elegance, and atmosphere. It was the early ad campaign, with a hefty dose of emotion and drama, promoting status and pleasure by choosing to indulge the self with a particular purchase (p. 19). This is also what instilled the creation of the modern tourism industry. The earliest appearance of “tourism” by the Oxford English Dictionary was in 1872, “born in the 17th c. Englishmen were first to practice it” and the favoured destination was Paris. The first modern guidebook published in 1690-172 introduced foreign visitors to Paris with notes not just on the major monuments but of a new kind of advice: what to eat, where to stay and most importantly, where to shop. And with Paris as the first city anywhere to illuminate its streets after dark on a regular and permanent basis, the shopping hours could be extended, and nightlife would be ever more lengthy, sociable, and entertaining (p. 202-209). The city of lights was also the city of seduction, through installing innovative but basic infrastructure.

However, there are a couple of issues with this book that must addressed. The tone of the entire book is slightly off-kilter, trying to balance between light bubbly reading with literary and historical basis. The pop culture references are laced ad nauseam; Carrie Bradshaw this, bling bling that, while the details of certain historical figures are unnecessarily elaborated. And perhaps her thesis is too blunt, too biased, as if to worship the man who called himself Sun King – to put it more accurately, everything new is not old, and not French. It seems to be a very narrow way of seeing the world of luxury as it stands today. And finally, there was the very obvious result that all this opulence planted the seed for, that she conveniently ever avoids mentioning – the French Revolution.

What I'm really tring to say is...

[from jezebel.com]

Slightly tangential, but the cover of the new issue of Elle redone if it told the truth sans euphemisms.


Living It Up

Living It Up: Our Love Affair with Luxury
James Twitchell

A Literature Review

“Luxury is the necessity that begins where necessity ends.” –Coco Chanel

Author James Twitchell uncovers the history and reasons behind our society’s obsession with luxury goods in Living It Up: Our Love Affair with Luxury. In his field research (shopping on Rodeo Drive, submitting himself to Vegas charms…) and his academic inquiry (from Rousseau to Duchamp to Chanel), he gains insights in a neutral tone, without any judgement, and may even be a little sympathetic at times towards this movement. He gives a fair dissection of luxury-themed ads, follows literary figures and key historic events that led to the democratization of luxury, and even posits “how ironic materialism may be doing the work of idealism” (p. xiii).

I wanted to find some grand answer in his writings. I was hoping that if I knew exactly why we lust after luxury, I would be able to cure it. With insights such as “the new luxury objects: it is not meaningless; if anything, it is too meaningful” (p. 54), and “this is a revolution not of necessities but of wants. In fact, getting to cake has become one of the central unifying concerns of people around the globe” (p. xi), I thought this book was right on track. Maybe we do enter the “global village” by having dessert. Yet we have altogether skipped certain levels on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, sometimes compromising on the physiological and safety tiers for esteem and self-actualization through these quests for luxury. This cannot be right. So then Twitchell delves into the history of how we have evolved to be this way.

Firstly, how does one define its existence?
To a modern moralists it is an indulgence.
To economists: the value of luxury goods results from inelastic demand.
To stoics: results from abhorring simplicity.
To socialists: what happens when the wrong class consumes it.
To clerics: what comes from pride and ends in gluttony.
To liberals: false needs are the problem.
To Marxists: it comes from reified consciousness.
To semioticians: it is material oversignified with meaning.
And to architects? Exclusive and excellent design. And nice clients.

From Plato to the early Christians to the Renaissance, luxury was thought to weaken the being, an excess extravagance. Sumptuary laws were in place as part of an elaborate symbolic system designed to keep class demarcations in place (as discussed in The Fall of Public Man, Richard Sennett). However, during the Renaissance, the concept of objet d’art arose, meaning the things thought worthy of being painted. So even before the Industrial Revolution, there was a desire to show material goods off, as markers of social dominance. However, it was still attached to the deeply seeded taboo of consuming out of your class. But as the wealth spread, and necessities were more easily met, people sought after “the esteem and envy of fellow men” and that it was “awarded only on evidence”, as Thorstein Veblen had once said. It was a conundrum though, this “evidence” because there is no rational system. Luxury is a social construction and “it has become a characteristic contradiction of our time, the necessary consumption of the unnecessary” (p. 39). And many positional goods are valued not despite of how much it costs but because of it.

I have always known that value does not reside in objects but rather in the perception of objects. And that value is contagious, working in the same model as a culture of bacteria on a Petri dish: the initial inoculation of low numbers, the slow inception, the rise to exponential figures, to a plateau population of pure saturation, until it dies due to over-congestion. And that shoppers are willing to pay at different “price points”, depending on how much Gucci/Louis Vuitton/Versace is in a product. That is why easily visible goods like tshirts, shoes, dark sunglasses, watches, handbags and luggage are the best inventory that is able to let their owner unload the logo onto onlookers. In architecture, they may be telling a story of a sculptural symphony of titanium but really people see it as the museum being rich enough to have a Gehry in their city. But strangely enough, it also works in reverse proportion, where value is diluted if the logo noise is loud. The absence of obvious indications means connoisseurship is needed to read the code of luxury. For example, the single red line for Prada. And architecture works on this level too, with details that are signature to a particular architect that are left for fellow designers to decode.

However, Twtichell brings up the possible psychological theory behind it. The theory of why we do things separates into telic and paratelic:

1.Telic (arousal reducing) – anxious to resolve need, and if successful, anxiousness abates
2.Paratelic (arousal seeking) – begins in state of well-being, edging to boredom and seeks excitement

And by consuming luxury, many people have gone from the telic motivation to the paratelic, from product to process, object to experience. This means that instead of a problem resolution, it becomes a matter of emotion-seeking. And this completely makes sense with the fact that consumers are rational and they fully realize that there are consuming the aura rather than the object. They actively seek and enjoy the status that is in and of this object. In this way, Twitchell makes the big leap of comparing relgion with luxury: “Spiritualism is more likely a substitute when objects are scarce. When we have few things, we make the next world luxurious. When we have plenty, we enchant the objects around us. The hereafter becomes the here and now” (p. 38). Now it seems clear that consuming at the top-of-the-line stratum can definitely send waves of self-satisfaction, maybe even at the intensity of an epiphany.

One criticism would be that perhaps Twitchell is too focused on physical goods alone. In the recent past, there has been the tendency to purchase ephemeral transient experiences such as eco-tours, alternative and/or indie concerts and films, etc. All these types of procurements are, at their most basic level, a way to boost the status and feeling of moral and/or ethical superiority of the purchaser. Another example is the new surge of organic “green” goods. Many labels are just slapping buzz words on the packaging so as to promote a mediocre unfounded feeling of self-esteem that purchasing this product does the environment some good. The genuine action would be just to consume less in general. But this is the democracy of the new luxury. Everything can appear to be diamonds when really, they’re just cubic zirconia. As this old standard of luxury outdates itself, perhaps the only real luxury that stands is this:

“…real luxury is characterized not by shine but by patina. That its allure comes from inborn aesthetics, not from glitzy advertising, that it is passed from generation to generation and cannot be bought at the mall, and most of all, that its consumption is private, not conspicuous. In fact, maybe the rich only have two genuine luxury items left: time and philanthropy.” (p.23)

Well, at least for this thesis, I can afford some time.


The Final Frontier

"Louis Vuitton commemorates the 40th anniversary of man’s conquest of the Moon, elevating the theme of travel as a personal journey to a celebration of a voyage of unsurpassed significance for all mankind. The latest Core Values advertising campaign features Buzz Aldrin, who in the course of the historic Apollo 11 mission with Neil Armstrong on 20th and 21st July 1969, became the second man to set foot upon the Moon; Jim Lovell, the commander of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission in 1970, who - as the world watched with bated breath - heroically guided his crew back to the safety of Earth; and Sally Ride, who in 1983 became the first American woman to venture into space as a crew member on Space Shuttle Challenger." [nitrolicious.com]

Shot by Annie Leibovitz, the three astronauts were brought to a plateau of the Californian desert, where, apparently, the moon takes on a supernatural brightness. It features the Icare bag, which was "named with reference to Icarus, a character in Greek mythology who is the son of Daedalus and is commonly known for his attempt to escape Crete by flight, which ended in a fall to his death." [ilvoelv.com]

All the symbologies and icons seems to line up thus far. But what I think is too sneaky of LV is that they always align themselves with such significant figures whereas, truthfully, LV had nothing to do with their success (Sean Connery, the Coppolas, Mikhail Gorbachev). It hardly seems fair to their competitors who continue faithfully to schillack their ads with pretty airheads and hairless shiny men, who represent the superficiality of the product with true validity. At least Omega, who launched the limited-edition Speedmaster Apollo 11 Moon Watch with Aldrin this week, can actually say he really did wear that watch on his historic moonwalk. But LV is kind of just parasitic. Sure there have always been celebrity endorsements. But this is an entire web video montage of all the significant launches and personal interviews with the astronauts as they reminesce on their accomplishments through the hardships: http://www.louisvuittonjourneys.com/

P.S. This little Louis Vuitton Icare piece of fabric construction measures at 5.9" x 11.4" x 15.5" and costs a whopping $1,530 US.

P.P.S. But maybe it's just space is in right now, considering that the fall collections of Balmain, Karl Lagerfeld, and Preen all showed retro-futuristic motifs that looked to be inspired by old Star Trek costumes.

P.P.P.S. Imagine the next space suit covered in the LV monogram.


The Uncelebrity

Ever since the rise in popularity of reality tv shows and celebrity stalker blogs, the uncelebrity has come into being and now has eventually evolved into an unstoppable but pointless phenomenon. I see this as a parallel to the world of consumer goods. Stars are called stars because they are an entity that is supposed to be not of this planet, untouchable, and pretty. In this way, luxury used to mean that too (from luxus, L. "excess, dislocated"). But now, celebrity status and luxury goods have been democratized:

"Celebrities got pretty boring, once we got to know them a little better. The running feature in Us magazine titled "Stars: Just Like Us!" with its shots of Jennifer Aniston sipping a latte or Lindsay Lohan shoe shopping, only proved that stars weren't like us at all...Thus, the paid professionals who polish celebrity images to a high gloss while spackling over every unusual or unrelatable quirk that might limit a star's ability to move the maximum volume of product off the shelves have effectively retouched themselves out of a job." [salon.com]

What is considered a luxury for one generation is necessity for the next. And now that at least the
appearance of luxury is available to all, everyone wants a piece. And that is the same with the once-normal, albeit, spotlight-hungry individuals who are slapped all over People and US Weekly:

"Even as uncelebrities lament being harassed by the paparazzi at every turn, they can't seem to get off that crazy conveyor belt of commodification without transforming every last scrap of their souls into consumable goods."

"And in a new media universe dominated by procrastination-fueled wandering and short attention spans, all it takes is a little intra-uncelebrity sniping to generate headlines far more popular than the now-archaic-seeming news of Mel Gibson's latest expletive-strewn meltdown...headlines as "Octo-Mom to Kate Gosselin: Stop Judging Me!" and "Spencer to Audrina: You're a Ho!""

"Sadly, these insipid stories trickle up from the gutter to so-called legitimate news sources. Chasing diminished ad revenue, uncelebrity pap is born at Radar Online or TMZ.com, then gets picked up by the San Jose Mercury News, L.A. Times or CBS in the hopes of capturing enough page views to keep these relatively serious (and therefore doomed) news outlets afloat for another day."

Yet, we can't help it. We really can't. No one is above a bit of luxury lust just as they are not immune to gossip. It's the human condition. And in a way, this new pseudo-luxury, like this faux-celebrity, is actually a rather unifying force, as we bond over the homogenizing effects of global digital culture, speaking the esperanto of branding and advertising. Today, it is luxury, and not religion, that is the opium of the masses.

the lipstick index

"The idea is that, during a recession, women substitute small, feel-good items like lipstick for more expensive items like clothing and jewelry."
—Norm Scheiber, "Replacement Killers," The New Republic, January 7, 2002

Estée Lauder Chairman Leonard Lauder reportedly coined the phrase “lipstick index” after observing sales surges during 9/11 downturns. Why? People reach for affordable luxuries to feel better. The New York Times notes that in the last few months, lipstick sales have shot up 40% . Even in Indian markets, lipstick sales are growing steadily at 20% & in the case of luxury brands that have a smaller base, the numbers extend even into the triple digits. “Women always want to look beautiful, and what’s the easiest thing to buy? Lipstick. A tube of lipstick for $14.50 as compared to a shirt for $70,” says Jennifer Barnett of Origins. [trendspotting.com]

[Google Trends]

But I guess the boost in lipstick sales came just a bit too late for Max Factor. The makeup pioneer will begin its fade out of U.S. stores starting early 2010, and according to the New Yorker:

"Max Faktor (he changed the spelling later) was a five-foot tall Polish Jewish fugitive who left Russia in 1904 and arrived in California, breaking into Hollywood via manufacturing cosmetics for the film industry. When film changed — from black and white to Technicolor — Factor changed the chemistry and formula of his makeup, and actresses who wouldn't appear under harsh lights — Bette Davis, Carole Lombard, Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, Norma Shearer, and Claudette Colbert — had new products, which were more flattering. When the company started selling to the public, it often used actresses in its advertising....Unlike some other make-up artists, he was never painted as an effeminate type. Photographs of Factor show him simultaneously as makeup artist, chemist, and father figure."

As with any cosmetics, you're not just purchasing a new shade, you're purchasing a new image of you.


The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The Elegance of the Hedgehog
Muriel Barbery

Translated from French by Alison Anderson

A Literature Review

“Eternity eludes us”, says Renée Michel, the widowed, bunion-footed, clandestine autodidact concierge of the posh 7 rue de Grenelle, Rive Gauche, Paris. In The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery compiles many essaylettes on literature, film, music, art into an intricately woven story of class consciousness and the bearing of philosophy on everyday life. Sprinkled throughout, there are also themes of snobbism, luxury (in all senses of the word), and the development of sophisticated substantial taste.

What initially drew me to this work was the split narration format. The narration comes from two points of view. One is from Renée Michel, the intellectual hermit concierge of the building, and the other is from Paloma Josse, an acute 12-year old of the building who is absorbed in absurdism. When the voices change over, the typeface follows suit. Through this, the story adopts a double-edged perspective of the bourgeois world from varying circumstances of age, class, occupation and personality.

Some of the targets of criticism are a little weak, from French nouvelle cuisine being too hoighty-toighty to overpriced psychoanalysts prolonging and enjoying already drawn-out suffering. But at other times, the observations are spot on:

Speaking of our lust for forever, and the pursuit and purpose of creating Art, Renée posits:

“Human longing! We cannot cease desiring, and this is our glory, and our doom. Desire! ...We soon aspire to pleasure without the quest, to a blissful state without beginning or end, where beauty would no longer be an aim or a project but the very proof of our nature.” (p. 203)

Or when Paloma was with her Flaubert-quoting pretentious mother at Angelina’s, a tea room on the rue de Rivoli, she ponders why this café succeeds:

“…all these well-dressed people…who were here only for the significance of the place itself – belonging to a certain world, with its beliefs, its codes, its projects, its history, and so on. It’s symbolic. When you go to have tea chez Angelina, you are in France, in a world that is wealthy, hierarchical, rational, Cartesian, policed.” (p. 256)

Or when Renée is in a bout of depression after learning one of the building’s long time tenants are dying, she starts to contemplate what constitutes life at its most basic principles:

“Thus we use up a considerable amount of our energy in intimidation and seduction, and these two strategies alone ensure the quest for territory hierarchy and sex that gives life to our conatus…a crude vanity…You seek to reconnect with your spiritual illusions, and you wish fervently that something might rescue you from your biological destiny, so that all poetry and grandeur will not cast out from the world.” (p. 97-98)

Although it treads the fine line between commercial and literary fiction, it is none the less a bit of a crash course on the basics of philosophy in the midst of a platonic love story. And presenting a very chocolate-box Paris, there is an air of something very French, very tender but very satirical. Strangely, it seems to build on the notion that Japanese culture represents some sort of transcendence. Renée’s love for Yasujiro Ozu films and the progression of the tea ceremony, Paolma’s obsession with manga and haikus. It is as if European culture will always be too brash to understand certain subtleties life presents. But perhaps one could look at that as the specific route of eminence for those characters alone, and the reader can interpret that and replace it with any other model they aspire to. From this novel, I begin to see that the strive towards luxury and the entire realm of exaggeration and embellishment beyond necessity is all in the effort to distinguish ourselves not just from each other, but of our basic biological destiny. And like my thesis, it explores what moves us, in this nest we build for ourselves. And lastly, on the topic of researching culture, Renée infers:

“The only thing that matters is your intention: are you elevating thought and contributing to the common good, or rather joining the ranks in a field of study whose only purpose is its own perpetuation and function the self-reproduction of a sterile elite.” (p. 252)

The aim, I hope, is the former.


Inferno & Paradiso

Marco Brambilla is an artist of video murals.

His latest in seen in the elevator of the newly opened Standard Hotel in New York.

"Civilization depicts a journey from hell to heaven interpreted through modern film language using computer-enhanced found footage. This epic video mural contains over 300 individual channels of looped video blended into a multi-layered seamless tableau of interconnecting images that illustrate a contemporary, satirical take on the concepts of Heaven and Hell."

The mural scrolls in synch with the movement of the 18-storey hotel’s elevators. A glimpse of heaven as you ascend to your room, a glimpse of hell on your way back down.

The full 2:40 min. video can be seen here.

He also made Cathedral, a 9:32 min video on loop at the Toronto Eaton Centre in 2008.

"Filmed during the Christmas season at the Toronto Eaton Centre shopping mall, consumers circulate within the multi-level environment interpreted as a kaleidoscopic and disorienting landscape. Cathedral is influenced by studies in time and motion by Frederick Winslow Taylor and Frank Gilbreth."

Personally, I find it is an entirely ironic piece because although it is a festive and joy-filled time of the year, shopping during Christmas time there is anything but serene.


a soundtrack to my thesis

"Pedro, how d'you feel about that one? It looks pretty sweet. It looks awesome. This suit is, it's incredible."

1. Suit - Napoleon Dynamite
2. The Looks - MSTRKRFT
3. Gossip Folks - Missy Elliot ft. Ludacris
4. Sexual Healing - Maximillion
5. Strict Machine - Goldfrapp
6. Sexy Results - Death from Above 1979
7. Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger - Daft Punk
8. (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction - Britney Spears
9. Anthems for a Seventeen year-old Girl - Broken Social Scene
10. Satisfaction - Benny Benassi
11. Barbie Girl - Aqua
12. Paris - Andy Stochansky
13. Masquerade - Phantom of the Opera
14. Forever Young - Alphaville

(58 minutes)


Loub Change

Still Life with ham, lemon, a roll, a glass of wine, and others on table. Pieter Claesz. 1643.

Dillian (in metallic leather). Christian Louboutin. 2009 ad campaign.

Still Life of Fruit & Dead Fowl. Harmen Steenwijck. 1650.

Robot 120 Ankle Boots (in gold patent). Christian Louboutin. 2009 ad campaign.

Vanitas Still with Skull. N.Le Peschier. 1661.

Tina (in nude suede). Christian Louboutin. 2009 ad campaign.

More on how fashion and creative design recycle random homages to masters of the past:

Christian Louboutin's latest ad campaign is by photographer Peter Lippmann. Nicolas Menu did the creative direction and Amandine Moine was in charge of the styling. [ViewOnFashion.com]

The mirroring of 17th century Dutch still life speaks to the "vanitas" that inspired Northern European painters like Claesz in the first place. Vanitas itself comes from Latin, meaning "emptiness" and loosely translates to the meaningless of corporeal life and the transient nature of vanity, futility of pleasure, and certainty of death. That is why the common symbols of vanitas are skulls (fatality), rotten fruit & animals (decay/age), smoke (brevity), and music (ephemeral nature).

In this sense, Louboutin is right on the money.

Fifth Ave

Philip Green, British billionaire and holder of 12% of the UK clothing retail market, is scouting Manhattan for Top Shop's second location in America (with one already frantically & thoroughly rifled through on Broadway in SoHo). He is eyeing the empty spot at Fifth Ave and 53rd Street (left empty by Brooks Brothers). With only 2 locations open on this 10-block stretch, it is highly saught after. This is a location that apparently rents for $30 million a year. His competitors are said to be Uniqlo (the Japanese equivalent to a Gap & H&M amalgam, already a neighbour in their SoHo sites), Zara, and Forever 21. And even with the recession, tourists continue to peruse and shop, due to the weak US dollar and escapist activity of consumerism.

It is also interesting to note that the further north along 5th and madison ave you go, the swankier the stores become. From the potential TopShop at 53rd, Abercrombie at 57th, to Bergdorf Goodman at 58th, Jimmy Choo at 63rd, Bulgari 66th, Cartier 69th... It's like the hierarchical stratum of luxury in urban retail planning.

chanel on vacation

Chanel's Resort 2010 Ad Campaign featuring Karen Elson & Baptiste Giabiconi. Photographed by Karl Lagerfeld.

Keeps in line with its runway themes. The smoldering hues of red accented with gold, old money cues and nautical bits. Textured and dark, the hotel room looks romantic yet daunting.