The fashion set has long taken inspiration from equestrian sports, from the ubiquitous boots-tucked-into-pants trend (adopted from the breeches and riding boots of traditional hunting dress) to the moniker of one of the more lucrative, and recognizable, brands in fashion history (perhaps you’ve heard of Polo Ralph Lauren?). For Fall, Miuccia Prada looked to the incredibly competitive sport of horse racing, dressing her Miu Miu catwalkers in very literal interpretations of jockeys’ uniforms. But while not everyone can pull off a pieced silk jumpsuit, clothes horses and lovers of horses can all get into a new documentary about the most exciting event in the equestrian world, the Kentucky Derby. “The First Saturday in May” (named for the weekend each year when the thoroughbred stakes race is run) is an independent film written, directed, and produced by Brad and John Hennegan. The doc follows six trainers and their equine charges from Indiana to Dubai for the year leading up to the 2006 running of the Derby—a cast of colorful, sometimes hilarious personalities and their beautiful four-legged athletes. Included in the cast is the eventual winner of that year’s race, Barbaro, whose declining health following an injury in the Preakness captivated the media. The film opens tomorrow, and the filmmakers are donating 25 percent of the box office receipts for the first week to the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, which funds a wide variety of equine medical researchers, including those studying laminitis, the painful hoof disease that eventually led to the euthanization of the mighty Barbaro. For more on the film, where to see it, and information on the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, see www.thefirstsaturdayinmay.com.
The Hermes Birkin. You, reader of this blog, need no more introduction to the world’s most sought-after handbag. You know about the handmade tools that Hermès craftsmen use to fashion these rarefied totes, about the storied company history, and the bag’s famous carriers—including, naturellement, Jane Birkin herself, whose winsome personal style inspired the creation of her namesake carryall. And you inevitably know about the waiting list to get one. Or do you? As Michael Tonello, the author of “Bringing Home the Birkin” (William Morrow), a tell-all account of his days as an eBay Birkin reseller, reveals, the daunting list is more PR stunt than reality. Tonello logged hundreds of thousand of air miles, collected 111 stamps in his passport, and spent upwards of $1.6 million dollars on Birkins. Bought them by the dozen, in fact, and sold them to Birkin collectors all over the world, without ever running into a salesperson who told him to put this name on a list. All it took was a willingness to think outside the big orange box.
As you recount in the book, you had some odd things happen to you when you were a professional Birkin reseller…
Like the time one of my buyers held a bag hostage—which I’d paid for with several thousand dollars of my money. That was pretty intense. There were also just huge logistics problems with doing it. I’d hit one city after another, so after three or four days, I’d have so many shopping bags—and the shopping bag you get for a Birkin is pretty big—that I looked like Liz Taylor going away on vacation. That’s when I started booking myself into four-star hotels, where they had good security and a concierge who knew how to wrap up a Birkin for FedEx. Plus I was going to all these cities and I never saw anything but the Hermès store—I never went to a museum. So I thought I owed it to myself.
So there’s a Diderot effect that goes along with having a Birkin—you need to upgrade the rest of your life to fit the bag.
Exactly. This bag has an incredible impact on people. I get on an elevator in New York and if a woman gets on and she’s carrying a Birkin, every other woman on the elevator looks at her differently. They want to know more about her.
What is it about the Birkin that inspires that kind of fascination?
I think the majority of people have heard about the Birkin—thanks to “Sex and the City” and Posh Spice and Lil’ Kim rapping about one and Martha Stewart. But the general public hasn’t seen one. There’s this mystique. A Chanel or a Balenciaga bag is exclusive, but it’s still only $1,500. The price of a basic, 35-centimeter Birkin in regular grainy leather—what I call a starter Birkin—is now about $9,000. A crocodile Birkin is $34,000. That’s a huge amount of money for the average person to spend on a handbag.
But you had customers who spent many times that.
I had one who bought in excess of 60 Birkins.
Which is far more handbags than any one woman could use.
My attitude was, they could use them as planters after they bought them.
Let’s talk about what you call the Formula, which pretty much puts the lie to the mythical Birkin waiting list.
You started seeing references to the waiting list in the mid-nineties. Some magazines would talk about a two-year waiting list, others would talk about a three-year one. At one point you started getting “the waiting list has closed.” But in fact, I would go into nine out of ten stores and get a Birkin. In a nutshell, you need to go in and spend enough money on non-Birkins—for me the magic number was about $1,000, though it depends the store—and then ask for the bag. I loved going shopping in the last few days of the month, when stores were trying to make their sales targets. I had one store that agreed to sell me two crocodile Birkins as long as I put them on two different cards or paid for one in cash so the fact that one person bought two wouldn’t be picked up on by Hermès.
But in the end Hermès did pick up on you. What are you doing with your post-Birkin life?
Well, I’ve got an option on a film for this book, and I just wrote a children’s book about my two cats, Gala and Dalí. So I guess I’m trying to be a writer.
Not really a career path that will let you buy a Birkin.
Probably not. But it’s less exhausting. And I think the rewards are better.
In his recent solo shows at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac in Paris and Daniel Reich Gallery in New York, and now at London’s Maureen Paley gallery, Canadian artist Paul P. has presented lovely, anachronistic-looking studies of young men as memento mori to their (imperceptibly) fading beauty. “When Ghost Meets Ghost” is named after the decadent British aristocrat Stephen Tennant’s observation in his journal after seeing a bust made of his well-photographed features by the American sculptor Jacob Epstein. “When I am dead and forgotten,” mused Tennant, who died in 1987 at the age of 80, “its loveliness will live, gazing back into time—when Ghost meets Ghost.” The dreamy-eyed youths in Paul P.’s pastel drawings and delicate paintings have a long way to go until mortality begins etching itself on their faces, but their ghosts are already present.
“OMG PU.” That pithy review of CK IN2U Her provides as good an introduction as any to the hard-nosed approach to scent that authors Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez take in their new book, “Perfumes: The Guide” (Penguin). What with all the marketing flimflammery that accompanies each new fragrance launch, a map to the industry’s wares was long overdue, and “Perfumes” fills the void capably. Along with being witty and knowledgeable about the chemistry and culture of perfume, Sanchez and Turin are whizzes at conveying, through words, all that the nose knows. This is no challenge to be sniffed at; after all, a great perfume (as Turin writes of Habit Rouge, by Guerlain) is “a bit like beauty itself—immediately understood, never quite elucidated.” Where Turin and Sanchez are most insightful, however, is in their analyses of the mediocre scents that comprise the vast majority of the perfume marketplace. Anyone wondering if that pretty thing sprayed on her at Bloomingdale’s will wear out its welcome sooner rather than later will find her answer here, along with several sensible hints about why you like the perfumes you like, and a few unprejudiced suggestions of scents that might have flown under the radar: Elternhaus’ MoslBuddJewChristHinDao, for example, which according to Turin earns its five-star rating and “masterpiece” description by leaving the b.s. at the bottle stop.
Many Westerners associate Arab womanhood with the absence of visual stimulation that the chador enforces. But as Lebanese artist Nadine Kanso demonstrates, an Arab woman’s identity can be composed of as many clashing colors, references, and influences as any woman elsewhere. In “Rewind Ya Zaman,” her second solo show at Dubai’s B21 Gallery, Kanso presents 20 multi-layered photo assemblages juxtaposing contemporary newspaper clippings, photo portraits, and mementos of icons from the Arab nationalist movements of the forties, fifties, and sixties. In her mostly monochromatic montages, the faces of revered Palestinian politician George Habash, beloved Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum, and King Mohammed V overlap with products from cosmetic ads, models in shiny red cars, and slogans such as “God did not intend religion to be an exercise club.” The vibrant and varied results are a reminder that Arab culture is one in which women dress not only in chadors, but in clothes from New York and Paris, too.