Betony Vernon is a bona fide sexual anthropologist. (How many of those did you meet at your high-school career fair?) With a background in fashion and design, she has translated her more than twenty-five-year embrace of what most would consider S-M, or bondage, into a seductive luxury jewelry line called Sado-Chic, as well as erotic advisement (for everyone from couples to fashion magazines—she’s even appeared in Purple, French Vogue, and The New York Times) and now a new book. Titled The Boudoir Bible: The Uninhibited Sex Guide for Today, the surprisingly upbeat and joyful tome teaches and encourages readers to experiment with untraditional bedroom antics in order to enhance what she calls “the sexual ceremony.” She aims to debunk S-M myths, open our minds, and foster a frank comprehension of new ways to give, receive, and reach the pinnacle of pleasure. Sexual knowledge is sexual power, she asserts, and much of the book is dedicated to understanding one’s own body, as well as learning how to properly use various titillating instruments—from feathers to floggers—which she refers to as “tools.”
This is all mapped out via tasteful drawings by Vernon’s longtime friend, fashion illustrator François Berthoud. (“You know, the illustrations were the only way to go. If I used photography, it would have become pornographic,” she laughs.) Vernon will be hosting a Valentine’s evening book signing tonight at Bookmarc in the West Village. And here, the redheaded expert on all things amour talks to Style.com about The Boudoir Bible, sex in fashion, and how to make the most of your V-Day.
I saw that you dedicated The Boudoir Bible to your parents. Considering it’s a sex book, that was a little surprising.
I thought about it a whole lot. My mother is my biggest fan, and my parents made me. They went through a messy divorce, but they loved each other a whole lot, and I was a product of that. So I can only thank them. But I suppose it is something that could be seen as a surprise, because a lot of people don’t talk about sex with their parents. I think that’s a big mistake.
To speak about sex and pleasure as a parent, from a very early time, is really important. There’s a lot of confusion out there. It’s very interesting that we’re living in this sexed-out society, but there’s so little information in terms of real pleasure.
Is that lack of information why you wrote The Boudoir Bible?
I wrote it because I felt like it was missing. I’m now very clear on what I want and what I need to have fun, but in my sexual evolution, I kept running in to people, lovers, who were just not prepared. And everyone’s so serious about having sex. They forget that it’s one of the funniest things we can do. Continue Reading “Betony Vernon’s Boudoir Bible” »
What is it about women and shoes? According to Dr. Valerie Steele, the director and chief curator of The Museum at FIT and the author of Shoes: A Lexicon of Style (among many other fashion books), the fixation dates back to Cinderella and her glass slippers. But that doesn’t necessarily explain women’s willingness to defy death, gravity, and blisters with the super-stacked platforms and needle-thin spikes of modern day. Shoe Obsession, The Museum at FIT’s upcoming exhibition (which, running from February 8 through April 13, was curated by Dr. Steele, Colleen Hill, and Fred Dennis), explores the female shoe fetish via some of the most iconic, outrageous, and exceptional styles that have come out this century.
Including shoes from established houses (Christian Louboutin’s Pigalle stilettos, Roger Vivier’s feather Eyelash pumps, Prada’s flame shoes, and Chanel’s gun heels), up-and-coming talents (Nicholas Kirkwood’s graffitied Keith Haring platforms, Charlotte Olympia’s Kiss Me Dolores pumps), and experimental designers (Masaya Kushino’s sculptural human hair, Cyprus wood, and lace platforms; Noritaka Tatehana’s eighteen-inch ballerina shoes), Shoe Obsession presents every type of high heel you can imagine—and several that you can’t. Here, Dr. Steele talks to Style.com about the fascination with extravagant shoes, the evolution of contemporary footwear, and the upcoming exhibition.
Let’s cut to the chase. Why are so many women obsessed with shoes?
Well, I think there are a couple of layers. First off, shoes are an intimate extension of the physical body. And they seem to say a lot about our personality, our sexual attitudes, and our social status. And high heels in particular seem to be the focus of a lot of our thoughts about gender, sexuality, eroticism, and femininity. I think there’s definitely an element of sexual fetishism involved in men’s fascination with women’s high-heel shoes. But for women, I think it’s not fetishism so much as it is an obsession with fashion and with shoes as the ultimate sartorial symbol of erotic femininity.
Have women always been obsessed with shoes, or was there a point in fashion history when the infatuation really took off?
It goes way back to Cinderella. Shoes have played an important role in cultural thought for a long time. In Qui êtes-vous, Polly Maggoo?, a film from the sixties about French fashion, there’s a wonderful scene when a TV reporter is interviewing some pompous French sociology professor who says that the Cinderella story is all about the importance of tiny feet and beautiful shoes. Then he says, “So there you are: fetishism, mutilation, pain. Fashion in a nutshell.” [Laughs] But I do think that our show is unique, because we’re not just looking at the social and psychosexual reasons why we all love shoes. We’re focusing on the twenty-first century and calling attention to the fact that in the last twelve years or so, after the end of Sex and the City, the obsession with high-end designer shoes has spread from something that only a few people were really obsessed with to being something that everybody’s obsessed with.
Why have heels risen to such hilariously high heights in the past few decades? And what dictates heel height?
I think the key element there is the acceptance of hypersexual shoe design as part of fashion, as opposed to just a corner of the pornographic industry. Before he died, Helmut Newton said in an interview that in the seventies, you had to go to fetish and porn stores to get the kind of shoes he wanted for his fashion photographs. But by the early nineties, he could go to any high fashion designer—Chanel, Dior, they were all doing fetish-y shoes. So that’s one thing, which I think is crucial to the recent growth of heels. Another is the popularity of platforms on shoes. If you’ve got a two-inch platform, automatically your heel can go from three to five inches, or from four to six, or whatever you want.
What makes women willing to shell out so much money for a pair of shoes that they may or may not be able to walk in?
Part of it is that shoe shopping is probably the highest form of fashion shopping. It’s the most pleasurable. I mean, who doesn’t look good in a pair of beautiful shoes? And compare it with something like bathing-suit shopping, which is the nadir of horror. Also, you can get a lot more fashion bang for your buck with a pair of shoes. You know, it might be a thousand dollars, but if you’re going to buy a jacket or a dress by that same or a comparable designer, you’d be talking three, four thousand dollars or up. And right now, people are, in a way, dressing in more of a uniform. For instance, many people just wear a well-cut pair of jeans and a great black jacket. But with shoes, they can play and transform themselves—they can change the style image that they’re creating. Continue Reading “FIT’s Foot Fetish” »
“I’m in charge of all the magic,” says costume designer William Ivey Long—a veritable Broadway legend—of his latest project. Having been in the biz for over thirty years, Long is in the midst of finishing the costumes (over three hundred of them) for Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, which, starring Laura Osnes, will go into previews on January 25. His studio—a former strip club in Tribeca—is lined with reference images of Catherine de Médicis (she’s his muse for the wicked stepmother), sketches of the flower-, butterfly-, and vegetable-inspired outfits, and material for his fairy-tale looks, like faux fur, rich green brocade, and silver neoprene-lined leather that will be made into suits of armor. “These can’t be everyday clothes!” he quips.
Of course, little about Long is “everyday.” He’s won five Tony awards, created all the costumes for Broadway’s revival of Chicago—now in it’s eighteenth year—including the saucy Roxie Hart dresses for Brooke Shields, Christie Brinkley, and Robin Givens. He designed the flamboyant space suits for Siegfried and Roy’s Mirage Hotel show, dressed the cast of The Producers, and created the playful fifties ensembles for Hairspray. Modestly styled in a navy blazer and khakis (hailing from North Carolina, he’s a Southern boy at heart), Long sits down with Style.com to talk about working with couturier Charles James, living next door to the late artist Louise Bourgeois, and realizing the fantasy that is Cinderella.
Have you always worked out of this studio?
I used to work out of a brownstone in Chelsea. I moved in here three years ago, on Halloween night. I sold my last house to my next-door neighbor, Louise Bourgeois, for her to turn into her museum. She was fantastic and so supportive. She used to come and see the costumes, and near the end, I had to bring them to her. She would give me assignments and ask me to bring her specific things from my travels. I was so excited when I was able to find ancient tapestries, because her family, the Bourgeois family, for centuries restored and cleaned tapestries. She loved looking at all the fabrics, and she would use them to make various things, her little totems. She loved turning existing clothes that she had worn into her sculptures.
Let’s talk slippers. Did you know that, allegedly, Cinderella’s shoes were supposed to be ermine instead of glass? Some say it was an error in the seventeenth-century transcript.
No! Fur slippers would have been very surreal. And comfy. But guess who’s making my glass slippers? Stuart Weitzman! They’re made out of clear plastic. Apparently, in the seventies, when Weitzman first started, he had glass Cinderella high heels in one of his collections. Well, they were plastic made to look like glass.
How did you come to work with Stuart Weitzman?
It’s a complicated thing with producer connections, etc. Usually I don’t have such exalted playmates. Stuart is so charming. He fit the shoe on Laura Osnes’ foot for the first time the other day, and he was just like the prince. But I’m working with eight shops on the actual costumes. I’m in charge of the “magical” dress transformations, so my shops have to be knowledgeable about the intricacies of this and that. Nobody comes onstage to help the actors. They do it themselves. And it doesn’t black out, there’s no puff of smoke. They really do the magic in front of you.
Let’s be real here. Fashion is a hypercompetitive industry full of people who can be witheringly (but often hilariously) critical of each other. So when it comes time for an awards gala, wherein the members of the fashion scene must play nice and hand out plaudits to their peers, most people cope by sighing into their free Champagne and mumbling that so-and-so was sorely overlooked…as usual. But every so often, an award is given out to a designer who is so self-evidently deserving that only the most vicious fashion misanthrope could protest. Such was the case recently at the Footwear News FN Awards, where Charlotte Dellal took home the Designer of the Year honor for her rapidly expanding five-year-old brand, Charlotte Olympia. This has been a threshold year for Dellal, one that saw her launch a range of bridal footwear, collaborate with Victoria Beckham, and open her first stateside store on New York’s Upper East Side. More generally, 2012 was the year that Charlotte Olympia firmly and finally established itself as a go-to brand for VIPs looking to rock a glam shoe on the red carpet. (Or anywhere else, for that matter.) Here, the cool and impeccably coiffed Dellal talks to Style.com about gilded platforms, her brand’s evolution, and the importance of having a sense of humor.
Congratulations! I guess this is as good a time as any to ask you that burning fashion question: What is the deal with women and shoes?
You mean, why do women love shoes? I always have a hard time with that one. They just do. I think, maybe, it has something to do with the fact that they’re objects—beautiful objects that you can wear. They look good on, and they look good off.
Did you always know you wanted to design shoes?
Actually, I wanted to do fashion design. Or so I thought. But when I did my foundation course, my tutor suggested I go into Cordwainers and train to make shoes. All my sketches of clothes were heavily accessorized. So I was accessory-focused from the beginning, I guess. And I do love accessories. I love how they personalize a look—you can be wearing the most sober outfit, and add an amazing shoe, a crazy bag, a hat, whatever, and make it something else entirely. It’s that old Hollywood, 1940s thing that I love so much; a way of not just finishing a look, but really elaborating it with your own sense of style.
You have a very distinctive, ’40s Hollywood-inflected personal style, and that’s reflected in Charlotte Olympia. When you design, are you designing for yourself?
Yes and no. I mean, as a designer, you create things that you love, don’t you? And as a female designer, it’s pretty inevitable that you create things that you love and want to wear. They go hand in hand. For me, anyway. So, of course, my sensibility is in the brand; it wouldn’t work otherwise. But my experiences as a woman also inform my sense of what’s missing in the market. Launching bridal—that came pretty directly out of my own experience of being a bride. I was looking around at the shoe options, and it was all, various shades of white and off-white. Like, peep-toe heels and things. And of course, I love color, I love pattern, and I just felt like, well, on your wedding of all days, you should be wearing a pair of shoes you really love, that represent who you are. I had on a huge dress, no one was going to see my shoes, but it made me happy knowing that I had on a pair of leopard-print pumps. And then, in the meantime, I did have women coming to the shop, and buying, like, red shoes to wear at their weddings. So I saw this niche.
How do you see your line as having evolved since you launched five years ago?
Well, this is obvious, but it’s gotten a lot bigger. My first few collections, I was only doing 140mm heels, with the recessed platform. That was about establishing an aesthetic, by the way; it wasn’t that I thought all women should wear super-high heels all the time. But I wanted to establish a silhouette, and a certain…I guess the only way to say it is a certain glamour. You know, as an aside, my true signature, initially, was the recessed gold platform. Some people saw that as really bling-y, but my thinking was, you know, it’s a recessed platform; when you wear the shoe, it’s under your foot, and so all that is is a little golden glow underfoot. A little magic, because—why not? Anyway. Sorry to digress, I just always felt like that gold platform was misunderstood. And of course now I design all sort of shoes—flats, sandals, the whole lot. Plus bags, now, too.
Are there other categories you’d like to explore?
There are lots of things I’d love to do, eventually. Like hats—I’m a big fan of hats, and I’ve been working with Piers Atkinson on some styles. I don’t need to do hats in-house; not right now. There are a lot of milliners I respect. Down the line, who knows? But anything that develops, it will develop organically. I like to joke that my accessories have accessories. Like, the bags started because I wanted a Perspex clutch to match the Perspex heels in a collection. And here we are, doing all these bags. And I love it. The novelty bags we make each season, they’re like the exclamation point at the end of the collection.
Do you have any shoe heroes?
Salvatore Ferragamo. The old Salvatore Ferragamo—the man. He used all this wonderful color and amazing materials. And of course, he was from the era that I love and made special shoes for the Hollywood actresses that have inspired me. And then, of course, when I was a child, my mother’s closet was full of Manolos. And when you’re a child, you’re always in your mother’s closet, trying on her shoes. Again, so many wonderful colors. And such a distinctive femininity—I still really appreciate that.
People tend to talk about your shoes being glamorous. It’s a word you use quite a bit yourself. But I feel like they rarely point out that your shoes are also kind of…funny. You know they’re funny, right?
Of course! I like to bring a sense of humor to my designs. A little silliness.What I really love to do is to play with the obvious—my collections are usually inspired by places, and I love doing things like, when we did the Paris collection, playing on all these Parisian super-clichés, like frou-fy poodles and the Eiffel Tower. I like to make the obvious more obvious. But it’s like I was saying, about the gold platform—why not? It’s so much easier to be bold or silly or over-the-top with your shoes than with pretty much any other part of your wardrobe. I can easily understand women who are shy about wearing some kind of crazy dress. But having fun with shoes? That never hurt anyone.
In a year full of industry shake-ups, WSJ. magazine’s announcement earlier this week that it had hired Magnus Berger as its new creative director was just the latest bit of news to chew on. The co-founder, along with business partner Tenzin Wild, of The Last Magazine and of the creative agency Berger & Wild, Berger brings a decidedly “emerging” sensibility to a publication that’s often seen as catering to the seasoned reader. But as Berger tells it, nothing in today’s world of fashion media is quite that simple.
At Berger & Wild’s Houston Street headquarters—above Serge Becker’s hip restaurant, Miss Lily’s—the Swedish multitasker spoke with Style.com about The Last Magazine, the dissolving boundaries between uptown and downtown, and the future of WSJ.
Some people out there seem surprised that WSJ tapped you. Was it unexpected for you?
The offer was unexpected, but to me, it made sense. WSJ. is not a defined fashion title—it’s really positioning itself for style and luxury. And I have never seen The Last Magazine as a fashion magazine, although we’ve always had big models on the cover and launched [new issues] during New York fashion week. It’s a very different demographic, but content-wise they’re actually quite similar.
The simplistic storyline here is that an uptown luxury magazine is going for a downtown vibe.
I mean, Wall Street is more “downtown” than Soho and Lower East Side. [Laughs.] I don’t know what that really means anymore, to be honest. Look at Art Basel, in Miami—it’s downtown and uptown coming together for a few days. A lot of the younger designers, like Altuzarra, for example, are very downtown and uptown at the same time. And this news about Alexander Wang going to Balenciaga—he’s young, but super successful, and now he’s taking over for one of the most talented designers of the last 15 years at a super credible old house.
I was a little surprised to see you described as “edgy” in one of the news items.
Yeah, I don’t know where that’s coming from. If you look closely at The Last Magazine, it’s not crazy design-wise or content-wise. It’s quite straightforward. But maybe in the outside world, they’re sort of just grouping things together because it’s easier, the same way we might do with anything that’s going on above 14th Street. For us it’s more about what we put in the magazine. I’ve always been attracted to magazines that are run with a clear vision—Purple, Self Service, Fantastic Man, Gentlewoman, Visionaire.
That scrappy world of smaller magazines seems more communal than it is up at the top of the food chain. I mean, T and WSJ. are always depicted as being engaged in this battle royale.
I don’t know that it’s a real rivalry, but people talk about it that way.
It’s like with movies—it’s not just about whether they’re good or bad, or even what they’re about; it’s who won at the box office. And now you see this intense interest in the games of musical chairs being played in the fashion world, not only with designers but with editors and people like yourself.
Yeah, the whole “She left Vogue and she went to this, and now she went from this world to the newspaper world.” Obviously when it comes to The Times and The Wall Street Journal, the readership is just gigantic in comparison to a lot of these other titles, which is why I think it’s become an issue for the fashion world, where you fight for advertisers.
Weren’t magazines supposed to be on the way out?
Our first issue of The Last Magazine came out in 2008. The name was a bit of a joke, but I honestly thought it might actually be the last one. It’s not always a huge commercial vehicle. It’s a platform for us, with a lot of freedom, and hopefully one that also attracts people for commercial projects. Rather than go and chase clients, we say: “This is who we are, come to us and we can work together.”
Part of your experience with Last must be watching these people whose talent you supported early on go on and become established.
I wouldn’t say establishment, I think that’s a little exaggerated, but there are certainly people in that group that are very successful—both in terms of contributors and people we feature in the magazine, like Carey Mulligan. I believe we were the first U.S. magazine to feature her. And we had Alexander Skarsgård and Lykke Li very early, and a lot of our photographers.
I imagine the wrangling will be a little different at WSJ.
We had my first editorial meeting on Monday. When you’re talking about the people you want to put on the cover or the actors you want to feature, for us at The Last Magazine it would be, “Oh no, but she already did a few movies. She’s too established.” And up there it’s almost like, “What are you talking about? She hasn’t even been Oscar- nominated!” So there’s a huge difference there. But the more people I meet there the more I see we can talk about the same things.
What have they told you about your role?
I met Kristina [O'Neill] first and then I met with Robert Thomson. I’m very excited to work with Kristina and it was a very immediate connection, but at first I was trying to figure out, like, “OK, what is it that you want?” And Robert especially was like, “We’re not here to tell you what to do. We’ve seen your magazine, love it, and just want you to do what you do best.” I think it’s about your channels also—who can you get? I certainly have access to people WSJ. wouldn’t have access to, or who would be more hesitant about doing something with them if I wasn’t there. That’s my perception, at least.
What kind of people do you think you’ll be bringing in?
Obviously I can’t give you any names, but I think if Last is all about the younger and the new, I want to sort of take the top end of that slice and extend it upward. Tenzin and I had a huge conversation about this. We’re established now, and the most natural thing is obviously to just go with it and evolve as they evolve. And then 30 years later Last Magazine is the same generation as when we started. I think that’s more natural than trying to be 25 years old when you’re 65. That might work for some people, but it’s not the way to go for us.