67 posts tagged "Tim Blanks"
Neil Tennant is sitting in the Wolseley a day before he and Chris Lowe go west, flying from London to San Francisco to prepare for Pet Shop Boys’ headlining performance on Saturday night at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Annual Festival. “Is it Coach-ella or Co-a-chella?” Tennant wonders. He’ll find out soon enough. Beforehand, PSB are shaking off six months of rust—they finished the most recent leg of their Electric world tour in Mexico last October—with warm-ups this week in Oakland and Ventura, California. And there’s been a bit of fine-tuning. “We could feel the audience getting a bit shifty in their seats mid-show with the new songs,” says Tennant. So he’s promising “a traffic jam of hits” on Saturday night.
It’s been a staggering thirty years since the very first, “West End Girls.” Over time, that song has become the kind of classic to which all forms of human life have met and mated (Tennant and Lowe are always being reminded of that fact by the ardent fans who pay extra for a pre-show meet and greet). Chart-meister Pharrell Williams confessed to Tennant in Toronto recently that he wished it was his song. On Saturday night, Pharrell finishes his set at the Outdoor Theatre just as PSB walk out onto the Mojave Stage, so he’ll make their gig in time to hear the song he wished he’d written irresistibly elided with a new number, the EDM-ish raver “Fluorescent.” That’s a killer one-two that should shake the starry, starry night over the California desert. It’ll also be a measure of the way Lowe and Tennant constantly revise and refresh their material. “Traffic jam of hits” or not, I’ve never seen a show of theirs which left me feeling like I was listening to a mere run-through of old faves (even though there are dozens of them). The sound is always evolving and so is the masterful showmanship. Pet Shop Boys’ only real peer is Kraftwerk, with whom they are coincidentally co-headlining Moogfest in Asheville, North Carolina, in a few weeks.
Tennant agrees it’s a challenge translating their intelligent spectacle to a festival setting: “It’s a bit more nerve-racking because it’s not your audience. You’ve really got to fight.” He remembers one rock festival in northern Spain where the audience was particularly ill-disposed to PSB’s brand of pop music. “But we followed Beck, and we were saved, in my opinion, from being canned off stage because Beck stood at the side of the stage throughout our performance dancing and singing along with his bass player, and the audience thought, Who are we to disagree? As Monica Lewinsky once said to me, ‘Oh, I know who you are. I grew up in Los Angeles in the eighties.’ So did Beck.
“That’s the funny thing about festivals,” Tennant continues. “You’re always following someone like the Red Hot Chili Peppers.” Or being followed by them—you have to feel for Bryan Ferry on Friday night, who is lead-in to the hoary goth metal of The Cult. And on Saturday night? “I’m sure it will be someone much more appropriate,” Tennant says confidently. Actually, Neil, you’re following Mogwai. If PSB are purest art pop, Mogwai has always been regarded by its devotees as the apogee of art rock. Maybe that means they’ll appreciate the jackets Jeffrey Bryant has sculpted for Tennant and Lowe from 3,000 drinking straws. At the very least, I’ll be looking for selfies of the Mogsters discoing wildly in the wings while the Pets woo the dancing hordes with their sparkliest manifesto, “Love Is a Bourgeois Construct.”
Tennant’s wracked nerves aside, PSB actually have brilliant form at the most famous festival in the world. I’m talking about Glastonbury, where, on another Saturday night in 2010, PSB were playing on something called the Other Stage while Muse headlined the Pyramid Stage. “The night before, when the Flaming Lips were playing the Other Stage, Chris went to see them and there were just a few thousand people, so we were reconciled to the fact that no one would come to see us. When we got there the next day, our production manager said the actual physical space for the audience in front of the stage was already full. In the end, 50,000 people watched us, the same number that watched Muse. It was absolutely one of the best experiences,” remembers Tennant. So perhaps it’s a promising coincidence that Saturday brings a rematch: Muse is playing on the Coachella Stage at the exact same time Pet Shop Boys take to the Mojave.
Now Tennant must leave to pack his giant-size Tumi for tomorrow’s trip, but there’s one pressing item before he goes. Monica…ahem…Lewinsky? “We met at Ian McKellen’s 50th birthday party. She looked iconic, like a walking Andy Warhol screen print. Liz Taylor, perhaps.” The history of the Pet Shop Boys is crammed with hundreds of similar stories. Can’t wait to see what Coachella adds to the almanac.
The color shy need not apply. Ralph Lauren’s Fall 1999 outing bid adieu to the 20th century with a bang, offering Technicolor takes on Lauren’s all-American vernacular. Another not-too-shabby shade? The bold blue of a young Tyson Beckford’s specs. Watch the latest Throwback Thursdays With Tim Blanks here.
Philipp Plein and Roberto Cavalli ruffled some front-row feathers this season with daring shows that featured fire on the runway. Naomi Campbell, who starred in the former’s flaming romp, recently told us, “To feel that heat…I’ve done a few [risky things for fashion], like being on a crane. [But this time], I was more worried about the audience: Are they going to get up and run?” Run they did not, but neither Plein’s nor Cavalli’s adventures in pyrotechnics managed to earn the same acclaim as Alexander McQueen’s fiery Fall 1998 show. The latest edition of Tim Blanks’ Throwback Thursday video series revisits McQueen’s iconic Joan of Arc-inspired outing, which culminates stunningly with Erin O’Connor writhing on the catwalk, surrounded by a grand ring of fire. Watch the video—and feel the heat—here.
Unfortunately, The Hills‘ opinionated but not terribly enlightened Kristin Cavallari launches her new fashion show, The Fabulist, on E! tonight. This morning, Fashionista tapped into an interesting conversation: What on earth gives celebrities such as Cavallari the gall to knight themselves fashion experts? The story’s headline asked, “Are Celebrities the New Fashion Critics?” Although the article went on to defend reputable, old-school journalists, like Style.com’s own Tim Blanks, it seemed to imply that the public may be inclined to turn to celebrities as their go-to fashion reviewers rather than, well, actual critics.
Celebrities’ fashion thoughts are often (but, of course, not always) molded by their skilled stylists and sponsors. And while Fashionista did not suggest that stars are the educated voice of fashion reason, it did refer to them as fashion critics. This caused me to raise an eyebrow, and it leads us to the question: What is a fashion critic? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe a fashion critic is an informed, hopefully unbiased individual who can discuss a collection’s or garment’s merits and/or downfalls in both a broader fashion context and, more important, a broader cultural context. It takes a certain knowledge base to do that.
During a 2010 interview with Style.com’s editor in chief Dirk Standen, Cathy Horyn noted, “Right now we have a lot of people who are coming at [fashion journalism] from left field, and they can have some really wonderful insights into fashion and they can see it from their generation, which is fantastic…But then there’s also just the question of the knowledge about it, the span of time, so you can make judgments and conclusions that reflect the sense of history.” I hardly think that Kerry Washington can do that while judging Project Runway. Kelly Osbourne certainly doesn’t do it on Fashion Police, and even the savvy Rihanna doesn’t bring that kind of expertise to the table on her show, Styled to Rock. Celebrities’ commentary about the sartorial coups or disasters we see on the red carpet or reality TV are indeed entertaining, but criticism isn’t merely about cutting takedowns and gushing praise—it’s about the bigger picture.
“Traditional criticism set standards, so traditional critics wielded enormous amounts of power,” Tim Blanks once told me. “But the role of fashion criticism now is to express an opinion as lucidly, as graphically, and as entertainingly as you can.”
Stars are undoubtedly fashion influencers—just look at how Rihanna’s choice to wear Melitta Baumeister and Hyein Seo in Paris raised the up-and-comers’ profiles. But critics? Hardly. Now, I’m not saying that celebrity, or general, opinions are invalid or unimportant. I’m just saying that they’re not criticism. There is room for all sorts of musings—and all are welcome. The viewpoints of celebrities, consumers, style obsessives, critics, and beyond all work together to create a narrative, however, looking back thirty years from now, Cavallari’s comment during E!’s Oscars preshow that “Lupita has been killing it this season” won’t really tell us anything.
Will the general public gravitate toward celebrities rather than journalists for criticism? Sure, they’ll tune in to TV shows and celeb Twitter accounts to be amused (it is funny watching Joan Rivers rip apart red-carpet looks), but if they want the facts, they’ll come to the critics. As Vanessa Friedman told me in an interview last week, “There will always be a need for some sort of analysis and an informed opinion, and despite all the white noise and opinions we see on social media, people still want real information and facts.” I have to believe that this hunger for knowledge isn’t in spite of fashion’s increasing presence and importance in popular and celebrity culture, it’s because of it.
We need to be careful how we throw around the phrase “fashion critic.” Let’s not do to it what fashion writing has done to “iconic” or “chic”—that is to say, make it meaningless. Because what critics write does have meaning, and purpose, and I’d like to keep it that way.