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July 25 2014

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13 posts tagged "Valerie Steele"

Domestic Abuse Is Not In Vogue, No Matter How You Style It

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My mother used to work with Haven, a shelter for abused women, when we lived in Detroit. One night, she came home very shaken up after a meeting for the charity. I asked her what was wrong, and she recounted a 911 call she’d listened to, in which a little boy was trying to save his mother, who had been beaten by her boyfriend. The boy kept saying, “My mommy’s not moving,” and just before hanging up, told the operator, “My mommy’s dead.” I was 10 years old at this time, and at that age, I had no idea such horror existed in the world. I sobbed for hours, and to this day, I feel sick when I think about that little boy, that haunting call, and that woman whose life was stolen from her.

I don’t care who shoots it—a scenario like that one cannot, and should not, be translated into a fashion photograph. Franca Sozzani, however, attempted to do just that in her April issue of Vogue Italia, which hits newsstands today.

Sozzani, who serves as the editor in chief of Condé Nast Italia, as well as Vogue Italia, is an original and often fearless creative thinker, and she has frequently addressed hot-button issues through the pages of her glossy magazine. In 2005, she ran a clever editorial about plastic surgery. In 2007, she produced an issue that tackled the elite’s rising obsession with rehab. These editions sparked controversy, too—and Sozzani should be commended for her commitment to asking important questions through her often forward-thinking spreads. But the abovementioned problems more or less affect the privileged classes, and the shoots were done in a certain tongue-in-cheek manner. That approach is not appropriate when discussing domestic abuse.

I’m sure that April’s Steven Meisel-lensed cover story, dubbed “Horror Movie,” was conceived with the best intentions. In a statement, Sozzani explained, “Violence towards women has never been so hard-hitting as it is now, so reminiscent of a ‘real horror show’…The intent is in no way to shock, but rather to raise awareness of a horror that must be condemned!” However, “Horror Movie” takes away from the seriousness of the topic at hand.

The first problem is that, while it’s allegedly meant to raise awareness and provoke conversation, this spread is still selling clothes. It’s using violence to push product. The images—like the one of Natalie Westling laying bloodied and lifeless on the floor in a red Moschino dress, ruffled Melissa Levy garters, and Alexander Wang shoes, her lover slumped in a chair, staring at her while drenched in her blood—are underscored by clothing credits. How can a photograph like this be seen as respectful and empowering to domestic abuse victims, or even taken seriously, when it reads, “chiffon smock, Marc Jacobs” in the corner?

Furthermore, these images are glamorous. They star young women dressed to the nines in the hottest new wares. The models’ faces are elegantly painted, and the girls look pretty while cowering in the corner, hiding from a man with a knife, or grasping at a railing, pressed against a wall smeared with blood. Abuse is not glamorous, and the brutalization of women should never be portrayed as beautiful, especially in a fashion magazine. Additionally, these images are based off of classic horror films, and by design there’s an almost comic quality to them. In a different context, as a commentary on our addiction to the nasty thrills of the ever-popular horror genre, say, they might have worked. The problem arises when Sozzani claims the intent is specifically to raise awareness of domestic abuse. Abuse isn’t funny, period.

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Of course, we’ve seen images like these before—in varying degrees of offensiveness and insensitivity. There’s Helmut Newton, whose sexualized photographs of naked women in heels or bonded with rope bordered on misogyny. There’s the particularly macabre Guy Bourdin, who often posed models as if they were dead—one of his snaps features a made-up woman lying in a pool of blood; another depicts two dead models, the first hanging from a noose, the second naked on a table. “Fear is something that we, despite ourselves, want to experience. And I think the violence does add glamour in a kind of perverse way,” Nick Knight told the Guardian while speaking about Bourdin’s photographs back in 2003. I don’t necessarily agree with these images. But in the cases of Newton and Bourdin, the male character isn’t pictured, there’s an air of mystery and ambiguity, and the women aren’t explicitly being abused. And—though again I wouldn’t necessarily concur as quickly as some male critics would—you can argue that these are two great artists walking the line in the way that great artists are driven to do.

Vogue Italia‘s latest outing also calls to mind last year’s Vice editorial, in which models were snapped while pretending to commit suicide. Unsurprisingly, the shoot sparked public outrage. Fashion photographs have an element of fantasy, and, as Knight mentioned, there is something unsettlingly sexy about death—this has been the case throughout history (Sir John Everett Millais’ 1852 painting Ophelia comes to mind). But suicide, and domestic abuse, don’t fall into a “fantasy” category. They’re tragedies that real people struggle with every day. “Photography is such a powerful medium, which we read as being a literal depiction of reality,” explained curator and fashion historian Dr. Valerie Steele when I asked her about this particular issue. “It can be very problematic when you have images of violence that have been staged for a photograph. The image of the fashion model being physically attacked and murdered is one that has considerable existence in pop culture, considering films like the Eyes of Laura Mars [1978],” she continued. “That further complicates the issue of trying to make a photograph have an ideological point against violence, since the exploitation of violence against beautiful young fashion models is something that has another fantasy existence, apparently.”

It seems strange to me that, judging by social media and editorial responses, people can’t seem to make up their minds about “Horror Movie.” Perhaps they’re afraid to take a stance because, as I mentioned before, it may have been created with the best intentions. But just because one’s intentions are good, doesn’t mean the results are, too.

During her twenty-six-year tenure at Vogue Italia, Sozzani has successfully confronted a bevy of heavy global concerns. For instance, her July 2008 issue, which featured only black models, was the magazine’s best-selling edition. She has proven to be one of the most progressive editors of the last thirty years, constantly championing young designers; driving Italian fashion forward conceptually, commercially, and creatively; and helping her readers to understand fashion in a broader cultural context. This misstep won’t change that.

Sozzani’s more tasteful attempts, as well as efforts by the likes of Vivienne Westwood (always fighting to save the environment), Iman (who frequently speaks out on behalf of models of color), and Riccardo Tisci (who’s aimed to rectify the lack of diversity in the biz with his multicultural runways and Spring ’14 ad campaign), prove that fashion can have an impact. Considering ours is one of the biggest industries on the planet, we can absolutely change the world through fashion. We can get important messages across in magazines, during runway shows, through garments, and in newspaper articles. We just can’t do it like this.

Photo: vogue.it

Ten Looks, One Show: The Industry’s Top Stylists Honor the Albright Fashion Library

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FIT x MAC Fashion Library

It’s been over ten years since Irene Albright first opened the doors to the Albright Fashion Library—the more than 15,000-dress-, 7,000 shoe-strong collection of contemporary couture, ready-to-wear, and accessories now housed in a massive 7,000-square-foot loft at 62 Cooper Square. “Irene was working with KCD and saw that people were running around chasing clothes, and she just decided to start buying [important pieces],” recalled the Library’s creative director, Patricia Black. “Eventually, people would come to her saying, ‘Oh, do you still have that sweater? Can I borrow it?’”

Today, after a decade functioning as a sort of dream closet for fashion insiders, the Library is feting its history, as well as the incredible individuals who have pulled from its continually evolving archive, with Albright Goes to School, an exhibition in partnership with the Fashion Institute of Technology and MAC Cosmetics that opens this evening at the Museum at FIT.

“I wanted to celebrate Irene, the Library, the stylists—the people who were working on the inside—the shakers and tastemakers,” said Black. “Without them, we wouldn’t have what we have in terms of this colossal space just packed from floor to ceiling with clothes.”

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The show—a first look debuts here—features individual looks that ten stylists (June Ambrose, Paul Cavaco, Catherine George, Tom Broecker, Freddie Leiba, Lori Goldstein, Kathryn Neale, Mary Alice Stephenson, Kate Young, and Patti Wilson) created using iconic wares from the Library. A Tom Ford goat hair jacket layers over a Comme des Garçons tank in Goldstien’s look; Balmain is mixed with Givenchy and the artist’s own choker and face mask in Leiba’s; and Patti Wilson utilizes a Lanvin body harness to sex up an otherwise high glamour Yves Saint Laurent and J.W. Anderson combo.

There’s a rich history to the institution, and Black, Museum at FIT director and chief curator Valerie Steele, and set designer Stefan Beckman were tasked with expressing that through a tight narrative. “There are some incredible stylists who pulled these outfits, but they each have their own different story,” related Beckman, who described the installation as a “gritty fire escape urban idea.”

Steele added that the Museum’s interest in the exhibition stemmed, in part, from a desire to champion stylists. “People tend to think, Oh, designers make fashion. So it was important to be able to bring in stylists and show that they also have a really important role in putting looks together.”

The ten ensembles will be on display through March 31. The show marks the beginning of a greater collaboration between FIT and the Albright Fashion Library. “Irene is such an eclectic collector of everything from fashion to art to houses to people. So who knows what she’s going to start collecting next and where we’re going to take that,” suggested Black. “[But] I’m excited about the beginnings of seeing how we get to work and inspire the new generation of kids who dream of becoming the next designer, visual director, creative director, fashion editor, stylist, or costume designer. I’m hoping that we can lend a little bit of light to them in this moment.”

Photo:  
Photos: George Chinsee  

Glitter and Be Gay? Addressing the LGBT Influence in Fashion

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Calvin Klein AdAs industries go, fashion may be the least closeted there is: No one can deny the massive impact made by men and women who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered in the history of fashion and costume. Fashion historian Valerie Steele addresses the contributions made by LGBT people in a new exhibition, A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk, opening this week at the Museum at F.I.T. It includes pieces ranging from designs by Jean Paul Gaultier and Gianni Versace to Edwardian suits and nineteenth-century finery; clothing made by gays and for gays; as well as those items and styles co-opted and fetishized by gay audiences, and from gay audiences. (See, for example, Versace’s adaptation of leather fetish regalia into his women’s haute couture.)

As the exhibition makes clear—not that it wasn’t out, as it were, already—the gay contribution to fashion is beyond doubt. The question that’s much harder to answer is why. Shortly after the show was announced last year, I sat down with Steele, who co-curated the exhibit with Fred Dennis, to try to tease out the curious correlation and connection between gayness, politics, fashion, and style.

It goes without saying—but let’s say it—that many, many fashion designers and professionals are gay. Is gayness fashion’s default position?

I don’t know if it’s the default position, because there are heterosexual men, and there are women of all different sexualities, straight, gay, and bi, in fashion—though fewer of them have come out than gay men. But I think it’s not just a stereotype to say that there’s a lot of interest in fashion and style among a lot of gay men. What we’re interested in doing with Queer History is, if you can get beyond saying it’s just a stereotype, maybe you can start exploring why it might be the case that there’s this interest in fashion and style. You’re not pathologizing it; for one thing, most people like fashion now. You could explore, is there a kind of gay sensibility that would be drawn to issues of style and fashion?

And is there?
We tend to think yes. But we think there’s not one gay aesthetic, but at least a couple of different gay aesthetics. Several, probably: One that would tend to be more idealizing, and the other that would be more disruptive and gender-fuck.

But that idealizing aesthetic could be a kind of misogyny, no? You have male designers creating designs for women’s bodies that aren’t necessarily forgiving, or even possible…
If you go online, this is the vox pop: Do gay men hate women? You saw that [first] in the fifties, when you had all these very homophobic commentators, like the psychiatrist Bergler, who said that gay men hate women and therefore they make weird clothes for them to wear. But the point is, gay men have made all different types of clothes. It’s not just that they like girls to look like teenage boys, or they like girls to look like a caricature of women. It’s all different styles. And you find that straight men and women of different sexual persuasions also doing those, too. It’s much more related to their individual aesthetic and their time period than it is to their sexual orientations. So I think you have to confront that. Some people who don’t like fashion are going to say that it’s gay men making things for putatively straight women. But I think you can’t be held back by homophobic complaints. I think it’s more important to try and explore where things might lead you and not be constrained by irrational homophobia—and irrational fashion phobia, too.

Which go hand in hand.
Which often do go hand in hand.

Where does this connection between gay men and fashion come from?
I think it’s partly a kind of self-selection early on that gay boys, maybe before they know they’re gay, are interested often in artistic pursuits. “Artistic” was always a kind of euphemism for being gay. Lots of gay people talk about, “When I was four, I was telling my mother how to dress. When I was four, I was doing elaborate drawings of ladies’ costumes.” That’s before you have much of a sexual identity, but there’s already possibly something there that’s attractive about artistic and transformative fields like fashion. Fashion is about artifice and transformation and fantasy and a certain idea of beauty. I think it’s intrinsically very appealing to a lot of people, and it may just be that, at least in certain cultures—and there’s been so little cross-cultural work done, it’s hard to tell—that may be something that’s part of a gay male sensibility. Continue Reading “Glitter and Be Gay? Addressing the LGBT Influence in Fashion” »

An Ode to Petri

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PETRI(E) Inventory 65 cover and "Melody of Caged Birds" shoot

In gritty 1980s London, John Galliano was wrapping up his studies at Central Saint Martins, Leigh Bowery was hosting pansexual club nights, and Nick Logan launched The Face. It was a time of unencumbered experimentation—sartorial and otherwise. And it was during this era that stylist Ray Petri—the man responsible for the anti-glam Buffalo movement—emerged on the scene. Petri (formerly Petrie) laid the bricks for the eclectic British fashion scene of today. His editorials, which set the tone in magazines such as Arena, i-D, and the above-mentioned The Face, pictured rough London teens in unexpected combinations of high fashion, tough workwear, athletic clothes, underwear, vintage, and beyond. He created not only a look but an ideology that was universally recognizable. And now, the iconoclast—who died of AIDS in 1989—is getting a magazine named after him.

 

Dhaka's Response

Founded by Zadrian Smith—a London-based writer, stylist, and producer who’s worked with such publications as Tank, Love, GQ Style and British VoguePETRI(E) Inventory 65 (the stylist would have turned 65 this year—published annually, the numbers will bump up accordingly) seeks to breathe new life into Petri’s legacy. Aiming to channel the man’s uncompromising, unfiltered vision, PETRI(E)’s editorial array extends far beyond fashion. The debut issue offers an ode to Petri by British Vogue’s Francesca Burns, a photo essay by Saiful Huq Omi that lenses the hope and strife within Bangladesh megalopolis, Dhaka (above), and an essay by Valerie Steele on her upcoming exhibition, Queer History. “I think there’s a vulnerability and honesty to each piece that I hope readers will appreciate,” Smith told Style.com. Also included is an editorial titled “Melody of Caged Birds,” (above, right) which, featuring Meadham Kirchhoff’s designs, serves as a visual antidote to the suppression of raw creative impulse. “Don’t get me wrong,” said Smith, “I know fashion is a business, but there needs to be a greater balance of business and creativity. At this rate, fashion will bleed itself of organic artistry.”

 

PETRI(E) Inventory 65 launches on May 20, and is available for preorder here

Ladies who Lunch

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“I’m literally here for a few hours,” said shoe designer Nicholas Kirkwood, who flew to New York from London for a luncheon at Bergdorf Goodman yesterday. The occasion? The arrival of his new Spring collection, which, featuring pearl-soled pumps and swirling metallic sandals, was on display in the center of the department store’s famed shoe floor. “It’s nice to meet the customers and have lunch with some New York ladies,” laughed Kirkwood, who revealed that he’s opening a new store in the Wynn Las Vegas this June and hopes to launch handbags in the next year.

Indeed, he attracted quite a set of ladies—from New York and elsewhere. The likes of Shala Monroque, Suno’s Erin Beatty, Hannah Bronfman, and Julie Gilhart joined hosts Cecilia Dean and Leslie Fremar to fete Kirkwood. A five-months-pregnant Margherita Missoni took a break from renovating her and her husband’s New York pad to dine with the designer. “I have a harder time wearing very, very high heels now,” conceded Missoni, who’s working on a book to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of her family’s house. “I’m loving wedges, so I bought three pairs to wear over the summer. And I’m so over platforms.” If the Spring trend reports are any indication, she’s not alone. “I’ve been trying to do single soles since 2009,” said Kirkwood. “I would have been happy if they went out, like, two years ago.”

Valerie Steele, who included Kirkwood’s shoes in FIT’s Shoe Obsession exhibition and lauded him as one of the “emerging superstars of shoe design,” was skeptical. “There are a lot of people who have practiced very hard to wear their platforms, and who love the extra height it gives, so I think they’re going to remain an option,” she said. “And, of course, just because it’s swinging toward single sole now doesn’t mean that in eighteen months it won’t swing back.”

Photo: BFAnyc.com/Matteo Prandoni