Sorry I Didn't Write!

The author at the Chanel show, photo by the Sartorialist.

Okay, I was in Paris. But I was working, covering Fashion Week, for almost two weeks. In Paris they shouldn’t call it Fashion Week because it’s not; they should call it Fashion Fortnight. Or le fashion marathon. Or “Survivor: Paris.” It does drag on, but it’s a lot easier than Milan’s event, which crams about the same amount of shows and business into half the time. It’s still a lot of work if you’re really trying to check everything out. I heard that Vogue’s editor Anna Wintour packed up and went home in protest two days before the end, to pointedly point out that a week shouldn’t drag on for eleven days. (Unless, in my opinion, it’s a vacation week.) Apparently when she did something similar in Milan a few years ago they cut their extravaganza down to five days. But I hope it doesn’t change. If you’re in Paris you don’t want to work harder than the 35-hour-a-week locals.

Hey, its Paris, not Marseilles, or Cleveland. So as hard as you work, as much as you run around, you’re in a beautiful and inspiring place and you want to have a good time. I had that Billy Strayhorn lyric to "Lush Life" bouncing around my head, sometimes in the voice of Nat King Cole, sometimes Johnny Hartman, with John Coltrane wailing behind.

A week in Paris will ease the bite of it,
All I care is to smile in spite of it.

A week in Paris is very nice, even if you spend a lot of it hanging out in weird industrial spaces waiting for an over-the-top fashion show to start with a bunch of bitchy, tired, stressed-out journalists. But I promised myself I wasn’t going to write to you fellows about the women’s fashion business. I’ll just pass on a few observations about Paris. Yes, Paris does ease the bite of it.

It starts with the physical environment. Being in such a beautiful place puts one in a good mood, thanks to a lot of dead architects, who were often proud enough of their work to sign and date it. Obviously the builders of Paris saw the city, most of which was built during a relatively short, colonialism-funded period, as an artwork on a grand scale. Paris is like Venice in that it’s not hard to envision yourself in another era there. Temporal regression is easier in Venice because cars don’t get into the picture, but Paris today isn’t all that different from what it was a-hundred-and-fifty years ago. It’s an atmosphere designed to be beautiful, harmonious, and inspiring. Like Rome, Paris is designed to instill classical values in its inhabitants, and perhaps an ancient sense of the divine. While Paris is filled with beautiful churches, one probably feels the presence of Apollo and Aphrodite more than that of Jehovah or Jesus. The spirit of Paris seems to have the touch of the goddess, and no doubt any genuine capital of fashion and style is under her protection. Let’s not forget that the city is named for the fellow who chose Aphrodite as the most beautiful of the goddesses.

Paris finds Aphrodite (Venus) the fairest of them all.

This trip I stayed at the lovely Hotel Raphael on Avenue Kleber. If I stick my head out the window I can see the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. And when I get out of the elevator on the ground floor I’m looking at an actual Turner oil painting. The Raphael is grand and gracious and it dates to an era when people came to hotels to stay awhile. My spacious room had five closets, enough to unpack a couple of steamer trunks. The service is excellent and friendly, as long as it doesn’t involve electronics. When I was unable to order a pay-per-view movie one night the concierge didn’t offer help, just regrets and apologies. He kept saying he was sorry so sincerely that I felt guilty for complaining. When it came to the wireless internet connection they were more baffled than I was. But when it came to room service, well, that was lovely. One night after working late I ordered dinner and a bottle of wine. They also had a half bottle of the same vintage. The room service man asked if I wanted a full bottle or a half bottle, but before I could answer he said, “Yes, a full bottle. Why not?” And I knew that he was reassuring me that I was making the right decision, doing what he would have done himself.

The Raphael

It’s also nice when you’re in a hotel and two days later absolutely everyone knows your name. In a city not your own it makes you feel you have, if not family, then loyal retainers. You want the staff of your hotel to care if you get that restaurant reservation, and that your taxi driver knows where he’s going. But that’s Paris. One thing that they do very very well is the hotel. There are hundreds of them in Paris. I used to stay in cheap, charming hotels on the Left Bank in my starving artist days, and I always felt at home: the Angleterre, the Hotel de Seine. I just looked up one that I liked—the St. Andre des Arts is still 71 euros for a single. Like all of the aforementioned it’s walking distance to La Coupole, Café de Flore, Les Deux Magots, and Brasserie Lipp.

I visited Café Flore, the old hang of Jean-Paul Sartre, once on my trip. I was meeting some friends before going to the opening of La Montana, a new club just down the block, hosted by Olivier Zahm and Andre. Andre just goes by just one name, like Cher or Madonna or Fabio. You know if Andre and Olivier are involved that there will be a certain fabulousness to the place. Anyway La Coupole seemed completely the same as ever. There was a table occupied by the celebrity philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, his actress wife Arielle Dombasle, and a glam entourage. (Obviously they, too, were destined for La Montana.) HBL, as he is known, looked fabulous as ever. I wondered about his hair products and who were these people he was with. Were they also glamorous philosophers? They looked like it. But you have to love a country where a philosopher can be a gossip-star. I sat with my artist friends Mathias Augustyniak and Michael Amzalag (together known as MM/Paris) and Camille Bidault-Waddington, a very stylish stylist who is married to Jarvis Cocker, and a woman friend of hers. We drank champagne except for Mathias, who was on martinis and speculated as to what sort of meal Olivier Zahm would serve at the Montana at what was described as a small, intimate dinner. Would there be food? At the table next to ours, facing the BHL posse, a peculiar-looking fellow kept turning around and smiling at us and waving. I couldn’t tell if he was a friend of someone’s or a benign, well-dressed nut. He proved to be the latter but I still liked that he somehow approved of us.

Decor at the Montana, photo by Olivier Zahm

La Montana is a sort of lovely hole in the wall of rue Sant Benoit, a short stagger from the Flore. A former jazz club, the ground floor is mostly taken up by a long bar and the cavelike downstairs, the domed ceilings of which have been handsomely decorated with mosaics. There are walls featuring entomology drawings, a bar room, and a miniature discotheque room. While some of the more naïve waited for an actual dinner, despite the almost complete absence of tables, the savvy and hungry stuffed themselves on heavy hors d’ouevres—caviar, smoked salmon, blinis, taramasalata, and so on, as the Veuve Cliquot flowed along with Andre’s new Belvedere X vodka. It was a sort of summit meeting with Purple covergirl Diane von Furstenberg, Betsy Catroux, sexy movie stars Milla Jovovich, Jessica Alba, and Lou Doillon, sexy supermodels Angela Lindvall, Kate Moss, Sasha Pivororava, sexy fashion editor Anne Christiansen, the tall redhead from the New York Times, sexy coatcheck, sexy barmaids…. If I lived in Paris I might actually go to a nightclub once in a while.

Audrey Marnay at Montana, photo by Olivier Zahm

Paris is sexy. No doubt about it. It’s the world capital of sexiness. Just try to get across town and you see people kissing on all the bridges. Walk through the Tuileries and you see people kissing. Walk past the sexy Richard Serra sculpture toward the big fashion show tent in the Tuileries and photographers are snapping all the sexy assistant fashion editors who look like movie stars.

I even feel sexier in Paris. I don’t think I look any different there, but I seem to get better results. In New York I get accosted by male Korean fashion stringers; in New York I get accosted by beautiful girl photographers. I suppose if I spent more time in Paris it might start to affect the way I dress. I know that when I packed for the trip I packed three different scarves. I wouldn’t have done that for Toronto.

It’s important to wear a scarf in Paris, especially if you want to pass as a local. When I’m in Paris I’m always flattered if someone stops and asks me for directions. It means I look good. I feel the same way in Rome. It’s a compliment. I actually packed three scarves for Paris, and could have picked up a few more. My second to last night there I actually used my big checkered Paul Smith scarf as a face mask when John Galliano made it snow indoors, using some suspiciously noxious chemical that had the front row stalwarts in coughing fits, as part of a spectacular though annoying light show that accompanied his riotous runway parade. In Paris you should always wear a scarf, even if you’re in a T-shirt.

Parisians aren’t over-the-top fancy dressers the way Italians or Britons are. They generally a favor a simple look, but one that is well thought out and has the finishing touches. As with my Friend Olivier, who looks basically the same every day in his jeans, leather jacket, and aviators, each item has been carefully selected, and what looks the same is actually one of similar rotating elements. He has lots of variations on those amber aviator glasses, the jeans, and black leather jackets. A man should have a look of his own, and not be a mannequin. Clothes don’t make the man, the man makes the clothes.

Parisians can be spectacularly eccentric in their turn out, but you rarely see someone that you would describe as a fashion victim. You do see ensembles that are very extravagant and costly, but rarely do you see someone dressed head to toe in someone else’s idea. Parisians have a knack for putting a look together out of components in their own style, and often it is charmingly retrospective.

Paris encourages quirkiness. This is, after all, the land of the beret. It’s okay to have a moustache here. Or smoke a pipe, or wear a fedora or a Bavarian hat. Or have a dangling watch chain. I think that what would ordinarily seem to be affectations are encouraged here because they are not so much affectations as affirmations. They affirm the individual within a context of tradition. There’s something rather nice about the peculiarities sported by Parisians as personal trademarks. Maybe the expression “doing your own thing” reaches its zenith here, accent on the own. Bohemianism is quite acceptable and almost de rigeur in some ways, and so a person marks his stylistic turf. And while this is the capital of fashion, there is no mania for the latest except among the hardcore bourgeoisie. There is no pressure to conform to this season and abandon last year’s garment. Paris loves variation but is suspicious of gratuitous change, which is one of the reasons that buildings and institutions are preserved. There is a lovely form of conservativism to the French. It has its excesses in intolerance and xenophobia, but it is no coincidence that the word resistance tends to conjure up the word French.

One of the things I enjoy about the French is their formality. Their language is formal. We don’t have the tutoyer, the formal and familiar form of the second person. We have abandoned thee and thou, perhaps unfortunately. But the French go around saying, basically, “I prithee have a glass of champagne.” They don’t call people they don’t know "honey" and "sweetie," and while this seems like a small thing I believe that it informs their entire social structure. It always bugs me in New York when I meet someone and on taking their leave they plant kisses on my cheeks. It doesn’t happen in France and I wound up discussing this with a French business colleague. I told her “I don’t kiss on the first date. Or the first meeting.”

If an American is an intellectual or an aesthete or bohemian or cool then conservatism is generally considered a bad thing, but this propriety of the French, when you look at it, is not at all the enemy of change. The Parisian creatives have a certain adorable fuddy-duddyness to them that their American counterparts lack. They appreciate the old niceties, the aesthetics of the brasserie and the café, the coffee and baguette and pastis and the coupe de champagne that is unchanged. The old cuisine that has fought back against the new cuisine. If something is perfect, why change? And so much of Paris remains the same while the skies go from gray to blue to that comforting gray again.

A week in Paris, a long week in Paris, does ease the spite of it. It’s a nice break from the electronic assault of America, from the tabloid-ism and the trend worship and New York’s horrible architectural travesties, weird towers going up where you used to park your car. I always come back from Paris a little happier and a little slimmer. I don’t know exactly why slimmer, because I eat what I want, but I think that the culture has a way of making you not eat too much or drink too much. Maybe there is a clue in the croissants, in the raisin danish, my personal favorite. In Paris the latter is a large communion wafer. In New York it’s the size of a shuffleboard puck. And a croissant still looks like a croissant, not a football.

Yes, I enjoy Paris more and more. It’s a city made for a stroll, where it seems easy to strike up a conversation about jazz or poetry or the meaning of life. You can call a taxi or watch the Eiffel Tower strobe madly on the hour. And maybe some day on a stroll I’ll come across my dream car, A Citroen DS station wagon, parked there with a sign that says "a vendre." It’s a place where dreams come true.

What Else I Learned from the Women

Go to enough fashion shows, and I’m talking several a day for three or four weeks, and you start to notice the girls. Yeah, you start looking at the clothes, you’re fascinated with the ruching and the knife pleats, the jabots, the inverted leg-of-mutton sleeves, you know, the details and intricacies. But after a while you can’t help but notice that there are humans wearing the stuff. It’s like what Tom Waits said to me once: “After you’ve seen Lawrence of Arabia enough times you just look at the camels.”

Now, this is not the same as it ever was. Time was that if yours truly was attending a fashion show it was, pardon me for sharing, to check the chicks. Sadly, I am now interested in the fashion. Why? I’m not sure. I am telling myself that the girls are not what they used to be, but maybe it’s me that’s not what I used to be. Anyway, there I was sitting in the front row at Calvin Klein, in the middle of the show, when a young friend and colleague asked me, “Which one of these girls is your type?”

Now, for my young friend and colleague I think this was interesting, because to him none of these girls was his type. Girls are not his type. And I think he was surprised when I responded, “None of them.” I mean, straight guys are supposed to dig models, right? Well, for me that was once the case, but somehow I got over it. I did admit that they were mostly way too young to appeal to me. I am not interested in girls, I suppose, mainly because I like women. And today the runway is populated by girls and definitely not by women. When I said “none of them,” I wasn’t exaggerating. “They’re all too young,” I said.

But I know this is not simply a matter of the length of my teeth. There has been a sea change in the nature of females demonstrating potential wardrobe to the public. Back during the days of the true supermodel any red-blooded American hetero of a certain taste level would have coveted a certain percentage of a good runway show. No, I think it is attributable to certain other factors.

Today’s girls tend to the generic. Personality is no longer a desirable characteristic for the designers or those who stage their shows. Once it was desirable for girls like Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell, Stephanie Seymour, Cindy Crawford, etc. to walk down the runway with personality, imbuing the clothes with a certain je ne sais quoi seal of approval. Today the girls tend to look interchangeable, and it just may be that the designers want to be the stars of their own shows.

Today’s girls tend to be young. Like, really young. They might look like women in six-inch heels with a ton of makeup, but it’s all illusion. The day I was flying from Milan to Paris there were quite a few models on the plane. I felt protective toward them. I mean I sort of felt guilty about feeling that way, but gee whiz, they were talking about school. What if they were my kids? No way I could muster up any lust for this lot, even on a mammalian level.

Which brings up our next point. Mammals. I mean, in a way attraction is supposed to be about survival of the species, no? But in many ways the girls we see on the runway show few characteristics which point to their evolutionary credentials. Such as the mammal thing. A-cups would often be wishful thinking. And I’m not going to get into body-mass index or any of that stuff. I have been approached to sign petitions about the health of the girls and all that, but no petitions are going to change things. We need to create a fashion world that actually promotes survival of the species. And in the service of that noble idea I am proposing that we males, who have at the behest of feminism refrained from such spontaneous public commentary as “va-va-voom!” and “hotcha-cha,” reintroduce the praise of healthy, promising development into our vocabulary.

Or something.

But what’s interesting is that after a few weeks of intense exposure to the runway one begins to develop certain ideas about the camels, I mean models. Let’s review some of today’s leading runway girls and share our thoughts on what they may or may not represent.

What skills need a model possess? Well, she has to be able to walk. You might underrate this skill, but professionals don’t, especially after you’ve seen a half dozen girls fall over a few weeks. The very best walker in fashion is the Russian model Vlada Roslyakova. Unfortunately this photo shows her from the front.


You actually have to see her from the side. Her shoulders are so far back behind her feet you can’t believe she doesn’t fall over backwards. And she doesn’t fall at all, no matter how high the shoes or slick the runway. And her demeanor, well, she could have done that evil queen of Narnia as well as Tilda Swinton.

Beauty isn’t what it used to be in the modeling business, but there are a few beauties allowed out there on the runway. Magdalena Frackowiak is one model who could have made it in previous eras, with her great bones, elegance, and a sort of Eurasian exoticism that screams for a movie casting shot, especially if they decide to remake Taras Bulba or The General Died at Dawn.

Magdalena in Stella McCartney:


While the fashion shows are more lily-white than ever in my memory, certain designers are more representative in terms of casting. Jean-Paul Gaultier has always had an eye for models of all races and he’s no different today. His girls are multi-racial, non-anorexic, and occasionally bootylicious.

Here’s Yasmine Warsame in Gaultier:


And Liu Wen:


It wasn’t all that easy to keep your eyes on the models at the very pretty Giambattista Valli collection, mainly because of the incredibly stunning Natalie Portman sitting in the front row, prettier than a picture, and extraordinarily elegant like Audrey Hepburn come alive. But it was great to see pulchritude permitted with girly dresses and humanistic hair and makeup.

Here’s Alana Kuznetsova in Giambattista Valli:


So don’t count pretty and beautiful out, even though they may seem to be a minority viewpoint. The great classicists know what it’s all about. Giorgio Armani, for example, knows what guys like, including transparency and, um, you know:


Now sometimes the girls grow on you, even if at first they don’t seem to differ much from one to the other. For example Karlie Kloss, a top model who seemed to be in just about every show, and is seen here in the very pretty Gianfranco Ferre collection; she’s someone who makes an impression over time. You don’t know what it is, and then you begin to get an idea. It’s something about her look, but also how it goes with the way she carries herself.


I wound up thinking it’s about the way she carries her head, with her chin down and her eyes looking up. It something about the head. About the head. In other words: It’s a total fucking mystery.

But I have to say that generally I have tohood and happy marriage, but gee guys, I don’t want to do ‘em anymore, I just want to feed ‘em.


This chick Magdalena is a real beauty. Look at the bones of her face. But then look at her legs. Wouldn’t you be afraid of leaving bruises? I just want to buy these girls cheeseburgers.

What should a model look like? Like a direction evolution might favor. How did that song “I Am Woman” go?

Strong…invincible… Here’s my friend Rachel. She’s not a size zero. She was a supermodel in the nineties. She’s an architect now. She got a life.


What I Learned from Women

And so, after dealing with crises in the global markets and the syntax of our candidates, let me dip once again into the shallows of our culture—you never know what intimations of profundity you'll find there.

For business reasons, and business reasons are what take nearly everyone but the standees there, I spent a month at fashion week. No, not in the way that W.C. Fields said, “I once spent a year in Philadelphia. I think it was on a Sunday.” No, my editorial purview required my attendance at Fashion Week in New York, Milan, and Paris.

Sleepy at Giorgio Armani:


In New York, Fashion Week runs about a week. In Milan it’s crammed into four days. And in Paris it takes its good old time over eight. I am an old hand at the shows, going back farther than I care to admit sober, but this was my first time ever going all the way and joining that sophisticated, jaded, acidic, irritable, patient, often intriguing, sometimes mono-dimensional crew of seasonal sojourners on the style trek.

At Nina Ricci. What time is it?


Sometimes you wear bright colors just to try to wake up:


When you tell people you’re going to Milan and Paris it’s surprising how many of them act as if you’ve just a won a free vacation. You’re greeted with envy. Wrong. In fact, this circuit is remarkably tedious and wearying, involving hours of waiting and queuing, punctuated with periodic racing, interrupted by intervals of diversion.

Um… Alexander McQueen:


It is true that eating in Italy is usually a pleasure, and though Milan is not the most beautiful of Italy’s cities, it is beautiful—with hidden treasures of architecture and gemlike interiors camouflaged behind bland walls. And of course Paris is Paris. But these local consolations carry a price. And the price is living a somewhat more glamorous version of the film Groundhog Day. You do the same things, see the same people, say and hear the same words, squirm through identical annoyances, watch the same models parade in clothes that are, well, predictably original.

Here I am at Gareth Pugh’s show in Paris, obviously rebelling:


On the other hand, the women’s shows are interesting. For my money far more interesting than the men’s shows which I have done previously. They are, rather naturally, far more spectacular. It’s often much more about the show than the fashion, and many looks walk the runway which will never make it to the store racks. They are also crazier and more daring in the sense of sexy. But a lot of that has to do with the fact that men’s clothes, almost by definition and unless we have a revolution, don’t change all that much. Even Thom Browne is limited by the institution of the suit. And when we see men in suits on the runway, is it me or is it true that the suits don’t really look that good? It’s as if, and this may be possible, the first time the model put the suit on was in the rehearsal. There were exceptions, like the flash suits from Dsquared’s fabulous, Charlie’s Angels-inspired show and Lagerfeld’s rakish-rich gigolo gear for Chanel, but generally there isn’t any real tailoring involved in the clothes that walk down the same runway with the ladies. In fact, the suits almost always look like they came from a big box store. (Hey, do you know that Was Not Was song “In K Mart Wardrobe”?) Designer world involves a lot of men’s clothes that seem to be mass-produced, glued together, three sizes fit all, with no care for fit. Throw some ribbon on here or an epaulet there so they’ll know the brand by sight, and quality doesn’t matter that much because it will be out of style next year, anyway.

At Dsquared. Wow, the Jets scored 56 points!


Boys keep swinging at Chanel:


As the crowd filed out of the show of one very famous Parisian house, known for its women’s couture and ready-to-wear, a seasoned pro observed to no one in particular, “Why do they even have men?”—referring to the minority of males interspersed with the females doing the important work on the runway. To which someone quipped (was it me?), “Well, somebody has to open the hotel door!”


Indeed, a significant portion of the men’s looks one sees mixed into the women’s shows does look like what you see on the backs of boutique professionals—from boutique hotels to boutique boutiques. So I had a funny idea for Clerks 3. Kevin Smith, are you listening? Let’s go to Paris!

High heels—do they empower women or hobble them? Or both? I remember my friend Rachel, a big model in every sense, over six-foot shoeless, towering over me in her heels. She had no idea how powerful she appeared. On the other hand, spikes and platforms make women tip, teeter, and skid through the world, sending the message that a woman is chauffered around, that she doesn’t have to walk like the workers, even if she could. Is that a symbol of elite status, like long fingernails, or is it a symbol of life as captive of a class, like Chinese footbinding? I wondered from the front row as shoes seemed to reach an altitude that suggested we were perhaps hitting some kind of limit. Yes, they were stunningly high—spikes seem to have added the platform and the platforms echoed contemporary architecture, rethinking the technology of how to put the average woman’s head at WNBA height. Sometimes this balancing act worked, most of the time in fact, but then sometimes it didn’t, and girls hit the runway. Many more times they slipped and tipped and almost went down. Remember, these girls in Milan and Paris are at the top of their profession, and the age of athletes in their prime.


If they can’t walk in these shoes, how will mother? At one show in Milan three girls fell, and one tried to come out for the finale but wound up giving up and practically crawling backstage. It was a tense moment. It felt like when a horse goes down at the track. Will it get up or will they have to come out and shoot the poor thing? God, I hope this doesn’t happen for guys. I made it through the Kiss era, but I’m not as agile as I used to be.

Why is this man laughing at Miu Miu in Paris? Could be the champagne they served before the show, but probably because it was the last show of the season.


Sleeping and Laughing Through Fashion Week

"God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh."
-- Voltaire

Fashion week ended a few days ago, but I'm still recovering. I attended many shows, not out of a consuming interest in women's fashion but because my new job requires me to—not so much as a way to keep up with the latest developments, but as a way to suck up to advertisers. But that’s okay. And I like most advertisers. They are the bio-diesel that runs the magazines. And actually the shows are very enjoyable, for the most part—watching beautiful girls parade in beautiful clothes to loud music. Yeah, sometimes the girls are unsettlingly skinny. Sometimes the music is dumb. Sometimes the clothes are silly or ridiculous. But there are far worse ways to pass the time.

The biggest annoyance is the waste of time. If the show is scheduled for three it will probably start at 3:30 to 3:40, which means if you have a 4 o’clock show and it’s in another part of town you may wind up rushing to make it, and God forbid that show goes off on time. Or if the designer is waiting for Kanye West to take his seat, you might wait for an hour. Then somebody like Marc Jacobs, who used to be the biggest lateness offender, is remarkably punctual and that throws everyone for a loop.

When I was a young editor I went to shows of designers like Willi Smith, Stephen Burrows, and Halston. They were important designers, but today even novice designers have bigger crowds. The fashion world has become show business. The shows in the big tent at Bryant Park are attended by approximately 1,000 seated and maybe a few hundred standees—bloggers, fashion assistants—and there are mobs waiting. Even walking into the tents you have to run a gauntlet of the curious, celebrity hounds, and paparazzi. If I noticed one thing this season it was big, gigantic purses. I mean, I have been aware of them for a while. My wife has a lot and I trip over them. But at the shows I found I was always getting bag bumped. In fact I think that’s what women (and men) like about them. They are bumpers for humans. Want to push somebody? Give ‘em the bag.

And yet the bag brigade acts as if the bag isn’t there and they aren’t shoving you. It’s just like the urban backpackers who turn around and knock you into the street. Bag bumpers are such a problem that I think I have to get a big bag to bump back with—I mean, most of the assailants are women. You can’t slug ‘em, but you can bang ‘em with your own Marc bag. Actually, if I get a bag for bumping purposes I’d like to get one designed like the Rodarte shoes I saw on Cecilia Dean at the Proenza Schouler show. Gnarly.


I mean, if fashionistas are going to get medieval on us we might as well get medieval back.

The other trend that I noticed this season was people in the front row either sleeping or going into a trance. I’m assuming some of this was the jet-lagged foreign press and buyers, but that’s not enough to explain the phenomenon. I’m not going to name any names, but I saw you sleeping. More disturbing were those seated in the front row who were staring straight ahead not looking at the models or the clothes. I started thinking about this film that’s been on late night TV lately, The Invasion, with Nicole Kidman. See, the world has been taken over by an alien virus that turns everyone into emotionless zombie automatons. Once you’re exposed, which can happen through a spilled drink or a kiss, the virus takes hold as soon as you fall asleep. Sort of like Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Maybe I was tired, but it got me thinking. Was I seeing more emotionless zombie automatons at the shows? Not the models on the runway, but in the audience. At the end, when all the models come out and everyone applauds, there were a lot of people applauding with no emotion, no expression. I remember the old days when people would cheer a single look in the middle of a show, or even the walk of a model like Marpessa would get applause. Today it’s a more jaded crowd. Unless, of course, they have all been turned into aliens.

Was I getting paranoid? I’ve been putting in a lot of hours lately. A lot of stress. Could it be that aliens are invading the planet through the fashion world?

Perhaps the most disturbing evidence that this might be happening, for me, was the Thom Browne show. As usual Mr. Browne made a show that was really a show. He doesn’t just “epater le bourgeoisie,” he confronts the most sacred cows of men’s style and dissects them, rearranges them, and puts them out on the runway in something very close to fine art. What is the meaning of the country club in an age of gangsta hip hop? What is the meaning of gentleman in an age of “Just do it,” or “Never let up, never blend in”? I know he’s just a tailor, or a designer, but this is very high-concept stuff, and it pushes buttons that are hotwired to mass male identity. And the way that he does it is funny. It’s fun.


We seem to have forgotten about post-modernism in this culture, and even modernism seems threatened by a growing tide of fundamentalists of one sort or another, but Thom Browne is the post-modernist par excellence. He takes the uniform of modernism, the business suit, and collides it with other loaded cultural signifiers, like the hanging-off-the-ass pants homeboy look, the just-do-it jock look, and creates chimerical costumes that function as aesthetic demolition devices. From philosophers and pundits down to therapy groups, people are talking about rethinking male identity, but Thom Browne is doing something about it.

Anyway, it was at Thom’s show that I noticed an incredible, impenetrable seriousness among the fashion professionals. I could not stop from smiling, but the whole room seemed utterly deadpan and unreacting at this extraordinary display of deconstructivist revelation. Are we not amused? Are we not men? Well, yes, but what are men? Good question!


Fashion professionals, however, don’t seem to question. Despite a few bright spots of intelligence, mostly writers from The New York Times and’s Tim Blanks, fashion people never seem to wonder what it all means. Which makes one wonder if designers like Browne, Margiela, and Comme des Garçons are popular for reasons other than their artistry. Perhaps it’s the aura of artistry. But I suppose I’m expecting too much. How many art collectors have a grasp of what’s on their walls or in their vaults? Fashion, like art, is a game of follow the leader.

It took me a long time to get with Thom Browne. I think that’s often the case when somebody’s doing something new. I remember hearing a radical Rolling Stones song like “Paint It Black” and thinking that they’d blown it, and then two days later it was a brilliant loop, stuck in my head. I remember when Coltrane was noise and Pollock scribble. Now I will never, consciously, walk around with my trousers hanging below my underwear, nor with my cuffs above my ankles, and yet I must applaud him as an artist working in the field of fashion. (Pause for applause. Still nobody smiling. It’s a little scary to see just how seriously fashion takes itself.)

Clothes make the man, now more than ever, as we inhabit an empire of signs and a reality completely composed of fictions. But clothes should also transform the man; they should be a tool for awareness and social change. (Did I just say social change? Yikes!) What I mean is that clothes like these play with all of the signifiers that in a world of signs define who we are as men. They are cryptic, elusive, playful, and even courageous and defiant. They are more punk than punk ever was. They are more fierce than fey, and when you see Thom Browne himself across a room, with his athletic body and high-and-tight haircut, you could almost imagine him leading a platoon of grunts. Then again, on reflection, it occurs that if his stylistic influence starts to really catch on (and he’s already captured Brooks Brothers, the most hallowed bastion of the American male style establishment) it could fundamentally alter the male sensibility from the outside in.

Dandies are unlikely to invade other countries, or your privacy. They will not act out of blind allegiance to obscure tradition but will create spontaneous solutions to complex problems. Am I overstating? Hey, we’re talking about fashion. But don’t think it doesn’t mean anything.


And if you don’t smile when you see this tall, African-looking bachelor that stripped the bride bare, then maybe you too have been taken over by aliens.

Dandies of the Apocalypse

I was walking the dog down my once-bohemian, now-chichi block the other night, and I saw a good-looking young guy and a fine-looking young gal, arm in arm, strolling toward my favorite ristorante. He was dressed in black, wearing a bowler hat, a slim black coat, and slim black pants, and was carrying an umbrella. Rain was possible. I thought he looked really smart. Usually you only see a bowler or a derby on TV, on something like Deadwood or McCabe and Mrs. Miller or A Clockwork Orange. I can’t think of anyone rocking a bowler significantly since Mr. Steed on The Avengers. Somehow it didn’t look theatrical, but right. Hmm.

Well then I was looking through the men’s runway shows and what do you know? Bowlers! And other Chaplin-like accoutrements, as you’ll note if you look at’s top ten looks. Gaultier, Yohji, and Junya Watanabe all featured those crisp, black, short brims. Now, I’m not about to rush out and get myself a bowler. With my big face I’d probably look like Lou Costello. But somehow it does seem strangely right now. Dressed-up looks—eccentric, perhaps, but dressed-up—are back big time. I think we’re seeing a new kind of dandyism, a dressed-up bohemianism.


The Gaultier show was a knockout. The best dandified looks we’ve seen in a long time. Not just bowlers with skinny trousers, but really sharp tailoring, taking Savile Row to the races. I think doing Hermès has rubbed off on the maestro, and the looks were urbane and elegant and snazzy.

Jean-Paul Gaultier’s fall collection is modern dandyism done to perfection. And that’s what dandyism is all about: perfection. This is exuberant, challenging, rakish, and luxurious. It’s about impeccable tailoring with attitude. Gaultier flouts the rules of traditional kit while flaunting its workmanship, quality, and attention to detail. The collection is eccentric and cool, but really wearable. I could get away with most of this stuff, and the bold-striped blazer and pants are things I’d give up pasta to get into.


Every season the men’s shows have some interesting new directions and some well-calculated outrages, and this one was no different. It’s getting so men’s runway is as arty and nutty as the women’s. I don’t know if it’s Barack Obama’s Kennedy vibe coming on, but I’m feeling all sixties again. And there was a lot of stuff on the runway that would have captured the fancy of Brian Jones and Jimi Hendrix. Alexander McQueen showed a sort of uber-minidress that looked like it was made of burgundy shag carpeting. A kind of a fab, over-the-top solution for freezing days. I remember once reviewing the new designer clothes with Fred Pressman of Barneys. The always elegant Fred was about seventy then. He was dressed in a gray flannel Kiton suit and his trademark black knit tie, and he was eying an almost theatrical Gaultier overcoat. He said, “If I were twenty years younger and three inches taller, I’d wear this.” That’s how I feel about McQueen.


The brilliant Stefano Pilati has brought an exciting men’s style to Yves St. Laurent—cool suits with extraordinary personality. Flaring trousers, shapely jackets, and subtly out-there colors. Why not wear a green suit or a plum suit? I remember when YSL first changed menswear—I had a fantastic blue velvet blazer he made, and it went with all sorts of odd trousers. Pilati’s blazers evoke that same verve, and his odd trousers are spectacular. Check out the whole show on Tim Blanks writes that the collection reflects the Warhol Factory. He’s right. We dressed like this. Although our pants weren’t quite this good, and I think I like these 4-on-6 blazers even more than the old ones. There’s nothing freaky about YSL. This is classic cool at its very best—luxurious but a bit louche. Miles Davis and Dexter Gordon would have been all over this stuff.


Ann Demeulemeester showed a rich hippie look. The problem with hippies was that they weren’t rich enough. Maybe the new new age will change all that. I think the imagination and variety of style of that time has been forgotten. There is a fantastic passage in Norman Mailer’s Armies of the Night where he describes the hippie horde that assembled to march on the Pentagon to protest the Vietnam War. Mailer sees Arab sheiks, Park Avenue doorman greatcoats, Daniel Boone in buckskin, wild Indians with feathers, Charlie Chaplin, Foreign Legionaires, Turkish shepherds and Roman senators, gurus, and samurai in dirty smocks. “They were close to being assembled from all the intersections between history and the comic books, between legend and television, the Biblical archetypes and the movies.”

Mailer saw this phenomenon as LSD tearing away the veil between past and present. Today we see the same thing happening around us, as our culture has become an identity grab bag. There is no convention or authenticity, so we choose our images from a vast repertoire of historical roles, sometimes collaging disparate looks to create something new. Demeuelemeester showed a fusion of disparate influences—olive, drab, fringed Victorian shawls, felt hats from the attic, fur and feathers, and flower prints. A little from Grandma and a little from Grandpa are combined to create a slick and perfected version of a venerable rock-and-roll outsider look.


At Alexander McQueen there were tartan poncho-and-kilt suits with rasta-size fedoras and blanket-wrapped heads. It was a sort of Inca/Highlander fusion. Imagine a civilization halfway between Braveheart and Apocalypto. The new McQueen is right-on, should we go psychedelic and try to restage a….well, not a Summer of Love, I guess a Fall of Love. Would I wear these things? I wish I could. I couldn’t handle the schemata. I’d look like a muppet. But I would wear this hat (above). I think it might be thinning.



The always exciting showman John Galliano, whose every collection looks like a movie, from swashbuckling pirate sagas to post-apocalyptic meltdowns, has gone sort of Tudor highwayman on us this time. His troops marched out in big fat Henry VIII berets and leather and fur with touches of brocade, ribbon, and velvet, studs, and chain mail kits, layered the way they did back in the day when one wore a considerable amount of one’s wardrobe at all times. The look is gnarly, tough—over-the-top yet roguishly poncy. Will we all be wearing executioners masks next fall? Maybe not, but if we do decide to march on the Pentagon once more, I’m wearing Galliano.

Like the Good Old Days, Sort of…

One of the nice things about downtown Manhattan is that you can occasionally sort of blur your eyes and imagine that you're back in a somewhat less horrifying era. Of course, if you were back there you might find it more horrifying than you could imagine. I mean, the fifties had Senator McCarthy, and the roaring twenties didn't have a reliable cure for the clap, and the gay nineties probably weren't all that gay if you were gay. So maybe the simulation is better, in a way.

If you're at the Bowery Hotel you can imagine it's 100 years ago, but the A/C works. At the atmospheric and quirky restaurant Freeman's, on Freeman's Alley off Rivington Street, you can imagine you are at a speakeasy, which the joint once was apparently, but it's unlikely that the place will get raided and you'll be hauled off the slammer. It's the best of a couple of worlds. And I guess the same applies to their delightfully ragged Freeman's Sporting Club, the men's tailor and barber shop affiliated with the restaurant, at the corner of the alley and Rivington.


The atmosphere is great, with lots of quirky flotsam and jetsam and knick-knacks and thingamabobs to intrigue the eye, and a very nice selection of slightly quirky and rather excellent products on display. I wandered in yesterday and came out with two unstructured jackets, one linen and one jersey-dyed with Japanese indigo. The latter has stretch to it and fits like a glove, in a good way. Each jacket was under three Franklins, and the quality is aces.


Freeman's also offers a very handsome line of suits, off-the-rack or made-to-measure, at $2,000 and $3,000, respectively. The suits come in three fits: slim, standard, and full. They have a modern cut, are made from superb vintage fabrics, and are hand-sewn with full canvas construction in the heart of Brooklyn. The store also offers T-shirts, some very nice footwear, mostly moccasins and boots, some ties of fine fabric and perfect width, razors, natural bristle shaving brushes, leather bicycle seats, and more.

Somebody there likes Miller High Life:


Maybe some day I'll drop in and try the barbershop—such as when my guy is in Sicily for the month of August—but I thoroughly enjoyed the boutique. They were playing good music, too, and the sound system seems a perfect metaphor for the place, an iPod playing through an old tube amp.


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Would I Wear This?


How would you describe how you dress? I think I'd have to say that I dress in a classical bohemian manner, but I guess you could also describe my style as baroque preppy or aberrant traditional. I enjoy getting dressed every day. I dress for my mood. But sometimes you just feel like changing, and you shave or cut your hair, or you go out and buy something new. The great thing about clothes is their ability to transform us.

Last night I was watching Turner Classic Movies… William Powell in one of his Philo Vance films… basically he's playing himself, or Nick Charles, the Thin Man, as a bachelor… and I was admiring his style. Then I caught a very strange The Shadow, with Alec Baldwin playing Lamont Cranston, aka The Shadow, the noir hero of the 1930s radio drama of the same name. Alec does some pretty flamboyant costume turns in this weird film, and it started giving me ideas.

What if I suddenly changed my style? What if I suddenly started wearing nothing but John Galliano? I mean, I am not into fashion victim clothes. I don't like things that will look like last season next season. Most forward design leaves me cold; but to me John Galliano transcends the idea of fashion victim and takes extravagance into the territory of genius.

I have long considered the swashbuckling, amusing Mr. Galliano an extraordinary genius when it comes to women's clothes, and I invite you to visit to see the fantastic voyage he put on for Christian Dior, but now I am a convert to his berserk vision of maleness.


The savvy, measured Tim Blanks wrote of Galliano's fall collection: "…confronted by fashion tribalism this savage, the only sensible option was to suspend all critical faculties and savor the ride." And what a ride! Ninja punk shamans, Chinese operatic road warriors, cubist camouflage stormtroopers, Rauschenberg cargo cult witch doctors, leather pirates, intergalactic headhunters…it was a mardi gras for the imagination, a true tour de force extravaganza that made you think differently about what clothes are. Galliano connects with the magic. He approaches garments the way a naked savage from the Amazon might approach Maxfield or Barneys. He puts things together in a way that is entirely dramatic and original. There are so many ideas here—including Rick Moranis's Dark Helmet from Mel Brooks's Spaceballs—that you don't know where to begin.



I want these clothes because I want to walk down the street and amaze people. My only fear is that once I got some I wouldn't be able to go back. I wonder if Galliano would give me a full scholarship. Would I wear this? You bet I would! Well, maybe not the nylon stocking on my head with the smeared lipstick, but I'm ready for the codpiece and the Attila the Hun pants right now. Bravo!

If all men dressed like this there would be no war in Iraq. (Maybe just some ritual rumbling in the neighborhood.)

From Paris

Sometimes I find Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life" going through my head (the Johnny Hartman-John Coltrane version). Particularly that line, "a week in Paris could ease the bite of it…" And so this year, to ease the bite of aging, I decided to spend my birthday, and a few more days, in Paris. Almost a week. It turned out to be fashion week so that made it a little extra crazy—crowded hotels and booked restaurants and it was even harder to get a taxi than usual as the witching hour approached. One night we hiked all the way from the Palais Royal to L'Etoile in the rain, as a taxi was "impossible" (imagine the French pronunciation.)

Still, it was a fantastic time. Paris was in the fifties, Fahrenheit-wise, and although the flowers weren't out yet, the models were, and lots of other beautiful people, making this most beautiful city very lively indeed. I can't think of anywhere on earth where the sport of people watching is more fun. Everyone seems stylish (or at least people of all ages and from all walks of life), and you see lots of beauties of both genders, often in the act of kissing. For a reason that science may eventually be able to explain, much of this outdoor osculation occurs by the Seine. So I was glad to be in Paris with my wife (pictured here).


I'm usually there on business, solo, and the kissing can be tough to watch. Anyway, I found that many of the most interesting style cases I observed were what we tend to call senior citizens. I loved it. A lifetime of experience and shopping should make style something that gets better and better, but we don't observe a lot of that kind of progression this side of the Atlantic. On Sunday I saw a man whom I assumed to be in his late eighties sitting in a café wearing a gray flannel blazer, a shirt with a silver torso and a tartan collar, and a black tie with a large red abstract shape on it. He looked as bohemian and rarefied as Ezra Pound. He was so spectacular and dignified that I didn't have the nerve to ask if I could take his picture. Besides, I was deliberately not working.

I did have a bit of what they call a busman's holiday, however, taking in a few fashion shows. I went to the Yves Saint Laurent show on top of Le Centre Pompidou, aka the Beaubourg, and that was about as good an entertainment as one can find in this city. It had beauty, inspiring design, and, being that it was the second show of the new YSL designer, who had the difficult task of following Tom Ford and the great maestro, there was lots of drama, too. And it was a triumph, as the show brought back much of what made YSL great in the first place, but with a totally contemporary spirit. No retro, no ghosts, just pure Parisian chic. It was utterly classical, but with a sort of futuristic optimism.


The other show that moved me was that of Antonio Berardi—another Italian who shows in Paris and reflects its zeitgeist more than that of Milan. Unlike most designers today—except the master of sexy, Azzedine Alaïa, whose influence was felt here—Berardi's designs flatter the curvy body and are always suggestive, but never vulgar. Check out this number.


The seams are sewed in such away that bare flesh shows through in all the right places. A wine writer would probably put it this way: notes of Giacometti, Bridget Riley, Ridley Scott, and George Lucas. The most ambitious clothes had elaborately cut layers with notes of Mayan architecture and intergalactic storm troopers. There were high levels of both fashion and show in this fashion show, but the ultimate test is, would you want the girl on your arm to wear this? And the answer was basically, yeah, yeah, yeah…

I went backstage afterwards to congratulate Antonio, whom I've spent a little time with in New York, and I was most amused to see this sign at the spot where the models stepped from backstage to the runway. It's the kind of thing that designers and show producers tell the models and often put down in black and white. Or in this case, black and red.



I think I might put a sign like this inside the door of my apartment so I always hit the street in stride.

More from Paris tomorrow.

The Hottest Book in the Fashion World


That's sort of like saying the cutest drag queen at the Super Bowl, I guess—I mean, I don't usually think of the fashion world as being terribly literate. But I suppose it's more literate than the literary world is fashionable. Anyway, lots of the fashion people I know read, and they're all now reading or have recently completed The Beautiful Fall, by Alicia Drake (Little, Brown and Company, 2006). Adding to interest in the book is the fact that Karl Lagerfeld has taken the author to court in France for invasion of privacy ("atteinte à la vie privée"). The idea that anyone who dresses like Lagerfeld, has had a reality show, or has published an eponymous diet book could have his privacy invaded is tres droll, no?

Anyway, I'm getting up early to get in reading time, because the book is very entertaining. Alicia Drake, a Brit who lives in Paris and has written for the Herald Tribune and British Vogue, writes stylishly and has clearly done her homework, if not that of the whole class.

The Beautiful Fall is subtitled Lagerfeld, Saint Laurent, and Glorious Excess in 1970s Paris. It really starts in 1954, with Yves Saint-Laurent, 18, and Karl Lagerfeld, 21, receiving the International Wool Secretariat fashion awards.

I just got my copy and I'm only up to the beginning of the seventies, where the action really starts and my old friends and associates, like Andy Warhol, Fred Hughes, Joan Buck, Antonio Lopez, Corey Tippin, and Donna Jordan start showing up, but already this is my most fun read of 2007.

Bunads Are Hot

Norway isn't Sweden. It's not as groovy, but wonderful in its own way. It's very old fashioned. Our first morning in Oslo we hit the Grand Hotel café too late for breakfast, at 10 A.M., but they gave us coffee and tea as we sat at the Henrik Ibsen table. He had lunch here every day. I noticed that there were several ladies in the café dressed like it was the 18th or 19th century out. They looked very nice, with heavily embroidered skirts, blouses, halters, and aprons, and fancy silver and gold jewelry. I wondered if there was a special event going on. Then I noticed more similarly dressed women on the street.

With a little investigation I found that these ladies were dressed in regional costumes called "bunads." Bunads are similar to what one would call a national costume, except that here they are regional costumes and every town seems to have its own. Some are based on old folk costumes, but actually many are rather recent in their design. They represent a kind of cultural nationalism movement. I found it very charming, like seeing ladies dressed in kimonos in Tokyo.

And most of the women I saw in bunads were actually young and pretty. I think they appealed to some kinky side of me that likes conservative female dress. You know the scene in the movie where the secretary in the bun and glasses and the long tweed skirt takes down her hair and takes off her glasses, and the guy says, "Why, Miss Jones, without your glasses you're beautiful." I couldn't help imagining a striptease involving lots of layers of clothes coming off until you got to some very starched linen, the final frontier.


After some searching I found a Bunad store, thinking of surprising the Mrs. with a bunad of her own, but then I discovered that they are mostly bespoke and actually quite expensive. Maybe next trip. But I did pick up some wonderful boiled-wool slippers with suede deerskin soles for the whole family. There are male bunads too, and I checked these out. I just couldn't bring myself to try one one, although there was a white wool frock coat with red buttonholes that did appeal to me. It was almost Comme des Garçons.

I think Norwegian fashion deserves further study. It's really interesting, because some of the people involved in the bunad movement are very creative and progressive about it while others are diehard traditionalists. They criticized Crown Princess Mette-Marit when she wore a bunad with sunglasses. This faction is sometimes referred to as "the bunad police" and may be the closest thing to the fashion police outside countries ruled by Shariah.

Here are my new slippers. Really comfy.