Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Thing Is,...

    The chain of human persons required to bring the clothing you and I wear to stores over the world, and sell it to us, is a long one indeed.   So, lets start at the very beginning.
    Farmers and ranchers who grow cotton, flax, and silk, and ranchers who grow sheep, cattle, And all kinds of ranch grown fur bearing animals, from rabbits to minks.  And ranchers who grow ostriches, peacocks and other birds coveted for their plumage; all these people stand at the beginning point of this chain.  And remember that these people are none of them working alone,  they employ others who are just as involved in this nascent process.
    Once raised, their goods are shipped to other locations. In the case of textiles, to factories where the raw goods are turned into thread.  Very likely that thread is them packed up again to be shipped to a factory somewhere to be made up as fabric.  And again, none of these people, other than the truck drivers, work alone.
    At factories where cloth is made, possibly hundreds of people will be there tending to the machines that create the cloth that will one day be on a rack somewhere. waiting for you to buy it.
    Often there is another layer of shipping at this point, as undyed fabrics get sent to other facilities where they get dyed, or printed.
    Designers get their moment at this point, while they pore over stacks of swatches looking for just the right colors and textures, at just the right price to realize the design.
    Only then do finished textiles finally make it to the point where construction begins.  But its important to add at this position on the journey, the makers of zippers, velcro, snaps, hooks and eyes, and buttons, millions of buttons.  There are other notions produced and used every day that we don't think about. Non woven interfacing, false horsehair braid, narrow pieces of plastic to keep collars looking sharp, all these things need to be made, and gathered together to create a shirt.  And since most garment factories work on a piece work system, upwards of a dozen people will have been responsible for the shirt being completed.
    Once garments are assembled they get packed again, and shipped probably overseas to a warehouse somewhere.  Then they will be picked up and shipped yet again, to the warehouse for some clothing retailer.  And shipped even once more till they are finally at a shop.  Those clothes must be unpacked, checked for damages, and readied for the shop floor, where sales people will stand ready to help customers make their decisions.
    So, when you look at clothing in this light, its readily apparent that literally hundreds of people are required to make, and get to you, the customer, a single piece of clothing.  So, next time you're carping about how much stuff costs, remember that all those unseen people have lives too, just like you. and they deserve to be compensated for their labors in our behalf.  It is a sad fact, though that the vast majority of those people are not given the wage they deserve.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Change Happening In Front Of Us

    I have written many times about the growth of the number of people who don't wish to be identified by gender.  And certainly, in our current culture no person embodies that idea more completely that Tom Newwirth, more easily known as Conchita Wurst.  What Conchita Wurst does, with the visual image presented, is straddle the fence of gender roles, and allow us to see more broadly. 
    How does this affect the Attire language?  Well, sometimes its not larger social changes that force the conversation to move onward;  sometimes its a single human person, who strikes a note that people can suddenly hear. Though this concept of living outside of gender identification is nothing new, it is taking people like Conchita Wurst and others with the courage to create themselves entirely as their own human person to get people to see, and listen.  With a combination of a phenomenal talent as a singer, undeniable beauty, and a wisdom far beyond the 24 years of Neuwirth's age, the subject of what is and is not appropriate for males and females to dress in, and how they are to behave, has gotten a profound shake. 

    Though Wurst chooses to dress in apparel that is traditionally female as a performer, the ever present full beard, continually reminds us that we are seeing something unique, something special.  That is one of the profound motivators for a good deal of the Attire language, and for us as individuals; that desire to be seen as special, and wonderful, is ever present.  So, what Wurst is doing is telling everyone that our specialness is our own gift, and that if we hide that gift, we not only diminish ourselves, but the people around us, as well.
     How far this will go, and how long a process it will be is unknown.  For myself, I look forward to this moving along, and allowing more and more people to understand, and express themselves with personal conviction, and clarity.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

More Words, More Words!

    We humans use a lot of words.   Hundreds of verbal and written languages, nearly as many gestural ones, and at the end of the line, the language of Attire, form the method with which we communicate to each other daily.  That semiotic tongue has more words than all the other languages in combination.  Why?  Well we have been at the job of building this vocabulary for thousands of years, and with the advent of technologies that allow us to disseminate these ideas globally, and endlessly refine these words by color, style, and use, the Attire language stands as the most complex, varied, and for many, incomprehensible tongue in human history.
But what is it that stands at the root of that?  Is it simply that we can't shut up?  Does it come down to a principle that simple?  Or is there something more profound at the heart of all this frantic desire to make something new, something special, something that says, "ME"?  Frankly, I believe that there is.
    We, as a species are never fully comfortable with things exactly as they are.  Sure there are those of us who fear the new; but for a huge chunk of humans, something we haven't seen before, heard before, worn before, is of enormous interest.  Its the call of evolution, the call, if you will, of change.
I've always found it fascinating that change as a concept, is the one thing we cannot escape in any manner, and yet, it is the one thing that so very many of us have dreadful fear of. Its one of the classic conundrums of being human, that we can encompass both notions concurrently.  We must have change to survive, and yet we loathe its coming.
    Simply put,  it is the desire for the new, untried, special, unique, that is a central driving point for the Attire language.  Since Attire must communicate through symbols, and those symbols are largely directed by culture and status, there is a baseline need to move that level of communication forward.  Its vital that we report what we wish to say with clarity, even if what we have to say is a deliberate falsehood.
   And with the burgeoning of small scale retail manufacture, and the internet,  that allows tiny design firms, and even individuals, through avenues like etsy, to present their own new words to the dictionary of Attire terms, the language grows far more rapidly, and with far more depth, that any single person could ever really contemplate understanding.
    So, we have in our midst a means of communicating to each other that is growing much faster than any of us could hope to keep up with.  Perhaps that is why some have become so very attached to following Fashion.  Its one way to try and stay current, and conversant with the language we all speak to one degree or another.  Certainly, no one is a fully adept speaker any longer, there are simply too many variable words among the nearly 8 billion of us on the planet.  And when you consider that within the sub-category of shoes, for example, there are hundreds of thousands of individual Attire words, subtly separated by color, style, ornaments, and usage; we have a version of relating information to each other, that has outstripped our ability to engage with it fully.
    And yet, the number of new words added to the lexicon grows daily.  Every new style of handbag, every variation on a hoodie, every new cut of blue jeans, every new piece of jewelry, ticks the word count higher, and higher, and higher still.  Its no wonder that some folks try to stay as far out of the loop as they can manage, confining themselves to a few safe words they use constantly.  But this increase shows no sign of stopping, or even slowing down.
    We have built a huge part of the global economy on this variability.  Its no exaggeration that hundreds of millions of people the world over depend on the apparel and accessories industries in one way or another to live.  So we have worked ourselves into quite a pickle.  If we continue in this vein, we will exhaust resources the world over in the search for the new, but if we stop, the world economy could very likely crash and burn, and those millions would find themselves with no income, and little recourse.
    How this is going to play out, I can't predict.  Lets just say the future is going to be verrrrrry interesting.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Scatter #51

    The wheel keeps turning, and so we find ourselves back at Scattertime again!
    Yep, Its been a whole week, so lets get cracking.

    One of the responsibilities, and glories of the couture is the stretching of structural limitations.  Designers have the resources, and the staff skills to take their most extraordinary fantasies, and fulfill them in 3D.   This John Galliano dress is from his tenancy at Dior, and in fact was inspired by a dress that Christian Dior did in the 50s.  But what Galliano did was explode the idea outwards, making what was already a ball dress in Christain Dior's hands into something grand opera in feel.  Suddenly this is a garment to be worn by the tragic heroine's nemesis.  I will always appreciate Mr Galliano's unspeakably huge talents for design.  Breathtaking.
    Stockings for men?  Why not, say I?  Patterned stockings for men?  Sure, what the hell.  Who am I to decide?  Now I will say that for the most part I find patterned stockings unappealing because they so often make a person's legs look like there's some awful skin problem going on, so, even if such a fashion were to catch on for men, I'm unlikely to go there my own good self.  But as another of those challenges to what is and is not okay for men to wear, I still say, why not?  This effort is from Joseph Turvey, F/W 2015.  And I do wonder where you're going to be wearing these in winter, jus' sayin'.
    One of the most appalling, to me, anyway, things that have been done to women routinely for centuries is the physical manipulation of their body shape.  This image is of a Lily of France bra and girdle set from 1954, shown in Harper's Bazaar.  The part that really mystifies me is that whole nosecone shaped breast thing that was all the rage then.  It had nothing whatever to do with how a woman is shaped, and it must've been damned uncomfortable.  Then  again, the 1950's will hardly be remembered as a decade devoted to anything natural.  As well, the nasty notion of showing such support garments on lithe young things for whom gravity is still an alien idea, only makes it harder for everyone else to feel good about themselves.  Not new, I know.  Still, it infuriates me.
     This is a detail image from a painting by Sir Anthony Van Dyke of Cardinal-Infante, Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria.  There was a pronounced fashion in the 1600s for using massive amounts of ribbon, galloon, or braid on clothing in regimented rows, as you see here.  It was a convenient way to express wealth and station.  The more that was used, the richer you were perceived as being.  In this case, the trimming is very likely made up with gold wrapped thread. So this would have been ferociously expensive.  Considering the Archduke's station in life, he would have had the money at his command to do this, or any other seriously pushy outfit he wanted.  And that doublet and breeches, in gold brocade, AND the gold lace trimmings.  Oh yeah, this guy wasn't afraid of spending a dollar or two.
    This pendant necklace is British, and from between 1760 and 1780.  What's interesting to me is that its design is deeply influenced by India, and the trade already in progress.  It was not the fashion in Europe for jewelry other than diamond pieces to be composed exclusively of one sort of stone.  This article, is made up entirely in rubies mounted in gold. Also, the openwork style of the necklace is a common theme with Indian jewelry.  Though this was made in England, its likely the stones were all imported from India, along with the design ideas.
    What a race of magpies we are.  There is something about shiny things, and in especial, gold, that we really cannot seem to resist.  This Patrik Ervell jacket is a case in point.  Made up in foil mylar, it gives the wearer the look of being a huge chunk of raw gold.  For most folks, wearing this much shiny would be overpowering, or perhaps we might think so, but for the person with enough brio, this is a great little number to clap on.  Oddly though, the psychological attachment to wealth seems to diminish with a garment like this one.
    The Fennimore Museum in Cooperstown New York is home to this charming article.  Its an apron made up to reference the fashions of the 1700s.  The lady of the house would have worn this while doing her round of chores, particularly while in the kitchen. Its interesting to note that the apron, which is made up in silk, is actually boned in the front.  I suspect this is in part to mimic the style of the prior century, and also because there were no neck ties to insure its staying up.  A marvelous survivor, considering that such an item would've been given hard wear.  Why silk?  It's actually a very tough wearing material.
    I seem to be on something of a shiny things jag today.  Gareth Pugh, 2009.  While I'm not an especial fan of mesh fabrics, I love the movement of this material.  And I could absolutely see this worn over a colorful long sleeve tee, and looking smashing.  Also, I do love a big cowl neckline.  Its really quite flattering to a lot of folks and, without the part that wraps the head literally, I could really be on board with this.  Love me some Gareth.  He's one of my favorite avant garde designers.
    Marlene on wheels!  How could I not?  This was shot during production of the western, The Spoilers, from 1942.  Why the bicycle?  Well it was common practice for actors to use studio provided bikes to get from one place to the other on studio grounds. Now, would Ms Dietrich have gone tootling around in her frilly costume on her bike?  Nope. this was done for promotion.  They would have been far to afraid of an actor damaging an expensive costume of this sort.   But its a wonderful image and I just hadda.
    This is Franz Egmont Von Chasot as painted by Antoine Pesne.   Von Chasot is dressed as for a masked ball in Venice.  He carries a painted bauta, and is wearing a wonderfully extravagant version of a man's cloak.  It appears to be a pink silk shot with silver threads in the weft, which gives it a marvelous shifting coloration.  But the biggest reason I wanted to post this is because its such a splendid example of how our perceptions of masculinity have shifted over time.  This ensemble would have garnered not a whit of disapproval from other men.  He would have been thought no less masculine for wearing pink, or having bows placed on his apparel. Sure, this is intended as fancy dress, but in real world terms such colors and ornaments were normal wear for men, as well as women.
    Augusta Auctions offered this charming printed wool challis dress some time back.  During the 1830s when this dress was made, the fashion occurred that placed a huge amount of sleeve volume at the elbow. It certainly was one of the odder fashions for women to come along.  Frequently such sleeves would be stuffed with down or some type of wadding to fill them out so they would collapse while worn.  The sleeves would have an opening on the inside seam that would allow the wadding to be removed so the dress could be cleaned.  I've remarked before about how much the point of focus shifts. This is certainly one of the more unlikely places for that focus to have landed.
    As a finishing item today, a hat!  We tend to think of toppers as being always made of some type of felt, silk or fur.  But for summer wear, straw top hats were made, and much worn.  This one is American made, from 1820.  That it survives intact is a wonder, considering how fragile straw gets once it gets really dried out.  But its a jaunty, delightful hat, and must have made the young fella who wore it feel great. 

That's the lot for this week, folks.
Have a splendid weekend!


Friday, March 27, 2015

Whilst History Slips Away

    A few days ago on facebook I posted an image of a couture piece that had pronounced historical references.  It got me thinking that a post about the dissonance that grows between the reality of a time, and its apparel, and the perceptions of that time, might be useful.
    Now I admit, not everyone knows about history very much, or even cares, and that is a subject for other discussions in other places.  What I'm about in this post is merely addressing it from the standpoint of the things we wear.
    We get so many cues from film, television, and other media sources about what other times looked like, but we tend to forget that the vast majority of them, since they are dramatizations, only present an image of the past that is filtered through a modern sensibility.  We don't see the truth of it. In the short term this isn't much of a problem, but in the larger, longer term, it is.

When we look at something and cannot place it, because it's a skewed version of what was, it ends up affecting our overall understanding of that prior time.  We begin to believe that the altered version is the truth, and eventually it totally supplants the factual reality.  The end result being that our understanding of the past slides away into a fantasy land.  Why is this an issue, especially within the construct of Attire as a Language?  Its problematic because our perceptions of previous attire ends up affecting other understandings of the past as well.  Since none of the things of our lives are truly separate, discrete things, there is inevitable bleed through to other areas.  So our whole view of the past and its meaning gets twisted out of shape.  And if we are going to try to learn something from the past, we need to see it as close to true as is possible.
    Working where I do, we have a fairly substantial costume supplies area, and lots of fabrics and trims to work with.  I routinely get customers into the store who want to create a costume from a  particular time.  They begin describing what they are after, and I usually realize that where they think what they want is from, is wrong, sometimes by centuries, like the perception that anything before 1600 is "Elizabethan", or that any woman's dress that is long and frilly is "Victorian". 
    But the most hilarious example of this kind of misunderstanding based on slippery perceptions of time and culture, was one Halloween, many years back.  My then partner David, and I had spent a fair amount of time creating a pair of Chinese Mandarin costumes for ourselves. Chinese brocades, the right slippers, and even the correct headgear.   Were out and about, having a grand time, when we heard someone exclaim, "Oh look!  Rabbis!"
                                                                   Chinese Mandarin
                                                                    Chernobil Rabbis

Thursday, March 26, 2015


    It must be said that I am anything but an athlete.  There, that's out of the way. Nor am I a female person. It does make me scratch my head, though, that anyone in the fashion, and apparel industries, especially operating at the world spanning level that Nike does, could have so spectacularly misunderstood what would appeal to women who are athletic.
    Nike Lab, in cooperation with the Japanese design firm Sacai developed a line of frankly flirty, overtly feminized sportswear for women.  Why such a company, which has been showing powerful, fit women doing all manner of things, would suppose that those same women might want to go running, or rock climbing, wearing garments like these is mystifying.  In fact, I cannot imagine any person who wished to be physically active, wanting all sorts of extra stuff flapping about them while they do it.
    Okay, rant over.
    Now lets get to the real point.
    As much as we like to rely on designers to give us what we need and want, sometimes they fail.  Sometimes, as here, they utterly mis-read both their potential clients, and the times.  This happens, primarily because things shift about so fast in the mass unconscious that its hard to be accurate with regard to what people are going to need in 6 months.

    Even with the technologies we have to hand, full scale production of a line like this will take months to get to stores from the design stage.  First there is the back and forth of design ideas. Then prototypes being constructed, and shipped to the design offices from wherever they were made.  Then materials have to be assembled, and disseminated to the factories where production will finally happen, then shipping of all these goods to stores world wide.  It takes time, and sometimes, since huge amounts of money have been spent, they reach a point where, even if they realize that its a bad idea, they've invested too much not to go forward.  So with grim, and professional smiles, they tout what they know is not going to work.
    To my mind, its a great reason to keep production smaller, and more local.  There is far less likelihood of this sort of colossal misfire occurring.
    Now as we keep chugging along in the 21st century, and the borders between cultures, and sexualities blur even more than they have already, keeping up with what is going on inside the collective brain pan is going to bet harder; lots harder.  So instead of trying to predict what millions of people will want, it makes more sense to keep the focus on smaller groups, who are easier to understand, and provide for.
    It may just be the first glimmerings of a turning point for Attire, away from mass marketed goods, to apparel that is more gauged towards place, need, and local society.   I am reminded of the whoops moment that occurred when Bloomingdales decided to open in San Francisco.  They didn't bother one little bit to take the meter of the people here.  They simply brought what they sold in New York to the West coast.  It didn't work very well.  There was a pretty furious backing and filling action that happened, as lines disappeared and others replaced them.  Its not that San Franciscans are less stylish, or less aware of trend, but rather that the baseline style is different from that of New York. 
    For example, it doesn't snow here, ever.  And the temperatures never drop below freezing. So clothing suitable for deep winter is really not going to move.  And summers here rarely get above 75 degrees, so gauzy, floaty skirts are going to stay on the racks.
    Ultimately, its about paying attention.  Those of us wearing the clothes need to pay attention to what we are communicating, and what we are seeing communicated.  And the industry must know how to supply the words we want to use, to do just that.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Changing Views

    Using a blend of the traditional forms of her native Austria, classic menswear shapes, and a gently avant garde mindset that subtly stretches forms, and includes less expected textiles, young designer, Tina Elisabeth Reiter is starting her career off asking questions about how we will navigate this increasingly globalized culture; and what that will mean for us in terms of where we call our home place, and what that home comes to mean, in time.
    In looking at this collection which was her graduate presentation, and eventually got her awarded menswear collection of the year, I was struck by the gentility of it all.  Where so many younger designers are looking with gloom into the future of our world, Ms Reiter seems to be gazing in another direction entirely.  Yes, these are not playful clothes. The world we live in is a less playful one just now, and with the concerns we all have about our tenancy here growing daily, a ground level seriousness seems right.  Serious they may be, but they are not depressive, or overly introspective. These are garments to be worn by a person willing to engage the world, not hide from it; someone willing to work.
    Her larger question about how we will steer ourselves further into the 21st century is an important one.  And as the Attire language will always manifest the subtle shifts under the surface of society, its worthy to look at these designs, and ponder a moment about how we are going to adapt.
    I live in California, now facing a drought of as yet unprecedented scope, that may not be over for a long time, if ever.  We may be looking at a series of changes that will twist this beautiful state into another social shape, and completely alter its economy.  How we react to that, how any place reacts to significant alteration, such as the globalization of our world's cultures, will be seen, and felt, in the way we accoutre ourselves.
    Surely one thing that is going to change, whether we wish it or not, is that our addiction to the new for its own sake will have to stop. It may stop because we change our habits, but its more likely that it will stop, because we no longer have the wherewithal.  So the clothing that does get presented will, like these garments, have to possess an innate practicality.  And that will need to be coupled with long term wearability.  If we cannot make as many clothes, because the resources must be husbanded more carefully; then those that are made, must be made to last.  And since we want to look good in the process, a kind of timelessness could emerge to the shapes, and forms that get worn.

    Along with that, the losing of a sense of home place, because we have become nations full of people who don't stay near where we were born to a great extent, will make itself felt too, in how we fold our clothes about us.  How that could play out is anyone's guess.  Some might cleave more frantically to a fantasy of nation, or hometown: while others might eschew such things altogether, making of themselves, world citizens, who visually inhabit all places at once. Whichever of these scenarios, or others I haven't posited, come to pass, is of no matter here.  The posit is this. We are changing, whether we wish to or not.  Change happens. The wise person moves with change as much as may be. The unwise person holds fast to old ways of thinking, and gets edited out of the system as no longer viable.  It is up to each, and all of us, to choose which of those things will apply to us personally.  And,  because I am a man who wants the best for everyone, I can only hope we will choose most wisely, not just for our own selves, but for this tiny place we call home.
As a possibility for how this will all look in the next years, this collection is as good a way of seeing as any.  It has one advantage over very many others that I perceive, though.  It is a vision with hope.  Without this essential ingredient, we cannot possibly survive whatever the future brings to our door.  And I will leave you with this.
    I will, in my own small way,  always give you hope.

Post script.
My thanks to the love of my life, Jim.