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Color Theory…

21 Mar

… is quite a fascinating subject and should be on the curriculum of any wannabe fashionista. As you may know, Goethe is something like the father of the field where optics meets aesthetics, both as a theory of perception and as a theory of fine arts. Here are two interesting passages from the sixth part of his Zur Farbenlehre:

§ 841: People of refinement have a disinclination to colors. This may be owing partly to weakness of sight, partly to the unceertainty of taste, which readily takes refuge in absolute negation. Women now appear almost universally in white and men in black.

§ 845: The scale of positive color is obviously soon exhausted ; on the other hand, the neutral, subdued, so-called fashionable colors present infinitely varying degrees and shades, most of which are not unpleasing.

Musing on the internet, I found Manolo’s excellent friend’s excellent friends’ excellent friends are doing a bit of very very good fashion oriented popular color theory. You must check that.

Colorwheel from

Up to now, there’s four parts to the course:

  1. The wheel and the two thirds
  2. The neutrals
  3. Triads
  4. Applied investigation

The Freak show is on…

3 Mar

… at Mugler. As anticipated, something rather good was on its way with Formichetti taking the reins of the slightly decaying house. And without detour he delivered everything one was entitled to expect from Gaga’s fashion coach: a show, essentially, delving some formal possibilities about post-humanity, most of which are reminiscences from the last 40 years in sci-fi. Not that any precise reference dawns as obvious, but the overall impression is that of a familiar visual code.

This is both a limit of the concept of a freaking fashion and a still interesting. The whole project revolves around the Jentschian-Freudian notion of Unheimliche: up to what point fashion may push into the realm of the uncomfortably strange? Obviously Formichetti is supposed to design pieces that will actually sell, which constrains a lot the desire to explore. This is probably why he stayed within a formal repertoire relatively smooth to the eye. Yet, it seems to me that some pieces are definitely scorers, precisely because they are both beautiful and verging on the uneasy.

The first is a beauty and the beast fusion: why choose to be the helpless blonde when you can also be the Kong?

Ear/antennae thingies are totally optional.

Notice the positively sublime necklace. I’d wear it and that coat for a lunch in a fancy restaurant anytime between November and March.

Next comes the translucent plastic skin idea. The question is how to avoid the kinky latex effect.

Beautifully sleek legs

Clearly, you don’t have to display your crotch this way, and a black shorty would have gone a long way into making this outfit a winner at the art gallery opening.

This one is chic, plain and simple. It would do marvels with the orange lips it seems no one can live without these days.

Matrix anyone?

Another great outfit out of the box. If you have a flat belly, you’re in for a smart interpretation of this nice fellow, the ax, grin and bad hairdo being as you would guess strictly optional.

Put all these workout freak's abs to shame

The last one may well be my favorite. Anatomy meets suspenders in a most natural form:

Ice Lady

The obvious tip being to avoid looking like the el-cheapo kinky nurse. Urgently ditch these absurd platforms, and slip in this wet-dream of a boot by Prada:


Then you will want to put these cute boobs of yours where they belong: inside a beautiful shell of black and white lace such as something Agent Provocateur would provide you, and under a cute gray fur top, probably along the lines of this beautiful number I pointed out earlier in Elie Tahari’s collection.

Classic boob deliciousness

The icing of it all. You want also the gloves.

“I paint a head like a door…

25 Feb

… like whatever else”. That’s Cézanne. And that’s Giacometti about why Cézanne has had such a deep effect on painting in the 20th century.

Seeing for real. Cézanne's Pastoral (Idyll). 1870.

And that’s not by chance that this manifesto for a visual acuity beyond the banality of a carnal veil makes immediate sense for Giacometti. He too is looking for the ontological bone.

Giacometti. Tête Noire (1960)

Or Bacon, or Matisse, or so many others. A part, that may not be small, of the divorce between common perception and visual art is born in Cézanne’s decision to look at your face like at a stone. Physics divorced from common sense with Galileo, and it’s been very long since anyone has raised an objection.

Look at a shirt like it’s a piece of cloth. Dress like you’re a Cézanne.

Kawakubo for Comme des Garçons (1983)

I don’t know what’s the matter with me tonight. Must be this German atmosphere I’m in these days (writing this from Tübingen), I’m getting another fit of modernist elitism…



What beauty is not…

23 Feb

… is what I want to examine here, in a sort of counterpoint to our superstar’s interrogations concerning the new Burberry girl.

DISCLAIMER: Don’t get me wrong on one thing, I hold Manolo in my highest esteem, he’s thoughtful and delicate, and the views I argue against here are merely a suggested hyperbolic direction of some of his remarks, certainly not something I think he would claim. With some luck, he will give us is own point of view himself.

That being said, the following post is mainly a response to Manolo‘s assertion that:

(t)he rules of feminine beauty cannot be changed, no matter how much we may wish that they could be. They are as immutable and as fixed as the stars in the heavens: youth, fecundity, symmetry, and the pleasing hip-to-waist ratio.

Oh boy, I beg to differ.

On the last point, this hip to waist ratio (h/w), here’s my take (I reproduce it from a comment I left on Manolo’s post). Bottom line: careful with those figures!

I fear there maybe a little too much enthusiasm here over the signifiance of this ratio. Most of the usual ratios of the human face, for instance, are really stable, but we are extremely sensitive to small changes in them, so we feel our faces are vastly different.

A good example of a similar phenomenon is provided by your discussion with the delightfully articulated Caia. No one on our catwalks displays the kind of h/w ratio expected from the corseted ladies (and it’s absolutely NOT a matter of same ratio against different values): moderns expect a higher ratio. The numerical difference is small, but means everything in the world (look at Dita @Gaultier’s).
And, as everyone knows and is noted in the wikipedia entry you linked, even greater differences in responses to h/w ratio are found when one goes cross-cultural.

h/w. Yeah, right.

I find it important to remind everyone to exert caution when using figures in a conceptual debate. Proper handling is generally extremely delicate, and not even all scientists do it the way it should be done. To be a geek or to have one handy may prove very valuable.

Anyway, that’s not the point.

The point is Kant. Or at least a small fraction of his thought. Let me insist upon the Kantian distinction between the beautiful and the agreeable. Both are objects of an aesthetic judgment, i.e. a judgment that bears on perceptual data (or more precisely on our representations thereof). The latter has two principal characteristics: (a) it reflects the interests of the subject (in a broad sense); (b) therefore, since our interests may vary, there’s no reason to think that my judgment of what is agreeable is of any value for someone else. The former is a complicated story, and I’m not sure at all that I want to follow Kant’s own definition. But one can retain as a contentious but extremely important possibility that the beautiful should in principle be independent of our interests, and as such a matter of expertise or education in some form, and our judgments concerning beauty may therefore pretend to an universal value (being not dependent upon contingent historical determination of the subject. Oops. Never mind, I just had a fit.)

The criteria proposed by Manolo may seem of universal value, and he takes them to be, but I disagree. In so far as they are a reflection of our biological needs, they are bound to vary with them. You’ll find regularities but abstract ones: it’s not the same thing to look healthy in a big modern city (tall semi-anorexic veg with a tan) and to look healthy north of the Arctic Circle (small chubby with a taste for whale fat). And in any case, these criteria will just get you a definition of desirability. And you will excuse the slight feminism of the remark, but we would prefer not to judge matters of beauty with our dicks (or absence thereof) here. I’ll post later about Winnsome great remark that there may be something akin to pain in the experience of beauty, but it is a very welcome reminder that there is more about beauty that the merry boner. I’m not even sure it has anything to do with boners in the first place. This is the whole concept of this post.

Beautiful. Hot? You tell me.

Take an example. With the girls back in our first college days, we were all fascinated by Beckett’s face. Did we find him beautiful because we found him desirable? Maybe, but certainly not in a straightforward, biologically meaningful way. Now I’d like to dismiss with a disdainful hand-wave the objection of the acquired taste.

(I’ve always wanted to dismiss something with a disdainful hand-wave. Did you notice that you don’t get very often to do that in real life if you’re not Anna Wintour?)

Who said beauty is a natural/innate taste? Certainly not Van Gogh. Nor John Cage. Nor Beethoven. Neither did Levy-Strauss or any serious anthropologist. So yeah. You get to see beauty because of the education you received, and human body gets no special rule. You need education to get to see any beauty in the world, even to see that the taste of a 1998 Saint-Emilion is more interesting than the taste of a Diet Coke. After a couple of LPs and some musical sophistication, you begin to discern what’s the matter with this face:

Grand Wazoo

A strong but subtle mix of derision, arrogance and intelligence. And lots of hair.

(That’s Frank Zappa, btw).

There is, in my view, just one correct cognitive path to judge of the beauty of something, be that thing a concerto, a still life or a human being. It may involve a set of possibly universal standards if you wish, but they certainly require some historical and maybe personal interpretation. The specific forms in which beauty may be recognized are not the same now than they were a century ago (and after Schoenberg, we do not hear in Beethoven what his fellows heard then). But as I advertised in the title, I’m not concerned with a definition of beauty, I just want to distinguish it from desirability, which may be good, but is fundamentally different.

And there I get to the great idea of the rising star in vagina-looking clothes: the Man-Repeller herself. The brilliance of this idea, to look at fashion from a man repelling point of view, come precisely from the way it relates both to the philosophical concerns above and some well documented empirical data: that there is a whole class of outfits that will get the girls all like ‘aaah’ and ‘oooh’, and all the gents like WTF?!

Man says: nightmarish stepmom. Girl says: trendy. (Source: MR)

Many factors may come into play in this, but it’s quite clear for me that a great deal of the wtf-reactions to sartorial creativity is a consequence of the fact that (a) sometimes this creativity is not dedicated to enhance the desirability of the wearer and (b) lots of people have a really hard time to understand how one may do something complicated fashion-wise without trying to cause arousal.

Mary Katrantzou says: f*ck h/w.

Fashion is art is also a way to say: fashion is not reducible to an elaborate mating parade. You may use it that way, or everybody uses it that way (I certainly do), but it doesn’t mean it’s what it is ultimately.


(a) No, I don’t think that the laws of feminine beauty are any more eternally written in the stars that the laws of musical beauty. Even if they were, we cannot read them, and experimentation is what we need to get to know them by empirical progress.

Gathering interesting data. Ann-Sofie Back says: f*ck h/w.

(b) Maybe as the saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but certainly not in his pants.

Oh, my beloved readers…

15 Feb

… all the twelve of you (which is good since almost half of you are not in my family) grasp firmly your silky pants, for we are in for yet another encephalitis-inducing theoretical post. Here we go.

(I just give you a little pic from Marc Jacobs AW11 because (a) what comes after is long and painful, and (b) polka dots!!)

Dots dots dots!

So, iconicity again.

First let us get out of the way what is consensual. You’ll never catch me saying that random layering (or any equivalent but more suave formulation) is the only way to iconicity. Not even ridiculously drunk at a concert of the Scissor Sisters. A well chosen unheimliche twist in classical elegance also does the trick (but it’s not easy).

Let us turn now to this interesting theory of yours. It relies on a principle I should call OD for outrageous defense:

(OD)       Outrageous sartorial choices are (often) a defense mechanism for the beauty impaired.

I see why that would be a pet theory. It is obviously couterintuitive, hence, it has a good added value. Indeed, would ask the not-so-deep fashion theorist, why someone already at risk of being exposed to derision would worsen her/his situation by drawing attention to shocking clothes? Here’s the explanation the wise Manolo provides us. Instead of enduring a subpar status with respect to accepted standards, the beauty impaired would defend him/herself by rejecting beauty as a criterion and claiming that personality/originality is what matters. A clever move in our ferociously individualistic societies. Barbie will have a hard time openly claiming that conformity is the way to go (but she’ll manage something, usually based on concepts such as weird, or belonging, or taste and morality, or nature, or whatever other half baked normative structure). Then the proponent of staying true to one’s original personality will be freedom’s champion, and Barbie will be the fascist. This is the moral of at least 25% of Hollywood’s total output. I know, darling reader, I’m conservative here.

So far so good. Outrage or outré may be protection systems. But please let us not forget that’s a very thin piece of the cake. What’s protection, most of the time? Let Mama Wharton show you how it’s done.

Serious protection is a four layered job. First layer: fur. I mean, our fur: prairies and bushes of our god-given body hair. Second layer: comfy outwear. A vast tee-shirt, some nice bermudas with all the practical pockets, tennis socks and crocs. A parka when needed. Now you top that with a thick third layer of ill understood Platonism/Feminism, to the effect that (from the former) apparencies are not what counts and that (from the latter) any trade of practicality for aesthetics counts as an active collaboration with the global phallocratic conspiracy. Last layer: friends. Lots of them, sharing the ideas and the strategy. In Paris or Milano, it won’t be easy. In Frankfurt or Lafayette, it shouldn’t be much trouble. And here, within your four-layered bunker, you will really be protected. Assuming you’re not too much into mass media, you may live a life almost free from fashion aggressions. Actually, having inversed all values, you will have opportunities for sneering at shallow self-sacrificial bimbos on heels. And be concerned for their health.

Why would someone throw herself on the battlefields of unconventional fashion when bunkering is so much easier, I really don’t know. I guess it’s something akin to the mysteries of sexual orientation. For being fat or ugly and into fashion is being a queer. Once (and only once) you’re a queer, counter-attack is a very good strategy, and, as Manolo rightly suggests, it will provide shelter.

But if it’s clever, it is first of all a bold strategy, and that combination deserves praise in my book. And going for personality is the fundamental component of iconicity as I understand it.

But now I’ll need to qualify that. There’s at least two ways of understanding how to express your personality. One uninteresting way to do so is to chose a counterculture. So, you’re different because you’re emo, or goth, or whatever. Like all your friends. This is just a variant of the bunker, so let’s dismiss it as irrelevant. So, again: how would you express a personality (through fashion)?

I’ll borrow from Deleuze some notion here. If you are still reading this, you probably won’t mind an extra helping of complications. The usual concept for personality in its common acceptation is subjectivity. Personality defines us as subjects. Deleuze twists the notion: subjectivity should not be understood as a property of a being. It’s a process, which he calls subjectivation. Your are not a subject, but you can sometimes be caught in a subjectivation process. Why is that? Because what makes you a subject, singular by definition, is what makes the structures you function in leak. But the structure is always resorbing the leaks. Every liberation is followed by a (necessary) restoration of order, where the singular is assigned a new place in the structure, and therefore ceases to be singular and unclassifiable. It’s a good and satisfying life when you function well. But while you will have character, you won’t have a personality, i.e. be a subject in the full sense.

So being a subject, or having a personality if you want, is a full time, never finished, job. It’s hard work. Here is a truly wonderful description of what a subjectivation process may be like, by composer Morton Feldman.

What was great about the fifties is that for one brief moment — maybe, say, six weeks, nobody understood art. That’s why it all happened.

What I get from all this is that there is wisdom indeed in Waters advice:

Get on the fashion nerves of your peers, not your parents – that is the key to fashion leadership.

I see true personality in the way someone struggles to break consensus in order to be him/herself. It is exceedingly rare, and when that happens in fashion, we get an icon in the way I understand the term.

Let’s take a random example. In Paris’ early 1880, Madame Gautreau was a fashion star: she was extremely beautiful and she was a trendsetter. On another hand, as one of her friends would have it, she had the “strange, weird, fantastic, curious beauty of” a “peacock-woman”. We are already in iconicity’s sweet spot. But what made her a true icon, in a way such that Manolo chose her as an example of non-layering icon, is that she sat for Sargent, and this is the result:

Deadly Sin: Lust

Of course, there are very few layers involved here. Much too few, actually, at least for the taste of the 80s. The portrait caused a riot in 1884’s Salon, and wrought havoc on Sargent and Gautreau. At a time when pornography wasn’t a billion dollars’ business, the portrait counted as sheer outrage. This is what happens with subjectivation processes. Usually, there’s a price. A high price.

Now that most of you are probably gone, sleeping, or bored to death, I’ll just add few pointer to the remaining battlefields:

1) Is conflicting or complex layering random? Method in madness

2) What rules are we changing? Switching from beauty to personality vs. challenging the definition of beauty?

3) In any case, does it matter? I claim that beauty is not a necessary nor a sufficient component for iconicity.

Ooooh nooooo… Paracetamol, anyone?

A rejoinder of sorts…

12 Feb

… is what I owe to Mr. Manolo, Miss Suggia and Miss Aurum, who were kind enough to provide enlightening comments in this iconicity affair.

Manolo, as it suits for a Prince of the Old and Noble Art of Elegant Clothing, and let me tell you there’s not an ounce of irony here, is not convinced by visually aggressive ways to achieve the iconic. He recommends, I quote him, “to pare back the layers so as to achieve iconicity through the starkly elegant”.

Which is a strong and wise advise. Yet I think starkly elegant would miss the mark by a few inches. Unless of course you add the pencil mustache and a vague scent of rock’n roll. Like this:

Sleek Shark

I thank Agent Lover for an extremely à propos inspiration this morning. Selected for us by Miss Lover, here’s a quote from the above Mr. Waters, which is good, of course, and will provide some food for your hungry thoughts, revered readers:

You don’t need fashion designers when you are young. Have faith in your own bad taste. Buy the cheapest thing in your local thrift shop – the clothes that are freshly out of style with even the hippest people a few years older than you. Get on the fashion nerves of your peers, not your parents – that is the key to fashion leadership. Ill-fitting is always stylish. But be more creative – wear your clothes inside out, backward, upside down. Throw bleach in a load of colored laundry. Follow the exact opposite of the dry cleaning instructions inside the clothes that cost the most in your thrift shop. Don’t wear jewelry – stick Band-Aids on your wrists or make a necklace out of them. Wear Scotch tape on the side of your face like a bad face-lift attempt. Mismatch your shoes. Best yet, do as Mink Stole used to do: go to the thrift store the day after Halloween, when the children’s trick-or-treat costumes are on sale, buy one, and wear it as your uniform of defiance.

Words of wisdom, if you ask me.

Miss Suggia, faithful to her own portrait, is all about noses. She suggests that we should not forget Cleopatra’s Lesson in Iconicity (CLI):

(CLI)    Strong noses are for strong people.

Being rather gifted in that department, I will wholeheartedly applaud. And indeed, Miss Suggia’s examples are convincing. Look for instance at Diana Vreeland:

Who needs pretty girls?

And then the much more confidential, but not a bit less iconic Edith Sitwell:

"I admire what other people wear when it is unusual"

At this point I have a confessions to make. I was crassly ignorant about Sitwell. I lack words to express my gratitude to you, Miss Suggia. Facade is now on my playlist.

Anyway, we get here some great, great cases of iconicity. You took not the pains to read all this for nothing, my little shrimps. The Miss Aurum made her point, which is a case of concluding point if I ever saw one. Rosy de Palma and her remarkable profile:

Sorry Manolo, I guess we're back into eccentricity. With a nose.

Ayyy, I hear you say.

Thou Shalt be Iconic…

11 Feb

… is the last commandment, coming to us through the rather mysterious channel of Dior’s marketing department.

In this context, iconic means emblematic, which in turns is equivalent (modulo irrelevant details) to being such that anyone would associate your aspect with some brand. Obviously, the suggestion from Dior’s apostles is to become a walking commercial for them. How nice. Not that it’s really new either. For the last 20 years, everybody, and especially her sister, has been exposed to such unreasonable doses of commercial brainwash they think it’s a good idea to walk with garment displaying logos as big as said garment can hold.

Rule: NEVER buy clothes with visible logos. They are a bad taste fucking manifesto. Like ‘hey look at me! I can’t tell beautiful from ugly if it’s not written on the label.’

Let’s set aside Dior and disgraceful marketing.

We need another reading, and my little shrimps, here’s mine. The true meaning of the holy commandment of iconicity is found considering yourself as a brand. And then be a walking commercial for yourself. There’s a troubling proximity between good brand image management and just style. Style (in most cases) is style because it is recognizable as such, which involves some strong distinctive features that the media call iconic when they are sufficiently far from the rest of the crowd.  The good ol’ medievals had a notion for this they had inherited from Aristotle: sui generis. Something is sui generis when it is so different from everything else that you have to create a new category to classify it. Like this guy for instance, a living proof that the Creator either has a weird sense of humor, or invented pot before finishing the animals.

Consequently, we introduce equivalence (1):

(1)    Be iconic = Market yourself as a sui generis brand

I hear you, my delirious hordes of readers (all the six of you): why, you ask, are you so particular and concrete? Wouldn’t you please ascend to the universal and provide us with transcendental deductions of the conditions of possibility of iconicity? After all, that’s why we got PhDs in the first place…

Well, let us not go astray from our true path, the one that will lead us to conquer the world and pinch the flabby cheek of Lagerfeld, and that path of glory goes through absolute domination of the blogosphere, which is good, of course, and forces us to give examples because we want everyone to follow us.

(And that would the end of our psychotic episode of the day)

So. Here’s my list of highly iconic people: the singer, the actress, the blogger, the model and the designer.

Case 1: Gaga. We’ve been through it already. She has a way with clothes that sets her apart. You can make a joke about her outfits, everybody will get it. Even the devotees of death by fashion boredom (sweaters+jeans+sneakers).

You know I like her

Case 2: Helena Bonham-Carter. She’s got a truly fine attitude, the crazy witch. She cares about fashion, it’s obvious. But fashion rules and common wisdom? She doesn’t give a friggin’ fuck. Like, who said shoes must have the same color?

Victorian irrational

Case 3: Suzie Bubble. Another major player in the sui generis league. She’s a leading expert in unconventional fashion. You won’t find her in the usual random-glam stuff. She rocks the edge of fashion with the aplomb of the true adventurers.

Fashion Stuntgirl

Case 4: Kate Moss, post 05 era. First she was just extremely beautiful in a girly way. Throw in a daughter and a salad bowl of cocaine, a hefty measure of sex scandal and being the godmother of two children of one of the Clash, and what do you get? The last living scion of the noble house of Punk, that’s what you get. Fools ran away. The smart guys came running. People like their ads with a touch of rock’n roll in it, it covers well the sour taste of greed.

Soho 77 meets glam porn

Case 5: Herr Lagerfeld. He’s arch-evil, but in a most distinctive way. There are lots of loud eccentrics in the fashion world, but he is by far the best at the game of branding himself. Look at that: he’s the bride of his own défilé:

Who's bad?

Are you iconic? What would you do to brand yourselves?