Archive for June, 2008

June 26, 2008

W, triple me

“Are you sure you’re just a fashion writer?” reads one of the comments on my  recent blog about Michelle Obama’s appearance on “The View.” I’ll take the compliment, thank you very much, but I’ll feign outrage: Just a fashion writer? Just a fashion writer? Just?

Just as Harper’s Bazaar produced it’s worst issue ever, just as Christie Brinkley can’t resist another ugly public divorce, just as I’m waiting for Steven Meisel’s 100 page photoshoot in Italian Vogue which exclusively features black models to arrive on these shores, my copy of the July issue of W has arrived at my door.

This issue is a must read for anyone concerned about the intersection of image, politics and the corporate world, (even if only a handfull of Bruce Weber’s photos in the otherwise cliche 36 page photo shoot are worth your time. Check out the real treat of David Slijper’s photographs instead.)

First up is “Party Time,” pp. 46-50, an exceptionally thoughtful piece on how international political leaders use and understand the power of dressing.  The deputy mayor of Paris, Christophe Girard, makes the point I make all the time. (Smart guy, he. And not just a fashion writer.) “Political life is no longer separated from real life, and political women and men know their image matters like [those of] a model or an actor to attract the public. But it’s a real danger when politicians are more concerned about their image than their ideas.”

Next, there’s “Money Honeys,” starting on page 64, about the hedge fund industry’s use of pretty young women and even models as “marketing executives”  which “has  become all but synonymous with a blonde in Theory trousers.” It’s a fascinating read into what amounts to the semi-prostitutional nature of “corporate work” for women in the financial sector.

And finally, the always fabulous and priceless pseudonym protected Louise J. Esterhazy, p.116, will confess that she “can never be president. Of course, the main stumbling block is that I’m Austrian. But it turns out there’s an even greater impediment: I’m an elitist. And what’s wrong with that?”

I suggest you spend your weekend catching up on your reading, especially since the gay Pride parade this year won’t be worth attending  just because Dick Devine retired (from his position as Cook County State’s Attorney and thus will not be atop anyone’s float. Alas, hope floats–away. Dick, you will be sorely missed!).

June 26, 2008

If I never see your face again (or Exhale to the Chief)

Given the national reaction to my last blog, I’ve decided that, if you care to indulge me this summer, I’ll be posting more of my running musings on substance, style and popular culture.

Music videos are by definition a triumph of style over substance. You literally have only 4 minutes to savor the hope of attaining your 15 minutes of fame.
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There are no more videogenic singers on the planet right now than Adam Levine of Maroon 5 and Rihanna, he the Magnum XL cum laude graduate of the Bryan Ferry dripping-with-detachment-school-of-personal-style, she the Barbados born beauty of the legs that start somewhere around her earlobes and end at the floor.

Both are perfectly matched in their vocal inability to (thankfully) make it past the top 12 on “American Idol.”

While they have each made compelling visual statements in their own videos, who knew that they would be so perfectly matched in the most palpably erotically charged and relevant music video of 2008 for the single “If I never see your face again?”

It’s a refreshing alternative to the insufferably pretentious Madonna and Justin Timberlake collaboration”4 minutes to save the world,” which wears its misguided attempt at substance right in it’s title.

“4 minutes” tries to sell us on the (yesterday’s news cliche) Madonna-as-cougar-Justin-as-boy-toy but the sexual tension comes off as pathetically Oedipal.  Justin is no more than the wind machine to her current Stevie Nicks-like inability to move coherently or gracefully. “Stand back, stand back” I keep thinking to myself.

(Note to Mad: You’ve really lost your touch and missed the cultural vibe entirely, just like the other gal who was recently peddling her experience in an effort to save the world .)

“If I never” on the other hand, has it’s visual finger right on the jugular of the cultural moment. (To anachronistically combine Bill Clinton and Barak Obama’s political playbooks, “It’s about change stupid.”)

Unlike the pedantic “4 minutes,” “If I never” brilliantly oozes studied nonchalance both lyrically and, most importantly, visually. The on screen pairing of Adam and Rihanna is frought with at least as much transgression as that of the anscestoral Adam and Eve.

There’s no apple or serpent here, just a microphone which is audaciously wielded about like a shared sex toy and (given the political moment) as a middle finger to the historical interracial intolerance of the miscegenation laws.

Lyrically, the song reminds me of the best line of dialogue  ever from an American movie. In “The Fabulous Baker Boys,” a film which oddly enough is famous for a scene involving a piano and a microphone, Michelle Pfeiffer confronts Jeff Bridges about their “relationship.” Bemused, he asks her: “Relationship? What relationship? All I did was [expletive] you twice!”

I assume that’s the exact same response we would get from our current president, as the next election looms, if we were to confront him as an electorate about our collective 8 year relationship.

And if he were ever to find it within himself to say sorry for the economic and military  reality he created and is leaving behind, I can hear Rihanna singing her current solo single“Take a Bow” in its entirety, sort of an “Exhale to the Chief: “Don’t tell me you’re sorry cause you’re not. You’re only sorry you got caught.”

Click here to see the video of “If I never see your face again.”

June 19, 2008

Michelle Obama and “the view”

Oh my, how times (and The Times) have changed. Or maybe they haven’t. I wish Amy Spindler were still alive to sort through all of this for me.

It’s been 46 years since 1962, when Corole King wrote “He hit me and it felt like a kiss,” and 2008 when Leona Lewis sang the megahit “You cut me and I keep bleeding love.” Somewhere during that time there was a women’s movement(?).

photo by Steve Fenn/ABCIt’s been been 46 years between Jacqueline Kennedy’s 1962 televised tour of the White House and Michelle Obama’stour de force guest host appearance yesterday in a White House Black Market dress (retail value $150) on ABC’s “The View.”

Yesterday, Michelle Obama definitively made it clear to her critics– with humor, warmth and (dare I say it) that dress— that they better move on to an easier target.

If you listen to the conventional view, Ms. Obama has an image problem. Yesterday’s New York Times ran the front page story “After Attacks, Michelle Obama Looks for a New Introduction.”

She more than found that introduction on “The View,” where she was able to make good on her remark at the end of the article: “You know, if someone sat in a room with me for five minutes after hearing these rumors, they’d go ‘huh?’ They’d realize it doesn’t make sense.”

I won’t rehash the unfounded criticisms leveled against her–read for yourself, from any source you’d like–but I will put them in context for you.

I told USA Today last fall that “this is an election, maybe the first one since Kennedy-Nixon, where appearance really does matter. Because we have credible female, black, Hispanic candidates, style and substance may actually be competitive, or even equally important to the public.”

Comparisons to Jack and Jackie abound for Barak and Michelle. He gets compared to JFK for his political style and she to Jackie for her sense of style.

Last week, The Times ran the article “She dresses to Win” by Guy Trebay in its Style section. Mr. Trebay points out correctly that on the night her husband clinched the Democratic nomination “what grabbed the eye was the sleeveless purple silk crepe sheath made for Mrs. Obama by Maria Pinto.” She did indeed look stunning in that dress.

“But it was particularly the color Michelle Obama chose Tuesday night that seemed symbolically rich, even if its message may have been so subtle as to be subliminal.” The article makes the arguably misguided attempt to point out that that, despite the dress’ $900 price tag, purple might have been the color of choice because it is the color achieved by mixing blue and red (states, get it?).

I say arguably misguided because even I instantly thought that the populist, budget conscious, black and white sleeveless number she wore on “The View” was worn with such drop-dead-gorgeous-sans-culottesinsouciance and was, therefore, so deliciously subversively ironic that it couldn’t have been accidental. Could it?

What I do know is that, while a woman of such accomplishment as Michelle Obama can be lauded for understanding the power of dressing, she cannot simplistically be reduced to the choices of her outfits. Yes, we all want to be considered people of substance and style. But, take it from someone who gets paid to make this call, it is a dangerous mistake to think that style is ever a lasting substitute for substance. Yes, it’s an advantage if you know how to use it to your benefit but that advantage has its limits.

I do wish the dimwits who were responsible for the film version of “Sex and the City” understood this. As Manohlia Dargis put it in her deservedly scathing review of the movie, “It isn’t that Carrie has grown older or overly familiar. It’s that awash in materialism and narcissism, a cloth flower pinned to her dress where cool chicks wear their Obama buttons, this It Girl has become totally Ick.”

And speaking of it, I’ve never been able to resist the opportunity to tell the following story because it is, well, irresistable. And suddenly pithy.

Three years ago, at a party given by Barney’s to benefit the Comer Children’s Hospital, Michelle Obama and the designer Narciso Rodriguez were the guests of honor. At that party I introduced her to Mr. Rodriguez as “the wife of Senator Obama.” She graciously corrected me by addressing Mr. Rodriguez: “Hello. I’m Michelle. I also work for the Children’s Hospital. Actually, I wear many hats.”

Thinking he’d get the joke I was about to make, I turned to Mr. Rodriquez and said “Do you make hats?” Perplexed, he looked at me and then at Michelle and said “No, but I can make you some really beautiful suits.” (I still wonder if he ever got the joke.)

The problem her critics have with Michelle Obama is that she is a woman of both style and substance. She is the coolest chick in the country wearing an Obama button.

In 2008, why is that such a bee in our collective bonnet when it should be a feather in her cap?

June 9, 2008


The sermon at my church yesterday was “Be for something and against nothing.” Sounds good, right?

Of course it does. But I wonder if the minister, who was dressed in what I call “the social working nun uniform,” had taken a gander at how two women in the congregation came dressed to beat the heat and, um, worship?

One of the women, single and accompanied by a gay man, was wearing a floral dress so low cut and ill fitting that the vast majority of her (braless) breasts were exposed. While she was mingling before the service began, she was obsessively and compulsively tugging at the top of the dress while effervescently telling someone how much she loved to shop.

The other woman, very pregnant and accompanied by what appeared to be her baby daddy, was wearing a tank top and skirt which left not only her belly exposed but her entire self overexposed when she scratched herself (I think) and tugged her skirt even farther down only to reveal more of her Brazilian wax than anyone but her baby daddy had any right to see.

So, keeping within the spirit of the sermon, let me offer the following advice.

While we are all for a little cleavage (who could possibly be against it?) if you wear a dress in public, anywhere in public and no matter the temperature, please keep in mind that the vast majority of your breasts go inside the dress. Pulling and tugging at your dress around your bust is the fashion equivalent of picking your nose in public. (If the dress don’t fit, you must acquit!)

And while we are all for soon-to-be-moms feeling comfortable and sexy….okay, let me just stop here.

What in the world is this obsession with flaunting your sexuality while you’re pregnant?

Look, somebody thought you were sexy enough to knock you up in the first place so we get it. You’re hot. Now give it a rest.

Eat something, have a healthy baby and then do some pilates. End of story.

Just in case you’re pregnant and need some ideas on how to dress appropriately to beat the heat, I’m going to re-post a segment I did last summer for the weekend morning news. I’m all for you watching it!

June 5, 2008

Bailey’s on Fire

Yesterday I previewed the Burberry Prorsum men’s and women’s collection for Fall 08 at the Michigan Avenue store. For those of you who don’t know, that’s the upscale collection offered by Burberry. Kudos to Christopher Bailey for finally producing a collection that relies on savvy craftsmanship and design rather than the vulgarities of marketing. By my count, it is his first one.

Rose Marie Bravo turned a billion dollar profit from plastering that damn plaid willy nilly on everything but the kitchen sink. She never cared a whit about style or design. Perhaps the only forgivable thing she ever did was to hire and nurture Christopher Bailey.

What Rose Marie cared about, my dear, was marketing. And market she did to the “Coach bag, Burberry scarf, baggy capris and sneaker” narcoleptic parade that one has to gingerly navigate every weekend on Michigan Avenue or at any local mall in any take-your-pick-tri-state diaspora. It was never pretty but it sure made a few people wildly rich.

Unlike Gucci under Domenico de Sole and Tom Ford, Burberry never managed to produce any exceptional clothing along with the (profitable) offending visual pollution that could justify its existence.

Gasp if you must, but I’m not telling Burberry anything it doesn’t already know. Everyone there is keenly aware that only dead men wear plaid.

With Rose Marie now having laughed all the way to the bank and into the sunset, the company must reinvent itself as a design house if it intends to differentiate itself and its wares from what can be copied and bought for $35 on Any Corner, USA.

So, I’m happy to report that Mr. Bailey has managed to produce a beautiful, wearable, deliriously covetable couture-with- an-edge inspired collection with nary a screeching plaid in sight.

His Spring collection was entirely off the mark and what they call in retail parlance “challenging.” (That means that they couldn’t sell much of it because you looked silly in most of it.)

Fall 08 is an entirely different story. The clothes don’t (only) look cool in print but hot on people you know. When was the last time you could say that about Burberry?

The men’s collection is so sleek it might actually be right up there with Neil Barrett as my favorite for Fall. Mr. Bailey’s women’s coats and jackets stand up to any international collection. The bags are pure decadence.

If you want to read between the lines–and lighten the mood a bit– click on the video from and watch how, um, delicately the fashionistas who need to keep their invitations in the front row say what I’ve just said here.

Thea Robinson is the ultra chic and very personable new manager of the Michigan Avenue store. Drop by the store in a few weeks when the collection starts delivering, bring your credit card and tell Thea that Tom says hi.

June 4, 2008

Your gift has been scent

I get the giggles when I think about what people get paid to write.

Apparently you can get paid to write an anonymously sourced 9,500 word article for Vanity Fair insinuating that Bill Clinton is having extramarital affairs with B-List actresses and defend yourself by admitting that you’re only insinuating. Way to go Todd S. Purdum. Dude!

It’s someone’s job  to come up with the names of paint colors. Who are these people and where do I get that job?

It’s someone’s job to write more books than she’s read. (We all know that’s Ann Coulter and that job is safely hers. Dude!)

And then there’s the people who come up with descriptions of scents. You could spend weeks deconstructing some of this stuff. I though you might all get a giggle from  the descriptions of 5 of my favorite fragrances which, coincidentally, would make for great Father’s Day gifts!

Touch by Burberry The spicy masculine notes of Burberry Touch are warmed up by mandarin hints. It’s unique violet-scented middle note is enhanced by woody tones lingering into an elegant layer of musk.  The wooden cap, carved in ash tree has the natural look and feel of the veins of the tree.

Extreme by Paul Smith An updated version of the classic Paul Smith fragrance, Paul Smith Extreme cologne for men a spicy, light scent with top notes of Bergamot, Rosemary, Hesperidia, Nutmeg and Cardamom. The scent of choice for Jude Law, Paul Smith Extreme offers a more individual fragrance that’ll really amaze.

AntidoteAntidote by Victor and Rolf Like a rare flower pinned to the lapel of a tuxedo jacket, it is an expression of classic masculine elegance with a flair of sophistication. A rich, woody oriental, Antidote opens with a refreshing burst of mint leaves and Italian bergamot, sparkles with spicy facets of black pepper and cinnamon, and yields to the warmth of sandalwood, ebony and patchouli.

Pure by Jil Sander (Note: despite what follows, this is a unisex fragrance.) Jil Sander Pure is a simple, fresh, everyday scent that was designed for the active, urban woman. The heart of this soft scent is pure air molecule, coupled with cyclamen flower, fresh petal jasmine, and lush sap, cooled with the caress of white musk, sandalwood, and ambrette seeds. Notes include Pure Air Molecule, Cyclamen Flower, Fresh Petal Jasmine, Lush Sap, White Musk, Sandalwood, Ambrette Seeds.

Comme des Garcons 2 Man Comme des Garcons 2 Man cologne has an intellectual presence with a twist of humor for a man who sets his own rules. The mixing of extremely classic and unusual elements expresses a distinctive, masculine, and powerful signature. The scent’s personality comes through a blend of complementary and contrasting mossy and woody notes. Notes of Nutmeg, Incense, Saffron Flowers, Vetiver, White Smoke.

June 2, 2008

You can dress me up but you cant take me (just) anywhere

In the past two and a half years, both my parents were diagnosed with terminal cancer and my brother, who has Down Syndrome, suffered from violent psychosis as our mother was dying. I’ve lost so much weight taking care of everyone but myself that I’m basically a shave, a blonde wig and a Balenciaga bag away from being the third Olsen twin.

Saturday night I may have also lost my mind. (If anyone finds it, could you please return it. I’m offering a full tank of gas as a reward!) If Kathy Griffin thinks it’s difficult to live her “Life On the d List” she should try living “My Life On The (BestDresse)d List. Let me explain.

MK and me

MK and me

Saturday night the place to be was Lake Forest Sportscars in Lake Bluff for the “What Does One Wear to a Grand Prix?” benefit for the Prentice Women’s Hospital. Perhaps, however, it wasn’t the place I should have been.

First of all, despite what Polo Ralph Lauren, Escada, Dennis Basso and the Men’s Store at Saks Fifth Avenue thought one should wear to a Grand Prix in their fashion presentation, the real answer was: a little black dress and about $6 million in Graff white diamonds.

Cameron Holtman from Elite Model Management proved that point the minute you walked in the door. Okay, so you would notice Cameron and the other models sporting Graff under any circumstances, but my goodness, the diamonds sure didn’t hurt.

And as it turns out, the hostess of the event, MK Pritzker, knew the real answer as well. She looked stunning in a gorgeous formfitting deep purple dress and yellow diamonds.


So here’s the part where I need to start explaining. Having never met MK before and only having seen her on the cover of the December 2006 issue of Today’s Chicago Woman, I blurted out to her that the pictures did not do her justice. I told her, in earnest, that she should sue the magazine. And come to think of it this morning, she should sue the photographer as well.

MK was so gracious (and probably horrified by my blunt/obtuse remark) that she explained, in earnest, she was happy with the pictures. So, in a not uncommon phenomenon in my life right now, I had to open my mouth, insert my foot and chew vigorously.

(Who knew I was such a fan of self immolation? I guess Hillary Clinton and I currently share that in common. But in my defense, I managed to avoid any references to RFK.)

Oh, but by night’s end, I thought I was being engagingly witty with the publisher of CS magazine, John Carroll, always one of the most dapper men around town. Turns, out he probably didn’t think so. Right, John?

Take it from me (and Kathy Griffin), the problem with being witty is that sometimes you come across as a nitwit.

Enjoy the slideshow from the event. Click on the images to enlarge. I’m going to finish my coffee and my foot-in-mouth omelette. Cheers.