Archive for October 8th, 2008

October 8, 2008

Getting in my pants (and under my skin)

You may have noticed that I haven’t posted a blog about the “fall must haves” or the “top trends” or anything about those essential new purchases. I’ve not proposed any segment to the producers of the weekend news either, which would explain why you have not seen me on air at NBC5. (That may  also explain why this morning some woman from the Northbrook Court mall did a marketing segment on boots for fall– a trend I told NBC viewers about last fall.)

It’s been a difficult couple of weeks    for anyone (involved in any capacity in fashion) to keep a level head. It’s been trying for retailers who can’t budge merchandise off their shelves. It’s been trying for consumers who wish they had kept the receipts and the tags from their last few purchases.

And it’s been an epiphany for fashion critics who had to sit though the ill timed orgy that was Spring 09 fashion week in Milan and Paris. I cannot remember the last time I read fashion review after fashion review that was fraught with the meaning of life. Fashion reviews suddenly turned into tracts on sociology and freakonomics.

It turns out the state of the  global economy is actually forcing most of us to take the meaning of everything, including fashion, seriously. That, at least, is seriously good news.

Thursday morning I flew to New York to meet with a client. Within minutes of landing at LaGuardia, a woman remarked “great pants!” For the rest of the day, hardly a half hour went by that someone, from people with whom I was doing business to strangers on the street, did not say the same thing. There was an audible stir, I kid you not, when I walked into Harry Cipriani on 5th Avenue for dinner. A very good looking twentysomething tried to pick me up later in the evening with the tried and true pickup line “love your pants.”

The pants!

The pants!

Okay, I thought the plaid wool pants were really great too which is the reason I plopped down $245 at Marc by Marc Jacobs in Bucktown several weeks ago. I have been secretly pining for the weather to get cold enough to wear them.

At the very moment I feared that fashion (and style) had suddenly become frivolous to everyone (especially to someone like myself who takes it seriously), those damn pants reminded me that fashion/style, or a keen eye for it, has the power to attract, command attention–respect even–and garner favors from corners near and far.

I’ve been making some version of that case to my clients for years. It’s nice to confirm for myself, in spite of the times we now live in, that I haven’t been blowing smoke up anyone’s skirt.

October 8, 2008

What you see is what you get (Nixon/Kennedy redux)

So, it was my good fortune to  be the first person to point out more than a 13 months ago that in this  political year image would be as crucial a factor in determining the  presidential election as it was in 1960.

Since then, requests for interviews invariably, and very quickly I might add, boiled down to “what do the candidates wardrobes say about them.”  Shortly after I was quoted in USA Today, a producer for WGN pre-interviewed me for a segment.  I tried to explain to her that it was much  more complicated than that. Could I go on air and briefly discuss the complexities? (Sure, that sounds funny now but at the time I was serious.)

She never called back and I learned my lesson. Give NBC, FOX, and CBS what they want.

Of course, though I was certain of the statement I made, I certainly didn’t know exactly how it would play out.   As the nominees of each party emerged, lots of people  jumped on the Nixon/Kennedy paradigm and they’ve pointed out the obvious similarities. One candidate is young, attractive and magnetic but lacks experience.  The other candidate is old, not so telegenic, prone to soporific public appearances but chock full of experience.

(The role race has played in the campaign is beyond the pervue this blog entry, although you can bet the farm I have a lot to say  about how it has been sublimated. Perhaps reading my blog “Sarah, Plain and Tall(tale)” might give you some idea….)

The Nixon-Kennedy debates were  historically significant because they were the first to be televised and that very fact  made it possible, if one were inclined to do so, infer something not only from the answers the candidates gave but how they looked while they were giving them. We all remember form high school history class that people who listened to the debate on radio thought Nixon had won, but those who listened and watched on television thought Kennedy won.

I’ve been waiting for 13 months for the moment in this campaign that would make the issue of image as compelling– and decisive– as it was in 1960.

I think that finally happened in last night’s televised debate.

I think we saw last night, for the first time in this election, how filtering a town hall meeting through television affected the candidates’ message and chances for victory.

The conventional wisdom  had it that  McCain was supposed to have the home court advantage in the debate because he had built his campaign on town hall style meetings.

Obama on the other hand was supposed to be at a disadvantage because he excelled as the rock star/politician in front of tens of thousands.

The conventional wisdom (an oxymoron, if there ever was one) got it all wrong.

Last night Senator Obama looked  calm, cool and collected, in control and in command. . His youthful energy was contained but obvious in his statesmanlike posture. . John McCain on the other hand looked, anxious, jittery, scattered–aimless even– and inescapably old from what appeared  to be a dowager’s hump as the cameras gave us panoramic views of him roaming the stage.

So what leads me to this conclusion? Watch the debate again and you will notice, if you didn’t already get the vague feeling when you watched last night, that Senator Obama’s choices in presenting himself to the studio audience and to the home audience contrasted sharply with Senator McCain’s.

Obama’s choices underscored his claim that in these turbulent times he is the leader whose judgement is superior to McCain’s while McCain’s  choices undercut his claim that he is the safer, more experienced steady hand to lead us through this crisis.

Why do I say this? What specifically did each candidate do that we could see on television that could possibly affect how we perceived their message?

Senator Obama consistently focussed on fewer that three studio audience members while he was answering questions in a soothing voice and he minimally moved his entire body in order to do this. He usually pivoted slightly or he simply turned his head in another direction. This meant that not only was he connecting with the studio audience but he looked as if he were speaking directly into the camera, and therefore to us at home. The cumulative effect of this over 90 minutes  allowed us to see Mr Obama as  a calm, thoughtful, caring and decisive candidate.

In stark contrast, Senator McCain, roamed the stage, addressing multiple audience members and sections of the stage, haphazardly changing his tone and demeanor and repeatedly (and inexplicably) twirling in place, even walking backwards for no apparent reason other than to be closer to ( but not at) his podium.

If you were watching the debate on television, you saw that Senator Obama was always within the frame of the screen and the cameraman did not have to chase him around  as he did with Senator McCain. At one point, out of what must have been sheer frustration on the part of the director, you saw both candidates on a split screen, and even then McCain couldn’t be contained in the frame.

The fact that the camera had to make such an effort to follow Senator McCain, he came off as erratic, uncertain and unfocussed. It didn’t help matters any that, unlike Obama, he never moved the microphone from his right hand, which meant that he was always forced to move his left arm only in order to make a point. This meant that his gestures were at once more highly exaggerated and repetitive.  He could clearly be seen gripping the microphone tightly which made him look stiff and unnatural, as if he had suffered some sort of stroke which only affected the right side of his upper body.

On television, he came across as one of those grandpas who spend their spare time trying to keep someone (perhaps,”that guy”) off his lawn. This is hardly the image one wants to portray to an electorate looking for leadership in a crisis.

If it’s the case that Mr. Obama won the debate last night, as is the consensus, it is important to understand that it was in good measure because he was able to make us see him connecting to regular people and the television audience, undercutting any of the doubts that he is elitist, unprepared, and of unfit judgement to be Commander in Chief. He was able to accomplish this because of what he said, yes. But the image he projected on television underscored his message. The same cannot be said for Senator McCain.