Archive for January, 2009

January 22, 2009

Inaugural Fashion: Beyond the Clothes


The real news about Michelle Obama’s fashion choices for the Inauguration is not, ironically,  in the details you will surely not be able to avoid today but in the larger picture you might have already missed.

As of yesterday, there is a very good case to be made that, amid the rumors about whether Anna Wintour, the uber poweful editrix of Vogue magazine is about to be replaced,  America’s new First Lady is now the de facto most important and powerful  champion of American fashion.

Only fashion insiders keep score of Ms. Wintour’s  conspicuously short list of designers for whom she serves as cheerleader in chief. (Well, okay, those on the longer list for whom she does not cheerlead keep  even closer score.) The average American consumer, and dare I say even but the most attentive of Vogue readers, can’t tell you who curries her favor and who doesn’t. Read Cathy Horyn‘s excellent New York Times piece  “Citizen Anna” if you need to catch up.

By contrast, women all over the country and the world, can tell you not only which designers and brands  Mrs. Obama favors (J CrewWhite House Black Market, Maria Pinto, Narciso RodriguezMaria Cornejo),  but wait with baited breath for whom she will add to her expanding list of favorites. Anna Winour may be an  elite kingmaker behind the scenes, but Michelle Obama is a populist kingmaker who can  make household names out of relatively obscure designers like Maria Pinto and, as she surely did yesterday, with Jason Wu and Isabel Toledo.[picapp src=”c/7/f/0/8c.JPG?adImageId=4876749&imageId=3817303″ width=”500″ height=”612″ /]

But she can also make merchandise  fly out of showrooms and store shelves, in large part because like people of real  contemporary style she is adept at navigating  and mixing high and low pricepoints  with  enviable ease. In the current dismal retail environment, Mrs. Obama’s power is, as Guy Trebay reports, remarkably important, whether you’re courting favor by impressing her with your merchandise at the mall or by knowing Ikram Goldberg, the influential Chicago retailer who  (unofficially but  with glaring  business savvy –and Isabel Toledo and Jason Wu inventory!) has the First Lady’s ear.

This is not to say that all of her  fashion choices are always right. She has made plenty of mistakes but that is to be expected of anyone who goes out of their way to think (or in this case, dress) out of the box. When you take risks, as long as more of your risks pay off big, the risks which dont are easily overshadowed.

As for the clothes she wore yesterday, here’s my take: the  color of the Isabel Toledo ensemble was beautiful and extremely flattering (which is what I think people are responding to when they rave about how good she looked) but apart from that, if you added a handbag and goofy hat, it was essentially a Princess Margaret outfit or a mother of the bride outfit.

The Narciso Rodriguez designed  camel skirt, black silk blouse and black silk lined camel coat she wore to the concert at the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday was the real show stopper of the Inaugural events.

Right down to the belt, earings hair and makeup , I don’t think I have ever  seen her look more chic and sophisticated. (Both designer and client needed to right the wrong of the election night dress in Grant Park and what a more fitting place to do it than in front of Lincoln.  Irony noted. Apology accepted.)

The Jason Wu gown was a clearly a labor of love and craftmanship as it was in naivite. Its color choice certainly brought to mind the inaugural choices of the two chicest First Lady’s of the 2oth century, Jackie Kennedy and Nancy Reagan.[picapp src=”4/5/f/8/7b.JPG?adImageId=4876756&imageId=3666832″ width=”380″ height=”268″ /]

As far as Inaugural ballgowns go, it was one of the best ever, if that can be considered a compliment.  But it  also came dangerously close to looking like a wedding dress. The train made it visibly awkward to dance in, and even a casual viewer of Project Runway would easily and gleefully point out that is not a minor flaw in a ball gown.  Finally, I’m not convinced that a column dress of such volume  was the most flattering choice for her figure.

That said, the good news is really that this is only the beginning of her look for formal events on the international stage and it was impressive enough. She’s  already proven that she can engage both the public and the design world with her choices. I hear they both send  their best wishes for a picture perfect marriage of style and politics.

January 13, 2009

The Golden Globes 2009: The Tuxedo Redux


I usually start these lists by talking about the women’s fashion first. But last nite I was repeatedly struck by how the tuxedo or what a Hollywood actor considers to be  formal wear has undergone an almost seismic shift. And as with all seismic shifts, there are losers and there are winners.

What was once the obligatory penguin suit with bow tie has now become just a starting point from which to riff as many silhouettes, shirt and tie/less combinations as possible, making the men’s choices appear almost as vast as the women’s. And with this newfound lattitude, the mistakes and the successes, it seems to me, are now as noteworthy as the women’s.

Last nite you saw jackets with shawl collars, peak lapels, notch lapels, narrow lapels, one button and more traditional two button closures and, in the case of Tom Cruise, a beautiful double breasted model–that was unfortunately the wrong style for him since a double breasted jacket with wide lapels looks best on someone tall.

The teen musical sensation Jonas Brothers (pictured below) best personified the trend  towards experimentation as well as the risks that are involved in riffing on the classic tuxedo. Only Kevin got it  absolutely right,  in a velvet cropped blazer, white shirt and a bow tie. The other two young men fell into the trap of of the trend: they looked goofy and if as if they were getting dressed in the dark.
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At least you can blame their mistakes on the folly of youth. But how is one to explain the outfits of Alexandre Desplat, Sting, Robert Downey, Collin Ferrell, Rainn Wilson and, most quizically, Mickey Rourke?

The best rule of thumb one can offer about how to break the tuxedo out of its constraining box is this: take the process seriously. If you look like you’re dressing in a costume from some odd period film or like Keith Richards , you need to start again. (And perhaps demand that your stylist get you  a few beautifully cut pieces you can mix and match from Neil Barrett or Band of Outsiders.)

That said,   Kevin JonasAaron EckhartChris Pine,  Zac Efron and Patrick Dempsey looked especially good, most noticeably because their tuxedos had the perfect fit and proportion, Mr Cruise.

January 12, 2009

The Best and Worst Dressed List: The Golden Globes 2009

Drew Barrymore, Marissa Tomei, Kate Winslet, January Jones, Laura Linney,Brooke Burke, Mary Louise Parker, Jennifer Lopez, Evan Rachel Wood and, dare I say it, Miley Cyrus.

That’s my list of the best dressed women at last nite’s Golden Globe’s presentation and I must confess it was a very easy list to make.

Let my list be a cautionary tale to  designers who have the task of presenting their Fall 09 collections next month,  Conventional wisdom has it that they will err on the side of caution and produce collections of all black clothes. But who needs any more black? As Zac Pozen proved with his brilliant pre-Fall collection, what we need now more than ever is quality of design, imagination and an uplift that only color can provide.

I bring this up because last night  the black  dress seemed  a nearly outdated choice. As a matter of fact, four of the worst dressed women wore black: Tina Fey, Susan Sarandon, Sally Hawkins, Renee Zellweger. With the exception of the stunning tiered gown worn by Evan Rachel Wood and the drop dead gorgeous simplicity of Kate Winslet’s off-black strapless dress, everything else seemed like….. resale.

It wasn’t too many season’s ago when white was the refreshing color of choice on the red carpet, but the danger of a white gown–or even an off white gown– is that it can easily be mistaken for a wedding dress–Beyonce, Sandra Bullock, Kate Beckinsdale, Demi Moore–or even worse, as in Eva Mendez’ case, a clamshell and in Angelina Jolie’s case, a dingy nightgown. Brooke Burke was a stunning exception to this line of thinking with a knockout pale cream goddess gown.

The only white dress that looked perfect to me was the one worn by Miley Cyrus. She looked appropriately grown up, evoking an elegant insouciance, unlike  Blake Lively or America Ferrera who looked dowdy and completely age inappropriate.

There’s nothing like  a jolt of color to lift the spirits and rid one of the blues— and through sheer irony 3 different and deepening shades of blue on Drew Barrymore, January Jones and Mary Louise Parker did the trick most impressively. (Whatever shade of blue  was Maggie Gyllenhaal  wearing in that print dress, you ask? Please, don’t remind me about the worst dress of the night when I’ve just told you about 3 of the best.)
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And to round out the list, Laura Linney and Marissa Tomei glowed with the stunning elegance and confidence that comes from dressing  for your age. But then, again, JLo looked stunning despite it.