Bad Girls Wear Culottes

Oh those damn dreaded culottes. Back in style with a vicious mid-calf hitting vengeance. It’s definitely an intellectual pant. The kind that causes you to furrow your brow, and think long and hard about whether it works, whether it works for you, and for how long. And when I told my photographer that these are generally considered “man-repellers,” he smiled and said: “Yeah, they are very…..um….*makes gesture with hands*….big.”

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Spoils of the Thrift: Vintage Gucci Bag.

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This is either the greatest thrift of my life or a lesson in spotting the fake. Either way, when it comes to authenticating vintage designer bags (or designer bags in general), it’s no easy task. With the rise of “super-fakes,” fakes so good that only an expert in-house inspection can tell you whether it’s counterfeit (and even the experts get duped), it’s harder and harder to be absolutely sure that yours is the real thing. And standing there on the main floor of Savers, I realized I didn’t have the first clue about authenticating bags. And I can’t even tell you why I hesitated, except for the reason that every thrifter hesitates over a faded and probably fake bag: What if? 

After two days of a crash course in authenticating (re: the internet), I’ve put together four tips you can use on the hunt, four basic checks that will help determine whether or not you should take the risk and hire an official authenticator (more on that later). Now these rules are not hard and fast and there are exceptions. There are also detailed guides on Ebay and elsewhere to get into the nitty-gritty of authenticating but we’re not here for that. We’re here for basic one-shot rules that you can remember for future thrift finds, should you be so lucky.

(And yes, the idea of “authentic” is dubious, deeply flawed and obviously suspect. All I know is that if this is real, I’m going to freak out).

Location

Location is a good but not entirely reliable indicator. While Savers and other thrift chain stores keep anything of real value behind a special counter, this does not mean that you won’t find a designer bag on the main floor. Even though I found this little Gucci bag out in the purse mayhem section that is the Savers I frequent, this doesn’t mean it can’t be real. Presumably someone deemed it a fake but since Savers employees are not experts in the vintage history of major fashion houses, they may well have simply determined this bag a fake simply because it doesn’t look like anything Gucci currently makes (nor do they have the time to thoroughly check). It’s also old, faded and stinky. And there’s the “fake” bias. Fakes are so ubiquitous that everyone assumes it has to be a fake because the real deal is too rare to be believed (I believe). So if you stumble across something designer on the main floor, don’t discount it right away.

Above all: follow your instincts. Thrifting is 50% instinct and 50% espresso enthusiasm.

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Hardware:

Ok, so you’ve found something interesting on the main floor or behind the fancy counter. What’s your first stop? Authenticators often rely on feel so give your bag a good grope. Does it feel like good quality leather? Or does it have a “cheap” slippery feel? One of the reasons I paused over this bag is because despite its obvious age and wear, the bag is still extremely sturdy. Then check all the hardware: zipper tags, metal links, etc. Not only should they be of obvious quality (not plastic, rusted or otherwise flimsy) but this is also where (depending on the designer), the brand will be imprinted. Look for logos on both sides of the zipper tabs, on the metal connections and anywhere else a logo could be lurking. Now check the depth and regularity of the imprints. Everything should be uniform, spelled correctly and properly stamped. If one or more of the letters look “light” to you, that’s a yellow flag.

My bag has no Gucci imprints in the metal hardware connecting the handles to the bag but it is uniformly imprinted on both sides of the zipper pulls. The outer leather is rough  but the interior has soft high quality leather as do the handles. So maybe. 

Logo Pattern

Logo: 

When it comes to logos, certain things are obvious. The Gucci logo is a set of two facing G’s. The left side faces up, the second faces down. Not E or C or P. If the bag is a printed monogram bag, the logo should be uniformly distributed. Check the overall pattern for symmetry/regularity. Some education helps here–Prada, for example, never uses grommets in its famous metal “triangle” logo so if you find a Prada bag with grommets that’s a dead give-away–so it’s worth doing a little research on the big labels. Next you want to check the tag. Italian handbags are not made in China (obviously) but you also want to check here for uniformity of the logo (no spelling mistakes, even imprint, etc). Labels are tricky because fake bags now carry serial “numbers” but if the numbers look like they’ve been imprinted by a blind person, that’s another yellow flag.

Mine are a little irregular but nothing crazy and the Gucci logo is uniform throughout the bag. Good sign. 

Stitching

Stitching: 

Stitching is your last stop and a major one. If everything looks kosher, you now want to do a detailed inspection of the stitching on every part of the bag. No one is perfect so you can account for a little bit of variation, but if the stitching looks like someone sewed the bag while also drinking copious amounts of gin, that’s a huge red flag. If the stitching doesn’t match up or runs over into another section, that’s a red flag. If it is crooked or missing stitches, that’s another red flag. Why do people pay thousands of dollars for a bag? Because of craftsmanship. If the bag doesn’t look good to you, it’s probably a fake. This bag has excellent stitching except for one section at the top where the stitching narrows but it’s the only variation I can identify. It’s a pretty glaring mistake but not terrible so it’s enough to warrant a question mark.

We’re back to maybe. 

Hiring An Authenticator:

After employing these four rules, I still don’t know for sure and so I’ve hired an authenticating service to take a look. Authenticating services are inexpensive and generally reliable. You photograph your bag in detail and for $20, you can have an expert decide for you. Perhaps it’s not worth dropping $20 into a bag that is probably fake except that this bag has enough positive details to warrant a second look. Authenticators also do “pre-purchase” checks so if you are eyeing a vintage designer piece online and want verification, you can employ them to check for you. I used Authenticate First but there are others.

So is it vintage gold or vintage fake?

AF05754 14687 Andrea Gyenge - Vintage Gucci Bag 052715Verdict: Authentic. I’m now the proud owner of vintage Gucci bag, circa late 1970’s, thrifted for $4 from Savers! It’s a lesson in the magic of thrifting, friends. Anything can happen even now when the stores have gotten so good at identifying vintage pieces so don’t despair on those treasure-less days. The thrifting gods reward dedication. Happy thrifting!

Runway Rites: Envision Minneapolis Spring 2015

When it comes to the fashion cities of the world, it’s time to be brutally honest: Minneapolis simply doesn’t register. As someone who routinely covets the NYFW tents and the Paris couture shows, it’s easy to feel marooned in this arctic city. And with the news that Macy’s is ending its Glamourama show and the folding of MNFashion, it seems ever more fashion desert. But on May 2nd, hundreds of people (hundreds of incredibly well-dressed people) packed into the new Orchestra Hall to watch the spring edition of Envision Minneapolis, a bi-annual runway show that has been bringing local designers to the eyes of the Minneapolis fashion scene for over 15 seasons. In collaboration with Ignite Models and Public Functionary, Envision donates part of its ticket sales back to Public Functionary (an nonprofit art exhibition space), a move that keeps the event committed to both design talent and public art.

If there’s one thing Envision does well, it’s to inspire you to wear local designers. Collection after collection, the work spoke for itself. Wearable and brilliantly designed, the show’s designers were stellar (trend tip: culottes and crops!). It was also fantastic to see a design roster almost entirely featuring women, a rarity in a male-dominated field that often spends more time celebrating masculine virtuosity than mentoring women. I hope to feature a few of the great pieces I saw on the runway in future blog posts but in the meantime, you can catch my review of my favorite collections below. Enjoy!

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Considering that I was sitting in the front row wearing my brand-new pair of blue culottes from ASOS, it was fantastic to see Ellie Hottinger’s collection feature not one but two gorgeous tailored summer culottes in light crisp linens. Hottinger transformed a difficult and potentially unflattering pant into an impeccably tailored and stylish summer staple. While white is a safe color for a summer collection–always sellable and perfectly on point–Hottinger’s unfinished edge detailing on a trapeze dress took a one-season summer item to a statement piece, perfect for those days when it’s too hot to think about what to wear but you still need to look polished. Summer pieces tend to have a disposable feel but her choice of textured white linens–heavier than most but light enough to move–gave the collection a durability worth investing in.

Inspired by the iconic images of Audrey Hepburn’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s (the definition of classic style depending on who you ask), the House of Gina Marie + Mien Kielo collection featured a fantastic light-weight camel trench with large white buttons that gave a definitive answer to the perennial Minneapolis problem: What to wear when it’s too hot for wool but too cold for bare shoulders? A few of the daytime pieces felt a little forgettable if still perfectly wearable (the nod to Hepburn coming mostly from the accessories) but a stunning pale blue ‘kimono’ sleeve dress brought the collection back to the whimsical feminine image for which Hepburn was so often celebrated.

Yevette Willaert designed a beautiful collection, through and through, that matched daring with outstanding design. This is especially admirable considering that tropical patterns are one of the most difficult patterns to execute well. It verges on the garish, it recalls middle-aged men at tiki bars and it’s usually found on cheap swim-wear. But Willaert sent out a perfect tropical romper with sharp collars and a structured white blazer (one of two well-tailored summer jackets). A two-piece skirt and crop followed in a charming green and yellow polka dot pattern. Matched with a wide-brimmed white hat, it was both chic and fun. A pair of white wool wide-legged pants rounded out the collection, another fantastic item for cool evenings or summer travel.

Of all the collections, Jenny Carle designed the most mature. Featuring a stunning chartreuse pattern floral textile (a found vintage textile, no less), Carle built a remarkable palette out of greens, beiges, yellows and blacks. The first dress was brilliantly executed, designed so that the white and grey floral dramas of the found pattern moved with the shape of the body. A light camel leather mini-skirt followed, proving once and for all that leather need not be black to be sophisticated and stylish. And if there’s one piece I buy locally this year, it’ll be Carle’s fantastic black and beige geometric print crop top.

Ellie Hottinger

Ellie Hottinger

Kozol’s breezy mints and sherberts were a refreshing take on summer colors, offering a light-weight swinging crop top, a daring horizontal stripped pant and classic denim pencil skirt with dramatic buttons. Cliché, one of Minneapolis’s foremost fashion boutiques (and strong supporter of local work) sent out the best of the store, from causal printed pants to a black and orange abstract maxi dress. Their fantastic eye for unusual statement jewelry was front and center, with a couple of beautiful knotted fabric tassel necklaces (also seen on the fall runways, from Lanvin to Mara Hoffman). The styling of Cliché’s collection was one of the few to tell a story, the models sporting septum rings and towering black platforms reminiscent of Alexander Wang’s recent goth-inspired fall 2015 collection. If there’s one thing to take away from Cliché’s runway show, it’s that they pay close attention to the trends inspiring New York and Paris, and bring them quickly to Minneapolis.

Emily Trevor's tennis-inspired ball gown.

Emily Trevor’s tennis-inspired ball gown.

Emily Trevor’s collection was the “talked-about” collection of the night. The halls were buzzing about the tennis-wear inspired collection, featuring the “Adidas” stripe on tight white midi-dresses with polo collars, mesh tops with billowy sleeves, cute bustiers and tennis visors. Trevor also sent out the dress of the evening:  a “tennis wedding” inspired work of serious genius with a deep-halter bodice, white mesh skirt with neon green satin stripes and flawless flounces. The dress was as impeccably designed as it was cheeky and irreverent. It was a dress to show the rest of the world how do we here in Minneapolis and we do very well, thank you.

George Moskal’s collection was the last of the night, featuring icy pastels and sophisticated evening pieces. Moskal is a clear master of the full skirt, featured in a boldly colorful sequined skater dress and an absolutely outstanding silver snake pattern knee-length skirt. A lilac grecian dress and risky “pajama” style pant suit showcased his ability to both keep to classic silhouettes while still testing boundaries. I’d love him to design a whole collection of gorgeous skirts in statement patterns because like Trevor, he has a gift for bringing fabrics to life, a necessity for any ambitious designer.

For more information (and shopping details!), see:

Ignite Models, Public Functionary, Envision Minneapolis, Ellie HottingerHouse of Gina MarieYevette WillaertJenny CarleKozolClicheEmily TrevorGeorge Moskal,

Interview: Ada from Classiq

I am thrilled to welcome Ada from Classiq for the inaugural interview on This Is Six. I asked Ada because her blog is such a wonderful departure from the personal style blog. She doesn’t run an Instagram or post Youtube videos. You won’t find her at fashion week or at the latest parties. Instead, one of the first things you’ll notice about Classiq is the elegant and nuanced writing, whether she’s reflecting on Max Mara’s recent runway homage to the oft-ignored “casual” styles of Marilyn Monroe or the helpful “Trends I Can Work With” posts, from suede to belted looks.

If you have a particular interest in the history of cinema, Classiq is also veritable archive of fashion and classical film: Hitchcock, Fassbinder, Bergman, Fellini, Antonioni. It’s truly as much a blog for the cinephile as it is for the fashion minded. As she tells me below, film is her main passion and her “Style in Film” posts are definitely some of the best on her blog. I can’t recommend her work enough. You can find Classiq here and our interview below. Enjoy!

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In her 2013 New York Times Magazine article, Suzy Menkes famously critiqued the fashion blogging world in her article, “The Circus of Fashion,” when she argued that fashion bloggers aren’t true critics and they are, in effect, turning fashion into a circus of branding, selfies and free clothes. Do you agree with her critique? What is the cultural role of the fashion blog today?

I agree. Judging fashion by what you are gifted or paid to wear is not fashion critique. That’s not even fashion blogging in my opinion and that is exactly why I don’t consider mine a fashion, but a style blog, or at least not a fashion blog in the sense it is largely perceived. There are of course fashion bloggers who count, who have articulate knowledge and write better than fashion journalists, and they can be considered cultural arbiters. But the bottom line is that fashion blogging, good and bad, has democratised the catwalks.

One of the things I admire most about your blog is the mix between the focus on style and the great writing (re: interviews, book reviews, fashion in film, etc). Did you start out with that plan or did it evolve? Why do you think it is important to include this kind of writing on a fashion blog?

Thank you. My blog has certainly evolved over the years. I didn’t have an exact plan when I started out, but I knew style and film would always be part of Classiq. But the biggest focus has always been on the quality of the content and if this does not evolve in time, then I don’t think there is any use in doing it at all. But I also didn’t want to follow any fashion blog recipe just because a certain format has proved successful for somebody else – that is not why I am blogging. I write about what I am passionate about, while trying to deliver original content or at least putting my own spin on a more common subject I may approach, and if someone else finds inspiration or something new to learn in that, then that’s wonderful.

What’s also interesting about your approach is that your image is largely absent (no photo shoots, no Instagram, etc). It feels much closer to journalism or art writing. Can you tell me more about your choice to leave your own personal image off the blog?

First of all, my decision of leaving my personal image off the blog (except for occasional posts and my profile photo) has to do with the fact that Classiq is not a personal style/ outfit blog, as I said before. Yes, the opinions I express on my blog are entirely my own and my blog reflects my own personal style, but my idea of writing about fashion and style has nothing to do with paid blog posts in which bloggers wear brand clothes. I like to have a stronger voice than the clothes I wear. Secondly, I am a private person and I value my personal life too much to show it off on social media.

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I’d love to hear more about the focus on film on your blog. Who are your favorite filmmakers? Do you have a background in film study? What drew you to writing about style in film? How does film influence fashion?

The truth is I love film more than fashion. It is a common passion of my husband’s and mine and we have developed it together in time. I don’t have a background in film study, but this doesn’t stop me from being passionate about it and absorbing everything I can put my hands on on the subject. I have watched thousands of movies (our films collection is probably the most cherished thing in our home) and read a lot about cinema, too. There are moments I don’t want to have anything to do with fashion, but this thought never occurs to me when it comes to film.

My favourite film makers include Alfred Hitchcock, Michelangelo Antonioni, Akira Kurosawa, Fritz Lang, François Truffaut, Billy Wilder, Nicholas Ray, Jean Renoir, Martin Scorsese. It was my joint interest in film and fashion that ultimately drew me to write about style in film. It felt like a natural fit and this is probably the kind of article I most enjoy writing about.

To answer the last part of your question, film has always had a great influence on fashion. It has that power, very far-reaching, especially when you think at earlier decades when the celebrity culture, the internet and bloggers did not exist, when the big screen was essential in launching new trends, more so than fashion magazines, when movie stars were mainly the ones considered style icons. There are so many films that inspired a fashion revolution, from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Bonnie and Clyde, and Doctor Zhivago, to American Gigolo. In 1967, Time magazine observed: “What Julie Christie wears (in Doctor Zhivago) has more real impact on fashion than all of the clothes of the ten best-dressed women combined.” I think this statement is as relevant as it can be.

Do you consider fashion to be part of the history of art?

To a certain extent. We certainly cannot name art the work of every fashion designer. That said however, fashion can certainly be viewed as artistic interpretation, entailing a complex process of transposing ideas and instincts into something beyond the ordinary and the present.

For some, the aims of feminism don’t easily square with fashion. The argument is often made that fashion oppresses women (unattainable body type, turns women into objects, exploiting garment workers, etc.) and so cannot be redeemed as a political force. How do you approach this question?

First of all, I am against this trend of putting labels on everything and everyone, and seeing everything in black or white. Coco Chanel never identified herself as a feminist, despite the fact that her designs liberated women, thus becoming a symbol of female independence from 1910. I don’t think fashion is a big conspiracy to oppress women. I don’t buy things like “stiletto heels are symptomatic of oppression”. Fashion is part of the conversation, it is what you make it. It’s the result of collective choices that women make. What we wear is part of our self-expression.

Feminism, first and foremost, is defined as a political movement with distinct aims for equality between the sexes. Yes, maybe fashion should be expected to break ground on social change, especially that fashion today is an industry based around consumerism and a certain level of insecurity, and it can make people feel inadequate, raising questions of body image and racial diversity. But let’s not forget that fashion, first of all, registers what’s going on in the outside world. Fashion is often seen as enraging, but what I find more enraging is that lately feminism has become big business: Céline has featured author, activist and feminist icon Joan Didion in their SS 2015 multi-million dollar campaign. It’s more like one hand washes the other.

And there is one other thing. When an actress is paid to wear a designer dress on the red carpet and then protests when she is asked what she is wearing, demanding that she is asked more relevant questions, this is not feminist advocacy, it’s hypocrisy. And let’s be honest, you want to hear about a dress that you like on the red carpet just as much as about a more thoughtful issue or important project from the one wearing it, and there is usually a combination of these topics that is discussed, so why the big fuss?

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You have two different categories on your blog, one for style and for fashion. What is your philosophy on the difference between these things? What is style? What is fashion?

Style and fashion may be interlinked, but there is a clear difference between them. Style is very personal, it’s more about a natural instinct, about feeling good in your own skin and in your clothes. It doesn’t depend on fashion, it transcends fashions and stereotypes. Fashion has to do with creation, trendsetting, innovation, to make fashion is to bring to life creations that can indeed be defined as such. Fashion can be viewed as an expression of the times, the evolution of styles and trends that help define the history of costume and reflects social dynamics.

We just finished with the biggest fall runway shows of the year. Which was your favorite fall 2015 collection? Which trends are inspiring you? What are you excited to wear?

Unfortunately the entire Fall 2015 fashion month was more disappointing than it was exciting. I had two favourite collections, Dries Van Noten and Max Mara. I never pay too much attention to trends and, to be honest, now I am more enthusiastic about the arrival of spring and not having to put on layers of clothes anymore than about what I am going to wear in six months.

Tell me about your daily style. What are your “must-have” every day pieces? What do you wear for special occasions?

My daily style is classic, simple, relaxed. I feel my best when I’m wearing jeans, high heels and a shirt, or a t-shirt and blazer: a good balance between feminine and easy-going. But I do love to wear a dress and heels for special occasions.

What advice would you give to a young person (or perhaps, to your younger self) about style?  Don’t be afraid to experiment when it comes to your personal style (especially if you are in your early twenties). It can take a long time to pin down your style and it’s only natural that it will keep evolving over time. But once you have found one you feel perfectly at ease in, stick to it.

And finally, for the readers who are yet to meet you, where do you live and work? Where are you from? What do you have planned for Classiq in the next months?

I live in Bucharest, Romania. As for any special plans for Classiq in the near future, I don’t usually talk about my plans or underway projects, so I will just say that the main focus will be on continuing to deliver quality content on subjects of interest to me.

Thanks Ada! Photos courtesy of Classiq. 

The Melodrama of the Seventies

It’s hard to write about the 1970’s. It’s even harder to style it. No matter which way you turn or who you read,  it’s the “decade style forgot.” Every fashion article starts with the decade’s worst violations of aesthetic taste: polyester, shiny pant suits, bell bottoms. It reads like a list of grievances to an estranged relative or if Shakespeare had turned to hate instead of love: 1970’s, how do I hate thee? Let me count the ways.

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With its countless clichés, the 70’s seem like never-ending fodder for parody. And indeed, no Halloween passes in Minnesota without young freshmen drunkenly wandering the streets in cheap disco costumes. If other decades risk looking too period, channeling the 1970’s means risking someone actually thinking you wandered out of a throw-back Studio 54 jumpsuit party or worse, that you have some sort of left-over teenage fascination for a gimmicky aesthetic.

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It’s a running joke, historically speaking, and so it’s hard to take it seriously, much less for style inspiration. And when high fashion tells us the 70’s are back again (they are), it’s like a cruel game from masters on high, all waiting to laugh at the ordinary as we wander around in unflattering and cartoonish pants. For most people, it’s solid evidence that high fashion is both diabolical and blind. So it’s tempting, very tempting, to declare: I don’t care. I’m not doing it.

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But for me, there is something interesting about taking such a maligned, slandered decade and experimenting (even committing) to its silhouettes, fabrics, colors and accessories.

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It’s like taking a boring vegetable or in this case, an offensively odorous one, and asking: what can I do with this? A good chef is one that can take a hated ingredient and transform it into something spectacular. Style is no different. In thinking about the 70’s, it requires a little sartorial generosity, some willingness to give the decade its rightful complexity and honor its style innovations. As Dominic Lutyens points out (author of 70’s Style and Design), that part of the 1970’s associated with flares and flowery embellishments is only a tiny part of the decade (the early years) but even those have a more compelling history than one might think.

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It was the decade, after all, that jeans and t-shirts became part of the daily American uniform and ordinary people began bypassing mass-marketed clothing for the offerings of the second-hand store and military surplus. Bell-bottoms find their source there (they were originally 19th century sailor uniforms, easily rolled up on the ship and famously kept you buoyant if you fell overboard). Bell-bottoms are like the original thrifted find, the original counter-culture item.

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As a number of sources have pointed out, bell-bottoms are also a bit of delicious political irony. It’s strange that navy pants should be worn by those vehemently protesting, at times paying with their lives, against the Vietnam war. But in borrowing clothing from the navy, those resisting the war effectively turned the military against itself. From an image of force to a style worn by the ordinary teenager, a style defused, appropriated and ultimately disseminated as a form of political resistance, bell-bottoms are a literal exercise in critical satire. It’s not wrong really to associate the seventies with parody, only wrong to dismiss the power of parody, especially in our decade, full of its own controversial wars. A return of the flare? It’s welcome.

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And to be fair, it wasn’t all bad. Think of Angelica Houston’s popped collar plaid coat and Bianca Jagger’s legendary white suit. Pam Grier’s floral tie shirt (and all the incredible costumes from her films), Lauren Hutton wearing Ilie Wacs in this stunning Irving Penn photograph and Farrah Fawcett’s iconic dark flares (I styled my bag after this image).

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And Halston. How can we forget Halston? It was a gorgeous pastel gown by Halston that Beverly Johnson, first African-American woman on the cover of Vogue, was wearing when she made history. And remember Gwyneth Paltrow’s white cape dress (Tom Ford) from Oscars 2012? That too draws its inspiration from Halston, here modeled by another trailblazer, first African-American supermodel, Pat Cleveland. The slinky evening gown, the adored maxi, the easy shirt-dress, we owe this to Halston.

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He was arguably the most important American designer of the 20th century (rivaled only, perhaps, by Bill Blass), not only because his designs were so influential but because hardly an image of the 1970’s cultural scene can be found without him in it, whether at Studio 54 or on the arm of a young Cher. He was America’s Yves St. Laurent, our Valentino, our Cristobal Balenciaga. 

Move Star Shot

In fact, the more you search, the more incredible the decade becomes. The more you wish your mother had saved all her 70’s dresses, the more you want to rush out of the house and scour the thrift stores for those memorable silhouettes. You starting thinking about homages and gestures. You start wanting to give it a heartbeat, a sartorial life, a second-chance. You think, this is why I love fashion. The images, the forms, the histories. The way the past comes back and recasts itself (and its hope) again. This time, we’ll do better. 

So in 2015, ask yourself: Why this decade? Why not this decade?

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But if you are still a little gun-shy after this rousing speech, the easiest way is to start with accessories. This is the rule for any style that makes you nervous . They are relatively inexpensive (especially at thrift stores), size/shape free and easy to take off.

My outfit features a few key 70’s pieces: red leather “Farrah” clutch (vintage), a wide-brimmed floppy hat, a beaded tassel necklace and a gold statement belt. Anyone of them worn alone is the perfect nod to the decade, a couple together is a little stronger and pairing them with flares takes you all the way. And since the 70’s come back into style with some predictable regularity, the hat, platforms and frilly blouse were all already in my closet. It’s worth taking a look there first to see what you can find and then topping it off with a few thoughtful purchases.

The key to a good flare is wash and build. The wash on these Mother Denim jeans draws the eye down and the built-in crease keeps the front lines lean. Look for flares in sturdy fabrics with a flare that ‘stacks’ naturally.  Wearing a tailored blazer helps balance out the proportions and a dramatic belt gives shape by defining the hip area.

Whenever an “era” look comes back in, your first stop should be the thriftstore but if you have neither the patience or the time, here are some great options: tassel top (here), paisley skirt (here), fringed clutch (here) wool hat (here), braided belt (here), necklace (here and here )

I’ll be posting 70’s inspired outfits throughout the season but in the meantime, happy disco, friends!

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Details: wool hat (no label, Winners), black blazer (Suzy Shier), beaded tassel necklace (Len), gold belt (H&M), “The Mellow Drama” flare jeans in Stardust wash by Mother Denim (Ragstock), navy blouse (International Concepts, Hudson Bay Company), leather and wood platforms (Minelli France), wool coat (Elie Tahari), red vintage Phillippe clutch circa 1970’s (Rewind Vintage).

Location: Nicollet Island

Photo Credit: Thorn Chen

Runway Rites: Roksanda Fall/Winter 2015 RTW

Roksanda Ilincic’s Fall 2015 Ready-To-Wear collection took the old fall adage–somber colors sell–and threw every rich and plush color at it: mustards, fuchsias, cobalt blue, neon pinks, eggplant. This is hardly surprising considering Ilincic was recently named “the woman who brought color back to fashion,” but the mastery of Ilincic’s collection is not just in its celebration of color but in the harmony between the dramas of color and the meticulous architecture of the clothing, a harmony that brings her closer to a tradition of modernist art than it might to other designers (except, perhaps, for Christian Lacroix).

In this collection and in collections past, Ilincic produces clothes whose folds, pleats and lines serve to bring color to deeper and more complex life. The pleats of this dress (here), for instance, are the perfect canvas for intense color blocking and even the more soft renderings of color in the Spring 2015 collection (here) still showcase her expertise in executing color through shape. For Ilincic, color is as much about the quiet display of space as it is about light and vision, a variation on Marc Chagall’s insistence that “when color is right, form is right.” It is this minimalist restraint that makes Ilincic’s clothing breathtaking, even if the clothes inevitably demand attention.

Fur Stole

It takes a brave woman to wear such saturated, intense colors in a season known for its worship of black, but the silhouettes are so feminine that no one could be accused of breaking the rules of good taste. The short tailored jackets featured stunning layered peplums fanning out from under a new signature belt—two asymmetrical silver plates on black leather–and the belts likewise accented the structured coats, calf-length dresses layered over long-sleeved mustard turtlenecks and thick patterned skirts in greys and purples. Pants made a quiet appearance, peaking out as cobalt leather culottes under color-blocked coats, once again emphasizing that this is a collection committed to showcasing Ilincic’s gifts in reinventing the dress and skirt.

And who, in the depth of the cold grey November winds, doesn’t long for a bright, warm and plush stole to wrap around her body, something to ward off both the cold chill and sinking spirits? The stoles were absolute show-stealers (no pun intended), so thick and inviting that the backstage photos might have shown the models surround by cold Londoners burying their faces in the Technicolor fur as they might have once done with their childhood bears.

Peplum

There’s a notable element of the girl-child in this collection, a collection less severe in its architectural lines and more inviting of a girlish spirit, that spirit who might have dressed up in pink tutus for grade school and danced on the street with abandon, her face vibrant and unafraid. This collection celebrates that girl in us—the one so often shamed and silenced—and dresses her in adult clothes that still match the whimsy and imagination of a fearless heart.

It’s a risk, of course, that such playful clothing might infantilize their wearers or turn fashion into a silly game of female “dress-up” (re: Jeremy Scott), if it were not for the intense and dramatic seriousness of the color. Color, after all, is powerful. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle called colors “cosmic rays from God” and their link to the turbulence of emotions is likewise ancient. They have profound effects on perception–McDonald’s, for example, famously painted their restaurants orange because it made patrons eat more- and they tend to provoke violent reactions. We either love or hate color, fear or adore it.

And yet we lack a compelling language for it: try to describe a color to a friend, or even the idea of color at all. It is for this reason that it has considerable political power. Like music or dreams, there’s something subterranean about color, something unclassifiable, difficult. It has rules and history, it’s culturally bound–you can’t wear red to a funeral- but if the history of 20th century art has shown us anything, it’s that those rules can be broken and broken to interesting effect. And more often than not, it’s fashion that does the breaking.

Stole 

If fashion is a public, social and performative art, it’s worth asking what Ilinicic’s collection asks us to think. These are clothes defiant of the patronizing idea that bright, girlish colors are as vacant as their wearers or that a fuchsia suit worn for a job interview means you don’t deserve the job. Or still yet, what to make of such ostentatious colors in an era of European economic austerity? Is it a symbol of the flagrant, baroque indulgence of the elite (Princess Catherine wears Roksanda) or of the irrepressible spirit of democratic change on the verge of sweeping Europe, her colors reminiscent of masses of bodies waving brightly colored flags?

Whether one wants grant so much social significance to this collection is up to the reader, but rarely do you find work that both lifts and frees without taking the androgynous, neutral paths of designers like Rick Owens or Yohji Yamamoto. In defying that masculine flatness with the rich provocations of color, this collection might be read as a kind of feminist sartorial commandment: take up space, speak and be seen.  If every collection tells a story, this one tells us, yes, to ditch the black, the severe silhouettes, the grey depressions of the fall and to wrap ourselves in “happy” but it also asks us to consider just what such colors can do and why wearing color can be an act of rebellion against the codes that drive women into invisibility or vicious competition.

To put it simply, this is easily Roksanda’s best and most conceptually compelling collection, one that should make everyone, especially those who haven’t yet heard of her, sit up and take notice.

You can view the rest of the collection here and the runway video here. The lucky few can purchase online here. A few Roksanda pieces are also available here at Rent the Runway.

Photo Credit: Roksanda Facebook Album: Fall Winter 2015. Media photos.

All That Jazz

People typically think of the 1980’s as a fashion blackhole: acid-wash jeans, teased hair, neon leg warmers. We think of Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, David Bowie. It’s not a decade known for classic feminine silhouettes. I found this All That Jazz vintage dress for a couple of dollars at the Salvation Army and was surprised to learn that All That Jazz was started in 1981 in California.

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In contrast to all the clichés about bad 80’s clothes, this dress is actually a perfect example of the resurgence of 1940’s dress styles that also dominated clothing design in the 1980’s. With its gorgeous peplum detailing on the back, this dress is a brilliant modern reinvention of those ‘slim’ dress styles of the war era.

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It’s a fascinating history, those narrow styles. Born out of the textile rationing instituted by the American government, clothing manufacturers could only use so much fabric in preparing civilian clothing before the American military would come calling for its war uniforms.

What we consider to be a chic evening look (the slim waist-defining dress) was actually a necessary sacrifice of style to the “sober” necessities of war. This is now a well-known piece of fashion history, but it was Christian Dior who broke the silhouette, with the “New Look” girl, in 1947.   

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It’s kind of amazing, really. Standing in this beautiful auditorium, wearing a modern version of a dress that once defined the look of a war.  Fashion seems ephemeral, inconsequential and yet we all wear this living history on our backs. It remembers for us, even when we forget or deny it. It’s an old second-wave feminist cliché to toss fashion into the bin with patriarchy, but there’s a tangible history here, a history of women’s bodies and their daily lives borne out by the cloth they wore.

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But in a decade so notorious for its cocaine and money-fueled excesses, why would womenswear designers want to return to such severe silhouettes from an era of austerity? One answer might, in fact, lay in the most hated part of 80’s fashion: the shoulder-pad designs on the woman’s “power suit.” This too has its roots in the 1940’s which used the shoulder pad to balance out the “thin” profile of dresses made with less fabric.

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Since that decade is also the same decade that saw women entering the factories by the thousands (forever changing the landscape of American labor), the 40’s shoulder pad is effectively a symbol, conscious or not, of women’s participation in the workforce.

That it ended up in the power suit is perhaps not surprising at all.The 1980’s likewise represented a major transformation in labor demographics. Between 1980 and 1985, the percentage of women holding full-time jobs increased dramatically in part due to the rise in “data” jobs and managerial positions.

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Think of Melanie Griffith in Working Girl, or those other countless examples of the wide-shouldered power executive. The look of the woman’s suit, football shoulders and all, wasn’t just a reference to the idea that women needed to look like men to make it in the workplace, it was also a direct reference to the history of American women’s labor. In effect, by borrowing from the 40’s look, the power suit was an homage to the factory workers, a kind of redoing, if you will, of Rosie the Riveter (and lest you think Rosie was white, take a look at this.)

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Think about that the next time you angrily cut out the shoulder pads from a thrifted find! That’s really feminist history there, friends! Give it a good salute! Either way, keep your eye for these kinds of pieces. They are an interesting bit of sartorial history, criss-crossing two decades and ushering in major historical change on both ends.

Like a lot of vintage pieces, mine has a little bit of discoloration and wear (it loves to wrinkle too) but that’s not a reason to leave it behind. Vintage stores now price these reinvented dresses a little higher (according to a few online vintage experts) so it’s worth grabbing them if you find them.

**In case you are wondering how to style something that risks looking too “period,” I modernized this dress by removing the shoulder pads, adding leather ankle-strap heels, statement earrings, a gold belt and a navy jacket topper. **

Details: All That Jazz vintage dress circa 1980s, made in California (Salvation Army), vintage gold belt (Goodwill), black leather ankle-strap shoes (Emerson Fry), black triangle fringe earrings (Buffalo Exchange), Urban Decay Revolution Lipstick in F-Bomb.

Location: Northrop Auditorium, University of Minnesota campus

Photo credit: Marla Zubel. Thanks also to Marla for teaching me about the 1940’s influence on the 80s!