Tag Archives: fashion

The Nigerian, Feminist Designer who Flouts Convention

For The New YorkerAlexis Okeowo profiles Nigerian fashion designer Amaka Osakwe, whose delicate yet adventurous creations from the line Maki Oh have been worn by Michelle Obama, Solange, and Lupita Nyong’o. Nigeria, a massive country with bustling metropolises, an expanding middle class, and a fashion-forward cadre of cosmopolitan “repats,” is still conservative about sexuality and female agency. Osakwe’s work pushes hard against those old mores while still embracing some of the country’s traditions in textiles and dressmaking.

Her first collection, that same year, was inspired by a coming-of-age ceremony called dipo, undertaken by girls of the Krobo ethnic group in Ghana. In the ceremony, girls are sent to the house of a chief priest, where they undress, have their heads shaved, and are given cloths to wear around their waists; strips of raffia are tied around their necks. During the next few days, older women teach them the skills of seduction, housekeeping, and child rearing. The girls wade into the river with sponges and calabashes for a communal bath, and sit on a sacred stone that affirms their virginity. At the culmination of the rite, they dress in bright kente cloth, adorn their bodies with beads, and dance before the community.

Osakwe, beginning her adult life in Lagos, was drawn to the ritual. “I thought it was fitting at the time,” she said. She broke calabashes into pieces, burned them in an oven to various shades of brown to match Nigerian skin tones, and drilled holes in them so that she could sew them onto blouses. “It was exhausting and exciting,” she said. She made gauzy tops with circles painted on them to accentuate the wearers’ breasts, a reference to the bare-chested girls of the rite. On a low-cut silk jumpsuit, she used an adire motif of a shekere, a dried-gourd instrument covered with beads, which conveys a wish for good times.

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Body Positivity Nudges Plus-Size Fashion Forward

For New York Magazine‘s The Cut, Ashley C. Ford writes about the burgeoning plus-size fashion business, and how much of a surprise missed opportunity it’s consistently been for major manufacturers and retailers. When you consider that some 67 percent of women reportedly wear size 14 or larger, it’s remarkable how hard it is for them — Ford included — to find a selection of “fun and quality” clothes designed specifically with larger bodies in mind.

Ford comes at the story from a personal angle, not only as a plus-size customer, but also as someone who was discouraged away from her dream of designing plus-size clothes.

I began my freshman year of college double-majoring in fashion merchandising and apparel design. At the end of my first semester, a professor told me I would be better off changing my major. I had earned an A in her course — for the first time in my life, I was a perfect student. But I was already a size 12, inching closer and closer to 14 each day. My professor was also big, and she told me there was no place for a body like mine in the fashion world unless I was a man or a genius, so I was wasting my money and my time. I don’t believe she meant me harm. I believe she meant to save me: Her experience working in fashion as a fat woman had been abysmal. I wasn’t even comfortable enough to go into some stores at my size, so how was I going to design for them? I changed my major to psychology.

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Femme (Fashion) Fatalities

Tabitha Blankenbiller was in line for a ride at Disneyland when the woman in front of her decided to criticize her ’50s-style dress, telling Tabitha, “We fought for years so you didn’t have to dress like that.” She describes the incident and its aftermath in an essay in The Rumpus. It may be just one incident in a lifetime of appearance-shaming, but it was one she hasn’t forgotten.

Just like I have never forgotten the coworker that said my cat-patterned high heels were “too much to stomach,” or the random woman at the Portland farmer’s market who marveled at how “tacky” I looked in a Halloween-themed skirt while I was just trying to bag some artisanal Fuji apples.

I want to give these women the benefit of the doubt, a courtesy they failed to extend to me. It could be terrifying, after all, to be in Frontierland with its shooting gallery and racks of cowboy hats, dirt paths, wooden sidewalks, and canyon sight lines obscuring Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and Space Mountain, while the president and his administration were steamrolling women’s rights back to the 1860s. She may have just finished reading about Oklahoma Republicans passing legislation requiring that women secure a man’s permission to obtain abortion services when she found herself lost in the Old West. A woman in line wearing opening day throwback attire may have been too much to handle.

“Or maybe she was just a bitch,” Matt said.

And yeah. Maybe she was just a fucking bitch.

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#FrenchGirlGoals: Artful Dishevelment and Animal Fats

At Racked, Eliza Brooke looks at that enduring style icon — the French Girl — and the big money to be made riding her aspirational, stylishly flyaway coattails. Not sure who the French Girl is? Here you go.

Who is she? She’s intellectual, cool, and a bit of a romantic, but she doesn’t give her approval easily or smile too much. She might run around in black-tipped Chanel slingbacks, or barefoot if she’s on vacation. She has a signature perfume. She eats cheese without abandon and nurses a single glass of wine all night because she’s a master of reasonable indulgences. She’s almost always white, hetero, and thin, and you can only conjure her by willfully ignoring the many French women whose daily routines do not involve bicycling along the Seine in miniskirts with baguettes tucked under their arms.

But the French Girl’s influence is tangible. She makes money for big American drugstore chains, department stores, independent brands, book publishers, magazines, and digital media companies. She definitely has something to do with the fact that rosé, sales of which outpaced the rest of the wine market last year, has become so popular in the US.

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Is That a Pillowcase Full of Human Hair, or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

a collection of wigs, in different lengths, styles, and h

Annie Correal’s New York Times story on the last of New York’s custom wigmakers has a little bit of everything—celebrity gossip, history, international trade, religious scandal, trash-talking Italian wig artists*, and the sentence “Nicholas Piazza keeps 600 pounds of hair in his Staten Island garage.”

The three-foot braids in Mr. Piazza’s garage came into his possession in the mid-1990s. One day, two Russian men appeared in his shop carrying suitcases. “Natural blonds, natural reds, straight off people’s heads,” he said. It was the kind of hair known in the industry as “liquid gold” — Caucasian hair untouched by Western chemicals, long and remy. “I say, ‘Whoa, fellows, you don’t have to go no further; let’s talk.’”

Of his Russian dealer’s shipments, Mr. Piazza recalled: “Sometimes it came stitched in pillows. Sometimes he would ship 20, 30 kilos of hair at a time. Sometimes I’d be going to an apartment in Brighton Beach at 2 in the morning or meeting a plane at Kennedy. He’d hand me a suitcase, and I’d hand him an envelope.”

* My new favorite insult: “hairpiece finagler.”

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Stan Smith, the Tennis Shoe, Has Become Bigger Than the Man Himself

Stan Smith had a respectable tennis career: When he was 24, he won the U.S. Open, and was ranked the No. 1 men’s player in the world. But his Adidas sneakers have recently become a world-wide fashion phenomenon, giving him much more success (at least in the monetary sense) than he could have ever imagined. From a New York magazine story by Lauren Schwartzberg:

In the United Kingdom, soccer fans in Liverpool and Manchester fight over who got into Stan Smiths first. In Greece, Smith says, where it is traditional to give babies white shoes on the day of their christening, Stan Smiths became the white shoe of choice. There’s a professor of theoretical physics in Sweden who owns more than 200 pairs. Both Will Arnett and Hugh Grant have said they kissed their first girl while wearing Stan Smiths. Stan Smith the man once met a reporter from GQ Japan who told him he’s worn his eponymous shoes every day for the past 13 years. (Smith’s response: “I said, ‘You gotta be kidding me.’ ”) More recently, they’ve been taken up by Céline’s Phoebe Philo, as well as Marc Jacobs, A$AP Rocky, and North West, coming to define both a retro and minimalist movement in fashion just a few years after they were sold on the bargain shelves.

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The Diluted State of Punk

With a recent slew of documentary films and books, punk’s forty year old body has been repeatedly repackaged, sweetened and sold to the masses at the mall, mystifying and irritating many people in the process. In The Baffler, Eugenia Williamson analyzes punk’s history, evolution, literature and commodifycation and addresses the lingering question: what does being ‘punk’ even mean anymore more?

Besides, anyone who’s seen the Ramones documentary End of the Century knows that punks weren’t entirely free from rules, even within the confines of their small domain. In one of the film’s saddest sequences, Dee Dee Ramone—the band’s lovable, goofy bass player and resident junkie sexpot—tries to set out on his own as a white rapper. By the time he hit his forties, he had grown tired of the bowl haircut, tight jeans, and leather jacket dress code enforced by Johnny Ramone, a man who thanked George W. Bush at his induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Chastened by the verdict of the market—and it must be conceded, abundant evidence of his absent rapping talent—Dee Dee fatalistically dons his bomber jacket and returns to the Ramones fold, never again to depart from the prescribed formula in the short balance of his life. So much for punks doing whatever the fuck they wanted.

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How the Modern Modeling Agency Came to Be

This was a precursor for what would become the protocol by which models were paid for the rest of the century, but as Natálie [Nickerson] put it to Eileen [Ford] in their late-night Barbizon conversations, the system was back to front. According to Eileen, Natálie told her, “Models were treated as if they worked for the agencies, instead of the agencies working for them. There was too much sink-or-swim. Models needed to know exactly where they had to be for a job, and what they were supposed to bring with them, and the big agencies were not efficient in making sure their girls knew even such simple things. There was no career planning, no special training or care, no help with hair or makeup—no real system at all.”

So the two women decided to work out a system together. Eileen would act as secretary and booker to Natálie and to another model, Inga Lindgren, a Swedish beauty with high-arching eyebrows and meticulously manicured nails. Each model would pay Eileen $65 per month for her secretarial assistance and for making phone bookings, while Natálie would act as a discreet publicist and drummer-up of business, quietly recommending the energy and efficiency of Eileen’s services to other models. “I realized,” Natálie explained to Michael Gross, “that for any new operation to be successful, they had to have at least one top girl, and I was the model of the moment.” Natálie beat the bushes well. Eileen started working for her and Lindgren in the fall of 1946, and by March of the following year Natálie’s word of mouth and Eileen’s proven efficiency had attracted the signing of seven additional successful models—high-flying women who were all fed up with how men were handling their business. Each newcomer paid Eileen a further $65 for her services, which took her monthly income to almost $600—some $7,000 per year.

Robert Lacey writing in Vanity Fair about the history of Ford Models. Started by a pair of newlyweds in post-World War II Manhattan, Ford Models quickly became one of the most powerful agencies in the business and helped “launch the era of the supermodel.” Lacey’s Vanity Fair piece is adapted from his forthcoming book, Model Woman: Eileen Ford and the Business of Beauty.

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How Halston’s Death Galvanized the Fashion Industry to Take Action Against AIDS

But not all AIDS deaths were hushed up; indeed, there was a backlash against the conspiracy of silence. Before Way Bandy—one of the industry’s top makeup artists—died on August 13, 1986, he directed his executors to announce his death as AIDS-related. And Halston acknowledged the cause of his own death on March 26, 1990, in the classiest possible way, leaving instructions for his prized Rolls-Royce to be auctioned off and the proceeds donated to AIDS research.

In Halston, fashion found its Rock Hudson: a superstar who could put a familiar face to the dreaded disease. Both Time and People addressed AIDS and fashion in their next issues; People put a smiling Halston on its cover, flanked by Liza Minnelli and Elizabeth Taylor. “He put American fashion on the map,” the cover line read. “He died last week of AIDS, a broken man.” Halston’s death finally galvanized the industry to take real action against the disease; later that year, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) staged its first Seventh on Sale fundraiser, inspiring similar events in Paris and Milan. But no one fooled themselves into thinking that it couldn’t get any worse. As CFDA president Carolyne Roehm told People: “I shudder to think how many more we may lose.”

Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell writing in The Atlantic about how the fashion industry grappled with the AIDS crisis, and Chester Weinberg, the first fashion designer to succumb to the disease. Weinberg died in April 1985.

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How Christy Plott Redd Became the ‘Queen of Gator’

The title is self-appointed. Several years ago, Redd heard about an alligator buyer from Italy working in Florida and calling himself the King. This was annoying. For one thing, there are no alligators in Italy. Live ones, anyway. More importantly, royalty is demonstrated by blood line, and nobody in the world can lay claim to one more established than Redd’s, whose great-grand­father founded the family business almost a century ago in Blairsville, whose grandfather served time in prison for illegally selling alligator skins in the 1970s, and whose father did too, for that matter. American Tanning is the oldest and largest alligator tannery in the country—and one of the only major ones in the world. Alligator mississippiensis, the American alligator, has been establishing its foothold in what is now the southern United States—its sole habitat—for 180 million years. The Plotts’ regional lineage may stretch back a mere 200 or so, but in any case, what family’s fortune has been entwined with the alligator’s for longer than theirs? Certainly no Italian arriviste’s.

Mary Logan Bikoff profiling Christy Plott Redd for Atlanta Magazine. Redd is co-owner and creative director of America’s largest alligator leather tannery.

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