If you're new to this blog, then read our guides to the basics: Skin (Part I), Skin (Part II), The Supernatural, Color Theory I, Color Theory II, Eyes, and Brushes.
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Into The Gloss
Grain de Musc
Drivel About Frivol The Selfish Seamstress
Bois de Jasmin Glossed In Translation
Jak and Jil
Worship at the House of Blues
I Smell Therefore I Am
The Natural Haven
Moving Image Source
The Emperor's Old Clothes
Colin's Beauty Pages
Barney's jewelry department
loodie loodie loodie
The Straight Dope
Sea of Shoes
London Makeup Girl
Sakecat's Scent Project
Tom & Lorenzo: Mad Style
Beauty and the Bullshit
La Garçonne Flame Warriors Everyday Beauty
Fashion Gone Rogue
Now Smell This
A Fevered Dictation
This is easily one of my favorite videos of all time. It was released around the start of the current war, when the neo-eighties movement had already begun in Europe and had started to make waves in the States. This video gives a nod to the eighties without that obnoxious, smug, self-righteous quality normally associated with its revival, instead referencing the era's recession and large working class. This video is brilliantly shot, the undersaturation recalling the poor photographic standards of the time and the washed-out quality of photographed memories. At the same time, it's also an accurate depiction of color - in the height of summer, colors can't retain their brilliance.
Both the song and video are also deeply honest. Pharrell and company aren't doing anything grand here, just riding their bikes around and around the neighborhood, because when you're poor, what else are you going to do? There isn't the money available for supermodels, Cristal, or even for just getting out. The location shots and imagery are right on target, with no location having too much money or brilliance, and the casting is great. No one falls into the typical Hollywood trap of playing someone down and out while also, amazingly, having gleaming hair and a Pilates body.
The best element of this video is the song itself. Pharrell Williams wrote beautiful, honest music for N.E.R.D.'s In Search Of..., with this song being one of the album's best tracks. Pharrell managed to capture something in this song very rarely seen in popular culture about the working class - striving. The popular media likes to portray the working class generally as being dissolute, stupid, lazy, and criminal, without thought or deeper meaning, or no deeper meaning than as the butt of middle-class jokes. In this song, Pharell speaks to the common working class (really, human) experience of working for something more from life, striving for it, while being haunted by the demon of, "What if?," or, "Will I find my sanity/Where I find my glory?" Pharell's lyrics reveal a level of self-knowledge and experience that, though rarely expressed in the pop world, make for compelling lyrics, expressing the life experiences of millions who are typically spoken for rather than truly heard.
I can't say I'm crazy about the last bit protesting the war. It's not subtle, to say the least, so I console myself with the fact that Pharrell inverts his peace sign into a rude gesture towards the end.
The weather has been gorgeous.
After four and a half months away at school, I've finally had a chance to come home to Toronto. And oh, what a relief it is to be home. While I can live happily in cities smaller than Toronto, I remain a city girl, and the town where I've been going to school is much too small, expensive, under-serviced and car-dependent for me. Alas, I'm not done with it yet; my lease is not yet over, my graduation ceremony is this week, and I have numerous loose ends to tie up before I leave for good. But oh, believe me, I will be leaving for good.
During my two-week break, I have been catching up with friends, babbling at my family, snuggling my beloved cat, and revelling in the pleasures of home: abundant sidewalks, walkable and varied neighbourhoods, a halfway functioning transit system (essential, since I don't know how to drive), cheap restaurants, my brother's PS3, and oh yes, shopping.
When I first sampled Après l'Ondée, more than a year ago, I was displeased and perplexed. I believe the phrase I used at the time was "urinal cake". Did I get a bad sample? Does it need to be sprayed instead of dabbed? I have given away the sample; I can't compare it with the scent I idly spritzed in Toronto's Guerlain boutique last week, only to discover that I'd fallen in love. Was it the warm weather, the exhaust in the air, that made this ever-chilly scent -- anise and violets in a spring mist -- so suddenly, absurdly appealing? I was astonished. I had to buy it.
I try (I do!) not to be profligate in acquiring makeup, but I am a sucker for red lipstick. I own more variations on red lipstick than any woman ought to have: corals, bricks, wines. My latest is YSL Rouge Pur in 131, Opium Red, which gets raves on Makeupalley; now I know why. This is a rich, glowing, deep red, faintly warm, utterly beautiful. Alas, it bleeds like mad, necessitating the use of lip brushes, lipliner, concealer, the whole shebang.
I finished watching The Wire when I should have been studying. I fear I have become one of those tedious Wire evangelists, but seriously, this show is fantastic; once you get past the in-medias-res confusion of the first episodes (a process that must be repeated with every season of the show) it becomes the most complex, gripping, twisted tragedy. I am now in withdrawal: I've watched The Wire, I've seen all of Battlestar Galactica, Deadwood and Six Feet Under, Mad Men does not return until August, I'm not quite ready to take on The Sopranos, what should I do? Am I ready for another show? Perhaps not. Lately I have been using the TV to upgrade my Rock Band 2 skills, not quite the same sort of thing.
To paraphrase, Ryan Gosling once said in an interview that he isn't sure what art is, but he's pretty sure it's not making films. I can understand that: under most directors, filmmaking is too hurry-up-and-stop to truly be a dynamic experience. Still, it took me quite a while to truly get a sense of what he meant. The only understanding I've come upon has been that art is an experience, whether in the conception, actualization, or final appreciation of the event. It's meant to be engaged with, so that a static painting on a museum wall transforms from something stale and static to a vibrant exchange. So with music. Now that everything can be digitally filtered and tweaked, there is less room to leave a song alone and let it simply resonate and speak for that moment in time when it was recorded, much less for the moment you're in. The imperfections are gone, but so is the passion. (Gosling says as much here.)
Enter Dead Man's Bones, the two-man collaboration between Gosling and friend Zach Shields. More interested in experience than perfection, the two collaborated with a children's choir from Silverlake Conservatory of Music's to create their upcoming album. Rather than go on about their highly independent approach to recording, which the linked article nicely outlines, I'd rather just share that their songs I've heard have brought back everything I miss about records - the warmth, the imperfections, and the ability to share an experience with each track. With each listen, I can become more engaged with each warp and distinction until the imperfections themselves take on a resonance beyond the music. Besides that, the tracks sound live, as though they really are experiences in time that have been captured, allowing me to engage in a real event rather than just passively accepting more manufactured beats. I can't say I can get with the visuals, but listen to the song and check out more of Dead Man's Bones. This is great music, and I think it's art.
This image from The Sartorialist illustrates that strong shoulders are wearable, need not be overwrought, and do not have to refer to the eighties. These shoulders work because they add definition to the jacket and balance out the wearer's hips, thereby creating an overall lean silhouette. These are not shoulder pads for show. They do not extend from her body or add heft. They simply provide definition and balance. Shoulder pads will never be for everyone, but when used appropriately, they can provide a necessary balance to fuller hips and provide a frame for the rest of an outfit to fall from.
In order to be “well-dressed,” the consensus goes that one must cover one’s face in obliterating spackle, wobble about unsteadily in heels that limit one’s stride, and wear miniskirts and pantyhose in winter. Simply put, “beauty is pain,” or at the very least annoyance, and unless I did nothing all day but stare at myself in the mirror, I couldn’t reap whatever aesthetic benefits I gain by conforming to someone else’s idea of perfection—or even my own idea of perfection. And I’ve always been as obstinate as a mule, refusing point-blank to move at any pace but mine or make an effort at doing anything I don’t truly want to do. It’s more important for me to feel comfortable in my own body and in the clothes that I’m wearing than it is for me to look good.
This means that I’m probably one of the least fashionable people you’ll ever meet: I always err on the side of casual, rarely suffer high heels, wear my few favorite outfits to death, and still cling to my bootcut jeans and trousers from the 90’s. I do whatever is necessary to be considered presentable, and not an iota more or less. I need clothes that flatter, especially because I have the kind of figure that is difficult to dress around, but beyond that excessive embellishment is unnecessary: in my opinion, clothes don't have any business attracting undue attention to themselves, away from their wearer. I suppose this is the reason why I don’t really lust after designer clothing or keep up with the runway shows: ignoring the sour-grapes-factor, much designer clothing either tends to dwarf the wearer in its outréness or telegraph, by its own preciousness, its own elevation from quotidian concerns... and while I really am a snob at heart, I would rather not look like one, or at least not so openly.
So it seems like great audacity or even hypocrisy on my part to dare write about style, and it is difficult for me to name a single designer, movement, or even aesthetic that has made an impact on the way I dress, or even on the way I imagine I'd like to dress. My preferences change little even with increased exposure to sartorial possibilities, but the more I see, the better I know what my own tastes truly are. To this day, I still don’t quite know what I really like, much less my reasons for liking what I do, though I have realized that I keep coming back to the same themes. Possibly I’m driven by nostalgia—many of the influences I cite have their roots in childhood memories—or possibly I’m working myself into a permanent rut that only grows deeper as time passes. It's as if my tastes were predetermined and all that is left to do is to refine and streamline my habits accordingly, stripping away everything that is not truly necessary to my own satisfaction. It is this process of self-discovery that is the whole point; I am too narrow-minded to take an interest in anything else.
When it comes down to it, people dress for the benefit of others, and though it is true that well-dressed people are usually treated better, a certain saturation point is reached once you've done what's required to look decent and clean and “put-together”; beyond that point, no one is going to care. And “put-together” usually means dressing in some incarnation of a classic preppy style, derived from the dress of what was once the New England upper class, itself derived from an idealization of the dress code of the English elite. It’s an aesthetic characterized not by outlandish cuts or a dizzying turnover rate for trends, but by subtlety and close attention paid to fit, details and the quality of materials. Each person wears much the same thing as every other person of comparable class and situation, and there is very little departure from core basics in terms of styles and cut, so there is a certain kind of security to be found in anonymity and conformity, but somehow, the garments seem entirely personal to the wearer, managing to flatter without stealing the stage for themselves. These are the kind of clothes/outfits that I want to live in: I could throw them on in the morning unthinkingly and count on looking polished and at home in almost any milieu. (French-chic, which has admittedly become something of a cliché, is also a similar aesthetic, but more urbane and youthful, and less hidebound: APC's seasonal lookbooks, or Emma de Caunes looking sexy in nothing more than a basic buttondown in a brilliant emerald green that sets off her tawny skin.)
Understated good taste and a reliance on basics, however, can never entirely take the place of drama. I need drama to satisfy the extremist streak within me, the part of me that likes red lips and listening to Wagner and reading Ayn Rand, as well as to balance out my (for an asian) broad frame and curves: I look ridiculous in cropped tops and dresses over pants—like a middle-aged woman trying to appear "cute" by dressing like a teeny-bopper and fooling no one—and outright trashy in miniskirts—like Jennifer Lopez cast as a Van Nuys streetwalker in some hypothetical movie. I need long flared trousers, sleeves of a decent width, and voluminous skirts to accomodate my long and well-fleshed limbs, and cowl necks, scarves, bateau necklines, and wide collars, with a crisply-defined shoulder to balance out a broad hip, all centered around a defined waist. Calvin Klein's couture pieces seem to best embody this charismatic and slightly masculine quality I seek. (I couldn't find the exact image I was looking for, which featured a long slim-cut black coat with wide sleeves and an oversized cowl-neck: the material seemed to soft but heavy—possibly a knit—judging from the way it draped and clung to the body. The velour blazer shown here is a decent substitute.)
The accoutrements of ballet, for which I nursed an obsession throughout childhood and beyond, also satisfy this hunger for theatrics: stage makeup, skirts like floating clouds of tulle, satin ribbons criss-crossing slender ankles. Yet despite the romantic excesses of performances and stage garb, the behind-the-scenes lifestyle of ballet dancers is one of simplicity, rigor, and almost Spartan discipline. The (not quite healthy) emphasis on ethereal slimness, sleek uncomplicated hairstyles, and a clean uncluttered silhouette puts the focus on the contemplation of movement and the human form itself. I'm not built like a ballet dancer, but I aspire to the same aesthetic, where the body being dressed is the centerpiece of the look and any superfluous ornament is eliminated.
It is this palate-cleansing simplicity that is necessary to balance out the aforementioned theatrics in an outfit, which like any performer, needs respectful quiet in its surroundings in order to perform at its best. Minimalism is really a form of luxury in its own right when taken to extremes (even the Spartans of antiquity had to rule a slave class that outnumbered them 10 to 1 in order to finance their extravagantly austere lifestyle). Song Hye-kyo is dressed in an outfit of utmost simplicity and minimal fuss: the fluid lines of the jersey and sweater coat and the interplay between beige and black provide a backdrop for the oversized and highly-textured cowl-like scarf.
In contrast with the high-strung elegance of ballet, my sartorial memories of childhood can be summed up in two categories of considerably lesser sophistication: eighties, and polarfleece. In Korea, I am considered part of the “post-Olympic” generation—born too late to witness or remember the 1988 Seoul Olympics—but I inherited 80's fads and culture from those who had lived it, stripped of all the trashy flamboyance notorious to the decade and grown soft and manageable like a hand-me-down pair of jeans that the previous owner had broken in—eighties-lite, if you will. Boxy t-shirts and jackets worn with slim jeans, in primary colors (my brother calls them "Lego colors" and "Rubik's Cube colors"), my cousins' pirated copies of trashy manga, my mother relaxing in leggings and oversized buttondowns belted at the waist, Sophie Marceau as a teen just beginning to discover romance in La Boum, whose tomboyish ways do nothing to mask her (natural) beauty. Childrens' clothing tends to fall about five years to a decade behind adult fashions and I myself wore leggings with sweatshirts, Flashdance-style, until the arrival of the noughties. It's a shame that the current so-called “80’s revival” completely ignores all the things I loved best about the decade, the sort of playfulness that can only come from childish innocence or ignorant stupidity. I would have liked to see the return of a more angular, better-defined shoulder in particular, as well as a certain emphasis on the mature female body—all those hard shoulder pads needed feminine curves as ballast.
My other fond childhood memories are mostly about frequent hiking and canoeing field trips, when I lived in the Bay Area. We wore light, warm polarfleece jackets and windbreakers over t-shirts and cargo pants or shorts and sneakers. One can imagine there wasn’t much room to put on airs; the most you could do would be to tie your scarf a certain way, get a dexterous friend to braid your hair (I was the only girl in our grade who could French-braid her own hair), and make sure your sweatshirt and fleece didn’t clash. We also wore stud earrings, charm jewelry, and string friendship bracelets (it was the 90s), all in a variety of designs that were surprisingly delicate and tasteful, while Lip Smackers were popular to ease lips chapped by the salt sea wind (my favorite was Pink Lemonade). We were still only children, so we were free of the insecurities and status anxieties that would taint similar pursuits at a later date; all that fueled us at the time was a love of pretty things and the desire to put our best foot forward. We may have never had it so right about style as we did back then.
It's difficult, maybe impossible, to catalogue one's inspirations all at one go; the things that appeal to us often do so because of a combination of factors, memories from childhood, our senses of our own looks, favoured colours, feelings, the idiosyncratic connections we make between images and ideas.
That said, here's a start. If a garment, a makeup style, a perfume reminds me of one of these, I find it very hard to resist:
FRED AND GINGER
I've thought, watching Fred and Ginger movies from the 1930s (The Barkleys of Broadway, from 1949, is rather tedious), that I would be content to dress like Fred Astaire half the time and Ginger Rogers the other half. Fred Astaire is famous for the "top hat, white tie and tails" look, but he preferred slightly tweedier, more casual clothing. Really, few men wore clothes, any clothes, as well as Fred Astaire.
A pity more videos aren't available legally, since so much of what I love about Ginger Rogers' dance dresses is the way they moved. Sometimes this reflects their utter impossibility as garments: a forty-pound beaded dress, a mass of whirling, shedding feathers. You wouldn't wear something like this in 2009, and yet, how absurdly romantic, how decadent.
Here, the perennially gorgeous "Never Gonna Dance" gown, with its tightly tucked bodice and cloud of a skirt (layers of chiffon)? I dream of owning a version of this one some day. It still looks fresh, despite being made for a 73-year-old movie.
With regard to videos of Fred and Ginger, there tends to be a cycle on Youtube: people post videos of the dance sequences, Warner Brothers cracks down, and then the videos reappear. I'm loath to post links to videos that will shortly be removed for copyright violation, but among the numbers I adore are "Pick Yourself Up", "Never Gonna Dance", "Change Partners", "Cheek To Cheek", and "Let's Face The Music And Dance."
Tomoko Kawase (often referred to as Tommy) is the singer in the Japanese band The Brilliant Green, which I followed semi-obsessively for years. At this point she has a couple of side projects (which started out parodic, but now seem to be all oh-isn't-she-cute all the time, meh), and has styled herself every which way, enough that I'm not sure one can say she has a style.
One of Tommy's more parodic videos, this one clearly taking off Avril Lavigne's video for "Complicated." I love that she smashes the guitar at the beginning of the video.
Watching this woman's career has given me a sense, however vague, of the differences between North American and Pacific Rim fashion. A gross generalization, I know, but bear with me: to my mind it seems there's something distinctive about (particularly) Japanese and Korean designers, a demure femininity, a playfulness, a willingness to countenance frills, slouchiness and shapelessness, but somehow in a way that works on petite women. Being petite, slender and flat-chested myself, I appreciate this. Look at the publicity images here: much is abominably cutesy or '80s throwback, but what works has a slouchy, schoolgirlish charm that I find immensely appealing. (As for the image above, eh to the Elmo doll, but I love the pattern on the dress.)
I was in Bangkok in 2004, and the younger, more well-heeled women there almost had a uniform: flowy jersey top, full 1950s-style skirt, pointy-toed heels. I still love dressing that way.
Hard for me to take inspiration from Marilyn Monroe, since I look nothing like her, but I've always found her compelling. The camera worshipped her. I especially love her in The Misfits, the last movie she completed before she died: not the best movie, but few things Monroe did -- or wore -- felt this simple or unstudied. You get a sadness from Monroe, a fragility, and an innocent sensuality, like a cat in sunshine; hard to know whether that was authentic to her or merely Arthur Miller's idealized image of her, but she embodies it. I love the way she wore a white shirt. And I love this dress.
I enjoy perusing a variety of fashion trends and looks, each of them inflaming the imagination and widening the horizons of fashion references. Still, only a few of these resources directly influence how I dress. The following are my personal fashion inspirations in ascending order.
One of my more passive hobbies is sitting back and browsing various style sites. This is in part to keep up with hipster trends, because as much as I openly despise the hipster mentality, I really like a lot of their clothes. I also enjoy following what fashion editors wear and learning how to mix luxurious clothing with the more quotidian. That said, there are very few hipster items that would suit me, and the majority of fashion insight I glean is in the areas of styling, layering, and proportion, the last moreso from men than women. I have specifically followed The Sartorialist for lessons in proportion, as with the man above; Chictopia for layering and visuals of how specific clothes look on a variety of body types; and Jak & Jil for specifics on styling and proportion, including where on the arm a glove should end and how to wear ankle pants.
Having lived in Scandinavia, I don't buy into the fervor over how cool Scandinavian fashion can be. Some of it is, some of it isn't. Like anywhere else, there are some girls who know how to dress and end up on all the fashion blogs, perceived as the face of Scandinavian style when they really elevate the foundations of Scandinavian style - leather jackets, boots, scarves, cool trainers, and tight jeans - into their own unique orbit. Still, I took away some lessons from Scandinavian style, including what to layer with leather jackets, how to wear scarves, and to wear clothes that fit. Occasionally, I still glance at Lisaplace (above) for the photography and styling.
There is a vast store of fashion imagery that acts at the subconscious level to form my impressions of what exactly is fashion and my relation to it. All of this imagery resonates with me because it realizes my golden mean in some way, whether because it moves me, it features a look I aspire to, or it offers a reflection of my inner self. None of these images directly inspires how I dress; instead, they are the foundation of how I perceive fashion at large, my measure of great fashion design and photography, and my personal aesthetic. Even though none of this could be directly noted on what I wear daily, it is the foundation upon which all the more direct influences take root. Rather than provide a detailed account of all these foundational images, which would take a whole blog, I have chosen to include the above image of Kate Moss. This comes from the first editorial I can clearly remember loving and incorporates the themes of my most perennial fashion loves: minimalism, the 90s, austerity, the avant-garde, fashion photography, Kate Moss. Other themes not seen here: street style, sportswear, 90s couture, Harper's Bazaar under Liz Tilberis's editorship, exaggerated design.
Though not as rabid a follower as I once was, Ashley Olsen has had a greater influence on my conception of style than any other individual. She's the person who's first influenced me to notice the particulars. She doesn't just wear a scarf - she wears deliberately oversized scarfs to balance (or offset) the rest of her outfit, trousers cut to specific shapes and proportions, and plays with the masculine dress, layering, and bagginess/shapelessness. She's the first person to make me realize how the cut of a pant can dramatically alter proportions (both of the outfit and the wearer), that it is possible to dress in a boyish fashion and maintain feminity, and the limitations of dressing for a petite frame. It's that sense of deliberateness that puts Ashley Olsen at the top of my list. Due to her, I now pay attention to how an item's particular shape and proportions fit into my overall outfit. I realize the effect of something so simple as altering a pant leg by an inch or two, that these simple changes in proportion can greatly affect an overall silhouette. I've also picked up from her how to "accessorize" with clothing. Since I don't wear jewelry, other than a watch, I've learned how to add interest with jackets, sweaters, scarves, and texture.
As for the picture above, probably the single greatest influence I've received from Ashley Olsen is how to dress boyishly and get away with it. This is just a great outfit - the oversize hoodie, the chunky necklace, the general laddishness of it - but she gets aways with it by cutting everything down to her proportions. She doesn't look like she's borrowed clothes from her boyfriend (I've never understood the appeal of that look, it's too sloppy). Everything fits her frame, it's just the aesthetic that points away from the feminine. Of all her looks, it's Ashley's boyish dressing I love best and how I came to appreciate the thoughtful layering of standard American fare, such as grey athletic sweatshirts, worn out t-shirts, and beaten up work trousers. Let's face it: if not for her, I would still to stuck with the delusion that Audrey Hepburn was the greatest dresser of all time. Thank God for Ashley Olsen, Kate Moss, and the rest, or I'd still be wearing dull, basic "smart clothes" in an ongoing failed attempt to look "nice." No, bring me the disordered and the quotidian, please.
I've never been much of a handbag fan. I can enjoy them for their design, but I've never gone as far as drooling over It Bags (or, really, coveting any bag). There have only been a handful that have stopped me in my tracks while flipping through glossies. These few bags have exhibited a sense of color, whimsy, and eccentricity very close to my own and are the only bags I would ever spend top dollar on.
YSL MUSE TWO
The Edith bag embodies a lot of firsts for me - the first time I ever stopped and stared at a bag, the first time a bag ever captured my personality, the first time a bag played a larger part in an ad campaign's appeal to me than the clothes. Admittedly, a lot of the bag's allure comes from the underexposed, rumpled heap of Ediths captured in Chloe's S/S 2006 ad campaign. Something about the the imagery of a stack of luxury handbags soothed the obsessive-compulsive part of my mind that seeks order and symmetry. Ultimately, though, it was the haphazard quality to the bag that ultimately appealed to me so much - the weathered leather, the slightly-off brown color, the messenger influence, and the fact that the bag looked beaten up and abused, like something I'd carry. It is not a gorgeous bag, but it does personify that disheveled quality I have, thereby suiting me far more than all the Fendi baguettes in the world.
PROENZA SCHOULER PS1
In the interest of presenting something more recent, I've included the PS1 in this list. This bag carries out the messenger theme to its final conclusion, and as such, loses some of the earlier bags' suggestive whimsy. Despite that, the bag excels in the material sense, being offered in a variety of finishes and leathers. As always, I'm drawn to this storm blue, though I am also enamored with the python version. While not as much fun as the other two bags, it presents a more adult iteration of the messenger bags I exclusively carried in my teens and early twenties, and the texture keeps it interesting enough to elevate it from all the H&M/Coach/Burberry iterations.
The Mnemonic Sense
The Beauty Primer
On The Label
The Hit List
Color Me In
The Makeup Artist
& orientals arc