First Breath

Coming back and the acrid bite of exhaust mixing with the dirt kicked up by shuffling feet is the first thing I notice. Once we settle in to her old apartment, I’m bathed in that too-sweet mothball cloud that always told me I was here. Things are static now, more than they ever were when I used to visit, and without her here, I notice the fine film of dust that had settled on all her things more than ever before. The tiny rooms feel suddenly cavernous; they’ve lost all sense of scale. Everywhere, my sisters and I find things we have to clean or discard—more of the latter than the former.

We’re foreigners here, in a home that used to be a home, and I can’t avoid feeling like I’m intruding where I’m not wanted. But there’s no one here to want or not want me, though I now she would’ve loved to see someone here again. Someone bathing in the shower, someone falling into the deep curve of the couch, someone sipping on a box of sweet lemon tea.

What were the last things I said to her? I know I said goodbye, but I just didn’t know how much I meant it.

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FASHION RULE #7

You should never know what you’re going to wear the next day. Even if you own thirty of the same suit, it’s impossible to know who you are when you wake up tomorrow.

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FASHION RULE #6

Good fashion, good style, should be about finding the foreign in the familiar. Dressing is about holding a séance with everything that’s come before you even as you hurtle forward into the forever.

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Alive Again

I can say with absolute certainty that Vietnam has fully recharged my creative energies. How could I be anything less than captivated? The explosive, dangerous pace of Hanoi’s streets filled me with a nervous, but almost fun sense of panic. On Ha Long Bay, I drifted in a timeless seascape, tilting on an endless disc of grey-green-blue amongst ageless monoliths streaked with limestone and wreathed in garlands of improbable foliage. The Red Dao women chased after us on our hillside trek, their silver necklaces clanging as their headscarves lightly jingled with coins and tassels; each one of them covered in a private universe of dense color and embroidery. Indeed, Vietnam has reawakened my taste for color, like a drop of chili oil on the tongue. Everywhere there is color. A thousand shades of green caught my eye first, but there’s so much more. Rich shades of blue, pink, orange cover the houses and there’s only more variation as they swelter and weather after years of standing in sun and storm. Even the baked soil here on the mountain is a kaleidoscope of rich, earthy color: ochre and clay, orange and brown, sienna and umber. Frankly, it is a wonder that my eye still hungers for more.

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The entire mountainside is thoroughly, utterly, inexhaustibly alive. I feel every bit the intruder that I am in a world that has no place for my presence and need for my description.

The entire mountainside is thoroughly, utterly, inexhaustibly alive. I feel every bit the intruder that I am in a world that has no place for my presence and need for my description.

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Another day in Paris

Too many things I need to order from Rick (hint, one of them is a blistered leather cap); Vibskov socks named “Dong” will make you laugh, not matter how old or business-like you are; why the fuck is Starbucks the only place to get free wi-fi?; keeping up with my New Year’s resolution to wear more color is easier when it comes in the form of leopard-printed merino; Colette can suck my dick; Stealthprojekt/StyleZeitgeist parties attract the hottest freaking boys; Jenny has a really hard time playing “Gay or European”; I almost broke someone’s door trying to get into a showroom; pony hair is parfait for an iPad case; it’s weird to be the dude with the most basic shoes in the room; camel leather is completely bananas; Rue Saint-Honoré and Place Vendôme are boring as fuck unless you’re from Beijing and don’t mind spending $2k on tacky jackets; Damir is becoming more wearable, which is really weird to say out loud; everything underground smells like pee.

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A sequence of thoughts, in Paris

Why is there only one person who speaks English at the Rick store in the Palais Royale?; I think my hotel room is actually falling apart, but they’ve kept everything together with plaster; French people should be grateful for North African and Middle Eastern immigrants because some of them are really hot; I am going to spend WAY too much money placing personal orders for fall 2012; Tranoï hosts too many designers that all look the same; Patrik Ervell is going to be a great collection when it hits the runway; when every fucking bistrot looks cute as shit, you have no idea which ones are actually good; don’t call yourself a creperie if you reheat your crepes rather than making them to order; Japanese buyers dress baller as fuck no matter where they are and what the weather is; what do they put in the water that enables French women to walk cobblestone streets in heels in the rain without falling or looking like their feet are killing them?; blogging on an iPad without access to italics, bold, and other formatting is hard, but I don’t give a shit whether or not this is easy to read.

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SOME WORDS ABOUT MILAN, PART I

Bottega Veneta: Tomas Maier overindulges in his ideas—colorblocking, printing, hybrid garments, and bonded treatments—to various degrees of success, but the quieter designs are actually the most provocative and interesting. Reinterpreting “luxury” has always been his strong suit, so it stands to reason that the least heavy-handed iterations are also the most covetable and wearable.

Burberry Prorsum: By no means does anybody expect a Burberry Prorsum show to be innovative, but it’s still a little disappointing when Christopher Bailey latches on to a slightly older idea (i.e. looser fits, pseudo-couture inflected silhouettes), even when he does execute everything so wonderfully. The mix of high and low, sport and suit are surefire editorial successes, but all the man of the street wants to know is when can he get his hands on some of those jackets.

Calvin Klein Collection: For the last few seasons, Italo Zuchinelli has been quietly trying to remind us that Calvin Klein built his empire not on sharp suits and glamorous gowns, but on smart, sleek, perfectly executed sportswear. Leather has been a key component of the Milan shows, but where most designers dress it up, Zuchinelli takes it in a distinctly downtown vibe with croc-embossing executed as in-your-face panel work. It’s a refreshing, if slightly unwieldy, refresher course on what real, luxury sportswear is supposed to look and feel like. Of course, Zuchinell is no fool when it comes to the bottom line, so get at the mesh-covered puffers, luxe zip-up jackets, and perfectly simple knitwear before they disappear off the racks.

Jil Sander: Subtlety is one of Raf Simons’ strong suits, though that’s not the first word that comes to mind given the leather-clad army that walked down the Jil Sander runway. And yet, for all the toughness of the tailored hides, there’s something more going on. The whimsical knits and slightly soft collars (don’t blink of you’ll miss them), showed off another dimension that can’t be as easily parsed with references to fascism or fetish. Is it a boy pretending to be a man or a man longing for his youth? But like almost all of Simons’ puzzles, it’s probably one that can best settled by actually living in his clothes.

John Varvatos: It’s always a little bit of a chore to slog through a John Varvatos show, since you already know what’s coming: leather and shearling and cashmere, suits and jackets and chunky sweaters, grays and blacks and plaids. Varvatos himself admitted that it was a show of pieces, not of looks, so it was more of a walking catalog than a true runway show. For the devoted, there’s plenty to love, but if you’re expecting any surprised, you’d best try another show.

Les Hommes: Chunky or clunky? It’s a little hard to tell when designers so devoted to black turn to Peru, of all places, for textures and colors. There’s always something a little ridiculous about fashion propositions like “mountain man goes luxe”, but if you’re able to get past the almost theatrical styling, there are pieces here worth owning. No surprise that a collection inspired by a country as famed for knitting as Peru would be full of great sweaters, but with their out-sized proportions and dropped shoulders, you’d need the courage of a mountain climber to pull them off.

Marni: There’s an ocean of difference between an artist and an artisan, but Consuelo Castiglioni’s strength has always lied in her ability to blend the two without the least bit of pretension or artifice. Blacks and navies offered up a smart blank canvas that let rich ochres, deep reds, and flashes of fur really shine. Quilting tapped into the “heritage” influence that pervades so much of menswear without feeling like the Marni man is sipping too hard of the Kool-aid; smart clothes for smart men.

Moncler Gamme Bleu: Salon meets speedway in another typically atypical show from Thom Browne in his latest collaboration with Moncler. After hitting the slopes and crossing sabers, Browne has taken the label to Monaco for the Grand Prix and he has put the pedal to the floor with an unrelenting defilé (replete with numbered cards) that riffs endlessly on both Moncler’s heritage and the visual iconography of racing. Naturally, everything is thoroughly quilted and filled, but for a man as obsessed with details as Browne, this entire show is about shape and proportion. Rarely have Browne’s shoulders been stronger or his layers more deviously difficult to pick apart, but despite his reputation as a showman, he knows what we’re really here to see: clothes. Just don’t let all the testosterone and motor oil fool you. There are jackets and sweaters here for every man: throw one of the vests over your favorite suit or add a quilted pant to any basic tailored outfit and you’ll still look anything but pedestrian.

Neil Barrett: Neil Barrett has a penchant for taking the most daring tropes in contemporary menswear and turning them into really wearable clothes. Sometimes, the magic of the idea—the spark—gets snuffed out in the process, but sometimes he manages to take truly forward ideas and make them seem as normal as t-shirt and jeans. Checks dissolved into chevrons, technical jackets draped over sharp suits; it’s an idea that doesn’t require a stretch of the imagination while simultaneously looking genuinely new. Some of his overtures towards more forward dressing (the A-line coats and ultra-skinny cropped trousers) simply didn’t have the same easy touch, but it’s nice to see Barrett break new ground even as he remains steadfastly within his milieu.

Prada: Despite her constant plumbing of decades past for inspiration, you could never really accuse Miuccia Prada of nostalgia. And yet, what else would you call a collection dominated by the spirit, silhouettes, and proportions of Edwardian dressing? There were reminders of seasons past (cummerbund, effortless layers, prints that were so garish they were somehow chic), yet the collection avoided sentimentalizing history. Equal parts regal and regimental, this was a collection about control, from the belted waists and tailored lines to the subdued palette shot through with occasional hints of red and aubergine. It was a full-throated cry for civility and sophistication and an all-star cast of men’s men (Tim Roth, Adrien Brody, Gary Oldman, and Willem Defoe) answered the call. And yet, it was the clothes, not the superstars, that were the most believable.

Valentino: It took a few collections for Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli to leads their womenswear out from His towering shadow, so after the just-too-precious tailoring that defined their last menswear outing, it’s nice to see the duo starting to feel more comfortable speaking Valentino, even if it’s with a slightly different accent. The old master himself would probably have never thought of borrowing so liberally from the couture traditions, but by tempering it with some uncompromising masculinity, even dropped shoulders and rounded silhouettes seem perfectly palatable options for gentlemen. Of course, these ideas and methods aren’t new (Raf Simons has been plying between the Romantic and the robotic for years), but the restraint and matter-of-fact styling translate into a very modern sense of luxury for the house.

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I LOVE…

A cork stopper squeaking as I ease it out of the neck of a bottle of scotch.

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Putting on a Rick Owens t-shirt is all about elevating the mundane. Blurring, if not erasing, the line between the sublime and the basic has always been central not just to how Owens designs, but also to how his clothes wear, how his stores look, and how his customers think. There are fewer things as extravagant as a cashmere t-shirt, but, in a perverse way, there’s hardly anything remotely as functional, versatile, and essential, either. In that light, a 10 pound tome set entirely in thick block type, with enormous images, well over a square foot, and wrapped in a partial dust cover with Owens’ flexing bicep makes perfect sense: it’s a startlingly rigorous exercise in indulgence.
For a self-avowed “wannabe Calvin Klein or Giorgio Armani”, Owens’ own approach to lifestyle has been driven less by commercial demands and more by individual preference. With a sweeping eye that never seems to settle too long on one thing, the book catalogs his idiosyncratic work across womenswear, menswear, furniture, interiors, and even includes glimpses of his life in L.A.’s underground art and gay scene. Few designers can lay claim to such an absolute and total sense of themselves like Owens, even though he admits that showing in Paris was more of a lark than a serious undertaking. But that blithe indifference to the norms of fashion makes his story and his designs utterly compelling: the fashion designer who isn’t, the man who leads the Paris avant-garde while watching margins and budgets, the ex-drug user who sleeps on alabaster. The combination of cashmere with a plain tee doesn’t seem so odd after all.
As with his clothing, a monolithic quality pervades the book; the type, set in as impossible and illegible a fashion imaginable, renders the essays and interviews strewn throughout the book into a solid mass of ink, almost as much of a pleasure (or is it pain?) to stare at as to read. At times, it can be hard to tell when the full-bleed photography is documenting and when it is illustrating Owens’ work, though both highlight the honesty of a man making things in an industry about artifice. Few people will read honesty in what Owens does, given the uninviting and colossal scale of this monograph, but the forbidding presentation offers a clarion call to those seeking more than flashy logos and uncovered skin. In the same way that a Rick Owens leather jacket, with its angular peplums and chunky zippers and fantastic proportions belies its body-enveloping fit and silky lining, this immense archive presents the deep, personal journey of a man within the armored exterior of the world that he has constructed for himself. Of course, committing your own career to paper always smacks of narcissism, but Owens mixes just enough openness with enough obfuscation to make the effort genuine and sincere. You cannot know a man by a t-shirt or a chair a book, but it’s certainly a good place to start.
Rick Owens is printed by Rizzoli and available at fine book retailers worldwide.

Putting on a Rick Owens t-shirt is all about elevating the mundane. Blurring, if not erasing, the line between the sublime and the basic has always been central not just to how Owens designs, but also to how his clothes wear, how his stores look, and how his customers think. There are fewer things as extravagant as a cashmere t-shirt, but, in a perverse way, there’s hardly anything remotely as functional, versatile, and essential, either. In that light, a 10 pound tome set entirely in thick block type, with enormous images, well over a square foot, and wrapped in a partial dust cover with Owens’ flexing bicep makes perfect sense: it’s a startlingly rigorous exercise in indulgence.

For a self-avowed “wannabe Calvin Klein or Giorgio Armani”, Owens’ own approach to lifestyle has been driven less by commercial demands and more by individual preference. With a sweeping eye that never seems to settle too long on one thing, the book catalogs his idiosyncratic work across womenswear, menswear, furniture, interiors, and even includes glimpses of his life in L.A.’s underground art and gay scene. Few designers can lay claim to such an absolute and total sense of themselves like Owens, even though he admits that showing in Paris was more of a lark than a serious undertaking. But that blithe indifference to the norms of fashion makes his story and his designs utterly compelling: the fashion designer who isn’t, the man who leads the Paris avant-garde while watching margins and budgets, the ex-drug user who sleeps on alabaster. The combination of cashmere with a plain tee doesn’t seem so odd after all.

As with his clothing, a monolithic quality pervades the book; the type, set in as impossible and illegible a fashion imaginable, renders the essays and interviews strewn throughout the book into a solid mass of ink, almost as much of a pleasure (or is it pain?) to stare at as to read. At times, it can be hard to tell when the full-bleed photography is documenting and when it is illustrating Owens’ work, though both highlight the honesty of a man making things in an industry about artifice. Few people will read honesty in what Owens does, given the uninviting and colossal scale of this monograph, but the forbidding presentation offers a clarion call to those seeking more than flashy logos and uncovered skin. In the same way that a Rick Owens leather jacket, with its angular peplums and chunky zippers and fantastic proportions belies its body-enveloping fit and silky lining, this immense archive presents the deep, personal journey of a man within the armored exterior of the world that he has constructed for himself. Of course, committing your own career to paper always smacks of narcissism, but Owens mixes just enough openness with enough obfuscation to make the effort genuine and sincere. You cannot know a man by a t-shirt or a chair a book, but it’s certainly a good place to start.

Rick Owens is printed by Rizzoli and available at fine book retailers worldwide.

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Ann-Sofie Back Atelje and BACK by Ann-Sofie Back Spring/Summer 2012

Just as other designers are scaling up, Ann-Sofie Back goes the opposite direction and pares things down. Though her position as Cheap Monday’s creative director is about as global and mainstream as any designer could ever dream, Back has refused to develop her namesake lines any faster than necessary. While others embraced spring as a raison d’être to effusively unload their palettes all over the runway, Back returned to the rigorous exercises in cut and shape that have made her a go-to designer for smart clothes that don’t feel compelled to wear their wit on their (sheer and textured and tailored) sleeves. In past seasons, the divide between her clothes-cum-art Atelje label and her wearable BACK line have left some customers feeling a little cheated with ready-to-wear pieces that don’t quite live up to the hype that her runway designs elicit. But Back has resolved that difference, treating BACK not as a simplification or reduction of her Atelje work, but as an extension of them into the territory of real world clothing.

Opening with painfully precise pieces, most often in silk organza, Back started on a highly intellectual bent, exploring the possibilities of moving a line here, extending a seam there. But as the shapes softened with subsequent exits the smart sense of chic remained: the impossible geometry of a purely runway look informed beautifully micro-pleated blouses while severe lines gradually opened up into jersey dresses every bit as couture-inspired as they are street-ready. It’s easy to see why skeptics dub Back’s work “unpretty”, but the skinny belts that adorned her separates and dresses managed to accomplish a fashion trifecta: they’re flattering for real women, absolutely on trend for the season, and punctuate silhouettes that would otherwise be much harder to wear. Not that Back would ever design for women who don’t work as hard as herself; her clientele understands that sometimes the next big thing is really about taking what you already have and applying a small, but calculated change for an effortlessly new look.

(All images via Coute Que Coute)

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SEVEN FURTHER WORDS ABOUTS MENSWEAR

Comme des Garçons Homme Plus: Rei riffs as Rei will; wildly, romantically.

Givenchy: Blurry Helmut copies, printed in tropical shades.

Henrik Vibskov: Ensembles fit for modern acid-dropping beatniks.

Julius: Looser, lighter layers tread slightly new ground.

KRISVANASSCHE: Out with monastic volume, in with Mods.

Walter van Beirendonck: Quirky tailoring gets a radical geometric facelift.

Yves Saint Laurent: No new ground, but practiced elegance remains.

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AN ADDITIONAL SEVEN WORDS ABOUT MENSWEAR

Christian Lacroix Homme: Some touches of French wit; that’s it.

Dries Van Noten: New neutrals (navy) with classic, military flourishes. 

Issey Miyake: More Japanese than Japonisme: all texture, shape.

Jean-Paul Gaultier: Americana, Brittany, and tailoring with eccentric excesses.

John Lawrence Sullivan: A modish look at military, but softened.

Juun J.: New geometry trades gimmicks for genuine innovation.

Louis Vuitton: Smart and sporty, but ultimately forgettable separates.

Rick Owens: A radical departure without losing the path.

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ANOTHER SEVEN WORDS ABOUT MENSWEAR

Ehud: Clever fabrics, cleverer colors, crisp cuts throughout.

Mugler: Formichetti’s playing, but Kremer might have something.

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SEVEN MORE WORDS ABOUT MENSWEAR

Alexander McQueen: Irreverent tailoring with a dash of disco.

DSquared2: Perfectly slutty looks for Brittany or Bowery.

Giorgio Armani: Soft shapes and quiet prints — molto Armani.

giulianofujiwara: Playful color and easy geometry rules supreme.

Versace: Less Alexandre, more Gianni, lots of machismo.

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Twenty-something tribal mystic who only wants a few things in life. Self-indulgent, self-narrating, self-effacing.

Me on chictopia.

Me on ffffound!.

Just me.

Oracular advice dispensed, as well.

Things I wrote, read, bought, ate, and made.

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