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Monday, June 8, 2009

Going Dutch

At the opening of Arnhem Mode Biennale a couple of days ago, I had the opportunity to meet some of the 43 international and national designers whose work was on display, with the show's artistic director Piet Paris as my guide. One of the young designers I met was Mattijs van Bergen, whose current summer collection—under the single name Mattijs—already sells at local concept store Coming Soon, alongside other Dutch designers such as Klavers van Engelen, Orson+Bodil and Lucas Ossendrijver of Lanvin Homme. Here's what he had to say...

Haidee Findlay-Levin: Your work tends to be quite elaborate, with a lot of embellishment. Why did you choose to exhibit garments made from plain cotton calico and decorated with a simple biro pen?
Mattijs: As with many young designers at the moment, I am struggling with my financial situation. Even though I am selling in certain places, for my recent collection, which inspired this installation, I wanted to be creative and challenging, and create something quite elaborate without going over budget. I start a garment in calico and from there I work on the shape and form. The biro becomes the embellishment. There is a lot of work, because it's all hand-drawn. In the end, it looks like embroidery. It's almost like a couture way of working.

Calico has a starched quality that breaks down the shape with wear. Was this the effect you were going for?
Firstly, I like its weird off-tone color; this color looks good on everyone. The fabric wears, changes and evolves when you wear it. You can't wash it or even dry-clean it.

So it has a limited lifespan.
Exactly. You can only wear it for a moment, really for no more than a few events. There is a beauty in its limited lifespan.

You studied in Holland and London, earning your BA in Arnhem and your MA at St Martins. What did you take away from each?
Arnhem is more about technique and how to build a garment. At St Martins, it's more about the image, about the woman. It's more about the idea of fashion, the dream. The combination has worked well for me.

Is it true that you work with your mother on your collections?
Yes. My mother does all the pleated metal pieces. It started at St Martins. The director, Louise Wilson, commented on a brooch I was wearing, something my mother had made. She said, "If you have a mother this talented, why don’t you work together on something.” This way I get to really spend time with her.

Is your mother based here in Holland?
Yes, she lives close to Arnhem. My parents met here. My father is a painter and they both met at the Academy. Initially I didn't want to study here. I didn’t want to be the baker’s son who becomes a baker. But it was unavoidable.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

Scent of a Man

By Haidee Findlay-Levin...

I realize my taste in fragrance is not very commercial or mainstream. I know this from my first unofficial experience reviewing a new scent. Early in my fashion career, I happened to be in Paris at a casual lunch with friends who worked for Azzedine Alaïa. Also at the lunch was their friend and designer, Thierry Mugler. I was mid-conversation when someone passed a small unlabeled vial under my nose to smell. I took one whiff, grimaced at the sickly sweet smell and exclaimed, “Ooh, that's disgusting. It smells like candy.” A silence descended on the table. The unlabeled fragrance was the prototype for Thierry Mugler’s Angel, now among the best-selling fragrances in the world.

My first experience with Byredo fragrances was entirely different. It was during my stay at the Berns Hotel in Stockholm, where the subtle scent of a Byredo candle permeated the hotel in the best possible way, and is now permanently attached to my memory of the city. Memory seems inseparable from the experience of scent and was a constant source of inspiration for Ben Gorham, founder of Byredo, as he created his new gentleman's fragrance in collaboration with the editors of Fantastic Man, Jop Van Bennekom and Gert Jonkers.

How do you capture the essence of a magazine in a fragrance? Jonkers describes the experience as "super virtual" and the process "like walking around in the dark, looking for the light switch." Perhaps that's why, at its Paris launch this spring, the scent could be experienced by sniffing a blindfolded man. But as I was not in Paris for this particularly evocative inauguration, they sent me an elegantly packaged bottle to sample it myself. Like the magazine, it has an old-fashioned quality reminiscent of Tabac and Old Spice, yet with a lingering aroma that's very modern. In the end, the result is a super normal fragrance with a lovely edge. As Jonkers puts it: "It's as inclusively niche as the magazine itself.”

Fantastic Man Eau de Cologne, $195 for 100 ml at Byredo

Read Hint's first review of Byredo in Beauty Duty.

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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A Stella Performance

By Haidee Findlay-Levin...

Giving in to the suppressed urge for retail therapy, I popped into Barneys New York yesterday for Stella McCartney's trunk show, which gave me a chance to see the collection up close. Better still, Stella was there in person for a Q&A with the wonderfully witty Simon Doonan.

I knew Stella from my early styling days in London. I remember being at her precious jewel box of a studio in Notting Hill (when Phoebe Philo was still her assistant) at the moment Madonna's office called for the first time. I was amazed that the potentially blasé daughter of a Beatle could be excited by celebrity.

Stella is now, incredibly, a mother of three and running her own international clothing, accessory and beauty empire, plus designing a collaboration with Adidas. When Simon asked if she would like to do menswear, she answered with a resounding yes. Why not? She trained, post-Central Saint Martins, with a bespoke tailor who worked under the notorious Tommy Nutter. Suiting has been a part of her signature since her student days, even before her tenure at Chloé.

Now, as everyone knows, Stella is a lifelong vegetarian and promotes a cruelty-free ethos in her personal and professional lives. Although she passes no judgment on others, she is well-known for her staunch opposition to leather, designing all her accessories—shoes, bags, belts, etc.—in alternative materials. For this, she has drawn a lot of respect in an industry that loves all things animal: leather, exotic skins, fur and so on.

So, right then, just as I was thinking about her noble aversion to animal-made products, it happened. It. You know! I, a fellow vegetarian, unwittingly made the ultimate Stella faux pas by wearing not only the fairly forgivable leather boots and a leather bag, but also my Acne leather tunic complete with a jumbo leather and metal Tuareg [North African] necklace! I listened uneasily as she spoke about her affection for the jumpsuit, desperate to crawl into and disappear in one of them. But I rallied, hid part of my outfit under my short coat and I went to say hello, for old times' sake. And in true Stella form, she put (visible) judgment aside and was all compliments on my appearance.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Stockholm Fashion Week: Day 3/3

By Haidee Findlay-Levin...

After attending so many fashion shows in so many countries over the years—and I say that without bragging—it becomes very challenging to review shows in both a local and global context. Of course there will always be the standouts whose skill and ingenuity shine through—in the case of Stockholm, these were Acne and Fifth Avenue Shoe Repair, and there are plenty other Swedish labels that have made the international leap. But after the dramatics of Paris, the theatrics of London and the slickness of Milan, how does one fairly assess the collections of an emerging fashion community made up of mostly young and enthusiastic talent?

I tried to ask myself what it was I hoped to see at Stockholm Fashion Week—or Fashion by Berns, as it's called—and the answer was clear: new, young street fashion. When shows hit this note, I can't ask for anything more. I got it at the aforementioned Acne collection, which has actually risen to a level all its own, as well as Cheap Monday, for its cool take on the classic jean. The show and publicity shots were styled in such a way that was fresh, fun and playful. It never took itself too seriously and there was a resourceful DIY quality that screamed youth. I left feeling satisfied; I had gotten what I came for.

But a lot of shows fell short of this for various reasons. Some never went the extra mile to really flesh out an idea or to show something unexpected, and instead showed what was not only tried and tested, but had already been on the streets for the past season or two—evidently, as the audience was already wearing it. They played it too safe! Yes, I've heard all about the recession and credit crunch, but no amount of sameness or of last year's trend is going to make me or anyone else rush out to buy it again.

Other designers struggled with their place in the market. They seemed torn between the exuberance of youth and their desire to be grown-up. Never knock youth; there's a lifetime to grow up! I don’t see the point in sacrificing that youthful enthusiasm and willingness to embrace new ideas, as witnessed at the Beckmans student show yesterday, for the sake of looking adult. Grown-up styles work fantastically well when they are expertly cut in sophisticated and sumptuous fabrics—it's all about the cloth. Without fine cloth and fine cutting, the result is dress-up, a child’s pursuit.

And finally, some clothes are great for wearing but not necessarily for showing. Certain ideas often work better as a presentation or installation, others as a video or in print. Putting clothes on models under the glare of runway floodlights is like putting your work under a very strong microscope that reveals every thread, pucker and flaw. It can also be an enormous expense. Without the right casting of models to carry your clothes and your concept, the appropriate music, make-up and hair, you could be doing yourself more of a disservice.

Some of the shows I saw today—Dagmar, Nhu Duong, A-S Davik—had all the enthusiasm and commitment of Alexander McQueen’s first show in London, but they might as well have been made from trash bags. They didn’t have his impeccable skill, an enormous sense of conviction and an even bigger dose of guts. This is what it takes! This is what made that show, even years later, so memorable. I suppose I have been spoiled.

Sweden is clearly very fair-minded and democratic. Everyone gets a chance and a great opportunity to shine. Talent is proudly nurtured, encouraged and supported—something that barely exists in other cities. And generous awards are bestowed. This is all wonderful. But what they don’t do is self-critique. This makes it too easy and safe. No boundaries are pushed, no egos are bruised and the establishment is not rocked. I probably won’t be popular for saying any of this, but maybe it takes an outsider to do it.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Stockholm Fashion Week: Day 2

By Haidee Findlay-Levin...

The fashion industry in Sweden is essentially a young industry. The editors are young, the buyers are young and the designers even younger. As a result, the fashion itself is young. Designers design for their friends and their peers. They design the way they like to dress themselves.

So if the fashion is so youthful, I wondered what a student show in Stockholm would have to offer and went to see a knitwear show at the Beckmans College of Design, representing fourteen second-year students. I was pleased to see that each of them, unaffected by market demands, had an entirely different perspective. At this school, theory and experimentation are clearly valued as much as good craftsmanship.

I was particularly impressed with Heidi Nilausen's collection, called Warriors. Inspired by the merging of cultures into a global system and the extinction of ancestral traditions, she also looked at various dolls of ancient cultures. The clothes were a cohesive series of oversized and incredibly elegant macramé vests and hooded coats, all made with a natural, un-dyed yarn. She paired them with high Bolivian-style hats and caps, along with bold border-striped and draped volumes that were reminiscent of the prayer shawls of religious Jews. The idea could have easily come a little close to Disney’s It's a Wonderful World, but instead landed closer to the elegance of Ann Demeulemeester and Rick Owens.

Heidi Nilausen

I also really enjoyed Erik Annerborn’s collection, Trans Sport, which explored the concept of heterosexual transgression that occurs when men dress in women's clothing. This spring we will see women's fabrics used in menswear from Yves Saint Laurent, Lanvin and Burberry, while Comme des Garçons offers white skirts over suits as an alternative to kilts. So although not entirely new as an idea, the outcome of this student's work was both humorous and playful. Pleated cheerleader skirts were incorporated into oversized sport sweaters and school blazers, while stripy socks and leggings keep it from looking too much like uniforms.

Fanny Ollas also threw menswear traditions and old values to the wind, instead combining Lurex, pink sequins, mohair and sheer yarns in clashes of red with pink or mauve, disregarding cowardice and embracing the courage of femininity in menswear.

I have no idea what Josefin Arnell's eyeball- and script-covered hairy monsters were meant to represent, but I was intrigued nonetheless by her fluffy, floating cocoons on sneakers and cloud-painted platform shoes.

Josefin Arnell

Maria Melinder's barcode sweater dress from her Keeping Up with the Joneses collection was probably another concept that went over my head, but one with graphic and fun results.

I was hoping to discover more of this youthful exuberance, but only found it again toward the end of the day at the Cheap Monday show. Despite the underlying reality that this collection was a new grungy take on recession dressing, there was a certain DIY quality—a welcome change from all that slick luxury stuff we have been force-fed for so long. Jeans were, of course, the highlight here, in fact the reason we were there at all. This time we saw skinnies in traditional faded black and blue, sometimes acid-washed, but always trashed, shredded, frayed or cut up. This idea was just the starting point as jeans were patched, re-paired and then patched again, with contrasting denims and unexpected fabrics such as black lace, mesh, black vinyl, silver gaffer tape and plaid. Jeans were paired with simple long, gray jackets or coats worn with blanket-sized scarves and extra-long clown shoes, which gave it a Charlie Chaplin quality. Painted cardboard top hats, guitars and traveling cases completed the effect, which was both vagabond and runaway child.

Cheap Monday

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Stockholm Fashion Week: Day 1

By Haidee Findlay-Levin...

My second visit to Stockholm for Fashion Week by Berns feels diametrically opposed to the first. I was here in the spring and happily suffered insomnia due to endless beautiful days and the midnight sun. Here I am again for the fall '09 shows, somehow suffering the insomnia again, despite very dark days that run early into long dark nights. A friend told me to pack a flashlight and slushy shoes, which I promptly ignored—evidently along with all the other incredibly well-dressed attendees at the shows.

What is striking about fashion in Stockholm is the immediacy. It seems to go from catwalk directly to the street. People actually wear the clothes and ideas that we see on the catwalk and with the same attention to detail and accessory. These clothes are not the showpieces of Paris, which are strictly for the purpose of press. Instead they are wearable and cool enough to be worn without any need for diffusion or compromise.

Shows began in the early afternoon, which gave me time to pop into the newly enlarged and refurbished Acne store and snap up one of the Acne/Lanvin denim dresses I've been waiting months to get. In fact it was a bit of an Acne day. First, I had been busily transcribing an interview I'm writing for the next issue of Acne Paper, then immediately ran into the lovely Anja Cronberg, the magazine's Features Editor, who became my show companion for the rest of the day—and dinner companion, along with two close photographer friends of mine, Martin Liddell and Fredrik Stogkvist.

Acne opted for a presentation at Millesgarden, on one of the islands on the other side of town. The artist's house was filled with old statues, among which models on pedestals were scattered. In the first room we saw the pre-fall collection, while in the main room the full fall collection for both men and women was exhibited. The pre-collection was certainly cool, with rubber-soled wedge sneakers, bold copper earrings and silver neck cuffs. I also loved the denim: over-dyed pale-green baggy jeans, rolled up and worn with a great 1950’s couture-style short-sleeved tweed coat—one of those fashion oxymorons that somehow appeal to me.

Acne men's

A young Bob Dylan, transported from 60’s America to a contemporary unidentified European metropolis, apparently inspired Acne's menswear for fall. There was the contradiction of printed velvets layered with chunky hand-knits, the odd Lurex scarf and tone-on-tone solids in shades of burgundy with plum, cobalt blue with indigo and grass green with sapphire. The style was certainly folksy, but the Bohemian look was simultaneously elegant. I particularly loved a really squashed suede hat flopped over the eye of its wearer, as well as a series of tightly crocheted hats in much the same floppy style, which pretty much hid the faces of the young boys. The square-toe boots in two-tone leather and suede came complete with one-inch wide zippers and crepe-wedge soles.

But it was seeing the women's collection that made my trip to Stockholm already worthwhile, confirming all the sensibilities I have been feeling for a while. The collection was inspired by the many visits made by Acne‘s creative director Jonny Johansson to Berlin, for its burgeoning art scene, and the flea markets of Paris' Clignancourt. The 60's look of the girls struck me as part Nico and part Joan Baez, by way of early Pierre Cardin. Old tapestry-style paisley fabrics never looked crusty but rather as if they were wound directly off the bolt into clean tubular shaped tunics and mini-skirts. Worn over clear plastic, skinny trousers looked like clear stockings tucked into mirror-heeled wedge boots and massive tapestry-wedged shoes.

Acne women's

But it was the contrast of these cool clothes worn with incredible large precious jewelry that completely took my breath away. A while back, Jonny had fallen in love with the image of an elderly man he had seen sitting in Café Flore who had proudly worn enormous rings on every finger. This led to an incredible collaboration with a German jewelry designer and artist, Michael Zobel, the father of one of the Acne designers. Each one-of-a-kind piece was enormous, from the multiple rings worn on both hands to a huge round mauve jade brooch, worn like a pin on a leather biker vest.

Among Acne's jewelry offerings was a large, low-slung circular silver pendant with a cut-out square, which was replaced with a gold bar, volcanic glass and floating obsidian. Wrist cuffs were made from hammered gold that had been melted over unpolished silver, and then combined with black diamonds and rough wood from the Sahara. Others, in rose gold and platinum were emblazoned with rough coral, aquamarine and Madagascar tourmaline. A lollypop-sized emerald on an 18-kt gold ring sat next to a flying saucer of hematite and oriental pearls. These sculptural combinations of precious stones, hard wood and metals easily looked tribal, but in Zobel’s hands, the result was more experimental 70’s modernist.

The other really impressive show of the day was Fifth Avenue Shoe Repair. The design duo are expert cutters, like no other in Stockholm—in much the same way Junya Watanabe is in Tokyo. This season they were drawn to their theatrical side. They used their 3-D technique of cutting fabric, while drawing inspiration from Picasso’s Guitar and Girl with a Mandolin, to construct outfits in a soft cubist manner. The collection opened with total black and then moved into a series of contrasting dogtooth tweeds and small checks in purples, browns and eventually beiges, resulting in an undefined color. The complexity of some of these forms, further combined with wide plissé, were clearly cubist in inspiration. While other garments, particularly men's, relied more on the loose draping and deft wrapping of fabric around the body, in the way of the artist Christo. A variety of clown-like cropped trousers, complete with baggy knees and bustle were often held up by suspenders and then combined with a jaunty hat, paisley or polka-dot bowties, handkerchiefs and the odd silk scarf. When viewed from a distance, they seemed to grow out of a shirt collar or jacket pocket to create the illusion of seamlessness.

Fifth Avenue Shoe Repair

Meanwhile, design teams such as The Local Firm tapped into a very prevalent gothic, androgynous street sensibility, where the distinction between the layering of cool men's and women's wear was hardly noticeable. Perhaps it was the recent success of the Swedish film “Let the Right One In” that has inspired this vampire sensibility, particularly evident in Carin Wester’s collection of men’s trousers, high-waisted and perfectly pleated, ending in a slightly low crotch then tapering to a cuff and stirrup that ran neatly over the shoe. These were mostly worn shirtless, with a long jacket or cardigan, exposing an almost bloodless white skin to the infinite possibilities of a long winter night in Sweden.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Paris Fashion Week: Gold Digging

Haidee Findlay-Levin...

One of the shiniest stars of Paris Fashion Week was shine itself. One would predict that in this current political and economic doom and gloom, designers would reflect this with something pretty sober, conservative or at the very least classic. On the contrary, designers have opted for all the glittery, excessive posturing of the 80s. And I am not just referring to a color or surface treatment; I mean this quite literally. Precious metals, to be exact.

Sophia Kokosalaki usually mines her Greek heritage for inspiration, but this time she traveled a little farther east, specifically the Middle East. Perched on the head of most of the girls was a miniature gold fez. Fabrics were mostly organza in black, beige orange and bright blue, accented with gold lamé, of course. Gold earrings swung loosely from their ears while a gold bustier peeked out from under a jacket and a gold bra could be seen under a cutaway jumpsuit. And like a moth to a flame, my eye was drawn from the fez to the feet, with their sculptural platinum heels in any number of strappy combinations.

Sophia Kokosalaki

Dries Van Noten showed a far more subtle, poetic and elegant collection, which is hard to imagine when graphics and geometry are the inspiration. Black and white grid prints on boxy shirts and jackets were followed by faded and dégradé versions in blue, saffron and sunset yellow on relaxed shifts, replacing his standard floral and ethnic prints. But once again, the metals sparkled most—first in the setting, the Palais Royal sculpture garden, where Pol Bury's giant silver ball fountains took center stage. They were the perfect connect to the bulbous necklaces and bracelets in both silver and gold, suspended on long black ribbons that fell down the back, while an ankle-grazing gold jersey skirt was paired with a crisp white shirt. Dries got my gold star not only for being one of the rare designers to give women something other than a showgirl outfit, but also for offering us a glass of tea and macaroons from Ladurée during a 12-hour day of nonstop shows.

Dries Van Noten

Sparkle came in many forms this season, not least of them crystals. Large jet or mirror crystals dripped from the shoulders of black and flesh-pink capes in Givenchy’s homage to the rodeo. Or take Bollywood to the circus and you have an understanding of Indian designer Manish Arora's recent rise and shine. Meanwhile, disco must have been on Alber Albaz’s playlist long before the girls strutted down his Lanvin runway to late 70’s soundtracks, as glittery crystals adorned large sunglasses and stiletto heels in an otherwise dark collection.

And Alexander McQueen, showman extraordinaire, sent out a veritable Noah’s Ark of creatures against a 3D video projection of a revolving earth. There were some incredible beauties, but I hate to say, this time there were some beasts. Never one for restraint, he closed the show with girls in shiny crystal-covered dresses with an imaginary deep décolleté. These looks seemed more Ice Capades than exotic. But perhaps this was his point: in order to save the earth we need to save the polar ice caps. He closed the show with an unforgettable skintight and short-sleeved catsuit, completely covered in amber crystals down to the heels—clearly, going for gold.

Alexander McQueen

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Saturday, October 4, 2008

Paris Fashion Week: Junya Watanabe

Haidee Findlay-Levin...

When I think about what I miss most about living in Africa, there are a few things that immediately spring to mind: the quality of the light, especially in the early morning and after a summer thunderstorm, the sound of African men and women singing as they go about their work and the constant hum of crickets and chirping of birds in the warmer months. It was to this familiar sound of birds, followed by voices of women singing, that Junya Watanabe opened his show and his homage to the elegance of African dress. To this day, every morning I wrap a piece or two of African fabric around my body and remain like this until I need to leave the house. As I work from home, this form of dress has fondly become known to my friends as my African office skirt. So it was natural that I felt a pang of nostalgia for his deftness at tackling this very personal theme that so many designers get so horribly wrong.

A multitude of colorful Kenyan prints in cotton were twisted, bunched and gathered in his familiar and innovative ways, sometimes even pleated. What I loved most was the intricate shoulder detail or knitted yokes. These prints were also wrapped into beautiful turbans filled with wild grasses that the girls carried gracefully on their heads. He flirted a little with this spirit and also with some of these twisted or bunched silhouettes last summer, in bold block colors of pink and cobalt blue but most memorably in a variety of liberty prints. This season he exchanged those for the bold and colorful African prints, as well as a mix of leafy, leopard or zebra prints, fluorescent stretch jersey, bright ginghams, light men's suiting and faded denim. It seems he wanted to make use of accessible fabrics, those appropriate not only to Africa, but the developing world in general.

He revisited his deconstruction of denim, this time showing some fitted and peplum jackets but mostly as long ruffled skirts made out of men’s jeans and worn belted low on the hip. A zebra thong peeked out above one of them, a surprising and somewhat tacky gesture. Sometimes the denim was broken up with contrasting fabric ruffles in print, gingham or white eyelet—another accessible fabric that he made good use of combined with denim, and later in the show with natural colored linen.

While all the elements seem so familiar and commonplace, it sometimes takes a foreigner (Japanese is as foreign as any) with as deft an eye as his to appreciate the style of the culture and to see and show it from a different perspective. I do wish he had pushed it even further though, left those tiny touches of colonialism behind and let loose on the idea without any restraint or trepidation. All the same, he has already given my old African office skirt whole new meaning.

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Friday, October 3, 2008

Paris Fashion Week: Hussein Chalayan

Haidee Findlay-Levin...

I joined Fantastic Man editors Jop van Bennekom and Gert Jonkers to see the Hussein Chalayan show. They weren't there to see menswear, but to lend their support to Jody Barnes, their new fashion director, who was stepping in to style the show in place of a pregnant Jane Howe.

There were the usual high expectations from Hussein, who seldom disappoints, usually presenting one of those shows that makes Fashion Week memorable. I have been there for almost all of them, ever since his student days. And sometimes I have been in the trenches, too, filling in for Jane or offering my loyal friendship and support. Last season, in all honesty, was my first disappointment. It just never jelled for me, so this season my expectations were especially high, in light of his new position at Puma and their financial support.

The runway was the familiar circular format, this time revolving. The narrow window in the back revealed a row of wine glasses. This became the stage for a live percussionist, who added further eeriness to the soundtrack by passing his hands rhythmically over the glasses.

The first look was a gray bodysuit, and from that point on we saw many variations of intricately cut bodysuits that revealed décolleté, legs and even a fair amount of butt. All this seemed very much in keeping with the season. But at a Hussein show?! This was dangerously close to the amount of flesh he showed in his controversial show of naked women under truncated chadors.

Some of the suits were fitted with small fins or wings at the hip, others had surgical corsetry or what looked like the inner workings of a vehicle, while others were embellished with shards of glass. Space travel and aerodynamics is a subject that greatly interests Hussein and although this immediately puts him in the “futuristic" camp, he insists this is not the case. In fact, he is adamant to shake free of the label and insists that it is the now that really interests him. After all, the future quickly becomes the present.

Besides a few touches of fluorescent yellow, the gray palette transitioned into blue photographic print, another theme that has recurred in his work. This time, it was a collage of car graveyards and car wrecks, complete with fragments of license plates. Narrow trousers were given the same treatment, as were softer layers of shroud-like chiffon or a harem jumpsuit that was cut out at the hips to facilitate the protruding fins.

Another interesting addition to the line-up, and for Hussein in general, were sunglasses with little panels or shutters in place of lenses, which seemed both retro and futuristic. In fact they seemed inspired or adapted from a series of glasses prominent in the 60s, originally designed by fellow Brit, Oliver Goldsmith. There was one style with vertical panels shown in a few bold colors and another with pinched holes, a style Goldsmith also introduced with smaller holes, known as the Alice Band, as it doubled as exactly that when popped up over the head. The shoes were really the only downside, steel heels which looked a little buckled and beaten up, interesting aesthetically but treacherous for the girls who had that revolving catwalk to negotiate.

For the finale—and there is always a much-anticipated finale at a Hussein show—four girls stepped onto the revolving platform as wind machines were fired up like twin plane propellers. The print of their dresses morphed into rigid fins in the back, like those of a classic car. As the wind blew, sending their loose hair into a frenzy, the screech of the musical glasses rose before ending in a crash, as the lights dimmed and the window snapped shut.

Backstage, Hussein spoke about the concept of the show. You can be sure he will never talk skirt lengths or trends, but is usually intrigued by some philosopher whose work feels contemporary and relevant today. This time he spoke about the world in a state of flux, pregnant with the anticipation of change brought on by an outside force. This change can be physical, shown here in the shapes and forms of the clothes themselves, or as a natural, social or political event. If all change looked as amazing as it does in the hands of Hussein Chalayan, bring it on, I say!

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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Paris Fashion Week: Maison Martin Margiela

Haidee Findlay-Levin...

When I read the article in the Herald Tribune the morning of Martin Margiela's 20th anniversary show, that this might be his last and that he was looking for a successor, I considered my own resignation from fashion. Although my departure wouldn't be nearly as dramatic or significant, if someone as inspired and inspiring as Margiela had nothing left to say, I found it hard to imagine carrying on.

After all, how can one individual—although he only refers collectively to his Maison—come up with so many original ideas twice yearly? He is a fish that swims upstream, one of the few designers who always does things his way, whether the rest of the industry comes around to his way of thinking or not, right down to his AIDS charity T-shirt that he consistently sells even if the fight against AIDS itself has slipped out of fashion.

Even the setting of his shows have set precedents. He has shown in the back of a pub, on buses, in dilapidated buildings and on top of tables in a dance hall. Perhaps the most genius of all was the simultaneous staging of a show in several countries, requiring no travel at all as we simultaneously witnessed the same experience. His idea long preceded live internet simulcasts.

I remember my introduction to his clothes, that blank white label and its curious four white stitches. On one of my first fashion trips to Paris, I saw a series of clothes in a store—it might have been L’Eclaireur on Rue Rossier—and I loved each and every piece. But they had no name, no identity; they were completely anonymous. From that point on I not only used Margiela for styling jobs, but also consistently bought and wore that white label, even when friends had grown tired of his anti-aesthetic.

I was drawn not only to the intelligence of the clothes, but to Margiela's humor and sense of irony. I also identified with the dark side of his work, which, while often macabre, can also be witty and silly. Margiela is one of the few designers who works through a concept over two seasons, sometimes even three, until he has completely explored and developed the idea, often revisiting it at an even later date. At his 10th anniversary show he presented exact pieces from the previous decade, but re-dyed them in a single color, showing the longevity of their design and how an old idea can be repackaged as new. Despite all his influence—acknowledged by Rei Kawakubo, Junya Watanabe, Yohji Yamamoto and Marc Jacobs among others—his clothes are so ahead of the game that they remain essentially timeless.

Now looking back at two decades, this latest show began with a single large shadow cast over the runway and then opened with a singe girl in a white lab coat dress, followed by a series of looks that entered from both sides of the runway. A screen-printed scarf dress referred to his screen-printing collection, with its sequin dresses and knit sweaters that had been screened onto silk tank dresses. This time it was like a carbon rubbing on jeans and an oversized jean jacket.

Accessories were as clever as ever, including shoes that were either too large or small, with a heel falling short of the foot or the strap extended well past the ankle but held in place with elastic. A red bag evolved and eventually draped right over the bodysuit like a cape. Newest to his repertoire is fine jewelry, which appeared as an oversized link chain on a model whose head peeked out of an oversized velvet jewelry box as the rest of the body fell out of the spotlight.

As usual the models remained anonymous, in bodysuits and masks. There is nothing misogynistic here, just that the clothes should speak for themselves. Playing with this concept, sometimes he put a dark-skinned girl in a huge blonde afro and a white girl in a huge black afro, both of which completely covered the face. Margiela has always had a love for hair and wigs, creating vests and jackets out of the inside netting of wigs, as well as fur hats in the shape of mullets. This time wigs not only hid the face of the girls, but also cascaded as full capes.

All birthday parties deserve a party dress and cake, and Margiela closed his show with two enormous party dresses, taking his familiar play on oversized volumes to extremes. Then a huge screen-printed garment in the shape of a tiered cake walked down the runway with the legs of two girls peeking out. When the curtain rose, Margiela was, as usual, nowhere to be seen as large silver confetti (oversized, of course) fell from above, models took their finale walk (this time with faces exposed) with the Maison team (in their customary white lab coats) and even a brass band took to the runway.

Happy Birthday, Martin! Here's to many more.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Paris Fashion Week: Nina Ricci

Haidee Findlay-Levin...

The setting of a Nina Ricci show always manages to transcend the usually mundane tent experience. The first Nina Ricci show with Olivier Theyskens at the helm was held on a magnificent winter day with a translucent pale-blue sky and leafless trees that were in such sharp relief that they looked like cutouts. For that particular show, he opened up the tent and made full use of nature's backdrop. With the addition of a fog machine, the girls looked like they had walked right out of a James Tyrrell installation. In this way, he established the delicate sensitivity of the brand.

For spring, he sectioned the venue into three long passages lined with the backs of canvas paintings to achieve an intimate atmosphere. This allowed for a close examination of the work, in this case the delicacy and beauty of his dresses. This was not a collection to be viewed on a pedestal, but on ground level and on reed-like, wafer-thin girls, each draped in an exquisite version of a single concept: a floor-length Victorian-inspired dress complete with a long train, while the front ended high above the knees. In the wrong hands, this would screamed showgirl, but not here.

The colors were painterly, shades of flesh, dusty rose, the palest of china blue and lavender organza. Each dress was like a subtly different collage, treated with fine details, thin cutaways, the lightest ruffles, the most subtle of floral prints and washes of color. There was a light-as-air hand-crocheted cardigan thrown over one dress, a mutton-sleeved white kid-leather jacket worn over another. A single pair of black trousers with a delicate leather jodhpur ruffle at the sides stood out, shown with an unlined leather riding jacket. In all, the collection was very reminiscent of Theyskens' earliest work, pre-Nina Ricci and pre-Rochas. It was as if he had decided to no longer follow the desires of a house, but those of his very own.

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Paris Fashion Week: Gareth Pugh & Bruno Pieters

There are always positives and negatives to Paris Fashion Week. This season, they've either come into balance or the very idea has become the trend. Probably the most rigorous of examples, Gareth Pugh's debut Paris show at Palais de Tokyo set the tone. After nine seasons in London, Pugh's move to Paris is the result of winning the prestigious and highly lucrative Andam award. From the glossy black and white fold-up poster invite to the Dan Flavin-like vertical lighting rods, we were prepared for extremes in black and white. And we got it. Bodies were completely covered in the two colors, from the top of the neck down to the two-toned booted wedges. Extreme Elizabethan ruffled collars were paired with skirt hems with the same scroll-like effect. Arms and legs were perfectly articulated and sculpted, while micro dresses were covered in patent-leather scales to futuristic-reptilian effect. Or like costumes for some sci-fi samurai movie; in fact Pugh's designs having already found their way into the Superheroes show at the Met. For me, the highlights were an amazing series of dresses with perfectly enhanced fish-scale protrusions down the sides of the silhouette. Light relief came in a few softer renditions in black and white chiffon and silk, both in hooded robe-like coats and collapsing curtain-ruffle dresses. The show played out like a chess set, except in this case the queens, pawns, knights, castles and even the board were all fused together.

Belgian designer Bruno Pieters, last year's Andam award winner, didn’t have chess in mind when he designed his own graphic black and white collection. Instead he dedicated his show to Pierre Cardin. Pieters traded Pugh's white lights for a black-out, which made navigating our way to our seats pretty treacherous if you didn't have one of those key-ring lights that a Japanese buyer had on hand. A very sporadic spotlight did more to obscure than enhance the impeccable tailoring and construction of these doll-sized clothes worn by doll-size girls. Pieters showed both black and white micro-mini suits of short skirts and short-sleeved square-shouldered, cropped jackets—mostly in patent raffia—complete with sleeveless turtlenecks. The square shoulder felt more reminiscent of Margiela than Cardin; on the other hand, they wouldn't have looked out of place on a 60’s Braniff stewardess. Other silhouettes in black and white silk taffeta may have been more of a nod to the old master, but their lightness proved that they were in the hands of a young pro. Our favorite suite was a little black raffia one worn by my friend Nathalie Joos, the show's casting director, who greeted us at the gate, although she could've easily joined her own line-up. She later joined me for the Nina Ricci show, where the paparazzi and bloggerazzi were already well-entrenched.

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Paris Fashion Week: the Invites

Haidee Findlay-Levin gets lost in the mail...

Arriving in Paris to full sunshine and warmth—this is true pleasure and inspires brief thoughts of learning French and moving to the French capital. But that usually dissipates toward the end of the trip, when the weather has turned and I have more than enough taxi nightmare stories.

There's a ritual I do when I come to Paris for Fashion Week. I scoop up the invites that have arrived at my hotel, assess the size of the pile and start to sort and sift threw it, separating into days. No matter how huge the heap or enthusiasm for getting invites to certain shows, it's always the missing ones that sound alarm bells, regardless of the many emails exchanged with the PR. No, I am neither going to dissect the performance of PR companies nor their ability to get an invite to me in time for the show. I will, however, focus on the positive and say I love to see my name written in beautiful calligraphy. That is, after the initial shock of seeing the word “Madame” preceding it—“Mademoiselle” would be so much kinder. It's the invites themselves that deserve attention. Not just because they give you a secret view of the designer's inspiration, but also as an art in itself.

There are large poster invites, which, although dramatic, are only useful for wallpapering bedrooms. To those of us with a certain invite-to-handbag ratio, these bold statements are a damn nuisance. I have to hand it to Anne Demeulemeester for taking this into consideration this season. Her invite arrived in the smallest of envelopes—already promising—and inside was the tiniest of black notebooks, thumbnail-size, with all the show's information reduced into those tiny pages. This is something I might even preserve for posterity. Save the trees!

There is always much anticipation of Martin Margiela's invite, arriving inevitably in a white envelope of some unusual shape, weight and size. Sometimes it comes as a long white card with a bold section letter stamped on it in bleeding red ink, but never some insulting seat allocation, causing either an immediate sense of recognition or humiliation. In the past, I have received white-painted wishbones and apples from Margiela, which have taken up residence in my whitewashed home. This time, on his 20th anniversary, the invite was a silver backstage pass complete with the numerological Margiela label. One word: cool.

On the other end of the spectrum was Christian Lacroix's very painterly invite. Beautifully printed on a textured petal-colored card, it consisted of a mélange of fluorescent paint blobs and smears overlaid with graphic black hearts and a fish-scale print. I'm getting a strong Japanese feeling in the colors, poppy design and especially the elaborate envelope with peek-a-boo cutouts. Mon cher M. Lacroix, you have piqued my interest already!

Dries Van Noten sent a very slick clear sheet of plexiglass. Should we suspect transparency in his collection or was he determined to give nothing away? Plexiglass invites, however, even when beautifully printed with white script, do add considerable weight to one's bag, as well as considerable guilt about trashing it after the show.

I love seeing the bold Givenchy name printed on the back of their envelope—such perfect, timeless design. It's also a show I have not missed since Riccardo Tisci took the reins. This season the invite design was a collage drawing that seemed to suggest a rodeo, complete with Givenchy spelled out in a cowboy's lasso.

I was eagerly awaiting Sonia Rykiel's 40th anniversary invite, a show followed by a massive party to celebrate this amazing accomplishment. I was surprised to see that on the front of the large invite was a thank you to an endless list of designers, from Alber Albaz to Ralph Lauren. What on earth was she thanking them all for? After all, every designer who's ever contemplated a striped knit should be thanking Sonia! Were they her guests of honor, her hosts for the night? Watch this space.

The only unfortunate thing with this invite—and inevitably with invites from John Galliano, Alexander McQueen and usually Martin Margiela—is an extra little card. No, it's not a special press discount card; it's a map. This usually means the show is on the outskirts of Paris, at the end of the metro line or beyond. This seldom flusters on-staff editors who just slip the little card into the gloved hand of their drivers as they slide into the leather car seat. But to freelancers, it is the ultimate test of dedication to a designer. We anticipate the likelihood of finding neither a taxi to take us there nor one to rescue us from the desolate area.

And finally, there is that sign of contemporary life, the e-vite, sometimes presaged by a save-the-date email, which gives you false hope that you will soon be proudly clutching the real thing alongside your new clutch bag, as the Sartorialist or a flood of bloggers snap your picture. But usually the “real” invite is only an e-vite, an even less seductive virtual piece of information that not only finds its way into your junk folder, but also makes you feel guilty for printing it out as the small print at the bottom asks you to Please Protect the Trees. Abiding by this desire to protect the environment could mean confronting the blank stare of a bouncer, refusing to look at the flashing e-vite on your Blackberry.

There was a time when designers sent gifts and flowers along with their invites, thanking you in advance for attending (perhaps those aforementioned editors are still receiving these grand gestures at The Ritz). There were also those embarrassing blow-up toys and gimmicky invites that scattered glitter or cookie crumbs onto your new outfit when you opened them. Thus, the best invite is a chic and well-designed little card that grants you painless entry. That said, any invite from Balenciaga, real or virtual, I take without criticism or complaint.

—Haidee Findlay-Levin

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Night Vision

Stylist Haidee Findlay-Levin gets her party on...

This New York Fashion Week felt like the longest ever. And no wonder. When you do the math, it was actually ten days of wall-to-wall shows, all colliding with endless parties like bumper cars. There was no soft landing. For me, it began last Wednesday with show prep for two collections, followed by an exhibition by photographer Jesse Frohman at the Soho Grand. With so much happening day and night, I thought it best to break the week down into my highlights (the parties) and, in a following blog, lowlights (most of the shows)...

Sept. 4
I rushed with Vogue's Mark Holgate from an event at Christie's to catch the opening of curator Valerie Steele's Gothic exhibit at FIT. Although I consider myself pretty gothic, I had chosen to wear an elegant draped back evening dress-cum-jumpsuit by Martin Margiela, leaving my pointy shoulders for another night. Many of the guests really went all out with black taffeta dresses, brocade coats and even wigs, though I wasn't entirely sure whether some of them were dressed for the occasion or this was their daily attire. A distinctly musty odor of resurrected clothing wafted around the room, noticed by more than just myself—proof that these clothes were very much loved by their original owners. The show itself was really wonderfully done, featuring themes such as Night, Cage, Ruined Castle and Laboratory, where fashion “monsters” were born. Some of the best examples were by goth favorites Alexander McQueen, Riccardo Tischi of Givenchy, Rick Owens, Hussein Chalayan and Anne Demeulemeester, all of whom revisit the theme in many of their collections. The show certainly deserves a second visit and should be on the to-do list of any aspiring designer, stylist or night-crawler.

I then gathered the troops, which now included Hint's Lee Carter and Aric Chen, as well as knitwear designer Tom Scott, and headed for the Interview party at Andre Balazs' anticipated new hotel, The Standard. We walked the red carpet that led us along a construction site (complete with orange caution tape), through an incomplete kitchen (hey, if La Esquina can do it), into a boarded-up elevator and up to the raw space on the 18th floor. In the company of Lauren Hutton, the journey felt somewhat auspicious. Everyone was overwhelmed by the near-360-degree view of New York. Spectacular! The unfinished space was cool to look at, but not at this temperature. As the who's who of the fashion and art worlds rubbed moist shoulders, all anyone could talk about was not the newly designed and relaunched magazine, but the searing heat. Adding fuel to the fire, there was plenty of hot Asian nibblies and alcohol to sustain the crowd of models, photographers and designers, which included Donna Karan, Maria Cornejo and Victoria Bartlett of VPL, not to mention the magazine's new editorial directors Glenn O'Brien and Fabien Baron (seen here with PR guru Karla Otto). The highlight of my evening was a performance by The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black, with Kembra Pfahler and her girls performing in little more than colored body paint and enormous black wigs. They added to the New York feel, and they were certainly an appropriate nod to Andy Warhol and his original Interview. Our evening ended at Beatrice Inn for the birthday party of Chiara Clemente, graciously hosted by her boyfriend, actor and jewelry designer Waris Ahluwalia. It seemed like many of the guests had rolled over from the previous party but were determined to kick up their heels and dance the first night of Fashion Week away. As I said, there was no soft landing.

Sept. 6
After a nightmare of a day, running from show to show in a torrent of rain like drowned rats, we decided to hang out and have some real fun with Alexander Wang at his after-party. The underground garage-like venue in a Tribeca alley felt particularly unpretentious and old-school. The bright raw venue was filled with a lot of gorgeous kids and models really getting into the music. On the invite there was a promise of a special guest, but nothing prepared me for the appearance of none other than Foxxy Brown, who was not only celebrating Alexander's collection, but also her birthday. From a tiny and low platform that barely cut through the crowd, she rapped and rapped, throwing the crowd into a frenzy. The energy was incredible. And she was clearly enjoying herself as much as we were, and promised to stay all night. That wasn’t exactly the case, but she certainly went beyond her required number of songs, dressed in a hot pink Wang dress. When I asked an elated Alex how he had managed to get her, he nonchalantly told me that he just put it out there and she responded. Judging by his show response and instant popularity, despite his young age, this kid is pretty good at doing just that. As the Alexander Wang party was nearing a close, we took our already weary feet around the corner to Santos for the United Bamboo/Journal magazine party. It was so dark that running into friends was usually a result of stepping on their feet or backing into them on an over-crowded dance floor. For music we were treated to Lizzy Bougatsos of Gang Gang Dance, definitely a highlight. We never left the dance floor and we were soon joined by friends Magda Berliner, jewelry designer Philip Crangi, Felix Burricter from Pin-Up and photographers KT Auleta, Guy Aroch and Chris Clinton. They were all still at it when we rolled out well after 3 am and a little too tired to finish the evening at the Submercer for the Threeasfour after-party.

Sept. 7
The week belonged to Calvin Klein. Firstly, the company’s 40th anniversary celebration took place on the High Line, one of the most eagerly anticipated public spaces to open in New York in decades. The night could not have been more perfect, especially considering the downpour the day before, as the remains of hurricane Hanna tore through the city. The organizers of the reported $5 million event must have been chewing off their fingertips while pleading with Mother Nature to spare them. Their prayers were answered, and we managed to enjoy a piece of New York City history that not only looked fresh and clean but also smelled deliciously fragrant, thanks to the 7000 white roses that were planted along the sides. We entered through a temporary installation by minimalist architect John Pawson, who also designed the Calvin Klein flagship on Madison—so pure that it inspired commissions for monasteries and churches. The majority of my evening was spent outside on the High Line, suspended above the city on this magical flying carpet of white roses. The crowd was, of course, star-studded, from a fully clothed Eva Mendez, Djimon Hounsou, Brook Shields (appropriately in jeans) and Calvin Klein model Gabriel Aubrey to Halle Berry, Claire Danes, Kevin Bacon and Naomi Watts. Everyone was pretty much dressed in a minimalist color scheme of black, gray or white, mimicking the structure, as I had suspected. I chose to wear a vintage Hardy Amies long dress in tangerine. Photographer and original sartorialist Bill Cunningham, who never ceases to impress me, not only knew who the British designer from the 50s and 60s was, but also knew that he had been the designer to the Queen. I felt like one myself that night.

We had already all been escorted out of the dark and notorious Beatrice Inn by a bevy of fireman who closed down the clearly over-crowded Purple party. While some chose to hide in the kitchen until the coast was clear, most of us moved on to Club Sandwich at The Norwood. Club Sandwich is traditionally the closing party of Paris Fashion Week, and usually filled with fashion editors, fashionistas and models finally allowed to kick up their heels and let their hair down. The fact that the night was transported to New York, during the middle of the week, only created more buzz. The Norwood was an ideal venue for this party, a decadent townhouse with many rooms to fill with under-dressed strippers, over-dressed drag queens and extremely well-dressed queens. I caught up with many friends from London and Paris, and managed a long chat with old chum Alistair Mackie from Another Man before he and his boyfriend took to the stage for a striptease with the extravagantly dressed stylist Catherine Baba between them—a sandwich! After a few flings on the dance floor with Lee Carter, Hamish Bowles of Vogue and Armand Limnander of T, I retreated to an adorable little roof garden with British photographer Lawrence Passera to cool off. Men's fragrance was soon the topic of conversation as my friend, writer Adriano Sack, showed his other skills as a "nose," surprising Lawrence by identifying his rare scent.

Sept. 11
The V party was a highlight, but certainly not because it was held at the Mini Rooftop, a nightmarish location all week—in fact this choice of location could easily have reduced it to a lowlight. Despite the two-floor party space and open roof deck, the ridiculous 150-person capacity door policy was a total headache for a magazine that has many more than 150 friends and contributors. The real party took place downstairs on the street as many guests and even staff, including Brian Molloy and fashion editor Jay Massacret, were unable to enter. I waited at the front for nearly an hour, along with photographers Ellen von Unwerth, Marcelo Krasilcic and Todd Cole. Models were the DJs for the night, but even Natasha Poly and Shannon Glick were having a tough time at the door. When Lykke Li arrived with her band and entourage, there was near pandemonium. Visionaire editor James Kaliardos came downstairs several times to hand-pluck his guests. Thus, I made it up, along with stylist and friend John Hullem and a few of the aforementioned photographers. Although the party was on the street, I was glad I went up as I was eager to see the band. I had previously met Swedish singer Lykke Li at Stockholm Fashion Week in July. She did not disappoint.

Sept. 12
Although we all limped to the end of the week, with feet full of blisters from shoes too high or too tight, Costume National's closing party was a truly special treat. The fete was in honor of photographer and director Steven Sebring, who'd devoted the last ten years to making a documentary about Patti Smith. Not only were they both present, but Patti actually performed a few chosen songs mere feet from me. It was an incredible and emotional performance, though it was odd seeing her perform in a brightly lit store full of people more eager to indulge in wine, canapés and chatter. I felt pretty embarrassed by some people's behavior, but once I was up front with fellow diehards Ryan McGinley (who constantly hugged me in disbelief), Magda Berliner, Carla Wachtveitl from Yohji Yamamoto and Tania Ruhnke from KCD, I was fully transported. Patti's voice rang true, authentic and unchanged by the years. Her style was equally timeless and as directional as any of this week's shows. She wore Costume National men's pants, an Ann Demeulemeeester shirt and leather boots, a skinny tie and a plastic-wrapped toothbrush from Duane Reade peeking out of a jacket pocket!

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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Punk Private Eye

More detective work from Haidee Findlay-Levin...

As I suspected, the controversy surrounding Malcolm McLaren and Simon Easton [first reported here in April, then again in July] has really blown up in the press, with furious attacks from Malcolm McLaren against alleged con artist Simon Easton, followed by equally vitriolic and somewhat inconsistent retaliations. There is not only the matter of Seditionaries' provenance and punk's legacy, but huge sums of money have exchanged hands in the selling of these artifacts, threats of legal action have been hurled and now established institutions such as Sotheby’s, Christie's and the Met appear concerned with the authenticity of their collections. For the sake of simplicity, I thought it best to actually show you the differences between authentic McLaren/Westwood pieces from the '70s and fakes sold to Damien Hirst by Easton, or loaned to him for consideration, alongside notes from McLaren himself. These photos are all from Hirst's office. (By the way, if you're as intrigued by all of this as much as we are, Paul Gorman is an established authority on this period and these clothes. Check out his very informative blog.)

Click images to enlarge...

This Anarchy Shirt is a 1960's vintage Wemblex shirt that McLaren & Westwood customized. When McLaren couldn't personally wear out the lot of 50 vintage shirts they'd bought, they decided to customize the remaining 30-40 shirts and sell them in their store at 430 Kings Road. The result was called the "Anarchy Shirt" because the slogans refer to the Anarchist movements in Europe. McLaren was a student during the 1968 French student revolts, which framed his critique.

- The cut is short and square.
- The collar is rounded and has a pin through it, a popular style in the 60s.
- Parts of the shirt have been turned inside out, showing the interior pinstripe print only on the collar, shoulders, facing, cuff and bottom edging of the shirt as a key element McLaren & Westwood created was to make clothes look "wrong." The rest of the shirt is plain.
- The label is a faded original Seditionaries label.
- The color is reddish.
- The patch is a portrait of Karl Marx. Only his portrait was ever used because McLaren and Westwood liked his beard, and because he was a writer of ideas, and not a politician. It was his book that started the Socialist and workers movements in the 19th Century. He also lived in London at one point.
- Slogans are all written in neat handwriting using a twig on dyed patches which had not fully dried. All slogans refer to the Anarchist movement, i.e. "A bas de Coca Cola" (popular French anti-American graffiti), "Only Anarchists are Pretty" and "Buenaventura Durruti and the Black Hand Gang" (anarchists in the Spanish Civil War).
- Buttons have been replaced with simple studs.
- Stenciling on sleeve is in small type.
- Stripes and washes of color are hand-painted onto the shirt.
- The back of shirt does not have patches or other detailing, only simple washes of color.

- This shirt has the wrong spelling in the slogan. It says "Buanoven... durutti..." instead of "Buenaventura Durutti"
- It has poor handwriting
- The colors and buttons are wrong.
- The label is not white with black type.
- The slogan "God Save the Queen" was never used on this shirt, which had nothing to do with the Sex Pistols.
- Says McLaren: "We never put anything on the back. There's nothing more gross than that! The shirt was never meant to be a sandwich board. We didn't treat people like that. There were, believe it or not, even within the punk anti-fashion aesthetic, a certain sartorial elegance. So much on the original was considered, whereas this is a mishmash."

- This has the wrong color completely, and it has no stripes.
- The cut is different.
- The collar is pointed, not round.
- It has epaulettes and strange black buttons.
- The slogan is wrong. "Fuck the Rich Up the Arse" was a slogan used on the Oliver Twist Dickens T-shirts, but never on the Anarchy shirt, which was connected to anarchic movements in Spain, France and elsewhere.
- The patch has the portrait of the wrong man, Lenin.

- McLaren calls this shirt "absurd." He & Westwood never made any prints with American Express. It was not a card that was so common at the time. Also, the cut of shirt is totally contemporary.

Finally, here are more recent developments...
- Westwood and her son with McLaren, Joe Corre, have given their support in stopping Easton's activities.
- In an email from Damien Hirst to McLaren, Murray Fenton was confused with Murray Blewett, a former Westwood employee. Fenton, who openly manufactures reproductions, believes that some of the shirts that were bought from him were tampered with and, unbeknownst to him, passed off as authentic. Murray Fenton is not, in any way, in cahoots with Simon Easton.
- Testimony has come to light from someone who bought a fake from Easton online, argued with him about its authenticity and eventually got his money back, but not before concluding Easton is ignorant of the subject. Another person bought an alleged fake from Easton and is still waiting to be reimbursed. Meanwhile, he has sent the item to a London reporter.
- Paul Gorman, a major authority on Seditionaries, has looked at the Hirst clothes and testified they are all fakes.
- Examples from the Met exhibit Anglomania are said to be potentially fake. The Met has been contacted and said they will investigate.
- Someone at the vintage store Resurrection had a bad run-in with Easton, apparently considering doing an exhibit of his "collection" until it was realized the clothes were fake.
- Easton keeps pretending there are clothes McLaren doesn't know about because of licenses, etc. Sure, St. Marks place is filled with fakes, but that is not what Easton is selling to collectors and museums. In his postings on eBay, he claims the clothes to be not only "original" and "circa 1977" but that he is the only dealer "affiliated" with McLaren, the only dealer who has sold to the Met, and the only dealer to have his clothes photographed in Vogue.

And so the saga continues....

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Monday, July 28, 2008

The Punk Plot Thickens

Haidee Findlay-Levin puts her detective hat back on...

In the first week of July, about three months after I posted a blog on this website concerning the selling of fake Seditionaries clothing, originally made by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, I got a note from the editor saying that the suspected con artist, Simon Easton, had at last responded to his attempts to get his side of the story prior to publication. Naturally, Mr. Easton was none too pleased with what I had uncovered, and put out his own statement in an attempt to discredit me, my writing, my academic credentials, my knowledge of fashion history and what had gone down in general. But what I wrote was a story told to me by Malcolm McLaren himself. No one likes the messenger, however, and I had clearly touched a nerve.

We wanted to post the response from Mr. Easton, but we also wanted to get a response from Malcolm (or Damien Hirst, who also claims he was a victim of the con), confirming the facts of the story that I had been told. I decided to send Malcolm the response and to keep him informed. Away on a project, he responded a couple of weeks later, furious and eager to justify and confirm the story, absolutely.

In the interim, I learned that eBay had removed Mr. Easton’s listings and warned customers against any further transactions with him. I also received email exchanges between Malcolm and Damien regarding the matter, in addition to a series of emails between Malcolm and Rizzoli. It seems that Mr. Easton, who had self-published a book on Seditionaries that carried a foreword by Malcolm, had apparently pitched the book to the reputable book publisher, which was about to republish it, or a form of it, and possibly had an exhibition in the works as well. Malcolm was furious that Mr. Easton, whom he says misled him into writing the foreword for a book that he now believed was 80% fake, was further using his name to establish himself as an authority and important collector of original Seditionaries. Malcolm was also surprised that Rizzoli, along with himself, Damien, a slew of vintage dealers, and even auction houses and museums, had apparently been duped by Mr. Easton, whom Malcolm feels is not only discrediting the provenance of the original work, but also profiting from it.

Malcolm contacted Damien to discuss the matter further. He recalled being shown at least three garbage bags of clothes that Damien bought directly from Mr. Easton, as well as from Sotheby’s—all fake, according to Malcolm. He was first alarmed by the sheer quantity of it. How could so much of the stuff still exist, considering these were originally 50's and 60's clothes found in thrift stores and then personally customized by Malcolm and Vivienne out of their bathroom and kitchen with rudimentary and experimental techniques involving stamps, bleach, ink and potato cuts borrowed from their child. These pieces were never part of a large-scale operation, nor were they couture gowns to be preserved for eternity; they were clothes made and worn by punks, most likely to the bitter end.

This was reiterated to me again last weekend by Malcolm himself. Mr. Easton claims that this was not the case, and that many more clothes were made after Malcolm separated from Vivienne, and sold for many years at Boy London, a store on Carnaby Street. While this is certainly true, and I remember them well, these clothes were distinctly different from the originals and they all carried the Boy London label rather than the Seditionaries label. To Malcolm, not only were the labels cause for alarm, but the fabrics, thread and ink were noticeably different from those used in the 70s. Then there was Malcolm’s impression that the questionable pieces seemed to be by the hand of more than one person.

In Mr. Easton’s press release, he claims that he is not being sued by Damien Hirst, but that he is suing the artist. Yet in the email exchange between Malcolm and Damien, it's clear that although Damien had set out to sue Mr. Easton, he was advised to drop the case by his lawyers, concerned that they in fact had no case without Vivienne’s testimony. By withdrawing, under British law, Damien is under an automatic gag order and won't be able to bring the case to court again. Malcolm, on the other hand, is determined to retain the provenance of a legacy created by himself and Vivienne Westwood, as well as stop anyone who attempts to rewrite their history.

Over the last few days, I have seen and spoken to Malcolm several times and he is taking the matter very seriously. He has left no stone unturned in putting an end to Mr. Easton’s operation. He has contacted various members of the press, notifying them of the alleged scam. He says he has also contacted the Met (which has had dealings with Mr. Easton in the past, verified in a New York Times article prior to the Anglomania show), the V&A (which Malcolm believes owns several fakes) and other institutions and auction houses. Further, he has recently found several people who say they were approached by Mr. Easton to help make alleged fakes, one of whom agreed to be involved, one who did not, but who still has the relevant correspondence.

Only yesterday Malcolm received a call from Christie's requesting that he come in, at their expense, to verify the 80 or so pieces that are about go on the block in an upcoming auction. It was their feeling that as a result of the frenzy to separate the authentic from the inauthentic that original pieces could become among the most important and valuable examples of wearable art to date.

So what started off in my first blog as a colorful yet disturbing story of intrigue has had quite the snowball effect. By the end of the week, I'm sure all the gray areas will be fleshed out as more people come forward. I imagine I won’t be the only person absorbed with this scandal, nor the only one writing about it. To date, counterfeits and appropriations have become part of a huge crime syndicate, some say even larger than the drug trade. Ironically, there is a degree of anarchy here: new punks defacing original punk artifacts, allegedly conning the public and public institutions in the process. You heard it here first.

Simon Easton's response, criticizing me, my article and all the information therein...

Press Release – March 2008
Haidee Findlay-Levin article in “Hint Mag”

An ill informed, factually incorrect and badly written article has appeared under the by-line of Haidee Findlay-Levin on Hint Mag, an internet based fashion-gossip website.

The author of the article refers to ‘SEX & Seditionaries’ the book and has obviously mixed it up with a Japanese book produced by Jun Takahashi which is also referred to in the article. Findlay-Levin describes the cover artwork of ‘SEX & Seditionaries’ as featuring a series of pornographic playing cards. However, this is in fact the cover artwork of the Japanese book. A simple visit to a reputable book shop, by Ms Findlay-Levin, to inspect a copy of ‘SEX & Seditionaries’ would have provided her with a better understanding of the subject and the artwork of the book she purports to criticise in her misguided article.

Regardless of Malcom McLaren’s alleged comments about the ‘SEX & Seditionaries’ book it should be noted that McLaren only agreed to write the introduction to this book after he had viewed over 100 images that were to be included within it. Only once he’d seen the books contents and artwork did he happily agree to write for it.

Ms Findlay-Levin’s article states: “After all, there weren’t many of these clothes made in the first place”. Again this shows her total lack of knowledge on the subject and the way Westwood & McLaren operated in that period. Punk, as a fashion movement, as opposed to the music, lasted from around 1975 to 1980. In addition Westwood and McLaren still produced Seditionaries clothing to order after their shop closed down in 1979, and for a year or so these clothes were also sold through BOY on the King’s Road with a ‘Seditionaries’ label attached. To include the above quote is not only misleading, it is mischievous. After all even McLaren acknowledges he doesn’t know how many of the clothes were produced, and for much of the period he was touring in the USA with the Sex Pistols. Westwood and McLaren were living very separate lives for most of the period.

Again, Ms Findlay-Levin’s scurrilous suggestion: “that the fingerprints of someone young” (the author is 45, indeed went to Central St Martins to get his degree, and has not been back for nearly twenty five years) “and perhaps not one person” is inflammatory. To suggest that someone (anyone) can, at will, enter St Martins and order a few T-shirts from the students shows no understanding of academic life – perhaps this is what Ms Findlay-Levin’s past and suspect journalistic piece are sadly lacking!

Finally, on the article, Ms Findlay-Levin states that calls to the author of ‘SEX & Seditionaries’ have not be returned. I have spoken to the author and he assures me that he has never heard of or ever been approached by Ms Findlay-Levin.

I can comment, with some authority, on the claims made by Ms Findlay-Levin in her article about Damien Hirst. I took Mr Hirst to law, NOT the other way around. This can be substantiated by simply referring to the official UK Court records. Further, I am happy, on request, to supply my solicitor’s contact details to collaborate these facts.

No further comment will be entered into with regard to this article.

Email from Malcolm McLaren to myself following Mr. Easton's response...

Dear Haidee,

This is my response to your recently posted blog about Simon Easton and the Damien Hirst affair. I have subsequently investigated this myself as I personally feel so upset as to what has happened. I am presently writing a new letter to ... those in the media that I know...

I would like very much for you to post my responses so far which I am forwarding you.

Talk to you tonight. Best regards, Malcolm

Statement from Mr. Easton regarding his removal from eBay...

Dear Customers,

I turned on my computer this morning to discover that eBay had suspended my trading account and end all my listings. All they bothered to send me is a standard email which does not clarify what it is that I did wrong so I'm confused.

I fail to understand why nobody at that company bothered to email me first or even pick up the phone - obviously is easier to react like Nazi.

What angers me most is that I have discovered that they have contacted everyone I have sold to in the past and told them not to pay for goods as 'its possible I may not complete the transaction' - obviously I am now a thief! All of you that I have traded with know full well I do my best to offer a good service and I really do not appreciate being treated by a faceless hostile business like I'm an axe murderer.

I'd like to tell eBay to stick their company where the sun don't shine, but obviously trading on eBay is the easiest way to do business with people all round the World.

I shall do my best to get myself 'un-supended' or I may just open another account.

I am very sorry if eBay has alarmed you in any way with their overreaction and immature behaviour...

best wishes,

Letter from Malcolm McLaren to Rizzoli...

From: Office of Malcolm McLaren
Date: July 26, 2008 6:03:01 PM EDT

It has come to my notice that you are intending to publish a book by Mr. Simon A Easton on the Sex and Seditionaries clothing that I designed with Vivienne Westwood back in the 70s. If you go ahead, I insist first of all that you withdraw my name and my essay from such a book. Mr. Easton does not have the right to use this essay beyond the self-published limited edition already released in the UK. I request a confirmation in writing from you regarding this. If I do not hear back from you by close of next Tuesday, July 29, I shall have no alternative but to gain legal advice and then decide on what action to take against both Rizzoli and Simon Easton.

I enclose a letter for your information that I have written to Damien Hirst (the artist) today. It is a shocking indictment of the malpractices of Mr. Simon A Easton and indeed the contents of this book you intend to publish bear that out. John McWhinnie, a book dealer I know that you are aware of, recently told me how Rizzoli were informed by Simon Easton that he won a lawsuit against Damien Hirst. This is entirely untrue.

I would find it remarkable that a publisher of such repute as Rizzoli would publish such a book after knowing all the real and genuine facts. It is your moral duty to inform the public, not misinform.

If you wish to contact me further, don't hesitate to call me as I am in NY until August 1

And finally, emails between Malcolm McLaren and Damien Hirst...

Hi Damien,

I am in New York presently. That little fraud, Simon Easton has raised his ugly head again. I am shocked and confused by the allegations that have come to me via John McWhinnie, a rare book dealer who has been asked to give a party for and on behalf of Simon Easton and his book to be soon published by Rizzoli. A book, I understand and have seen, that contains much of the clothing sold to you. Clothing we both know that pretends to be work and designs by yours truly in partnership with Vivienne Westwood at the time. I am simply furious about this. But I would like to know, did he sue you? Did he win? Was it a question that he demanded these fake clothes back and in turn, you demanded your money back? And is that what he is saying by the fact that he won a lawsuit against you? Can you throw more light on this? I want to take this up with Rizzoli but I need the facts. Bless you. Hope you are well wherever you are.


Dear Damien

We will certainly not stop until this man is thoroughly exposed as nothing less than a crook. I am at present sending out to all the press that I know to pick up the story.

It is extraordinary to think that a gagging order has been placed on you whilst this rogue has been allowed to continue to ply his trade and rob people of thousands. Not just collectors, but museums, auction houses, shops, and deceive even major and reputable art publishing houses. If that is how the UK justice system works, let's blow it up.

Yes, I think your legal team are an absolute disgrace and you should fire every single one of them. I have never ever thought any English lawyer is worth tuppence. They are cavalier, and never do their job properly.

But we will pick up the fight! That, you can rest assured. You should though, whatever the legal courts say, talk off the record to Tracy Emin asap. and get the message to Vivienne, because it is a thorough disgrace. Don't let these bastards in the UK justice system grind you down. They never did it to me. And I don't believe they should ever do it to someone like yourself.

Best as ever,

Malcolm, yeah I feel really really bad about it, unfortunately my legal team handled it in the wrong way and fucked it up for me, he didn't sue me at all, but your email pretty much spells out what's been going on, I will send you all the clothes if you like, and ill get my office to send you the names and contact addresses of steve at relic and the woman who helps with sothebys, also murry who works with vivian knows simon easton as he used to share a flat with him and he has stuff to say about him. Its a shocking story this business and the balls of the guy coming to you to write something, mental, I hope you work it out man, I'm sorry i can't help you more as my case collapsed as I said and I'm bound by a court agreement to leave it alone but good luck.

HI Damien,
I just received a note from the writer on the Hint blog and Easton's press release. He is obviously used to writing this garbage defending his wares. The style is clear. First and foremost, I was not happy to write for the book because of the jpegs he sent me but because of the other writers who were contributing like Jon Savage, Ted Polhemus. He did send some jpegs of the clothes but they could hardly be used as serious reference as they were tiny images with artwork graphics all over them. I didn't give it much thought at the time and only when I looked at the book, did I realize the truth.

Furthermore, he is trying to create a murky situation between 1979 when Seditionaries closed down and another rather sleazy store on the King's Road called Boy who were for a while trying to copy the clothes and use the label, Seditionaries. That, to the best of my knowledge, and I was still living in London and working with Vivienne for the next 4 years is entirely untrue. However, Vivienne did do things sometimes without my knowledge. But the important point to understand is that clothes made by McLaren/Westwood for their shops ended in 1979. He is trying to pretend that is not true, giving him some loophole in pretense that these clothes may be part of thousands sold through Boy. One thing is clear, the clothes sold to you were clothes made yesterday.

Now we have also discovered that he was an art student at St. Martin's. so we are getting closer to how these clothes were made. But what is really worrisome for me is, the final statement that he took you to law. What does he mean? He certainly doesn't say he won. That is for sure. Which is contrary of course to what he told Rizzoli. Can you let me know more about this fact?

I would much appreciate it.


Malcolm, I've asked my office to send you everything on monday, I took him to court and when I realised that even with your help I wouldn't be able to prove that the clothes were fake I reached an out of court agreement with him which is legally binding that I could never accuse him again of producing fakes and could never say that the clothes I bought from him were fake. I will send you all the clothes and whatever else you want, one of the guys who recognisaed some of the clothes as being made by him was an old punk called debdon, I paid his taxi fare to come in and see me, and he openly copies the clothes and sells em on camden market as copies, another guy came down from sheffield and he's called murray fenton he makes seditionaries copies too and has some originals and is a big fan and he had a story that punkpistol comissioned him to make copies that he then sold as real, ill get my office to give you everything we've got on monday baby.

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Friday, July 4, 2008

Stockholm Fashion Week: Day 3/3

Haidee Findlay-Levin...

This is beginning to feel like one long day, with a few naps thrown in! I overslept and missed the morning event, whatever it was. Instead I had breakfast with Fritz from Another Man and, between us, managed to have quite a critics pow wow. I tried to get some work done before heading off for an early lunch with my friend and photographer Martina Hoogland–Ivanow. She lives in Stockholm's Old Town, although we shared an apartment when I first moved to New York, and will be my host for the rest of the week. She looked great and glowing, which she attributed to swimming and saunas (I immediately signed up for both!) but as the conversation progressed, it was evident that she had that glow from being seriously in love.

We made our way back to Berns Hotel, where I was meeting Ben Gorham, a friend of the creative director/editor of Fantastic Man, one of the publications I contribute to. Ben works for a company called Byredo and develops fragrances, candles and beauty products that I had already had the pleasure of experiencing in my room and all over the hotel. [Read Hint's write-up in Beauty Duty.] He was in the process of developing a fragrance for a particular international men’s magazine, which will apparently have its own fantastic scent shortly. Ben is a bit of a Renaissance Man, not only running Byredo, but also injecting new energy into an old and long-forgotten Swedish bespoke men’s label.

I can’t say it enough, but in Swedish fashion, the focus seems very much a male domain. They have a solid grip on the concept of functionalism and refined the art of paring down design to its absolute essentials. There is a great courage of color, and they seem unafraid of wearing a bold primary or anything pink or purple. The only downside is that everything becomes quite two-dimensional and flat, with little surface texture or depth of tone.

My impression of the shows that I've seen so far this week, in general, has been that designers seem very much in the moment. People on the street are already wearing what was shown on the catwalk and sometimes in more creative or flamboyant ways. If all these clothes are for next summer, and there is still a long, long winter to get through, I get a sense that should I return in a year, everyone would be still looking and dressing exactly the same. I know menswear tends to move forward only in increments, but here there is already a forward-looking commitment to fashion among men, who seemed to fall into three distinct tribes: the squeaky-clean and posh prep who could have stepped out of a Boston college; a more modern version of that, with narrow chinos, shrunken jackets and a dash of dandy; and finally, a graphic 80's Berlin-like street style. Transcending gender was a palette of black, white and gray, spray-on skinny jeans and men's shoes. This style was especially prevalent in the collection of The Local Firm. The androgynous aesthetic was complemented with German punk music and shirtless male models, whose chests were painted with the same script that cropped up as a print on shorts that were shown over pushed-up leggings.

Other than this predominantly androgynous tribe, I saw very few women with distinctive personal style and even less of a direction on the catwalk. When you strip womenswear of its right to provoke and distill it to its absolute function, little substance or emotion are left. It was as if the street, and in this case I mean high street, was directly influencing the catwalk and not the other way around. This was my reaction to shows like Cheap Monday, the closing show of the day, and a collection that really functions best on the actual street, not the runway, even if the backdrop was of a street sprayed with graffiti. Granted there were some cool ripped jeans and denim finishes—over-bleached was my favorite of these—but this, along with their recent infusion of H&M money, was not sufficient to satisfy an audience already saturated with jeans.

I was looking forward to Minimarket, a completely women's collection designed by a pair of twins and their older sister. I was hoping a collection just focusing on girls would fair better. Granted, it was a cute collection of mostly tiny dresses—I'm talking micro-minis that should not be worn unless you own the most perfect pair of 16-year-old legs—and high-waisted mini-skirts. There were some neat shirts and blouses and the odd tailored trouser suit, but for the most part it was one silhouette. They showed bold blocks of primary color with a series of intricate tucks or a kind of smocking that added a little more surface to otherwise flat cotton. Then this capsule of styles was repeated, but this time in a taffeta, I suppose as eveningwear.

Relief from this sense of sameness came from Carin Wester's collection, shown in a park and open to the public. The music was the first clue as to where we were going, evoking images of Sylvia Kristel, the Dutch actress most famous for her soft-core title role in the 70's French film Emmanuelle. The casting was completely different to the army of skinny youths that had moved from show to show, but was a more unusual casting of atypical-looking boys from Marion Vain agency. They sometimes wore two pairs of glasses, one on top of the other, to quite bazaar effect—even for me, the world's biggest eyewear enthusiast! And the girls, in a variety of heights and sizes, were from a new Swedish agency called Kids of Tomorrow, which, according to my photographer friends, is apparently doing quite well here. Their hair was perfectly rolled with ringlets, while the lips were an obscenely bright red. There were traditional granny-floral high-neck blouses, but mixed with stretch-lace body suits, fingerless gloves and ankle socks. One of the British girls next to me commented that it was everything she wanted growing up, but her mother wouldn't let her wear. It was very much reveal and conceal, alternating between provocative nude jersey stockings with white garter belts and full-sleeved dresses in shades of peach and purple, both short and long. It reminded me not only of Swedish porn, but also of those hippie films showing Swedes hanging out in Goa or Majorca. The boys wore baggy trousers and long “grandpa” shirts in the same floral print, while there were also a lot of long over-shirts worn with a series of drop crotch knit trousers, which could also have been a sweater worn upside down. There were long cardigans, and finally, not only a sense of texture but also a most welcome sense of humor! Carin made my day.

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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Stockholm Fashion Week: Day 2/3

Haidee Findlay-Levin...

So this endless daylight is starting to take effect. I didn’t get to bed before 4 am and it was super bright and birds were chirping. I got up after only five hours and was already regretting it. As plans for my trip after Stockholm kept shifting, so did plans to meet another photographer that morning for breakfast. I didn’t ease into the day in quite as relaxed a pace as the yesterday morning.

I had breakfast outside with the sun already beating down on me, then crossed the street for the Hope show (everything here is super local and easy), where an early salmon lunched was served. Being a vegetarian in Sweden isn't such fun, but there's still plenty to indulge in. We are constantly fed, plied with drinks (yes, even at noon!) and given gifts from each of the designers. In Paris you are lucky if they hand you a bottle of water every three days. The best treat, though, was a live outdoor performance by Coco Sumner, the 16-year-old daughter of Sting and Trudie Styler. Equipped with an acoustic guitar and accompanied by one other, she belted out a few really energetic tunes about losing control and another about not being able to sleep (how fitting). The words seemed genuinely her own, yet of someone with a few more years notched on her belt. The voice was distinctly reminiscent of her father's, but with more guts.

The Hope show was good, with lots of cute boys in shortish trousers and narrow pleated khakis, worn with oversized trench coats or shrunken jackets. Longer jackets or light coats were shown with ultra short shorts and turtlenecks. Lavender popped up again among mostly neutral colors, particularly in ankle-grazing men's socks, which I later discovered turned up in my gift bag. Womenswear was stronger than I had seen before, especially when it came to the tailoring. They showed similar oversized trenches, great sleeveless jackets or vests and some 80’s dresses with an asymmetric contrast collar in mostly black, white or beige. Dresses had ease and the usual simplicity; others had some cutaway details that never quite measured up to the tailored pieces, even when worn by top model Freja.

Afterwards, I sat on the grass and waited with a few British journalists for the next show, Tiger of Sweden, back over the road at Berns, our hotel, when Coco Sumner joined us. She had changed out of her Hope garb and back into skinny jeans, high-top sneaker boots, a Rolling Stones T-shirt and Ray-Bans. She was also carrying a beat-up old fur jacket, which was funny considering it was summer and the sun was blazing. People rushed over to snap her picture. I laughed when she described her wardrobe to one blogger as her mother’s shoes, her brother’s girlfriend’s jeans and her brother’s T-shirt. I suppose whatever she has, it's all inherited from the family.

The Tiger of Sweden show felt long, and this more commercial collection was lacking in the subtleties of some of the others we had seen. The music pounded, the men’s suits were not quite as well-fitted, although I was pleased to see they had exchanged the now popular lavender for flesh tones and raspberry, with a touch of green for contrast. They also included some check to the usual sold block colors. This time the womenswear was stronger than the menswear, ironically in the tailoring. Sleeveless or belted jackets were shown with high-waisted trousers or pleated shorts. I also liked two drawstring jersey jumpsuits, one long and the other short, which had a relaxed ease about them. I have noticed in Sweden that womenswear generally comes across as more effortless than menswear. I wondered if this was because men were spending more time in front of the mirror.

There was a particular girl in the audience who had a fantastically pulled-together look. She could have been a ballerina or a young Grace Kelly. Today she was wearing a royal blue collar-less suit with a skinny belt wrapped around her waist, red platform shoes and a tan handbag. She carried large oval white sunglasses, although I never saw her put them on. I noticed she had nipped the pencil skirt in at the back in what seemed like her own urgent alteration work. I shared a Chinese high tea with Jacob from V and Marina, the very pregnant fashion editor at Bon magazine (one of the event's main sponsors), before taking in the Nicolaj D’Etoiles show. This menswear show was a slight departure from the others, much more flamboyant, down to the shantung silk shirts, trousers and jackets with contrasting silk linings. It was also the most accessorized of all the collections, with chain, string or rope belts and neck scarves, or cravats—even though the models were all barefoot. At the end it was revealed that the show was an homage to Yves Saint Laurent, clearly the 70’s/Tangier period.

Fifth Avenue Shoe Repair was by far the most impressive of all the shows I've seen so far. Inspired by the curvilinear, rusted steel sculptures of Richard Serra, the designers managed to bring together concept and cut in a clean and preppy way. Endless blue shirting was turned into full dresses for the girls and multi-layered reconstructed shirts for the men. We saw several examples of perfectly deconstructed and then perfectly reconstructed men's suiting and shirting, often with enlarged stiff collars and cuffs that morphed and cascaded down the body—quite reminiscent of Viktor & Rolf or Harajuku Girl ruffles. They took the method beyond the suiting and shirting to softer jersey pieces on which they displayed still oversized and ultra-low collars, contrasted with strict narrow trousers. These techniques of twisting, distorting, deconstructing and reconstructing men’s fabrics were taken to a level of Yohji or Junya. The inspiration was evident, but they handled their concept expertly while exhibiting an exceptional talent for cutting and draping. The final black short, full-sleeved cotton coat-dress was both wearable and exceptional. This duo is certainly one to watch.

Fifth Avenue Shoe Repair

The day was capped by the Acne show, starting with drinks at their elaborate atelier in Stockholm’s Old Town. The infamous brand, which began in jeans although they've dropped the word from their name (now Acne, not Acne Jeans), just about put Sweden on the fashion map—if you don't count H&M. The menswear portion of the collection integrated Bauhaus, while celebrating 50’s youth and rebelliousness. Womenswear, meanwhile, incorporated Bauhaus with the confidence of the 80s and the Urban Cowboy. Denim featured in both. The result was a nontraditional placement of effortless clothes, perfectly stylized into a strong and confident silhouette. I particularly loved the skirt-like, wide leather pants with a low, extra wide elasticized waist. It sounds tricky, but in fact they were incredibly simple, worn with a closed-collar white shirt and string tie. The leather biker jacket color-blocked to resemble faded paint on an old building was fantastic. This time the men's and women's sides were equally balanced, each with light-as-air, almost transparent suiting and vintage-looking denim in two shades, dark and light blue. Girls and guys wore high taupe felt hats, with snakeskin boots on the guys and fantastic wooden shoes and boots on the girls. These shoes, with their geometric wooden platform heels, even circular in some cases, were a step away from sculpture. The legacy of Bauhaus, which sought to harmonize an object's function and form, is respected by Acne and their concept of building collections as capsule wardrobes. I do think they would have been wiser, however, to stay away from sliced and frayed denim that was a little too reminiscent of the denim that Martin Margiela showed last summer, even if ripped jeans have always been a symbol of rebelliousness, which they were trying to capture.


At show’s end we were taken downstairs once more for drinks, while the room was redressed for a full buffet dinner. I caught up with my friend Thomas Persson, art director and editor of Acne Paper, for whom I also write, and his boyfriend Mattias Karlsson, who styled the show. In fact, we met the same night and at the same dinner that he met Matthias, in London eight years prior. I have become quite the Acne party groupie, going to several of their events in London, Paris, New York and now, finally, Stockholm. The dinner was a really fun sit-down affair. Stockholm’s most handsome and beautiful were assembled, so beautiful that it looked like the dinner was cast with models, along with the show. How can one country be so good-looking? Everyone was a little giddy from the previous night’s party in Paris—one of the few I managed to miss! Jonny Johansson, creative director of Acne, had collaborated with Alber Elbaz of Lanvin to create a denim and accessories collection. It sounded like Alber was as enamored with the Swedes as I was, and in turn they seemed equally smitten by his charm and talent. They had only good (and a few pretty entertaining things) to say about this collaboration. It sounded like a pretty wild party, disco being the music of choice, keeping them dancing until the early hours. Pulling off a show and this wonderfully civilized dinner the night after must have been no easy feat.

The evening—or was it morning again?—ended with more drinks (and boy can they drink!) and chatting back at Berns, along with some of my British friends from Dazed and Confused and Another magazine, who had flown in for the event. We were then joined again by the Acne lot and my photographer friend Andreas Larsson. Jonny was intrigued and soon mesmerized by my wooden glasses, which was the general idea. He promised to show me around old Stockholm when all the festivities were over. I guess no one sleeps here.

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Monday, June 30, 2008

Stockholm Fashion Week: Day 1/3

Haidee Findlay-Levin...

Stockholm Fashion Week (aka Sthlm Fashion Week) is pretty much a local event as the shows are concentrated around Berns Hotel, where I'm staying. It's the first time I have attended, curious to see what some of these emerging brands were all about. So often a label can be really cool in person, especially when worn by any one of these super good-looking Swedes, always so impeccably turned out. These clothes may also look pretty cool on a rack, especially when housed in a trendy store among other similarly cool brands. Their style is generally crisp and precise, paired down to its essential details: a great pocket, a certain turn of the collar or a zipper detail that confirms your need to hand over your cash. In short, these kinds of labels tend to work on the high street. I was here to see if these clothes could, in fact, translate to the catwalk.

My day started fairly slowly, watching the crew set up the Mercedes-Benz display as I ate my breakfast on the sundeck. As I was leaving the hotel to go meet a friend, I surprisingly ran into Malcolm McLaren, in town to give a lecture the following day. He was equally surprised to find me here, as opposed to Paris for Couture Week. We hastily made dinner plans for that night, post-shows. I ran off to meet up with photographer John Scarisbrick, a local but regular to New York, at his studio nearby, in a neighborhood that reminded me of the classic and well-tended streets of the perfectly bourgeois 16th arrondissement in Paris. He showed me his most recent shoot, filled with images of a burnt-out Swedish forest, a white-blonde model enacting dark and wonderful themes, with a distinct air of witchcraft. All pretty surprising from John, a “one fun-loving guy” who just wrapped shooting the new Diesel campaign with an equally dark and macabre approach. I was wondering if this was preparation for a style I was about to see, emerging among local designers who had also spent endless months in the dark.

On the contrary, the opening shows of the week seemed to draw more from the long summer days and midnight sun, with nary a Gothic reference. Liselotte Westerland was the first out of the gate. Her collection was filled with monochromatic satins in white, navy and aqua green, some floor-length dresses while others were so short and skimpy that they provided us with quite a lot of unnecessary information! From a runway point of view, the best pieces were the navy satin bikinis and belted bathing suits.

Next up was Agunandagirl (pronounced A Gun and a Girl), the first ever collection created by the duo Gun Franzen (designer) and Lotta Signeul (PR and communications). The name alludes to Gun and Lotta, but also to French filmmaker Jean Luc Godard's reply to the question of what makes a good film: “All you need is a Gun and a Girl." It is all meant to stand for courage, individuality and timeless beauty, which translated into an homage to none other than Grace Jones! Referencing aside, I was happy enough to hear the soundtrack of Grace Jones: Slave to the Rhythm sampled with Nina Hagen’s African Roots. There were, of course, a few hooded pieces and a sharp trouser suit that showed some promise. Best of all was a gray Montana-like, strong-shouldered dress, worn with long plum leather gloves. There was a cute denim-like overall, which was more romper suit than jumpsuit, and a little out of context. On leaving the show we were handed a leaflet of well-styled and -shot images of the collection, which had clearly benefited from subtle lighting and some retouching that a show can never provide—proving my point exactly.

The brief interludes between shows were often more entertaining. The men, naturally, enthralled me, particularly by how impeccably they dressed, showing courage with color (reflected soon after in the Whyred show). I noticed, among the more typical palette of khaki, black, navy, gray and white, men in skinny ankle-grazing lavender and bright red trousers, worn with sock-less shoes. Meanwhile, some narrow suits were worn with open leather sandals. Floppy bow ties, a la Lanvin, and flowers were pinned to the jacket lapels of young men, with short cropped or asymmetric haircuts. But really, THE accessory du jour among men, and NEVER women, were angelic-looking babies carried confidently in their arms or pushed in strollers. I counted at least five, including the man in the lavender trousers!

The strength of Whyred was again in the menswear: a variety of Members Only-style jackets worn with cropped narrow trousers and great colored thin-soled sneakers. I particularly loved a pair of turquoise sneaker boots, as well as a ribbed turtleneck in the same vibrant shade. Blazers were shown with rolled-up shorts in as many contrasting colors as American Apparel, as well in tonal shades of one color—especially effective in shades of green. I very much liked a light gray cotton parka shown with bold red trousers and loafers sans socks. The womenswear, apparently designed by a different designer, was somewhat less successful. They would have faired better had they borrowed more of the playful menswear touches, but were best with the initial printed dresses, shrunken bomber jackets, narrow and cropped pleated trousers and short jumpsuits. If only they had avoided such styling touches as the frizzy-wigged hair worn with long floaty dresses shown under cropped denim jackets.

Filippa K is the most established and successful of the Swedish brands, as was evident by the plush carpeted location (at The Arts Club) and the somewhat large turn-out of international press. I had been attending all the shows with my New York neighbor and fellow journalist Jacob Brown from V Magazine. Jacob is a regular in Stockholm, having been to Stockholm Fashion Week seven times in all. He could easily pass for a local and often slipped in a few Swedish phrases and observations, which made it all the more entertaining. We arrived late, squeezing ourselves into the last two front-row seats, which just happened to be right next to an ex-editor of mine from London. Panic! We had had a horrible falling-out many years ago and hadn’t spoken since. We were both so shocked by this inescapable situation that I became overly friendly and chatty throughout the long wait for the show to commence, as was he! The clothes on display, meanwhile, exhibited a relaxed and cool ease that was quite the opposite of my personal predicament. I saw an endless array of soft long dresses and dirndl skirts on the girls in gradations of off-white through grape to black. On the boys we saw blazers with contrast piping worn with crisp narrow trousers or rolled-up shorts, where even an un-tucked shirt looked neat and intentional.

I found it hard, however, to focus on what seemed like an endless collection of clothes for what I understood is a very short few months of summer. But then again, my own temperature was noticeably rising to match those I had felt when leaving sweltering Manhattan. I literally ran out at show's end, not only to escape my former employer, but also to meet Malcolm McLaren for dinner.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Raf Housing

Jil Sander heads downtown, and Haidee Findlay-Levin was there...

Before long you'll be hearing the names Jil and Howard thrown together like some sordid tabloid tale. Of course I'm referring to Jil of Jil Sander, whose slick downtown outpost launched last week on Howard Street. A block from Opening Ceremony and a stone's throw from the New Museum, this corner (at Crosby) is my favorite part of Manhattan. Every morning I walk to yoga along these streets, safely away from Canal Street mayhem and the overcrowded sidewalks of Soho, aka Slowho.

Entering the store for the launch, however, I felt completely removed from its location and context. The white-marbled space is split between a kind of exhibit area on street level—with a row of Grecian-like mannequins dressed in equally sculptural dresses—and the floor above, with more familiar racks and dressing rooms. The bilevel set-up allows customers to first absorb themselves in the world of Jil Sander, to ponder construction and contemplate design. In the back of the store, a wall of oversized, mirrored vertical blinds was opening and closing, alternating between reflections of the store's white walls and the fashion crowd's dark palette. Occasionally it would catch a bright color, like publicist Sylvie Picquet-Damesme from PR Consulting, who was wearing one of this season's Jil dresses in a fantastic shock-pink.

The art references don’t stop at the first floor. You then ascend a marble staircase to the second floor, complete with marble banister, where Jil Sander's creative director Raf Simons has collaborated with artist Germaine Kruip to create unusual fitting rooms with sides that close to form a four-sided, mirrored experience. That’s a lot of personal information to take in a state of undress. Personally, I'm quite happy being oblivious to my back side!

Julie Gilhart & Raf Simons, Germaine Kruip & Sylvie-Plicquet-Damesme, Ingrid Sischy & Sandy Brandt

Now, we've long known Jil Sander stands for impeccable quality and refinement, and we collectively exhaled a sigh of relief when Raf Simons took the helm (let's just pretend it was a short blip between Jil's departure and Raf's appearance), so I was very happy to see and speak to Raf himself, who I have known for years. We originally met in Paris when I was sourcing young designers for an Italian leatherwear project, Ruffo Research, for which I was creative director. In a smoky bistro, we talked art and fashion with his then girlfriend and budding designer Véronique Branquinho. Neither had worked outside of Antwerp until I proposed they collaborate with Ruffo (Raf on men's and Véronique on women's), which resulted in two definitive collections. It was the only collaboration they ever did together, and it preceded the idea of pairing designers with bigger brands—in this case, two in one.

Raf is a lot more on his plate these days, of course, but he told me he's figured out a way to focus on Jil while staying committed to his signature line (soon to have its own stores in Tokyo and Osaka). He does so by alternating weeks: one week in Milan, followed by a week in Antwerp and so on—with weekends spent in Antwerp. He said it's an easy commute, though it reminded me of a traveling man with a lover at each stop. Naturally I asked him if this was the case. "Absolutely not!" he replied, adamant that his schedule left no time for a relationship—besides those he already has with his two lines.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Beautiful Purple

Stylist Haidee Findlay-Levin, ever in black, on her second favorite color...

Early Tuesday evening I reluctantly dragged my overheated self uptown to John McWhinnie/Glenn Horowitz gallery and bookstore, probably my favorite in the city, for the launch of Purple Anthology (Rizzoli), celebrating fifteen years of Purple magazine. Was it the oppressive weather and the anticipation of a smallish space that was making me so sluggish? Or was it the reality that fifteen fashion years had pretty much shot by?

Purple captured a moment in the 90s by linking art and fashion in a very particular way. It's not that the two worlds hadn't co-existed before (Andy Warhol merged them brilliantly), but this time editors Olivier Zahm and Elein Fleiss commissioned art photographers to shoot fashion, achieving a uniquely raw and spontaneous aesthetic. Artists such as Corinne Day, Mark Borthwick, Juergen Teller, Jack Pierson, Richard Prince, Marcelo Krasilcic and Richard Kern shaped and defined their photographic vocabulary within these fashion pages. The covers, meanwhile, broke all the rules of market research. Wolfgang Tillmans' image of a man peering between a woman's naked legs, Vivianne Sassen's blindfolded figure and Vincent Gallo in a Balenciaga dress, shot by Terry Richardson, are just a few of the standouts.

Purple wasn't just one magazine, but several. Purple Prose celebrated the intelligently written word. Alongside often crude and certainly un-retouched images were essays penned by the likes of Bruce Benderson, Glenn O’Brien, Kim Gordon, Jutta Koether and Gary Indiana, as well as the editors themselves. And then, of course, there was Purple Sexe. I have always been attracted to the provocative, and had secretly been planning to do my own magazine that combined fashion and sex in a brutally honest approach to eroticism. But when I first set eyes on Purple Sexe, my personal project instantly seemed redundant. No need to compete, just to participate.

The magazine had such an impact on the industry and fashion photography itself that it inspired an army of point-and-shoot photographers to pick up their snap cameras. But more than this, it provided a showcase for more experimental designers Martin Margiela, Bless, Lutz, Maria Cornejo and Susan Cianciolo, who I remember styling for a shoot with Marcelo Krasilcic. Naturally backlit, she sat on a windowsill in his Chinatown studio, cradling his cat who had walked into the shot. There were also Japanese favorites, such as Comme des Garçons and Junya Watanabe. Initially, Purple seemed free of advertiser dictates, incorporating them like a special guest invited to come play with the cool crowd. Things have changed considerably over the years, and it's now the advertiser that seems to host the party.

Arriving to the Purple Anthology launch, I was surprised not to see the usual suspects. Soon enough though, Glenn O’Brien, photogs Mark Borthwick and Maciek Kobielski, and artist Hope Atherton—perfectly accessorized in fantastic enormous rings—popped in, along with designer Elise Overland, whose forearm-long armbands were an equally impressive commitment to accessorizing. I ran into fellow stylists Keeghan Singh, Christopher Niquet and Masha Orlov, whose oversized Ksubi T-shirt dress seemed like a cool solution to heat-wave dressing. I chatted to picture editor and curator Emma Reeves, Abrams' Eva Prinz, DAP's Alex Galan, Anthony Petrilose of Empire Books, who also collaborates with Rizzoli. The notoriously affectionate Olivier Zahm, too, showed up, followed by many a pretty girl.

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Friday, May 2, 2008

Stylist Haidee Findlay-Levin hits Saturday@Phillips...

When I received an invitation from my friend Cynthia Leung, Phillips de Pury’s new press officer, to preview an auction called Saturday@Phillips, my interest was piqued. Not only was it aimed at a young audience, but it was also breaking new ground in the auction world with the introduction of a Contemporary Fashion category. Curious, I flipped through the glossy catalog, which featured tastemakers Irina Lazareanu (uber-cool model/singer) and Simon Hammerstein (of The Box cabaret). Clearly, this was going to be a different kind of auction.

The catalog also confirmed the art was not going to disappoint. There were your typically auction-worthy works by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, but also a beautiful C-print by the man of the moment, Richard Prince, estimated between $6000 and $8000. Just as dangerous was a great woodcut by Alex Katz, of whom I have always been a big fan. Things got especially interesting when I turned a page and saw a Larry Clark bookplate of provocative portraits, estimated at a mere $800-$1200. I was starting to feel the pull, the desire to fight to the end for something I didn’t plan on buying. What with all the paintings by Lisa Yuskavage and Karen Kilimnik, I could feel my temperature rising—and this was just the catalog. I felt like one of those old-timey housewives on a Sears mailing list.

I took a deep breath and leafed a bit more, in search of more photography, another weakness of mine. There were some Nan Goldens, a non-naked picture by Robert Mapplethorpe (of a tree) and a great Tierney Gearon, whose work I could imagine living with. I was amused to see a shot I remembered well from L’Uomo Vogue, by Steven Meisel, of a boy in his underwear lying on a carpet in front of a wood-paneled wall. Was this not Calvin Klein's controversial kiddie-porn ad removed from Times Square? Similar, at any rate, and a steal at a maximum estimate of $1200.

Seeing all this in a catalog was clearly not the point, so I went along to the preview just days before the auction. I walked around the carefully curated rooms and noticed a strong Japanese influence, with pieces by Takashi Murakami, Yoshitomo Nara (whose sculpture sold for four times its estimate) and the more obscure Aya Takano. There were also bondage and semi-nude photographs by Nobuyoshi Araki. Most interesting of all, and what made this auction so unusual, was the large selection of toys—mostly Japanese. The last time I was in Tokyo, I was introduced by my client, Naoki Takazawa, to the obsessive Otaku culture of anime collecting. Even then I was amazed at the hundreds and thousands of dollars some of these art toys could fetch. Here, there were Two Pink Twins, a Darth Vader companion and Dada Rah—all made by Kaws for Medicom Toys. Yet the highlight and rarest of Kaws' toys was Dissected (pictured here), which looked like a tribute to Damien Hirst. I also loved the action-figure set from Daft Punk, complete with Hedi Slimane-designed leather outfits. The detail was extraordinary, down to the very last zipper and belt buckle. I was later told that the actual auction price for this was an astounding $3125.

One of the central concepts of Saturday@Phillips is the introduction of contemporary fashion and jewelry, with each piece specially and exclusively designed for the auction. Electric Feathers, designed by Leana Zuniga, is the first featured line. I have to be honest here and say that there are few designers I haven't heard of, but this is one of them. At the preview, I was introduced to Leana by Phoebe Stephens, the Fashion Specialist at Phillips. (What a job title.) Almost on cue, a friend of the designer appeared wearing an Electric Feathers dress made from purple-washed raw silk. Most of the pieces were convertible in some way. Some were tunics or ponchos that could be worn as coats or dresses. Others were in silk ikat or woven cotton, and had tubular straps attached to them that could be maneuvered in different ways to turn a skirt into a mini-dress or vice versa. There was an earthy, handcrafted quality to the clothes, reminding me a bit of 70’s Koos van den Acker or old Plantation by Issey Miyake, minus the volumes. Leana previously had a store in Alphabet City, so the aesthetic started to fall into place.

Saturday finally rolled around, and while I had to miss the morning action, I wanted to make the 2:00 to see some of the aforementioned art go on the block. But mostly, and for curiosity's sake, I wanted to see the outcome of the toys and clothes. I promised myself that my wallet would stay tucked away in my bag and my hands firmly planted in my lap. For me, this would be window shopping only, despite the welcome rush that accompanies an auction (and which is quite different from a memory I have fighting with Jill Stuart over a dress in a vintage store—she won). I noticed one excessively tanned, blonde woman with a bandanna, whose orange arm went up for almost everything, but particularly for the Japanese art and toys. (At one point I raised my arm to adjust my glasses, when, in a fit of panic that it could be misread, I dropped my hand and sank in my chair like a child caught talking in class.) By the time the clothes were up, the room had unfortunately thinned out, and I was worried the Electric Feathers pieces wouldn't do well. Yet there seemed to be someone pretty interested on the phone, bidding against the orange woman on the floor. In the end, the most expensive piece, a handmade chain-mail vest, went for $938, while the majority of dresses went for a minimum of $250. This all seemed reasonable to me.

After the auction, I asked Phoebe if she were disappointed with some of the results, but she insisted she was not. A good percentage had sold, she said, and some at really good prices. She assured me that Electric Feathers would become more collectible, especially since it would soon be stocked at Dover Street Market. Besides, this was the first of its kind, and just like those long-gone thrift store finds, it was paving the way to a whole new shopping experience. I left the auction relieved I had survived unscathed, but with a head still buzzing with adrenalin and thoughts of lost opportunities.

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Saturday, April 5, 2008

Haidee Findlay-Levin puts on her detective hat...

Recently I had a dinner with Malcolm McLaren and his girlfriend Young Kim, as well as Gene Krell, the features editor of Vogue Asia and two other of Malcolm's friends. The conversation was highly entertaining, as it always is in the company of Malcolm or Gene. In fact, I imagine the two of them could be fantastic talk show hosts, jumping from subject to subject, from past to present, regaling everyone with fantastic anecdotes from their rowdy youth.

But one story really stuck with me, so much so that I pressed Malcolm for more details when I saw him again last weekend. Given my current obsession with publishing (increasingly a lost art), I asked about a particular book he had mentioned at dinner, one that showcased one of the most comprehensive collections of the famed Seditionaries collection that he and Vivienne Westwood designed in the mid-1970s. He later showed me the book and it truly is a special object, each garment exquisitely photographed on a flat surface and perfectly curated, from graphic T-shirts to a variety of multi-colored mohair sweaters, Peter Pan-collared shirts, fat ties and, inevitably, bondage trousers. There is no title or text of any kind, just a simple black cotton slipcover and a small edition number printed on the back. Malcolm is naturally pleased with the book and impressed with the vastness of the oeuvre depicted. He couldn’t think of anyone who had bought that many pieces, except possibly Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto, who would come together to his and Vivienne's store, SEX, and buy one of each style of their punk and bondage clothing. Though the book's author is uncredited, Malcolm says it was put together with his knowledge and blessing by DJ and sometime streetwear designer Hiroshi Fujiwara, probably in collaboration with Jun Takahashi of Undercover.

Not long ago, Malcolm was asked to write the foreword—and did—to another book, this one compiled and self-published by London-based collector and dealer Simon Easton, who supplies Seditionaries to a variety of vintage stores around the world. He also loaned pieces to the Met's Anglomania exhibit two years ago on the eyebrow-raising condition that he be referred to only as Simon.

Here’s where it gets thick. More recently, Malcolm says he got a call from Damien Hirst, who apparently spent £80,000 on what he thought were original Seditionaries pieces, bought from the very same Simon Easton. Suspicious they may be fakes, Damien showed some of it to London vintage store Relick, renowned for its selection of Westwood, but alas, no confirmation. Damien also asked Kate Moss (I guess famous for wearing the stuff, though hardly an authority on it), but she, too, said she couldn’t be sure. Eventually he called Malcolm and asked him to verify the pieces' authenticity. Malcolm looked at the images he was sent and said he was certain they were not his work, but that they might have been something that Vivienne had created later on or had given permission to her team to rework. Malcolm did, however, feel what he was looking at had the fingerprints of someone young, and perhaps not one person. Damien—naturally furious at the prospect of being conned, whether he could afford to be or not—is talking with his lawyer and wants to use Malcolm's assessment in a lawsuit against Simon.

If fakes are being made, and it hasn't been proven, then it certainly raises questions about the veracity of other pieces coming from Simon. According to Malcolm, the well-regarded New York vintage store What Comes Around Goes Around unwittingly sold such knock-offs, either directly or indirectly from Simon. Which reminds me of an ex-roommate of a friend of mine in London who used to sell vintage Westwood. She had previously worked for Westwood and would keep me entertained with stories and impressions of her. I recall her asking me if I knew the store What Comes Around Goes Around in New York and to vouch for its high standards, which I did—and I do remember her mentioning that there was another man involved. At any rate, if true, it's a shame that such a respected shop could be victimized.

Another regrettable outcome of all of this is that now every Seditionaries credit comes into question. Just last week I was doing research in the London library of Condé Nast and came across an editorial in a current British Vogue featuring punk clothes with this credit: ”from the Seditionaries collection of Simon Easton." Of course I wondered if this were a dupe. After all, there weren’t many of these clothes made in the first place and those who were originally buying them were surely not saving them for posterity, but were rather performing or partying hard in them, as any true anarchist would.

Damien further told Malcolm that there is or was a small ring of Central St Martins students making these copies of Seditionaries, and that they were hired by a man who intimidated them into staying quiet about it. The alleged ringleader? Simon Easton. [Calls to Simon have not been returned.]

To add insult to injury, Malcolm finally received Simon’s self-published book, "Sex and Seditionaries," for which he had written the foreword. According to Malcolm, it's a poor imitation of Fujiwara's limited-edition book, with a cluttered layout and, in place of the black cotton slipcover, an image of pornographic playing cards similar to those sold at SEX. Worst of all, and this is where the mohair wool was really pulled over Malcolm’s eyes, he says it showcases a selection of knock-offs, which now, ironically, appear to be authenticated by him.

This wouldn't be the first time Seditionaries clothes were knocked off—a search on eBay will confirm this. So the next time someone tries to flog original Seditionaries to you, you'll want to do some serious homework first. And if you've already been suckered, I hope you find comfort in knowing you're not alone.

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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Pics from the Rodarte party at Submercer Thursday night, celebrating the Mulleavy sisters' cover of Me magazine. Here, we have Kate Mulleavy & Patrick Li, Chloë Sevigny & Humberto Leon, and my dates (and esteemed Hint Blog contributors) Casey Spooner & Haidee Findlay-Levin. Cameras weren't allowed inside, but I remember seeing—between swigs of an otherworldly lemon-champagne elixir—the blurred faces of, and apparently chatting with, Ryan McGinley, Marcelo Krasilcic and Acne Paper's editor-in-chief Thomas Persson, who hadn't slept in two nights from simultaneous store launches in Paris and New York. Oh yeah, there was that party earlier in the night...

Photos by Kristen Somody Whalen

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

The third and last part of Haidee Findlay-Levin's tips for fall...

It wasn't just the army of beautiful lips and bowl cuts that made our hearts leap at Yves Saint Laurent; it was the sharp, powerful, 80s-reminiscent tailoring, too. But here's what separates this season’s YSL and Louis Vuitton from Claude Montana and Gianfranco Ferré: the circular cutting and the curves in the jackets and skirts. In fact, some of the tulip and pod shapes we have seen at Vuitton and elsewhere this season are more Sebilla and Romeo Gigli—also from the 80s. I also noticed a variety of peplum jackets for fall. If the jacket was fitted, for the most part it had a sharp shoulder and a nipped or peplum waist, not only at Vuitton, but also at Yohji Yamamoto (left), where the peplum jutted out over long full skirts complete with a donut-rolled waist for an even fuller hip effect.

The shoulder was the focus last season. Now it's the sleeve, such as those at Costume National that wrapped around the shoulder blade and formed a pod in the back, or those at Kenzo that draped into a cocoon shape or an origami-like envelope. We also saw sleeves originating from the neckline, as well as sleeves that separate at the back of the jacket, falling into a detached cape back, as at Véronique Branquinho and Junya Watanabe. At Lanvin, attention was paid to a single mutton sleeve—a remnant of the 80s!

Some designers chose to embellish areas of essentially monochromatic fabrics with jet beading, feathers, ribbon, fine pleating, ruffles and pasmanterie. But there was nothing superfluous at Prada (left), where the most startling form of decoration was the heavy tablecloth lace constructed into minimal and austere silhouettes, and made further monastic by the under-layering of high-collared shirts.

The strength in Dries Van Noten this season came not only from the mix of dramatic prints, but that these potentially romantic dresses were offset by a simple high collar. Givenchy showed extremely high-collared pleated blouses, made less romantic by their coupling with leather trousers and military jackets. I loved it best at Yves Saint Laurent, where paper-thin turtlenecks were shown under tunic dresses, but extended well beyond into fingerless gloves. One known to take proportion to its ultimate extreme, Martin Margiela raised the collar so high above the shoulders as to become a cowl that almost completely obscured girls' faces.

Indulge in vast and unapologetic explosions of costume jewelry for fall. What we saw were statement pieces that were more sculptural than sweet or sentimental. Balenciaga contrasted latex and severe cuts with diamanté-encrusted collars, while the collars and cuffs at Yves Saint Laurent (left) consisted of Pace Rabanne-like chain mail with enormous crystal studs. At Louis Vuitton, the soft pastel palette was punctuated with heavy metal chokers and huge brooches. Lanvin ran with the trend and showed enormous Deco-geometric, mirror-glass pendants and wrist cuffs. This new form of armor added a needed toughness to clean silhouettes. The combination of heavy jewelry with extreme shoes could mean your chiropractor will be your new best friend.

There weren’t a lot of overtly sporty references this season, so it's safe to say you can burn your velour Juicy Couture tracksuits—and please do, if you haven't already. But there was a prevalence of scuba references. Miu Miu shook off its naughty baby-doll reputation and showed a series of dark satin scuba suits complete with Esther Williams-like swim caps. Or sometimes the scuba suit morphed into a tunic dress with bright-colored cycling shorts and sports tops peeking through laser-cut, abstract versions of lace. The addition of sequins made for a wet look that worked perfectly with the scuba references Balenciaga introduced so magnificently last season. Even Rick Owens discarded his more familiar draping and embraced open zippers that circled the legs like a scuba suit that was being slowly peeled off. Upcoming Olympics aside, the news that Hussein Chalayan is the newly appointed creative director at Puma may signal a sportier trend for him next season, as well as all those he influences.

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Sunday, March 9, 2008

Part two of stylist Haidee Findlay-Levin's tips for fall...

Okay, I know I said earlier that color is back for fall. And it is, but so is black. Stop your groaning—the black dress never looked better. It was skillfully laser-cut at Balenciaga (left), skimmed the body at Sophia Kokosalaki and draped to the floor at Junya Watanabe. It was in divine Spanish lace at Givenchy and heavy tablecloth lace at Prada. The opening dress at Alexander McQueen, made from layers and layers of soft tulle, was reminiscent of a black crow, though it was hardly the only exquisitely gothic dress in the collection. The mohair-lace dress stretched over layers of tulle, like one of Degas’ ballerinas in silhouette, was especially to-die-for. But perhaps the most exquisite black dresses walked Lanvin's runway; my two favorites were a wet-look wrap dress and a one-shouldered silk satin shift with a heavy fur cuff on its one side.

Brace yourself for black eyes this fall. And I'm not talking gobs of Amy Winehouse eyeliner, no matter how well she sang at the Fendi store launch party during Paris Fashion Week. I'm talking kohl eyes, the classic kind found at Givenchy, as well as the perfect cat eyes at Balenciaga. (When replicating, please don’t get carried away like one recent fashion show attendee who not only completely painted his face white—yes, he's male—but dons a Shirley Temple wig.) Blackened eyes do require a nude or beige mouth, like the kind found at Rick Owens, but if you have to have a layer on your lips, go all the way with ink-black glossy lips like those at Yves Saint Laurent.

If goth isn’t your thing, choose from the endless permutations of gray seen on the runways: slate, charcoal, heather, lilac and mauve. Junya Watanabe (left) committed fully to a collection of no-color to illustrate his deft cutting and draping, taking it so far as to completely wrap the girls' heads and faces in sheer gray fabric with mini-boxes piled high on their heads, to sculptural effect.

With the severity of cut this season, and the attention paid to minimalism and the back, the only hair to wear is a ponytail. Not the high, Blonde Ambition version, but a simple ponytail worn on the side and secured at the nape of the neck. Miu Miu even showed the ponytail peeking out of neoprene swim caps. The only other acceptable version would be a small knot or chignon, also worn low and tight. So no more Barbie hair or updos. And please no more big Oscar hair—ever!

This has been one of the most creative seasons for pants in ages, with designers really experimenting with fullness. The best baggy pants came from Louis Vuitton, especially when slightly drop-waisted and pleated. Those in shiny black leather with a slightly pegged leg were absolutely stunning, reminiscent of that Grace Jones/Thierry Mugler/Claude Montana era. My other favorites were over at Yves Saint Laurent, shown slightly cropped and higher in the waist. Haider Ackermann pushed his baggy pants high above the knee, like puffy shorts worn over leather leggings. There were Houri trousers in velvet devoré, as well as printed chiffon versions, at John Galliano, and narrow gray flannel pant-skirts at Junya Watanabe, which ended in an extremely low crotch. Meanwhile, at both Givenchy and Alexander McQueen, pants were skinny, black and high-wasted and mostly in leather or brocade. Maison Martin Margiela went super-sexy and offered leather pants complete with zippers snaking up the back of the leg like seamed stockings. And how can we ignore his other offering, the asymmetric one-legged bodysuit in a multitude of prints?

I know it seems passé to talk skirt lengths in this day and age, but here it is: skirt lengths will definitely drop. I'm not talking red-carpet gowns here, but floor-grazing, skinny column dresses at Sophia Kokosalaki, which save their intricate detail for the collar. There was also the black dress that opened her show, seemingly suspended by a single diagonal strap and falling well below the knee. Dries Van Noten, too, showed high-necked column dresses that ended mid-calf, just short of ankle socks and heavy strappy sandals. At Louis Vuitton there were some knee-length bell skirts, but it was all about ballerina-length dirndls that stood away from the hips, while at Lanvin (left) the length was kept just above the knee with sexy and tight hobble skirts made up of bands of horizontal ribbon.

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Friday, March 7, 2008

Fall tips from stylist Haidee Findlay-Levin (part one of three)...

Everywhere I looked at the fall collections I saw fur, leather, skins and hides—from black fur stoles and cuffs at Lanvin to a tunic covered in camouflage tails at Louis Vuitton and a massive fur cardigan coat from Ann Demeulemeester. The prefurred color is blue from Dries Van Noten (left) or Anne Valérie Hash, but if blue isn't your thing, look no further than Marni for a dusty-pink cropped chubby. Exotic furs not for you? You can still discover your inner beast with Mongolian sheepskin sleeves from Toga or a lavender Mongolian sheepskin jacket from Ann Demeulemeester, as well as crocodile-skin dresses at Zucca and leather-front dresses and jackets at Yohji Yamamoto with the hide's raw edges still intact. Feathers, too, stalked the runways, starting with an asymmetric collar trimmed with the lightest of ostrich plumes at Haider Ackermann and ending with a slightly tougher black ostrich-feather skirt from Christian Lacroix. Meanwhile, pony skin was a favorite at Anne Valérie Hash, superbly cut into body-skimming turtlenecks and a jumpsuit variation.

It's all about pastels for fall. My sights are set on mint green and powder blue cashmere, molten wool and duchess satin at Louis Vuitton. Choose from an exquisite bell-shaped blue skirt, a magnificently tailored jacket with perfectly rounded edges, a liquid silk blouse or a full-on, floor-length, positively regal evening gown, if you have the occasion for it. Marc Jacobs' own line, too, was full of the softest pastels. Vanessa Bruno, meanwhile, showed a variety of pastels in full Mongolian sheepskin hats combed out and looking like a well-conditioned punk hairdo. But best from her were the palest of antique pink and sage green marabou chubbies, the color and lightness of a butterfly's wings.

Bundle up in hand-knit ruffled capelets and shrugs from Tao Comme des Garçons (left) in vivid shades of pink and violet, while contrasting them with blue mohair bloomers. Or keep it neutral in natural or black and wear one of her cake-layered cable dresses. If volumes of ruffles and cables aren't for you, indulge your punk side with the designer's multicolored mohair knit/silk-backed tunic tops or dresses. That is, if you haven't already indulged in Rodarte's wonderful colored mohair knit tops and bell skirts. Don’t stop until you have their mohair open-knit stockings, the best hosiery moment of the season.

Laddered mohair stockings wouldn't be complete without those white or rose gold studded and spiked high heels that Christian Louboutin designed for Rodarte. They can do damage! But the next wonder of the world might just be the black leather heelless thigh-highs from Antonio Berardi, a sexy homage to artist Alan Jones, whose glass tabletops rested on the back of a girl on all fours—perhaps a safer way to wear them! I was a little surprised that Louis Vuitton showed such dangerously high wedges after last season’s more reasonable winklepicker inspiration. But on closer examination, I realized there was a sliver of light passing through some of them and that there were, in fact, skinny skyscraper in the heels. Fantastic! I also loved the strength and sculptural quality in the Brancusi-looking white heels at Miu Miu. Especially when worn in sharp contrast to the minimal clothes of the collection, they could really be one of the key accessories of fall.

If you're more about bags than shoes, make it a clutch. I'm not just talking evening bag clutches, but huge leather envelopes from Dries Van Noten worn throughout the day. Although not as large as the house's oversized collars, Maison Martin Margiela also showed a massive clutches (left), as did Véronique Leroy in both her own collection and Leonard. These clutches, of course, were fantastic printed versions.

The intricately printed latex dresses at Balenciaga are another way to satisfy your fetishistic side—and without dressing, predictably, in all black. Dries Van Noten's continuation of vivid and bold floral prints was big hit, particularly the pod-sleeved column dresses, although his abstract print trouser suits were also spectacular. If you prefer tiny rather than bold prints, you can't ignore his floor-length Fortuny-pleated dresses or the high-necked cap-sleeved dress completely covered in tiny printed ruffles.

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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The final chapter in stylist Haidee Findlay-Levin's green card saga...

Birthdays are great if they're someone else's. If mine, I enter a three-month tailspin leading up to it. From the end of the previous year, through the holidays, through Valentine’s day (otherwise known as Singles Awareness Day!), right up to the fateful day in late February is like a mini Vesuvius waiting to go off. So many resolutions not met, so many expectations not fulfilled.

And this birthday had particular significance: the day of my final U.S. green card interview in London. I had built this whole fantasy around it, as if some big hand would come down and wave away the years of aggravation and frustration, the years of standing in long embassy and immigration lines and the mountains of paperwork and those endless letters of recommendation. Perhaps most importantly, this might finally be the end of being called an "alien," which has to be a psyche-bruiser.

I didn't want to be late and it was my birthday, so I treated myself to a cab rather than endure the intense squeeze of a rush-hour tube. A familiar route, yet something was up. The usual line at the embassy was not snaking around the usual path. Barricades had been put up and I realized the massive crowd congregating on the opposite side was a mass of agitated visa applicants. I soon discovered the source of the discontent: there was a power failure at the embassy and ALL appointments had been canceled! Nowhere else in London but here. Mercury was clearly not out of retrograde.

My heart sank as I realized the implications. I had flown all this way and had been couch-surfing at a friend's place for days, disrupting both her life and mine. I had turned down work. I had arranged a birthday/green card celebration, a gathering of old and new friends now all too familiar with my ordeal, despite my commitment to ignore such celebrations. And all in anticipation of this one event that was no longer taking place. What are the chances of something like this happening? One in a thousand, one in two thousand? The chances of something like this happening to me? Inevitable.

"Go home and relax" was the advice offered by an officer. Relax?! How could I possibly relax when a time bomb had just been flung in my direction? Where exactly was home anyway? I have been in the wilderness for years, an alien for heaven's sake, waiting to have more than a place of employment, waiting to be given permission to stay.

Not sure what to do with myself, I slumped away resolved to redo my passport picture for the umpteenth time. This had to be the irrational calm before the storm, the weird behavior of someone who was about to lose control in a big way. I handed over another 12 pounds (for the fourth time) and the photographer handed me another set of pictures. I dared to look at them and saw the stress and anger so clearly visible in my face, so much so that I realized I looked like an assassin. Certainly not the look that one is trying to achieve for this ten-year travel document.

As I made my way back to base, the utter disappointment, the anticlimax and sheer bad luck I had experienced over the past few months—my Haidee Karma—began to hit me. By the time my friend asked how it went, I had already broken down into a blubbering mess, my earth shattered, and there was just no stopping it. There were offers of tea, suggestions of a walk in the park. My friend was at a loss. Finally, I opted for Hyde Park and walked laps and laps around Diana's pond in the cold, letting off steam and contemplating jumping in. Well-wishers and blasts-from-the-past called, texted and emailed me with birthday wishes and to congratulate me on my long-awaited green card achievement. There were even a few invitations to celebratory tea and cake at Maison Bertaux or Patisserie Valerie. Unlike me to turn such an offer down, I ignored the lot. With nothing to celebrate, I canceled my own celebration that night, and eventually went with some close friends to Lounge Lover in the East End for commiseration instead. This non-drinker even resorted to a glass of sake. An anesthetic was really what I was looking for.

As Mercury finally passed through retrograde, I gathered my courage to return to the source of my misery, the U.S. Embassy, to see what could be done. The next day looked more promising, as endless lines of people made their way through the cattle barricades. After much resistance, they honored my canceled appointment and finally granted me my much-anticipated interview. I was stuck there forever, due to the previous day’s backlog, presenting everything from birth certificates to marriage and divorce certificates, even police reports from all the countries I have previously lived in.

But ultimately, I was granted immigrant approval. My passport would be returned within five working days by courier, hopefully in time to see the latter half of Paris Fashion Week. Sure enough, a Darth Vader-looking character, fully-kitted in black leather and helmet, appeared at my door one early morning. His face and hands completely concealed, he handed me a black sealed bag complete with my passport and a mysterious sealed yellow envelope which was to be handed to immigration when I entered the U.S. Pretty weird, but whatever. I was now, finally, officially, triumphantly a Resident Alien, not just any alien!

I had been warned by my lawyer not to be alarmed when coming through immigration with my sealed package. I would be taken to a back room that might be strewn with people in handcuffs. But after the fetish references at Paris Fashion Week (yes, I went), I could have handled whips. My passage through the last stage of this endless event was pretty uneventful actually: a signature, a fingerprint and I was waved through and told that my precious card would be in the mail. In the next room, however, my agent, who was on the same flight, was in tears! They wanted to deport her back to the UK for problems with her visa. I suddenly felt like I had passed the baton onto someone else. But five hours later she was released into the U.S., thankfully!

Later, the reality of my success really sunk in when my mother told me, with my newfound green-card status, I was finally eligible for marriage. What a concept! It was only then that the realization hit, this alien finally had a place to call home.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

Haidee Findlay-Levin makes a surprise stop in London...

I arrived toward the end of London Fashion Week with no plans of being here for the occasion. Hint Blog readers will know of my longstanding visa woes, and so a summons by U.S. immigration to attend my green card interview in London on the 19th of February—my birthday—was an event not to be missed. It was an invitation harder to get than any Fashion Week show, in fact one that transcends fashion altogether and was almost four years in the making. I was informed to arrive four days in advance, not for some welcoming cocktail party or a dinner to apologize for the long wait, but in time to attend a medical exam, after which an assortment of vaccinations would be all I could expect to find in a goody bag.

I left New York during a blizzard that resulted in a three-hour delay at the airport—not something one wants to add to a red-eye flight. A few more hours on the tarmac meant I would get into London dangerously late for my appointment with the embassy-designated doctors. I literally had three minutes to drop off my bags and change into serious attire. I chose a baggy pantsuit, which I hoped would give me an air of, well, suitability to own a green card. It was almost balmy in London. In the eight years I lived here, I don’t remember too many days like this, so much so it was making me nostalgic. I fantasized about throwing in the towel, refusing the green card and moving straight back here.

Once I was done with the tests and vaccinations, I pulled myself together and rushed eastward to Gareth Pugh's show. It was running almost as fashionably late as my American Airlines flight, but I made it in time, so I wasn’t complaining. In addition to every London club kid and club kid wannabe, I saw my New York next-door neighbor, artist Terence Koh, and his entourage of pretty young boys, a host of international fashion-show regulars and Michele Lamy, wife and muse of Rick Owens, both ardent Gareth supporters.

The show was not entirely surprising, and a very visible continuation of his previous collections. That said, I had to admire the craftsmanship: origami-like patent leather dresses and coats, plus some garments constructed entirely out of industrial zippers, creating a samurai effect. A couple of pieces were made completely from safety pins, and although neither concept is new, Gareth managed to make it his own. Remember Junya Watanabe's beautiful spring collection full of mostly gold zippers? And we all know the safety pin extends further back than Versace and Elizabeth Hurley. I was, however, mesmerized by the emerald green Swarovski-crystal tights on model Anouck Lepère's fantastic legs, only to be told by Seven's Joseph Quartana that they would retail at more than $6000. And that was just for the stockings, not the fantastic legs. At that, I turned my attention to the gravity-defying shoes that the girls wore down the seemingly endless warehouse runway, strutting to the sounds of original glam-rocker Gary Glitter (now locked away in prison—no, not by the fashion police, but for his bad behavior with young boys).

The audience was filled with heavily made-up faces—and it wasn’t the girls I'm referring to. Boys with pan-stick and raccoon eyes might just signal London's move from New Rave to Goth. Please, not so soon! While Gareth’s clothes were entirely black (except for the silver of pins and zippers), the model's faces were white with blue-shaded eyes and lips. The show make-up, by the fantastically talented Alex Box, must have sent those boys running to the powder room for a touch-up.

Only a few weeks ago I was in London to work with Alex and Eugene Souleman (one of London’s finest hair stylists) on a couple shoots for i-D, Showstudio and MUSE. Alex turned out the make-up, shot after shot, each face its own new canvas. One of my favorites was a girl with duck-egg blue hair, a completely blue face and a blue and pink floral Dries Van Noten dress. A modern “Blue Lady” like that of the master of kitsch, painter Vladimir Tretchikoff. I guess its effect was still resonating with Alex by the time of Gareth's collection.

I left the show with Anouck and her boyfriend Jefferson Hack, editor-in-chief of Another, to celebrate her 29th birthday. After a brief detour home for a remarkably quick make-up and costume change (into a fantastic peekaboo vintage velvet dress), we set off for an opulent private club in the West End where Jefferson planned a dinner party for Anouck and some of her friends. Though apparently only organized the day before, it was wonderfully decadent, especially considering it fell between a bunch of Fashion Week parties and the famous “tea party” he was hosting the next day. Jefferson is a wonderful host, who managed to take special care of Anouck while still making the rounds to each of his guests.

As the birthday evening rolled into Valentine's Day, the party moved to Sophisticats, a misleading name for a stripper bar where even pasties and G-strings seemed excessive. Besides the obvious things one observes when presented with a lap dance, I couldn’t help but notice how flexible the girls were and completely comfortable in their own skin. I vowed to return to my regime of yoga and pilates when this endless traveling was over, but I won't be trading in my YSL platforms for those plexi-heel stripper shoes anytime soon.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Out of South Africa, Part II

More of stylist Haidee Findlay-Levin's visa woes...

After barely making the launch of Luke Smalley's new book, I snatched an hour of sleep before heading back to the airport for the trip to Mexico. I had asked my agent to check at least three times whether or not I would need a visa, and the answer was a firm "no." That was, until I tried to check in, only to be told that it was a very definite “yes." I felt instantly sick, and not only from a lack of sleep or jet lag. Several panicky calls were made to my agency and to the Condé Nast offices in both New York and Italy. Apparently no one was aware of my South African nationality, despite having worked and traveled for them for the last five years.

Truth is, Cuba was my final destination, but the ticket and visa obviously couldn't be obtained in the U.S. The plan was to get them in Mexico and then fly on to join my European team for the job in Cuba. Turns out I needed a visa for Mexico, too. In a mad panic, my team and I looked into any destination for which I wouldn’t need one: Jamaica, Panama, The Bahamas, Guatemala, Argentina. Yet, as all connecting flights to Cuba were remote and most required a two-day layover, this solution was impossible. I would have to arrive when the shoot was pretty much done. By now, I had missed the flight to Mexico and was soon to miss the one possibility to Jamaica, when I suggested going to the Mexican Embassy to plead my case. There was the distant hope of catching a flight out to Mexico City in the early hours of the morning.

The car returned to the airport, we packed in the luggage and raced to the Mexican consulate, which was closing in less than an hour. We stopped on the way for a passport photo, with my weary face captured at its most unglamorous ever. There were so many people lined up outside the embassy that it looked like a small riot. I muscled my way to the front, pulled an unlucky number, 31, and waited my turn in line, only to be told that they would only take 30 people before closing. I wasn’t having any of it, pleaded my case and was reluctantly let in past hundreds of migrant works applying for papers to stay in the U.S. (It seems everyone wants to go where they are not welcome.) After six hours, I negotiated a multiple-entry visa to Mexico, which would allow me to pass in and out on my way to and from Cuba. I walked out to the car, visa in hand, and headed back home for a few hours, briefly stopping off at the Marc Jacobs office to return a pair of neon gloves that they desperately needed back for Vogue, before I had even shot them. When I told the publicist I had missed my flight and would in fact be over shortly to switch them out, she was delighted. I didn’t appreciate her enthusiasm.

This journey was feeling like a sequel to the film “After Hours” and I was anxious how the rest of it would pan out. Within hours, the suitcases went back down the four flights of stairs to the car, which was back to collect me for the airport. I finally found an American Airlines official, only to be told the flight to Mexico City was canceled. That familiar wave of nausea was rising and any remaining color drained instantly. With a bit of research, we realized there was, in fact, a flight with Air Mexicana, their partner airline, at terminal 8. This was terminal 4! I rushed as best I could with heavy suitcases and a shortage of energy. A few more people inhabited this terminal and they all looked Mexican, so I was somewhat hopeful. The flight, however, was delayed. I slumped into a chair near the gate, slipping between consciousness and unconsciousness until I guessed they were calling the flight, in Spanish only.

The delay naturally had serious repercussions. I rushed through immigration and baggage claim, found a porter to take me to departures, where I was to buy my flight to Havana. Ticket in hand, I was sent to another office across the concourse to buy the visa. Of course, Air Mexicana had different luggage allowances from Havana's—that meant my 47 kilos was well over the 23 allowed. So back to the cashier to pay the overweight, after which I literally ran for the gate, the pounding of my feet matching the pounding in my head. I was trying not to calculate the hours of my life spent in airports merely lining up for one thing or another. How many hours of sleep sacrificed? Did someone say something about my life in fashion being glamorous? Did I hear the words jet set?

Getting through immigration and customs in Cuba, although somewhat surreal, was more or less event-free, in comparison to what had preceded it. Each bag came off a different carousel. I could feel myself age with every minute of this journey. Customs officials were a little surprised by the amount of luggage I had for only a few days, but I assured them my travels were not over.

The pain of this journey was relieved ever so slightly by the arrival at the Hotel Nationale and the well rested faces of my crew, ready to whisk me off to the location shoot. Armed with a bottle of water and some headache tablets, I set to work. Havana and the shoot were a story in itself, a wonderful experience that passed too quickly.

The Brazilian model and I were due to leave Havana at 7 am. I had only left her dancing and drinking a few hours before, so I was somewhat anxious when she was not there by a quarter after. I gave her more time, then called. No answer. My hell was clearly not over. I reached her boss, who was equally alarmed but still in bed far away. At any rate, in a matter of moments, I was exchanging money for Cuban pesos to pay for airport tax, overweight luggage and a taxi to the airport. I made my flight by the skin of my teeth, only to arrive in Cancun to a six-hour layover.

I can't say I didn't appreciate the forced downtime. After failed attempts to connect to the internet at the airport, I put the cases in a locker, hailed the nearest cab and asked to be taken to the closest luxury hotel on the strip—The Hyatt, I think. I strolled past the reception, got directions to the pool, changed into my bikini and, like a guest, I dropped onto a lounger overlooking the unnaturally blue ocean. I just sat and stared in awe, perhaps there was a fleeting moment of glamour in all this. I showered on the beach, was handed a towel by an attractive lifeguard, dressed and headed back to the airport to catch my flight home.

I repeated the same familiar sequence of events: endless delays at immigration and customs, meeting drivers, grimacing at locked elevators and dragging suitcases up multiple flights of stairs. There was, of course, the additional visit to lost property at baggage claim as I had left my brand new Bose noise-reducing headset on the plane and, of course, they had not been turned in.

Back in New York, I went into machine mode, unpacking and bagging the clothes to be returned the next day while simultaneously repacking for Miami. I had only a few hours to get ready with another hour of stolen sleep, before I was back at the airport to catch the last four days of Art Basel. I calculated that I had been in three countries and four cites in less than 24 hours by the time I arrived in Miami.

This story could go on ad infinitum. It's the story of my life, my lifestyle. I was barely off the plane from Miami, switching out the luggage, but this time for a more complicated itinerary: Tokyo, L.A. and Maui, with no gap in between until I return for a day in January, before heading to Paris. I sit writing this from my (okay, somewhat glamorous) business-class seat to Tokyo to consult a designer for his show at New York Fashion Week in February. I have not caught up on sleep lost during Art Basel's party fest, and my last night in New York I chose to forgo sleep to see some special people I won't see for a while, forcing one in particular to join my all-night vigil until the car arrived in the early hours to take me, once again, to the airport. After all, I have work to do.

—Haidee Findlay-Levin


Monday, December 17, 2007

Out of South Africa, Part I

The travel trials and tribulations of international stylist Haidee Findlay-Levin...

A lot of people commute to work. In New York City, that could mean going from Brooklyn to Manhattan, or from downtown to uptown, or vice versa. But when I, a South African stylist living in America, commute to work, it means going to JFK, Newark or LaGuardia and flying to another country. Don’t roll your eyes with mock pity and think I'm bragging here. It's a strange fact that I live in New York, but seldom work here. The magazines I work for are all foreign and the photographers are mostly European or British. We often need to meet somewhere else in the world, so they have it in their heads that I must like to travel and will gladly go to any far-flung destination to meet them.

Besides going to an airport, working for me also means going to the respective consulate in search of a visa. This can take up a day, sitting among nannies and their charges, and often a week or two preparing and waiting. And even then, a flat out refusal can be expected. I have missed the shows in Paris some seasons and I missed Munster and Documenta in Germany last summer, all because that simple yet frustratingly illogical “No.”

Any job I accept or trip I make starts with the not-so-simple question: “But do I need a visa?” France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Sweden do Japan do—and the list goes on. Despite that South Africa has eliminated apartheid for more than ten years and now has one of the most liberal constitutions in the world, the stain remains. Finally we have been forgiven and even welcomed into the hearts of fellow Africans, but this in itself is a reason for the rest of the world to panic. At each embassy visit I feel like an African refugee nodding in camaraderie with my fellow Africans. With documents piled high, I must swear not to disappear within their country and drain their local funds.

Brazil has become a favorite destination—not just because I love Brazil, its delicious food, its magnificent beaches or those beautiful Brazilians, but because they are friends of South Africa and I don’t need a visa. In addition, my mother called me the other day with good news: “You no longer need a visa for India!” Quite a feat for a country that would not let us in at all, understandably, for treating their fellow Indians as second-class citizens in our sordid past. Note to self: must plan that trip to Rajasthan or propose it as a possible location for next year. So now I have two friends in Brazil and India. Things are looking up.

My season began with a shoot in London. This time I was prepared, armed with my five-year entry and work visa, my right as the granddaughter of a British-born subject. It had taken some work over the summer gathering birth and marriage certificates from parents and deceased grandparents, but a task well worth the effort. I confidently, even nonchalant, stood at the immigration desk until I was briskly escorted to the health department. Apparently there were already two warnings on my passport and they needed “to be sure.” Sure of what? That I wasn’t harboring some exotic disease, smuggling some rare plant or animal? I flew in from JFK on a Thanksgiving weekend to work—what more did these Brits want of me? After a few questions about chest examinations, I was released, no examination provided. I left the airport with that familiar sense of unnecessary panic and fear, guilty before proven innocent for some crime unknown, a discomfort that accompanies me to every immigration point in the world.

The season was short, so fait accompli. I decided to fly back to New York for the exhibition and launch of Exercise at Home, a book I worked on in the summer for photographer Luke Smalley. As his home is in Pennsylvania, it was my only ”local” job all year. Yet it still involved ten hours of driving each way, but happily no passport required. I was on a mission to make the launch party before closing, but with the inevitable delays (i.e. foreigners traveling in droves to shop with their strong pounds and euros), the line at immigration was endless. One woman was so determined to make it worth her while that she arrived with only an empty suitcase and a toothbrush.

So I was held up, this time by an immigration officer who was not (this time) visibly suspicious of me, but held me as his captive audience anyway. He was so delighted with my involvement in the so-called glamorous world of fashion that he took the opportunity to discuss his familiarity with Naomi Campbell, Gemma Ward, Petra Nemcova and every possible Victoria's Secret model. I'm buddies with the guys from DNA and Marilyn Models, but naturally I couldn’t rain on his parade, so I listened politely to his top five picks, all while the clock ticked and my weary feet swelled. Apparently all the girls wanted to marry him, not only for his Italian good looks and ability to cook a mean pasta, but because they hoped to squeeze a Green card out of him. I assured him that was not my interest. I was, in fact, in the process of reaching Green-card status myself, though pending for three years.

I finally arrived in New York and, with car and luggage waiting, I ran into the exhibition as it was ending, then home to switch out suitcases, travel itineraries and a lot of clothing samples for the next job, in Mexico. (Well, officially, anyway.) What could possibly go wrong?

to be continued...

—Haidee Findlay-Levin

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Friday, November 9, 2007

Haidee Findlay-Levin sees it like it is...

Blindspot is a photo magazine with a mission to publish new work by the established and undiscovered, a source book for curators and art directors. As a counterpoint to its visual nature, Blindspot got together with the New York Public Library to stage conversations between photographers, as a kind of forum to shed light on the often contradictory issues surrounding photography, the media, art and commerce. When I saw the line-up, I committed myself to all three sessions.

The first conversation took place between artist Jack Pierson and photographer/filmmaker Jerry Schatzberg. I hoped Pierson would bring his more personal experiences to the discussion, but I soon realized he was as much in awe of Schatzberg and his body of iconic work as I was. Jack took us through some of the visual material and highlights of Schatzberg’s 4-decade-long career, which included assignments for Vogue, Life and Esquire. There are the gorgeous portraits of a 16-year old Catherine Deneuve, Nico (pre-Velvet Underground), Sharon Tate and one of his favorite models, Peggy Moffitt. The funniest, of all these iconic images, were those of the Rolling Stones in drag! Then there's his former relationship with Faye Dunaway and his ongoing collaboration with the elusive Bob Dylan.

Schatzberg, meanwhile, in his constant search for "the improbable but not the impossible,” relayed anecdotes from his ensuing film career, stories from the set of Puzzle of a Downfall Child (Faye Dunaway plays the fallen model), The Panic in Needle Park (with Al Pacino) and Scarecrow (hitw Al Pacino and Gene Hackman), for which he won the Cannes Palme d'Or.

The highlight for me was the telling of his experiences while shooting a particular photo assignment for Esquire in Paris of 1962. These photos are an insider’s view of the couture salons of Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Dior—including Saint Laurent's first outing as a solo designer—that go beyond the runway: the early morning preparation, models having a quick breakfast and doing their own make-up (as all models did in those days). There is the audience of fashion editors and socialites eagerly waiting for the show to begin, followed by the show itself. Back then, fashion shows could feature several hundred outfits and could last two hours. There's one shot of Yves himself nervously watching as his first solo collection as it is presented.

All these images finally appear in a new limited-edition, autographed book called “Paris, 1962” (Empire Editions) and includes a signed print in an embossed clambshell box. I was so intrigued with these pictures, that I went along to the launch and book-signing Wednesday night at The National Arts Club. Up close, each image had such depth and narrative, taking you not only behind the scenes but to moments of sheer anxiety for the designer, the utter exhaustion of the models—house model Victoire with her head in her hands, the posturing of the photographers and, finally, to the closing image of the concierge cleaning up, once all is done. Schatzberg's favorite image is also telling: a dwarf standing in front of the window display at the Christian Dior store, her pose not dissimilar to those of the models upstairs.

The second conversation was titled Money Money Money, which in itself is what probably drew the full house. Mind you, the list of panelists was pretty impressive. Moderated by my all-time favorite Glenn O'Brien, the panel included photographers, art directors and advertisers: Vince Aletti, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, W's Dennis Freedman, Doug Lloyd, Glen Luchford, Collier Schorr and Andy Spade.

The topic was art and commerce, but it seemed more like art against commerce. When O'Brien posed the question “What is art and what is commerce?” to this pretty grumpy bunch of artists, the distinction seemed contradictory at first. Shooting commercial work is, to them, an uninspiring pain in the arse, where the viewpoint of the photographer and even the art director is ignored, and everything is controlled not only by the client, but—with digital photography's instant results right on the set—by committee. All profit, no creativity. So tell me something new!

Art director Dennis Freedman saw it more directly. The moment an art director/client/third person was present, it ceased to be art. This did not mean it couldn’t be good or inspiring work, but commerce nonetheless. As the notion of an artist working within a commercial world, particularly fashion, seemed to sit so uncomfortably with the panelists, I wondered why they did it at all. There was one exception: Glen Luchford. Coming from a British working-class background, he saw commercial fashion photography as a way out. Compared to shooting for i-D or The Face, being a factory worker had little appeal. Yet ironically, Luchford’s images for Prada are some of the most creative and inspiring ad campaigns of the last several years, and were subsequently exhibited, in the company of Cindy Sherman (who unfortunately was not present) and other renowned artists, at MOMA.

The client, as represented by Andy Spade, had his own take. Beginning as a copywriter who wrote ads recruiting soldiers for the army, he worked his way up the ranks of advertising, recognizing at each stage that the person above him had all the say and power. When he finally became an art director, he realized that, in fact, the final decision was still not his—it was the client's. He then chose to become the client, and a very successful one at that.

To me it seems painfully obvious. If the artist doesn’t want to do commercial work, don’t take the commission! There are 18,000 photographers in New York alone delighted to do the job. Lets be honest, doing a commercial job may take the artist away from valuable time spent on his/her art, but the money earned buys the time to spend on it. It’s that simple.

Back to Cindy Sherman. I don’t think her work ever felt compromised by her ads for Comme des Garçons, perhaps the ideal client/artist collaboration. Nor did the work of Louise Bourgeois diminish when it was exhibited as a Helmut Lang ad, with just the company name appearing below the original art. My question to all those disgruntled artists is: would you prefer to shoot something commercially that had something to do with your creative style or nothing to do with it at all? And if it’s the latter, as I think Philip-Lorca diCorcia suggested, would you not prefer to plagiarize your own work than allow someone else, like a full-time commercial photographer, to plagiarize your work and be paid handsomely for it?

There indeed seems to be a blindspot when it comes to seeing the art world as just art, when today it is most certainly commerce. A diamond skull by Damien Hirst fetches ridiculous sums of money. So comfortable is Hirst with this notion of art-meets-commerce that he recently collaborated with Levi's to embellish their jeans with...a skull. Are companies such as Prada and LVMH not the Medicis of our time, sponsoring individual artists, as well as large art events and shows? Or think about Claude Monet when he was commissioned to paint his water lily series (Les Nymheas) specifically for the dimensions of the Musee de l'Orangerie in Paris. Now please tell me, is this art or is this commerce?

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Saturday, November 3, 2007

Haidee Findlay-Levin catches up with Hussein Chalayan...

The last time I met Hussein for breakfast in London, breakfast turned into lunch and then into tea. In fact, it was a glorious and sentimental Sunday affair, one that still left me feeling nostalgic for London and for some of the special and lasting friendships I had while living there. Hussein was and is one such friend. We developed an immediate bond when I first wrote a feature on him as a St Martins graduate student. I subsequently worked on his earlier shows and collaborated on some of his first exhibitions. I was one of his earliest supporters and remain loyal to my belief in his talent. To describe him as conceptual or intellectual is to miss something. To me, he is someone who will take a day out of his insanely stressful schedule to hear about the details of my personal melodrama, usually firing off rapid questions before any of my answers come to mind.
Meeting him for breakfast in New York this week, the day after he received an award from the Fashion Group International, was not that different. This time I was determined to get my questions in first, to find out how this most respected of designers was feeling. It always amazes me just how humble and modest Hussein is, how unaware he is of his notoriety and position within the international fashion world. He was truly flattered to have won this award, surprised even that his reputation had reached these shores. Believe me this is no act! 

What evolved in our discussion was just how difficult it is to realize most of his innovative ideas, not for the ideas themselves but for the expense involved. Aside from his costs in silks and linens, we're talking the finest rosewood, advanced laser technology, LEDs and film production, not to mention research and development. Why an investor, institute, patron of the arts or technology tycoon hasn't jumped at the opportunity to support this genius is beyond me. We have witnessed what he has created on next to no money; can you imagine what he could create with some money?

What seems harder for most to recognize is his talent for making modern, real, beautiful and, yes, wearable clothing. His process may be complicated and/or difficult to follow, but strip that way and you have a beautiful and elegant cocktail dress, which most retailers and department stores (even in his own city, London) fail to see.

It is only once his designs (or those of other forward-thinking designers like Martin Margiela or Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garcons) are appropriated by other more popular or mainstream designers that they become "wearable." This brings  to mind a jacket I have been wearing all week and have received many a compliment for, including one such compliment from Lanvin designer Alber Elbaz. The jacket is by Margiela, from the first of his four over-sized collections, the proportions of which are scaled up by 72%. Many years ago the show brought laughter and smiles to the faces of the fashion pack as they pronounced his clothes good for pictures, a great concept, but unflattering and absolutely not wearable. And now they pronounce Mary-Kate Olsen as the under-sized trendsetter of  "the over-sized" herself.

This kind of situation often forces the originators of good ideas (as in the case with Hussein) to even plagiarize themselves. By creating a second or "more wearable" diffusion line, they water down their own ideas, hopefully, before others do. Sometimes it's these diffusion collections that are the success and driving force of their businesses.

As we left, I said goodbye to designer Thom Browne, a Pastis breakfast regular. I thought about how many men were wearing their suits shorter these days. Could they all be wearing Thom Browne originals, or at the very least his more accessible Black Fleece line for Brookes Brothers? Unfortunately not. They were probably wearing some further watered down version by some lesser-known designer or brand, shortened ever so slightly above their sockless shoes. They were probably walking with their girlfriends wearing a cotton shirt dress by Doo.Ri for the Gap or a similar incarnation reminiscent of that "impossibly unwearable" collection of Hussein's several summers ago.

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