Que Valiente Without Proof

This isn’t a street style blog at all.

In fact, I’m only going to post one, kinda lame, picture from my kitchen floor.  It’s of the skirt I wore today. It’s a Martha Sleeper fiesta skirt I bought in Santa Fe, New Mexico at Doubletake.

2016-02-29 21.49.59
That’s a frog motif!!

But little back story first:

Last month, I was with my mom and my sister outside Colette in Paris. It’s a cool, concept store but it’s such a scene and way too packed. (I did convince my mom to get some expensive, fancy perfume there. ;-))  We were just getting finished taking a selfie outside when I looked across the street and there was Mr. Scott Schulman from the Sartorialist leaning against a building with his camera, waiting for someone to catch his discerning eye. I’m totally starstruck when I see even a D-list celebrity and, ironically, Mr. Schulman actually makes his living photographing others. Of course, only I knew who he was, but it was still exciting for me. I wasn’t quite ready for my street style debut in late January as a tourist: big, black, puffy coat (but with a vintage Dries skirt underneath to redeem it all!) with worn, black boots, and a reasonable, pilled, vinyl bag with a hand sewn strap. I made us unnecessarily cross the street and walk right past him so maybe he caught a glimpse of how cool I was and how cute the three of us were together in Paris after 35 years. (We reenacted a picture in front of the Eiffel Tower!) Well, we weren’t cool/distinct/blog-worthy enough because he didn’t stop and ask, but I imagine if he did it would be out of concern and go something like: “Can I take your picture? You look so tired and average. Have you had any l’eau?”

But now today, in Madrid, I was walking down the street and a senior gentleman with just a cane was walking toward me. As I passed him he stopped me and excitedly said something along the lines of, “What you’re wearing is a very traditional look! ¡Que valiente!!”  I smiled and spun around for him and asked if he liked it. He said yes and nodded his head emphatically. Then I said thank you and went on my way.

I’m a total sucker for sartorial affirmation especially from random, non-fashiony strangers. I asked around and got several translations of “que valiente”  but it seems best to translate to “so brave” or “very bold.”

As it should be. Right?

I think being called brave is a lovely compliment and it’s something I needed to hear these days. Being brave has much more to do with a mentality and taking a risk and going ahead even if you’re not sure.  Admittedly, I was ready for some stares but I didn’t think it was necessarily brave. (Have you met Michele Lamy?)  I knew people would look at me like I was weird but that’s fine since I’m a tall, pale guiri anyway.    

So, gracias señor por sus comentarios.  You made me rethink the possibilities of fashion and I hope you’re not reading this and you don’t care at all. (But I would totally read your blog if you had one.)


Madrid Es Moda

Madrid just had their fashion week. (#MBFWMadrid in case you didn’t know.)

Events beget events in fashion. Living off the momentum of MBFWM,  Madrid Es Moda is the city wide event that brings the fashion from the runway to the rest of us. Fashion pops up not just in window displays, but in museums, hotels, design and art exhibits, open studios, bookstores, parties, movie screenings, fashion contests, and other cross-collaborations.  There are even specially themed tapas you can order at over 25 restaurants. They are proven to help you fit sample size.

These fashion moments are not the main event.  They’re cursory or something to glance at while you’re eating your pulpo. I went to the lovely Hotel Gran Melia Fenix to get a closer look at the designs of Amaya Arzuaga, the mistress of undulating shapes; Jorge Acuña, jeweltones and silk charmeuse;  Moisés Nieto, the king of mesh; and my new favorite, Devota & Lomba, my fellow lovers of red, black, and white.  The concierge looked at me like I was a freak for explicitly coming to see these.

(Sigh.  I´m still adjusting.  It took me 15 minutes to figure out how to add an accent to the “e” and then do an upside-down exclamation point on this keyboard.)

There was also a free event at El Museo Cerralbo called  “La Mujer Ochoa: Modernisma y Modernidad.”  Ochoa was an artist and illustrator that has been said to simultaneously be a part of Art Deco, Surrealism, Pre-Raphaelites, Abstract art and Gesturalism. Not bad. These mujers are fantastic and so inspiring. You can almost hear the the scratchy record playing in the background as he painted them.

This seemed to be a more casually organized idea and I don´t think the ticket ladies actually knew what I was talking about (or they probably didn’t care).  They wrote something down and waved me in the right direction.

The always recognizable Desigual had a “Street Takeover!”:

I signed up to see a screening of “La Modista/The Dressmaker” (tagline: Revenge is Back in Fashion—mwwaahahahaha!) with Kate Winslet.  The directions were to send an email to a random address to get on the list.  We shall see what happens!

Here’s a beautiful and I think particularly seamless store display that I just happened to walk by and realize it was part of the happenings as well.  Store: Florin Antiques;  Dress: Ion Fiz:

Muy elegante.

There was something called “Designers´Rooms Fashion Bits” that was a presentation of…well, honestly, it took me awhile to figure it out. Something about online showrooms and 100% Made in Spain!…There were so many ideas and events and collaborations and then throw a little language barrier in there and I was lost sometimes.  I think universally, fashion suffers from “event fatigue.” These opportunities are seductive but they can become a thorn in the side of any designer and make them do a quick cost-benefit analysis. Some cool stuff though:

Last thing. Davidelfin and IKB 191 Collab:

Some bleak drama courtesy of
“Inferno” meets Mid-century Modern. Why not?

So here’s the deal so far:  I average 5 miles a day walking around the city looking, talking, and thinking.  Is there something inherently Spanish that I can discern?  Why am I always the only one here looking at this?  I hesitate to summarize yet but I’m certainly past the knee-jerk assumptions of Spanish designers being inspired by warm weather and bullfighting. (Nor did I ever go there!!)  I think it’s pretty damn cool to have Ochoa’s art in the zeitgeist.  And to see fashion incorporated so homogeneously everywhere. (Especially my two favorite things that aren’t often paired, food and fashion.) And to that point, that designers and businesses collaborate so willingly, and goodness gracious, SO MUCH. The breadth of the events is staggering.  I didn’t even go to 1/4 of them. Need to meet the folks who organized this.

Madrid is really doing their own thing and their fashion week is not a separate, isolated event. Fashion is relevant to everyone and a reflection of what’s going on. So I really get it when they called it “Madrid es Moda” because they truly made it their city full of fashion.



If you have to cry, go outside

I quoted a past professor the other day: “I asked what you think, not what you like.”  We were looking at color.  Color.  Big deal, right?  Well, it wasn’t until I saw them placating one another.  “That’s cool.”  “It’s pretty.”  “I like it.”

Placating is infectious.  And critiquing is a skill.  Tom Ford (successful, smart, savvy, experienced, good-looking, white, male) said, “I think the women’s fashion business is probably the hardest, toughest business in the world.”

“It’s pretty” just won’t cut it.


I admit I found myself placating, getting lazy with my observations after 10 or so critiques. I tried to find something new to say, something outside of what I usually say to young designers who make the same journeys and therefore, the same “mistakes.” I want to say something that I can learn from too, create a discussion for god’s sake.

Because I still need to learn how to accept a critique as well.

So, two quotes to think about.  Let’s start with a whopper from Aristotle (I’m SO smart): “There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” Yeeeeeoooouucchhh!

"I'd buy that skirt."
“Cute skirt.”

And then I heard this doozy from Alrik Koudenburg (cool, Dutch, designer whose website takes a long time to load): “To be outstanding, get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”  All of a sudden those sweaty, awkward, and painful moments hanging out in Eka Pada Rajakapotasana make sense.

Hearing those things makes me want to either hide or “be tough” but we know that neither choice is effective in designing, fittings, sewing a french seam, or even emptying the litterbox or standing in line at the DMV.  I’ve been trying to cultivate a sense of equanimity, choice-less awareness.  Finding that balance between toughness and mushiness is essential, but even though I entered the endless world of critiques and feedback long ago, I still think the experience will play out as follows:

1. I show my work.

2. They like my work.

3. I leave.

But you get an "F" for clip art.
But you get an “F” for clip art.

It’s crazy that I still have an instinct to think like this because my critique experiences really run the gamut and depend on so many factors:

  • Once I had a critique and I cried (sleep deprivation and relief it was over).
  • Once it went “really well” (I worked really hard).
  • Once I could CARE LESS about what they said (I hated the project but the work was decent).
  • Once I realized later they said nothing of value (the critic was esoteric and my work wasn’t up to par).
  • Once I could tell that he didn’t want to be there and he couldn’t critique (I liked the project, was proud of my work, and felt cheated).

But what if I loved the project, I wasn’t tired, I made strong choices and I genuinely liked and respected the critic and their feedback and I wasn’t being tough OR mushy, BUT I still felt wounded?  It wasn’t like I was hearing it from Kelly Cutrone.  What happens then?  You take the amazing and intelligent insight, apply it, and then take the credit when everyone loves it.

So here goes, my respected friends whose opinions I deeply value.  I finished a mini-collection for a collaboration for Design Philadelphia.  This is what it looks like.  What do you think?

Stay gold, Ponyboy.
Stay gold, Ponyboy.

And Ye Shall Have Fabric

My fabric!
The photo makes them look like farmhouse dishtowels.  They’re not.

So it starts with fabric.  It always does.  You can do almost everything, or do away with almost anything when designing fashion but you are always a slave to the fabric.  A few years ago I had a little daymare at work about how much fabric ruled my life.  I imagined myself not just making garments with it and ordering it, but eating it and dragging it around with me, draped in it; slowly turning into a fabric-human hybrid like the pirates on Davy Jones’ Flying Dutchman.

Vacations have passed, schedules lined up, and it became fabric time.  Time to see what my collection will really be, time to collaborate, reassess and let go.

The "plan."
The “plan.”

Remember these sketches?  When we last left off, these were just daydreams but since then, I’ve passed it off to a textile artist, Ryan Parker, who helped me make decisions about pattern, color and dye techniques.  He’s one of the many talented people of the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia and is the artist behind the textile prints of Lobo Mau.

I have only a small idea of what the dyeing process is.  I heard the words “mordant” and “woad” being thrown around.  They’re the kind of words that you say a LOT in one particular place at one time but never hear anywhere else.  I participated in a dyeing seminar one time and I can’t tell you how many times the word “thiox” was said and I haven’t said it since.

Primal approval.
You know it’s  good sign when the animals like it.

A designer friend of mine was once presented with a trillion amazing options and questions from a textile artist about what she wanted her fabric to look like.  The possibilities are truly endless when you consider fiber, weave, dye technique, color, pattern.  Her response to the artist?:  Just do whatever.  I chuckled when I heard this because designers are thought of as such control freaks and it’s actually a much easier task to work with what you’re given instead of micromanaging.

I like to think of textile artists like playwrights.  They create the backbone of the collection by tying it together with color and technique, just like a writer used words and sentences to convey thoughts and ideas.  The designer is the director who makes sense of it all and brings the many parts together to create a cohesive image.  In that sense, it’s important to start with fabric.   Some designers have an unyielding idea of what fabric they’re looking for and they ultimately don’t get what they want.  You have to see what the industry has to offer, learn what’s impacting them, and see how new technological developments are applied.  (I wanted to use feathers one time and was surprised to see how the avian flu effected the prices.  You also haven’t seen ANYTHING until you’ve seen a disenfranchised feather salesman.)

This, of course, is a different story if you have a department in your big important company that engineers your fabric for you every season.

BAD gold leaf! BAD!
BAD gold leaf! BAD!

There was an initial desire to incorporate gold leaf in the collection but it turned out to be tedious, it took two people to do it, and the result was tacky and “Greek Goddess.”  In my book, things can take time, things can take money, but things sure as hell better not make me frustrated.  It ruins the entire creative experience.  I felt bad about the “ruined” fabric, the flaking gold leaf, the frustrating process that wasted his time but we thought the fabric could be salvaged.  There was faint stripe running through it that looked promising.

So he’s gonna try something else.  Mix it up.  Make it cool.  Turn lemons to lemonade.

I told him “just do whatever.”

It will work out.

I <3 Mori Girls

One guilty reason why I love my students is because I often mine them for cool things.  They usually don’t realize that they’re the ones who are in the thick of it.  They tell me about some of the weirdest stuff.  Stuff they just happen to like naturally and daydream about.  Stuff that isn’t mentioned by editors, WWD, or other mouthpieces of fashion. (Would this fall under “Stuff I’m Too Old to Notice”?)

So a student I had (and if she’s reading this, thank you so much for turning me on to this) told me about Mori Girls.  Did you know about this?!?!?  (As a side note, I am always pleasantly surprised and relieved when a fellow designer admits to being the last to know about something.  A friend recently asked, “Am I the last person to know about ASOS?  Me: Um, no.)  I am hardly an expert on all the different Japanese street styles but the Mori girls, or “forest” girls, are the nature-loving-feminine-soft-flowy-dress-wearing-bang-sporting-natural-fiber-adoring subculture.

Clothing you can EAT in.
Clothing you can EAT in.

There’s a bevy of Japanese books that appeal to this aesthetic, like The Feminine Wardrobe and Linen, Wool, Cotton.  They have patterns and sewing directions for garments, slippers, bags and scarves.  Whomever designed the garments in this next one is very smart.  They created a slew of dresses, blouses and tunics from just a basic babydoll shape.  I think every last one is adorable.  I made the one on cover.  All my girlfriends were like, “That is the perfect dress” but my brother-in-law calls it “The Box.” Sigh.

I will most certainly "wear with freedom."
I will most certainly “wear with freedom.”

These Mori Girls are just few of the things that have been rolling around in my head.  You already know about my folkwear obsession but my inspiration also includes housedresses (yes, the kind grannies wear):

I'm wearing one as we speak.
I’m wearing one as we speak.
Who knew DVF could launch a brand from this?
DVF wasn’t the first to design a wrap dress.

Snow White (the Grimm version, not Disney):

"Schneewittchen" in the Fountain of Fairytales in Berlin.
“Schneewittchen” in the Fountain of Fairytales in Berlin.

and Little House on the Prairie (the books, not the show):

Garth Williams' illustrations
“After we clean, we can play with our corn cob dolls!”

With all of this as inspiration, I designed a mini-collection.  And here are some sketches:

…smocks, pinafores, wraps…
…aprons, shifts, tunics…
…pockets, layers, tabards…

I won’t say much about them.  I’m just going to quietly document the process and hopefully you’ll learn something from it.

Daydream dress up, indeed.

The reasons for starting a blog aren’t very lofty.  Let’s face it.  This isn’t the “Great American Novel.”

When I started my blog, I wrote down a few ideas that I wanted to mine to be about.  Besides strictly “fashion.”  The ideas I wrote down were: discovery, learning, trying things out, process, contradictions, complexity, and (obvi), daydreaming.

I have a strong grasp of production and the technical side of the industry but the one thing that brought me to fashion was daydreaming.  It allowed me to think freely, abstractly, and naturally.  And for me and a friend, that was the two of us in her basement at 3 am, dressed as male talk show hosts from the seventies, belting out the soundtrack from A Chorus Line (while recording every last minute of it for posterity).  Not quite the same level as haute couture design, but I like to think it starts in the same place.  Speaking of dressed up men from the seventies, I give you John Galliano:

Albino YMCA
I shall return with violets.
Don’t forget your espadrilles!
Major Tom

These are just a few ways he used to “take a bow” at the end of his legendary runway shows.  They were as anticipated almost as much as the show itself.  Ever the prolific, genius-dreamer!

These exits are no more.  Why?  Hmmm… I don’t really want to go in to detail about it.  I’ll leave the real examination to Cathryn Horyn.  Let’s just say, for the sake of my blog that, aside from the pressure, subsequent addiction, and clandestine handheld recording devices, he “lost his daydreams.”  Ooooh.  That’s good.  From now on, whenever I see a fashion “don’t” or get a parking ticket or bite into a mushy apple, I’m going to use that.  “I just lost my daydreams.”

And there’s nothing like commerce, shareholders, and reality to suck the daydream right out of you and set you up for world of fashion trouble.

Yves St. Laurent: “God, when I first started I could work day and night, without stopping for food or rest.  It was pure excitement.  Now there is this incredible anguish and emptiness before every collection.  Something new, something new, always something new.  I work because I have to–not to make money but for the people who depend on me.  If I don’t create the next collection and the collection after that, they will end up in the street.”

YSL sketches and swatches

Do I need to even mention McQueen?

“Fashion should be a form of escapism, and not a form of imprisonment.” AM

Galliano was producing up to 32 collections a year between House of Galliano and Dior.  “As long as I could produce, it was fine.”

Ack!  HOW ON EARTH DID HE DO THAT?  Well, we know how he did it but still, HOW ON EARTH DID HE DO THAT?!  And while we’re on the topic, what is the heck is in The Kaiser‘s water?

Galliano said in the Charlie Rose interview, “I couldn’t say ‘no’.”

That’s why I admire Isabel Toledo so much.  We can learn a lot from her restraint/boundaries.  She’s a designer’s designer who, for over twenty years has been able to create clothes that people want to wear.  People like Michelle Obama on Inauguration Day in 2009.  She’s maintained not only an artistic vision, but one that requires an understanding of technical design.  Despite being a top designer, she’s an outspoken opponent of the Design Piracy Prohibition Act, feeling that her designs are no more important than any other designer’s out there.  In fact, she’s designed a shoe line for Payless.  She’s also quite the showman herself, often landing on Vanity Fair’s Best Dressed list with her husband and collaborator, the artist, Ruben Toledo.  Did I talk about the FIT show and corresponding book about her or one she recently wrote?

You know, designin’!

Perhaps the smartest and most measured choice she’s made is to only show collections when she can.  This, of course, is hard when Bernard Arnault is breathing down your neck but it’s testament to knowing herself and what you’re capable of and what makes you happy.  You don’t need to be a rock star to make clothes.

In the July Vanity Fair article about Galliano, Anna Wintour said, “We need the dreamers. We need those designers who create a magic moment, a world that changes the way you look at clothes.”  Cherish your daydreaming because this is when you play.  Develop techniques to cultivate your dreams so that you can do it effortlessly.  I know of a blog that can help.

Raining Cats and Dogs

It’s been raining like crazy and I’m in a bad mood.

No caption needed.
No caption needed.

I’ve been putting off everything: patternmaking, designing, class prepping, blogging.  I’m reminded by a quote (and you’ll have to forgive me for quoting someone so overused) by Picasso, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”  I hate him for saying that.  Why can’t it find me drinking a martini and hanging out with my friends?  Why can’t it show it up when I’m dangling a feather in front of my cat?  Why can’t it come when I’m daydreaming?

I can be the worst at relying on feeling inspired in order get work done.  Luckily, I’m inspired by basically everything so this doesn’t happen a lot. But since the summer has started, and the structure of a semester isn’t driving me, I feel like I’m suspended in Jell-O, weightless, still, and a little paralyzed.

I've also been in to aspics lately.
Aspics are just another distraction.

I had the teeniest amount of super low pressure designing to do and by the time I convinced myself to do it, I had built it up into this huge thing.  I did things, unspeakable things, that I HATE doing, like folding all the linens in the house and cleaning, before I sat down to design.  That’s how bad it was.  WHAT’S MY PROBLEM??!!

I’ll tell you.  And then I’ll tell you what I did to fix it.

My first problem was that I wasn’t using any of my tricks, or techniques.  My second problem was that I didn’t realize that I have everything at this very moment to be creative.  I don’t need a super clean studio, linens folded, or even inspiration to create.  I don’t need to be “ready.”  I need a piece of paper and a pen. Like the Hopi saying goes, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

The first solution was from someone very smart and who’s in the very same room as me.  He told me to please shut up and just work for 10 minutes.  No more, no less.  And that’s what I did.  And after ten simple minutes, I had some work.

I tell my students, “No secret drawings!” when they don’t present all their designs.  (If you needed another random reference, I got the idea from Jack Black in “The School of Rock” where a kid is hiding his little song from the rest of the band.) So my second solution was that I put the agony out there and shared it with others. It’s rarely as bad as you think and good fellow designers will often be able to lighten the mood, finish it up, and add the single detail to make a collection cohesive.

So let me finish this on a personal note.  I’m often brought back to designing by my students, who remind me of my own lessons and keep me in shape.  Here are some mood boards they created in various ways: Pinterest, Photoshopping, google image searches, Polyvore, BehanceCreative Commons and good old fashioned magazine collaging.  I hope they perk you up on these gray days.

Pom-poms and fuchsia
Sunsets on the Sahara
Cozy knits in the fog and dewy skin
Delicate dreaming, botanical specimens, Victorian lace
Boardwalk lights and ladies who lunch
Patisserie, pastels, powder, and pillows
RIng of Fire
Ring of Fire, Nashville glamour