I am seriously considering making a trip out to NYC this summer to see the Alexander McQueen retrospective, "Savage Beauty"

If it were any other artist but McQueen, I would call me crazy. But as he was one of the most revolutionary designers of our time, and I personally felt a deep affinity for the dark, elegant, poetic beauty of his work, and he's no longer with us, I'd say this trip would be justified. I can't pass up this chance to see so many groundbreaking, heartbreaking works in person, and all in one place!

Dilemmas: Can't decide if saving $ on these knockoffs is worth the knowledge that they are (such blatant) knockoffs. (Or, why Ann Demeulemeester's triple lace-up boots are still immortal in my eyes).

In the first few moments of seeing these triple-lace-up boots from Chocolat Blu on Ruelala.com last night, I was super excited. Of course I was going to get them, I thought, because they were a much cheaper version of the awesome, awe-inspiring boots by Ann Demeulemeester from her Fall 2008 line:

I first saw the Ann D's on SeaOfShoes.com, and was utterly swept away by their vicious beauty. I loved them so much I seriously considered forking over the $800 when they went on sale on gilt.com a couple months ago. But of course I missed the chance--they sold out faster than you can say "demeulemeester" and that was that.

It never occurred to me that other brands would have the audacity to copy Ann D's immortal creations.  What nerve!  But copy they did, even L.A.M.B. (whose proprietor has been known to sue Forever 21 for copying its own designs, what a joke!), and though most of the copies were quite impressive, none of them quite reaches the ethereal splendor of the original boots, and here are a few missing elements:

  • Angled tops with extended tongue: One thing that makes the original Demeulemeester boots stand out is the way the tops of the boots slope gently upwards towards the front, with that extra-long front panel that shoots aggressively up past the laces. Many of the copies merely truncate the boot shaft right where the laces end.  The Chocolat Blu ones do a decent job of imitating this boot shaft but are missing a few other elements as noted below.
  • Off-set heel: At least in the high-heeled version featured on SeaOfShoes.com, one thing that really sets the Ann D's apart is the heel that isn't quite flush with the rest of the shoe.  Awkwardly placed and yet very unique.
  • That perfectly distressed quality of the leather: All the copycats use leather that is just too new-looking, which instantly does away with the 18th-century, steampunk, Tim-Burton-esque charm of the originals.  The originals look like they've been worn for 100 years. The Chocolat Blu ones, by contrast, use patent leather.  For shame!
  • Extra long laces: In all the pictures I've seen of the Ann D's, there is a generosity of laces that allows you to wrap them a few times around the boot shaft, and still have enough left over for some floppy ties at the sides.  Most of the fakes have just enough lace to tie a lame little bow at the top.
  • Length of the rows of laces: By this, I mean the laces start much closer to the toe box on the original Ann D's as compared to the copycats.  The Chocolat Blu ones start practically at the ankle, leaving a whole lot of blank space on the actual shoe part of the boot.
  • That bit of extra stitching towards the toe: It's a relatively tiny detail, but it makes a difference.  That little extra stitching before the laces start on the originals makes them somehow look more authentic.

So yeah, all the reasons above keeps the original Ann D's sacred, no matter who tries to copy them, but that said, I did end up ordering the Chocolat Blu boots because the Ann D's are sold out everywhere, and anyway they were as close as I was going to get to the originals at a mere $120.

For Men: When you want to look badass, Nicholas K's got (the clothes on) your back.

I was going to cancel this post because it looked as though Spring had finally decided to stay for good.  But then the weather got nasty again this weekend, and I realized people may still be in the market for a spring/fall jacket, that nice in-between bit of outerwear that is not too heavy but still keeps you warm (and relatively dry) when the weather just can't decide what to do with itself.
After Nicholas K answered my prayers by outfitting me with the uttermost perfect black jacket, they've quickly lodged the label among my most favoritest designers ever.  I can't claim I'm quite 'cool' enough to be wearing all the fantastic things they create, but the styles actually make me want to be that 'cool.'
When I received my black jacket and started prancing around in it, I found that my guy was jealous of how 'cool' I suddenly became.  Ah, but you, too, can be as cool as I!  I blithely told him. Because Nicholas K makes menswear that is even more gorgeous than his women's clothing.  
It's almost enough to make you want to get riddled with tattoos and ride a motorcycle, or just saunter down the street in a cloud of cool-itude.  Check out some of the styles from the Spring 2010 collection:

This point in time: The real reason losing Alexander McQueen is tragic for us all.

By now I imagine you have to be very far removed from not only the fashion world, but also mainstream news outlets and culture in general, to have not heard the tragic news of Lee Alexander McQueen's passing last Thursday.  I have been examining my own feelings and actively absorbing what people have been saying about it--on blogs, in magazines, and most spectacularly, on Twitter.  The outpouring of grief and shock has been great indeed, but I couldn't bring myself to join in because, to be honest, I found some of these sentiments around it being "so sad," "such a waste," "he was so creative and talented," and simply "r.i.p. alexander," to be neither satisfying nor convincing. And so it has taken me some time to process and share what I think is really behind this terrible sense of loss that we feel.

Because I never knew the man, and only knew his work, I cannot write with any conviction or meaning about the unspeakable tragedy of losing Lee McQueen as a human being, especially the untimely way in which he departed.  I can only write about what losing him as an artist means for us, and how his creations continue to inspire and impact the world we live in.

The death of Alexander McQueen is tragic not because he was, and is, my "favorite designer."  That doesn't mean much if you don't appreciate fashion's place in society.  But I contend that even for the philistines among us, there's room to mourn creative genius in any form.  Many of us are overwhelmed with sadness as we stare at this gaping black maw of a McQ-shaped hole before us, and I posit that the reason we feel robbed is really that we have lost one of the greatest storytellers of our time.
A storyteller, you say?  Why yes indeed - I believe Alexander McQueen was a masterful storyteller, right up there with the most skillful film directors, novelists, and painters of the era, before he was ever a designer, or even a tailor (of which he was one of the best).  The tales he spun were dark fables and romantic, gothic fairy stories that reached deep into the very underbelly of our cultural consciousness and always left a subtle aftertaste of terror.  His stories were the stuff of Bluebeard's castle, of Jane Eyre's splintered chestnut tree, of Snow White and Rose Red's beloved bear, and of Beauty's faithful Beast.  They comprised a very real part of who we are as a society.

The Contemporary Fashion Archive was one of the few sources I found to accurately describe the full effect of McQueen's work on the fabric of our cultural consciousness: "His 1990s fashion shows became famous for evoking complex narratives and powerful imagery that often seamlessly combined beauty with emotional disturbance, glamour with violence and fragility with aggression."

For his Fall 2008 show, possibly one of his most memorable and magical collections, which Style.com called "a self-imagined fantasy of crinolined princesses and British-colonial romance," McQueen stated, "I've got a 600-year-old elm tree in my garden," he told us, "and I made up this story of a girl who lives in it and comes out of the darkness to meet a prince and become a queen."
And yet, McQueen was always lauded for being forward-thinking, groundbreaking, and evolutionary in his designs.  He was doing exciting things in his collections, things most designers would never have the balls to conceive, let alone execute and display.  One need only behold the bizarre yet undeniable beauty of the now-infamous 10-inch stiletto "armadillo shoes," from his most recent Spring 2010 collection, so unlike anything we've ever seen anyone put on their feet, to understand that McQueen's ability to explore uncharted territory was unparalleled.  And still, the strange new things possess a heartbreaking, breathtaking, extraordinary beauty.

It was his mastery of so many contradictions, including this ability to look ahead at the same time that he reached fervently and reverently into the past, that made McQueen's work so unforgettable, why these silhouettes seeped deeply into the crevices of our imaginations, and why they were always managed to unnerve and disturb us at the same time they lit us ablaze with desire.  For in his stories we found not only where we've been and who we were, but new hope for where we might be going next and how those new places might alter us.  And in McQueen's hands, we willingly relinquished the fears his designs inspired in us, and trusted his guidance completely on this journey into our own aesthetic future.

And so, while I grieve for Lee McQueen, the man, and the many sadnesses and loneliness he endured as he moved within the shallow and concocted world of fashion, the bigger part of me mourns the passing of a true poet and scholar who had so much left to give the world. And yes, that part of me feels robbed of the unwritten stories Alexander McQueen might have had to tell me, the loss of which makes me look forward into the empty space with a real and creeping dread.

Explore images and videos of the last 8 years of Alexander McQueen's collections on the official site.

It took me a while to uncover these photos, but I finally found them on the Contemporary Fashion Archive website.  This gallery includes designs from Alexander McQueen's earliest collections, starting with his innovative graduate collection (bought in its entirety by the late Isabella Blow in 1994), to the the infamous "Highland Rape" show in 1995, into the latter part of the decade.  It's fascinating to compare these early works with his later, more mature styles.


The only two celebrity reactions I found remotely interesting, though they may not be the most appropriate responses to the news:

George Forsyth (Lee's former partner): "The truth is, the fashion world is the loneliest place on the face of the planet. It's a shallow world full of party people and party 'friends.'...It's been fashion, fashion, fashion ... but what about him as a person? That's the real loss and the real waste."

Karl Lagerfeld“I found his work very interesting and never banal. There was always some attraction to death, his designs were sometimes dehumanised. Who knows, perhaps after flirting with death too often, death attracts you.”

The Best of the Rest: Some favorite picks from McQueen's other shows, like the divine shredded chiffon "oyster dress" from his Spring 2003 collection...
and the exquisite dress he custom-designed for fashion editor/chick-lit "novelist" Plum Sykes:
The Edwardian/Scottish punk aesthetic of his Fall 2006 show:
The abundance of houndstooth during Fall 2009:
And finally, selections from all the other shows:
In memory of Lee Alexander McQueen (1969 - 2010)

Could Camilla Staerk finally be finding her stride?

The thing about truly masterful designers (or artists in general) is that they continue to put out new things, play with new concepts and ideas, and yet you can tell almost immediately that it's their work.  There is a certain signature je ne sais quoi in what they produce that you recognize as uniquely theirs.  One might say this is how you tell an artist has come into his/her own and reached full artistic maturity.

I wasn't sure I could say the same of Camilla Staerk's early collections (she first landed on the fashion map almost 10 years ago).  They seemed a bit haphazard and scattered, meandering a bit, like a novice writer's narrative.  There were moments of sheer brilliance and offbeat moments that made you scratch your head a bit and wonder what she was thinking.

The last few collections though, seem a bit more focused, more purposeful and certain.  It's interesting I picked up on the writerly aspect of her work, as Interview Magazine described her work early last year as "dark, severe, literary, and modern." 

I don't know if I completely agree, because a lot of her pieces are also feminine, gentle, and fabled.  Hailing from Denmark, Staerk says she's deeply influenced by the mythology and stories of her home country, from the tragedy of Hamlet to the stark modern lines of Danish furniture-making.  At any rate she's someone I find interesting and will be following in the coming season.

A philosophical question for fashionistas: At what point does gingham become buffalo plaid?

It was news to me when I discovered I'd been misusing the word 'plaid' (the actual cloth) when I really meant to say 'tartan' (the pattern).  In the same way, when you really think about it, most people use the terms 'gingham,' 'buffalo plaid' and even 'checks' interchangeably. They all sort of refer to this square-ish, plaid-ish pattern consisting of just two colors.  The only distinction I could make was that people seem to use 'gingham' when the pattern of squares is small, as with Dorothy's famous blue gingham dress, and buffalo plaid when the pattern is large, as in a flannel lumberjack's shirt.

Dictionaries and wikipedia are not much help; they say gingham is a type of cloth that's usually woven in a checked pattern, and buffalo plaid is simply defined as "a broad checkered plaid pattern usually of two colors."  Which is to say, they are practically the same thing.  And yet they're not!
But let's get down to the interesting stuff, which is the fact that this pattern, especially in black-and-white, has been popping up everywhere.  

I was only moved to blog about it when I saw the beautiful way designer Christopher Kane applied the pattern in his Spring 2010 collection. The cuts, the silhouettes, the drape of the fabric, they are all gorgeously and daringly executed.  But what really makes Kane's collection interesting to me is that he cut the fabric on a bias, so the pattern falls diagonally instead of up-and-down.  I've never seen buffalo plaid (or gingham, as most people are referring to Kane's dresses) so graceful, so ethereal.  It's an interesting juxtaposition of luxuriously delicate fabric and really down-to-earth practicality.  

Of course, I don't expect to afford the real thing so I went off in search of some suitable plaid/gingham dresses that could substitute.  Here's what I found, though I have to say only a couple of them even come close to Christopher Kane's frocks (Scottish designer Zoe Watt's Brass Label being one of them- discovered on fashion-stylist.net). Also included some fun accessories featuring the buffalo plaid pattern, from a blanket to slippers to an adorable dog vest.
Clothing: 1. Brass Label collection 2. 80spurple.com 3. Forever 21 4. ModCloth 5. Small Earth Vintage 6. Oasis 7. Philip Lim 8. Tambukiki on eBay 9. Urban Outfitters 10. Marks & Spencer 11. kensiegirl 12. American Eagle 13. Forever 21 14. Gap 15. Paul Smith 16. Hot Topic hoodie 17. PixieMarket coat 18. Plastic Island sweater cardigan
Accessories: 1. Old Navy umbrella2. Urban Outfitters throw blanket. 3-4. Aeropostale bikini top and bottom 5. Anthropologie bra 6. Etsy dog vest 7. Forever 21 hi-tops  8. Forever 21 slippers

My burning love affair with Cydwoq shoes, part 2.

I was waiting for permission from the Cydwoq folks to post these pictures of some of my favorite designs from their Vintage line...The Modern line is pretty great as it were, but there's something about the Vintage line that captures my imagination.

I love the details, the slightly offbeat yet organic shapes, and the undeniable integrity of these shoes.  Time to save up so I can add to my collection of one =)
Check out the full line of Cydwoqs here.

My burning love affair with Cydwoq shoes, part 1.

It's been a couple months now since I wandered the shops of Noe Valley and found myself in the Rabat Shoes boutique, and coming face-to-face with one of the most beautiful pairs of shoe craftsmanship I had ever seen in my life.

Before I begin, know that these shoes are much more expensive than I am used to. I mean, compared high-falutin' shoes from established designers, they are not that expensive (most of their shoes, even the boots, don't exceed $500), but for ordinary citizens who toil for their food and generally find it difficult to cough up more than $100 for things you walk around in, these shoes are expensive.

Cydwoq (pronounced "sidewalk") is an independent label in Burbank, CA.  It began with a man who likes to walk, and comes from a line of Armenian shoemakers.  Watching the video below, you come to understand that each design, and even each shoe, has a story.  
The reason the shoes are so expensive is that a) the quality of the leather is downright seductive and b) each pair is made by hand, by American workers.  American labor is expensive.  But beyond the quality of the materials and painstaking attention to detail is that undeniable, intangible quality of old-world depth the shoes have.  I felt it the instant I saw them, and knew I had something special on my hands.

The shoes in question are called Decade, from Cydwog's Vintage line.  They are a unique take on the classic oxford shoe, managing to seem very old and worldly-wise and yet modern at the same time.  I think it's the combination of the mottled, rich brown leather and the low-cut profile of the shoe.  They were on huge discount at Rabat (about 40% off), but still I hemmed and hawwed for like an hour, trying them on and waking around the store and staring soulfully at my own feet.  It was really no use though, because as soon as I put them on I felt they had been made for my feet, because they fit so perfectly.  I was utterly taken.

In the end, because it was one of two pairs left in the store, the lady kindly knocked off an additional $30 or so, and that did me in.  I bought them, but at about $180 including tax they are still the most expensive pair of shoes I've bought to date.

It took me a while to think of a good way to wear them, and I experimented with a couple other new things I bought recently: a little chambray dress I got for $20 from Therapy and plaid Look from London tights (quickly becoming my favorite pair!).  And a very old plain black cardigan I bought from Express back in high school, which I also love to pieces.

It's official. Gwen Stefani's L.A.M.B. is shoe genius at its finest.

I've been sort of resisting L.A.M.B. shoes because of the celebrity association - in general, it seems really tacky to wear something a celebrity puts out as part of his/her merchandising empire.  Plus, I'm not one to sit by and help someone who is already rich doing one thing, to get richer doing something else.  And so, I fought hard not to fall for these shoes.

But it's no use.  I am head-over-heels in love.
I am most arduously ravished by her cheesily named 'Feisty' heels.  Let's analyze, shall we?  First, you have the snakeskin.  Whether it's fake or real (at these prices, they had better be real), you can never really go wrong with black and white snakeskin.  Classy, expensive, and luxurious, and different.

Next, you have the beautifully executed play on proportions, with thickish straps on top and a single thin black strap on bottom.  After attending my company holiday party last night, I realize I absolutely hate thin strappy heels.  To me they look paltry and weak; I like my shoes, like I like everything else in life, to have some substance and structure.  These Feisty heels definitely embody both.

Then you have striking embellishments in the double-black strap/buckles.  A lovely detail that adds so much dimension, plus it makes it somewhat customizable to your comfort.  And finally, you have the gorgeous and unique triangular wooden heel.  They could have gone with a simple stacked or stiletto heel.  But that wouldn't have been nearly as satisfying, now would it?  There is nothing about this shoe that isn't beautifully designed and well thought out.  I also included some of my other favorites, all with striking silhouettes, substance, and structure: the Cho heel, the Finsbury, and the Gypsy.