Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The New York Times' 'Bi Polar' Disorder

Talk about duplicitous (or perhaps just playing it safe). It seems the editors at The New York Times couldn't agree on which story was more valid, so they took the easy way out and gave almost equal time to both.

Today's 'Fashion' section was almost literally divided in half by two articles whose captions and attending images completely and blatantly contradicted one another. Ruth La Ferla's "Department Stores Discover That, Um, Sex Sells", illustrated by Henri Bendel's "naughty mannequins" and Patricia Fields' racy windows for H & M, spoke to the way in which 'sex sells', "light kink" has gone "mainstream", and that as the holidays approach, department stores are helping their customer tap into their "playfully kinky" sides.

While just below, Ginia Bellafante's "In 2004, Prim Looks Foretold the Mood" reflected on the year, which was marked by fashion's desire to "offer women clothes that made them look less like sunbathers on the shores of Brazil and more like graduates of the Katharine Gibbs Secretarial school around 1955" as exemplified by the decidedly demure pictures of Nicole Kidman in her hair held back by a bow trimmed headband and clad in a tweed skirt, and Jennifer Lopez in a bow trimmed top and little black wristlet gloves. She wrote that "2004 will be remembered as a time when Seventh Avenue demonstrated a rare kind of prescience, reading a cultural shift toward conservative beliefs and tastes earlier and more accurately than a legion of political prognosticators."

And she observed that the aforementioned conservative, ladylike styles "are generally interpreted with a sense of irony", the word 'irony' being the key here. It should be noted that the term, "irony" is something that is always alluded to by the keenly observant Cathy Horyn, whose entertaining and witty thoughts were noticeably absent today (I assume she is taking some time off). But if she was called upon to add a third 'take' on the subject at hand, no doubt she would have reminded us that it is precisely this paradoxical sense of irony, the almost shizophrenic and bi polar mix of high and low that adds interest to life (and fashion). And chances are, if you look beneath the "full skirts with button prints, dresses for garden parties, pink pants with embroidered pineapples" that Ms. Bellafante describes, you will find the black racy lingerie that Ms. Ferla spoke about in the article just above.

- Marilyn Kirschner

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