Tuesday, July 17, 2007

“New and (not necessarily) Improved”

It’s hardly news that as a society, we are far too obsessed with youth, beauty, and perfection. Just consider all the plastic surgery and non invasive cosmetic procedures being performed on members of both sexes, (from the very young to very old), and even pets, in record numbers these days.

Whereas in many other cultures, the elderly are honored and revered, here in the U.S. that is hardly the case. Quite the opposite in fact. Beauty is generally (and mistakenly) measured by how youthful, unlined, unmarked, unflawed, and unwrinkled one is. And this doesn’t only apply to people, faces, and bodies. There is a national obsession for what is young, fresh, and new as those properties pertain to ‘things’.

As someone who has long appreciated and collected vintage clothing, accessories, and items for the home (years before it was considered ‘in’ and ‘acceptable’ to a wider audience) I must say that I’ve never minded little marks, dents, lines, flaws, scratches, and other ‘imperfections and have never considered them to be ‘negatives’.

Quite frankly, I have always looked upon the above character laden attributes (which happen to be the outward manifestations of aging) as something positive: a reminder of a well lived life with a captivating story, a romantic history, an interesting past, and in a world of mass produced sameness, proof of honesty and authenticity.

Of course, I realize that I am hardly alone and there many others who prefer, if not purposely seek out, well worn items. What I didn’t realize is that there is actually a name given to this practice. As I was thumbing through the Sumer 2007 edition of “Washington Spaces”, www.washingtonspaces.com (my sister’s family room was photographed in a 5 page spread), I came across an article, “The Way of Wabi-Sabi”, written by Kelli Rosen. Ms. Rosen references author and wabi-sabi expert Robyn Griggs Lawrence who penned, “The Wabi-Sabi House”.

Wabi-Sabi refers to the Japanese art of imperfect beauty (what’s old is new again). According to the article, it’s “all about honoring the beauty of the imperfections that occur with age- like scratches or decay- and revering the authenticity of items made by hand, rather than those mass produced by machinery, especially those ubiquitous pieces purposefully dented and sanded to resemble antiques”. And, as Ms. Rosen explains, “It’s all about letting go of the belief that imperfections are undesirable and instead accepting them as perhaps comfort food…”

While the term “wabi- sabi” is being used vis a vis home décor within the context of this article, it obviously has far reaching implications and can be applied to all facets of life as well as fashion. With fall fast approaching, that means new store windows, a dearth of ads for new merchandise, and of course, major fashion magazines will be coming out with their BIG fall issues.

While I’m hardly trying to dissuade you from buying retail, or buying in general, I simply want to suggest that there are options and I’d like to remind you that most of us buy too many unnecessary things. Should you find yourself being seduced by persuasive ads and editorials that suggest you ‘have to have’ that brand spanking new bag, pair of shoes, coat, etc.; or if you’re being ‘bullied’ into thinking that your older, time worn versions are not up to snuff, maybe you want to consider Ms. Rosen’s observation, “As for me, I’m learning that imperfection translates to character and every scratch, nick and dent tells a story, whether it’s from the artisan who handcrafted the piece or from my daughter who thought it would be fun to throw her sippy cup at the coffee table. Indeed, these are all stories worth telling…”

And by the way, you may want to relate the practice of “wabi-sabi” to aging (as it pertains to you). The next time you look in the mirror and see a few more lines and wrinkles than you’d like, simply consider that they are indeed telling a wonderful story. And remind yourself, “You’re not getting older…you’re getting better”!

-Marilyn Kirschner

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Monday, April 16, 2007

‘Label’ Suit

Am I the only one who noticed a faux pas in Friday’s Page Six of The New York Post? In Richard Johnson's absence (it is stated he is "on vacation"), the widely popular column is being edited by Paula Froelich with contributions from Bill Hoffman and Corynne Steindler. In the column headed, "Sightings", there was a blurb, "Italian designer Ralph Rucci, Dame Celia Lipton Farris and Town & Country publisher Pamela Fiori at the Palm Beach Historical Society soiree at Neiman Marcus Palm Beach". I had a knee jerk reaction to labeling Ralph Rucci an "Italian designer". The celebrated couturier is an American born (Philly to be exact) resident of New York who shows in both New York and Paris, and has a Soho atelier. His lineage may be proudly Italian, but to call him an 'Italian designer' is akin to beginning a sentence, "Jewish designer Ralph Lauren".

And ironically upon reflection, what occurred to me was that I was hard pressed to think of another designer who would be as difficult to define by his lineage (or country of birth) as Ralph. As an avid world traveler and global aesthete, one who not only paints and sculpts but whose artistic and architectural collections routinely meld and pay homage to different cultures, he defines the term ‘citizen of the world’.

Speaking of labels…this Sunday was “T”, The New York Times’ Style Magazine’s Spring 2007 Beauty issue, which was called, “Budding Beauty”. Though it’s labeled as a beauty issue, it is yet another curious yet admittedly entertaining and informative hybrid filled not only with columns devoted to new trends in lip and nail color, how to deal with that trip to a hair salon, spa trends, and aging, but covers all areas of style: fashion, shopping, accessories, people.

And talk about from going from the sublime to the ridiculous… it’s all about shock value and the element of surprise. In addition to pretty people, fabulous jewels, and arresting photography, there is Josh Patner’s engaging back page story, “Celebrity Endorsement: How to be 96 and look like Kitty Carlisle Hart” in which she admits her lifelong love affair with Nivea; you can find out everything about feet that you wanted to know, “Pedicure Junction” tells you why feet smell if you care to know, and who are the most famous foot fetishists in history; as well as which new fragrances may work as aphrodisiacs.

In “Dirty Tricks”, Chandler Burr announced with obvious surprise, that Agent Provocateur does not smell like “unwashed panties” (his words not mine) but rather, “crushed raspberries and black plums on hot skin”, L’Autre smells like “piles of spices simmering in the hot African sun, dirt on the street, and a hint of body odor” (yum????), Rese 31 will remind you of a “hit of armpit from a hot young woman”, or “something you smell between your sheets”.

-Marilyn Kirschner

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Beauty is as Beauty Does: The Changing Face (and body) of Fashion

Is ugly the ‘new’ pretty? Is chubby the new skinny? Along with ushering in a brand New Year, are we also ushering in a new standard for beauty? Not only has the year begun with more and more (quite deserved) attention being focused on the problem of unhealthy, unnatural, and life threatening skinniness (especially in terms of the fashion industry, emaciated models, and the way in which their impossible to achieve ‘look’ influences and impacts on the public who looks up to them and seeks to emulate them). But perhaps we are ushering in a new, far more forgiving aesthetic that will have far reaching impact.

Not only is the fashion world being pressured to rethink their aesthetic in terms of body weight, but following the recent Golden Globe Awards and the crowning of ‘Ugly Betty’ and its star America Ferrara, much has made of the fact that ‘Ugly’ is the new ‘Pretty’. A recent ABC News article that appeared online, “America Ferrera Makes ‘Ugly’ Beautiful”, observed, “America Ferrera has made it cool to be "ugly." The Golden Globe-nominated actress has won fans and accolades for her role in the hit ABC show "Ugly Betty." She recently told ABC News' Robin Roberts that she couldn't be happier about her Golden Globe nomination for best actress and for best show.

"We've worked so hard, and now we can celebrate it together," Ferrera said. "It is a wonderful cast and crew and show to be on. Everyone is so excited." Though some people were appalled by the show's title when it first came out, Ferrera's confident that viewers now get the message that "ugly" isn't meant to insult.

"I think we knew the title would be a little jarring. But once you see it, then you know," she said. "You get it. You know there's irony in the title and it's a commentary on the definition of what ugly and beautiful is."

That said, no title was ironic and more ‘right on’ in terms of acting as a commentary on the definition of what ugly and beautiful is, than “Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women”, written by Michael Gross. But regardless, all of this new awareness and ongoing debate couldn’t have come at a more perfect time since New York Fashion Week and the international round of showings are approaching in the near future.

In fact, it seems that that the eyes of the world (especially the fashion world) will be more focused on and interested in the weight and health of the models than the fall 2007 offerings being proposed by designers. Of course, it should be pointed out that the fall winter season is not necessarily the best indicator of models’ body weight since the clothing is by very nature, covered up, layered, and quite forgiving, so protruding collarbones, bony knees, and rail thin arms are far easier to be hidden under wrap (literally). So the true test will really be in September, for the spring 2008 shows, when the models will be strutting their stuff (or lack thereof) in bikinis, short shorts, minis, and strapless dresses.

-Marilyn Kirschner

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