Archive for the ‘Fashion’ Category

beats museums all to hell

August 10, 2012


  OK.  I’m really good at shopping for women’s clothing.  Scratch that.  Really good at accompanying roommate and/or daughters while they’re on the hunt.  It’s great.  They’re not the least bit interested in my opinions so I’m free to occupy myself as I see fit.  If you’re still with me, take note:  The nature of the particular venue makes all of the difference. 

  The trick for outlet malls and other similarly dismal points of the built environment – in which everything seems bland, temporary, and, well, cheap – is to take along reading material.  Given the opportunity to plan ahead, I usually take a copy of Le Monde and a small dictionary.  My rudimentary French draws broadsheet perusal out over several hours and at day’s end I’m left with interesting insights.

  By contrast, a visit to an establishment characterized by considered sensitive design can be more than pleasant.  Take the above for example.  That is the entrance to Anthropologie’s flagship store in Philadelphia.  It was designed by the prominent Boston firm of Peabody and Sterns as a townhouse for a member of the Drexel family in about 1898.

  Sarah Drexel Van Rensselaer and her husband Alex were wealthy, active, and generous members of Philadelphia high society.  During a 1901 circumnavigation, they were received by the Japanese Royal family, The Court of St James, The Viceroy of India, and the Rajah of Singapore.  A contemporary account of the housewarming for this pied-a-terre at 18th and Walnut said that they wore $10 million in jewelry*.

  Anyway, as I’ve indicated (and you can see), the place has been repurposed and gloriously so.  As Sir David Chipperfield said of another great spot: “…people need to go inside and be there for a while before realizing that, you know, this is actually quite a nice place to be…”**    

  It is indeed wonderfully generous space in which to simply move about.  And the opportunity therein to watch loved ones – and others – preen makes for a singular emotionally tumescent experience.  No one in my family will believe this, but I think it beats museums all to hell.

*From the Drexel University Archives

**As quoted in the August 2012 United Airlines Hemispheres in-flight magazine describing his Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa.

***During a recent visit I attempted to photograph a few lovely young birds adjusting their feathers, but was advised that a few of Philadephia’s finest were on their way.  I decided to leave and allow them to enjoy the experience on their own…


Whoa Black Betty Bam-Ba-Lam

May 11, 2012


   The look is almost passé now I guess, having first appeared in hip hopdom more than twenty years ago, but I finally got around to divining its genesis and evolution.  They are surprisingly multifaceted and complex – sort of in the manner of a Freud portrait.  In a single picture he was remarkably able to “include more than one expression”.

  The provenance of a fashion statement that requires nearly continuous attention – the holding up of one’s trousers – must be profound I figured.  Had to have entered and then pervaded the collective unconscious of a sizeable segment of society before going mainstream.  (Ok tributary maybe.)

  Some suggest that the look arose first as boys and young men wore clothing several sizes too large because of hand-me-down affordability.  Or even more purposefully to denote the absence of a more senior male family member.  The sign of a deliberate assumption of responsibility.

  Unfortunately the assumption of a role for which one has had no model can lead to trouble.  The broad swaths ofAmericalargely bereft of meaningful fatherhood are characterized by strife, violence, and dead ends.  Many young men end up in detention of one sort or another.

  Prison garb is not bespoke.  No belts.  Thus if jumpsuits aren’t the standard issue, pants will sag.  Furthermore, exposed undergarments can be the analogue of a low cut dress.  Advertising.  Or even relate to some cultures’ particularly accoutered wives, though the tone of the message here a bit more harsh: “I’m someone’s bitch, touch me at your peril”.

  Not what you get at first glance is it?  Whole thing reminds me of the backstory of the folk song Black Betty one rendition of which you can listen to below.  My initial encounter with Ms Betty was during the pregame warmup to youngest daughter’s college soccer matches*.  More than rousing, it’s almost riotous. 

  The song was similarly employed in the pilot episode of the successful and award winning program Friday Night Lights; also the pilot of Eastbound and Down; the films Blow, Dukes of Hazzard, Miss Congeniality; many advertising campaigns, video games, and more.

  Some believe that the name first was used to refer to a certain flint-lock musket with the “bam BA lam” being onomatopoetic gunfire.  In his Drinker’s Dictionary Ben Franklin tells us that to have kissed Black Betty was to have had too much.  Inmate transfer vehicles have been called by that name.

  Father and son ethnomusicologists John and Alan Lomax found that Black Betty “was the whip that was and is used in some Southern prisons”:

Whoa, Black Betty (bam-BA-lam)

Whoa, Black Betty (bam-BA-lam)

She’s fromBirmingham(bam-BA-lam)

Way down in Alabam’ (bam-BA-lam)

Boy she makes me sing (bam-BA-lam)

Whoa, Black Betty


  No question but that she’d make me sing and the problem then would be how to find a way to kiss her while holding my pants up – all the way up – with both hands.

*Pertinent lyric: “Black Betty had a child – The damn thing gone wild” Those girls would every time come up smiling after mixing it up so fiercely they’d fall to the ground legs atangle.

Could It Have Been Her Perfume?

March 20, 2009

  Most don’t realize it, but there is more involved with a rich experience of a perfume than simple inhalation.  If you rush it or force it, all is lost.  In fact, it is best not to inhale at all.  To maximize the olfactory uptake, especially of a really fine subtle sent, you let it flow through your nostrils of its own accord.  Allow it to linger.  Then maybe draw in more very gently and slowly.  While keeping an eye on she off whom it floated.

  The very old part of your brain that manages the sense of smell will conjure something up for you to combine with the view.  Unfortunately the process often ends up feeling like inhaling screen or something out of Bosch. Get what you pay for, tart. 

  But sometimes when my wife walks past I’m left in a special sort of ethereal reverie.  An unexpected existential elevation – transitory to be sure, but all the more effective for the fact.  Oh yaaa.  Wow!  That’s who she is…

  One’s sense of smell can be  incredibly generative.  The briefest waft can catalyze memories by the torrent.  I remember once when my kids were very young I picked up a crayon and smelled it.  A hallucination ensued of me in my youth with coloring books and my brothers at our kitchen table.  Proust began his novel In Search Of Lost Time with the protagonist sniffing a small French cake called a Madeline which act brought forth such cerebration that seven volumes were required to get to the denouement.

  Remember in Silence of the Lambs when Lecter first meets Clarice and says: “You use Evyan cream and sometimes you wear L’Air du Temps, but not today…”?  It was a crucial part of the flic for a variety of reasons.  We already knew that he was a beast, but then in that dungeon we learn that he was cultured and preternaturally discerning.

  The choice of that particular scent was prescient. The name translates as “the air of the time” or zeitgeist in other words.  The film went on to win five Academy Awards and could thus be said to have been at the leading edge of consciousness back then in the early nineties. 

  What in Lord’s name does that say about us?  That millions around the world would pay good money (and still do) to watch a horrible cannibalistic psychopath?  Does it numb or sensitize?  It’s interesting to juxtapose Dr. Lecter and Hanna Schmitz (cf March 6 below).  Few would find Lecter banal.  Should that be reassuring in some way?

  In the end, after his gruesome escape when he called Clarice from calm repose, how was it that his feelings toward her would have him say: “I have no plans to call on you, Clarice, the world being more interesting with you in it”?

  Could it have been her perfume?


March 13, 2009


         mid-light                                        retro-bustier1

  Hi girls!  Well, I said I’d get to fashion tips one day…  Such a steady and deep stream of women’s clothing catalogues flows through our mailbox that it would be impossible for me not to have honed a related set of skills.  Read what follows, but don’t tell your mother what I’m up to.  I’m pretty sure that she wouldn’t be interested.  Your brother will understand.

  The girl on the right (Victoria’s Secret – ‘Beach Sexy’ Collection) is real nice, I’m sure.  And I too would do just about anything within reason for the bucket of shekels she probably takes away for her efforts.  Nonetheless, she looks like something you’d see in a window in Amsterdam.  Why else would the company sell their undergarments in multiples?  The only point that comes across has to do with something one is born knowing how to do even if it does take some number of years to rev up.

  The girl on the left (Patagonia Spring 2009) is nearly atop the most famous boulder problem in the whole world.  It’s called Midnight Lightening and is in Yosemite National Park.  It was attempted many times when I was hanging out in the Valley, but was not climbed until the year after my last serious visit (1978).  Once she presses up, she will be past the crux of the extremely difficult (5.13b) forty foot route.  Gently holding both lips between her teeth (opposite of the pout on right) and not setting her jaw, she makes it look easy.

  That photo and shots like it in other catalogues and depicting other sports make me remember stuff like: the fact that your mother could throw the softball farther than I could in grade school and still is a much better skier; the girls state tennis tournaments; the Big 10 Women’s Soccer Tournament; climbing with you; and climbing in Yosemite myself.  

  Only after all that does it dawn on me that the girl is cute.  Uh, for her age.  And realize that since she’s obviously not a hack (to the contrary, world class) she must be particular about the quality of her gear.  It has to be comfortable and move with her.  She’s not getting paid so it’s gotta last.

  The cover of the Title Nine catalogue sitting on the kitchen table just now has an attractive woman in a bathing suit holding her surfboard and young son.  Thus we can see that she was able to convey a thought similar to that on the mind the young lady above right without, well, having to resort to skankitude.

  Finally, in the spring Athleta catalogue there are some attractive running outfits.  The caption for one reads: “Turn Every One of Your Runs INTO A SPECTATOR SPORT”.  The getup looks great and is not risqué, but that intent compels me to advise you to take care.

  You know that I never wear a shirt if it is anywhere near warm enough and certainly wouldn’t begrudge women any opportunity for ventilation and vitamin D.  Furthermore, I won’t ask you to consider a habit or burqua.   However, in the case of clothing, less is not necessarily more*.  Unless you’re chumming for sharks and ok with the ensuing mindless frenzy, remember that form should follow function*. 

* I paraphrased architects Mies van der Rohe and Louis Sullivan so that your brother wouldn’t feel left out of the discussion.

**Left photo by Rich Wheater:  Check out his site.