Fashion Pondering #28: When Fashion Writing Gets Thoughtful—and Personal

The other day, as we were browsing through the newly redesigned Vogue.com, my editor told me how she became tired of the same old, same old fashion articles: “‘14 Glitter Pieces to Spark Up Your Fall Look’? Who would read that? I wonder where I can read something that actually speaks to me as a woman.”

I reasoned that the magazine’s website editorial team was perhaps trying to replicate BuzzFeed-style strategy with bite-size information and click-bait headlines to serve online readers with attention deficit. But I couldn’t discount the fact that, indeed, thoughtful fashion writing has become few and far between nowadays. Even when you open a fashion magazine, you’ll be more easily bombarded by catalog-like “trend reports” instead of in-depth features on, say, a designer or other topics that are relevant to modern women.

Obviously, there are still intelligent fashion journalists around who sharply distill what they see on the runway, the streets, and beyond for the mass audience: Vanessa Friedman, Suzy Menkes, Sarah Mower, Tim Blanks, et al. But what they do best is reportage—enlightening us about this new talent from Ukraine or an upcoming IPO by a luxury giant.

Now what about a more personal approach to fashion writing? One where the writer speaks with a reflective, first-person voice about her or his own style, sartorial favorites, and how they incorporate those into their lives? (And no, I’m not talking about “bloggers.”) 

Luckily, there have recently been a number of great books, websites, and writers that reflect this very approach perfectly—and here are some of them:

Women in Clothes 

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Women in Clothes is one book that has been endlessly covered by fashion magazines and websites in recent months. The editors Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, and Leanne Shapton joined forces and invited more than 600 contributors (all female, of course) to describe their relationships with clothes. This resulted in interviews, drawings, survey answers, and other projects by women from all walks of life, ranging from well-known artists like Cindy Sherman and Miranda July to Bangladeshi factory workers. Based on the sneak-peeks offered on Instagram, the breadth of this book is utterly open-ended and might incite further questions about why women wear what they wear. Nonetheless, it’s a great first step in examining the way we present ourselves to the world through clothes—and yes, I cannot wait to get my hands on this book come September.

Find more about on Women in Clothes here

Worn Stories

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I first found out about Emily Spivack from the Smithsonian’s fashion history blog, Threaded, that she edits. It’s a charming place on the web where you can find discussions about fashion—or clothes, really—from a distinctly different perspective compared to the trend-driven coverage of other websites. That is why I’m so thrilled when Spivack decided to curate stories about one’s most treasured clothing item and turned it into an anthology. In Worn Storiesyou can find “sartorial memoirs” from over 60 cultural luminaries and writers. Marina Abramović, for example, reminisces the boots she wore during a legendary performance-art piece at the Great Wall of China. Meanwhile, chef Marcus Samuelsson paid a tribute to a pair of turquoise Chuck Taylors that he bought while attending a culinary school in Switzerland. This book reminds us how every person will always have an inexplicable emotional attachment to the items that they wear—whether or not we give a damn about Fashion with capital “F.”

Find more about Worn Stories here

JeanStories.com

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Jean Stories is the brainchild of former Vogue fashion writers Jane Herman and Florence Kane (both of whom worked under the tutelage of my favorite editor Sally Singer). Why bother creating a website focusing on denim? According to Herman in an interview with Vanity Fairno website has ever addressed denim, “the one thing that nearly everyone wears.” What I particularly admire from Jean Stories are the personal essays they feature: a piece penned by Singer about her Levi’s Offenders, for instance, is heartbreaking and whimsical in equal measure. “Is it a banal coincidence that I wore these Levi’s to pace the city when I thought I had lost everything and just putting one foot in front of the other was all I could muster for optimism?” she wrote. Now that’s deep.

Go to Jean Stories here

Katherine Bernard (a.k.a. @meta_porter)

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There are many young, budding fashion writers out there (yours truly hopefully included), but none came close to the “cool” and “intellectual” level of Katherine Bernard—who is also known digitally as @meta_porter. (See, even her Twitter handle exudes playful intelligence). Her bylines have appeared on big-name titles (yes, including Vogue) as well as indie publications like Dazed & Confused and Adult Magazine. What sets the Brooklyn-based writer apart is the way she approaches fashion—or style, to be more exact—from a unique perspective (more often that not, with a street-influenced bent)—especially when the matter at hand is about her own closet. For Lucky, she penned an essay about what thrifting taught her about fashion. Whereas, for Vogue.com, she once wore the exact same outfit every day for a week in the quest of streamlining her wardrobe. And this piece about Bernard’s room in her Bushwick apartment? Envy-inducing.

Find more of Bernard’s writings here. She’s also on Twitter and Instagram.

Culture Vulture #2: Drunk in Love with Beyoncé?

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"So what’s so special about Beyoncé again?"

I saw one of my friends tweeted something along that line after the MTV Video Music Awards 2014 on Monday. It seriously got me thinking: Has my obsession—nay, devotion—toward Beyoncé and her work got me blinded by everything she does? Am I, ahem, drunk in love with her?

In retrospect, even though I had enjoyed Destiny’s Child during my teenage years, I started following Beyoncé’s every step after she put out “Single Ladies” circa 2008. Her gyrating dance moves, black leotard get-up, and bouffant ‘do—it’s not a surprise that Kanye prociaimed it as “one of the best videos of all time!” (Still love you, Tay.)

But it wasn’t until the surprise launch of BEYONCÉ that I became truly amazed by her. Groundbreaking is such a clichéd term for a musician, but that’s what best describes her on that fateful day in December 2013. Who else has ever thought about making a “visual album” comprising of 17 very highly-produced videos? Who else includes a speech by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her feminist anthem? Who else manages to show that a mother of one can still be provocative and yet loving at the same time?

Beyoncé’s body of work doesn’t only stop there. There are the million-dollar-grossing concert tours (including the currently on-going “On the Run,” a collaborative work with Jay Z), HBO documentary and series, and more.

And have I mentioned about how good her live performances are? Just check out her 17-minute VMA medley, where she tore through her entire album magnificently. Her voice, her dance (and dancers), the stage, the lighting—everything is flawless.

Perhaps this high standard of excellence is what makes Beyoncé seem alienating for some people: Even when she deflected a burgeoning divorce rumor, she was doing it in front of million viewers while accepting a Video Vanguard Award from her “beloved” and “Blue Blue.” She also always appears so nice to everyone by saying how much she loves her fans (after all, they—or should I say, we?—have made her a millionaire) and never resorting to the type of scandals that today’s celebrities are known for.

In short: Beyoncé is just too perfect.

It’s still unknown whether this sort of positioning will ironically damage her reputation one day. After all, the music industry has started to give its attention to raw talents whose unpolished yet Zeitgeist-y work is more relatable to the Millennials (FKA twigs is one good example).

For now, though, I believe Beyoncé still very much speaks to those who aspire to be…better in their respective lives. She has become an exemplary model that hard work, dedication, and a splash of fabulosity can go hand in hand (which is also the reason why she is regarded as a “Queen” figure among gay people). 

We might not have her voice, her body, or her wealth. But, hell, we can definitely wake up like her.

Culture Vulture #1: The Cosmopolitans

I realize I haven’t updated my Tumblr for quite some time, so I create this new series (pardon the pretentious name) where I’ll scribble about anything culture—movies, television series, books, you name it.

First off, I’m going to talk about Amazon’s new original series, The Cosmopolitans. (As part of their diversification strategy, the e-commerce giant has launched several batches of pilots online that their customers can vote for, and the ones with the highest tally will be made into a full series.)

Putting the lens on the lives of American expats in modern-day Paris, the dramedy series is created by Whit Stillman, an auteur whose works have attracted comparison with Woody Allen—you know, the whole privileged WASP-y characters, exotic settings, and rather rambling plot. 

The pilot begins with a scene in an outdoor Parisian café, where two young American expats Jimmy and Hal (Adam Brody and a new talent Jordan Rountree) are chatting with an Italian friend named Sandro (Adriano Giannini) about their love situation and how lonely life can get in the City of Light.

Their conversation gets disrupted in the middle twice: First, when Vicky, a stunning fashion journalist—played by a very stunning Chloë Sevigny—bumps into their table, teases the boys—”You’re still here”—and receives a retort from Jimmy: “We live here. We’re Parisians.” Second, when a sobbing Aubrey (Carrie MacLemore) gets invited to their table. A charming, if a tad naïve, Southern beauty, the Alabaman girl has just been dumped by her careless French boyfriend.

All this happens before they flock together to a party that night thrown by an acquaintance named Fritz, where dance, wine, and romantic advances ensue. (A hilarious scene happens when Jimmy thinks Dree Hemingway’s character comes from Vancouver, France, not Vancouver, Canada.)

The pilot might not tell much about each character (what Jimmy and Hal do in Paris, for example), but perhaps it has something to do with Whitman’s cinematic style. The characters float through their own world and viewers are left to decipher each movement themselves.

With deadpan humor and mumblecore dialogue, the series surprisingly comes across as earnest, in which everyone tries to survive in an unfamiliar city where love is—quite literally—spoken in a different language. The charming set, natty and oh-so-Parisian costumes, plus jazz-y score do not hurt, either. 

Stream The Cosmopolitans pilot here (you might need VPN assistance if you’re in Indonesia) and enjoy it this weekend—with a bottle of chilled rosé, preferably.

An Apathetic Person’s Guide to 2014 Indonesian Presidential Election
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For the past two years, I feel like I’ve slowly become one of the most apathetic persons within my circles of friends. I used to be more politically engaged when I was in college (or so I’d like to believe), and yet this year’s election season failed to elicit my interest, let alone an enthusiasm to vigorously support a candidate.

I already knew whom I’d vote for, after all (the choice can’t be more—to borrow from The Jakarta Post—definitive). But I wasn’t bothered enough to watch the debates, post something on social media, or even talk about it with my friends and colleagues. Everything was too much yadda yadda yadda for me—it was noisy.

But as July 9 draws near, I start to realize how huge of a deal this election will be. I recently heard stories, for example, of my Chinese-Indonesian friends who are scared that it’s going to be 1998 all over again should things go wrong post-election. Or of my expat colleague who is worried that one candidate will make life harder for her and her peers if he is elected. Or of anyone, really, who fears of having to live under the persecution of an authoritarian regime for the next five years.

Even my apathetic heart knows that all those scenarios above should not be a reality.

And this is why I found it very endearing last night when I went to the “Peduli Pemimpin” discussion that was organized by GerakCepat.com. I was inside a room of thousands of people who genuinely cheered for their beloved candidate with big grins and hearty laughter. As one of the speakers Anies Baswedan pointed out during the event, Indonesia no longer needs any more fear; what we need is a leader whom we can trust, and in turn, who will trust his citizens to give back to the country—all the while keeping our respect for diversity intact.

I know it all can sound Pollyanna-ish and cheesy, but this is our only chance to save ourselves and our country. I don’t even need to mention his name. If you care about what kind of place you’ll be sharing with your friends and family, I believe you already know which one you’ll coblos inside the voting booth mere days from now.

Salam dua jari!

(Photo courtesy of Rieska Paramita.)

“All it takes is just a snap, a few clicks to edit, and an upload to document snippets of my life—all without the bulk of a camera.”
I talked to fashion blogger (and my former intern!) Rosalinda Tjioe and the label Cotton Ink about why the Indonesian fashion set loves Instagram so much. Read the piece on The Jakarta Globe here.

“All it takes is just a snap, a few clicks to edit, and an upload to document snippets of my life—all without the bulk of a camera.”

I talked to fashion blogger (and my former intern!) Rosalinda Tjioe and the label Cotton Ink about why the Indonesian fashion set loves Instagram so muchRead the piece on The Jakarta Globe here.

This is certainly one of my most favorite designer interviews of all time: Céline’s Phoebe Philo interviewed by British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman in Vogue Festival 2014.

I find Phoebe’s answer to one of the festival participant’s question (“What elements of your clothes are particularly emancipating for women?”) very powerful:

"When I say I want to make political statement, I guess, I believe very strongly that women should have choices and women should feel good in what they wear. And I’m not a big fan, which you can probably tell from my work, of women being sexualized through clothes. I don’t have problem with a woman wearing anything as long as she has been the person she’s chosen to wear it. And by that, I mean, you can walk out in knicker and bras with high heels, and if you feel good about looking like that, then I will support it, and I think that’s great.

"What I don’t like to see, or what I try to suggest through my work at Céline, is that: Dress for yourself and wear what you want for yourself. And don’t dress for other people. I do think, unfortunately, there are too many images of women that are sexualized, and I do see too often women are dressing for other people and disempowering themselves in the process. I would prefer that we don’t behave like that.”

All my life I’ve been dreaming of you

I’ve been dreaming of you, I’ve been dreaming of you

Dreaming of you

Playing this (magical, sweet, poignant) track on repeat!

17 Minutes of Torture (and Enlightenment): Day 02

I don’t think I’m going to make a log every day for this particular series, but quick update:

I did better with the meditation—I’d like to believe that I’m less distracted despite some, um, disappointing things that happened recently. As for the 7-minute workout, I felt I had more strength to do all the movements more rhythmically, and the high point will be my being able to do planks…for 10 seconds or so.

And now, I’m drinking juice and munching on granola bars. Wow, this feels new. 

17 Minutes of Torture (and Enlightenment): Day 01

Monday, April 21, 2014 - 7:15 AM.

"Refrain from speaking too quickly. Your words will carry tremendous power. You can offset tensions today by focusing on the big picture." —AstrologyZone Horoscope for Scorpio.

You might think, “Whoa, whoa, whoa—whose blog am I looking at again?” Not to get too New Age-y to you, but I’ve been looking to add a new routine to my morning. And reading my astrology horoscope—which I usually dismissed as an utter lie; wait, I probably still think that way—is only a teeny tiny part of it. (To be honest, I only read Susan Miller’s astrology to make me feel good about myself. After all, a tip or two on how to go about your day never really hurts, right?)

The biggest chunk of this new morning routine, though, consists of 1) 10-minute meditation and 2) 7-minute workout. Yes, I’m working my way up to the Nirvana, while also trying to strengthening my glutes and whatever fancy name you’d use to call a flabby stomach.

But first, a prologue: Most of the time (“most” here refers to 99.9%), I am always the biggest guy in the room—and I’ve probably been this way my whole life. You know, I could easily blame my parents for giving me way too many food and letting me stay at home all day long when I’m not at school, reading my stacks of books with a side of a stack of snacks. But apparently, even as I reach my adulthood, the habit stays and the body becomes more, um, substantial.

As I lead this rather sedentary lifestyle, I’m awoken to the fact that people around me (a.k.a. my co-workers) are taking significant steps to be healthy: they do Bikram yoga; they tackle CrossFit; they eat oats (even my friend created a business out of it). At first, I didn’t really give a damn. But then I see them becoming more fit and getting a leaner, nicer body. And suddenly the Liz Lemon in me kicks in:

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Let me just say that I am not fit at all now. I think the most fit I’ve ever been in my life is when I was in college at a point where I would rehearse Madonna’s or Beyoncé’s concert dance routines inside my room everyday. Quite an embarrassing fact, but I felt very healthy, very focused, and very smart (that’s the semester when I got a 3.95 grade). Without question, I want that feeling back, hence I’m staring the aforementioned methods—meditation and workout—back-to-back possibly every morning.

Why these methods?

Aside from being very time-efficient (give and take 17 minutes in total), they are also inspired by health articles written by my favorite Vogue editors: Creative Digital Director Sally Singer, who “commits to ten minutes of daily silence,” and Vogue.com Culture Editor Thessaly La Force who “commits to 7-minute workout.” (Read their pieces to understand better about each.)

Commitment seems to be the keyword here, and that’s what I’m trying to do for at least the next 30 days. 

In order to help me do this, last night, I downloaded two apps on my iPad. The first one is called Headspacewhich has an audio guide on how to meditate properly. Meanwhile, to help me count the seconds for the 7-minute training, I downloaded the aptly named 7 Minute Workout.

Read more
A Printed Matter
Kinfolk, Fantastic Man, and The Gentlewoman are only a handful of independent magazines that are, in their little ways, influencing the state of publication right now. We do get our information mostly from Twitter or the web right now—fueling the inevitable question, “Is print dead?”—but the existence of these titles arguably give a breath of fresh air to the media landscape.
Want to know more about these magazines and why some people love them? I wrote about it for The Jakarta Globe—read it here.
(Photo: Rieska Paramita)

A Printed Matter

Kinfolk, Fantastic Man, and The Gentlewoman are only a handful of independent magazines that are, in their little ways, influencing the state of publication right now. We do get our information mostly from Twitter or the web right now—fueling the inevitable question, “Is print dead?”—but the existence of these titles arguably give a breath of fresh air to the media landscape.

Want to know more about these magazines and why some people love them? I wrote about it for The Jakarta Globe—read it here.

(Photo: Rieska Paramita)