Alex Katz is a genius.
From above: Black Hat 2 (2010); Gavin (2012).
The pleasure of having an access to the Vogue Archive (for free; don’t ask—or message me privately if you really want to know) comes from dipping into an issue of yore chosen rather randomly and finding yourself transfixed by a story or an image. Alas, I saw them on my laptop monitor instead of on its original printed glory; nonetheless they still send shivers down my spine. It’s practically Fashion History 101.
Just now, I stumbled upon this ravishing portfolio by Annie Leibovitz that highlighted the defining female designers of the 1990s and their latest creation for that season (Spring 1997). I couldn’t find quite the right word for that Rei Kawakubo portrait especially—raw? transcendent? majestic?—but I’m surely transported.
After all, that’s what a great magazine does, no?
To the powers that be:
Give me the vivaciousness of Alex Fury,
the historical wit of Tim Blanks,
the wide-eyed intellect of Vanessa Friedman,
the no-holds-barred bravery of Cathy Horyn,
the eccentricity of Lynn Yaeger,
the open-mindedness of Suzy Menkes,
the decisive strides of Sarah Mower,
the whimsicality of Sally Singer,
and the courage to march to the beat of one’s own drum.
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
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.
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 Stories, you 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.
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 Fair, no 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)
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.
"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.
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.
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.”