MMM at H&M

Oversized Pea

No, the collar stays are supposed to be under the armpit.

If you heard, or just thought that today, you were probably basking in the once in a lifetime opportunity to purchase from clothier Maison Martin Margiela at pennies on the dollar. For the sleepy fashionistas up before dawn this morning, the offer was a generous slice of surrealism, and the gift monger was H&M. And in case I fall asleep whilst typing, thank you, my Swedish friends.

trompe l'oeil dress

Felted Wool Dress

Narrow Shoulder Jacket and Oversized Pants

Perhaps the best aspect of this collaboration is that in making avant garde clothing less expensive, it didn’t find a need to water it down. I will be thrilled, yet somewhat surprised, if all of those behemoth Oversized Pea Coats were snatched off the rack on day one in San Francisco. This is a “best of” Margiela collection; it plays with shape and construction. Unlike much of H&M’s function, it’s not aiming to necessarily look cute for a first date. Much of the collection is very flattering, but some of it takes a more subjective approach. Some pieces might even be described as “challenging”. If a dress on the runway in 2005 had two decorative-only sleeves, it still does now. Cool.

Upside Down Dress 2005 and Horizontal Dress 2012

Having apparently left the label sometime in the mid 2000s, it’s hard to know whether or not the reclusive Belgian designer was in any way involved in the collaboration, or even what his opinion of it might be. The label continues to be incredibly strong, continuing to sell to those in on the “delicious private joke”.

Candy Wrapper Clutch

When I spoke to my brother about the sale, he was excited. As a Sak’s 5th Avenue display manager and long-term veteran of Barney’s New York, he knows and loves Margiela’s work too. He was able to complete the description of my new Glove Clutch. “We had it for $1,200, what did you get it for?” $149.

Glove Clutch

Leather Glove Clutch

Leather Bag

Even at dramatically reduced prices from the originals, finances were still the only reason to hold back. We watched as one woman required two sales assistants to help her exit the store with her twelve mammoth bags overflowing. With only a closely timed fifteen minute window from entering the boutique to check out, she’d done well. To underscore the notion of a tightly moderated window, I mean: man with a bullhorn in the women’s dressing room barking out the remaining number of minutes before threat of forcible removal in whatever stage of undress.

MMM Wristband

Rumor had it that the line began forming at 9pm the night before. My accomplice and I didn’t arrive until 6:50am, although in my defense, I’m no longer in peak shape for sidewalk habitation. Compared to me, the existing line’s demographic was half as old, twice as chic and about 80% more Asian. The store opened at 8am and while our fitted wristbands said “9:25 to 9:40”, the line moved at a pace quickly enough to maintain hope that a few things might be left on the shelves.

And they were! While Twitter and Instagram monitoring described frustration and disconsolation over garment-less hangers on the East Coast, a decent, albeit quickly disappearing, span of sizes and a nearly full range of accessories still existed and hour and a half into the San Francisco sale. (I know my new city is less label-conscious than New York, but even though the shorter line and increased stock worked in my favor, I still found it somewhat disheartening.)

Assistant 716am

I had readied my assistant (i.e., accommodating friend) with a cheat sheet of thumbnail photos and the corresponding acceptable sizes. We hunted and gathered for 10 minutes before I ran for the dressing room. After I was warned that I was making a one-way trip out of the boutique, my wristband snipped off and my items sorted and counted, I had 3 minutes left for the dressing room. Tragically, the first two articles were far too big (the nearest feasible sizes found) and when the third, the Horizontal Dress, came off the hanger, it became a puzzle too difficult to decipher in the remaining moments before Nazi Hipster came yelling and banging on the stall doors.

Horizontal Wrestle

Minutes later, I was forced to make a heart-wrenching choice between handbags. Sniff. I took both sizes of the Horizontal Dress that we’d grabbed, to decide between at home. Incidentally, having since tried them both on, I’m still not sure which to return. When the chest is the waist, and the skirt is the sleeve, the collar stays are supposed to be under the armpit. Right?



Early 20th C.

Isabelle de Borchgrave has married fashion with paper.

Isabelle de Borchgrave Installation

The Belgian artist turned her talent for trompe l’oeil paintings (the art technique of using realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that the objects depicted exist in 3D) into elaborate papercraft. Her paper sculptures appear as life-sized garments. By crumpling, pleating, braiding and painting on rag paper, de Borchgrave has achieved the uncanny effect of fabric (such as lace, brocade, silk and elaborate embroidery) which she uses to create the illusion of haute couture.

Pret-a-Papier Opening Gala. Photo by Tony Powell. June 14, 2012

Her paper sculptures recreate nearly 300 years of fashion, from Elizabeth I to Coco Chanel. Working with fashion historian, Rita Brown, de Borchgrave created Papiers à la Mode, a collection of historical costumes in paper and paint. Her past collections have included an 19th century Venetian-inspired line, a look at the famous figures of I Medici (an opera set in Renaissance Italy) and a study of the Ballet Russes (costumes made for the early 20th c. ballet company).

Pret-a-Papier Opening Gala. Photo by Tony Powell. June 14, 2012

Pret-a-Papier Opening Gala. Photo by Tony Powell. June 14, 2012In her latest show, “Prêt-à-Papier : The Exquisite Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave“, she presents a range of styles from the late 17th to the early 20th century. The venue, Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens in Washington, D.C., hosts the vast collection of the late Post cereal empress and art collector, Marjorie Merriweather Post. Through living in the Soviet Union with her ambassador husband (third of four husbands) during the 1930s, Post became a comprehensive collector of all things 18th and 19th century Russian monarchy.

Pret-a--Papier Opening Gala. Photo by Tony Powell. June 14, 2012

The Hillwood exhibition features more than 25 of de Borchgrave’s interpretations of historical costumes and haute couture dresses, with six new works made for the exhibition, including one commissioned solely for Hillwood. For that dress, the artist replicates the details of the main figure’s dress in Karl Briullov’s “The Countess Samoilova”. The  dress is displayed in front of the grand-scale painting that inspired it. Other replicas include the costumes of Tsar Peter the Great and Empress Josephine, which convincingly mimic brocades, damasks and silks.

Drawing Room

And you felt pretty good about that origami crane you made.


Pret-a-Papier Opening Gala. Photo by Tony Powell. June 14, 2012

Pret-a-Papier Opening Gala. Photo by Tony Powell. June 14, 2012

Here’s a video:

“Prêt-à-Papier : The Exquisite Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave” is on display at the Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens in Washington, D.C. from June 16th 2012 to December 30th 2012.

Breast Dressed

Gianni Molaro and the Eurozone Crisis

If Caesar, Vespas or the Pope can’t get you to go to Rome, here’s something that can: AltaRoma AltaModa.

Each January and July, the capital of Italy hosts its own avant garde fashion week. This platform for emerging designers is intended (per a translation of its mission statement) as a “promotion of excellence to neocoutur and, as the definition of a new language, a meeting place for tailoring tradition and cutting-edge research in an international context where it combines art, fashion and culture”.

Cutting edge? Indeed. While July 2012 was ripe with fresh neocoutur, it is impossible to overlook one particular designer’s runway show from January of this year. For the uninitiated, let me introduce you to Gianni Molaro.

Breast Coy …and the reveal:

Breast RevealedWhy, hello.

While the dress was, ehem, hands down, breast in show… there was also a live musical accompaniment performed by an electric violinist, whimsically dangling from a bellhop trolley.

Electric ViolinistThere were bicycle tires and broken hearts, golden feathers, spikes and umbrella dresses.

Umbrella Corset

Broken Heart

Bicycle Tire & Wings

And another big reveal:

Black Zipped

Black RevealUnfortunately, I do not know much about Mr. Molaro’s point of view, or what, if any, statement is intended by his Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2012 collection. While it is clearly a warm weather/spring rain collection… its cohesion is not automatically apparent. It is the intersection of Rome, art and fashion, or at least one Roman’s art and fashion, but is it good, or merely provocative?

We do know that Moloaro creates with purpose. In June of this past year, Molaro designed a wedding dress with a nearly two mile-long train. (Believe it or not, his only ties the record for world’s longest train.) The designer described the garment as a symbol of peace and hope.

Molaro Wedding Trainbearers

“This is the hallmark of couture Roman, a restatement of the contemporary style, declined through clothes and accessories together with the city”…

And from the city that brought you Fellini and Caligula, here are other selected showstoppers from Mr. Molaro’s January show:

Yellow Spikey Shoulders

White Gown

White and Yellow

White Yellow Pink


Scary Beautiful

Scary Beautiful

Leanie van der Vyver is a recent graduate of the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam and a nominee for the fine art and design university’s annual thesis award.

And I suspect, in an ironic twist, a major upcoming name in fashion.

Scary Beautiful

The Cape Town, South Africa-born artist’s Bachelor of Design thesis project, “Scary Beautiful”, is a pair of “shoes” fabricated by phenomenal Dutch shoe designer René van den Berg.

Scary Beautiful

As a commentary on the impossible standards of beauty, the backwards-facing, leather shoes have a massive front heel extending down from the shin. The toes are facing backwards at a sharp angle into what looks like a ballet pointe shoe. The objets d’art are accompanied by a video of a young woman strapped into the shoes, weirdly loping across a room. The result is sort of sexy, sort of S&M-y, but completely absurd.

From the Gerrit Rietveld Academie Award Jury report:

“One observes the design forcing the wearer to develop a new way of walking, leaning forward while refining a painfully fragile balance. The jury applauds the way aesthetics, ergonomics and prosthesis merge into an awkward choreography.”

Van der Vyver says, “’Scary Beautiful’ challenges current beauty ideals by inflicting an unexpected new beauty standard.”

Think that’s crazy? What’s your take on neon t-shirts, Ugg boots or the Kardashians?

Scary Beautiful

From her thesis “Playing God”:

“It is human nature to want to be more than what we are, and from the beginning of time we have gone to extreme measures to express on the outside how we desire to be perceived. On the surface, we are physically turning into ideal dream versions of ourselves. Being born a certain way is no longer a life sentence. We can choose exactly who we want to be. What are the possibilities of this new God-like control we have over our bodies?”

Born this way, what?

Van der Vyver confirmed to Yahoo Shine, “Yes, on request I did actually send them to Studio Formichetti for a Lady Gaga music video, but I could not get confirmation whether she actually used them. I did not charge for her to possibly use them. I would love to sell them to a gallery.”

I’m very sure she will. They are already on The Virtual Shoe Museum. But I’d also really love to see these in a dance video. Any stork-themed tunes being released?

Mother Monster in McQueen
The Gerrit Rietveld Academie Award 2012 ceremony will be held on October 25th at Intellectual Playground Castrum Peregrini, Herengracht 401 in Amsterdam. The [S]ELECTED exhibit at Castrum Peregrini features all of the award nominees, and is on display from September 20 to November 3, 2012.


Propeller Head

There are many reasons to be jealous of Dita Von Teese. Perhaps my most coveted was her front row seat at last month’s Philip Treacy show at London Fashion Week.

Philip Treacy at London Fashion Week

The show marked the avant-garde milliner’s first show in London in twelve years. Beyond the phenomenon of Treacy’s incredible art-for-the-head, there were a whole lot of notable points about this show: that it was opened by Lada Gaga, declaring Treacy “the greatest milliner of all time”; that it showcased some of Michael Jackson’s most famous stage outfits (and music); and that in a time when they often have difficulty getting work, Treacy’s runway was cast exclusively with black models.

As if that weren’t enough to leave the audience wide-eyed and giddy, enter collaborator Moritz Waldemeyer, an East German technology/art/fashion designer now living in London. Waldemeyer created two hats for the show: one in partnership with Treacy, the second, of his own design.

Philip Treacy Shroud Hat

Philip Treacy’s “Shroud hat” was developed by Waldemeyer using 6000 LED lights programmed with animated sequences. The structure fully cloaks the model but is supported only by the head. When the lights shine directly out onto the audience, the shroud appears to float.

Treacy-Waldemeyer Shroud Hat

The piece itself is an intricate mesh of threads woven around a specially designed styrofoam core. The threads are soaked in resin, which when dry are rigid, allowing the creation to be complex, but still lightweight.

Waldemeyer-Treacy Virtual Reality Hat

For Waldemeyer’s own design, he created the “Virtual Reality” headpiece. The “hat” is actually a propeller encircling the model’s head. The end of each blade is finished with LED lights. When in motion, the hardware disappears, giving the illusion of a wide, unattached, halo of light.

Waldemeyer-Treacy Virtual Reality Hat

Waldemeyer-Treacy Virtual Reality Hat

Waldemeyer's LED lights

Waldemeyer refers to his contributions to the show as “Millinery for the 21st Century”. On the merger of his lighting and fashion design: “It has long been my aim for the technology to disappear, to dissolve it into the surface of the work, so that the light effects themselves become the focus”.

Waldemeyer-Treacy Virtual Reality Hat

How long, I wonder, until Tyra Banks gets a wobbly second generation version of the “Virtual Reality” headpiece? I very much look forward to season 457 of “America’s Next Top Model”, when Tyra has the girls in 8” stilettos, centrifugally-forcing their way down a mylar balloon runway, bobbing atop a pool of dumpster juice.

Waldemeyer-Treacy Virtual Reality Hat

Fabulous, avant-garde hats off to Philip Treacy and Moritz Waldemeyer for a well-lit future.

Waldemeyer-Treacy Virtual Reality Hat

Vintage Fashion Fancy


Red Peacock Hat

Last weekend was the bi-annual San Francisco Vintage Fashion Expo. It was very hard to keep my hands in my pockets, let alone my wallet in my purse. Rather than buy every single thing, I decided to capture some of them digitally.

Shoes at Two Sisters

Please note that photographing garments out of focus was a very intentional strategy to encourage myself to save more to buy more next year. Or something.

Here’s some eye candy for those in need of a prescription upgrade:

Allyn Scura Sunglasses

1920s Cloche Wig


Black Hat

Bakelite Pin

Basket Purse

Green Feathered Hat in profile

Checked Dress

Red Feathered Hat

Cowboy Boot

Brown Feather Hat

Flavor Flav Purse

Green Shoes


How to Score (Gold) on a First Date

Speedo Fastskin3 From Somewhere Gown

Hurray for Speedo, who has been *teaming* up with British eco-conscience fashion label From Somewhere. The happy collaboration uses offcuts from Speedo’s swimsuits to make evening gowns. To create their “Unity” dress, From Somewhere pieced unused scraps of Speedo’s deluxe new Fastskin3 swimsuit material, otherwise used for the American, Canadian, British, Australian, German, Spanish, Dutch and Israeli Olympic swim teams. (I know! There are actually other Olympic teams besides America and China!)

Speedo Fastskin3 From Somewhere Gown thigh

From Somewhere was founded in 1997 by Filippo Ricci and Orsola de Castro, who said about the dress: “it’s about the environment and preserving water, which should be a priority for all humankind”. Go fashion!

Speedo Fastskin3 From Somewhere Gown rear

The mosaic gown was assembled using sportswear design in mind. According to the designers, “the sewing, finish and details were constructed as if the dress would also have to withstand swimming, which presented an exciting challenge”.

This no doubt would have presented an exciting challenge at my high school swim team’s 4am practice. It’s not like I didn’t already wake up even earlier to put on makeup first. If not with kicking, the gown would surely have upgraded my game otherwise. Lose the meet, win la mode.

Speedo Fastskin3 From Somewhere Gown torso

If you are a former mermaid who grew legs to pursue a human (and learned English from watching TV), and your experience isn’t panning out, don’t panic. Just climb into your “Unity” dress, dive off the nearest pier and make a record-breaking getaway.


[via Ecouterre]


Impossible Conversations, Happening Simultaneously

Schiaparelli & Prada - Classical Body I looked forward to the Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for many months. I LOVE Elsa Schiaparelli’s work and while I run hot and cold about Miuccia Prada’s career, I was excited to see “the striking affinities between the two Italian designers from very different eras”. It’s true, they exist. A lot of designers have things in common, not least of which are being either female or Italian. Schiaparelli & Prada - Neck Up/Knees Down Signature pieces by both designers are arranged in seven themed galleries: ”waist up/waist down”, “ugly chic”, “hard chic”, “naïf chic”, “the classical body”, “the exotic body” and “the surreal body”. Given that you can even find work by two designers that could fit into those subheadings, shows that the two very innovative artists (my designation, they disagreed about that title) have overlapping themes in their work. Schiaparelli & Prada -Trapeze Buttons Schiaparelli could simultaneously flatter the female form, put a shoe on its head and drawers across the chest. Depending on my mood, I would say that Prada has only nailed the “surreal body” and the “ugly chic”. Schiaparelli & Prada - Ugly Chic Whatever bipolar feelings I had about Prada were approximate to my feelings about the actress Judy Davis. Davis plays the role of Schiaparelli in Baz Luhrmann’s eight short videos projected huge across the walls in each room. Incidentally, while it must have been an honor to be asked to portray such a talent, it must have come with mixed emotion, as Schiap believed herself to be unattractive. (Then again, beautiful Marion Cotillard successfully pulled off Edith Piaf, another unconventional looker and European star of the early 20th century.) Schiaparelli & Prada - Judy Davis Thanks to this exhibit, my opinion of both the designer and the actress has increased significantly. What opinion didn’t change was mine about Baz Luhrmann. The director has a way of taking a fantastic subject and making it annoying. How is it possible to turn stories from Shakespeare and the Moulin Rouge into tarty, seizure-inducing, strobe lit films? (As a director at the Art Deco Society of California, I’m dreading next year’s release of The Great Gatsby.) The films shown here are physically too big and too loud for the space. The volume encouraged visitors to talk to one another over the din. The dialog is repeated as subtitles and again on the exhibition signage, so jockeying for a view of all three was unnecessary and distracting. Not all museum shows need to incorporate multimedia. Sometimes the subject matter really does just speak for itself. Schiaparelli & Prada - Surreal Body That said, it was a thrill to see so many iconic pieces by both designers in person. Not since the fantastic 2004 Shocking exhibit of at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, have so many of Schiaparelli’s garments been assembled. I am grateful to have seen both. Schiaparelli & Prada - Bug Buttons Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations is at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York from May 10th until August 19th, 2012   Photos by Jeremy Brautman and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

Stuck at Prom

1st Place Lara&Cole

Despite what anyone else on Facebook may imply, I wouldn’t go back to high school under any circumstances. Except possibly one: the annual Duck Tape duct tape “Stuck at Prom” contest.



Apparently, 1000s of high school students around the U.S. spend upwards of 342 hours of valuable study/team practice/make out/self doubt time instead crafting duct tape into haute couture. Sadly, this wearable art phenomenon didn’t start until 2001, or I would have been

Runners Up Rebecca & Jay Travis

Based on the entrants’ own write ups, they claim to have used anywhere from 19 to 62 rolls of duck tape to craft their ensembles, which at $6.29-$7.29 a roll, is no huge bargain. Or maybe it is? (I wore a vintage dress to my senior prom in the 1980s, which I bought with babysitting money, so it probably didn’t cost much more than a few rolls of duct tape.) To insure that contestants would have the support of their folks, each member of the winning couples can score as much as $5,000 in scholarship money and $5,000 for their high school.

Runners Up Nasia & Caine

Did I say “entrants’ own write ups”? Yes, and now I want to work in college admissions. The explanations are almost as fun and colorful as the gowns. From the suck up (“we <3 duck tape!”), to the earnest 3rd person fashion lesson (“styled after Victorian era 1830’s clothes”), to the “whatever”, unfortunately, many are united in their misspellings. Go graduating class of 2012!

April & Paola

“As young philosophers and supporters of the arts, we set out to persevere through the trials of the duct tape contest and conquer this worthy adversary. This notion of a heart of gold, the heart of a lion inspired our prom attire; our minds correlated a heart of a lion to the Lion of the Tribe of Judah and our Rastafarian theme.“

Runners Up Cole & Gabrielle

The winners were chosen based on the following criteria:

  • Workmanship (30%)
  • Originality (25%)
  • Use of Color (25%)
  • Accessories (10%)
  • Use of Duct Tape (10%)

You don’t even really need to know that, as perusing the hundreds of photos, it’s clear who the winners are. Some are winners because their craftsmanship clearly lands them a future spot on Project Runway, or into the Martha Stewart upper echelons of craft superstars; others just because they are so out and proud at age 16.

2nd Place Kelvin & Kailie detail


There are a few entries who weren’t official winners, but you know their mothers think they should have been. Good on all of them, I say. I’m just so dang jealous.

For more information and pictures of ALL the entrants, go here.


Gaultier at the deYoung

Welcome Jean Shorts Suit So much has been written about this show already, that I’ll just say that it’s great.

Galleon Headband 1998

OK, I’ll say a little more.


Jean Paul Gaultier is the always smiling, goofy, enfant terrible (avec les dents terrible) in the nautical stripes. For a while now, he’s had fun putting both curvy gals and heavily tattooed dudes in corsets and skirts.

Male Corset & Pregnancy Corset

You might forget how long Gaultier has been at this until you see room after room of his work. (His first prêt-à-porter collection launched in 1976 and he founded his own couture house in 1997.) The exhibition is huge, with rooms exploring six major themes from androgyny to multiculturalism. It includes 140 haute couture and prêt-à-porter designs as well as sketches, fashion photography and videos that spotlight his collaborations with filmmakers, choreographers and musicians including: Pedro Almodóvar, Catherine Deneuve, Madonna, Helen Mirren, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, Martin Margiela, Pierre Cardin, Dita Von Teese, Marion Cotillard, Kylie Minogue and Tom Ford, to name a few.

Ribbon Corset

Tube Dresses

The exhibition is very successful not just because of his showmanship, or the roster of celebrity collabs, but because among the dozens of mannequins on display, a sprinkling of 30 mannequins appear to be staring right at the viewer, blinking, talking, murmuring and/or singing. Discreetly hung video projectors and speakers give life to their faces. The videos of a dozen celebrities, including Gaultier, are among them. It’s disconcerting, but very, very cool. Even having anticipated the show for months, encountering the first, seamlessly animated, mannequin is disarming. “…Are…you talking to me?” In an age where museums struggle to adapt to shorter attention spans, this exhibit manages to make ordinary mannequins interactive. It’s a fresh way of keeping an innovative designer innovative, both to long-time fans and the newly initiated.

Virgins Smirk

JPG Nautical

I’ve always liked Gaultier, largely because of his ability to see a subgroup’s traditional garb and elevate it to shiny, fabulous, sacrilegious couture. He and Madonna have been perfect collaborators for this very reason (although in his case, the costume source seems to provide inspiration rather than straight up rip off. Where he riffed on London punk, or Hasidim, she moved to England, picked up a British accent and got her own personal Kabbalah rabbi). Among the vast collection of corsets on display, Madonna loaned two iconic cone bras from her 1990 Blond Ambition World Tour. Also exhibited, little Jean Paul’s childhood bear, outfitted in his first cone bra.

JPG Corsets

If you think of Jean Paul Gaultier as just an 80s phenomenon, then I especially recommend this exhibit. The show reflects his designs through 2010, and he’s still going. Even if he had retired twenty years ago, he really IS all that. He’s not just eccentric; he’s an excellent tailor who has made a lot of kooky, avant-garde getups actually look sexy.

Nude Dress


A few other personal highlights:


A Paris y'ala Tour Eiffel

Trench Coatdress & Bolero

Scuba Shoes

Virgins Detail

Mermaid detail

The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk is on display at San Francisco’s de Young Museum from March 24 to August 19, 2012