Jeffrey Campbell is a knockoff artist. Anyone paying any attention to the contemporary fashion market knows this. This spring season, the mid-range LA-LA-land shoe brand has knocked off, to list a few, Maison Martin Margiela, Acne Studios, Marques’Almeida, and Alexander Wang. The most outlandish rip-offs have probably been their copy of an iconic 1938 Salvatore Ferragamo platform and their plastic imitation of young British designer Simone Rocha’s “floating” brogues. The mimesis is so obvious, the only question is how is the brand getting away with it?
Convincing responses to that question can be found in Kal Raustiala and Christopher Sprigman’s recent book The Knockoff Economy: How Imitation Sparks Innovation. The simplest answer the authors offer is that fashion relies on trends, which rely on copying. “Think of copying as a turbocharger that spins the fashion cycle faster,” Raustiala suggests. It is in the industry’s interest to have things come in and out of fashion quickly. Novelty and competition are what keeps designers “innovating” and consumers buying. So it’s a mistake to think that a trendy designer like Alexander Wang would necessarily want to stop the likes of Jeffrey Campbell from reproducing his shoes. Wang and Campbell are after the same—making more and selling more—and Campbell’s knockoffs will serve to further Wang’s sales.
That’s not to say that no designers are hurt by knockoffs. Small and independent designers, ones without the means to challenge the copycat, may feel like their intellectual property has been stolen, while luxury brands may feel like the integrity of their brand has been damaged. But, in either case, as Raustiala and Sprigman explain, neither the local nor the luxury designer can do much about it, as American copyright law doesn’t extend to things that are considered useful, like clothing. Fashion design may be protectable under copyright law, “only if, and only to the extent that, such design incorporates pictorial, graphic, or sculptural features that can be identified separately from, and are capable of existing independently of, the utilitarian aspects of the article.”
Even if the law is on the side of the knocked-off, like it may be with Simone Rocha and her decidedly non-utilitarian surreal heels, pursuing such a case may be prohibitively expensive or just not worth it. Although team Simone Rocha declined to comment, I would gather that the up-and-coming designer gained more than she lost from Campbell’s copy: that it did not affect sales of her original, highly-exclusive design (which were priced at 10 times that of the Campbells), and that, in fact, the press around the copy was free publicity for the then relatively unknown designer.
Some important rapid amendments: 1. Jeffrey Campbell is not alone in copying. If you stumble across the right Asian market online retailer, one can find reproduction everything, even Margiela Tabi boots. On the white market, stores like Zara can have a look delivered to shop floor within two weeks of runway “inspiration.” Steve Madden, Topshop, and Forever 21 all borrow from other markets. 2. The designs that Jeffrey Campbell and the like are reinterpreting are often not original in and of themselves. High end brands also take from existing designs all the time, sometimes quite blatantly. 3. Even Jeffrey Campbell gets knocked-off. One of the brand’s more original (and highly blogged) designs, the ‘Lita’ platform boot, has been reproduced several times over. ‘Lita’ replicas will sell at cheap retails like Gojane for as low as $15 or $30. To synthesize: trend-based fashion, whether it’s low (Gojane), mid (J. Campbell), or high (Balenciaga), is all part of the same system of mechanical reproduction.
I judge Jeffrey Campbell not because they copy, but because they make embarrassing copies, more often than not taking a decent design and tweaking it uglier. JC shoes are disposable in that they’re trendy but also in that they’re not well made. It’s hard to say what will bring them to the trash heap first: their expiration as trend, or their falling apart. The hypocrisy of their claimed ethos only devalues the brand more in my mind:
Jeffrey Campbell operates today on those same principles, retaining the small-company ideals and mentality upon which it was founded. Rare commodities in the conglomerated, incorporated world we live in.
Inspiration and design ideas come from everywhere. The “JC design team” isn’t a group of 6th Avenue, corner office executives… it’s you. It’s the JC Girl bloggers. It’s the interns, the assistants, boyfriends, girlfriends and boutique owners around the world, all trading ideas with the JC Team.
…Because you are Jeffrey Campbell.
You are what you buy, and if you buy Jeffrey Campbell, “you are Jeffrey Campbell,” a consumer of trends, an agent of the fast fashion economy.
The most amusing fashion copyright case I’ve read of late involves the New York skate company Supreme, contemporary artist Barbara Kruger, and Leah McSweeney of Married to the MOB. Supreme is taking McSweeney to court over her line of “Supreme Bitch” products, which mimic the format of Supreme’s red and white letter logo. Supreme is claiming copyright infringement, but, as McSweeney explained, her “design has always been to make fun of the misogynistic vibe of Supreme and the boys who wear it.” It’s parody, not counterfeit. The greater counterargument is that Supreme’s logo itself isn’t original, but derives from the work of Barbara Kruger, who ironically-for-Supreme made a career of challenging Western consumerism and sexism out of appropriated images. Asked by Complex to comment on the debacle, Kruger composed a blank email with a single attachment, a document entitled “fools” that reads:
What a ridiculous clusterfuck of totally uncool jokers. I make my work about this kind of sadly foolish farce. I’m waiting for all of them to sue me for copyright infringement.
Kruger’s work is remixed—just as McSweeney’s is, just as Jeffrey Campbell does—but decades still in fashion, Kruger’s art proves that, borrowed or not, when something’s good, it can’t be compromised. And when something’s compromised from the beginning, it can only be made a fool.
Mandals: Man Sandals. Are in. And boy, have you got options: steamy, sporty, locker room slides; adventuring Teva-alikes; sandads (sandals for dads). I don’t even know what to call those Rick Owens anomalies; hip? Show us your toes, bros!
At Randall’s Island, site of this year’s Frieze New York, beneath slapping streamers, on the walls at the gates, were logos for the fair’s sponsors. One of those was:
Joe Fresh, a Canadian brand caught red-handed just weeks before in one of the most fatal of the recent factory accidents in Bangladesh. Frieze was not without its own labor disputes, and the less-than-Fresh reminder made the experience of the fair—with its leitmotifs of yoga mat, ethnic print, and mirror art—all the more nauseating.
The seasons are changing and the high street stores are packed. Many of the goods you’ll find stocked in shops like H&M and Joe Fresh were likely produced in the very conditions that are now under attack. This might not be true in a couple season’s time. Thanks to public outrage and some humiliating activist tactics, like this widely circulated image of a smiling H&M CEO juxtaposed with an anguished woman at the Rana Plaza rubble (subtitle: “Enough Fashion Victims?”), many brands, including H&M, Joe Fresh, Carrefour, Marks & Spencer, and Zara’s parent brand, Inditex, are signing an agreement that will help improve standards in Bangladesh and other low-cost countries.
Here is a list of the brands that, as of this past Friday, had refused to sign the accord:
American Eagle Outfitters
The Children’s Place
Jezebel examined some of the reasons why these brands won’t sign, most of which are weak sauce. The aforelisted resisters may not have been obviously incriminated in the recent news but they are just as liable as the red handed Joes. Public pressure helped push H&M to sign, let’s keep challenging the rest to too.
Lithe limbs twined amidst field growth, hair and rope bondage, aesthetized assholes, edible genitals. Ren Hang’s photographs of nude youth may remind you of the work of Robert Mapplethorpe, Ryan McGinley, Nan Goldin, Terry Richardson, Nobuyoshi Araki, and/or Juergen Teller. His intrigue isn’t formal though, it’s contextual. Ren Hang was born in a Northeastern province of China in 1987. A quarter-century young, he is representing a side—backsides, undersides—of China rarely before seen. Hang’s images demonstrate how youth across cultures are interested in the same. Exhibiting a penis and jam sandwich or boy love means more in contemporary China, though, and “deliberately provocative” Hang is out to challenge his country’s conservatism. The work is controversial at home but still shown; so far, Rang’s had several solo shows in China. He has also published a book titled Republic and appeared in several international group shows, including ones in Italy, France, Russia, Israel and Sweden. I chatted with Ren via e-mail this past week. Although most of our correspondence was lost in translation, we managed to settle on a few details.
Where did you grow up? Where do you live now?
I was born in Changchun City, Jilin Province, China. Now living in Beijing.
Who are your subjects?
My models are my friends. They are those who are closest to me, they trust me, and so they’re natural in front of me.
Do you take self-portraits?
Your work is widely circulated online. Where and how do you best like your work viewed?
I hope for my photos to take any form that people can see. I hope that everyone can see my photos, and all face up to their nudity. Nudity is not a shame.
An early oughts edition of Jane, or maybe it was Nylon—whatever, some sad mag I was reading a decade-plus ago (okay, fiiiine, it was likely Teen Vogue)—anyway, this girly glossy had a feature story on Pants Vs. Skirts. This was a big story. Tell us: are you a pant girl or a skirt girl? Do you like the masculine ease of a crotch of fabric or do you prefer to feel the air between your thigh gap? Pros for pants: run, walk, skip, jump, skate, cartwheel. Pros for skirts: you can more easily fuck in a bathroom stall. Telling ya, Teen Vogue was radical in ’01.
In the years embracing the millennium, I was wearing pants so wide they could have passed for a skirt were it not for the woosh sound that issued with each stride. So when I read this feature debate I was like why you gotta be so dichotomous, magazine copy writers trying to sell me things, I can have it any way I want. Skirts Over Pants. Peplum skirted pants. Pants with rises so dropped they look like skirts. Skirts that trompe l’oeil like trousers. The mixology is limitless. And trending right now.
While I was dashing reportage into my vodka-wet annual day planner, I kept ticking little dots of indigo ink onto the page, trying to remember what this whole charade reminded me of. It wasn’t until the next morning, sore from the open bar and its tenders who clearly weren’t hired for their mixology skills, that I remembered. The violet and aquamarine, the plasticity and waxed grooming, the ‘90s retrofuturism, the jumbo screens, the hierarchical stage design, the voice booming over loudspeaker, “AAAND NOW, GRIMES.”
Hunger Games, duh!
Would that I had a more cultured reference, but this is Versus Versace in the 21st century (Rodarte, Black Swan; Balenciaga, Twilight; Chanel, Anna Karenina; Prada, The Great Gatsby; Versace, Hunger Games).
“Thank you, Donatella!” Claire ‘Grimes’ Boucher squealed as she waved adorably off of one of four stages. During Grimes’s set, Donatella appeared in a glass cage to watch her hired pop ingenue play, but immediately all nearby eyes and cameras turned towards the Italian designer. Donatella is the real rockstar. Who wears leather better? Around the same time as Donatella’s Instagram photo op, someone sparked up a joint. The cigarettes had been going all night, because we own this shit, but the waft of my favorite skunk meant it was a real party #madchill.
Okay, let’s get this over with. Who: Donatella Versace and Jonathan (W.) Anderson with performances by Maxwell, Dead Sara, Grimes, and the rapper Angel Haze. What: a runway presentation and launch party for J.W. Anderson’s one-off capsule collection collaboration with Donatella’s little sister line, Versus Versace. When: last night into this morning. Where: the Lexington Avenue Armory in Midtown East, New York, NY. Why: “The young heart of Versace is getting a rebellious new look. Iconic, seasonless fashion for those that experiment in life, in love, in style.”
The only other times I’ve been in the Lexington Avenue Armory have been for MoCCA Fest, an arty comic-con that I booth bitch every year for Drawn & Quarterly. When I first swept through the Armory last night, I laughed at how different the place seemed than MoCCA. I got caught in the center of a powwow between Hanne Gaby Whatever and many other models in heels, male and female. 5’4 in my Nikes, I couldn’t see anything but rib bone. (At MoCCA, the guy that Comic Book Guy was based off of wears a Superman t-shirt and steampunk isn’t a joke.) By around 11:30pm last night, though, when the rumors of a Lady Gaga performance echoed loudest (no show), the Versus party started to look a lot like a comic con.
The freaks were out. LA cellulite in a creeping mini skirt. Tyra Sanchez or a great impersonator (of an impersonator, what’s better?). Wednesday Addams with a monster of a septum piercing. David Toro with the sexiest dance moves. A pregnant, lesbian Alanis Morissette lookalike. A topless Jeffrey Wright type in costume jewelry. My once-upon-a-time fellow intern from VFiles; looking good . Susie Bubble. WOODY ALLEN.
Kinbaku rope bondage beneath a sleeveless blazer. Boy belly tops. Top-to-toe bottle print PJs, vintage Gianni. Cabaret Minnelli leotard and tights. Margiela! How many pairs of sweaty balls beneath how many pairs of leather pants? Safety pins, safety pins, safety pins. Huge pillow tits in Courtney Love grunge. Dance!
The air inside was sticky, smoky, and perfumed. Outside, it was neutral, perfect. Beyond the tented entrance, a black Nissan Altima was parked. Four dewy partygoers reunited there at half past midnight. “It was corny fo’ sho,” said the most outlandishly dressed John Waters whoa-man of the night, “I kept calling it a Zoolander event.” Bridge and tunnel kids making a mockery of a mockery. Four blocks south, a teenage boy tells me I’m “beautiful as fuck.”
The collection—it’s J.W., it’s fantastic. I’d buy it all if I got paid what Claire did playing those four songs. But—tap, tap, tap—I don’t. Instead, I took home two bags of complimentary doughnuts and a gold Medusa head safety pin. Beautiful as fuck.
Nobuyoshi Araki is a Japanese art photographer known to many on Tumblr as the tag tied to pictures of languid and rope bound Japanese women. Araki also shoots cities (Tokyo, mostly) and flora, but in the Arakiverse, flowers are never just flowers, nor are cracks in the pavement, or bananas, obviously. His lens, he famously said, “has a permanent erection.” Fully clothed, Araki women are always still in a state of undress. Completely naked—suspended “M ji kaikyaku tsuri shibari” (hanging letter M, open leg binding) or “sakasa ebi shibari” (reverse shrimp binding)—they wear only their humanity, with asanawa rope. Araki calls his process, “making love, naked love.” Gravity is essential. As is grace.
Nobuyoshi Araki is important—press releases will say “Japan’s greatest living photographer”—though rarely exhibited in America’s #prudestablishments. Notorious but underrepresented, reblogged and so auratic, he is why I came, for the first time, all the way to Jersey City. I came to see the largest and most comprehensive showing of Araki’s work ever held in the United States of America, which opened early this month at Mana Contemporary, an intriguing and odd new art center at the end of the PATH.
The show features more than 100 works from one distinguished private collection, including a wall of Araki’s books (he’s published more than 450), a partition of positives (reverse negatives), and literal piles of polaroids. Around a bend, the documentary Arikamentari plays. With no subtitles, the film imparts a sense of the animation of the artist but offers little more context than the rest of the white cube show. The only writing on the wall: “To observe life as well as death embraced in life, or life embraced in death. That is the act of photography.”
Foregoing textual anchorage, the experience of seeing Araki at Mana is not much different than seeing his images reproduced online. The models look great printed lifesize, and there’s something exciting about looking through a positive, as he might, deciding what’s worth blowing up, but no secret meaning was revealed by a screenless viewing. That’s not a putdown of the show, exactly, it’s more to say that the Araki vision translates across platforms. Whether we are in a new gallery in an old industrial part of Jersey or scrolling online, the same questions arise: What freedoms lie in restraint? If these women could speak, what would they say? Is Araki the Terry Richardson of Japan; his trashy exploitation lost in translation and turned into art overseas? Or is he progressive like Mapplethorpe? Trying like Schiele? How wide is his lens? How thick is his—?
The questions came to me, but all Arakinquiry seemed indulgent and banal after I travelled to MECA, the Middle East Center for the Arts, on the third floor of Mana. There they are showing, in collaboration with the Umm El-Fahem Art Gallery in Israel, a collection of video art by six Palestinian women who live and work in Israel, namely Nasrin Abu Baker, Iman Abu Hamid, Fatima Abu Romi, Raida Adon, Anisa Ashkar, and Manal Mahamid. The videos range from a few to nearly thirty minutes, and, while Araki got a gloss of a walkthrough, at MECA, I sat and watched it all.
I did not understand much of what I was watching. Confronted with an alluring unfamiliar, I grasped, as one does, for things I knew. Raida Adon’s The Body Recalled (2012) is the first, the longest, and most prominent video; it’s what beckons you in. In it, I recognized a ceremony—a beautiful woman with a braid like Rapunzel and kohl black eyes starts out in some homosocial cabal. She, our heroine, is also pictured alone: sitting on a surreally high chair, looking like Alice after “DRINK ME”; drowning in a clear tub of water, face painted white, like a Japanese horror film Ophelia, or like Snow White in her glass casket. Cut through scenes in a desert, our lead chops off her iconic braid and hangs it on a tree decorated with similar abandoned braids. In the end, she trades her female cohort in for a man. She hops into this man’s arms, falls into him, succumbs, is carried away. I get something: man, woman, community, matrimony, hair is a symbolic object. But that’s a sketchy interpretation at best.
After seeing the show, I met Raida Adon in Mana’s onsite restaurant. Admitting to my ignorance, the only question I had for her was the most basic: what is it about? A translator sat between us as she explained:
The video explores the relationship between a man and a woman on their wedding day, incorporating elements of both Arab and Jewish culture. The fascination with hair stems from the practice among Arab and Jewish women of cutting off their hair following their wedding. The loss of one’s hair mirrors a loss of power. The coffin-like bath of water reflects a sense of being suffocated by marriage. The end, when the protagonist is picked up by the man, can be seen two ways: as a fairy tale, with the husband carrying the wife away, but it was also inspired by image of an animal being sacrificed and carried away by its owner.
This kept happening: I could “get” some of what I was looking at at MECA but its socio-political context was mostly lost on me. I initially understood the show’s title—“Voices from the Interior”—as referring to the domestic sphere of women in and outside of the Arab world. A majority of the videos take place in the domestic spaces, with recurring images of marriage ceremonies, laundry, and other household chores. My interpretation was not wrong, but it was lacking. I missed the other interior: the interiority of being a Palestinian in Israel.
“This community is known by a variety of terms: Arab-Israeli, Palestinian-Israeli,” Tyler Waywell, a director at MECA patiently explained to me, “One term that is not used in English but is common in Arabic is ‘Palestinians min al-dakhil,’ which literally translates to ‘Palestinians from the interior.’” He continued on:
As a group, they are looked at as somewhat foreign both within Israeli society and the Arab world. As ethnic and religious minorities in a Jewish state, many Israeli Jews see them as something of a “fifth column,” foreign and potentially disloyal to the state. However, cut off by Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and the diaspora, this group is often also looked at suspiciously by other Arabs, who see them as somehow corrupted by their Israeli citizenship, as well as their knowledge of Hebrew and Israeli culture.
“Sorry for all the historical/political background,” he apologized, unnecessarily.
As a reader, I want to learn something from a review. As a writer, I want to be expertly educated on my subject. Thus the seeking out Araki; I can write about Araki. I can’t write much about the work in “Voices from the Interior”, yet. But I felt compelled to air it asap (even while airing my ignorance), because, as a critic, I want to encourage readers to experience things I think are worth experiencing, and MECA right now is that. In a city as filthy with art as New York, it’s still rare to see something you haven’t seen before. Exhausted online, the tortured nudity of Araki’s photographs no longer provoke, but an empty dress floating in an empty lot, as in Raida Adon’s short video “Fasatine” (2012)—that commands you to know more.
Nobuyoshi Araki and Voice from the Interior: Palestinian Women Artists will be on view at Mana Contemporary through August 16, 2013.
In an industry in which e-mails from strangers are signed xx, in which Twitter beefs spawn over the semantics of a hot dog, in which interview subjects think that, “it was just fab-ulous,” is a considered response, and assessments of taste pass as critical discourse, in this starving blonde stereotype of an industry—fashion—Miles Aldridge is a man apart.
Photographer Miles Aldridge makes the glossiest images—his reds come hard like candy apples—for glossy magazines like Vogue Italia and America, Paradis, Numéro, Wallpaper, and V magazine. Aldridge likens himself to a 17th century painter artfully exercising his own agenda under a system of patronage. Gucci, Pucci, Prada, Sasha, Anja, Ruby—fashion is his medium and his method, but his subject are Eros and Thanatos, sex and death. A Stepford slaughters a birthday cake, a nude stares blank through a banquet of crustaceans, a head over a bed that’s either dead or mid petite mort; Aldridge edits fashion into memento mori.
A patriarchal auteur, Aldridge’s photographs have something of (his listed influences) the psychological daring of Hitchcock’s Psycho, the ego and ennui of Fellini’s more meta films, the cynicism and consumerism of Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, and the idealized nudity of the Old Masters. They have precedent in Guy Bourdin and Helmut Newton, a technicolor palette, like early experiments in color photography, and star today’s top models.
Last month, Rizzoli published a monograph collection of 270 of Miles Aldridge’s fashion photographs titled I Only Want You To Love Me. Last night, Aldridge launched a show, of same title and work, at the Steven Kasher Gallery in New York. In July, it will move to the Somerset House in London. The book and the shows prove that Miles Aldridge’s work is not limited to the binding of the periodicals it was commissioned for.
In an industry like his, it’s a revelation to hear Miles Aldridge talk; he likes to. And unlike many of his fellow patroned peers, Aldridge doesn’t deflect with an xx or air kiss. He’ll speak candidly, digressively, and philosophically, with ego and a British accent, about the “empire of fashion” and the “fucked world” of which he is a part. He talks so much and with such candor that, for the sake of clarity and propriety, we had to cut viciously from our interview transcript. Still, here it is, running long, but reading well, Miles Aldridge on the world:
Your book opens with a Bret Easton Ellis quote: “We buy balloons, we let them go.” Why Ellis? Why that quote?
I love Bret’s writing. Even just having the name Bret Easton Ellis at the start of my book sets up the reader for what is coming. I found this quote from American Psycho. In a very symbolic way, almost like a Japanese Haiku, it summarized some of the themes of the book in just seven words.
For me, the quote is about how we’re at this stage of human development where we love to covet things and own things. Often those things are bright and colorful, like balloons. But also like balloons, these things we buy do not satisfy us and we let them go. It’s melancholic: we buy things to make ourselves look beautiful, to make ourselves feel like—as men, that we have bigger cocks than the other guy, or as women, that we’re more attractive than the woman next to us.
I’m always struck by how unhappy your models look. I just watched a Clarks advert that my friend is modeling in and she has this fake smile on the whole time. I can’t believe the face she’s making, I’ve never seen her make that face in real life, ever.
I could talk about that for a long time if you want, are you ready?
Photography is a medium of moments; that’s the way it works. But what I’m interested in are images that attempt to last forever. I’m interested in eternity in the way that the Mona Lisa is eternally looking back at us out of a picture frame. I don’t care what the Mona Lisa was doing before or after that image. Her image is eternally present, powerful, and effective, and that’s what I’m interested in: the power of an image to sustain the viewer and to ask questions of the viewer in an intelligent way. In that way, with my work, I’m much closer to the way the painting works. So your friend’s smile, like all smiles, is an attempt at a passing moment of happiness and therefore outside of what I am interested in.
What’s the message that I’m trying to convey? I’m not saying, “I’m unhappy because I consume,” because I have all of these Gucci products or whatever. Humans are more complex than that. The message is that these women are thinking a lot about their lives. Some people look at my work and say, “oh the women are very blank.” Well, that’s true, but I think moments of apparent blankness—when we feel like we’re blank or when we look blank—are often due to the fact that we’re thinking intensely or deeply about our lives. These pictures in my book, they’re pictures of humans not mannequins. They’re troubled, wounded, and confused, questioning who they are now that they have everything they want.
I see that, but they are a certain type of woman. They’re the type of woman who would be—could be—buying the articles that are editorialized.
Right, that’s true. I guess my gaze, my radar is a middle class or upper class white woman. My work here is for fashion. What happened with my work was that, when I started, I had ideas they were quite aggressive, like car crashes, suicides, what I would call first degree statements; angry statements, ugly statements. This was before 9/11, and then 9/11 happened and it was—as a young photographer, trying to take pictures like that—it was the worst thing you could do. You just could not get hired. So I thought about it and I realized that, actually, there’s a way around this. What I can do is take beautiful pictures of beautiful women wearing beautiful stuff and it can be just that: the excess of luxury, the excess of consumer products, the excess of things that you can buy, own, covet. There can be a message in there that’s not quite like suicide or a car crash, but in another way it’s quite the same.
I’m wondering how you see our contemporary moment. It’s hard to define when you’re actually in it, but what do you feel capable of doing now in 2013? Versus, say, September 2001?
I always include whatever I’m interested in, and that includes the Herald Tribune. We are in such a fucking weird place. So that’s always in my bloodstream: the messages from the news of carnage, trickery, and deceit, of brutality, stupidity, and greed; I mean, that’s just page one.
I’ve talked about this parallel before but—Hitchcock’s great shower sequence from Psycho. Hitchcock said he wanted the audience to be confused by their feeling of being aroused sexually while watching a brutal murder. You’re there, in the audience, as a man, watching a woman being hacked up and, at the same time, hoping, possibly, that you might see a bit of her pussy or her breasts or her ass. It’s arousing and disgusting at the same time, and it calls into question your principles and morals. That’s what I’m after: finding that Hitchcockian balance between the disturbing and something that’s attractive.
I noticed there are often families and children in your photographs. That’s unusual and very affective. I was hoping you could talk about the presence of the family.
Well, I’m a father. I have three kids. Up until recently I was actually married, so I know quite a lot about that too. I was also a child of a divorced family myself, so I know quite a lot about that. My book is dedicated to my mother, who was a victim of divorce, meaning she never really picked herself back up after the divorce and died without having much of a life post-marriage. She kept her feelings private behind a mask, and as a young man I was always aware of this woman, and that’s the woman I create in my pictures: this woman, this mother, kind of like Bates in the Psycho hotel. It’s the mother figure who doesn’t speak.
Fashion is the great mask. You feel like shit and you put on your high heels, your dress, you cover up, and off you go. You laugh your way through an evening of champagne and high jinks and frolics, but it’s still there underneath.
My family had a lot of secrets. My father had a secret family while he was married to my mom. They found out about his kids and then he didn’t marry that woman, he married this centerfold from Playboy. I guess I have quite a cynical view of things from that experience. But amongst all that there’s still love.
I was just reminded of something I heard Tom Ford say on the radio when he was doing publicity for A Single Man. He said that when he is the most depressed he puts on his best clothes. That that is when he looks like absolute perfection because he is in an armor.
That’s interesting, I think that’s right. Although I’m not interested in men at all though.
Because I am a man and it’s really weird? I don’t know. I really don’t know. I don’t like looking at them in the way I like looking at women.
Well, you’re straight.
I am straight, there’s that. That probably is all it is. Not any deeper than that.
You have one plus-size model in your book. In one of the images she is pouring milk into her mouth. In another, she is by the toilet. I recently attended an exhibition by another fashion photographer and all of the few plus-size models in his show were also eating something. This is something I notice happens a lot: when we editorialize plus-size models we make the story about their being plus-size.
I wanted to shoot Felicity. I’m aware that my type of model that I photograph is a kind of version of my mother: very pale skin, very beautiful. There are no African-American women in my book. There are no Asian women in my book. There’s one large lady, so to speak. The rest are—well, they’re beauties. They’re a typical Western concept of beauty, which goes back to what I grew up with: my mother’s copies of Cosmopolitan.
When I got to a certain age, I realized that Cosmopolitan was far more interesting than my Spiderman comics. That new awareness of beauty coincided with my mom and dad throwing frying pans or plates at each other across the kitchen. So there are two aspects of women combined in my head: there’s the unhappiness, the tragic, and the angry with the endlessly beautiful, smiling, at peace. I didn’t set out to shoot a “fat” girl because I thought that would be funny. I was aware that Fellini had done some amazing images with large women and I thought that was something I could try.
Yeah, this model, Felicity, is a beauty. She’s still very much a beauty.
My work is not just about beauty, my work is about me, and how I feel about the world. The women in my pictures, they’re like the oil paint or the medium for this message. I use them to explain my message. By having a large person, somebody who’s outside of this typical demographic, then I start saying something about being a large person. Do you see my point? I’m not interested in saying that Felicity is questioning her largeness, I’m interested in the world.
Okay. So, for you, the fashion industry model type can stand in for some everywoman, some blank slate. Like the white whale of Moby Dick, we can project whatever or whoever we are onto it.
I don’t feel it’s my place to be responsible. I don’t at all. I don’t feel it’s my job to kind of make everything nice and easy and say, “you know what, everyone’s equal.” They’re not, it’s bullshit.
You resent the call for an artist to be socially responsible?
Yeah. That’s a different type of work. I’m interested in how we live, the world we live in, what it means to be me. Which is important as an artist—we try to leave behind our story like the trace a snail leaves behind. I think there’s relevant justice in the world. This empire of fashion isn’t based on saving the planet or making people happy. It’s commerce and art. The world is fucked, what a mess. But I don’t feel responsible and I don’t want to change it.
It’d be nice if someone wanted to, you know? I work in the fashion industry and these are things I am hyperconscious of. I love your photographs. I’m not saying you should be socially responsible, I just think it would be nice to see more diversity.
My work is about how displaced, unhappy, and questioning people are about the world. And I think that’s a universal truth. That’s my truth. And I suppose, like I said earlier, being a man, my subject matter is rather attractive, classically beautiful girls. It’s the same shape that’s been used in the history of art for the past 300 years, mostly.
Oh, not true. There’s a little more body diversity there. It’s shifted. Our beauty ideal right now is pretty radically designed for the commerce of the fashion industry.
Oh god, yeah. The stick thin lollipop headed girls. It’s a bizarre creation. But it’s taken awhile to get there.
But symmetry and all of these things are as old as the history that we can write, you’re right.
I walk around museums just like you and I see great breasts all over the place. So we’ve always been obsessed by breasts and pussy and all that stuff.
Isabella Blow represents exuberant fashion at its most interesting: when it’s personal, not societal; an armor for one, not just plumage for luring. Her’s reads as a sad story, though that’s surely not the only story. Her later years—business deals gone awry, a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, cancer, multiple suicide attempts, and then the successful one, in May of 2007—punctuate the life. But there’s always more.
This coming November, 100 pieces from the English magazine editor, muse to milliner Philip Treacy, discoverer of Stella Tenant and Alexander McQueen, and style maverick’s personal collection will be on view at the Somerset House in London. ”The exhibition will be bittersweet,” said Daphne Guinness, one of Blow’s close friends, who bought her wardrobe in its entirety at an auction in June 2010. “Showcasing her clothes is what she would have wanted.” It’s what we want, too. To know Blow a little better.
So the unrepentantly-anti-Semitic-when-wasted designer John Galliano was supposed to teach this master fashion workshop at Parsons The New School For Design called “SHOW ME EMOTION!”. But then a cohort of tuition laden students decided they didn’t want to pay for the disgraced designer to start his comeback. So some anonymous students launched an anonymous petition on change.org requesting that the course not take place. And who knew—not I, I didn’t even report on the petition—but the democratic process worked and now Galliano will not be teaching “EMOTION” at Parsons after all.
Students were informed yesterday via e-mail that the workshop was cancelled. New York Magazine was sent a copy of the e-mail and here’s the meat of it:
…It was a condition of our agreeing to host Mr. Galliano that we also hold a larger forum, which would include a frank discussion of his career. Ultimately, an agreement could not be reached with Mr. Galliano regarding the details of that forum, and so the program will not move forward.
As we have expressed over the past weeks, a critical element of a New School education is the connection between creative and intellectual invention and an individual’s actions in the world at large. While we understand the pressures Mr. Galliano faces, we expected to invite students, faculty and staff to ask Mr. Galliano how his trajectory as a designer was changed by his offensive remarks and to learn from that example.
We continue to believe there is room at Parsons to explore Mr. Galliano’s efforts to make amends for his actions and that members of our community will decide for themselves how to view his contributions…
The tweet version: Galliano treats school like the fashion press; refuses to engage in any real discussion of anything real. It’s nice to see that something of the ivory tower remains, even as the university system becomes Big Business. Good job, Parsons.