Category Archives: Pop Culture

“The bastard form of mass culture is humiliated repetition”- Roland Barthes

Protestable Fashion

Protest is defined as ‘expressing an objection to what someone has said or done’. Most people protest over mundane, even trivial things all day long (ever complain when the alarm clock sounds at 7am?), yet there are some objections that are so deep-seeded they can cause feelings of unrest that boil over and unite friends and strangers alike. This is what is known as a ‘movement’.  Such is the case with “Occupy Wall Street” currently residing in Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan and quickly spreading to other cities.  The movement revolves around the richest 1% of Americans holding the rest of us (the 99%) hostage with the decisions they make to benefit themselves politically and financially, but negatively affect everyone else. It appears that this protest is the unifying theme for participants as a visit to Zuccotti will reveal a vast and decentralized list of issues protesters are attempting to draw attention to (rejection of student loan repayments, lack of universal health care, the stagnant economy, stale job market, inability of the government to hold Wall Street accountable).  Yet, the ability to unify numerous interests into one voice of discontent and fraction it off to smaller cities throughout the United States and Europe, speaks volumes.  In fact, it is quite similar to the anti-Vietnam movement of the late 1960’s- 1970’s.  By analyzing the protesters of both movements, we are able to see that fashion can go far beyond fabric, clothes and accessories and become a platform for people to communicate a message to the masses.

The 1960’s- 70’s was a time of transformation stateside and internationally. Massive groups rallied around the Vietnam War, taking issue with not only the U.S’s involvement but also the tactics and weapons being utilized.  The popularization of the television opened up channels of communication worldwide, allowing the international community to see first hand images from the war itself and from the many protest activities being held to speak out against it.  Information became power, and power became a voice, one that was all-inclusive.  Fashion as well became more democratized with women embracing the right to eschew the mainstays of female fashion (goodbye bras! hello baggy menswear pants!) and dress they way they wanted. The overarching style of the time was that of the hippie sub-culture, and it was seen in clothes that were worn, with looser, free flowing styles:

Advance 4o years and what we find is a similar set of circumstances occurring in Zuccotti Park, NYC with Occupy Wall Street. People are fed up with the political and financial status quo of the country and are again finding a voice to express their discontent and encouraging everyone else to speak up as well.  With advances in technology and the proliferation of  social media platforms that allow a free flow of information, the heart of the protest can be extrapolated to other communities quickly and efficiently.  The major difference between the protests of the 1960’s and Occupy Wall Street is that in the latter case, participants are living full-time on-premise and therefore, utility and functionality are of utmost importance when it comes to fashion:

The real fashion statement seems to be the written, not the worn kind:

The best fashion statement may have come from Kanye West when he visited the protesters last week:

Russell Simmons and Kanye West visit Zuccotti Park

His Givenchy plaid shirt, Alexander Wang t-shirt and Balmain jeans, with a combined price tag of $4,000.00, seemed a rather odd outfit to wear to a movement that stands against the 1% that Mr. West belongs to.  How many of us in the 99% could afford an outfit like that, even a Designer Impostor version?

Then again, they say in order to understand the end, you must go back to the beginning. It would appear that fashion is at the heart of it all:


The Modern (Farm) Family

The vintage and modern farm families

Depending on your age, either you or your parents probably formed part of a farm family or knew someone who did.  Stemming from the Great Depression, and moving into the 1940’s and 1950’s, American families continued to feel the effects of scarcity, with government rations on basics like coffee, sugar and flour a not so distant memory.  Seeking a more self-sufficient way of life, one less likely to be jeopardized by a poor economy, living on and operating a farm was a guarantee of two things: a continual source of food/survival, and a big labor demand.  Prior to technological advances that resulted in the creation of machinery to do many of the mundane, yet time consuming tasks required to produce bountiful crops, human labor was required to till the land, sew the seeds, pick the fruit/vegetable, milk the cows, etc. and with a limit on economical resources, hiring migrant workers wasn’t an option then as most commercial farms do today.  So, how does a labor intensive venture operate when there is no money to hire help?  Simple: kids.  Farm families tended to be quite large in the 1950’s, with both parents and every child working and contributing to the survival of the family.  This is what America was built on: the principal that everyone has to pull their fair share and work hard.  If little Jimmy didn’t milk the cow, his family wouldn’t have milk for breakfast the next day. He was directly responsible to his siblings and parents.

Shift 60 years into the future and where do we find ourselves? In political mayhem, ideologically divided as to who should be responsible to ensure everyone has milk for their morning cereal. Some embrace the ‘farm family’ mentality where we as individuals and families are responsible for milking our own cow, and others feel the government should do the work and just send us the voucher to hand to the milkman when he comes on Monday mornings.  Although we could discuss this topic at length (and we will as the 2012 Presidential election draws near), what we find more interesting is the niche community that most embraces the farm- family mentality of  ‘everyone contributes’.

Hollywood. Its a fickle, superficial and money driven world. It’s also very hard working. Everyone has a purpose and is a component of a well-oiled money making machine, known as publicity.  As a society, we are obsessed with knowing who is dating who, what they had for dinner, what they bought at Kitson and any other mundane detail of celebrities lives that make them appear somehow more relatable.  This insatiable hunger translates to big paydays for the rich and famous when it comes to exclusively sharing the big moments of their lives, like marriage, divorce and babies with the weeklies and gossip magazines.  Case in point: the Kardashians.

Led by momager, Kris Kardashian, every family member plays a part in furthering the survival of the unit.  Kim, its star, who recently wed NBA-star (we use that term very loosely), sold her engagement story to People for $300,000, and her wedding photos for much more than that. Khloe, the younger sister, sold her wedding exclusive to fellow NBA star Lamar Odom for close to the same amount and the oldest sibling, Kourtney sold pictures of her son Mason, to Life & Style for 300K just two weeks after giving birth:

Kendall and Kylie Jenner (Bruce Jenner is their dad), are both bringing in their share of the money crop through aspiring modeling careers (Kylie made her New York Fashion Week debut in Avril Lavigne’s Abbey Road show– mind you, she is below the age limit of 18).  Lone brother Rob Kardashian, who has long been criticized for not pulling his own weight by his publicity loving sisters on their reality show, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, has stepped it up and is currently on Dancing with the Stars.   Kris, the mastermind behind the family’s commercial success (the family as a unit is expected to gross $60 million in 2011), is the epitome of the farm- family.

Republican favorite Sarah Palin is another good example  Given her fondness for game-hunting, she may be literally and figuratively the farm mom.  Upon announcing her VP nomination for the 2008 Presidential election, the controversy surrounding who (Sarah or her daughter Bristol) is the real mother to baby Trig, became front page fodder for months.  Not stupid, Sarah and Bristol both saw the opportunity to stay in the media spotlight and make major money by repeatedly selling exclusive coverage of the controversy and Bristol’s on-again, off- again relationship with Levi Johnston, making sure to include Trig and her own son Tripp in every single photo:

Not only did Bristol get a nice check for this cover, but she also used the platform to keep the spotlight on her mother, with a cover mention.

Why should anyone care about a girl from Alaska who got knocked up and graduated high school? Here Bristol makes a buck by stressing the importance of abstinence and yet again, gets her mother’s name on the cover.

This cover speaks volumes.  On the upper left hand side, there are the first pictures of Halle Berry’s daughter.  These were taken by the paparazzi who most likely sold them for a very pretty penny and Halle received no compensation. However, Sarah Palin surely got paid for providing access into her own life and those of her children for the Us Weekly cover.  But shoot, can you blame her? A taste of the good life (like a Valentino suit for $1500.00), makes it hard to go back to shopping at Sears, so someone has to bring in the funds to keep it going.

Many celebrities have sold exclusive pictures of their children to the media as a way of benefiting economically from having to live under the microscope of the paparazzi.  When an exclusive is arranged, not only does the celebrity pocket the funds, but it also essentially cuts off all the paparazzi mayhem of trying to get ‘the first picture’ to sell to the magazine.  More money and less stalking?  You see the appeal:

The formula works. Two of the most successful People covers of all times were Sandra Bullock and her son, and Brangelina and the twins, Vivienne and Knox.  Brad and Angelina got a whopping $14 million for the exclusive, which they donated to charity (enough to make sure entire communities get their morning milk):

Jessica Simpson is the latest to follow suit. Already well-established economically thanks to her uber-successful apparel company,  Jess is holding the official announcement of her already obvious pregnancy until her dad can arrange a $500,000 payday for the exclusive story.  This really is the most extreme of family farming mentality.  Jessica’s dad, Joe, and his wife Tina, live entirely off their daughters.  As Jess’ manager, Joe collects 10% of all her income- which would include any money she makes from announcing her pregnancy to the media. Nice Joe. Why not allow the paparazzi to stalk your eldest daughter, trying to get the money shot, until you get make sure a half million can be made from the little one’s existence:

Jessica Simpson in LA on October 21, 2011

What magazine would pay Jessica 500k for an exclusive that is nothing but obvious to everyone?  If I were Jessica’s agent, I would advise waiting and packaging the exclusive to include the first pictures of her newest money making venture baby, the plans for her upcoming wedding to fiance Eric Johnson and a behind the scenes of her new reality show, Fashion Star.  The combination of all three stories has much more potential than her non-secret pregnancy.  Additionally, there are the “sisters and their babies” and the “how I balance work and motherhood” stories to sell in the future. After all, an empire only lives on if the younger generations take a leadership role once the elders become too old, or uninteresting to bring in the big money.

What do you think of celebrities making money off selling exclusive photos of their children? Is it in bad taste or simply a compensation for having to live under the microscope of the press?  Let us know your opinion by posting a comment below the post.

The Good, Bad and Ugly of “The Most X in the World ” Lists

Someone please explain how it is that Rhianna was recently named the ‘sexiest woman alive’ by Esquire magazine.  I mean, really?

Although the mens lifestyle magazine says that the winner is selected by readers through a “March Madness” style competition, with girls pre-selected, seeding and pitted against each other in a scheme devised by the Esquire editors to manipulate the results.  An example: the first round had Catherine Middleton competing against Brooklyn Decker. Obviously, Brooklyn took that one with over 70%. Not shocking when you consider Kate has to wear nylons and closed-toed shoes, so how much cleavage can she really show.  Not this much:

Brooklyn Decker, winner 2010

I digress. The point of this post isn’t to argue why the seeding is flawed and therefore unlikely to produce an objective result, but more to question what is going on with the definition of ‘sexy’ that Rhianna takes the trophy home.  She may be many things including a fashion plate (she killed in those orange pants and cropped top this summer), an entertainer, an intimate friend of power couple Jay & B, but ‘the sexiest woman alive’ is a hard, if not impossible title to hand her. Based solely on its own definition, a sexy woman is one who “arouses or tends to arouse sexual desire or interest”, and I would bet if there was a random pole* taken among men in any city of any state throughout the world between Rhianna and say, Sofia Vergara, the winner would look something like this:

Sofia Vergara in Vera Wang, 2011

Maybe its the accent, maybe its her unbelievable ability to flirt, maybe its her curvy body, but this woman is the only one who can get boys, men and Joan Rivers alike salivating.

Rhianna’s ill-gotten title isn’t the first misuse of the “most” adjective.  People magazine does it every single year with it “50 Most Beautiful People”.  With past winners like Tim Geithner and Miley Cyrus, the list should really be named “A-listers, politicians and rising starts whose publicists campaigned hard to get the extra publicity bump for their client’s upcoming projects”.  Supposedly, winners are chosen by the editors after many long, and sometimes tense, meetings during which pictures of famous people are thrown around and judged for their “exterior beauty, buzz factor (how relevant they are) and most importantly, inner beauty”.  It’s enough to make you want to skip the issue all together (I say almost because why would anyone ever want to miss an opportunity to stare at a pic of Ryan Gosling?).  Let’s study the last three winners to see what can be learned about the selection process:

2011:  Jennifer Lopez

2011 was a big year for Jennifer.  She started her career comeback with a judging post on ‘American Idol’, launched a new apparel program at affordable retailer Khols, and began filming her first movies in a long time that might actually make a dollar at the box office. Sounds like a lot of projects that require promotion and what works better than the cover of a well- selling issue of People?  Also, it is beyond ridiculous that the magazine continues to label anyone the best of anything “in the world”, because after all, did they actually go to every part of the world in search of a beauty better than Jennifer Lopez?   Shoot, they probably didn’t go out of Hollywood.

2010: Julia Roberts

A repeat title holder, Julia was named the Most Beautiful Woman just prior to the release of her big comeback movie, 2010’s Eat Pray Love.  The movie didn’t do so well, but shoot, there is always another chance to get that lovable smile on the cover, right?

2009: Christina Applegate

A somewhat unexpected choice seeing as Christina isn’t an A- list star in the same way J. Lo or Julia Roberts is, but her crowning did come after a very public decision she made to undergo a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery after being diagnosed with breast cancer at age 37.   This is one case where inner beauty shines through to heighten physical beauty to the upper echelon.

We can continue to analyze the choices made and how silly the whole thing is, but what shouldn’t be forgotten is that these magazines and lists actually influence the way as a society see and judge beauty primarily because the media is viewed as an insider, an authority if you will with power to make decisions that we mere mortals do not.  However, if you see the choices are part of a well oiled PR machine with ulterior motives, you may be less likely to agree with these lists, or even care.  And to that we say, Bravo.

On a side note, the only list that may have gotten it right this year was “Body of the Year”, a contest which resulted in prime posterior Pippa Middleton losing to fellow Brit Helen Mirren, who at 67, looks like this in a bikini:

Well done. At least someone gets it right.

*play on words intended

The Steve Jobs of Fashion

Earlier this week as the news spread of Steve Jobs passing, epithets were tweeted out by the masses, extolling the virtues of this man who brought wide sweeping change and innovation to the way we humans lived and experience life (Jane Lynch’s tweet was probably the best: “Steve, we will miss you. Sent lovingly from my iPhone”).  While there are many aspects of Steve’s vision to admire or marvel at, the ones that stand out in our mind were his ability to take something extraordinarily complicated, like a music cataloging, sharing and listening system, and turn it into a straight- forward and easy to use product like an iPod.  Secondly, his ability to render competition useless by being the first to offer a newer, better, enhanced version of his own product.  Steve knew what people wanted even before they knew themselves and by consistently delivering these products, before and better than anyone else could- Steve gained peoples trust and their hard earned dollars. These skills, combined with many other unique abilities help lead Apple to incredible success over the past decade and it got us to thinking, is there a Steve Jobs in the fashion world?  A designer who exemplifies this same vision of design and ability to harness the power of a brand?

The answer is perhaps not obvious, but if you stop to think, it probably should be. While there are certainly designers who are known for extremely detailed design (Karl Lagerfeld is tribe leader on this one; Hand sewing mini pleats requires enormous skill and detail to attention), few present collections that look as clean, basic and simple as the Apple product line. We liken this ability to the infamous scene in Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy is negotiating her return home and Toto runs over to pull back the green curtain, revealing the flurry of frenzied activity required to make the Wizard mirage work.  In the same way,  an iPod appears to be simple concept because it is easy to use, yet it exists because of the “behind the green curtain” mind of Steve Jobs and Calvin Klein exists for the same reason- the mind of Francisco Costa.

When watching his collections come down the runway, it is easy to be fooled into thinking his designs are ‘simple’ or ‘not intricate’ because of the clean, straight-forward aesthetic.  However, a well trained eye can recognize the incredible amount of sketching, draping, stitching, tailoring, fitting, restitching and finishing that goes into one ‘simple’ dress like one of these:

Calvin Klein Spring Summer 2011

Precision, exactitude and an incredibly deep knowledge of fabric performance is required to even come close to created something as prefect as a Calvin Klein sheath dress.  If Francisco is the Steve of design, then Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton is the marketer.  Each season, Marc and his team create the new handbag that drives brand loyalists, fashionistas, celebrities and editors alike to almost hysterical levels trying to get their hands on one. With an average cost of an average LV handbag hovering around $1500.00, it isn’t quite as easy to just upgrade to the newest version as it is an iPod, but the marketing around the luxury brand is so well done, and the associated status so high, ladies around the world pull out the credit card  and smile all the way to bankruptcy court if necessary.  After all, how different are these twelve bags that one woman needs to have all of them, or more than say, three?

Yes, there are different features included in each bag (although why one is called Neverfull when clearly it can be, hence the need for additional size options), but functionality isn’t the only thing driving sales.  The associated status of belonging to the elite LV brand is an extremely powerful tool that Marc and his executive team harness. After all, look who their most recent brand ambassador is:

Shot in Cambodia, Angie is wearing ‘no makeup’ (no comment) and is using her own bag.  This ad had the fashion world talking months before it was released and sometimes all you need is enough people talking to drive interest, and the car, all the way to the boutique.  Steve was great at this same task with Apple. Remember this ad?

No celebrity endorser, only 3 colors, extremely simple yet super powerful because who doesn’t know what it is like to rock out to music that only you yourself can hear!

If we had been able to get these three guys together, who know what would have been possible.  Although I am sure the first task on deck would have been to convince the multi-billionaire to invest in a slightly more modern wardrobe for his global product launches.  I mean, mock turtlenecks and ill-fitting jeans?

Bad fashion and a brilliant mind.  The world will miss Steve, but luckily we still have Marc and Fran.

Quelle Horror! The Best Celebrity Wardrobe Malfunctions

Incredible beauty. Massive earning potential.  Free designer clothes. There are a lot of reasons to dislike the famous, or rather, infamous.  Here are ten reasons to rethink your position:

Alexandra Kerry, daughter of John Kerry and Theresa Heinz Kerry needs a stylist stat to explain the ‘camera flash transparency’ issue.

Reality star Frankel, who recently sold her “Skinnygirl” beverage brand for $100 million dollars revealed the secret to her success; Spanks.

Soon to retire Today Show co-cost Meredith Viera gave her viewers the best bon voyage gift.

No stranger to shock appeal, Lady Gaga not only showed her little lady, but a salacious body piercing as well. We’ll leave it for you to put together.

Jen Garner shows why low waist jeans are so over. No one likes a plumber butt. Not even Ben Affleck.

Ginger Spice, Geri Halliwell, could have used some underwear, or, a little less wind

Funk songstress, Janelle Monáe, seems to have forgotten to zip up. Classic. If I had $.05 for every time this has happened to me, I would have a totally empty wallet.

Gossip Girl actor Ed Westwick reveals even men can commit the nipslip. Scoop neck tees and the male gender do not mix.

Harry Potter s Emma Watson brings the sexy to Hogwarts.  With stylists paid thousands of dollars to dress their celebrity clients, its inexplicable how a big safety pin was missed here.

Repeat offender Lady Gaga isn’t even close to covering her nips at the 2011 CFDA awards where she was given the Icon fashion award.

Post awards she changed into this, which may in fact earn her the award for WORST STATEMENT EVER:

Pasties and a g-string at the Standard Hotel. Only Lady G

Finally,  Nancy Grace was able to bring in some the highest ratings yet on Dancing with the Stars with the indecent exposure.  Subjecting America to this is equally a mishandling of justice as the Amanda Knox debacle. Oh, if only ABC could get Suze Orman on the show to do a repeat nipslip. Just imagine, a detachable collar on a low cut ballroom gown.   Who would even focus on the musical group’s horrendous rendition of a top 40 song?

The Irony of Lady Gaga: Fashion and Her Little Monsters

Mother Monster. Fashion Icon. Total Wierdo. Musical Genius. World’s Most Powerful Celebrity. There are many titles that trail Lady Gaga like toilet paper stuck to the bottom of a shoe.  No matter what you may think of her as a person, her music, what the world is coming to if she is the most powerful celebrity we’ve got, or her fashion, Lady Gaga inspires millions around the world and more importantly, drives action, all by simply being who she is.

In a recent interview held in New York during Fashion Week, Lady G said she thinks the reason she resonates with so many people is because she is who she is. She is not different on stage than she is sitting on her couch in her apartment in New York. She has no filter.  She says what she wants and doesn’t care if people don’t like it.  She is only concerned with voicing what she feels at the moment.  Must be nice. Us mere mortals have to worry about everything we say because God forbid we offend anyone, even unintentionally.

The genius of Gaga lies in the fact that having the world’s largest stage and having no auto censure, she could have made many gaffes and been ridiculed for them by the press and everyone else, yet, that hasn’t happened.  She speaks thoughtfully, even deliberately, and hasn’t been caught in too many contradictions, or even negative thoughts.  Either she is sincere in her effort to spread of message of love and acceptance or she is the queen of self-control.

Gaga has often stated that one of her goals in life is to ‘encourage the youth, or people of any age, to find who who they really are and simply be that person. Find a way for people to love themselves more and stop judging others because with true love and acceptance comes authenticity’.  Sounds beautiful, even poetic. However, those who most adore Gaga (her fans, affectionately known as “little monsters”) don’t seem to heed her message. After all, what they appear to take away isn’t a message of being themselves, but rather, trying to be her.  A few illustrations to drive home the point:

Imitators, Fans at Gaga’s concert at the Staples Center in LA.

Japanese Fans

New York, New York

Cigarette glasses. The most copied fashion moment

Although there are millions of other examples to show, you get the point. The question is, why is the woman who most promotes authenticity and self-acceptance also producing the most look-a-likes around the globe?  It is arguable that she inspires people to feel free.  She is a free pass to do, what under normal circumstances, people wouldn’t dare for fear of judgment. And frankly, with the excuse of “hey, its a gaga costume”, no one is saying anything other than, “Oh my gosh, I love your outfit.”

I wonder if Mother Monster would be more proud of her fans if they stopped dressing like her, dismiss their fears, embrace creativity and put on what they think is awesome and daring.  In the bigger picture of fashion and identity, the same question takes on more power given the larger context.  Each season, billions of dollars are spent (and earned) on developing fashion trends, accepted ways of dressing common among the masses, and every Susie, Linda and Tom embraces them in their own way.  But isn’t this the opposite of being oneself? Trying to look like everyone else?  Where does the line get drawn between being authentic, having personal style, and participating in the fashion trends promoted by designers, editors, bloggers and retailers?

What do you think?  Send over your comments and we will post them.

Until next time, be you. Be great. Or, just try to emulate someone you think is.

Things That Don’t Pair Well: Porn Creep and Teen Fashion

Unlike Bert & Ernie, peanut butter & jelly or Tom and Jerry, some things just aren’t better together.  At the top of that list is porn culture and America’s youth.   Its everywhere you look, from movies to toys (Bratz dolls outfits for example reek of sexual references) to fashion advertising.  Urban Outfitters, an apparel retailer popular with teenagers and young adults recently got sued by the parent of a fifteen year old model whose image ended up on a t-shirt the retailer designed and sold to adult men.  Although some models may believe being featured on t-shirt is a sign they “made it”, neither this model nor her parents were (they are suing UO for $20 million). Considering the pose and the fact that she was fifteen years old at the time, their discontent is pretty justified:

The model pose

The t-shirt

Sure, many may ask what kind of parents allow their daughter to even take a picture like this on set.  Having produced many fashion photo shoots, I can say first hand that there are always pictures that get taken and are not used for a myriad of reasons.  This is one of those pictures.  The real issue shouldn’t be how the picture got taken, but rather how in the world the Urban Outfitters merchandising team ever let a t-shirt like this get into its stores?  Clearly the retailer stated it did not realize the model was only fifteen, but that is hardly the point. More interesting is figuring out how we have gotten to a place of such desensitization that the appropriateness of an obviously young girl in an extremely sexual pose screened onto a men’s t-shirt is not questioned.

Urban Outfitters isn’t in the boat alone.  A few years back, Abercrombie, well known for the sexual and suggestive nature of its advertising, sold thong underwear embellished with phrases such as “eye candy” and “wink wink”.  At first glance, this doesn’t seem to be such a big deal,  especially because if the same design was sold at Victoria’s Secret. In this case,  girls all over would be snapping them up for bachelorette parties. But, they were sold at Abercrombie, and for girls  age 10-14:

If questioned, its fair to say the majority of fathers would probably take issue to their ten year old daughters wearing thong underwear, especially given its roots in sexual fetish apparel, but what is more alarming is that retailers have apparently forgotten parents’ role as the gatekeepers for their childrens’ purchases and perhaps parents themselves have forgotten.  If life is so busy that  parents aren’t paying attention to what their kids are buying Saturday afternoon at the mall, or simply chose not to contest a purchase because fighting with moody teens can be exhausting, or there may be bigger issues with more dangerous consequences to deal with, we as a society might be well reminded that most floods aren’t caused by a tap left on full force, but rather by a faucet not fully shut off, that drip by drip, fills a sink, overflows, and floods the bathroom, at which point, the damage is done.