Monthly Archives: October 2009

The Denim Diaries: Part 2

Well, it seems I’m not alone in my endless fascination with denim, and the industry is certainly providing plenty of material (forgive) to work with. And I’m not the only one. Today, one half of a seemingly life-sized denim-dressed backside, is gracing the front of The New York Times’ style section.

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The story touches on the often arbitrary nature of pricing jeans, which sounds like it has more to do with what the market will bear than with the actual cost of production. Maybe that’s why I’m wearing leggings today, rather than my J Brand jeans (pictured above) which The New York Tailor Shop is patching up for me–yet again.

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Jesus, who works at the Tailor Shop, along with his brother and his dad, said they get jeans with holes at the nexus (read: crotch), like mine everyday.

I loved J Brands when they emerged–they filled a hole (again, forgive) in the market for a clean, dark, straight jean with a bit of stretch. I bought one pair, and then a second. They became my everyday jeans. When I wore them to work my first week for Rogan, another denim designer, he gave me a once over and called me a “sucker.” At the time I thought he was bruised that I wasn’t wearing his jeans (flattered that he cared), but I’m beginning to wonder if he was right.

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When I asked one of the guys working the floor at Barney’s Co-op whether he got a lot of returns on J Brands for these holes at the crotch, he said “tons,” but he thinks they’re getting better. I actually fear they’ve gotten worse. The pair pictured above is my second one, and it’s getting a little overwhelming in the patch department. They’re starting to look like padded bike shorts. Not sexy. (For $158, they can’t last a year?)

It’s funny, in that New York Times story today, Jeff Rudes, a J Brand founder, says that $200 jeans were “just a fad,” and goes on to say that “the floors at most of the major stores were so overassorted that they almost looked like Loehmann’s.” Yet, on J Brand’s website, there are no less than 178 permutations to choose from–some of which appear dark, clean, sexy, and straight, just the way I like them. (Yes, we’re still talking about jeans.)

If I had any indication the price tag had some bearing on quality and durability, I just might consider purchasing a pair. But between my hole-patching fund and that story in The Times I may have to continue the hunt–just so I don’t feel like a sucker.

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Rag Trade Rally: Schmatta and Swimsuits

Wednesday, at the rally to Save the Garment Center, Joey Raico, a former fabric cutter who took a buyout (“my job was shipped to China”), stood at the podium under the 39th Street button, and called the manufacturing zone on midtown Manhattan’s west side “a magical place.”

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There were days when I too thought it was magical, though for a different reason, when I was running between factories and fabric shops in the area as an assistant for Cynthia Rose. I remember thinking the Garment District was somehow frozen in time.

This was the New York I had read about, the dingy, dirty, sort of disgusting place, where people still brazenly spit on the street and catcalled, hurrying past peep shows and Port Authority. One slushy day, as I waited to cross the street with a roll of fabric, a passing truck actually splattered me. I once thought these things only happened in movies.

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But, with a little bit of perspective on the place, where I’m based now not as a production assistant, but an editorial one, I see it’s pretty special that in a single day at Cynthia Rose, I would work with people–actually talk with them face-to-face, from China, Greece, Ecuador, India, the Dominican Republic, all over the U.S., and more, all with the common goal of making something. Not money, an idea, or a multi-media web networking platform, but a real, tangible thing: a garment. Maybe that’s why the place felt frozen in time. American manufacturing, imagine that.

“We do need to examine whether we need to make things,” said Marc Levin, “as a society.”

Levin directed the recently released HBO documentary about the NYC Garment Center, Schmatta. Standing on the sidewalk after the rally, the director said he was initially dubious of fashion as a subject (it was HBO’s idea), but now he sees NYC’s garment industry as representative of the American economy as a whole.

It’s a powerful and seductive myth, said the director, that we can move manufacturing jobs overseas, replace them with better jobs for Americans, and continue to run up credit card debt.

“The economy has no clothes,” he said.

image from giantmag.com

The director said he didn’t know if Mayor Bloomberg has seen the film, though he knew HBO’s Sheila Nevins had given him a copy.

Levin said Michelle Obama would be the best one to get his documentary in front of. The first lady has been such a powerful proponent of American fashion, wouldn’t she like to see it stick around?

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No doubt, these ladies would, all of whom work for Malia Mills, a swimwear designer based on 38th Street. Below, is a beautiful example of their work–albeit a little wrinkled from my drawer: a spice-colored one piece bathing suit with cutout sides. The straps, lovely and narrow, tie in the back to make it adjustable.

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Their suits fit like a dream, which likely factors into their pricey-ness. Frequent fitting sessions, myriad styles for multiple body types, and domestic manufacturing all add up–to a beautiful, but expensive garment. But here’s a valuable secret, ladies. You can go and visit their studio on 38th Street, which also serves as a sample outlet. (And a peek behind the scenes!)

The suit pictured above cost me just $20 earlier this summer. A $20 investment in the domestic development of swimwear, made, as Malia Mills’ website states, “lovingly in the U.S.A.

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For Vanity Fair.com: Is Backlash the New Pink?

Last week I linked to this piece about “buycotting” in The New York Times, which cautioned against confusing cause-related consumption with political engagement.

Splendid Tank

That’s what I was thinking about as I wrote this post for Vanity Fair’s website, about the backlash against the branding of breast cancer.  Is Backlash the New Pink?

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TODAY in the NYC Garment District

Today in Manhattan, at 39th and Broadway designer Nanette Lepore will be leading a rally to Save the Garment Center between noon and 1:00 pm. A change of the zoning laws that protect the manufacturing spaces in NYC is threatening the neighborhood, home to what’s left of New York City’s fashion industry. Just in case you don’t believe anything is still made in New York, I’m pasting a picture below of Ari Magallanes (who works on 39th Street), working on a dress that is currently hanging at a boutique on Madison Avenue. (Maybe you’ll find out where in a story to come…)

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Ari is one of the many talented dressmakers I worked with in my former life in fashion production, which also started on 39th street, where I worked for Cynthia Rose. Actually I’m going to have to break a date for alterations (on a vintage dress for another day) with one of Cynthia’s former sample-makers in order to check out the rally today. But I’m definitely going, so of course the question is, what to wear? I think for a rally in the Garment Center, it should be something made in the Garment Center, no? Here are a few options: (There’s a funny little thing in fashion called a clothing allowance, where you earn a modest salary + a set amount of clothing you might never afford.)

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melon cashmere jacket from Cynthia Rose

This jacket is actually on extended loan from my sister, who it was made specially for. She adores it, but said she couldn’t really use it at home on the farm. (Go figure!) Lovely and soft, but a bit out of season–very spring, for October, I mean.

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coated cotton voile top from Cynthia Rose

This is a body that we originally did in silk charmeuse, which is slippery shiny stuff, with lots of floral embroidery on the neck line. I adapted it in a coated cotton voile that’s just a bit metallic (it appears more so in this photo). It sort of balloons out nicely. (A sartorial sigh of relief that the balloon boy is grounded?)

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black cotton voile jumper from Cynthia Rose (back)

This is a favorite–I photographed it from the back so you could see those giant buttons, which are made of horn. (Certainly there’s another story there. We’ll revisit that.) Anyway, this jumper is another piece that was never part of the Cynthia Rose collection, it was just development. (Remember the cancelled collection?)

It might be a little chilly for the jumper today, though I suppose I could layer it, either with a turtleneck underneath or a sweater on top. Likely the gold voile top will be the winner, with a sweater and jeans. (Don’t ask which ones. They all seem to have holes lately. More denim diaries to come.)

Here’s a trailer for Schmatta, a documentary that’s just aired on HBO about the Garment Center. I’ll report back on the rally, and hopefully have a review of the documentary soon too–just as soon as I get to see it. Okay, that’s all for now, folks. I’ve got to go get dressed!

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These Boots

This is an archival post from my personal blog, Jaybird, that seemed relevant as temperatures are beginning to drop here in NYC. I imagine I’ll be bringing you on a boot-hunt soon. I never did replace these, and word is that The Farmer’s Almanac is predicting snow around Thanksgiving.

From the Archives, dated February 4, 2009:

One Sport Boots, 1994-2009

One Sport Boots, 1994-2009

The New York winter finally did in my oldest pair of shoes. These beautiful boots carried me through Arapahoe National Forest, to the top of Telluride Mountain, to the bottom and back out of the Grand Canyon, over the hump of Half Dome and god-knows-where in the backwoods beyond Ojai. But after six winters in New York, on Broadway in Williamsburg, under the JMZ train, the left one said: No more. I can’t go on.

I can’t say I blame it. The roller coaster of wind, salt, radiators, subway steps, ice and snow ain’t easy. NYC is for many kinds of people (and accessories), but the faint of heart are not included.

Dear boots, Thanks for taking me so far.

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The Kids are Alright

This thought-provoking piece about “buycotting” in Sunday’s New York Times said that 62% of American consumers were willing to “willing to pay $5 extra for a $20 sweater produced more ethically.”

I was curious what the criteria for ethical production were, so I found the study, called Human Rights and Public Opinion: From Attitudes to Action for free on Political Science Quarterly’s website, and found they defined an “ethically produced” sweater as one produced without sweatshop labor. Even more interesting was this factoid–an easy way to take years off your age!

“The largest difference in willingness to pay [extra for ethically-produced goods] occurs between those over and under 60 years old. Older Americans are substantially less likely to say they are willing to pay more for ethically produced goods.”

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What Price Freebies?

So the other night I went to a launch party for Cole Haan’s new line, Cole, Rood & Haan. It was a pleasant little affair at the top of a wooden staircase in Soho, and if Todd Selby’s pretty pictures (like the one below) on their website, don’t reveal the collection’s target audience, the list of links on their “other things” page does. These shoes are for people who eat at Marlow & Sons and hang out at Mollusk Surf Shop when they’re not surfing Montauk or reading Monocle.

What’s the best way to make sure these (us?) shaggy young things wear Cole, Rood & Haan’s brogues and bucs? Well, give them a pair!

Maryam and Uday, New York City, August 2009

Photo from The Selby for Cole Haan

So that’s exactly what the company did–gave every guest a free pair. I was invited by extension, as a guest’s +1, which entitled me too, to pick out a pair. As a journalist, I’ve been warned of the perils of accepting freebies, lest I trade my integrity for a new accessory, however handsome. The common cautionary tale is about The New York Times’ questionnaire, where writers must disclose whether they have accepted any free merchandise, before working for The Times.

Now, free stuff happens in fashion all the time, but I’ve never gotten a “gift” in exchange for a kind article–maybe because I’m not that powerful. In any case, I wasn’t on assignment, and I was more interested in a complimentary cocktail upon arrival than I was in the new kicks.

But truly, maybe I’m not the girl they’re after, because I didn’t have to have any of the shoes. When someone asked me which pair I would take home I replied, none. At this point, I said, my wardrobe is more about editing than acquiring. “That’s so mature of you!” exclaimed an editor.

But it’s only sort of true. If they had the boots pictured below in girls’ sizes, I might have been in business:

GLAD RAGS

But alas, they did not. So I turned the whole free conundrum on its head by taking a pair for a friend who incidentally works for free, as an intern, at The New York Times–a business that knows a thing or two about the foibles of freebies.

For more reading on free stuff you could see:

this post on Vanity Fair.com where I, incidentally, work for free (but did not write this): “Mapping Out Your Party Schedule Based on Freebies”

or

this book on the topic: Free: The Future of a Radical Price

It’s a New York Times bestseller.

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