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Hiya! Thanks for stopping by, but I’ve moved…please find me at www.closettour.com.
Now that I’m settled down from Sweden, a story this morning from the Wall Street Journal’s Ralph Gardner Jr. fanned the fire under my buns to get back to my reporting in the Garment District. I’m glad he put designer Bibhu Mohapatra in the lede, or he might have lost me with his paragraph-long flashback of watching supermodels strip backstage in the ’80s. Gardner (who professed being foreign to fashion) said the word incubator made him picture “a climate-controlled box,” and many involved with the CFDA’s glossy-floored corridor of 12 glass-walled studios on 38th Street seem take issue with the name. Even a mailman in the elevator there told me, “it sounds like a place for growing aliens.”
A Bibhu Mohapatra gown at his F/W 2010 show in February
These designers may be, um, growing, but they’re well on their way to being established names in the fashion world. Bibhu has been one of my favorite ones to watch. In the months since reviewing his Fall 2010 show (pictured above), I’ve spent some time with the designer and his staff, as they moved from their studios uptown to their new space in the Garment District.
The Designer in his former Upper West Side studio, March
At work in the new space, April
As Bibhu and his hall-mates have been settling into their new workspace on 38th Street, I’ve been settling into mine on 40th, which was also referred to as “the incubator,” before being rechristened The Center for Journalistic Innovation. From here, I’ll keep reporting on the Garment District, and amass material for a project to address the garment industry’s relationship with our city. Stay tuned this summer. Both in fashion and in media, it’s going to be an exciting run-up to Fashion Week in September.
A Moment in Time, the NYT Lens Blog’s interactive compilation of photos from around the globe, all taken at the same time, is genius and beautiful. It’s touching, funny and revealing to see the different objects, people and, well, moments, that readers contributed. They vary widely. A camel rests in Qatar. A dad takes his new son to church in Texas. I absolutely love this shot of an Ecuadorian woman in arresting orange.
When I finally left behind a Moment in Time, I found my way to this little interactive feature in the Style section: photos of readers’ favorite vintage finds that accompanied Sarah Maslin Nir’s piece, “Prospecting in Manhattan’s Richest Vintage Veins.” (For my own take on the topic, see here.)
It’s less grandiose than a Moment in Time, of course, but no less revealing to scroll through readers’ vintage favorites. I’d be smiling too, if I were wearing this striped dress in the sun. But I especially loved the shot below, with the little glimpse of what I imagine to be the photographer’s dresser, captured among her photographs.
A little moment all its own.
It will probably surprise exactly no one to learn that I deal with anxiety over an event by planning my outfit. (Remember the first day of school?) Suffice to say, then, that I’ve been wondering what to wear tonight for weeks. In a couple hours at The New York Times, I’m going to stand up in front of a crowd that includes faculty and friends from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, as well as journalists like Barbara Walters and Charlie Rose (so apt at public speaking!!), and accept an award from the Dean of the school. I’m so excited for the honor, but after mining my closet and tormenting my friends all weekend, I still haven’t landed on an outfit.
I’m about to hop in the shower, where an assortment of dresses, jackets, skirts and shrugs hang, waiting for the wrinkles to fall out in the steam. (Now that Julie and Lina’s opening film revealed this strange setting, there’s no point in hiding it.)
The Dean might be happy to know I’ve taken a few minutes from this turmoil to work on my speech. Essentially, I’ll talk about CUNY being a place that gave me the confidence to stick with the material I believe in, and the tools to repackage it for the worldwide web. (See: Sweden.Closettour.) I’m hoping for an outfit that can remind me of the same. A solid piece, maybe made modern by an accessory or two, that still lets the story shine through.
Hit the showers!
As some of you may already know, I’ve spent the last few weeks working on Sweden.Closettour, a new site about sustainability and style, inspired by four days of reporting in Stockholm. It’s an alpha version of the sort of stories I plan to produce in the future–like a little swatch of material, presented in a slightly different format than you’ll find here at the blog. Like all the stories and posts from Closettour, its purpose is to put the “wonder” in wondering what to wear.
Erin Dixon wonders what to wear at the Scandinavia House
It all began, as you’ll see in the video below, when an invitation arrived from the Swedish Institute, to meet the curators and designers behind EcoChic, a new exhibit opening this week at New York’s Scandinavia House.
The subject of sustainability, in the worlds of fashion and journalism alike these days, wears a cloak of mystery. Sweden.Closettour is an experiment in discovering sustainable models in both fields. For the time being, my work is funded by a grant for entrepreneurial journalism from the McCormick Foundation–and this trip had a little help from the Swedes. (See “The Trip” for details).
Kajsa Guterstam kept us caffeinated and on course in Stockholm
Along the way, I talked with fashion designers and physicists, farmers and factory managers, all of whom shared excellent insight. But the truest one came from Mathilda Tham, a brainy beauty who teaches design in Stockholm and London.
“You can’t be sustainable or holistic on your own,” she said, at the end of our meeting in March. “You’ve got to do it with other people.”
Julie Miller and Lina Plioplyte stick my face on the map
I’ve joked these past few weeks, working long hours on a website about sustainable fashion, that my lifestyle has become less sustainable, and decidedly less fashionable. But, as Mathilda foreshadowed, the project wouldn’t have been possible at all without other people pitching in.
Michael Lanzano shoots fruit and candy for the H&M story
Everyone whose name appears on that About page had a vital hand in getting the website up, and some of them were perfect strangers a few weeks ago. In the end, Grace Koerber helped weave it all together beautifully for the web (if I do say so myself), and the whole project would probably still be an elegant poster-board if Indrani Datta hadn’t helped whip it into shape.
Indrani Datta erases Sweden.Closettour’s to-do list
So, I’ve learned a lot about sustainability (and style), much of which you’ll find on Sweden.Closettour. I hope you find the clothes and characters there as compelling as I did, and that you’ll collaborate too, by sharing criticisms, questions and ideas on the comments page.
Thanks for your contributions so far. I hope this is just the beginning of the conversation that can sustain itself for a long time to come.
The next chapter from Closettour, an interactive journey in search of sustainable style in Stockholm!
They say the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. And the fashion industry has a problem: The calendar is broken.
Grace Coddington admitted it in March. Julie Gilhart alluded to it in April. And Plum Sykes investigated further in this month’s Vogue, with commiseration from designers like Matthew Williamson and Tomas Maier.
Even when I worked in fashion, I struggled to understand the reasoning behind a system that kept designers “creating” at a relentless rate, so stores could fill their racks with winter sweaters come July, and bikinis shortly after Christmas.
I was trying to make sense of this at the end of last year, and called for backup. Enter Tomoko Ogura, who oversees the buyers of Barney’s Co-op, and Michelle Goad, a merchandiser for Marc Jacobs. When we had lunch the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the young women were recovering from buying and selling, respectively, the Pre-Fall 2010 collections. But on a personal level, Michelle was in the market for a new winter coat. She had stopped by Barney’s with high hopes, but all the good ones were gone in her size.
That’s because the wool and cashmere coats had been out since July, when the average temperature in New York hovers around 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
Tomoko said she understood her friend’s plight.
“No matter how much they want a winter coat,” she said of her customers, “they are not going to buy it three months ahead of time.”
But, because Barney’s follows the fashion industry’s general calendar, the designers Tomoko buys from ship her wool coats in July and swimsuits in January. She said she tries to give her customers a reasonable reprieve between the holidays and swimsuit season by pushing those designers to ship swimwear just a few weeks later. But in order for this to be effective, she said, designers would have to ship to all their stores later, not just Barney’s. Otherwise, a Diane von Furstenberg bikini may be in the window at Saks weeks before it hits Barney’s, and no one likes to appear behind the ball.
It’s like an arms race, with tropical printed triangle bikinis as weapons.
Image from Juergen H. Dam
And some of those designers deliver new styles as many as twelve times per year. Each of these deliveries falls into one of four seasons: Pre-Fall, Fall, Resort, and Spring. Michelle drew me a dizzying spreadsheet-like calendar, outlining when those “seasonal” collections are actually on the stores’ floors, which has absolutely no correlation with silly factors like the weather. Also on the calendar, is the ever-important markdown—putting items on sale to make room for new merchandise.
But if Michelle Goad, a Marc Jacobs merchandiser who can hand-draw this absurdist calendar from memory, can’t get it together to pick out her winter coat at summer’s end, who on earth can? (Apparently, Plum Sykes can, but let’s agree she’s an outlier.)
Tomoko’s colleague Julie Gilhart–Barney’s Fashion Director and industry bellwether–told Style.com the seasonal system has been abused. “Whatever we can do to slow it down,” she said, “I’m all for.”
Grace Coddington, Vogue’s Creative Director, sounded pretty fed up when I saw her speak in March. “We’re trying to speed up all those poor designers so that they have fifteen collections a year,” she said. “And it’s stupid. I mean, how many dresses can you wear? And it makes them do it not so well, or they have a breakdown, or as just very very sadly happened, Alexander McQueen killed himself. And that’s part of that hysteria that breaks my heart.”
If that’s not a wake-up call, I’m not sure what is.
It seems some sort of armistice is in order, but what will it take, for designers and retailers to make a systemic change? And what would that look like? At Barney’s, it looks like more limited-edition pieces with interesting stories–think recycled, hand-made, one-of-a-kind. Remember my favorite winter scarf?
Tomoko was the one who stocked Barney’s shelves with the Bolivian woven shawls. In fact, after seeing one wrapped around her neck that afternoon, I was driven to distraction with the memory of its rainbow-plaid panes. I called the Barney’s Co-op on Madison Avenue to ask if there were any left.
“No,” a young man told me. “That’s all we’re getting in terms of cold weather merchandise.” The next arrivals would be for Spring 2010. Meanwhile, outside, the first snowflakes of the season had just begun to fall.
So what can we do? Hazel Clark, a dean at Parsons, has explored the idea of slowing down the race, and resetting the fashion calendar to look more like a circle than a straight road.
“A cyclical approach would be to think of fashion and clothes ‘moving around’ a cycle,” she wrote in an email. “This could simply be bringing out clothes from the wardrobe to meet seasonal changes in weather e.g. last year’s warm winter coat – or cyclical ideas like re-making, sharing.”
I love those ideas, but I’m not sure the industry is ready for a fashion calendar that’s quite so revolutionary.
So here’s my proposal. How about a compact, whereby a powerful institution like the CFDA, or even Barney’s, gathers a group of designers in need of a break, and arranges for each of them to take a season off in organized rotation? Barney’s could guarantee to buy their remaining seasonal collections, and the designers’ participation in the program would get them–and fashion’s fast-forwarded production calendar–some good press. It’s sort of like our government paying farmers not to plant corn. Maybe a retreat for recovery and inspiration could even be part of the arrangement, compliments of Donna Karan’s Pure Peru.
And when we’re done doing that, we could do the same thing for journalists.