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Fashion

We’re All Just Copycats: Style Icons

Style is as unique as it is a total sham. We copy, we remix, and we take from those in the spotlight, people otherwise known as style icons.

There are the staples, women that all women love and want to be like: Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Liz Taylor, Rihanna, Beyoncé, or whatever supermodel of the year is being indulged by Vogue Magazine…Karlie Kloss for some time, now one or both of the Hadids and so on.

If you speak with those entrenched in style you might find some cult favorites: Carine Roitfeld or Leandra Medine, for example. And as for men, I’m afraid I’ve not heard many of them claim to be inspired by anyone (dirty liars, they’ve got to have eyes on someone.)

Personally, I’ve got more than a few and I’m certain some of them are obvious, but today I want to tell a story about one of my icons. She keeps coming up in my mind and I suppose these days she’s emerging as my inspiration more than others.

caroline in menswear

Caroline de Maigret, Wanda Nylon, and my first Fashion Week

It was the year 2016. The month of March, early March. Still chilly in Paris, but with some bright sunshine attempting to filter through the city’s characteristic gray, especially beautiful during what the English call “the gloaming” and what the french refer to as “le crépescule.”

My first fashion show ever. I had popped into a presentation for a brand called Sixth June, but it was hardly fashion week caliber—this was the real deal. My friend Hannah and I, invitations late to our mailboxes, shouted our names and our publication at the bouncer amidst the beautiful people.

Inside the drafty and unfinished building I wondered how this was a venue just as much as Grand Palais, but I liked the grittiness.

hannah walking through show venue
Location of the Wanda Nylon show.

The show was Wanda Nylon. I had done very cursory preliminary research on her. Apparently she made some very interesting outerwear.

When we climbed the dark stairs we stumbled upon a makeshift runway, the lights necessary for good photos were all that seemed important. There was hardly anything else save for two or three rows of white benches for guests. I would be standing room, of course.

clear invitation on the floor
An invitation on the floor.

I huddled close to my friend, my only comfort. There might have been champagne, seemed to always be free champagne at these things. And then I gasped quietly and jabbed Hannah in the side. There she was.

Caroline de Maigret right here at the same show I was at. In the flesh. Wearing her typical look: the leather jacket, messy hair, and excellent jeans. She looked so casual, like she had just come in off of the streets to grace us at this show, hardly Chanel or Dries Van Noten. (That’s a thing to like at Paris Fashion Week, it’s not all about status.)

cdm street style
Caroline de Maigret—iconic Parisian model, music producer, and admirable person.

In my fervent excitement, I wondered if I should get a photo or video for our publication, but I thought no, that’d be exploiting this moment. And I couldn’t annoy her in this way, film her like a wild animal. I was jiggling with joy, my legs jittering and I think maybe she noticed because she looked up and smiled at me.

Looked straight at me and smiled. I’ll never forget it. That’s a kindness many who’ve made it in the industry wouldn’t bestow on a nobody.

Eye-skimming bangs, unbrushed hair, and je ne sais quoi

Caroline de Maigret is not your typical fashionista, nor your typical model. She’s not full glam and she has plenty of physical flaws on view. She does not work out, in fact she quite detests it. And, as a New York Times interview so aptly puts it:

“Ms. de Maigret…is a count’s daughter who left the Sorbonne to model, left modeling to produce rock music, and left music to return to modeling.”

Not your run-of-the-mill indeed.

More and more, I find I am reaching for the kind of style she represents, a look that says I don’t have to wash my hair or perfectly blend an eyeshadow. I’ve always loved the unstructured look of loose menswear—clothes that allow you to eat while you’re out.

cdm reading

I should mention too, that’s she’s written a book with her parisian friends, Anne Berest, Audrey Diwan, and Sophie Mas, titled How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style, and Bad Habits.

And of course it’s one of my bibles, since my day to day lifestyle is attempting to be as parisian as possible.

cdm with wallpaper

To me Caroline de Maigret represents not only a style, but a lifestyle and her decision to write a book about being parisian shows me she understands this concept and is consciously considering her style as more than outward appearance.

There is a sort of preoccupation with the “je ne sais quoi” (the “I don’t know what”) of French women by American women. We’re obsessed with trying to find ways to be them, even if our lives and our culture make that almost impossible. This was made more obvious when I couldn’t even find a copy of the book in France, in french bookstores, that were written in french.

Caroline de Maigret wryly understands this and finds ways to pinpoint the paradoxical, complex, and hypocritical nature of French, specifically parisian women. I especially like her features in YouTube videos on the subject.

Light reading au café

It only makes sense that when I mentally return to de Maigret that I return to the book in question.

A lot of the blathering fashion and life advice I often give (unsolicited most likely…I send warm gratitude to friends who have amused me) is along the same vein of this book. The truth is out. I had to let you think it was all me for as long as possible.

illustrated page

The kind of particular advice in here is enough to make you consider your every move and I’d be confident in claiming that every style icon you follow or genuflect to follows the same kind of meticulous consideration, even if that attitude is to be seemingly carefree. After all, appearing to be careless takes a lot of work.

Parisian women, and I would venture to say this book as well, give us the sort of insight that can lessen the insecurities we may have about our lack of “Riri-ness” or “Chung-ness”, that all of us have a practiced look and attitude. After all, an entire city has a famous practiced attitude, why shouldn’t everyone else?

Pretenders pretending

The above quote caught my eye and its ironic appearance in a book telling me exactly how to be something I may not actually be is the essence of the parisian. She’s just grasping at her passions and trying to pretend she’s doing so casually. It’s exactly why I subscribe to my own blend of stolen icons. The reason we all pretend what we’re doing is natural.

And I think, much with any sort of art, that the art of being a person is rooted in this balancing act. It will be paradoxical, hypocritical, and fickle. It will change from full-glam to au naturel in mere months, days, or seconds.

Much like the constant minute changes in our personalities and philosophies, we have icons to look to, to find inspiration in and to formulate, at the very least, our outward appearance, our armor.

Because you can go to battle with the best ideology, but you’re nothing without some really excellent armor.

Bisous,

 

 

 

 

Who is your current style icon? Or icon in general?

Fashion

Your Mama’s Closet

bunch of clothes

If you’re a lover of old things and vintage finds (or thrift ones, at that) then you might know that your mother’s closet is golden.

Or your dad’s.

I want to show you what my mother gave me and not the kind usually referred to in songs okay? 

Belts are better from the past.

claire in striped red shirt and red bow belt

Belt plus shirt is very 2000s.

I still shudder at the memories. But this combination can work! (And everyone is still wearing this. It’s classic and now the trend is corsets which I almost think is worse. Read why here.)

layout collage of corset belts
source: http://www.instyle.co.uk/fashion/street-style/best-corset-belts

The red one I’m very seriously posing for you above is something my mom got just shy of the Orwellian year.

“The red bow was purchased to be a pop of color for a navy dress in 1984. Loved the bow.”

The bow is good. How can one not love the bow? It does what all of these trends do, except for Kelly Clarkson’s example, defines the waist. An essential move. Plus red is basically a neutral now.

Shoes from the good old days.

The first picture says “lol finger guns” and the second one says “god what am I doing with my life?”

My mom is very good with money—she knows how to budget and spend wisely which is way harder than it ever sounds.

…I bought the boots in my senior year of high school. I was working at The May Company and used my discount. I wore them with longer length dresses.”

Part of my is very mad I never thought to wear them with a longer dress, but they do look chic peeking out under wide-leg pants. Very 70s. I will have to take the tip from her.

I think the best things to filch from your mother, if you can, size permitting, are shoes. If you should see your mom dragging old footwear out to the trash or donation bin, STOP HER IMMEDIATELY and take everything.

Chaotic Neutral.

confused claire bending to show nude pumps and creme bag

Okay so there’s a lot going on here that I couldn’t quite get pictorially. The navy sweater is my mom’s, it has a small paint stain but I really like that for some reason and it’s just absolutely classic and comfortable. Alexa Chung, one of my style icons, often sings the praises of a “navy jumper” and she’s not wrong: you need one.

alexa chung in blue jumper
Lovely Alexa. I mean honestly she’s not trying and it’s perfect.

The skirt you see barely peeking through is HAND-KNITTED by my mother. I mean, not only does she bestow fantastic relics of decades gone by upon me, but she makes me unique pieces by hand.

The pumps are hers from….well I don’t actually know. They showed up in my room and I accepted it.

Last but hardly the least, that purse is one of my favorites ever. It’s unique, well-made, and neutral so—you guessed it—it goes with everything. Mother dearest says it “was purchased for a wedding in the mid 80s.”

Way to show up the bride, mom.

A Round of Applause.

Let’s all collectively thank my mother for instilling an appreciation for excellent clothing in me. Despite it making me absolutely unbearable to shop with since I remark on “terrible stitching” or “a cheap knit” on the regular, loudly, in front of retail employees who are just sweet angels trying to do their job.

Do any of you wear your parent’s treasures from the past, be it jewelry, bags, jackets, what have you? Sometimes I sit back and realize some of my favorite pieces are from them.

Bisous et à bientôt,

Fashion

Working With My Hands

First, it must be said, that the prospect of posing for photos can be difficult for me. You’ll have to bear with me as I try to come to terms with that bizarre bashfulness. I don’t know what I’m doing.

I went to the Cleveland Museum of Art with Will to catch the Alex Katz exhibit right before it was over and, thankfully, I could squeeze it in.

My knowledge of the art world lies mainly in 20th century french art, so an American artist of the pop art movement wasn’t exactly in my repertoire. I’m beyond happy that I went, as his pieces are beautiful and the exhibit flowed to best show his work as it evolved.

paper flowers
Wildflowers in Vase c.1954-55 Collage with cut and watercolored paper  27.9 x 21.3 inches

I saw Matisse in him (some flatter looking portraits of his muse Ada in colorful palettes, some paper collages of bright coloring) and some strange elements of Pollock (dripping paint, Katz is said to have studied Pollock intently despite rejecting abstractism), among others. At one point, a man who came up to me and Will said “that one on the right reminds me of Renoir when they eat in the grass” and then he pointed to a farther portrait saying “she’s the new Mona Lisa.” It was strange having someone ignite a conversation like that and it reminded me how rare and, bizarrely, how nice it is.

Alex Katz, Black Suit (Ada) 1958 Oil on linen 48 x 32 inches

We were particularly drawn to a portrait of Ada (again, his wife and muse) that seemed to be burning from within. The portraits had a strange quality of existing and not existing, of feeling real but uncannily void.

Knowing little to nothing about Katz beforehand made me a little apprehensive at first (I’m the kind of person who dives into research before I do anything) but it proved to be rewarding. There was enough context for me to suddenly see the conversation Katz was having with other moments in art and that is, in my opinion, really ridiculously amazing.

 


 

If you have a sort of specialized disdain for artspeak, this is the section that you would probably enjoy more.

This is where Claire tells you about clothing choices.

I made a dress in my last semester of college, as I had suddenly decided sewing was something I needed to know (I had a stinging guilt about writing about clothing and knowing squat about why it was couture.) This dress, however ill-fitting or rudimentarily produced, is a point of pride for me and I finally got the guts to wear it when I went to see Katz. Seemed vintage pop-art enough.

lime green paisley dress

And here it is, in all its bright green glory. I wanted to make something interesting out of the choices I was given in class, so I went with the 60s shift complete with a tie belt. It’s a simple cotton with a cool slit in the back and a boat neck.

You should know it took me weeks to produce this. And don’t even get me started on that zipper. But it sure felt good to finish, to claim that I had made it with my own hands.

At the end of college, I needed a skill that required my hands and a tangible result.

I want to make more things and I’ve found that I have plenty of ideas now for cutting up, repurposing, and stitching up things I would have disregarded. I hope to show you more of these projects in the future, as I try to figure out how to further personalize what I own. We’re all obsessed with self-expression anyway, might as well tailor it (literally) to you.

Claire laughing with green dress on
Laughing off the fear at Cleveland Museum of Art.

 

I am glad you all enjoyed the last post so much, even if you simply glanced (it’s why I add so many pictures) and I hope you like this one too. Please comment what you want to see or maybe something you’ve always wanted to know, should a suggestion come to you.

I’m figuring this whole style blogging thing out and honestly it took me a long time to do it because I never felt ready or that I knew what I was doing, but after researching Katz I found this quote which is as much an encouragement as it is an affirmation that we’re all okay.

“If you know what you’re doing, you’re doing dull stuff.” 

 

Bisous,

Fashion

Made In The USA…And In Sweatshops

sign-ask-more-questions

Due to increased global awareness of textile worker’s conditions abroad in Thailand, China, and a collective of other developing nations, most Americans think the clothing that they purchase in the US is above such conditions.

They would be incorrect to assume a “Made in the USA” label meant guaranteed ethics. After all, the Federal Trade Commission’s requirement for adding such labels as “Made in the USA” includes determining the “last country in which a ‘substantial transformation’ took place” (FTC, 1997.), meaning the processes or manufacturing that create a different good than the one existing before these processes. As for advertisement and marketing materials, implications can be made as no origin country is required to be mentioned. Essentially, it’s a very gray area indeed.

The US garment industry can’t possibly be that archaic or third-world, can it?

In fact, it can be. Reminiscent of the 19th century conditions, to make a comparison. The US Department of Labor found a continuation of wage violations in a February 2016 News Release, saying that in the previous five years that they’ve paid workers over 11.7 million dollars back after over 1,000 investigations.

Not that any of these violations are news, this is an old narrative for the garment industry, an industry rife with historically exploited employees. In 2012, a sweep of one building in LA’s garment district garnered a shocking amount of wage violations against the Fair Labor Standards Act. The companies that employed this factory included: “…Aldo Group Inc., Burlington Coat Factory Warehouse Corp., Charlotte Russe Holding Inc., Dillard’s Inc., Forever 21 Inc., Fraisier Clothing Co. (Susan Lawrence), HSN Inc. (Home Shopping Network), Rainbow Apparel Inc., Ross Stores Inc., TJX Cos. Inc. (TJ Maxx and Marshall’s), Urban Outfitters Inc. and Wet Seal Inc.” (WHD News Release, 2012.) The investigators went as far to describe the conditions and violations as “sweatshop-like employment conditions.”

woman-sewing

WAGE VIOLATIONS

But what does the Wage and Hour Division mean by wage violations? What is the extent of the issue? According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, workers must be paid the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour with time and a half for overtime (over the weekly maximum of 40 hours). Employers must keep detailed records and time cards for their employees.

The minimum wage in the state of California is, as of January 2016, $10 per hour. What the Wage and Hour Division discovered in 2012 was a piece rate system, meaning that workers are paid for garments that they cut or sew without following minimum wage requirement. According to the 2012 News Release, workers made less than $6.50 per hour on average. At the time the minimum wage was $8 per hour. Since the WHD has continued to find violations and continues their investigations, it’s safe to assume such piece rate systems are still in place.

Federal investigators also discovered tampered time cards and “under-reporting” of the hours that employees worked. None of the workers received overtime pay, according to this 2012 investigation report.

In the next two years, another News Release  revealed yet another slew of violations. That year, 2014, saw 221 investigations of garment industry employers in LA, finding “$3,004,085 in unpaid wages for 1,549 workers.” Coming to about $1,900 per employee, the pay back equalled five times the usual paycheck of sewing machine operator in one week.

WORKERS FIGHTING BACK

Outside of the work that the Wage and Hour Division has and is conducting, the Garment Worker Center focuses on exposing the conditions of garment workers in the LA area, releasing reports  and gathering information from the workers themselves.

In their 2016 Health and Safety report, they report that 80% of garment industry workers never received training for their health and safety in the workplace before beginning work. They also report workers were unable to locate first aid services should an accident occur. Garment machinery, hardly safe and complex at times, needs to be well-understood to be operated properly. However, due to the large amount of immigrant workers in this industry, communication is poor and employers fail to communicate training effectively.

Exits are blocked with items or unknown to workers, with poorly lit working spaces. Should an emergency occur, many workers are at a loss for what to do. As for rest breaks or water, there is a shocking deficiency of both.

worker-near-fashion-ad

MOVING FORWARD

Both federal organizations along with worker-led groups are making progress in just pay and conditions, but the existence of the continued exploitation of garment workers in the 21st century is shameful in of itself. The fact that it’s a topic of note in the year 2016 in America is one that continues to jar readers, despite all of the information that is available to consumers.

Thankfully it’s the spreading of such information that aids in smart purchasing decisions, with the hands behind the clothing in mind. The issue of immigrant discrimination and exploitation, however complex and deep-rooted, can be abated with the money that we spend on clothing and where we choose to buy. It’s up to consumers to remain informed and use their money as their voice, especially as the holiday buying season ramps up.

Bisous,

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Fashion

Why I Sew

I asked my roommate to borrow a sewing kit earlier this year—a button on my coat had fallen loose—and found myself utterly shocked when she produced one.

She is a rarity among my generation. Most of us hardly sew buttons or over holes and tears these days. We simply throw the piece of clothing away. So removed are we from the ways in which our outfits are produced that we see no value in understanding their make. What if we did? I hypothesize a number of results from this awareness:

  1. Less money expenditure.

  2. Increased clothing quality.

  3. Increased attractiveness.

To make my case, as I flounder in my sewing sprint course, attempting a straight stitch that doesn’t stray a millimeter away every once and awhile, I cannot confidently say that making your own clothing is less expensive. As the cost of fabric, thread, a machine, needles, notions, the pattern, and whatever else you may need is not a cheap buy.

However I can say that knowing how a garment is produced drastically changes the way in which you view your clothes—recognizing one hem over another means that some of the horrible work you’ve accepted before is no longer acceptable. After all, if it’s obvious when a garment is a slipshod job versus a more solid one. What does this mean? You’ll buy the good stuff (and there’s less of it flying around.)

 

sewing-machine-vintage

The other magical benefit to buying well-made (and therefore more expensive in general) clothing is that it makes you far more attractive. Why? These clothes tend to be more tailored and, if you so choose, you can tailor your clothing or get it tailored. Both of these options cost some more money and more skill, but they absolutely elevate your look.

Sewing is one of those dusty, domestic skills that not many people see as necessary these days—why should they when new clothes are waiting by the bucketful? Today is not the day of darning socks; it’s the “see now buy now” era. If we understood the blueprints and methods of making clothing, how much it really, truly takes to make a simple dress, would we be so blasé about sewing? Would we buy eight pairs of jeans just because they were super cheap?

In the interest of budget, in the pursuit of knowledge, and out of respect for the art, I am learning to sew. Maybe, in a few weeks or so, I won’t look at my closet the same way and that favored garment of mine will no longer be a mystery, but a map of making.

Bisous,

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