Would you like to know how Tim Blanks — fashion critic extraordinaire, editor-at-large at Style.com, pro of pros (and prose) — gets through Fashion Month? Of course you would! Read on...
They say Fashion Month is more civilized now, sans the hordes of wild peacocks and hyenas and whatever else. What say you, Tim?
The original Narcissus was infatuated with himself because he was so beautiful. I say, what happened to narcissism?
So narcissistic, but I think I'll miss the funny critters.
I'm reminded of Kiki surprised by a choir — Wainwright, Ringwald, Mizrahi et al — while she was in the studio recording Those Were the Days. To my dying day, I'll be haunted by her plaintive wail: "Who are all these people?”
You’ve told me you routinely stay up all night to get the job done over at Style.com. How do you do that? Don’t say meth.
Meth? You mean methylated spirits? It's green tea for me. And the promise of a new day. That's all I need to write through the dark night of the soul.
Has anything changed for you since winning the CFDA Media Award last June?
Not a smidgeon. Unfortunately, an impressively sculpted piece of metal can't do my work for me.
If you were to put together a Fashion Week survival kit, what things would you put in it?
Berocca, a half-bottle of Chablis, a small jar of shucked oysters, a bar of 90 percent chocolate, some nuclear mints.
All very sensible. Thinking back, what's one mishap you wish you could banish from your memory?
One morning I was sailing merrily towards Bryant Park for the Kors show when my legs went in opposite directions. I broke the fall with my face, and conducted the subsequent backstage interviews with seeping wounds all over my dial. Lauren Greenfield thought I was a special effect. Michael Douglas's face was a picture when I stopped him.
The lengths you’ll go! Finally, because everyone always wants to know, what's the most sensational diva meltdown you've witnessed?
My favorite diva meltdown was designer-induced model madness. When one high-strung supe spotted another in the dress she thought had been marked for her, she tore off the outfit she was wearing and stalked stark-naked out of the backstage wearing only heels. I could swear she rode away on her agency's scooter, but that might just be wishful thinking.
Brilliance — in assorted shades, guises, and orientations — shines forth from the rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Broadway's latest dalliance with drag and perhaps its first with a trans-something theme. Neil Patrick Harris does John Cameron Mitchell proud with his extra-quippy version of the raging, foul-mouthed East Berlin avant-rock goddess with a heart of gold. Meanwhile, with daft deftness and vice versa, director Michael Mayer and producer David Binder weave in heaps of topical in-jokes (Anderson Cooper and The Hurt Locker get the brunt of them). Just as it did when Hedwig opened off-Broadway 14 years ago, Stephen Trask's pitch-perfect original score elicits bursts of laughter and the occasional tear from a ready audience, while Mike Potter's hot-mess makeup and feathered mega-mullet — now a tonsorial trademark on a par with Princess Leia's double-bun 'do — has only increased in showstopping magnitude and luster.
And Arianne Phillips' costumes, a reimagining of those she created for the 2001 film version, take on new sparkle (thanks in large part to Swarovski) for the next generation of Hed-heads. "I'm lucky enough to consider Neil, John, Stephen, and Michael as part of my creative family," she said backstage during previews last week, echoing the very message of Hedwig, that of the near-universal quest for one's family away from family. "There's a lot of love, a lot of care. We're all very passionate about the material and people are connected to it in a deep way. There's a real reverence for Hedwig."
Hedwig may never let you believe it, but for all her stinging one-liners and cabaret cattiness, she can't conceal a sentimental streak. "I think the thing about Hedwig is that, between the wicked, whip-snap jokes, there’s a beautiful story," Arianne gushed, quite rightly. "Neil’s really great at underscoring the prolific humor with the emotion, the tragedy, and the beauty of the story. I think that’s probably a pretty good description of the costumes, too."
The costumes do invite closer reading, even as they dazzle, snark, and blur across the stage. The opening look, an exaggerated pear-shaped number à la Ziggy Stardust, is indeed a reference to David Bowie and his early space-glam outfits by Kansai Yamamoto. Such is the commanding stage persona Hedwig inhabits, or longs to. But perhaps Hedwig's most telling costume is her denim skort and jacket, heavily embroidered and painted with signifiers of the Berlin Wall, including Act Up graffiti Arianne herself photographed when she visited the city a couple of years ago. It's what Hedwig pieced together and wore as she escaped over the spray-painted cement partition, along with what was left of her botched gender reassignment — hence, angry inch. Finally, no imperious punk-rock anti-heroine is complete without her all-over (faux) fur ensemble. Hedwig's comes with a splash of red paint on the back that she seems completely unaware of, a fitting indignity for so self-involved a character and muse to no one but herself.
"Hedwig is kind of like the Rocky Horror phenomenon," continued Arianne — who, it should be noted, is a two-time Oscar nominee, as well as Madonna's stylist and costumer, designing her last five tours. "Mike [Potter] and I were judging midnight costume and wig contests when the Hedwig film came out. It was kind of like my experience being a kid and performing Rocky Horror at midnight screenings in my small hometown. Hedwig is that way for other people. I think any theater, film, art, or music with the message of human connection, and being your true self, will resonate."
"There's a secret family that has inhabited Nan Goldin's world for over thirty years now," the writer Guido Costa puts it in his essay in the photographer's new book, Eden and After. "It is made up of children, so many, many children. Some gaze out at us from the past, frozen in one far-off, solitary shot; others have been tracked for a span of time, up to the threshold of adolescence and beyond."
Many might think childhood and child-rearing are far from the subjects — sex, drugs, dysfunctional relationships — that Goldin captured so realistically in her early images. Yet her work has always had a diary-like quality to it, and while she herself does not have children, many of her friends and collaborators have become parents.
We caught up with Goldin as she signed copies of the book at Phaidon, the publisher, and got her current take on a wide range of topics, from heroin addiction to the human condition.
One of the acknowledgements in the book reads "Never a mother, always a godmother." What sort of mother do you think you would have made?
Do you know Philip Larkin’s poem, This Be The Verse? It's the one that famously begins with "They fuck you up, your mum and dad, They may not mean to, but they do, They fill you with the faults they had, And add some extra, just for you.'" That’s what kind of parent I would have been.
Nan Goldin, Orlando and Lily Dancing, 2006, from Eden and After
Is there one image from your childhood that sticks in your mind, that sums up it all up?
Yeah. It’s one of my sister and my cousin dancing. I was about 11 and she was 18. That’s the picture of my life. I didn’t take it. My father took great pictures, but after my sister’s death he cut off everybody’s heads.
Your friend Roger Ballen asks: What is your opinion of the human condition?
Terrible. Couldn’t be worse. I think the computer destroyed mankind. I was a hippie and I had a lot of hope for the world. I have no more hope. It’s gone. The Internet is nothing, a huge amount of nothing. There’s much too much information and people have lost their curiosity and they’ve lost their love of books, which is really a shame. I don’t think they’re alive. They’re living virtual lives. I feel really bad for the new generations. I hope the kids in my book — some of them at least — will grow up to be very different people to the generation that exists now.
With his subversive, sex-stoked imagery for DUTCH in the 1990s, creative director Matthias Vriens (now Vriens-McGrath) knew no bounds. Each issue of the fashion and art magazine came packed with homo- and hetero-erotic imagery alike, merging the latest designer wares with suggestive, titillating story concepts. After becoming editor-in-chief, he published the notorious naked issue, in which not a stitch of clothing could be found among the 83 pages of fashion editorial — shot by Mikael Jansson — aside from designer credits.
Following DUTCH, Vriens-McGrath packed up his provocations and headed to Giorgio Armani (to be global creative director), then Gucci Group (senior art director), while continuing to shoot skin-flashing stories for the likes of i-D, The Face, Numéro, and the New York Times' T magazine.
Now, a marriage and a move to Hollywood later, he's back in the game with another eye-popping publication, TVTOR. The first issue of the self-financed, visually-led biannual bursts with nearly 400 pages, nearly all of it peek-a-boo photos taken by Vriens-McGrath himself or one of a randy roster of up-and-comers.
Here, following a launch party in Milan, Matthias Vriens-McGrath talks fashion versus art, his Tumblr addiction, and the pursuit of "tits, dick, pussy, and ass"...
Lee Carter: What does the Latin title refer to? To me it conjures up sexy Caesars in togas.
Matthias Vriens-McGrath: You’re not far off. Personally TVTOR symbolizes a desire for photography and all things visual and delicious. That could be contemporary art, fashion, sex. Or possibly all of them combined.
The two covers of the first issue, the romanticism issue, show a man and a woman lying prostrate on the floor with their head in an oven, apparently dead and wearing designer shoes. At first I thought: footwear story! Rather, it appears to be a more complex reflection of your current mood.
It's all in the eyes of the beholder. If it ends for you as a shoe story, then I am content with that. However, the theme of romanticism for me is more Hansel and Gretel, Romeo and Juliet, in a manner not shy of Pina Bausch. I grew up in the theater and like to provoke thought by means of suggestive visuals. Neo-romanticism has occurred in history at times disastrous and too turbulent to grasp intellectually and emotionally. I think we can all agree on it being a rather horrific moment in time currently. Personally the return to nature, aka romanticism, is something dear to my heart. Whereas most people believe I am surrounded by bulging cocks non-stop, the truth is I’d rather be in the garden.
What makes it a horrific moment in time?
I am referring to total global insecurity. Most economical structures have collapsed, while others are holding on by a silk thread, watching a minority spend it all. Other fun things that come to mind are assholes like Putin fucking up his country and telling people what to do, including gays, and denying them a future altogether. I can elaborate a hell of a lot more, but I think you catch my drift.
In the ever-changing (crumbling?) landscape of fashion criticism, where compensated cheerleaders and peacocks now reign supreme, it's big news when a turnover presents itself at the Styles section of the venerable New York Times. Which is exactly what happened a week ago when it was announced that Vanessa Friedman will be joining the Grey Lady from the Financial Times, where she wholly created the fashion section and lent tremendous fashion authority to its salmon mousse-colored pages. Though not officially, Vanessa replaces Cathy Horyn, who stepped down from a stellar career at the Times for personal reasons.
It's been made clear, however, that the approach, scope and tone of the incoming chief fashion critic (and fashion director) will not necessarily be the same as that of the outgoing, whose less-than-fawning yet always honest commentary was widely celebrated — if disparaged by those on the receiving end.
So what can we expect from the new guard? To begin with, like her predecessor, Vanessa is thoroughly no-nonsense, exuding a serious demeanor worthy of her scrupulously pulled back crimson hair and vise-grip of a handshake, offered with no air kiss behind it. I know this because I interviewed her for Industrie magazine about four years ago at the FT offices. I found her to be highly focused and articulate, yet also ready with a gentle quip and a friendly smile.
As it turns out, after some digging around for the issue, the interview provides quite a few glimpses into how Vanessa Friedman may decide to run the section. Here are the most intriguing snippets...
You've been the Financial Times' fashion editor for a while now.
Seven years. When I first started here, there was a sense that fashion would sit nicely in the weekend section, where it would be whatever it was. But it’s grown significantly in those seven years. Before I got here, we didn’t have fashion reviews. Sometimes they did them, sometimes they didn’t.
A lot of magazines and papers will start a fashion section for the celebrity quotient or to attract fashion advertising.
It was different here. I think it was really in response to two different realizations. One was the fact that actually the readers did care about clothes. They buy clothes and this was a service that we should be providing. And also the realization that the fashion industry, or the luxury industry, was a big industry and, therefore, something the FT should cover. It's a big business, real meat and potatoes stuff. Having said that, when I was hired, the idea was not that I would do the business side of it. That kind of happened.
Do advertisers hold any sway at the FT?
You said that quickly.
Really, they don’t. And because of that, I think it would be very hard for me to go back to glossy magazines, after having been in a situation where you really are free to follow the story, good or bad.
Glossies, too, have a separation between church and state, or claim to.
Well, they’re not critical. They're there to serve readers in a positive way, to show them what’s good about something. So, fair enough.
How does a fashion house attract a young clientele?
By making good clothes. In an industry based on products, in the end the products will sell themselves. If the products are bad, it doesn’t matter how you dress them up. It’s not going to work with the young consumer, who wants humor, irony, narrative. They're not into that this-is-our-history cheesy narrative.
Did you say snarrative, like snark and narrative?
It’s not a bad word. What I mean is, like the Cadbury adverts with the gorilla banging the drum. It was a really famous ad, which had nothing to do with Cadbury and at the end just said Cadbury. The marketing of no marketing. The willingness to abandon your product and do something funny or tell a great story.
They don’t make ‘em like Bruce Weber anymore. Famed mostly for his star-making fashion photographs for clients ranging from Calvin Klein and Vogue to Versace and Rolling Stone, the self-made legend has simultaneously spent decades doggedly capturing indelible, singular moments on film. His current project, a documentary about the great film-noir actor Robert Mitchum, has been 20 years in the making. Or is it 12? Point is, it's been a while and it could be a while longer. But when it's finished, it may very well be an opus like Let’s Get Lost, his remarkably touching, Oscar-nominated biopic centering on the loves and losses of the hard-living jazz trumpeter Chet Baker.
With a DVD anthology of his films just released, Weber took a breather in his Tribeca studio to speak candidly about his alternate career, his best friendships through the years (dogs and otherwise), his role in discovering several major Hollywood talents, and seeing something in Kim Kardashian, believe it or not.
Lee Carter: You've made a lot of Webersodes, but your last feature film was a while ago, wasn't it?
Bruce Weber: It’s been a while. You know, I started this film on Bob Mitchum and then I kind of stopped for a long time because I started working on short films. I was also working on a film about a close friend of mine, Mrs. Winston Guest, or C.Z. Guest. When she got sick, I wanted to stay on her film because the idea of spending time with her was really great for me. I really adore her so much.
What is it about film that you try to bring to the audience? How is it different from photography?
Well, in a way, I always start my films by taking pictures. It's an extension of taking a picture. When I first made my film Broken Noses, people would say I was just a photographer. And I'd say, Yeah, I know, and I want to make films like a photographer. I can't make films any differently.
Renowned French perfumer and master contrarian Francis Kurkdjian on his latest fragrance (Aqua Vitae), his advice to young noses (avoid cocaine), his favorite odor (sweat), the scents he wears (none), his next commission (Rick Owens), and the crisis in the fragrance business...
So what's new, Francis?
We're launching a new fragrance called Aqua Vitae. The idea for the perfume came about two years ago. We wanted to complete the story that started four years ago with Aqua Universalis. It is about a fragrance as a breath of life and the intimacy it created between two persons. In English, it is known as “the space between us.” I imagined a fragrance that is at once enveloping, warm, almost oriental, but in a light and airy way. That was the technical challenge of this fragrance. Aqua Universalis was about freshness and cleanliness, Aqua Vitae is more about sensuality. For the launch of Aqua Vitae, I invited journalists to see a rendition of the Rites of Spring. My first shock in life was seeing Pina Bausch's Rites of Spring ballet. She made me love modern dance. Forget about classical dance, which I used to think was perfect.
Is it for both men and women?
Yes, Aqua Vitae is unisex. I don’t do men's fragrances the way I do women's. Women’s elegance and men's elegance are different. It's not about allure or sex. I don't do men's fragrances the way I do women's. An elegant man doesn't behave like an elegant woman.
What's the difference?
The codes of elegance are completely different.
What's an elegant man for you?
For me, elegance is about carriage, and also a state of mind. It's not about being well-dressed. Some people are well-dressed but extremely vulgar. Elegance has nothing to do with something material.
Are there celebrities you find particularly elegant today?
Well, elegance is pretty rare these days. I have elegant people around me who are not famous at all. And I don't like celebrities; I'm not interested in them. I don't read about them in magazines.
You don't like gossip?
Not really. I listen to them with a very distant ear. Plus, you need time, and an available brain. Of course I know what's going on around me. But knowing when Jacobs will leave Vuitton is not something I'm interested in.
And yet you are a big fashion fan.
I like couture, the item of clothing. I like style. For me, fashion is the perverted side of what I call couture. I like the craftsmanship of it. I'd rather spend a lot of time in an atelier watching people work than with people who gravitate around the designer, saying things like “I love you, darling.”
Did you see the current exhibition of male nudes at the Musée d’Orsay?
I liked the fact it was thematic, not chronological. I discovered artists I didn't know. I should go back, because I attended the opening. I'm actually surprised the theme wasn't tackled before. I like the way masculine nudes became indecent. History repeats itself. We just recreate things. It's like in the fragrance business. It is very strange. I don't think we invent things.
If you had to create a perfume for the exhibit, how would it smell?
The nice smell of sweat.
Sweat is your favorite?
When it is good, yes. There is nothing more beautiful than that.
A load of exhibits are in the works that showcase the midcentury homoerotic photographs of Bob Mizer and, perhaps more notoriously, the drawings of Tom of Finland (aka Touko Laaksonen), he of exaggerated bulges, lurid male-on-male gazes, leather scenes, and occupational fetishes. The largest of these exhibits, "Bob Mizer and Tom of Finland," has just opened at MOCA Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles, the first museum to examine the daring work of the two artists, who were often at odds with the law. It spans five decades and runs the gamut from tame to lewd, humorous to subversive.
We asked filmmaker-archivist and Bob Mizer Foundation president Dennis Bell and artist-curator and BMF vice-president Billy Miller (also editor of the infamous gay fanzine Straight to Hell) to bring us up to speed on the changing landscape of homoeroticism in the art world.
As custodians of the Bob Mizer Foundation, can you tell us how long you’ve been working on this exhibition and how the idea started?
Billy Miller: There are a few major exhibitions happening in the next several months highlighting different aspects of Bob’s art and times. “Bob Mizer & Tom of Finland” at L.A. MOCA, curated by Bennett Simpson and Richard Hawkins, explores the art and connections between those two figures. The Mizer materials are specific examples of catalog boards used in the production of his groundbreaking publication Physique Pictorial. “DEVOTION: Excavating Bob Mizer," opening November 23rd at 80WSE gallery NYC, combines a few ideas the Bob Mizer Foundation has had in mind for the past couple years. Curator Jonathan Berger added a performative aspect, so now New York University students from different departments will be working on discovery, archiving and restoration projects in the middle of the gallery for the entire run of the show. We're excited to show the public a peek into the material and how much work is involved. There are around a million and half negatives, thousands of films and videotapes, costumes and other archival materials in the collection, and a very sizable chunk of it is being shipped to New York. Considering that much of the material will be unseen, since Mizer himself placed it in those boxes, everyone who visits the gallery will be a part of the process. SALVOR Projects has created a related installation utilizing Mizer imagery at NYU's "Broadway Windows,” on view 24/7. “Art & Physique Circa Bob & Tom,” curated by David Frantz, opens November 9th at the ONE Institute, while L.A. Invisible Exports NYC is featuring Bob’s art at this year’s Miami Art Basel fair. Bob’s work is additionally featured currently in a large show at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris titled "Masculin / Masculin." And, there’s a solo show happening this spring at EXILE Berlin, which we’re looking forward to. Different ways of looking at Bob Mizer are beginning to unfold.
Dennis Bell: The exhibition at NYU is in a sense a progress report of the archiving effort we’ve been undertaking at the the Foundation for the past several years. It’s not the pinnacle, as there is still a very long ways to go, but this is the first time we have the opportunity to show off the physical work and workflows of cataloging Mizer’s work. A couple of years ago, we had a successful kickstarter.com fundraiser, which allowed us to purchase a large amount of archival materials to re-house Mizer’s negatives. We have volunteers at the Foundation who donate their time towards this effort. Carrying this archiving process to other institutions as an installation piece was Jonathan Berger’s idea, and we’ll see how it works. We are only about 20% of the way through Mizer’s vast output, and this exhibition is a way to show off not only Mizer’s physical negatives, but also some of the amazing unseen images we have discovered along the way.
Did you know Bob Mizer before he died in 1992? What would he have thought about being the center of attention at MOCA, etc.?
Billy Miller: I met Bob towards the end of his life in conjunction with the publication I edit called Straight To Hell. It's difficult to say how he would have reacted to a wider acceptance of his art, but I suspect he would have adapted to it as he did with other changes in his life.
The work of Bob Mizer and Tom of Finland intersected in the early issues of Physique Pictorial. How well did they know each other?
Dennis Bell: Mizer and Laaksonen didn’t actually meet for about 20 years after Mizer first began showing his work in Physique Pictorial in 1957. There is a lot of discussion about who first influenced who, and that will always be debatable. All I can say is I’ve seen plenty of Mizer photographs of shirtless sailors alone in the forest being watched by other uniformed men that date back to at least 1951.
How has acceptance of male erotica changed since Bob Mizer and do you think gay rights are going in the right direction now?
Dennis Bell: Perhaps one of the most important ideas the work of these artists shows is what obstacles our predecessors had to cross just to see some skin 50 years ago. It’s interesting today to watch a younger generation try to figure out all these “types,” “fetishes” and “niches.” Today, young gay couples just want to get married, have kids and live in the suburbs. We’re approaching a new era.
Straight to Hell magazine is infamous and very different from Bob Mizer’s polite portrayals of men. Where does polite end and explicit begin?
Billy Miller: The first thing that comes to mind is Bob’s big-dicked Jesus on the cross, a Nazi bent over and spreading his ass in an occult ritual, Tico Patterson’s huge erection poking out of a burial casket, and thousands upon thousands of spread asses, macro shots of raging boners, blowjobs, fucking, hanging bondage, cum-covered faces, and synchronized asshole puckering that went on in his later films and photos.
Dennis Bell: Bob Mizer’s images cannot be fairly called “polite.” He went to prison and had years of legal troubles simply for creating images that, in their own time, were as subversive and controversial as any image you see today in Straight to Hell. You have put it in context. In the 1950s, naked male bodies with only an outline of a cock seen through a posing strap were just as explicit…probably more so.
Update 3/31/2015: After opening in Montreal, and following stops in Dallas, San Francisco, Madrid, Rotterdam, Stockholm, Brooklyn, London, and Melbourne, the exhibit The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk has finally entered the homestretch. The retrospective has arrived at the Grand Palais in Paris — its tenth and last stop — more robust than in any previous incarnation.
Considering he's been a reigning figure in fashion for 35 years, it's pretty shocking to think there had never been a major exhibition of Jean Paul Gaultier's work until two years ago. (Not counting Bravehearts: Men in Skirts at the Costume Institute in 2003). In 2011, after years of research, first-time curator Thierry-Maxime Loriot launched The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. An instant hit, the don't-call-it-a-retrospective has traveled the world over and now calls the Brooklyn Museum home.
The show, which opened last week with a muse-studded dinner, goes a long way in capturing the autodidactic couturier's dual playfulness and profundity. Perhaps no other contemporary designer has upended traditional dress as cleverly, as skillfully, as humorously as Gaultier. His contributions to fashion, particularly during the 80s and 90s, have been nothing short of revolutionary. So while the exhibition doesn't attempt to place Gaultier in a hierarchical constellation with other star designers, it does shed light on the singular impact he's had. His radical riffs on gender codes, his embrace of misfits, his elevation of street style into the realm of haute couture, and his close friendships with strong women ranging from Madonna to Beth Ditto only begin to tell his story.
A key feature of the exhibition are the mannequins, many of which have plaster-cast heads with moving faces projected onto them. When they look squarely at you, as they do on occasion, it's very eerie, and gives the sense that these clothes have lived in the real world and have real stories to tell. Fortunately, Thierry-Maxime Loriot — a former model for the likes of Giorgio Armani and Lanvin (but not Gaultier) — was on hand to walk us through it...
On those eerie mannequins...
"It was important to Mr. Gaultier to make the show alive. There's a movie by Jacques Becker from the 1940s. It's about a Paris fashion designer who falls in love with a fashion model and so he makes a mannequin made of her. At the end of the movie he puts a wedding dress on the mannequin and she comes alive. So Jean Paul wanted to have live mannequins. Also, in 2007 he saw a play at the Montreal Theater Company. There were no actors, only projections of faces with clothes. So we approached the theater company to develop these faces. Luckily I was the prototype for it, so what we had to do was cast the heads of his muses. We all went through the same process of having our heads cast in plaster. It’s horrible because you cannot breathe. After that they project a film in 3D onto the mannequin version of your face so all the features fit perfectly. We have 32 in total.