Sunday, November 30, 2008

EXPERIENCE: The Day the Accessory Died

Flashback to the last week of August: School commences, and Queen Bee Karen Bakke, associate professor and coordinator of the fashion design department, offers an introduction to her accessories class. About 30 females, myself included, fill up her classroom on the third floor of Shaffer. We brainstorm and ponder a question: What is an accessory?

The dictionary defines an accessory as “an object or device not essential in itself but adding to the beauty, convenience, or effectiveness of something else.” For some, Coach sunglasses and Tiffany charms classify as favorite accessories. Other people find themselves in shoe fetishes and endless handbag collections. I found and lost my ultimate accessory on my trek home to Medway, Mass. for Thanksgiving.

This past Monday, I decelerated onto the Herkimer-Little Falls rest area off of I-90. The brakes locked, the shift froze, the wheel failed to complete a full circle. Halt. A sign reads: History Happened Here. With 165,738 miles on the odometer, the family heirloom kicked it as my 1991 Volvo 240 experienced Rigamortis.

As I sat in my dead car, I remembered all the times my mother loaded the car with baskets of my shoes for the annual road trip to Syracuse, the times I applied my make-up in the rear view mirror while driving to work, the times my sister changed into her gym clothes in the backseat, and at that moment I realized how much my car represented an extension of my identity. Just like a good accessory. After all, our culture provides examples every day that cars exist as the ultimate accessory (think of Hollywood stars stepping out of Prius sedans at the Academy Awards or rappers rolling up to the club in Escalades with spinning rims).

When Jim the highway mechanic ushered my automobile onto the tow truck, I recognized my boxy sedan as classic, timeless, a collector's item. Cream in color, it matched every outfit worn since I began driving at age 16. The car's adaptability to the evolution of fashion proved its greatest feat. As a tribute to my love lost, a car irreplaceable, I suggest the Top Five Fads in Fashion during its lifetime.

5. Pleather and Platforms (circa Spice Girls)

4. Uggs

3. Nirvana Grunge: the androgynous flannel shirt

2. The scrunchy

1. “I’m coming out”: exposing the belly button through piercings, low-rise pants, and cut-off tanks

RIP VOLVO 1991-2008

OBSESSION: I Think I'm Turning Japanese

International street style has always been an obsession of mine. In my spare time I find myself scrolling through the pages of Facehunter, the Sartorialist and, salivating at the unique appropriation of clothing. So you can imagine I was stoked when I saw Philomena Keets, author of Tokyo Look book, would be giving a lecture at my abroad school; London College of Fashion. Living in London I already bore witnessed a mélange of gritty street fashion, but learning about Tokyo meant a new style infatuation.

Keets, a tall British anthologist with pin straight blonde hair, blew my mind when she told my class she received her PHD in Tokyo street style. She describes her thesis project as roaming the street of Tokyo with photographer Yuri Manabe capturing the stylish and spectacular looks that define Japanese youth. Her pictures showed chipper teens wearing Gucci and construction gear, with hair all colors of the rainbow. At first looks these boys and girls seemed like they got dressed in the dark, but on closer inspection, and with the help of Keets research, I came to find that their looks represent various Japanese subcultures. Here are just a few of my favorites:

Cosplay, meaning costume play, is a performance art where players dress themselves in elaborate costumes and make up and act out the role of their favorite anime or manga characters. Player usually dress and act at Cosplay conventions, but some dedicated few consider it a life style and dress and act like a character.

Gyaru Gal go for the bling. This look evolved from hip hop, but Gyaru gal’s differ from the classic American R& B style. A gyaru girl has a dark tan, long curled locks in shades of blonde, brunette or pink, sparkling ‘Lame’ make-up and some high platform shoes. Gyaru girls have been known to wear platform shoes with a 10 centimeter heels! Gyaru girls swarm the Shibuya district for hot tight ensembles and photo ops.

Elegant Gothic Lolita, my personal favorite. These darling girls adorn themselves in lace infused baby doll dresses to create an Alice in wonderland meets French maid look. The EGL look captures the Victorian era with peter pan collared blouses and crinoline puffed skirts. Mixing childlike looks with adult sensuality, Gothic Lolitas create a look that would tempt Humbert Humbert.

To some involvement and dedication of the Cosplayer and Gothic Lolitas may seem superficial and narcissistic. But to me it represented creativity and a much needed break from the norm. Keets describes walking through the Yoyogi park as entering a fantasy world where anime characters came to life. The lecture fuel my fascination with international looks and inspired me to adds some Lolita hints to my own wardrobe.

CRUSH: Glittery Eye Rescue

New Years Eve produces a lot of pressure and possibility: the right beaux, the right look, the right venue, and the hope that this year’s countdown to midnight might be different than all those past, failed celebrations. A shiny new cocktail dress hangs from your closet door, and a glittery eye-shadow palette sits on your bathroom counter, eagerly awaiting its first use. But therein lies the rub: You know that as soon as you hit the dance floor, the shadow will be gone as fast as you can say 2009. Every girl with glittery aspirations faces this dilemma, but luckily Benefit Cosmetics provides the answer. For years I’ve sworn by the company’s F.Y…eye! product, an eye primer that costs $22, and a product that saved me from creasy eyelid syndrome on the most crucial of party nights. For a crease-free evening, evenly apply the apricot-colored primer over your lids with the fingertips before adding eye-shadow. Glamour, after all, shouldn’t stop after the first hour of fun.

OBSESSION: Bananas For Bilson

In a post-Thanksgiving turkey coma, I found myself in zombie Google mode, eyes glazed as I searched through image-galleries galore of chic celebs with the most sought-after style. The typical fashion A-list paraded by: Li-Lo, Sienna, Kate Moss, MK&A. After 200-plus pictures in to a Rachel Bilson image gallery, I couldn’t stop the click addiction. Each new ensemble was just as cute—if not cuter—than the one before. The petite brunette hooked me.

What distinguishes the 27-year-old actress’ style is that her look avoids reliance on one stand-out trendy item or an “it” accessory. In fact, while analyzing Bilson’s ensembles, I realized that my attention avoided flitting toward singular items. Rather, her ability to throw it all together fueled her chic appeal. Whether walking the dog or walking the red carpet, she created looks that exuded effortless and carefree cool.

Bilson found stardom as Summer Roberts on the teen drama The OC. Although she remains in the early stages of her film career, her fashion sense reflects that of a leading lady. She pairs classic and feminine staples with boho accents, and she knows how to mix designer and vintage pieces together for a look that isn’t straight off the runway. 

Bilson’s celebrity pics taught me this: By using basic pieces as the foundation of an outfit and pairing those basics with unique accessories and layers of staple items, anyone can exude stylish, carefree cool. You don’t need to own the latest “it” bag or trend of the moment to be the subject of fashion envy. Take a cue from Bilson and layer classic items with a printed scarf, fedora, well-fitted blazer, leather boots, or an oversized bag or chain-link quilted purse. And never, ever leave the sunglasses at home.

For more adorable Bilson ensembles visit:

HOW TO: Bangin'

Gloss through any magazine and you will see tons of celebs such as Kate Moss and Rachel Bilson rocking some sweet bangs. Whether razor-straight or feathery side swipes, bangs are back. But before you schedule a saloon appointment to achieve some sultry strands, consider doing it yourself. Cutting your bangs involves just a scissors, comb, mirror, and a little bit of confidence. Consider these bangs-cutting tips from my trusted hairdress, Ji Han at Accent on Beaute, in Philadelphia.

1. Ji suggests beginning with dray hair styled as you normally wear it. Before you start snipping, measure from your hairline to your scalp to find a good part that works with your face. For side swipe bangs, make sure your part is more off center. If you have curly hair, avoid super short bangs, so as not to be confused with a Brett Micheal’s groupie.

2. Now that you have figured out you part and your length, add a ½ inch to create a little room for mistakes. For scissors Ji suggests thinning shears such as Krystal Thinning Shears (7.99 at Run a fine-tooth comb through your hair, separating your bangs and holding the strands evenly through your fingers. For side swipe bangs, angle your fingers so that it becomes longer at the sides. Do not cut straight across, but cut at a forty-five degree angle to give the bangs some feathering.

3. Uneven cutting works will with feathery bangs, but if you want the straight-across mod look, more attention is required. Comb the hair straight in front of your face and start cutting at the center and move to the side to secure an all-around even look

OBSESSION: Ellis Island

Imagine it: you’re at the annual CFDA awards and your name is called. The year is 1986. You already have eight COTY awards under your belt and you’re a designer who once sent the Princeton cheerleaders down the catwalk and skipped down the runway after your own shows.

While you should bound up to the podium and bellow, “I’m the queen of the world,” you wobble forth, unsteadily, balancing on the arm of an assistant. You sit atop a worldwide empire that (even today) rakes in more than $850 million annually, but you can barely walk. In less than six months, you’ll be dead.

On June 2, 1986, WWD ran an obit that began: “Perry Ellis, who built a multifaceted fashion empire with a young and spirited approach to casual sportswear, was one of America's most important designers. His death at the age of 46 marked the end of a design career that lasted just over 10 years, but that left an indelible stamp on this country's fashion industry.” To put it more simply, Perry Ellis was major.

But he didn’t start out that way. Ellis was born in a small Virginia town to middle-class parents. After a six-month stint in the Coast Guard, he landed in Manhattan in the early 60s, earning his master’s in retailing at New York University.

His own home life was a bit less straightforward. He has a daughter, Tyler Alexandra Gallagher Ellis, with Maude and Mary Tyler Moore writer Barbara Gallagher. He also cavorted with his lead menswear model, almost 20 years his junior. This was back in that heady, Judith Krantz-era in fashion when one could have a family and male model, and no one questioned it.

Things soon settled down for Ellis. In 1978, he launched his own fashion house, which women loved for the smart yet casual looks (we've pictured three classics: the peacoat, the causual khaki and the perfectly hideous Christmas sweater). Two years later he shacked up with attorney Laughlin Barker, who by 1981 was president of Perry Ellis International. Their Upper West Side townhouse fetched 5.7 million the year after they both died.

That same year, Ellis was given another, posthumous honor by the CFDA, who launched the Perry Ellis Award, going to Daryl K. for womenswear and Gene Meyer for mens. More recent winners include Zac Posen and Proenza Schouler.

And while he’s remembered annually by the CFDA with this endowment, it’s also important to remember Ellis on World AIDS Day, along with his many colleagues lost to the disease. Perry Ellis: a designer who could not draw, but knew how to represent.

HOW TO: Rock Sienna’s Braids

Leave that lust for Hollywood hairstyles behind. You can create Sienna Miller’s braided updo with these simple steps.

1. Wash your hair either the morning of or the night before you want to wear this sexy updo. The natural oils in your hair help create the look and hold the hair in the place.

2. Pull the hair back into a low messy bun and use bobby pins (whichever color suit your hair) to secure the bun.

3. Purchase one of Braidies Thick Braided Headbands, available for $10 at
Insider tip: measure around the perimeter of your head to see what length braid to buy.

4. Set the braid in place by using bobby pins to connect the braid to your scalp.

5. Loosely pull out stray strands on the sides of your head to give your hairstyle a more laid back feel.

PROFILE: Nada Between Me and My Keffiyeh

Think about your last shopping spree and how much you spent. Unless you’re a real housewife of Atlanta, you’re probably not keeping up with Mustafa Mohammed. The 28-year-old engineering and computer science grad details a recent trip Lebanon. “I blew four grand in 10 days,” he admits sheepishly, “I probably spent $25,000 this year on clothes.”

When sharing his fashion influences, he names his sister, who loves 70s and 80s vintage clothing and used to wear short skirts on the streets of Baghdad. I’m surprised, but Mohammed explains that in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, Iraqi was very liberal. “Women wore short skirts,” he says, “It was like any other Western country.”

Medical care necessitated a six-year relocation to London in the 80s after Mohammed drank bleach as a toddler. “I wanted to be Michael Jackson,” he jokes. But his family returned to Baghdad where his sister continued working leather minis until about 1990. That’s when his native land became less fashion forward. “I can’t carry a bag,” he says, “after 2003, no rings or bracelets.”

Asked for a key designer, Mohammed rolls out an exhaustive list. “I love the vintage you can find in New York City,” he says, “vintage Gucci, Versace and Dior.” I’m almost onto the next question, but he holds up his hand. “I like Prada for suits, Vuitton for wallets, Versace and D&G for belts,” he continues, “for jeans I like Diesel and Robin’s Jean. And I like Mason and Ben Sherman for shoes.”

Ben Sherman? Isn’t that where shavs shop to dress up their East End blokes? “The have great shoes,” he replies, “you should check them out.” But he’s not finished. “I like Bottega for bags and Tumi for more formal ones. I just bought a gorgeous Tumi bag for about $400. Oh, and I like Josef Aboud for scarves.”

He’s ready to move onto gloves, but I want to know what he thinks of Jerk magazine, which recently ran an opinion piece on the politics behind the keffiyeh, a traditional Middle-Eastern cotton headdress that The Independent called “a symbol of Islamic militancy.” Arafat wore one, and Rachel Ray and Ricky Martin also got into hot water for theirs.

“The keffiyeh has nothing to do with Palestine,” he begins, “it is part of the traditional dress of many Arab countries in the Persian Gulf: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon.” He has keffiyehs in several colors he used to wear to high school. He pauses, then asks, “The P.L.O wears pants, too, should we stop wearing pants?”