Thursday, February 26, 2009

Gray hounds

Fluted resin bead necklace by TheBrassHussy @ etsy

Vintage 70's skirt from estatesale @ etsy

Felt cloche by RetroReproHandmade @ Etsy

Wanaka necklace by Muntedkowhai @ etsy

Oxidized matte finish fine silver headpins by RockisSupplies @ etsy

Vintage buttons by secondglance @ etsy

Monsters v-neck t-shirt by luchaworkshop @ etsy

Bill Cunningham recently discussed the preponderance of gray clothing among attendees at New York Fashion Week, which I thought was interesting because I've been into gray lately myself. I wrote earlier that it is because I think gray as utilitarian and flattering as black, but this particular non-color shows off details better in clothing (and if you are wearing something loose, keeps you from looking like a big, black blob).

In his slideshow, Cunningham attributes the current gray trend to the "hocus pocus" of "all the designers go to the same fabrics shows and if the fabric makers have decided on gray, that's what it is and that's how these things happen." This made me wonder how much trends have to do with the fashion zeitgeist and how much it has to do with industry groupthink. By fashion zeitgeist, I mean people responding in roughly similar ways to world events or political-social waves and dressing accordingly. I attribute my own love of gray in part to my response to the economic crisis. It's practical, it's comforting and while it reflects a little of the gloom a lot of people feel right now, it's not as severe as black. I wonder if other people have picked up on gray for the same reason. When I saw industry groupthink, however, I don't mean it disparagingly. Obviously, trendmakers are human beings, too.

Jessica of What I Wore recently linked to the Pantone Color Report for fall and, as you can see, Iron (Pantone 18-306 is one of the top colors). I think grays would look really nice paired with rich golden yellows, amethyst purples and warm, bright corals. I've seen some pastel/gray couplings, but I don't think those look as nice -- the result usually just look too washed out.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A peek into the business of Paris couture

In my analog life, I am a features reporter for an English-language newspaper in Taipei. One of my beats is fashion and as result I sometimes get the chance to talk to some really intriguing people who would otherwise never come within a yard of me. One of my recent interviews was with the head of the Fédération française de la couture, du prêt-à-porter des couturiers et des créateurs de mode, the most important organization in the French fashion industry. It is this body that decided which designers can bear the haute couture label. Didier Grumbach gave me his thoughts on the impact of fast fashion on designers, the relevance of couture in today's economic climate and what runway shows offer that presentations (which many designers are turning to right now for budgetary/artistic reasons) can't.

The most amazing blouse -- ever.

I am in love with this gorgeous black 30s blouse from Dewberry Vintage on Etsy.

The black crepe fabric looks like it would feel absolutely amazing, the covered buttons add a luxe touch, the gathered bodice softens the look of the garment without making it too precious and the little ribbon ties mark this particularly piece as being a gift from the gods. Obviously.

I would wear this with a pair of wide-legged dark denim trousers and a saucy grin.

I highly recommend Dewberry Vintage by the way. A dress and pair of gloves I purchased arrived in less than 8 days -- and I live in Taiwan. I bought the gloves because as an intrepid reporter I spent a good deal of my time on various forms of Taipei public transport, grabbing onto things for support. I don't always get a chance to wash my hands afterwards and I don't totally trust antibacterial gels like Purell, so my genius idea is to wear the gloves when I go out so my own paws stay relatively pure and uncontaminated. Now if only someone would dig up a vintage crochet SARS mask, too.

Monday, February 16, 2009

From the "I can't believe this hasn't sold yet" annals

I absolutely love this vintage black lace dress from Dusty Rose Vintage on Etsy. If it weren't too small for me, I would have snapped it up already. The item description says that "if you missed out on the Comme des Garcons for H&M line, this might satiate you. A little." I agree and think that it does look like a gossamer version of the US$349 dress from the line that generated a bit of online buzz when previews for the line first came out. It has the same deconstructed Edwardian vibe:

If I wore the dress, I would probably style it with a pair of opaque black tights and low black leather wedges so as not to distract from the dress itself and (in an homage to the COMMES des GARCONS H&M ad) a chunky white beret. Alternately, if you want to lean a bit more towards Lydia from "Beetlejuice," you can layer it with some black lace stockings and bright red accessories.

Here is a close up of the incredible lace bib...

... and the sexy low back.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Migration Shift by emilyryan @

I was perusing for indie designers when I discovered the Migration Shift by emilyryan. I nearly fell over. I'm amazed at the way she incorporated stuffed applique and shaping into the dress and the stark simplicity of the birds as they soar towards the sculpted neckline (yay for alliteration!).

In my perfect world, this dress would be worn by a bride carrying a bouquet of ice-white rice paper cut-out flowers. It would like one of those wedding dresses of yore that became the bride's best dress afterwards. If I owned it, I would wear it as often as possible and spend all that time navel-gazing, literally, at the amazing sculpted birds.

Emily's profile says that she is inspired by "1920's couture, science fiction, and Japanese fashions" and her influences come through quite clearly in her work. Other standouts from her collection include the Honeycomb and A-Line Criss Cross dress. I love Emily's use of gray fabric. I wear a lot of black, but have been moving away from it recently because black conceals all the small details in clothing and is actually not as flattering as people seem to think it is. Shadows are obscured, so if you wear something that's even slighly loose, you end up looking like a big, dark blob. Grey offers the comfort and sleekness of black, but is more interesting and lets dressmaker details shine forth.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Opening my dress up box

Posing with my first handbag and my blue gingham headband on a family visit to Taipei, 1988

Fashion does not serve as an armor for me -- it is a compass. Clothing is a way of locating myself in a sea of competing personalities. It is a way of weaving a self-narrative when I feel rootless, a blank page with a pencil permanently poised above it but no lines written.

I still have sharp recollections of individual outfits and accessories from my childhood -- the t-shirt with a giraffe applique that sported a mane made of brown yarn, a fuschia and white colorblock dress with a kitty on the bodice, gingham headbands in blue and pink, a jacket with killer whales knitted into it by my grandmother, a lime green sweater made by my babysitter with hardy acrylic yarn from Longs Drugs, a necklace made from plastic jewels and silver beads that quickly turned white as the coating rubbed off, a little red vinyl handbag that my grandfather bought for me in a Taipei department store.

In my teens, I started collecting vintage clothing because I could not find the A-line shifts that I had seen pictured on photos of Vanessa Redgrave and Twiggy from the 60s. But as my little closet began to fill with silk shantung evening suits and musty t-strap pumps, vintage clothing began to take on a new meaning for me.

As a second-generation American, I knew very little about my family's past, partly because of the Cultural Revolution and partly because of the language barrier that existed between me and the rest of my family (I was the first person in my family born in the United States and the first to be more fluent in English than in Mandarin). Artifacts, like photos, heirlooms and hand-me-downs, were almost as scarce as memories. I treasured the few dresses in my closet that had been tailor-made for my mom and grandmother when they lived in Taiwan, but I quickly outgrew them.

When I slipped on a 50s black velvet and lace cocktail sheath for my junior prom, however, or a camel hair coat I had bought at De Anza College's monthly flea market from a lady who had worn it when she was pregnant with her children in the 50s and 60s (she took two dollars off her asking price of $7 because she said she could sense that I would take good care of it), I stepped into the lives of the people who had once felt the same fabric embracing their skin and borrowed their stories.

I don't derive the same kind of meaning from fashion now as I did then, maybe because I'm more comfortable in my own skin. But I've noticed that the times in my life when I pay the most attention to fashion (not just the clothing on my back but what other people are wearing) correspond to the periods when I was the happiest. I work at home now and though that makes me happy, it also takes part of the joy away from dressing up. I don't dress for other people, but I do consider what I wear as part of a non-verbal dialogue I have with the rest of the world. I was born and raised in northern California, educated in New York, where I also worked as a journalist for a few years, and I now live in Taipei, Taiwan. Wherever I have gone, I have been a minority of some sort, something that has perks and minuses. But even if I can't always have control over what people assume about me at first glance or when they hear my American accented Mandarin, I can always choose how I present myself to the world.

And, as my mom told me when I was younger and bitching about having to put on something respectable for a family gathering, taking care in your appearance, no matter your personal style, is a way of showing respect to yourself and others. Because of that, I always try to keep the lid on my dress up box open.

As for why I named this blog "The Renegade Bean"... one summer, I earned my keep by working at a party store in downtown Los Gatos that had self-serve candy bins up front. One day a customer walked up to the cash register and plopped down an open bag of jelly beans on the counter. A bunch immediately rolled out. We managed to get all of them back into the bag -- except for one bean, which had rolled in the opposite direction from its sugary little peers and underneath the register.

"I guess I'll let that one go," said the man.

"Yes," I replied. "It's the renegade bean."

He stared at me blankly.

For some reason, that memory has always stuck with me, even though it's been almost eight years.

I'm afraid people will think this blog's name has a political meaning, because Taiwan is a) bean-shaped (it's more like a yam, I think) and b) considered a renegade province of China by some people. I have my own views on the matter, but I 'm not crazy enough to add to a highly-charged debate on my little DIY and style blog!