29 January 2010

Tom Ford: a Minor Fashion Legend Makes a Remarkable First Movie

Guardian UK
He had never written or made a film before, but failure is not in the dictionary of Tom Ford. He tells Andrew Pulver how A Single Man inspired him, scared him – and got him addicted
It's not every day that a tycoon with a billion-dollar turnover makes his first movie, paid for from his own pocket; but Tom Ford would be a special, exotic creature in any environment. Fashion designer, brand developer, hobnobber with the rich and famous, Ford has now has put himself in an extraordinary, exceptional position – his film-making debut, A Single Man, is a potentially important, award-winning movie, one that looks set to make a significant impact on the culture. It's adapted from a 1964 novel by Christopher Isherwood about a gay man's grief after his partner is killed in a car accident; it stars Colin Firth, giving a performance that is already registering on the awards circuit, and has a sophisticated visual sense that is easily the equal of any of the films coming out of the more orthodox art-film sector. It could have been an unholy embarrassment, but instead Ford has come out of it smelling of roses.

How did he do it? I tell him that, intellectual snobbery aside, the last thing I'd ever have expected to have emerged from the fashion world was a sensitive, empathetic and important film. He's briefly nettled. "Don't think of it as coming out of the fashion world," he says. "This has nothing to do with fashion. Think of it as coming out of me." Putting aside the rather unpleasant mental image that conjures up, I wonder where the confidence came from to expose himself so thoroughly. "I guess I'm just one of these people who when I decide I'm going to do something, I just do it." He doesn't seem even to have dabbled in the film industry's traditional practice grounds for wannabe directors: short films ("Didn't interest me") or commercials. "I had no experience whatsoever, other than having observed every camera angle of every film I ever watched. I did a little reading too. I wrote the screenplay and I had never done that before either."

In essence, this is the inviolable self-regard bred by stellar success and massive personal wealth. Ford's reputation in the fashion industry revolves around reviving the Gucci label; it was almost bankrupt when, as an unknown, he was appointed Gucci's chief women's ready-to-wear designer in 1990 (he was 29), and when he quit as creative director in 2004 it had a turnover of $8bn. In many ways A Single Man is a vanity project – he had to pay for the whole thing himself after his financing disappeared when he was well into pre-production. ("Not everybody can do it, I know that. But I believed in it. I had to make it.") But there is no smell of proxy directing, of hardened film-industry pros doing the heavy lifting behind the scenes. Ford even steered clear of hiring an experienced cinematographer, the first-timer's traditional safety blanket – he ended up with someone almost as inexperienced as himself, young Spanish cameraman Eduard Grau, whose only credit of any consequence is an as-yet-unreleased low-budget British film called Kicks.

On the other hand, Ford is far too polite not to acknowledge the "great team" who worked with him on his film. But once he gets past the PR-speak, Ford becomes more bullish, and more entertaining. He gets excited as he remembers working with the actors. "You know," he says, his voice dropping to a theatrical, intense whisper, "Colin Firth wants to be fucking great. So does Julianne Moore." He returns to more normal speech. "They know what they're doing. I gave them a framework, talked to them about their character. Then created a place where they felt they could perform. And I think they did."

It's easy to believe that Ford doesn't find it difficult dealing with actors. He was one himself when he was briefly a student at New York University in the early 80s. "I was very financially successful, but I did crap. Television commercials mostly." And when he says that the big names don't worry him, that Julianne Moore is an old friend, you have no reason to doubt him. "This sounds crazy, but I know so many famous people, I'm just not intimidated by anyone. I feel really comfort­able with it."

In fact – and it should come as no surprise – Ford is arguably the most well-connected film director of all time. He's long been known for his sexed-up PR stunts and commercials involving models and film actors, culminating a Vanity Fair cover shot, in 2006 – the one where he appears to be biting Keira Knightley's ear as a pallid Scarlett Johannsson lies recumbent in front. Ford knows the power of his address book. "The advantage, for someone like me, is the access," he says. As an example, he explains how Firth was signed up after another actor dropped out, in the rhythmic sing-song that he slips into whenever he gets excited. "I was able to call a friend, get Colin's email, Fedex him a script, he got it the next day, read it, emailed me back, yes I love it, come to London, jumped on a plane, came to my house for drinks, had dinner, handshake deal, boom – done. Same with Julianne."

It turns out that he even met Isherwood himself, back when Ford was 20, shortly after he had first read A Single Man. And not just anywhere – it was at David Hockney's place in LA, the nexus of patrician LA gay life, the sun-baked poolside world of A Bigger Splash. Ford's talent for celebrities goes back a long way. "My boyfriend at the time was living there, so I was at David's almost every day. That's where I met Christopher and Don." (Don is Don Bachardy, Isherwood's long-term partner, who himself was the inspiration, if you can call it that, for A Single Man.) Ford lists more "great people" he met at Hockney's: Peter Langan, Ossie Clarke ("Or was he already dead?"), Celia Birtwell. "I took some mescaline one time with Stephen Spender. I shaved off my eyebrow after I went home and looked in the mirror and thought it was taking over my face." I'm waiting for Ford to tell me he shot heroin with TS Eliot or did mushrooms with Ezra Pound, but it doesn't happen. Oh well.

He remains, though, charmingly and non-ironically baffled as to why his physical gifts failed to work their magic on the elderly Isherwood. "I can't say we became friends, even though I tried really hard. I was very attractive at 20, and he was nearly 80. I don't quite understand why he didn't respond more to me. When you meet someone you idolise, you really make an effort; but for some reason he wasn't particularly interested." He thinks about it for a bit. "Maybe at that stage in his life he just wasn't interested in taking on anything new. It's very hard, when you're successful and you're used to giving interviews. You kind of stop listening."

Ford has clearly been bitten by the movie bug. He treats me to a rap on the difference between the fashion and the film industries, complete with finger-clicking. "Fashion changes and moves very quickly – it also lasts [he clicks his fingers] that long. What you do, the power of it, lasts [another click] that long. Part of fashion is newness. It's got to be a new combination of elements that's shocking-stunning-beautiful all at the same time. But it doesn't have any emotion. If you like to design things, make things, build things, film is [lowers voice] for ever, for ever and ever. You pop in a film from the 30s, you're looking in their eyes, crying with them, laughing with them. These people are all dead! It's for ever, it's a universe, completely sealed in a bubble. This film was the first – the first – pure expression of anything I've ever done in my life. I had to make this movie. I put so much of myself in it, it scared me."

In fact, the only aspect of the film-making process that seems to have genuinely upset him is one or two brickbats he's got for – of all things – the art direction. Now, to any sane person, A Single Man bears the obvious imprint of an obsessive stylist, someone so obsessed with the little details that every piece of design is a caress, every prop list a work of art. But not for everyone. "Oh, a couple of people wrote it was 'too beautiful'. I don't know if that's just because they know it's me." He incautiously invokes Hitchcock as a comparison – "everything was always artificial and I love that" – but quickly retreats. Still, he's got one last rap in him. "Certain directors are known for a certain kind of beauty, it becomes their signature. You have to be true to yourself, this is the world through my eyes. This character, he thinks it's his last day, it's practically a dream to him. It's surreal, it's hyperreal. Everything is intense, it's ultra-beautiful, he's leaving the planet."

Then it's time to go. He says he sees himself "hopefully making a movie every three or four years for the rest of my life". But he doesn't have any clear idea about a specific follow-up: his "brain is clouded", and his plan is to spend six months designing clothes. That's one way of refreshing your palate, I suppose. In the long run, is he going to choose fashion or film? "I think I can do both. We'll wait and see."

26 January 2010

Mo Wandan -- Supermodel Superstar From China


Chinese supermodel Mo Wandan's 2010 is already shaping up to be a busy year. Recently walking for Dorian He in the Hong Kong Fashion Extravaganza at Hong Kong Fashion Week, the 23-year-old model is starring in a Japanese anime film, has her sights set on New York Fashion Week and hopes to keep riding the wave of success for as long as possible. Mo Wandan shot to international fame with debuts in Armani Prive and Christian Dior couture shows in 2007. She walked in all four international fashion weeks in 2008 including Emporio Armani, Chado Ralph Rucci and Valentino.

In 2009, Mo starred in Lorenzo Riva's Milan show and was invited to answer the curtain call with the designer.

"It was a great privilege for any model and I was the only model to achieve that in Milan Fashion Week," Mo told the Global Times.

The athlete-turned-supermodel began her road to stardom in 2004, winning the 10th China Model Star Contest. She then moved from Guangdong to Beijng to pursue her modeling career.

"Unlike most models who are professionally trained, I had to work even harder as I didn't know how to walk the runway or how to shoot for magazine covers. I couldn't speak standard Putonghua, so people had diœ - culty understanding my Cantonese accent," she added.

"I was really lucky to walk for John Galliano in the Dior couture show in 2007," Mo recalled, her eyes sparkling. "I was overwhelmed with excitement so I said 'I love you' to my beloved designer. I wanted to say 'I like you' instead, but my English was really poor at that time!"

"I believe I was picked for my bold personality and my interpretation of his works," she added.

"I am addicted to the diversity and vibrancy of the fashion industry. Being a model involves presenting all kind of merchandise, from the latest clothes and jewelry to cars. I'm absolutely in love."

With prominent roles on the domestic and international runway in 2009, Mo also acted as a female warrior in an anime fi lm by Japanese master Oshii Mamoru (Ghost in the Shell). Still in post-production, the fi lm is scheduled to hit cinema screens in April.

"I was picked among 200 candidates by the director," Mo said. "He kept praising me as I looked exactly as he expected, a brave, tough warrior in his fi lm."

"It was a totally fresh experience for me as well as a great physical challenge, as I had to remain absolutely still for quite a long time…I was stunned by the beautiful images I saw after shooting."

According to Mo, the international demand for Chinese models is continuing to increase. "I can name three of us, me included, with Du Juan and Lu Yan who appeared on the European scene a few years ago. But now, there are about 20 to 30 Chinese models working internationally," she said.

"Luxury brands are looking for breakthroughs in the Chinese market which is basically immune to the economic crisis," Mo commented. "I see it as a great opportunity for local models to go international. In order to appeal to the large amount of local customers, they will surely use more Chinese models."

Mo added that China's fashion industry is still in its fl edgling stage. "There is a huge difference between international practices and reality here in China. While foreign models all work under agents, most Chinese models, expect for a few at the top level, tend to work as individuals. This will cause chaos for the industry."

"I've garnered every award possible in my profession in China and people have told me that I can retire without regrets," Mo said, "but I feel like I am just getting started after a few years orientation with the industry. I hope I can be China's answer to Cindy Crawford."

"Now I can interpret the intelligence and graceful charm of a mature female," she added. "That's not what an 18-year-old can achieve on the stage."

Scheduled to hit the New York Fashion Week runways in June, Mo said that she wants to keep modeling for as long as possible. "If I stop working as a model one day, I would like to do something related to fashion, for example, to be an agent for international cosmetic labels.

Study: Middle East Fashion Industry Set to Grow 15% in 2010

AME Info

The Middle East fashion sector is expected to post 15% growth in 2010, according to a study conducted by the French Fashion University Esmod - Dubai, the leading fashion institution in the region.

The study foresees numerous opportunities in the $12bn Gulf clothing market, which is attracting more brands to the affluent and increasingly fashion-conscious region.

The study has revealed that there are several factors contributing to the surge in the Arab fashion sector, including the emergence of a pervasive regional 'mall culture' as shown by the launching of numerous commercial centers; a robust retail fashion business; and a rising regional interest among the world's top designers as well as the growing popularity of Arab designers.

The fashion house identifies the UAE as an emerging global fashion hub; it explains that an AC Nielsen survey revealed that a third of UAE respondents bought luxury goods and that UAE residents are some of the most prolific buyers of designer apparel and accessories. Esmod adds that the introduction of the Armani Hotel Dubai in the recently-inaugurated Burj Khalifa tower reflects the continuous evolution of the Emirates' fashion scene.

The cosmopolitan city of Dubai in particular has become renowned as a melting pot of fashion brands. The Dubai International Financial center, a focal point of regional finance, is also home to top fashion stores such as Villa Moda and Issey Miyake. Even the domestic real estate sector has incorporated fashion into its lineup of developments, as embodied by the Hotel Armani in the Burj Khalifa and the upcoming Isla Moda, the world's first dedicated fashion island to be built on Dubai's 'The World' project, which will feature limited-edition homes designed by fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld. A similar Dhs26bn mixed-use residential and retail fashion district called 'Style City' is also in the works in Abu Dhabi.

"Our industry is among the few in the world which remains optimistic despite the downturn. More so here in the Middle East, where the combination of high spending power and a strong fashion sense have sustained the dynamism of the fashion market. One of the important things for our industry to do is to find and develop more talent that can help strengthen the region's fashion culture. They will be key to bringing unique designs which harmonize modernity and Arab heritage to the global stage," 
said Tamara Hostal, Director and Founder of French Fashion University Esmod - Dubai.

The 'Global Fashion Industry - Growth in Emerging Markets' report released in 2009 grouped the UAE with South Africa, Singapore, India, Russia, and Brazil as new and unique emerging global fashion markets. It gave the UAE fashion scene good scores for government support, awareness of international fashion brands, organizational support, demand for fashion apparel, and recognition of local designers. The report adds that the number of major fashion events held in the Emirates more than doubled from four in 2004 to nine in 2008.

Meanwhile, the French Fashion University Esmod Dubai and Russian Emirates Publishing are embarking on a joint event (open day) for the Russian Community in the Emirates, seeking to tap the fashion sense and insight of Russians residing in the country. The open day will take place on February 6th 2010 on campus at Dubai Academic City from 11 am to 6 pm.

Fashion is expected to perform exceptionally well worldwide in 2010, with textile and apparel trade forecast to reach $655bn within the year. Textile and apparel currently account for around 6% of total world exports, with the apparel sector representing 57% of the international textile and apparel trade. Fashion employment opportunities are projected to grow by at least 10% within the next five years. The Dubai branch of Esmod aims to increase the UAE's share in the thriving industry.

Since its launch in 2006, French Fashion University Esmod - Dubai has been instrumental in developing fashion professionals and establishing the UAE as the region's fashion hub. The University is one of 21 fashion schools overseen by the renowned Esmod International Group. It offers 3-year bachelor degree programs, 3 years diploma program equivalent to a BA degree, publicly-accessible short programs, customized short courses, master's of arts programs, and masterclasses for professionals, all delivered in English.

22 January 2010

Brazilians Voice Concern Over 'Skinny Models'


SAO PAULO — The organizers of Latin America's biggest fashion show raised the alarm Thursday over emaciated Brazilian models apparently following unhealthy US and European trends.

"We have noticed with concern that some models on our catwalks -- often the most booked -- are extremely thin. These Brazilian girls are based most of the year in Europe and in the USA where they work majorly," Paulo Borges, the creative director of the Sao Paulo Fashion Week, said in a statement.

He issued the warning after seeing models fly in to parade in this week's Brazilian fashion event and stressed he and the other organizers were intent on "preventing extreme health problems among these professionals."

The Sao Paulo Fashion Week has over the past three years introduced minimum age restrictions and a health report requirement for the agencies and design houses that book models to help create "a positive message" about modeling.

But the perceived new push towards skeletal models was a worry.

"This situation cannot be ignored," Borges said, urging those in the fashion industry to stand up against the new trend.

"We would like to propose a joint effort towards minimizing this issue and preventing the effects of this trend on models, on our industry and on society itself," he said

21 January 2010

Wearing John Malkovich


John Malkovich is used to people circling him. Whether it's fans asking for an autograph or reporters pressing for a quote, the actor's public appearances rarely pass unnoticed.

However, there's one place where he becomes just one of the crowd -- when he's picking out fabrics at a fashion fair in Paris.

At the Premiere Vision fair in Paris, the Hollywood star can be found among fashion industry professionals, hunched over fabrics, handpicking which ones will make it into his clothing line for men.

Malkovich, well-known for starring in movies such as "Dangerous Liaisons" (1988), "Burn After Reading" (2008) and, of course, "Being John Malkovich" (1999), is carving out a new career as a fashion designer.

"I've always had an interest in it and always loved doing it," Malkovich told CNN. "I like design, I like details, to me it is just another form of self-expression."

For Malkovich the fabric fair is his idea of heaven. He is there to pick new materials for his second line of casual menswear, "Technobohemian," which he describes as "part of a concept to try and make art and surround yourself with art."

He hungrily examines textile after textile as he looks for fabrics that could use in the collection, his face lighting up every time a new material catches his eye.

"I'm a little bit of a fabric lunatic," he admits, "so I could wander around this place for years."

Unlike some other celebrities, whose involvement in their respective fashion ventures is limited to just lending their names, Malkovich evidently participates in every stage of the process, despite his heavy filming schedule.

"I design everything and do all the sketches and choose all the fabrics," he says.

The maverick actor acknowledges that this might not be the best time to start such a business venture, but refuses to let the current economic climate hamper his pursuits.

"It is a tough time right now, fashion-wise. There is not a lot of people throwing money at new clothes. But I love that work, it interests me in itself."

Malkovich's involvement with the world of fashion is nothing new for the dandy actor. He's modeled for Yohji Yamamoto, Prada and Comme des Garcons and has directed short films for his close friend and fashion designer Bella Freud.

He studied costuming and has collaborated with costume directors throughout his movie and theater career.

His penchant for fashion took a new turn in 2002 when he launched his clothing company, Mrs Mudd -- a "sister" to his movie company, Mr Mudd.

At first, his creations were available only to a select group of friends, including Johnny Depp, Spike Jonze and Javier Bardem, but later they became available to the wider public.

In typical Malkovich style, his clothes balance between classic and eclectic.

For his first menswear line, dubbed "Uncle Kimono," the actor claimed inspiration from a series of unconventional characters, such as the Taliban's former ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef: Malkovich sketched a Mullah-style, long coat after hearing that Zaeef had been exiled for "wearing his turban too fashionably."

"Generally, I come up with a name that has something to do with what gave me the impulse to draw it," he tells CNN from his company's headquarters in the fashion town of Prato, Italy.

It's here that Malkovich's sketches become a reality.

"Working with him is very easy because he has precise ideas," says Riccardo Rami, his partner at the fashion venture. "And if things need to change, he always adapts to the situation easily."

But his flair for fashion does not necessarily translate to a sense of ease within the industry.

"Do I feel comfortable in this world?" he asks. "No, not really. But you could probably say that about me in any world. See, if I could just do the work and not ever have anything else, I'd be very happy."

20 January 2010

Fashion Week Brings Visitors, Cash to Berlin

The Local
Despite the decidedly inelegant snow and icy temperatures that continue to bedeck Germany’s capital, more than 130,000 style-savvy visitors descended on Berlin Wednesday to trek through the 2010 Autumn/Winter Fashion Week.

The event, which runs between January 20 and 24, is not only a sought-after showcase for new designers, but also a noteworthy source of income for the cash-strapped capital. According to Christian Tänzler, representative of Berlin’s tourism board, the average Fashion Week visitor spends around €240 per day.

While the temporary influx of fashion industry professionals is a boon to Berlin’s tourist trade, Tänzler said that the transformation of Berlin’s image is just as valuable.

“The image of Berlin as a fashion metropolis – you can’t measure that,” he told The Local.

With the increase in tourist traffic, temporary work opportunities also arise. BREAD & BUTTER, a jeans and streetwear trade fair located at the historic Tempelhof Airport, has hired 4,700 provisional employees. Among them 3,500 have assisted in the construction of a temporary façade, runways and a display area for BREAD & BUTTER’s 600 exhibitors.

In July 2009, Mayor Klaus Wowereit lured BREAD & BUTTER back to Berlin after a four-year stint in Barcelona. Around 80,000 buyers and urbanwear industry professionals are expected to attend the trade fair this year.

Concurrently, the 6th annual Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at Bebelplatz will feature fashion shows every 90 minutes. International and local designers such as Anja Gockel, Paolo Errico, Patrick Mohr, Rena Lange and Sam Frenzl are scheduled to display new collections.

“The German capital is becoming a fashion centre of truly international appeal,” deputy mayor Harald Wolf said recently.

Meanwhile the burgeoning green fashion industry will also be represented this week at THEKEY.TO forum in Kreuzberg’s Heeresbäckerei. The three-day event will host a variety of sustainable lifestyle workshops and a green shopping event open to the public. Renate Künast, head of the Green Party is expected to speak at the opening event on January 21st.

18 January 2010

Teacher Making a Difference One Shoe at a Time

The Olympian

A pair of canvas slip-on shoes turned into an eye-opening experience in rural Argentina for teacher Lindsey Knutzen.

Last month, Knutzen was one of a group of people selected by TOMS Shoes to travel on a nine-day “Shoe Drop.” The volunteers’ goal was to place shoes on the feet of rural Argentinian children whose families cannot afford to purchase shoes.

“I put shoes on kids who I think never had shoes,” said Knutzen, a first-grade teacher at Peter G. Schmidt Elementary. “We helped everyone from toddlers to grandparents, though we put shoes on the kids first.”

TOMS Shoes was founded by businessman and “Amazing Race” contestant Blake Mycoskie after a trip to rural Argentina. His business promise is to donate a pair of shoes to a child in need every time a pair is purchased.

TOMS spokeswoman Allison Dominguez said shoes can make a big difference for Third World children.

“Often, children cannot attend school barefoot because shoes are a required part of a student’s uniform.” Dominguez said. “If they don’t have shoes, they don’t have an education. If they don’t have an education, they don’t have access to a better tomorrow.”

The company’s nonprofit organization has provided shoes to children in Argentina, South Africa and New Orleans. It also is contributing $5 per pair purchased to Haiti disaster relief.

Dominguez said that about 2,500 pairs of shoes were given away on Knutzen’s trip. Knutzen was selected in a drawing after she entered her e-mail address on the company Web site.

The accommodations for the volunteers on her trip were very basic – no luxuries like a plasma TV or nightclubs in Buenos Aires, Knutzen said. The group was based out of Misiones, Argentina.

“Sometimes it would take an hour to 31/2 hours to get to each location,” Knutzen said. “And the roads were very rural. … We got three flat tires throughout the week.”

TOMS’ nonprofit organization works with local agencies to find families in towns and native villages that can’t afford to purchase their own shoes.

“In one of the villages I went to, they had to walk four miles to school,” Knutzen said. “They were the poorest of the poor. Some of the children, they wanted to keep the cardboard boxes. In one village, they wanted to use it under their bedding.”

She said the “alpagarta” shoes, similar to kids slippers, are common in Argentina. The donated shoes were in a variety of colors and funky patterns, but children were not picky about color and style.

“They were just grateful,” she said.

“Some of the kids, they didn’t want to wear the shoes after we put them on. It was such a treasure; they would put them in the plastic bag so they could carry them.”

Knutzen said although she doesn’t like to take time away from her first-grade class, the trip was a chance for her class to learn more about children in other parts of the world.

“The kids were excited for me,” she said. “I’m very reluctant to leave a classroom, but the whole idea was about appreciating what you have and modeling doing things for others.”

“They wanted to know what were the kids like and they learned that some of the kid’s lives are very different from theirs,” she said.

“It’s like a dream come true for a teacher to do this – putting kids shoes on those who never had shoes.”

16 January 2010

Beware: Cadmium-Tainted Jewelry From China

The Canadian Press

GUANGZHOU, China — David Smith pushed a cart piled high with boxes of beads and other jewelry through a maze of shops at a wholesale market in southern China.

The American shop owner said he would screen the trinkets for lead before they hit the shelves of his Arizona stores. But he was unaware of the recent discovery of hazardous levels of cadmium in Chinese-made children's jewelry.

It's small U.S. buyers like Smith who are playing a key role in importing untested products from Chinese factories that ignore safety standards and cut corners to earn a bit more profit.

They often fly into China for a whirlwind buying trip and don't have the time or resources to properly assess their suppliers. Many don't bother to perform quality checks as the goods are being made. Blind faith is a key element in the business deal.

Dressed in jeans, a brown plaid shirt and running shoes, Smith looked like he was ready to go hiking Friday as he manoeuvred his cart full of boxes with "Tucson" written on them in black marker. He has been coming to China for 15 years, he said, and was confident he has developed a good eye for jewelry that might contain lead.

"I've learned that you make bad decisions when you're tired, and don't buy at the first place you see," said Smith, whose two stores in Tucson are called A Beaucoup Conge.

China's latest quality controversy erupted this week after an investigation by The Associated Press found that 12 of 103 pieces of Chinese-made children's jewelry bought in U.S. stores contained at least 10 per cent cadmium, some in the 80 to 90 per cent range. Two others were found to have less than 10 per cent in laboratory tests and the rest had none.

Cadmium, like lead, can hinder brain development in young children, according to recent research. It also causes cancer.

American businessman Rick Goodwin, who has worked in China for 20 years, said the country has plenty of unscrupulous factories. But he said a major problem was foreign buyers who, because of greed, naivete or ignorance, approach China like it's just a discount shopping centre.

The country is really a developing country, where buyers need to be highly selective about the factories they use, Goodwin said.

"You just can't fly into China, get off the airplane and say, 'Can you take me to the jewelry department please?"' said Goodwin, chairman of Concept Holdings, a company based in the southern city of Dongguan. The firm deals with goods as varied as T-shirts, hunting knives, ceramics and lapel pins.

Goodwin said jewelry dealers should only buy from factories that use XRF sensors - a handheld gun that tests for cadmium, lead and several other toxic metals. He said his company bought its own XRF gun, which costs between $35,000 to $50,000, so it can do its own tests.

"If the factory can't afford to buy that gun, they shouldn't be making your product," he said.

A man at the Gems&Jewelry Trade Association of China said representatives had gone to meet with officials from the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, China's chief quality watchdog, to discuss the problem.

"We're paying great attention to the situation," said the man, who would not give his name or provide further details because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

A woman at the news office of the quality watchdog said they still had no response to faxed questions from The Associated Press.

Paul Midler, author of the new book "Poorly Made in China," agreed that buyers have to be diligent. But he didn't blame them for the cadmium controversy.

It's too difficult for buyers to stay on top of all the possible contaminants that might be going into products, he said. Jewelry dealers might have asked to have lead-free products, but might have not thought to ban cadmium too.

"You cannot blame the buyers, who are in no position to guess what new trick has been introduced in their supply chain," said Midler, whose book is based on his experiences working as a sourcing agent helping western importers find Chinese factories to make their goods in southern China.

Midler added that testing doesn't always work so well.

"The problem with relying on third-party testing is that you need to know what you are looking for," he said. "You can't give a sample to the laboratory and say, 'Tell me if there's any bad stuff in this product.' They charge for each screen that they run, and so you have to tell them what to look for. It's the case of unknown unknowns."

Midler, who worked for an American company that was making shampoo and skin lotion at a Chinese factory, describes in his book how the factory was caught changing the formula for products without consulting the U.S. company. Its Chinese partner also unilaterally decided to use thinner plastic bottles to save money.

For many buyers, the relationship with their suppliers begins on the factory's website, an exchange of emails or a meeting at a trade show booth. Often the factory has a sample that catches the buyer's eye and an order is placed. Other buyers have a product they want to make in China, and they award the bid to factories that can produce their product at the lowest price.

One thing that frequently happens in China is that factory owners will bid extremely low - even to the point where they have no profit - just to win an order. Once they've got the business, they search for ways to cut corners so they can widen their profit margin and recover what they lost with their lowball bid. They might switch to cheaper lead paint or buy inexpensive metal containing cadmium. This is called "quality fade."

To avoid misunderstandings and deviations, many buyers will create an elaborate "bill of materials" - a document that specifies what kind of materials must be used in the product. A furniture maker might specify the type of foam used in a chair's padding and what size nail will be used. The more experienced buyers will create an elaborate, highly technical bill of materials that is signed by both sides.

But the document doesn't have much teeth if buyers don't hire their own quality control staff to supervise the making of their products. Factories are notorious for making subtle, cost-saving changes to the product.

Christopher Devereux, managing director of the Guangzhou-based consulting firm Chinasavvy HK Ltd., said that in China's business environment, even suppliers with whom you have had a long and reliable relationship can't always be trusted.

"You get a supplier and you think, 'Oh well, I checked it all out and this supplier is great,"' said Devereux. "Those are the ones you really need to watch because once they think they have our confidence, that's when they start slipping little things in, little by little. And every single batch has to be checked."

San Francisco Exhibit Turns Jewelry On Its Ear

Mercury News

If your thoughts on jewelry go no further than the ring on your finger or the bling in your ear, a new exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Craft + Design could change your perception of what jewelry is.

Gathering 80 works by more than 50 internationally recognized industrial and jewelry designers, "Designers on Jewelry: Twelve Years of Jewelry Production by Chi ha paura...?" takes an interesting look at the work of people redefining personal adornment.

That San Francisco is the first — and only — U.S. city to attract the Chi ha paura...? show demonstrates that the Bay Area has become a magnet for big-name jewelry exhibitions. In the last year, the glittering creations of Tiffany & Co., Lalique, Faberge and Cartier have graced San Francisco museums. But the work in "Designers on Jewelry" moves beyond jewelry as status symbol, purely aesthetic object or unattainable luxury. This is work where concept trumps materials.

The day I visited the Museum of Craft + Design, the exhibit's installation was overseen by influential Dutch designer Gijs Bakker. A lanky man with silver hair and funky glasses, Bakker was at the forefront of New Jewelry, a late 20th-century movement which focused on innovative forms of wearable self-expression.

Along with other designers, including his late wife, Emmy van Leersum, Bakker viewed jewelry as a form of communication intrinsically related to the body. It could be decorative and functional, unique and democratic
and made from unconventional materials such as aluminum, paper and PVC. Most important, jewelry could be intelligent and well-designed and created with the assistance of new technologies — or even mass produced. No longer was it the exclusive realm of gold- and silversmiths hunched over their work benches.

Those ideals led Bakker in 1996 to establish the Netherlands-based Chi ha paura...? Foundation, which tapped everyone from furniture and industrial designers to contribute to a core collection of 41 limited production pieces. Since 2002, Chi ha paura...? — Italian for "Who is afraid?" — has assembled three themed exhibitions, all of which are featured in the show.

The exhibit opens with "Rituals," which gathers work from a 2007 show examining the personal and societal meanings of adornment. Next is a selection of works from the core collection. CHP's second themed exhibit, "What's Luxury," asks about ideas and definitions of opulence, and is followed by "Sense of Wonder."

I spent most of my time in "Luxury," which houses 17 pieces in cheeky display cases decorated with pixilated images of ornate jewelry boxes. I appreciated the tongue-in-cheek humor in works such as Marc Monzo's "Diamond Brooch," a large, flat sterling silver pin that places a twist on the traditional sparkling ring. Ramon Middlekoop's gold-plated stainless steel tie pins are shaped like forks and can be used as utensils in an emergency or "to keep your fingers clean." Their title is "Gold Digger."

[ Photo: Dolphin Jewelry ]
The most luxurious item was Marko Macura's wrap necklaces made from humble silicone and polyurethane. Equipped with ear plugs at either end, "Echo" proposes that a moment of silence may be today's ultimate luxury.

But I'm most excited by "Rituals," which greets viewers at the museum's entrance.

This body of work, first exhibited in Milan in 2007, contains the output of designers asked to think about societal rituals and even fashion new ones. Designer Ted Noten created "Wedding Pills," a pair of golden capsules designed to replace traditional rings. Meant to be swallowed, retrieving them — or not — is entirely up you.

Frank Tjepkema's "Heartbreak," a porcelain, rubber and titanium necklace, combines a tiny hammer and heart. Wearers can smash the heart or simply watch as miniature fractures form. The most arresting piece — also available for purchase in the museum store — is Katja Prins' "Bound by Blood," a wood neckpiece

composed of prayer necklaces whose crimson color symbolizes both mutual bonds and blood shed "in the name of religion."

That you can purchase this editioned piece demonstrates CHP's democratic philosophy that jewelry be readily available and accessible, if not affordable. The pieces I handled, which included Charles Marks' architectural stainless steel "Triadic bracelet" and Bakker's sleek nylon "Shot" bracelet, were priced between $79 and $295.

I inquired about "Bound by Blood," but the museum staffer couldn't locate a sticker. I didn't press. For me, it's the idea behind the piece that is priceless.

15 January 2010

Crystal Renn and The Triumph of the Size 12s

NY Times

WHEN he met Crystal Renn for the first time last September over lunch at the Royalton in Manhattan, Stephen Gan, the influential creative director of fashion magazines like Harper’s Bazaar and Visionaire, had the same reaction as virtually everyone who comes face to face with the industry’s reigning plus-size model.

“You’re not big,” Mr. Gan said.

Ms. Renn — 23 years old, 5 feet 9 inches tall, bra 38C, waist 30, hips 42, hair and eyes brown — is a size 12. Mr. Gan half expected Mae West. Photographs in the international editions of Bazaar and Vogue had so emphasized Ms. Renn’s natural curves, and in some cases exaggerated them with lighting and digital manipulation, that he imagined her to be much larger, with the personality of a vixen, rather than the breathtaking but normal young woman who had come to tell him her story.

Ms. Renn has heard this before. So-called plus-size models are constantly being told by editors and designers that they don’t look fat, which is meant to be a compliment, Ms. Renn said in her recently published memoir, “Hungry.” Still, it does become tiresome for a model who aspires to wrest fragrance and beauty contracts from women who are size 2 or smaller, she said. “It’s simply bizarre that ‘normal’ is the new overweight,” she wrote. “We’ve seen that super-skinny women can be as unhappy as the fattest fat girl. We know how awful it is to obsess about every calorie. We’ve just opted not to make ourselves crazy.”

Three years after the outcry over alarmingly thin fashion models led to an industry reckoning, magazines are making a point to include more diverse body types, especially those with fuller figures. So it has not gone unnoticed by Ms. Renn and the fashion industry that the backlash against skinny models has, in effect, given her career a major boost.

She is, from a high-fashion standpoint, “far and away” the most successful model in the plus-size division of Ford Models, said her agent, Gary Dakin. In the February issue of Glamour, she appears in an eight-page fashion feature on sheer clothes. For the March issue of the Italian edition of Vanity Fair, she was photographed, by Ruven Afanador, in a blond wig as Anna Nicole Smith. And she was described by Mr. Gan as the inspiration for making the new spring preview issue of V Magazine, an offshoot of Visionaire that he also edits — a “size issue,” including several portfolios starring plus-size models.

“It’s going to be a bit hard on the eyes for a lot of fashion people,” Mr. Gan said during an interview in Visionaire’s SoHo offices this week. “It was about dealing with a subject that in my world is such a taboo. In fashion, putting on two pounds is a taboo.”

The issue, whose images were circulated online two weeks ago, ahead of its newsstand appearance this week, has sparked countless discussions about broadening the cast of models in magazine editorial features, runway shows and ad campaigns. One of the V portfolios shows side-by-side images of Ms. Renn and Jacquelyn Jablonski, a size 2, wearing the same-size runway samples from Versace, Proenza Schouler and Dolce & Gabbana.

Some who commented on the Web said that they were pleased to see models with bodies that more women could relate to. But others complained that the images were exploitative, that they glorified obesity or were a publicity stunt. It struck many readers as patronizing to hold up Ms. Renn as an example of a plus-size body, given that the average American woman is a size 14.

Last Friday, Ms. Renn arrived for an interview wearing a cosmic glitter Maison Martin Margiela cat suit, a sleeveless cardigan from Preen, Rick Owen’s floppy boots and what looked like a bicycle lock around her neck. For all the appearance of success, she has had darker days, as chronicled in her book, in which she describes starving herself to be a “straight size” model, the industry term for girls who meet the prevailing standard of beauty, which is to say extremely thin.

It was not until Ms. Renn acknowledged an eating disorder six years ago and began to eat normally that her career took off as a plus-size model. While she embraces that label, she also sees it as a means of changing expectations among designers and magazines — and even the public — that models have to look a certain way.

Ms. Renn was born in Miami. Her mother, who was still a teenager, left her to be raised by her grandmother, Kathy Renn, a successful saleswoman of Mary Kay cosmetics with a pink Cadillac in the driveway. Ms. Renn came to know her grandmother as Mom, while her mother, named Lana in the book, remained largely out of the picture until her teens. When she was 12, Ms. Renn and her grandmother briefly moved in with Lana in Clinton, Miss., but their relationship ended with a violent confrontation.

She never knew her father. “I don’t have a picture,” she said. “I don’t even have a name.”

When a modeling scout told her she had potential provided she lose weight and shrink her hip size from 43 inches to 34, Ms. Renn saw a means of escape from small-town life in Clinton. On a regimen of Diet Coke and sugar-free Jell-O, she began by losing 28 pounds in three months. By 2002, when she moved to New York at age 15, she weighed 95 pounds and had lost more than 42 percent of her body weight. On her first day in the city, she landed a shoot for Seventeen.

Kathy Renn, now living in Riverside, Calif., where she is the executive director of a nonprofit group, Fuel Relief Fund, said she always thought her granddaughter was in control of her diet and weight. “One thing about Crystal,” she said, “is she is very goal-oriented. When she set her mind to going into modeling, that’s what she did.” Although she followed her granddaughter to New York for several months, Mrs. Renn was not fully aware of Crystal’s weight struggles until she read the book.

“It hit home, and hit the heart,” she said. “Basically, when it got down to being too much, she literally turned her life around.”

When the book was published last fall, Crystal Renn said, she felt that she was able to close the door on a period of her life defined by hatred of her body. Ford describes her as the highest paid plus-size model, although Mr. Dakin would not disclose how much she makes in commercial work for stores like Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and her biggest client, Evans, a retailer of plus-size fashion in the United Kingdom. (Her total annual earnings are estimated to be in the high six figures.)

“I’ve always felt, in some ways, like an outsider,” said Ms. Renn, who now weighs about 165. “But that is the fashion industry. You know how that is. The creative one at the school, the outsider, the goth or the gay guy — whatever it is, they always get made fun of. I feel like they all got together and moved to New York City and made the fashion industry.

“And here I am,” she said. “I feel right at home, very much accepted and very happy.”
It is a perverse footnote to the scandal over skinny models that the smallest of changes in a magazine or runway show — the arrival of Lara Stone, a model with recognizable breasts, for example — can be viewed as emblematic of a new moral standard worthy of applause. When Glamour ran a single-page photograph of a voluptuous, unclothed model, Lizzie Miller, in its September issue, positive responses from readers flooded in.

“It was a reminder how much our eyes have become inured to a particular standard,” Cindi Leive, the editor, said in an interview at the time. “There were many readers who said they didn’t know what a quote-unquote normal body looked like anymore.”

THE rub is that many plus-size models complain that their images are often retouched as routinely as celebrity covers — only to make them look bigger. Ms. Renn said that she had seen images in which weight was added to make her appear to be a size 20, to be more appealing to larger customers. Jennie Runk, another size 12 model, admitted to Glamour that she sometimes wears padding for photo shoots.

To make the point of Ms. Renn’s size more provocatively, Mr. Gan said he told her: “I’d like you to flaunt it. I want to pump up the volume, so to speak.”

Asked about this, Ms. Renn said she understood the tendency to focus on her shape.

“Because I am a plus-size model, they like to make an example,” she said. “They see a roll, and they say, ‘Ooh, a roll!’ And they focus on it.”

In her book, she describes this as the fetishization of fat. “When designers and editors choose one fat girl to salivate over, and revel in her avoirdupois, I’m not sure how much it advances the cause of using girls of all sizes in a magazine,” she wrote. What she would like to see, in the interest of fairness, is those photographers and magazines making a point of not showing an image of a model whose ribs are showing.

“I’m fighting for something,” Ms. Renn said. “I believe fashion can be a place of diversity. It’s not going to happen overnight, but do you want it to?”

12 January 2010

Size Matters

Irish Times
The decision by a top German magazine to banish skinny models in favour of ‘real’ people has earned it cheers from its readers and hisses from the fashion industry, writes DEREK SCALLY

EVERYTHING looks normal in the new year edition of Brigitte , Germany’s leading women’s magazine. There are tips for better hands and hair, a story about hermaphrodite babies and, as always in the post-Christmas issue, the Brigitte diet to help shed those unwanted festive pounds.

But a closer look reveals something startling: does that woman in the red chiffon dress on page 57 have . . . a wee belly? And does that woman on page 49 have . . . a tattoo? They are tiny details that should be barely noticeable, yet on the glossy pages they stand out like a juicy hamburger in a vegetarian magazine.

“Compared to the touched-up photos that are all-present these days, a ‘natural’ person appears almost pornographic,” remarks Brigitte in its first ever “no models” issue.

It’s a radical departure for the 56-year-old magazine and one that has earned cheers from its three million German readers and hisses from the fashion industry.

Brigitte editors announced the step last October, after complaints from readers that they couldn’t associate with the models. Adding to pressure for change were the magazine’s picture editors who had what they called the “disturbing and perverse” task each month of using photo-editing software to digitally add weight to models’ breasts and thighs.

“It’s not just about weight, but producing an authentic magazine with which women can identify better,” says Brigitte spokeswoman Eva Kersting, something she says is increasingly difficult with models who show up much thinner than their agency cards suggest.

“One showed up for a shoot looking nothing like her photo, telling us proudly how she’d lost another 3kg,” says Kersting. “That was the end for us.”

The magazine’s “no models” announcement in October caused a sensation, but was dismissed by many in the German media world as a PR stunt. After all, Brigitte is more a general women’s magazine combining fashion with recipes than a high-fashion glossy with stick-thin models on every page.

Competitor magazines, annoyed by Brigitte’s coup, complained that they had been doing “street fashion” shoots with regular women for years. Countless designers weighed in to defend the “size zero” trend, saying their clothes simply looked better on thinner women – but that they were happy to produce versions in all sizes.

The war of words climaxed with a barb from German designer Karl Lagerfeld. “No one wants to see curvy women,” he told Focus magazine. “What you’ve got here is fat mothers with their bags of crisps sitting in front of the television and saying that thin models are ugly.”

Brigitte editors stand by their decision, encouraged by a reader survey in which just over a quarter of women aged 19-29 rated being thin as important.

Since announcing the move, editors say they have been flooded with thousands of congratulatory letters from relieved readers. “I find it great that other women won’t just see themselves as mothers, friends, housewives but also as women who are pretty, even if they aren’t models,” said one reader.

Browsing the first “no models” issue is an interesting experience, in particular to see women who seem to be enjoying posing rather than pages of dead-eyed models whose last full meal was back in the last century. Of course shifting to “lay” models has created extra work for the production team: getting the right shot from normal women requires more coaching and patience. Then there is the problem of getting clothes for fashion shoots from companies still sending out “size zero” samples.

The German magazine’s move is another small step in the revolt against the “size zero” trend that began last June when British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman complained about “jutting bones and no breasts or hips” on the models booked for shoots.

In a letter to designers she laid the blame at their door for supplying sample clothes “many of [which] don’t comfortably fit the established star models”.

But the backlash from the fashion industry has been quick, with some rebelling against Brigitte ’s initiative.

“Too many things are being thrown into the one pot here,” said Berlin designer Michael Michalsky to the magazine. “Naturally I find it great when I see a girl at a casting with the right measurements to look good in my clothes. But one thing is clear: when the ribs and spine poke out front and back, then I know the girl has a problem and can’t appear at my show.”

Model figures

    * Thirty years ago a model weighed on average 8 per cent less than the average woman; today the difference is 23 per cent.

    * A survey of model eating behaviour found that half had a body mass index under 17.5 – the “anorexic” zone – with one-third of the total “acutely disturbed”.

    * A decade ago, models’ careers began at the age of 15-18, today the industry favours 13-14 year olds.

Courtesy of Brigitte

Fashion Industry - Preserving Natural Heritage, Encouraging Sustainable Consumption

Global Arab Network / English News

At the initiative of UNCTAD, more than 500 prominent figures from government, international organizations, and the fashion and cosmetics industries will meet in Geneva on 20-21 January to call for action against the rapid loss of the world’s biodiversity.

This event, organized in connection with the United Nations 2010 International Year of Biodiversity, will begin with a high-profile business seminar and conclude with an "EcoChic" fashion show and exhibition launch celebrating sustainable fashion and accessories.  Over 50 looks have been donated by designers from around the world, including the renowned figures Diane Von Furstenberg, Manish Arora, Bora Aksu, and Thakoon.  In addition, established "sustainable" fashion labels such as Edun, Noir, Ciel, and Kumvana Gomani will contribute garments and accessories from their latest collections.  All activities will take place at the Palais des Nations, building E, 3rd floor. For reasons of security, participants must register in advance.

During the seminar (see Provisional Agenda in Annex I), discussions will focus on ecological practices available to the fashion and cosmetics industries.  Debate and review of case studies will take into account such questions as: “Redefining Sustainability: Why Biodiversity and Why Now?”; “The Rise of the Ethical Consumer and Eco-Fashion”; “Luxury Brands as Sustainable Role Models”; “Environmental Traceability, Accountability and Certification”; and “The Role of the Creative Industries in Developing Economies.”

Organized by UNCTAD's BioTrade Initiative, its Creative Economy and Industries Programme, and the charity Green2greener, this event is meant to spotlight biodiversity issues and to underline the role that governments, businesses, and consumers can play in promoting and supporting biodiversity conservation and the sustainable use of natural resources.

Sustainability is the message of the UNCTAD BioTrade programme, which helps local communities preserve local flora and fauna through the marketing of products which give them not only a moral but an economic interest in nurturing and preserving biodiversity.  For example, local communities in Bolivia have successfully implemented sustainable management plans resulting in exports of skins and products derived from the Caiman yacare, a species of crocodile, to Italy, generating over US$1.4 million in sales (a 282% increase over 2003).  Exports of these products to the United States now total US$500,000 (up 364% over 2003). Management plans adopted by the communities ensure that harvesting of the species does not exceed its rate of reproduction, and ensure that the communities maintain a clean environment that enables the species to thrive.

"EcoChic" fashions avoid environmentally damaging production processes and the overharvesting of wild species for their skins or natural fibres. Various processes in textile and other fashion-related manufacturing -- including scouring (washing) wool, retting flax (separating the fibres from the stalks), tanning leather, bleaching, dying, printing, and finishing -- consume large amounts of water and energy.  Such processes also use toxic chemicals and produce effluents which can pollute air, water sources and/or soil. Leather tanning is particularly polluting, having one of the highest toxic intensities per unit of output.   By contrast, ecological fashion firms adopt approaches which take into account the preservation of the environment.  For example, organically grown cotton does not involve the use of pesticides and other chemicals that can cause species damage. Worldwide, cotton now accounts for 11% of pesticides and 25% of all insecticides used each year.

And eco-fashion does not involve the unsustainable harvesting of species such as the Tibetan antelope, which has declined in number from over 1 million in 1900 to 75,000 today because poachers sell the skins for the production of luxury shawls.

Biodiversity loss has accelerated in recent years and the current rate of human-caused (anthropogenic) species extinction was estimated by the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment to be 1,000 times more rapid that the "natural" rate of extinction typical of the Earth's long-term history.  Loss of habitat is the principal cause.  Some 11% of the natural areas remaining in 2000 may soon disappear, chiefly as a result of conversion for agriculture, the expansion of infrastructure, and climate change.  Some 60% of coral reefs could be gone by 2030.  Longer-term damage is still more extensive: in the last 300 years, the global forest area has shrunk by approximately 40% -- forests have completely disappeared in 25 countries -- and since 1900 the world has lost about 50% of its wetlands.

The 20-21 January event will emphasize the contribution of businesses and consumers to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and the 2010 Biodiversity Target, an overall conservation target aiming to stem biodiversity loss by the end of the year 2010.

The EcoChic Geneva Exhibition, which will be open for two weeks, will explore the multi-faceted nature of sustainable fashion with a particular focus on uses of biodiversity that provide benefits and income for communities in developing economies. Through a range of creative displays of fashion garments, accessories and cosmetics, the exhibition will examine the journey from raw material to finished product and address the many issues that consumers, marketers, designers, and product developers engage with as they look to embrace more sustainable lifestyles.

11 January 2010

Eunice Johnson, Creator of Ebony Fashion Fair, Dies at 93

NY Times

In this 2005 photo, former President Bill Clinton escorts Eunice Johnson, widow of Ebony magazine founder John Johnson, center, into the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel in Chicago for her husband's funeral.

Eunice W. Johnson, the creator of the Ebony Fashion Fair, a celebrated annual tour of nearly 200 cities that has showcased haute couture and ready-to-wear fashion for a mostly African-American audience for more than 50 years, died on Jan. 3 at her home in Chicago. Mrs. Johnson, who was also one of the first entrepreneurs to market cosmetics made particularly for black women, was 93.

The cause was renal failure, said Wendy Parks, a spokeswoman for the Johnson Publishing Company, which publishes Ebony and Jet magazines and sponsors the Fashion Fair. Mrs. Johnson and her husband, John H. Johnson, who died in 2005, founded Ebony in 1945. It was Mrs. Johnson who suggested that the magazine, geared to black readers, be named for the fine-grain dark wood.

What started as a favor to a friend — production of a fashion show to raise money for a hospital in New Orleans in 1958 — evolved into a grand traveling tour that has brought the latest creations from designers like Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Oscar de la Renta and Valentino to runways throughout the United States, Canada and the Caribbean.

Notable African-American models like Pat Cleveland, Judy Pace and Terri Springer have graced those runways. And the careers of black designers, including Lenora Levon, Quinton de’ Alexander and L’Amour, have been nurtured by the Ebony Fashion Fair.

One of the tour’s aims has been to bring attention to aspiring black designers. At the New York Hilton in 1974, for example, one showstopper was a white raincoat with loops dangling from the shoulders to hold an umbrella. The design, by a 17-year-old from Detroit, drew a standing ovation.

Over the years the fair has raised more than $55 million for civil rights groups, hospitals, community centers and scholarships.

It was not always easy. In the early years, when the chartered bus bearing the dozen or so models and the fashions selected by Mrs. Johnson stopped at gas stations in the segregated South, signs said, “No Blacks in the Ladies Room.”

Resistance also surfaced on renowned runways. “We were the ones who convinced Valentino to use black models in his shows back in the ’60s,” Mrs. Johnson told The New York Times in 2001. “I was in Paris, and I told him: ‘If you can’t find any black models, we’ll get some for you. And if you can’t use them, we’re not going to buy from you anymore.’ That was before he was famous.”

Something else perturbed Mrs. Johnson back then: the chore of mixing makeup colors to enhance the varied skin tones of her models. It gave her the idea of starting, in 1973, Fashion Fair Cosmetics, a prestige line that African-American women could buy, for the first time, in top department stores. Stars like Leontyne Price, Diahann Carroll and Aretha Franklin appeared in the company’s ads.

Within three years, the growing popularity of Fashion Fair Cosmetics prompted Revlon to introduce the Polished Ambers line for black skins, Avon to start Shades of Beauty and Max Factor to produce Beautiful Bronzes.

Eunice Walker was born in Selma, Ala., on April 4, 1916, one of four children of Nathaniel and Ethel McAlpine Walker. Her father was a physician, her mother a high school principal.

She graduated from Talladega College in Alabama in 1938 with a degree in sociology, and earned a master’s degree in social work from Loyola University in Chicago in 1941. She met Mr. Johnson at a dance in Chicago in 1940, and they married after she graduated from Loyola.

Mrs. Johnson is survived by her daughter, Linda Johnson Rice, who is chairwoman and chief executive of Johnson Publishing, and a granddaughter.

In 1942, with a $500 loan secured by furniture owned by Mr. Johnson’s mother, the Johnsons began publishing Negro Digest, a magazine modeled on Reader’s Digest. Within a year it had a circulation of 50,000. That inspired the couple to start Ebony, a monthly with flashy covers like those of Life magazine. Ebony now has a circulation of 1.25 million. Jet magazine, a weekly, was started in 1951 to highlight news of famous African-Americans; it now has a circulation of 900,000.

Mrs. Johnson, who was secretary-treasurer of the publishing company, continued to produce and direct the Ebony Fashion Fair through last year.

Over the years, hundreds of the shows have been held on Sunday afternoons, with women of all generations — many turned out in flowery hats, fine jewelry and proper dresses — leaving morning church services to get to the fair.

At the 1974 show in Manhattan, Mrs. Johnson drew a roar from the crowd when she stepped onstage during intermission and said that she could “run a fashion show from the audience.”

09 January 2010

A Salute To Big Ladies

NY Times

A FORTHCOMING feature in V, among the more progressive of American fashion magazines, will trot out a parade of flamboyantly curvy models showing off what Bridget Jones, that Everywoman’s heroine, called her “wobbly bits.” But the editors of the February issue of V intend no insult or irony. “Big, little, pint size, plus size — everybody is beautiful,” said Stephen Gan, the magazine’s creative director, “and this issue is out to prove it.”

The eye-popping centerpiece of the magazine’s “Size” issue features several voluptuous women clad in skimpy swimsuits, bra tops and low-slung jeans. The models flaunt bulging tummies, powerful thighs and fleshy midsections — with love handles intact.

The magazine’s online preview on Models.com was picked up by scores of other Web sites and stirred a raucous debate. Some readers praised the decision to highlight models larger than size 2 as bold. Others castigated the editors as following the lead of more-conservative fashion magazines, which habitually ghettoize a large-size population that ought to be featured in every issue.

Further fanning the argument were those pointing out that plus models tended to measure a size 12 or 14 — hardly representative of the “real” plus-size woman, who typically wears a size 16 or 18.

But many such discussions were rendered moot by a handful of bloggers who simply preferred to look away, citing Karl Lagerfeld’s dictum, “No one wants to see curvy women.” What’s your view?

08 January 2010

Lady GaGa Will Be The New Face Of Polaroid


Lady Gaga has an unexpected new collaborator: the instant-photography brand Polaroid, it was announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where the feisty pop sensation is scheduled to appear in person Thursday. Her newly developed title: creative director and inventor of specialty products.

"The Haus of Gaga has been developing prototypes in the vein of fashion /technology /photography innovation — blending the iconic history of Polaroid and instant film with the digital era – and we are excited to collaborate on these ventures with the Polaroid brand," Gaga, 23, said in a statement.

"Lifestyle, music, art, fashion: I am so excited to extend myself behind the scenes as a designer and to — as my father puts it — finally, have a real job."

Financial terms were not disclosed.

Founded in 1937, Polaroid hit its peak in the '60s with film that the consumer didn't have to send out to be developed, though modern digital cameras rendered the process obsolete. Last May, private equity firms took the company out of bankruptcy and plan to launch new products using the Polaroid name.

The campaign with Gaga, who is said to be a fan of Polaroid, will apparently see her star in the company's marketing campaigns as well as on social networking channels. In turn, Polaroid is expected to be a presence at her concerts.

Without elaborating, a spokeswoman for the company tells the Wall Street Journal that Gaga will help develop retail "imaging products" that span both the company's instant classic film category and its digital-imaging line.

Best And Worst Of The Decade

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

This rocky decade of war, terrorism, global warming and economic catastrophe is at last drawing to a close. Such things aren't normally considered to have a profound effect on fashion, but fashion, like any art form, tends to reflect the period in which it is created. So the nutty amalgamation of attire that floated in and out the past 10 years is a reflection of the decade that was just as much as any news of the day.

Military conflict was said to have fueled the interest in buckles, boots, belts, epaulets and fitted jackets. Our growing concern over the environment spurred more eco-friendly fabrics and an interest in futuristic design aesthetics.

Is it a coincidence that designers and consumers sought comfort in post-World War II-inspired fashions and collections based on the clothing of the Great Depression era?

Automation now makes it possible to customize T-shirts (Zazzle.com), jeans (IndiDenim), shoes (Timberland), jackets (Ralph Lauren), ties and shirts (Thomas Pink) and jewelry (You Design We Create) from the comfort of your home and a computer keyboard.

Thanks to the "Project Runway" era and an active stream of DIYers setting up home boutiques on the amazing homemade shopping mall Etsy.com, consumers no longer had a take-it-or-leave-it relationship with cookie-cutter fashions.

This forced designers to adjust and work harder to make their products special.

And so we've enjoyed the rise of cheap chic.

Fashion drifted into a new era in which the social stratas were leveled. For the first time, scores of high-end designers were clamoring to dress the masses, not just the celebrities and the socialites. We became the target customers of Vera Wang, Roberto Cavalli, Jimmy Choo, Norma Kamali, Karl Lagerfeld, Oscar de la Renta and Comme des Garcon thanks to special collaborations with mass market retailers such as Kohl's, Target, Walmart, Dillard's and JC Penney.

This was the decade of high-low dressing in which it became more and more difficult to determine high from low. It made designers strive for more details and more luxury in their high-end lines, and it made lower-priced labels work harder to improve their style, fabrics and fit.

Overall, the decade has been a testament to the capricious nature of consumer whimsy.

How else can you describe an era with fashion so diametrically opposed that it swings from one camp pledging its allegiance to the Snuggie and rubbery slip-on comfort shoes and another holding fast to the 7-inch-high Jimmy Choo stilettos and Herve Leger's mummy-fantastic bandage dress.

So let's start this recap of the decade's fashions (which debuted on stltoday.com/stylefile) with the most infamous fashion item of the decade:

Crocs — I've run out of words to malign this particular piece of footwear most notable for being dishwasher safe. Instead, I found this testament ... perhaps, "ode" would be a better word, that offers an explanation of just what made the rise of Crocs possible. This comes from writer Greg Beato who writes about pop culture in Las Vegas.

In an article called "Crocs on the Rocks," he wrote: "If Scott Seamans and his co-founders (of Crocs Inc.) had been Frenchmen, or Italians, or citizens of any other country where style is a major priority, you might not be reading this story right now. But they weren't. They were Americans, and in 2002, America was, more than anything, a country desperately in need of comfort. Battered by 9/11, frazzled by anthrax scares and Code Orange alerts, America wanted a shoe that provided more than just arch support. America wanted a shoe that nurtured it, cradled it, made it feel warm and safe and loved. While Crocs may have started out as a better boating shoe, they quickly became the bacteriostatic security blanket for our souls."

And, now, with less ado ... the best and worst of the decade, in no particular order.

Flyaway dress
— Known by many names, this unstructured sack of a dress (reminiscent of baby doll frocks) was flouncing down runways and supermarket aisles for the middle part of the decade. And maybe it was an homage to Catholic school girl modesty that also ushered in a period of wearing pants under dresses.

Poncho — I've tried to forget, but we all remember Martha Stewart's infamous prison poncho and the mini-craze that ensued.

Gladiator shoe — The Greco-Roman footwear came back with a vengeance, and it was more fierce than ever with studs and buckles and towering 5-inch heels.

Sexed-up Velour tracksuits — Suburban moms united and adopted a uniform of comfort that still made them feel like a woman. I blame Madonna for making this look cool. The results I saw shopping for produce at the supermarket were not.

Shapewear — We ditched the mainstream corsets long ago, but thanks to form-fitting clothes and a nation that's steadily gaining girth, shapewear that trimmed the waist, hips and thighs and butts of men and women were among the most successful clothing introductions of the decade. Thanks, Spanx.

Butt slogans — The most egregious and distressing trend of the decade for me was seeing girls as young as elementary school and as old as cougar walking around in fitted exercise apparel — or worse, pajamas — in public with something written large and bold across their butt cheeks. Tres tacky.

Oversize purses — Handbags exploded into the most glorious, ridiculously elaborate contraptions designed for everyday wear. Chiropractors suddenly had more patients.

Ugg boots — Some Hollywood stylist thought it was a good idea to pair these cold-weather genuine sheepskin booties with a miniskirt, and a disturbing inconsistency was born.

Trucker hats — This flash was all to do with Ashton Kutcher, and we're glad it's a footnote.

Graphic tees — For some reason, a men's T-shirt designer thought it was really hip to see how many symbols they could put onto one shirt. Crosses, skulls, thorns, roses, eagles and words like, "love kills" were really popular. We have another word, "overkill." Sorry, Ed Hardy.

Belts-a-rama — Wide, skinny, medium waist jewelry layered over button-down shirts, jackets, coats and sweaters. Michelle Obama has become the poster girl for this look.

Shootie — Our love of high-heeled shoes and our love of boots are at last married into a single footwear item. The shoe boot now exists in many glorious incarnations, including open-toed, caged and buckled. The spectacle of the shootie with a cocktail dress or a flirty skirt is a thing of beauty.

Infinity scarf — This circular scarf entered at the tail end of the decade, expanding on the wave of scarf-loving men and women who adopted a wardrobe of neck wear as casual everyday apparel.

Black nails — Always a staple of the goth crowd. Black, or nearly black, nails became a staple for trendy cocktail looks that continues today in shades of red, blue, green and purple.

Spiky hair
— Boys are mostly boring and conservative when it comes to fashion, but the silliest male-trend of the decade was that Bob's Big Boy hairdo (close cropped on the back and sides with an inexplicable meringue swirl or Pee Wee Herman crest in front), followed closely by the overmoussed Calvin & Hobbes look.

Untucked dress shirts — We blame this on the men of "Friends" who gained weight and no longer looked so youthful and cute with a tucked-in shirt. Yes, I'm talking to you, Joey and Chandler. It gave men of all ages license to untuck, so menswear designers had to adapt and create shirts that were more fitted and shorter so that they looked good untucked.

Robert Graham
— The most notable company responsible for making men's button-up shirts that required a double-take since the 1970s era of prints and butterfly collars. The company's success spawned many, many copycats who now make shirts with so many details and contrasting fabrics that you'd lose count trying to detail them all.

Thick-rimmed eyewear
— It's chic to look geeky.

Chandelier earrings
— It was a classic look of elegance that started the trend of bringing evening wear items into daytime apparel.

Abbreviated jacket
— Known by many names, this number was a throwback to the mid-century looks with wide-sleeve coats and jackets that stopped at the elbow coupled with long gloves for the ultimate in lady-chic.

Onesie — The jumpsuit has made reappearances in formal, casual and now sleepwear. It's actually a great look if you're 120 pounds and 6-feet-tall.

Lastly, denim deserves its own category because this decade, denim transcended all socioeconomic levels and became the most pivotal and beloved fashion element of the generation.

Premium denim — This was the era when people didn't bat an eye at $200 jeans, which meant that jeans gained a new acceptance worn with tuxedo jackets, party tops or sequined blazers.

Destroyed denim — This is destined to be short-lived, but people snapping up denim that looked like someone dipped it in battery acid and ran it over with a car was a curious phenomenon.

Low-rise jeans — The main culprit in the rise of the muffin-top (soft waist tissue spilling up and over the top of your pants) and the whale-tail (the unfortunate flash of a thong above the pants horizon).

Skinny jean — We've seen slim fitting pants before, but the new skinny jean was notable for the extra long inseam, the better for scrunching at the ankle. It was also best when skin tight and designed with the narrowest of holes at the ankle. It didn't seem to matter that it took 10 minutes to get the darn things on.

Jeggings — This is a combination of jeans and leggings. They are glorified tights that have fake seams and pockets drawn onto them so that there is actually less material between you and the world. We can only guess that they came about because skinny jeans just weren't skinny enough.

07 January 2010

Katie Ermilio: Rising Designer

The Philadelphia Inquirer

The fabrics Katie Ermilio used in her spring 2010 collection are so soft the pieces appear limp on a rack of hangers in the family's Haverford showroom.

But don't let the languid pieces fool you.

She shows the same meticulous attention to detail as her dad, Bob, an internationally renowned fixture in the world of equestrian tailoring.

For example, a tomato red, silk-faille Katie Ermilio pencil skirt features a 7-inch, ruffled hem. The matching top is equally exquisite with a seductive open back Ermilio trimmed with the wavy ruffle.

It's the personal dedication to classic couture that has helped Ermilio begin to gain notice among New York fashion editors and on the red carpet. She's also turning into a darling of women on the Main Line who spend big and take their fashion seriously.

This kind of fashion is a completely different art form," Ermilio said from her father's Haverford studio recently. She's just 24, but as the fourth generation of a family steeped in fashion, she is sartorially wise beyond her years. "I want to translate it as best as I can to prêt-à-porter [ready-to-wear] garments."

In the post-recession fashion world, boutiques and specialty department stores are slow to stock sales floors with work by young designers. But because of that, it's an important time for them to continue to build their foundation.

Ermilio is doing just that. In October, she secured a coveted editorial mention in Women's Wear Daily. Her Spring 2010 presentation - a private showing in her New York studio/apartment in September - was attended by fashion editors from Harper's Bazaar, Glamour and Vogue magazines. Next month during Fashion Week, she'll show her fall 2010 collection there as well.

Two of Ermilio's dresses were photographed on the red carpet during the 2008 awards season: a backless coral sheath for actress Autumn Reeser and a smart cocktail dress donned by Julianne Hough of Dancing With the Stars.

Last January, Washington Post fashion columnist Robin Givhan chose Ermilio's sketch of a sleeveless forest-green gown as the winner of the paper's competition for Michelle Obama's Inaugural gown.

"The silhouette flatters a curvy figure," Givhan wrote "And the style is both youthful and grand. But it's the color that makes me applaud."

But, most importantly, it's Ermilio's clean, architectural look and couture flourishes that have won over the women who can afford to spend thousands of dollars a season on their wardrobe. (An Ermilio piece ranges from $750 to $4,200.)

These women, most of whom define their sense of style as conservative with a twist, are more than stealth shoppers; they have the power to create a mystique around a clothier powerful enough to launch a career - as long as you get their express permission to mention names.

"Her designs are one-of-a-kind, and that's really great when you want to go to an event and stand out," said client Paula Yudenfriend Green of Haverford.

At last count, Ermilio had about 50 clients in New York, Connecticut and Florida, with about 20 in the Philadelphia area. She spent most of the holiday season completing fittings and sketching ballgowns for the crowd. Two of her gowns may show up at this month's Academy Ball, the annual gala and fund-raiser at the Academy of Music.

Ermilio, who originally wanted to be a journalist, can't deny that fashion is in her blood.

Her great-grandfather Anthony Ermilio ran a bustling tailor shop in Center City from the late 1800s through the 1920s. He was known for his use of European fabrics.

The shop moved to the Main Line after World War II. In the 1950s, her grandfather Arthur Ermilio designed the first Masters golf tournament jacket, creating the iconic green. He also designed President Dwight D. Eisenhower's World War II bomber jacket and Princess Grace Kelly's riding pants. Both Arthur Ermilio and Katie's father, Bob, dressed former President Gerald Ford.

"They never talk about who they dressed," Ermilio said. "The only reason we know [my grandfather] designed the Masters jacket is because of a handwritten letter. It just wasn't polite. We come from a long line of that tradition."

It's late December and Ermilio is fitting a shrunken jacket with a Peter Pan collar on Debra Guezlo of Paoli. Guezlo's husband, Allen, is a noted historian and the head of the Civil War Department at Gettysburg College.

After the fitting, Ermilio, wearing Phillip Lim trousers, sips a family favorite - Earl Grey tea - and tells her story.

She spent her Saturdays in the family's Haverford and Paoli locations. As a child, she dabbled in design. The first dress she made for herself was a charmeuse baby-doll dress in sea-foam green that she wore to her eighth-grade dance.

In 2006, she snagged an internship with fashion designer Tracy Reese. She landed a marketing internship at Women's Wear Daily, and, the following year, she designed a cream wool-crepe sheath with a low-scooped back that she wore to an interview for an internship with Vogue magazine. She got the job.

She worked for Vogue for a year, all the while designing on the side. In 2008, she graduated from New York University with a degree in visual culture and landed a job as a public-relations assistant in Teen Vogue. Her father sold her designs from his store and connected her with clients. After working the equivalent of two full-time jobs for over a year, she decided to open her own business with a financial boost from her parents.

Katie Ermilio was born.

"I thought about what I wanted to be doing 10 years from now," Ermilio said. "Designing is something that I was meant to do."

Sales vary. Some months she may sell two pieces for upward of $3,000 to $4,000. Other months, she may sell several pieces at $750. Right now, she says, everything is handmade and designed to fit each client's individual needs.

Ultimately, Ermilio wants to establish a ready-to-wear line sold in specialty boutiques and high-end department stores as well as offer her clients couture services.