25 August 2010

JC Penny Introducing Fast-Fashion Line

The Wall Street Journal

In an attempt to win over fashionable young women, J.C. Penney Co. is going to try running with a faster crowd.

This week, the Plano, Texas-based retailer unveiled an unconventional collaboration with Mango MNG Holding SL, the closely-held Barcelona chain known for whipping up cutting edge looks that go from design studio to store shelves in as little as four weeks.

The move is a big bet for the 108-year-old Penney, which has been trying to grab market share from more stylish competitors to spur sales as overall demand for women's apparel is sluggish.

The two retailers are a fashion mismatch. Penney's average customer is a 35- to 53-year-old bargain hunter who shops four times a year. Mango, founded in 1984, caters to style-obsessed twenty-somethings who shop every month and pay full price. By delivering new merchandise to stores at least once a week, the chain has trained customers to buy early and often.

But for Penney, that's the draw. "If you only deliver four times a year, there's only a reason to come to the store four times a year," Chief Executive Myron E. Ullman III said at a recent conference.

Mango is one of the hottest retailers in Europe, where it operates hundreds of stores and its ads feature celebrities including Penelope Cruz and Scarlett Johansson. Unlike other fast-fashion chains such as Inditex SA's Zara and Hennes & Mauritz AB's H&M, the chain is little-known in the U.S., where it only has 12 retail outposts. Revenue last year was €1.15 billion ($1.82 billion).

The exclusive-to-Penney brand, called MNG by Mango, will launch at 77 stores on Aug. 18 and roll out to 600 of Penney's 1,100 stores by next fall. Penney is investing in fixtures such as hardwood floors, black chandeliers and modern tables that showcase looks like skinny jeans and lace-embellished blouses. In-store boutiques, averaging 1,000 square feet, will be refreshed every other week—twice as fast as Penney's other brands. Prices will be in the mid-to-upper tier of Penney's offerings, with skirts ranging from $50 to $100, and jackets from $60 to $160.

The Mango-Penney collaboration comes as U.S. apparel retailers have been fighting for market share. The women's apparel market has been essentially flat for the past three years, according to market researcher NPD Group, but "there has been huge growth in dollar volume in fast fashion," says Liz Sweney, senior general merchandise manager for Penney's women's businesses.

American department stores were caught off guard by the onslaught of fast fashion rivals that own local factories, enabling them react quickly to changes in demand. They have trained their customers to expect scarcity, leading to higher margins and more store visits.

Department stores, by contrast, source most of their products from faraway vendors up to a year in advance. The sourcing model keeps production costs down, but can lead to fashion miscalculations and aggressive discounting that kills profits.

Penney is working to resume sales gains after a restructuring a decade ago that centralized its operations. The department store's annual revenues peaked in 2006 at $19.9 billion and were $17.6 billion last year. Mr. Ullman said in April that he wants to boost sales by $5 billion by the end of 2014, in part by attracting new customers.

Investors have their doubts. The company's stock is down more than 20% this year, well behind competitors such as Macy's Inc. and discounters like Kohl's Corp. and TJX Cos. Penney has struggled with more than two years of monthly sales declines. The trend started to reverse itself earlier this year, after Penney better matched its inventory to demand and upgraded its product assortment. But home products, which account for about 19% of Penney's annual sales, have been a drag, says J.P. Morgan analyst Charles Grom.

In apparel, Penney is still trying to shed its unfashionable image. Over the past five years, it has worked to convince shoppers that its wares are just as chic as its more upscale competitors. The company has expanded its store-within-a-store Sephora cosmetics department and added exclusive lines from Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. and others.

Despite the new brands, Penney's research showed it wasn't getting traction with fashionable young women. "We're great in teenage space, and really good once a woman has her first baby or buys her first home, but weaker with that early 20-something, early 30-something customer," says Ms. Sweney.

To Joana Lin, a 25-year-old New Yorker, J.C. Penney is "kind of cheap." Still, Ms. Lin says that the Mango brand might be just the thing to bring her back to Penney. "I like it enough, that I might go and take a look," said Ms. Lin, who frequently shops the Mango store in downtown Manhattan.

Last year, the company unveiled what was then its fastest brand, a juniors line called City Streets, which was able to go from factory to stores in a matter of 12 weeks. Ms. Sweney said that with the success of City Streets' cycle-time reduction initiatives, "we knew we could get it done" with Mango.

24 August 2010

Midway Dispatch: Western Montana Fair Mascots Showcase Historical Fashion


Pattee Canyon likes to sew.

Rack after rack of historical clothing sits under a tent on the fairgrounds' west lawn, all of which - with very few exceptions - was sewn by Pattee.

Pattee and her husband, Stampede Pete, are the fair's new live mascots. In fact, they are married in real life, and go by the less sensational names of Elaine and Loren Bridge. Stampede Pete was a character in a 1915 song, and fair marketing whiz Gretchen Kirchmann created the character of Pattee so he wouldn't be lonely.

On Tuesday, Pattee prepared for a fashion show. It featured her handmade clothing and served as educational entertainment for the audience. As she both teaches living history and gives sewing lessons, it seems like a good fit.

"These are snapshots of key periods of fashion history," she said. The clothing- which was modeled by handy volunteers - ranged from the garb of early Montana territory settlers to the Victorian era.

All the pieces had an Old West sensibility.

"They weren't trying to make a fashion statement," Pattee said. "They were trying to stay alive."

Midway Dispatch reporter Marielle Gallagher is a sophomore at Hellgate High School.

20 August 2010

Little bikinis make big impression at Fashion Week Swim 2011

Seattle Times

Head to the gym for crunches — the bikini is back in a big way.

Designers from all over the world showed their new swimwear collections during the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Swim 2011, which ended this week. Bikinis and cutout one-pieces dominated the catwalks. Some designers said they focused on bikinis because of the bottom line: They sell better. Others aimed for sexiness.

But can any figure wear them?

"I think it's not about age, it's not about your body," said Luli Fama designer Lourdes "Luli" Hanimian. "While you feel good and it makes you feel happy, you wear that swimsuit."

For those who need a little help to get that "happy" feeling, there was also a wide array of ingenious cover-ups — tunics, shifts, filmy slacks and more.

16 August 2010

Targeting Younger Buyers, Liz Claiborne Hits Snag

The Wall Street Journal

Isaac Mizrahi raises the gavel with William McComb, right, during closing bell ceremonies at the New York Stock Exchange April 28, 2009.

This month, J.C. Penney Co. is launching a new Liz Claiborne clothing, home and accessories line in all 1,100 of its stores, its biggest brand launch ever.

But while the exclusive collection is considered a coup for Penney, it could mark the final chapter in the story of the 34-year-old Liz Claiborne brand.

Liz Claiborne, once the No. 1 vendor at American department stores, has effectively ceded control of its iconic brand to Penney as part of the deal. The agreement—which calls for Claiborne to give up production and marketing and convert the label into a mass market line in exchange for royalties—was struck only after Macy's Inc. slashed its Claiborne orders last year. The deal gives Penney the option to buy U.S. rights to Liz Claiborne's name in five years.

"For Penney, this is wonderful," says Candace Corlett, president of New York retail consultancy WSL Strategic Retail. "It's Liz I wonder about."

The company that pioneered career apparel for a generation of working women, Liz Claiborne Inc. has seen its fortunes decline precipitously in the past few years. Since Chief Executive William L. McComb took over in 2006, the company has posted 11 consecutive quarters of red ink. Liz has seen its credit ratings fall from investment grade to junk and the S&P 500 removed the stock from its index. Its stock closed at $4.82 on Friday, compared with $43 when Mr. McComb joined the company.

The recession took a toll on all clothing makers, and even before Mr. McComb took over Liz Claiborne the company faced an aging consumer base and a flagship brand in decline for years. Profits and revenue were slowing, and Mr. McComb inherited a bruised relationship with an important client, Macy's department store.

Mr. McComb's strategy, to move the company away from its core baby-boomer roots, hasn't solved those problems so far, and it has stirred up a few new ones. The company's woes show how tough it can be to rejuvenate an iconic brand.

Founded in 1976, Liz Claiborne grew explosively by providing stylish career apparel to the droves of women who entered the workforce in the 1980s. Many of those women, born between 1946 and 1964, now are starting to retire and not spending as much money on clothes as younger women do.

In an effort to attract a younger audience, Mr. McComb decided to focus on the company's contemporary brands with the most potential, including Juicy Couture, Kate Spade, Lucky Brand Jeans and Mexx. But he made a series of strategic blunders including hiring a star designer, Isaac Mizrahi, at a hefty salary and veering away from the Liz Claiborne brand's trademark career apparel. He sold, discontinued or licensed several boomer brands—including Ellen Tracy, Dana Buchman and Sigrid Olsen—that weren't performing well but represented major sales volume.

The decision to realign the company's portfolio "was a disaster waiting to happen," says Bruce Greenwald, a finance professor at Columbia Business School.

Mr. McComb assumed he could replace the lost sales volume "in a market that's an extremely competitive, fast growing, young person's market," Mr. Greenwald said.

Mr. McComb concedes that he has made some mistakes. At Mexx, for example, he recently replaced the management team after an earlier overhaul failed to captivate consumers.

But he remains confident of his overall strategy. "If we had not had that incredible realignment in the summer of 2007, there's no way we would have made it through the storm, from a working capital perspective," he says. "I am so bullish about where we are going to be."

The new business model with Penney enables the company to turn a money-losing business into one that generates profits, he says. A lower-priced Liz & Co. line that Penney launched in 2007 has been very successful, both companies say.

Although the baby boomer fashion market is notoriously difficult, several of Claiborne's competitors have been able to retain the older consumer while attracting younger women. Retailers say Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren, for example, have succeeded by being consistent in style and offering quality clothes that fit well and are a good value for the money.

At its height in the early 1990s, Liz Claiborne generated $2 billion in annual sales. After founder Ms. Claiborne and her husband Art Ortenberg retired in 1989, sales began a slow decline. Specialty retailers such as Ann Taylor and Banana Republic picked off consumers who preferred mixing and matching to a whole Liz Claiborne "look." Department stores slashed inventory levels, demanded exclusive merchandise and pushed their own higher margin, private-label brands.

To fuel growth in the late 1990s and early 2000s, then-CEO Paul R. Charron went on an acquisition spree, collecting a portfolio of 46 brands. The expanded group masked the reality that the core Liz Claiborne label was losing momentum.

A charismatic industry outsider, Mr. McComb was hired in 2006 from Johnson & Johnson, where he ran its orthopedics and neurologics division. Known for his flamboyant management style, he quickly differentiated himself from his predecessor.

On an early trip to see the company's Juicy Couture brand in Los Angeles, Mr. McComb wore a blue velvet Juicy blazer with a jacquard novelty shirt. Mr. McComb once got down on the floor, in front of gawking employees, and kissed the feet of Liz Claiborne's general counsel, Nicholas Rubino.

At a meeting with his management team, bankers and consultants in early 2007, Mr. McComb belted out "Climb Every Mountain" from "The Sound of Music."

"He is an optimist with boundless energy. He takes bad news in stride," says Arthur C. Martinez, a board member and former chief executive of Sears Roebuck & Co. "He is an incredible motivator."

Soon after being hired as CEO, Mr. McComb said that the company's portfolio was overweighted in what he called the "missy boomer quadrant" and vowed to bring the average age of the Liz Claiborne customer down by broadening the brand's appeal. Female consumers between the ages of 25 and 34 shop more often and spend more money on apparel than any other demographic group, making them an attractive target for any fashion company.

In 2007, a month after Ms. Claiborne died, Mr. McComb eliminated, sold or licensed out 16 brands accounting for $800 million in annual revenue. Many of those brands appealed to boomer consumers at department stores. Mr. McComb's goal, he said, was to focus the company's cash and attention on its more promising contemporary brands, which operate their own retail stores and are less tied to department stores.

But most of the contemporary brands haven't taken off as expected. Although Kate Spade posted a sales increase of 25% to $42 million for the quarter ended July 3, overall the "U.S.-based direct brands" business segment—which includes Kate Spade, Lucky Brand and Juicy Couture—posted an operating loss of $13 million in the period. Mexx, a European brand, lost $26 million on top of a $33 million loss for the same quarter in 2009.

One of Mr. McComb's top priorities was relaunching the Liz Claiborne brand and in 2008, he lured celebrity designer Isaac Mizrahi away from Target Corp. to be creative director. Mr. Mizrahi signed a five-year contract worth about $6 million a year, according to people familiar with the contract, significantly more than he was earning at Target. Liz Claiborne officials declined to comment on the dollar value of the contract, saying "it had fixed and variable components."

As part of the deal, Liz Claiborne hired Mr. Mizrahi's entire design staff of about 25. Claiborne also agreed to fund elaborate fashion shows for Mr. Mizrahi's personal Isaac Mizrahi high-end brand, for approximately $1 million each season, according to a person familiar with the matter.

While considered a steep price of entry, the Mizrahi deal granted Mr. McComb access to the rarefied world of high fashion.

Indeed, Mr. McComb was dazzled by the more glamorous aspects of the fashion industry, according to some people who worked with him. His first acquisition was a $12 million investment in the high-fashion label Narciso Rodriguez. When, a month after the acquisition, Mr. Rodriguez declined to accompany the CEO to the black-tie gala for the Council of Fashion Designers of America, Mr. McComb emailed Mr. Rodriguez to say he was "sad, disappointed and deeply disturbed." Claiborne and the designer severed their relationship 18 months later. Mr. Rodriguez had no comment.

For his first Liz Claiborne collection, Mr. Mizrahi said he wanted to inject a shot of youthfulness into a line he considered "a little granny." He designed a colorful collection featuring dirndl skirts with tulle crinoline, bright floral cardigans and nipped-waist shirtdresses. Prices, lower than in the past, ranged from $30 for shirts to $250 for coats.

Unlike at Target, where Mr. Mizrahi collaborated with a team of merchants, Claiborne gave the designer lots of leeway in determining the direction of the line, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. McComb publicly called Mr. Mizrahi "a master" and hung a painting of the designer in his office.

Claiborne's largest client, Macy's, however, was worried about the aesthetic of the line, which was considered fashionable but not geared toward working women, the brand's core constituency.

Mr. McComb had inherited a rocky relationship with Macy's, after his predecessor announced the low-priced Liz & Co. line for Penney, Macy's archrival, in 2006.

At a March 2008 lunch at the Museum of Modern Art's restaurant, Macy's CEO Terry Lundgren and the company's then-head merchant, Janet Grove, told Mr. Mizrahi that the new line needed to make a big splash to reverse its plummeting sales—which had fallen to a total of about $200 million by the end of 2007 from more than a $1 billion a decade earlier.

"It better be different" from the Liz & Co. line at Penney, Mr. Lundgren warned Mr. Mizrahi, or Macy's might drop it, according to a person who was at the meeting. Mr. Mizrahi assured Macy's that he was determined to make a break with the past.

Mr. Mizrahi's designs hit stores in January 2009, generating media buzz and positive reviews from fashion critics. Michelle Obama was photographed in one of his outfits and Vogue ran a profile of Mr. Mizrahi.

But the collection launched in the midst of the recession. Claiborne's core baby boomer consumers rejected it, forcing aggressive markdowns. In the first quarter of 2009, Claiborne's "partnered brands" division, the largest component of which is the flagship line, posted an operating loss of $40 million.

Mr. Mizrahi's looks, such as a gingham dress with a big crinoline slip attached, confused Carol Orsborn, a 62-year-old author and marketing consultant who used to wear Liz Claiborne. "I wasn't sure where or when the traditional Liz Claiborne woman would wear that," she said.

Stephen Reily, CEO of a Boomer networking site called VibrantNation.com, called the Mizrahi look for Liz Claiborne "a kind of madcap Auntie Mame style when applied to women 50-plus."

Mr. Mizrahi declined to comment.

During the first season, as sales fell short of expectations, Liz Claiborne discussed an exclusive deal with Macy's, in an effort to get better exposure and terms in the future. The company simultaneously began pursuing deals with other retailers, including Kohl's Corp. and Penney.

In September, Macy's told Liz Claiborne that it was cutting distribution to 28 stores from 300, effectively dropping the brand after 30 years. People familiar with Macy's thinking say that the collection was too fashion forward to appeal to Claiborne's consumer base.

"We could not justify expanding it," Macy's spokesman Jim Sluzewski said.

Liz Claiborne's executives were shocked by the magnitude of the reduction, according to people familiar with the matter.

In October, Mr. McComb called a meeting of a team of 100 designers and merchants at Mr. Mizrahi's studio for what he called "bittersweet, but great news," according to people who were there.

His announcement: Under a new licensing agreement, the brand will only be sold at J.C. Penney and will be manufactured and marketed by the retailer. Several designers who had worked at the company dating back to Ms. Claiborne wept. Mr. McComb told them that in 60 days they would no longer have jobs, according to people who were at the meeting.

Penney CEO Myron E. Ullman III said the Liz Claiborne brand was a way to steal market share from mainstream department stores, particularly Macy's, its biggest competitor. The company did research and found that half the women who buy Liz Claiborne at other department stores would follow the brand to Penney.

Citigroup analyst Deborah Weinswig thinks it could bring in $300 million to $400 million in sales in its first year—and Claiborne would get an undisclosed percentage of sales and profits with a guaranteed minimum annual royalty. Penney wouldn't comment on specific figures, but said it expects sales to double in five years, at which point it has the option to buy U.S. rights to the brand.

The deal was contingent on Claiborne's willingness to sell the brand name, Mr. Ullman said. "I think if they had their choice, they would probably not have agreed to sell it," he said.

Mr. McComb continues to have the support of his board, which last summer renewed his contract for three more years. "The strategy is exactly right and the board is fully in support of it," says Mr. Martinez.

If the company continues to show losses a year from now, "absent some cataclysmic economic event…we would be obliged to question the leadership and the path that we are on," Mr. Martinez says. For now, though, he says "there is an overwhelming vote of confidence" in the strategy set forth by Mr. McComb, who once described board members as having "brass balls and brass bras" for sticking with him.

Mr. McComb says he's now considering changing the company's name. Liz Claiborne is "a misnomer strategically," he said.

11 August 2010

The F Word

NY Times

Fashion, which has always been as much a narrative about the body as it is about clothes, has rarely taken kindly to the idea of flesh. Much as we may wax nostalgic about the Rubenesque ideal or the buxom, wide-hipped wenches of Restoration comedies, in its modern iteration fashion has steadily downsized the human scale. Flesh suggests messiness, privileging the indiscipline of life over the fierce control of art, the unaerobicized body spilling over the contours of an artificial silhouette, be it Christian Dior’s New Look in 1947 or Marc Jacobs’s New Look for Louis Vuitton this fall. Flesh also suggests the threateningly female, moistness and blood, the hothouse clutches of a heavy-breasted mother — off-putting images for male fashion designers, who are more often than not gay. (Think of Karl Lagerfeld’s withering disdain on hearing that a German magazine would now be using only regular-size women in its fashion spreads: “No one wants to see curvy women. . . . You’ve got fat mothers with their bags of chips sitting in front of the television and saying that thin models are ugly.”)

Indeed, well before the concept of a size 0 or 2 became ensconced in the clothing racks of Barneys (where you will be hard put to find a size 12) or Bergdorf Goodman (which deigns to include a few 14s), Audrey Hepburn was a designer’s dream — Hubert de Givenchy’s dream, to be specific — in large part because she lacked all curves. Her swanlike neck and wondrous face undoubtedly helped endear her, but from a fashion point of view, she might as well have been an animated hanger. Watching her recently in “Paris When It Sizzles,” it is impossible to take your eyes off her razor-thin presence as she sliced through some of the film’s sillier moments with aplomb. Nothing disturbs the surface of the pastel wardrobe of suits and tailored dresses Givenchy has created for her to wear (although how a typist-for-hire would get within gazing distance of clothes that are clearly a couturier’s vision is conveniently ignored), no sign of breasts or hips strain at the enclosure of fabric.

Still, our current phobia about flesh — not when it comes to showing a sexy glimpse of skin but rather when it comes to revealing wobbly or lumpy parts of the body that have not been toned to a fare-thee-well — is at an all-time high. Our collective fear of fat and idealization of thinness has resulted in a seriously askew notion of the physical self that has produced an epidemic of body-dysmorphic illnesses like anorexia and bulimia, which increasingly have included young men as well as young women among their victims. “In a modern capitalist patriarchy such as the United States,” observes Kathleen Lebesco, author of “Revolting Bodies? The Struggle to Redefine Fat Identity,” “fat is seen as repulsive, funny, ugly, unclean, obscene and above all, as something to lose.” One would be hard put to disagree with this assessment, no matter that this unforgiving reality inevitably stirs a cultural response that attempts to rectify the balance by embracing, on one end of the spectrum, the fleshily figurative in art and, on the other, a TV show about fat camp called “Huge.” Over the past three decades a clutch of more radically conceived phenomena has also emerged, including fat studies and fat activists (“body liberationists”) who engage in fat politics, which attempts to fight the anti-fat stigma head-on by positing the big body in all its perceived abjection as an option to be accepted and even celebrated. “I’ll take my naked body to the streets in protest,” writes one such defiant revolutionary named Mariko Tamaki. “I’ll pummel the public with what it insists on denying and avoiding: tons of mountainous, sexy flesh. I’ll bare my bare boobs and squish my sweaty bum at strangers. . . . I’ll gather an army of fat angry naked soldiers and we’ll take to the streets.” Into the fray, Beth Ditto!

This season’s fashion narrative, ever mindful of populist sentiment, has tipped its hat in the direction of size diversity by featuring some curvier styles replete with circle skirts and cantilevered breasts among the usual array of pared-down ones, clothes for “real women” instead of starved models. Clothes, that is, made for the amply endowed Christina Hendricks of “Mad Men” instead of for the bevy of skinny lovelies on just about every other TV show. Be this as it may, it’s safe to say that flesh isn’t going to become the new black anytime soon. The days when Sarah Bernhardt was the object of derision because of her thinness are irrevocably gone. According to a new biography of the actress by Robert Gottlieb, jokes about Bernhardt’s ostensibly skeletal physique once abounded: “She’s so thin that when she swallows a pill, she looks pregnant.” “When she takes a bath, the level of the water goes down.”

In their place is a perspective that looks upon Marilyn Monroe as suspiciously full-figured instead of pleasingly zaftig and insists on an undeviatingly lean aesthetic as the beauty ideal. “It doesn’t matter that whole human epochs have celebrated big men and women,” Sallie Tisdale writes in her essay “A Weight That Women Carry,” “because the brief period in which I live does not; since I was born, even the voluptuous calendar girl has gone. Today’s models, the women whose pictures I see constantly, unavoidably, grow more minimal by the day.” For confirmation, one need look no further than the example of Filippa Hamilton, the Ralph Lauren model who, at 5 feet 10 inches and 120 pounds, was pink-slipped last year and claims it was because she was regarded as overweight. Or to the non-model extras that Miuccia Prada reportedly fired last December while she was designing the costumes for the Metropolitan Opera’s recent production of Verdi’s “Attila,” deeming them impossible to dress. “I need models!” this reputedly open-minded, deep-thinking fashion star is supposed to have said.

How, one might well wonder, did we manage to come to such a pass? How, in an age that seeks to empower women’s standing, has the female image become honored mainly in its diminution? Judeo-Christian tradition has always had its own problems with the flesh, of course, evocative as it is of the carnal and thus sinful (and, by further implication, slothful and unclean). Christian iconography has tended to be half in love with flesh as an object of mortification, as in the crucifixion of Christ, while the Judaic tradition strictly regulates the exposure of flesh for both men and women. Meanwhile, as Lebesco demonstrates in “Revolting Bodies,” an ethnographic view of fat shows it to be a more fluid construct, one that is governed by prevailing economic and cultural interests rather than the negative idée fixe our contemporary eyes have been conditioned into seeing it as. (The stigmatizing term “obese,” from the Latin obesus, originally meant “having eaten well” until it was reclassified by 19th-century doctors and health workers, just as “fat” was once a flattering term used by the Greeks.) In premodern times, for instance, chunkiness in women was generally seen as a positive signifier, indicating fertility in a time when food supplies were scarce or irregular and human reproductivity was endangered; fatness, it appears, was perceived as a kind of internalized abundance. Similarly, during the early part of the 20th century in southern Italy, where back-breaking work was necessary for survival, corpulence was valued because it was equated with wealth and beauty. By the 1960s, however, when the vast majority of the population was adequately fed, fat people began to be marginalized and pathologized. Perhaps most interesting, in stark contrast to our own culture of endless dieting and food fetishism, are certain primitive societies that engage in an actual “fattening process,” like the Annang of Nigeria, whose women until very recently were deliberately fattened up in fattening huts before marriage. This approach sounds so antithetical to our own “Am I fat?” anxieties (generally asked only by girls and women who are safely thin) as to verge on the surreal.

All the same, it is hard to imagine that flesh in all its ungainly specificity will ever be given its due so long as a woman’s power continues to hinge more often than not on her beauty, and so long as beautiful equals thin. Harder yet to imagine that young girls who are overweight or who deviate from the cultural norm of extreme thinness will ever feel significantly better about themselves — the efforts of fat activists notwithstanding — than Judith Moore, the author of the haunting memoir “Fat Girl: A True Story,” felt about herself: “I hate myself. I have almost always hated myself. . . . I do not hate myself for betrayals, for going behind the back of someone who trusted me. I hate myself because I am not beautiful. I hate myself because I am fat.” There is something in us that doesn’t like fat, something deeply ingrained in us that draws us to thin. Female consumers of all sizes, according to a recent study, seem to prefer looking at ads with thin rather than plus-size models. The origins of this preference are complex, having to do with tangled notions about purity versus contamination, self-indulgence versus self-control, and the ambivalence with which we regard our own appetites. In some sense fashion designers are merely messengers, delivering up to us our own grotesque parody of religious grace, in which food substitutes for sex and the sinful pleasures of the flesh lead only to the purgatory of size 14.

09 August 2010

Bollywood faces at Bangalore Fashion Week 2010

One India

With all glamorous models walking the ramp, 'Blenders Pride Bangalore Fashion Week 2010' was a success. The fashion show also saw Bollywood faces like Neha Dhupia, Mandira Bedi, Tanushree Dutta, and singer Vishal Bhall gracefully walking the ramp.

Keeping in mind that the festive season ( from October onwards) is not far away, the theme and and designs of most of the designers were more of Indian traditional and cultural wear. People even got to see a few of the peppy and western collections. Fashion designers like Swapnil Shinde, J.J. Valaya, Ramesh Dembla, Soham Chakraborty, Michelle Salins, etc were seen showcasing their designs on the occasion.

Mandira wearing her gorgeous smile said, “ I loved the outfit what Swapnil designed for me, i feel very comfortable. Swapnil is a very good friend and I couldn't deny his proposal for the show.” Swapnil Shinde presented the stronger part of the women by choosing a theme on Lady Gaga and using colours like black and white. He even brought down Mandira Bedi on the ramp wearing a white gown designed with silver and black laces showcasing her as one of the most powerful women in India with her dynamic smile.

Ramesh Dembla's collections showcased more of the traditional face of India by putting up designer sarees on the ramp. Sanjeet Anand's collections had a touch of both western and Indian collections, presenting Tanushree Dutta clad in white saree with diamond jewellery. Neha Dhupia was seen clad in a copper brown colour dress, which somewhat looked like the Anarkali chudidar chameez, designed by J.J.Valaya.

06 August 2010

DIY fashion hits land of haute couture

Associated Press

In the realm of haute couture, where seamstresses concoct handmade gowns that cost as much as a car, one atelier has caused a sensation by purveying a different kind of made-to-measure.

Call it do-it-yourself chic.

The atelier, called the Sweat Shop, is a kind of Internet cafe where Singer sewing machines replace computers, and would-be fashion designers and creatively inclined clotheshorses pay by the hour to stitch their own garments.

The brainchild of a Swiss makeup artist and an Austrian clothing designer, Sweat Shop opened in March, as France was still reeling from global economic crisis and unemployment in the country stood at more than 10 percent.

"It seems like a strange thing to say, but the crisis turned out to be the perfect timing for us," said Martena Duss, the atelier's Lucerne, Swiss-born co-founder. "After years of having this attitude that was all about consumption, people are now about recycling and saving and being creative."

The space itself sets the tone: A dilapidated former printing press in the up-and-coming Canal Saint Martin neighborhood of eastern Paris, Sweat Shop is furnished with found and secondhand objects in what might be dubbed haute kitsch style. A couch set in mustard yellow velvet sits beneath a mounted deer's head; grandma tschotskes and crocheted doilies cover every surface; the white sewing machines, provided free-of-charge by the manufacturer, sit atop refurbished school desks.

It costs euro6 ($7.90) per hour to use one of the Singers, but some prior sewing experience is required. For novices, Duss and her co-owner, Sissi Holleis, offer sewing classes five evenings a week. Because home economic classes have long been absent from the French public school curriculum, the lessons are Sweat Shop's most popular offerings, Duss said.

Beginners all start with the same simple projects — a pillow or a bag — but after that, clients come with their own fabric and ideas.

"The most frustrating thing for people is that they just don't realize how time consuming it's going to be," said Duss. "They come in here thinking they're going to make a wedding dress in a single afternoon, and it's like, 'Um, no, that's just not possible.'"

Both Duss and Holleis learned how to sew in school, and 38-year-old Holleis turned the skill into a profession, designing an eponymous line that she sold in her Paris boutique. After a decade in business, Holleis closed the store in 2008, said 28-year-old Duss, who studied to be a makeup artist and works mostly on fashion shoots and runway shows.

"Sissi is the real professional. I don't sew well, per se, but I do it in my own way," said Duss, who was sporting a roughhewn gray haltertop of her own confection.

In addition to sewing classes, the shop offers knitting lessons, birthday and bachelorette parties and, during the summer, French language immersion-cum-knitting courses. It's also a cafe, serving up potent espressos and homemade cakes.

Sweat Shop has attracted considerable attention from French fashion magazines, and 80 percent of its clientele are women aged 25-35, said Duss, adding that for some reason "there are lots of men in the knitting classes." The shop also attracts a fair share of people passing through Paris, as well as some veteran seamstresses like an 80-year-old Swedish woman who spends nearly every afternoon there.

The shop has already proven a much bigger success than Duss and Holleis initially envisioned.

"We were a bit nervous because there isn't much of a do-it-yourself culture in France," Duss said. "Maybe it's because there's so much perfection all around, with haute couture and haute cuisine, but French people are generally reticent do things that may not be perfect."

"But now, I think people are eager to express themselves and be their own designer and personalize what they wear. They don't all want to be going around in the same H&M T-shirt," she said, adding that she and Holleis have already gotten franchise offers.

"For the moment, we're taking it slow. This is like our baby, so we want it to have time to grow up a little. But we sometimes joke that our goal is to have three stores in three years," she said.

A top destination for the first new branch? Possibly New York, she said.