Monday, 27 January 2014
“Moleskine is the heir of the legendary notebook used for the past two centuries by artists and thinkers, from Vincent Van Gogh to Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway to Bruce Chatwin. The anonymous and essential little black notebook, with its unique rounded corners, elastic closure, and expandable inner pocket, was originally produced for more than a century by a small French bookbinder that supplied Parisian stationery shops frequented by the international literary and artistic avant‐garde. This trusty, pocket‐sized travel companion held their sketches, notes, stories, and ideas before they became famous images or beloved books.”
Unfortunately, this unnamed French stationer ceased production of his books in the 1980s. The writer Bruce Chatwin was devastated at this loss, and travelled the globe buying up all the ‘Moleskines’ (as he had nicknamed them). Chatwin was a strong driving force in recognising the cultural power these little books could hold, and in 1997, inspired by Chatwin’s writing about the notebooks, a small Milanese publisher started to produce books under the name ‘Moleskine’. At this point in time, the marketing and myth-building went into overdrive, and the books started to be sold with the invocation of names of great writers and thinkers. The implied message is that if you buy one, you too will become part of history.
“Following Chatwin’s footsteps, Moleskine notebook begins its journey once again, this time as an indispensable complement to today’s mobile technology. Capturing reality on the move, preserving details, impressing the unique aspects of experience upon paper, Moleskine is an accumulator of ideas and emotions which are then released over time […] Moleskine notebooks are partners for the creative professions and the imaginary of our time: they are a worldwide symbol of contemporary nomadism, closely connected to the digital world through a network of websites, blogs, online groups and virtual archives. With Moleskine, the ancient (and typically analogical) practice of sketching and jotting down notes finds unexpected connective space on the Web and in its communities.”
There are many difficult points that this PR epic glosses over. Firstly, it is clear that the modern day notebooks are definitely not the same books as used by Picasso, Van Gogh and friends. They are a modern product, produced not by a small Parisian stationer in his workshop, but by a large Italian company, which outsources production to China.
On top of this troubling censorship of design history (with an supposedly nameless originator), it is clear that Moleskine are building on flimsy foundations. Since when did ‘inspired by’ become ‘the heir of’? By speaking in these terms, the company is establishing ownership of the objects used by great thinkers of the 20th Century, and inserting themselves into the narrative long before they even started to produce these books.
In the last few months of 2013 I was feverishly researching sketchbooks of the 19th Century, with a particular focus on the division of books used for design and books used for artistic study. Many Victorian stationers’ catalogues make reference to books that sound like Moleskines. One from Waterlow & Sons in 1881 advertised a memorandum book that is ‘bound in fluted roan, with gusset pocket, round corners and elastic band’ (and would cost you one shilling and sixpence each). I doubt that our romantically lit Parisian stationer was the only stationer producing books like this. It was also extremely unlikely that these artists had such a strong brand loyalty as Moleskine likes to imagine. My own research focused on the artist Edward Burne-Jones. Of the twenty or so books that I examined of his, over ten different producers were in evidence. Was this an unusual habit of use from Burne-Jones? Probably not. I myself have absolutely no preference in books I use for note-taking (although I do currently use a Moleskine), nor do I know anyone who does. Do you? It is fascinating to witness Moleskine profess the apparent anonymity of their product, whilst simultaneously spinning a yarn that is intended to create dedicated fans with a loyalty to just one brand of notebook.
Tuesday, 2 April 2013
A Pirate's Life
Fashion isn’t like music or film, it isn’t yet a pirates medium (or if there are any pirates, they are not on our side). Fashion has yet to become fully digitalized as at this point in time couture still requires handwork and clothes still have to exist in real life. The only people who can copy a garment ‘file’, or create a shoe torrent are the corporations who are all busy feeding off each other. The only part of fashion that has been wholly ‘democratized’ is the consumption of the fashion image. The fashion system as 99% of people experience it has become about the consumption of cool, not clothes.
Ghesquiaga & Balencawang.
This is most likely Balenciaga’s problem. During the reign of Nicolas Ghesquiere over the last 15 years, Balenciaga became the ultimate fashion brand. Every collection was wildly different, and packed to the brim with as many fresh ideas as he could wring out of his team. Season after season, he raced ahead so much that people have built whole careers out of translating what he produced.
I think its fair to say that Alexander Wang, along with others, like Proenza Schouler, has been one of those people. Balenciaga’s blessing has been its curse, as it essentially came to exist to lead the way, and inspire everyone else. It was beautiful to behold, but not the best business model. So the suits chose to correct that error, and the Ghesquiere era is now over. It was only ever a sad glitch, an anomalous mistake on the part of corporate fashion.
It’s less of a case of the student becoming the master, than the imitator becoming the imitated. Is it really true that the people at this level cannot tell the difference between Wang and Ghesquiere? If so, it’s clear that to these people it never really mattered whether fashion had anything of worth to say, all that mattered was that there was fresh meat. Less message, more medium please.
Two Steps Ahead
With Nicola’s direction, everyone was scrambling to be the first to adapt his silhouettes. With Wang’s, there's no need to scramble as they're already on his wavelength. That marble influence that shone through in his debut collection? It’s already there. Just go for a wander down Regent St., look in the windows. The High Street is rising, and Couture is stooping down to the wishes of the masses to the point where the two are starting to meet in the middle. Its fair to say the fashion community doesn’t quite know what to make of this development, whether to think well of low fashion and poorly of high fashion, or vice versa.
It’ll be interesting to see this move towards the generic does in fact help Balenciaga’s sales, as expected. I’m sure it will. I’ve stopped believing that the people who can actually afford to wear this stuff have any creative engagement with it at all. I realized this when I saw looks in the Saint Laurent women’s show last year. Here was a designer who has a couple of sort-of interesting ideas over his career (and has failed to move on in any real way from his first success), sending beautifully turned out derivative crap down the catwalk. Hedi Slimane hasn’t moved on from the early 2000s, yet despite some voices (Horyn), the fangirls that make up most of the ‘critics’ were legion in their admiration.
An Empty Edge
The ‘edge’ of fashion is becoming empty. The 1% are either uninterested in saying anything through fashion, or too afraid of losing money. And the rest of us are just too tired of trying to be creative at the speed of light. We’re freefalling in a cultural abyss, and who the hell knows when we’ll ever get out of it.
Alexander Wang at Balenciaga was nice, and there are clothes there that are beautiful and interesting. But the beating heart of creativity had been ripped out of the house. You could see the references to last season’s collection in this one, and realize that Wang needs somebody, anybody, to copy. Ghesquiere never needed that. I can only hope that sooner or later the suits will realize that the house, just like before Ghesquiere, is running on empty again.
Sunday, 25 November 2012
so-called ‘fake’ margiela
|The real thing huh? (pic from tumblr).|
Apologies for the font and sizing weirdness, blame blogger, not me!
Sunday, 16 September 2012
Sunday, 9 September 2012
Sunday, 2 September 2012
AMY SPINDLER: STYLE EDITOR, THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE (1998-2004)
“Fashion editors going to fashion shows is a little like high-school kids…taking drugs, drinking, wearing slutty clothes, or jumping off bridges: they do it because everybody else is doing it.” So starts a fashion-week diary Amy Spindler wrote for Slate magazine back in 2000.
She went on, in that first entry, to state that fashion editors look forward to death, because, among other things, “they can wear the back of their dress open for the first time in public”.
But then, she never was one to wrap things in cotton wool. More a shoot-from-the-hip kinda girl, making sure designers knew when they hadn’t delivered their best. She wasn’t venomous but honest, her opinions gathered from her observations, backed up with knowledge and intelligence.
She started out writing press releases for Brides magazine before moving on to The Daily News Record, then W before finally ending up at The New York Times, where the role of fashion critic was created for her. Her presence and fierce views soon established the fashion industry as a force to reckoned with, not a frivolous indulgence that had, up until then, been merely, for want of a better word, humoured.
Sadly, Spindler died in 2004, at the age of 40, from a brain tumour. Cathy Horyn, who had become her successor at The Times in 2003, summed her up in her obituary perfectly: “Ms Spindler was never interested in simply putting a dress on a page or talking about hemlines. She recognised that fashion was as important a cultural barometer as music or art and that it should be – demanded to be – covered as rigorously as a political campaign.”
(by Natalie Dembinska)
Sunday, 29 July 2012
Figure 5: Builders look sheepish.
Figure 6: Builders in the mud.From http://www.flickr.com/photos/33563017@N06/3142435418
Figure 7: I would wear this. All. The. Time.
Figure 8: you can work your hi-viz look by artfully draping yourself in rope and wire, and contrasting with a nice harsh grey.