Thursday, May 27, 2010

Don't Pull Your Own Winona

In Gustave Flaubert’s classic tale Madame Bovary, Emma racks up debt from her excessive designer purchases. Fast-forward 150 years later and Winona Ryder is caught shoplifting over $5,500 worth of designer clothes from Sax Fifth Avenue. Thankfully Target has stepped in to help the sybarites among us with impulse-shopping problems and developed Go International, a line that features high-end designer pieces at a mass market price. Zac Posen, who created pieces such as floral brocade frocks, is the latest designer to debut his clothes at the discount retailer.

Known as one of the IT boys in the elite world of fashion, Zac Posen is following many other young, emerging designers such as Proenza Schouler, Alice Temperley, and Rodarte and throwing his hat into Target’s arena of mass market fashion. Posen’s line will feature pieces ranging from $16.99-199.00 according to the Target website.

But can Posen, whose average dress retails for about $1000.00, translate his signature aesthetic at such a low price point without comprising quality or stylistic integrity?

Roberta Elins, a professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, says that Target’s mass market lines do a good job at delivering well designed clothes at a lower price point. But she adds that it is illogical to think that the quality will be comparable to a designer’s original luxury line.

“That’s like saying couture can translate into regular, ready-to-wear,” Elins states. “There are high-end yachts and than there are weekend sailboats,” she says, making an analogy between boats and a designer’s luxury and mass market line. Both models can perform the same basic function, originate from the same brand and possess similar design, yet in terms of quality one will always have a larger cabin or more hand ruched detailing than the other.

So if you can’t afford the yacht should you even bother shelling out for the weekend sailboat?

Posen, despite price limitations, did stay true to his vision and parallels can definitely be drawn between his runway collection and Go International line. Yet whether this is a positive for the average Northwestern student will be dependent on what exactly the student is looking for.

Accustomed to designing for socialites and celebrities, Posen’s line for Target consists mostly of dresses and party-wear. From a bright red dress with tulle and ruffles that looks like a modernized version of a Molly Ringwald outfit in a John Hughes’ movie, to a bodycon cocktail dress, these items are not the average pieces you see down Sheridan Road.

This quality is seen as a plus for many college students who see these lines as a great opportunity to acquire pieces they may not normally be able to afford from a well-known designer. Yet as Elins points out, it is not necessarily the only or the most economical way to attain unconventional or branded items.

College students, who Elins says are a crucial demographic of these Target lines, have many options of recessionista dressing depending on their geographical location. Posen’s and other mass market lines may not be viewed as the messiah of cheap chic in a city like Chicago where there is an abundance of vintage stores that offer stylish clothes at an affordable price.

Elins says that most smart college shoppers will chose a combination of mass market purchases and vintage finds. She adds that lines like Go International may be more appealing to a more conservative shopper, who can see a look put together and stylized on a mannequin.

Paula Kim a social worker who is a shopper of the Evanston Target says she usually looks at the Go International lines but does not necessarily buy anything.

“The items are all very cute” Kim says while clutching a structured tuxedo skirt with an exposed zipper. “But the sizes are way too small, I feel like a giant when trying things on.“

This is a common complaint among Target customers, who on the review section of Target’s website often state to size up when purchasing items.

With pieces like a silky floor length print gown featuring intricate construction at the bodice and a red leather jacket that looks like it’s circa Studio 54, it seems that Zac Posen’s line may be the perfect distraction from pulling your own Winona.

-Heba Hasan

Will the Real Hispter Please Stand Up?

Who is a hipster? Is it the girl at Kafein sporting the library readers and the unwashed asymmetrical haircut? Or is that boy at the poetry slam drinking a micro brewed beer in his Three Wolf Moon T-shirt? No, neither of them are hipsters, at least not according to them anyway.

No one is a self-admitted hipster, because to associate one self within the conformity of a label would be the antithesis of the hipster philosophy, analogous to a Quaker wearing a NRA t-shirt.

Yet it seems that those who fall into the hipster category are the first ones that adamantly deny their hipster status. But how does a creature of the plaid wearing species rationalize this act of apparent self-denial?

As blogger of Pop Matters Rob Horning puts it “People think of their own bids for recognition in a different way: we’re not trying to be cool; we’re just expressing who we really are. That other guy, though, what a douche.”

But what is it exactly about the title hipster that attracts so much loathing and criticism among the public and critics alike?

According to the creator of the website Hipsterwave, J. Parker Doty, hipsters attract such negative sentiments because of their attitude of superiority and pretension.

“If you walk around thinking your cooler and different than everyone else people are going to pick up on that and react negatively,” he says.

It is true that the label has come to encompass more then just a propensity for neon hued wayfarers and Wes Anderson movies. The term has come to describe, whether accurately or not, people who practice an outward effort of being “cool.”

“It designates people who are invalidating the authenticity of certain social practices by making them seem as though they are only about scoring points on identity,” says Horning.

And we’ve seen it plague the most artfully constructed hipsters, the moment they realize a facet of their subculture is suddenly deemed “cool,” diluted to the unoriginal masses of the public they drop it as quick as that Ed Hardy shirt that they “never” used to wear.

But can you really blame hipsters for being so finicky about the facets that make up their subculture. Because besides their Rushmore DVD and healthy dose of cynicism what really is the foundation of modern hipsterdom?

Many people say that today’s hipsters do not have a subculture of their own, lacking any defining characteristics. They are not like the original hipsters of the 40s that wanted to emulate the lifestyle of jazz musicians nor are they like Jack Kerouac and his fellow beatniks carrying around the “Naked Lunch” as their manifesto.

The basis of today’s hipsters is solely founded on the mantra of being different for the sake of being different. This is the reason why many critics have claimed that the hipster culture has come to an end, engulfed by consumerism and a capitalistic society.

Some individuals lament the creation of stores like Urban Outfitters and American Apparel for “capitalizing on the concept of coolness” according to Parker.

But others argue that these corporations are the very pillars that are holding down the hipster camp.

Hipsterism wouldn’t be possible without stores like American Apparel and Urban Outfitters, according to Horning. Since it is based on the expression of identity through goods that possess “cool connotations” you really can’t have one without the other, he says.

So with every other youth buying their pre-pubescent sized jeans and their worn in messenger bags at the local strip mall is there an authentic hipster out there? And moreover is there a hipster who doesn’t view the word as a complete and utter travesty to their counter culture?

The thing is, we are all closet hipsters on the inside. Mainstream culture’s boundaries have become nebulous, with indie bands playing on the radio, Cannes Film Festival winners available on Netflix and everyone owning a pair of converse maybe hipster culture has not become extinct. Maybe everyone is just trying on different facets of being a hipster.

Yet isn’t the popularization of hipster culture sacrilegious? But then again, who better to pull of a sense of irony than a hipster?

-Heba Hasan

Millinery: A Dying Art

Photo Credit: Heba Hasan
A Step by Step Process of Making a Hat

When 13-years-old Tonya Gross stepped into a haberdasher in her small town she never looked back. Like many milliners, or hat maker’s in the area, Gross’ love for hats was not something she actively sought out but rather something that found her. Though like many professionals in the industry, Gross’ love for millinery is sometimes accompanied by a growing frustration at the lack of attention that millinery receives.

Millinery is the construction of hats, traditionally by hand. Nicknamed a “dying art” millinery has been steadily declining since the 60’s to a point where most of the public does not know what the term “milliner” encompasses. Chicago has formed two major guilds, The Millinery Arts Alliance and Chapeau Guild that in conjunction with independent milliners are devoted to keep the art of couture millinery alive.

“I think we are like the bastard stepchild of the accessory world,” Laurie Kennard, a member of the Chapeau Guild, says with a laugh.

Laurie Kennard is referring to the lack of press that hats and therefore milliners receive in fashion magazines. Tonya Gross, a milliner and winner of the prestigious millinery Hatty award agrees, stating that the opportunity to sell in retail spaces is shrinking despite the resurgence of hats on the fashion runway for the past 7-8 years.

Eia Radosavljivec, former founder of the Millinery Arts Alliance and millinery professor at the School of Art Institute attributes this to America’s myopic aesthetic viewpoint.

“I do think it’s a real shame that so many people are afraid to be individualistic at all about how they look. American’s pride themselves on individualism and freedom but it’s a bunch of lemmings,” she says. Because they have to be wearing something they’ve seen someone else wear before. “

Owner of Formé millinery, Jenny Pfanenstiel agrees, commenting on how surprised she was upon entering the field to see just how dying the art really was.

“You used to be able to walk down Michigan Avenue and find couture milliner shops everywhere,” she says dismayingly, alluding to places such as Raymond Hudd’s boutique and the millinery salon at Marshall Fields, both of which have closed.

The deterioration of couture millinery in the scheme of retail is due to the lack of education that faces most potential hat buyers.

Member of Chapeau Guild Marjorie Marshall says she can differentiate between two types of women when her guild throws events showcasing and selling hats.

There are the women who, according to Marshall, love hats and know what looks good on them and there are the other women who are fascinated by hats but are too hesitant to purchase one, believing that hats simply do not suit their face.

This is one of the reasons why events thrown by the Millinery Arts Alliance and Chapeau Guild are so crucial in educating the general public.

I like to interact with the public because I hear over and over again that from customers that ‘oh my heads too big or I can never find the right hat fits me,’ says Gross. By having a customer in front of you, you can dial in the right silhouette and the right angle for them.”

Another facet that deters customers from purchasing hats is the intimidation factor that hats present to most customers.

“Getting women not to be afraid to wear hats is probably the biggest obstacle that milliners face,” says Kennard. “Wearing a hat down the street will get you noticed she says, so it takes a certain amount of confidence to wear a hat.”

But at the same time she counters that the right hat won’t feel like a costume, it will just bring out certain facets of the wearer.

“It brings out different parts of people’s personalities says Radosavljivec, parts that they have always possessed but keep on the back burner. I know people outside fashion think that fashion is superficial but it’s really interesting to see how how good of a communicator hats can be.”

Kennard says she was surprised to discover what she calls “hat women,” women who collect couture hats the way some women collect bags or shoes.

Gross says her clients are usually women with a distinct perspective, knowing what they want and what they need.

“I attract customers who are more mature, more stylish, a fashionista. Someone who is interested in something that is handcrafted and one of a kind,” she says.

Julia Winn, a purchaser of hats since the early 90s says she grew up watching her mother wear hats and was inspired to go to a hat event that she read about in the Chicago Tribune.

At her previous job she says that “people may not have known who I was but they knew me as the women with the hat. “Some men have a power tie; I have a power hat.”

She says that it does take a certain amount of confidence and price point to wear a couture hat which sometimes associate a certain type of exclusivity with the millinery industry..

One of the biggest misconceptions about millinery, Gross believes is the elitist and esoteric stigma associated with it.

“I’m always conscience of what’s going on the price tag,” she says. “I’d much rather continue to keep headwear on the radar for most people and not just take it to the runway and make it an exclusive club.”

The waning popularity of hats is even more of a reason she says, to open it up to the masses.

Kennard dismisses the argument that a milliner’s prices alienate customers, stating that compared to what women spend on pursues and shoes, hats are not that expensive.

“It depends on the style of hat,” she says. You can have a beautiful everyday hat to go along with a great coat and it will cost you the same as a great pair of shoes.”

Radosavljevic says that the perpetuation of the stigma is both the customers and milliners’ fault.

“I think it’s both ends faults. I think milliners need to design less expensive things that aren’t cheaply made garbage but still have put quality into it and I think the customer needs to be willing to put something on their head,“ she says.

She points out that all hats do not need to have feathers and veils and that after a while the donning of a hat seems quite natural.

“When I started designing hats I started wearing them everyday. At the beginning it felt a little contrived but after a week if I didn’t wear one it felt like I forgotten to put on my underwear.”

Mass-produced hats are a point contention among milliners. Some state that mass-produced hats shift attention away from traditional millinery while other milliners argue that the more people wear hats the better it is for the industry.

“To think that one size would fit everyone is crazy,” Lisa Farrell says of department store hats. “Mass produced hats are just a travesty, because people think that’s all there is.”

Kennard agrees, stating that one size fits all hats would be like if shoes were made in only one size.

“You can have a milliner make a hat for you and it’s not going to cost much more than a hat in a department store,” she points out.

Radosavljivec says that people wearing hats, even if they are mass produced would be a good thing for millinery, since it would prompt certain individuals to seek out a couture, one-of-a-kind hat.

Many people question whether millinery hats will ever truly resurface, or whether it is fated to become obsolete, residing in fashion’s proverbial closet amongst elbow length gloves and parasols.

Kennard agrees that hats have become incongruent with the times but this, she feels, isn't such a negative quality. “Hat’s are so out of time that they have become timeless,” she says.

-Heba Hasan