Monday, May 15, 2017

Learning from New York Fashion Week: Make Wrong Right Again

Make Wrong Right Again

For an entire year of my life, every morning I had to convince my daughter of the merits of wearing the right shoe on the right foot. “Why that when it also works like this?”
Suddenly, her battleground tactical response is not only right but also totally fashionable. Wearing things the wrong way is so right:

Gloves are worn under your coat sleeves, right? Wrong.
The gloves that were once worn with your evening gown are now worn either over your see-through blouse for the warm-cold look or over your trench which is actually not a trench but more like a dress under which you are, of course, wearing nothing! Gloves are also really hot when worn over your coat worn backwards. Or how about gloves over your sweater sleeves? It’s a dirty world out there anyway. Why take your gloves off… ever?

Tights are worn under your pants or skirt, right? Wrong.
Tights are still worn under your pants, ok, but now they are also worn over your shirt. This makes any, and I really stress any, shirt look interesting. 

(Maybe model Celine Delaugere makes anything look interesting?)

Button-up shirts are buttoned in front, right? Wrong.

Button-up shirts are worn backwards, of course. Get with the program. (I’ve been touting this look for years: catch-up, people!)

Sweaters are worn like shirts, right? Wrong.
Sweaters are worn wrapped around your neck: weren’t the arms of a sweater made for this anyway? No more endless, fussy wrapping of your scarf. (It’s twist-tie vs a ziplock bag kinda thing. You’re either one or the other.) 

(The activist-model Leomie Anderson at Vivienne Tam)

Norwegian sweaters are worn with … (it’s not a trick question) snow boots, right? Wrong.
Norwegian sweaters are worn with satin high-heel sandals, of course, because you just never know when the sun is going to come out and you gotta start somewhere on that tan — ankles and toes are the last places you’d notice your winter-doughnut consumption.

(Jenna Lyons last collection at JCREW: boo hoo. No one knew it then.)

Blazers are worn over shirts or (better yet) nothing at all, right? Wrong.
A blazer is, of course, worn over another blazer. Preferably a different fabric altogether and unbuttoned just enough to show off your beer belly, muffin top, whatever you want to call that thing, because hey, it’s not really cold enough for two blazers anyway.

(again, here Jenna Lyons calls it: a real, excuse the pun, Trailblazer.)

It’s wonderfully freeing, isn’t it? Next time you go to your closet and you start trying to put things together, you just have to have one idea in mind: how do I wear this the wrong way, et voila, you’ve got it right.

Well, almost: Never under any circumstances should you try looking like Woodie Allen dressed up as a sperm: wrong, wrong, wrong. (Ok, ok, if you have a highly refined sense of humor, then by all means.)

(Delpozo never bores me, left. Woodie Allen neither, right.)

Plastic, by the way, is not only a wrong idea for your sofa. It’s also wrong-right over your fur.
(My favorite Calvin Klein look from Raf Simons first collection for them: I hope this is faux-fur.)

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Infatuation Inflation of Socks: What Could It Mean?

(detail from my sock drawer: this is not a Boltanski installation but rather the work of Marie Kondo,

 (below: the always excellently funny and on-point Leandra Medine of

I’ve long been a proponent of getting sockaphobics to toe the line of the higher powers that be: Miuccia Prada, Marc Jacobs, and Alessandro Michele have long shown us the way of how a good pair of socks can make a blasé outfit look positively quirky. Leandra Medine ( is queen of this look: with loafers and socks pulled up high, like she’s channeling her Dad in a mini-skirt.

I can remember going into the Prada store in New York one day in 2008, after the Crash, and noticing that the only thing I could actually afford was a pair of 30 dollar socks. At the time, I balked.

Today, I’m hot for anything Gucci. Anything! But the Gucci socks for 190 euro is where I stop toeing the line and where I begin to draw the line. Socks for the 1%? Not in good conscious, no thanks. You’ll find me in Footlocker stocking up on crisp new tighty whities. Call it the Tennis Sock Rebellion, if you will. Unfortunately, garment workers were probably exploited in making a 3-pack for 7 euro? What to do? Are socks Made in Italy really the only choice we have?

The froufrou numbers at Alexander McQueen are hand-knitted by the Queen of England herself. At 245 euro, a bargain considering new post-Brexit export duties:

Seriously, though. I do understand that this is all an indicator of the worth of things. I once met a group of grandmas on a train, and I watched them knit. How long does it take you to do a sock? Online forums confirmed what they told me. They weren’t exaggerating the heroic act. It takes give or take 6 to 20 hours per hand-knitted sock vs the 67 dollar factory version here:

Note the cleverness of these socks. they’ve stitched “Sexual Fantasies” on the bottom where no one but you and your loved ones can see them. They’re listed as “imported” so we don’t know where they came from. Vetements socks, however, by comparison to Prada, some ten years later, seem to be a bargain, it turns out. Here’s a pair of Prada socks that sell for 355 dollars. (Should have grabbed those ones for 30 bucks when I could. Missed my chance.)

The Little William Gucci socks, for 350 euro, by the way, don’t qualify as socks. These are veritable accessoires. Easy to copy and readily available at a Zara near you, I predict, within the month.

Made in Spain, or at least we hope.

Friday, March 3, 2017

When Your Kick-Ass Mood Means Laying Down Some Serious Cash

I know a girl who bought a pair of Vetements Doc Martins boots recently. She said, it was Sunday and I was in a really bad mood. That bad, I said? What distinguishes the Vetements Doc Martins from the real Doc Martins (besides the $630 price tag, of course)? I don’t know, she said. They’ve got something written on the side and I cannot remember what. I’m taking them back. I just wanted to kick some ass that day.
(The original Doc Martins pictured above with the Union Jack on the back of the boot: I am desperate to find these! Please help.)

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

On the Right Foot

Every once in a while, I'll look down lovingly at my newfound white hussy boots and gasp, thinking that I've put them on backwards, like a kid. At this point, it's become a déjà vu moment because it's happened so often.

Big change is in the air. I'll be wearing my boots intentionally on the right foot, so to say, on 17 February, the day before President's Day, here in Berlin as I hit the office* as a reminder of a saying I once heard:

Bumpy roads lead to unexpected destinations.

*Unless, of course, my colleagues here in Berlin go on strike too!

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Day After (posted on 10 November 2016)

The Day After

I spent yesterday in shock that this could happen. I looked to my daughter when she woke up and I pitied the fact that her childhood would be dip-dyed with the threat of nuclear war. I cannot remember for the life of me the soundtrack on the day when I saw the towers fall, but the feeling of yesterday was similar. Yesterday, I kept hearing REM’s (Don't) “Fall on Me.” (The title is missing the “Don’t” bit which is actually quite important.) 

"Buy the sky and sell the sky”

On my Walkman, I listened to this song again and again as a kid in the mid-1980s, unsure yet of what my role in the world would be. Looking back on it, I’m absolutely sure that the lyrics of REM and The Smiths (my two favorite bands back then) informed my ways of thinking. And in reflection of "Buy the sky and sell the sky" I’m not thinking of Trump the high-rise builder, the buy-sell luxury-I’m-too-smart-to-pay-taxes guy, so much as I am of how there is so little left in the world that belongs to the public, the vanishing of public space. As my Shakespeare professor in college loved to say, and he repeated this again and again all semester long: “There are those who divide the world into two, and those that don’t.” What do we need a public space for anyway if we are not in dialogue any more?

Although I love sipping tea with like minds, those who don’t believe in the logic of numbers, the real work to be put on the to-do list is in coming into discussion with the other side, the other side being, of course, plural. The side that voted in protest, that didn’t want to elect a career politician so much as the side that embraced racism, sexism, fascism. We live in a plus-minus 50/50 world, so much has been proven by vote after vote, and just like any good relationship, when the going gets tough the tough get going: it’s time we learned how to talk. Divorce is not an option. Ignoring them doesn’t make them go away.

I love the ideals of my birth country, I love what it represents even if the reality is skewed and wicked. No country in the world has our spirit of Welcome. We are a nation founded by immigrants and that grew and grows based on the influx of always new blood. By definition, we are diverse. That is why this comes as such a shock, an absolute slap in the face. Again, the lyrics of REM waft into my head like something trying to come between me and my Calvins: "There’s a progress we have found a way to talk around the problem. Building towered foresight isn’t anything thing at all.”

When I ran out the door the other night here in Berlin to take part in an anti-AfD demonstration, it wasn’t because of my activist energies. It was because I was in disbelief that people singing the German national anthem ("Deutschland, Deutschland ueber allies….") were on my street and there was no friendly football/soccer match in sight. So near, yet so far, these people who want to build walls, who want to shut out the refugees, who scapegoat the Others (the Syrians) for all of our problems. I wanted to see them, to see who they were, to talk with them, to get into their heads so that I could begin to understand their thinking. Their numbers are legion. Over 20% of voters in neighboring Mecklenburg-Vorpommern voted AfD last election, and when celebrating German Unification on 2 October, Chancellor Merkel was boo’ed hideously by crowds telling her to “Get out” (Hau ab) as a result of her open-door (We can do this!) policy last year. My husband looked at me, warning, Be careful out there. In the end, a row of anti-riot police (imagine: Michelin men in all black) prevented me from talking to them, keeping an emptied four-lane road between “us” (the beret-wearing Che Guevaras) and “them” (whose fashions resist a soundbite). I ended up shouting across the street with the protestors of the protestors, the rainbow flag bearers, the students, I think —now— wrongly. The world is not divided into two. Let’s stop thinking that way. Let’s begin to break down the ivory towers, the towered foresight (thank you, Michael Stipe) on all sides.

see the REM video here:

Thursday, October 13, 2016

at on Mike Nelson's "Tools That See" at neugerriemschneider

At first, the objects in the eight vitrines on view in Mike Nelson’s current exhibition appear to be souvenirs from an unsellable intervention—titled Space That Saw (Platform for a Performance in Two Parts)—that took place in 2012 in a derelict former variety theater a block away from the gallery. That installation—remarkable for its utter refusal to reveal its nature as an artwork—was more like a found site, or a haunted theater silently worked upon, reminiscent of Gordon Matta-Clark’s cut-open houses. In the artist’s current show, the work is metaphysically titled Tools That See (The Possessions of a Thief) 1986–2005, 1986–2005. There’s a formal repetition here, and what seems to be a reconciliation with the materiality of art: Each of the eight vitrines is a rectangular composition of what the handyman sees—to turn Nelson’s title around—and in fact, what he uses.
Largely unremarkable worn wooden floorboards are topped with tools arranged with the attention of ikebana. The aesthetics here might be an homage to an unseen laborer: his low-seated bench, dirty work gloves, a set of handsaws piled as if in a game of pick-up sticks. It isn’t until you notice the heavy concrete base of each of these works that their contrition becomes clear. Nelson gives them that almighty quality that connotes luxury in an object: heaviness. By putting them on such pedestals he elevates leftovers from those 2012 pieces into lamentations for a now-demolished building-cum-artwork, a victim of gentrification. With an air of haunted sarcophagi, they’re pristinely guarded, although they seem to turn up their noses at the world of shiny new things.

(More on Mike Nelson's amazing Space That Saw, 2012, below this post)

Saturday, October 1, 2016

on Mike Nelson in Berlin, 2012, unpublished

The presence of absence, or the absence of presence, I cannot decide. The mantra has been running through my head since “seeing” (the first verb that comes into my head) the Mike Nelson piece at neugerriemschneider.

It’s difficult to write a review when the most basic words become prescriptive roadblocks. To call it “seeing” is troublesome. To call it an “installation” sounds old-fashioned, at this point, and to call it a “piece” is too dimished. To call it an “experience,” though broad in scope, to be sure, is not enough. It is not a happening but a place where something has happened, an experience, yes, as all art is, but rather it’s an experience of a place where something has been experienced. And it’s not even “at” neugerriemschneider, but rather “at” an off-space (two rather) on Gartenstrasse, a street nearby, though it is more “is” than “at” if you can follow my train of thought (unpacked: it’s more about what it does than where it takes place).

Let me just say it from the get-go: without resorting to hyperbole, I think Mike Nelson is making some of the most significant work of our time. It’s incisive. One of the few salient examples of negative dialectics (pardon the pompousness) to be witnessed in the past twenty years of art I’ve seen in Berlin.

There’s a comeback feeling to it. After having suffered the stress and strain of not knowing where to go with anything, it seems that Nelson’s work provides an exit out of “where to” and an entry into “where now.”

What are its claims? There’s an intensity in its subtlety, the hushed quiet that makes you listen harder, and a nothingness on view that makes you look elsewhere. But that’s not it.

There is something about Nelson’s work that is freed from the textual. You don’t need to read the press release to get into his head. There are no historical references that need to be spelled out in specific in order to have your antennae feel out the piece. There is no “painted word.”

Skeptics would say that there’s not enough artifice in it. Indeed the skeptic in me asks where can it (art) all go… after Mike Nelson?

Let’s sort out the mental baggage here. When you witness a Mike Nelson piece, you catch yourself making detours of consciousness: what was done by the artist and what was found? What is craft and what is readymade? What is uncovered, what is revealed, what is constructed, what is created (engendered, the art writer likes to say)? Falling back on the structure of thought, the exposure of an unearthed phobia and attraction at the same time. An aesthetic field under stress…

There’s the fun park element, which is not to be missed. The natural erosion of the building’s exterior, the erosion of the interior, a place that’s been sealed off, where the micro could work on the macro without the intervention of human artifice, where human neglect has allowed nature to do all of the active destruction. The hole in the ground, gated over, the place where the Gimp resides. There’s the open door to the man’s toilet, the strange markings on the wall, the staircase which is blocked by a wall of chicken wire and a locked door with an anachronistic padlock.

There’s the temptation to call it, this so-called installation, the workshop of a mad man. Indeed, one can peep through a window into a workshop, and mounting the stairs to the next floor, a theater. Everything has been abandoned, and the workshop only recently put into use. (One surmises, of course, that Nelson used it). But even in the banality of this reality, there’s a covert element: the workshop is viewed through a broken window, a pane of glass removed from a door. Its nemesis is this element of theatricality, perhaps. […]

April Lamm

(A draft completed in October 2012, unpublished)