Ghosts & Sentinels

April 13th, 2009 § 1 comment

I am still amazed to discover daylight to spare after coming home from work, as it seems a magical trick performed by the promise of the warmer weather to come. Arriving home from work recently, I decided it was the perfect evening for a dusk meander.

Inwood

It seemed to be a warm, tranquil night that many were taking advantage of, and it was mostly couples I passed as I followed the winding, upward path toward the Cloisters. Benches were filled with secluded, though openly visible, couples waiting for the sunset or kissing and ignoring the sunset instead. I suppose when you are alone it is natural to pay more attention than usual to those around you. Shrunken elderly ladies in twos and threes slowly plodded along the garden paths, and a few families with children played on the flat and somewhat green lawns. Men ran or walked alone with their dogs, most circled so that as I stood and watched the sun disappear, its yellow reflection lingering in the river, I saw the same pairs of man and beast pant past.

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“Après moi, le déluge.”

April 11th, 2009 § 0 comments

valentino-the-last-emperorMatt Tyrnauer: “There are a lot of people who say no one could replace you.”
Valentino Garavani: “Après moi, le déluge. Do you know what that means?”

I wondered as he said it if a king of France, Napoleon, or another figure of wealth and power had been the author of such a sentiment—it was Louis XV who said, “after me, the flood.” Valentino: The Last Emperor is an indulgent documentary about the Italian couturier Valentino Garavani. The film has shown with unsurprising popularity for the past few weeks at one of Gotham’s independent film houses. The screenings have been coupled with a Q & A with the director Matt Tyrnauer, and the editor at large for Vogue, André Leon Talley. Though the film itself does not address any aspect of the couturier’s life—his role in fashion history, his style, or his notions of beauty—in a deep or terribly engaging manner, Valentino’s life seems to be about two things; beauty and excess, and in that order.

Valentino’s sense of beauty reminded me of visiting Europe. I remember traveling through Italy with M, and her amazement at the obsessive and undeniably extravagant effort that went into creating the works of art, architecture, and ornament that were gloriously scattered from city to city. Watching Valentino fuss over his designs I thought of the different colored marble lining the inside of St. Peter’s Basilica. Every stitch, seam, and embellishment on a Valentino dress is done carefully and thoroughly by hand. It is a certain kind of beauty that Valentino fell in love with as a young man, a certain ideal he evokes with his garments, and it is a beauty that transcends the ordinary, it is an ageless, timeless beauty. Despite his tantrums, his ego, his fussing and frustrations, it is undeniable that his dresses sometimes resemble works of art rather than new pieces of runway fashion. “I love beauty,” he says, “it’s not my fault.” But it is not simply beauty that Valentino loves, he loves a certain class, glamour, and character to go along with his sense of beauty. What do women want? “They want to be beautiful,” says Valentino, stressing all the syllables of the last word.

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Thirty as The Perfect Age

March 29th, 2009 § 0 comments

dior

Last week my co-worker and I deserted our desks to catch a lecture by one of the “creative directors” of the company. He happens to work in our photo studio, and is the only one with a nice roomy office full of windows. David is an older, very knowledgeable, friendly man who spends very little time working in his office, and more time out lecturing or attending events. The receptionist calls him “pretty boy,” much to our amusement, and hounds him about his comings and goings. We know of them by the tokens he shares with us; samples he does not want, books he has picked up, a gallery catalog for us to peruse. Doing a Google search for his name brought up a variety of results, but my general impression of his job is that a lot of people, designers, vendors, and students alike, consider his opinion necessary and enlightening.

I eavesdrop a great deal on his conversations when I hear him being interviewed as I am interested in how he talks about fashion. He treats it as something other than frivolous, and therefore expects it to be something other than frivolous. His comments concerning retail and the economy have been interesting to overhear since last year, as the industry shrank, posting losses one month after another. He has been suggesting fashion needed the change this recession is bringing, seems hopeful about shifting toward practicality and necessity, and enthusiastic that fashion is (at least temporarily) moving away from expensive excess and trends that are divorced from everyday life and people. He argues there is no reason we can’t still have glamour and beauty—“deluxe but not flashy”—pointing out that depression era style had both, but that it should be of a different kind.

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Tangy Laughter & Taylor’s Lyricism

March 21st, 2009 § 0 comments

Paul Taylor almost seems too fun. Listening to NPR last week my interested was aroused by an interview conducted with the choreographer, discussing Taylor’s new pieces that premiered last weekend. I knew of his company, but didn’t remember if I had ever seen them dance. Each performance night at the City Center showed a different combination of pieces, mixing the new work with the old, and it took me the rest of the working day to decide which combination I wanted to see most. I picked well, after consulting the Fossil, although the Saturday night performance simply caused me to want to see the Sunday afternoon show. Dragging the Fossil along he asked warily if this was a, “ballet company?” Paul Taylor’s dance company is not a ballet company, but they use ballet as much as all dances and dancers must. The final piece of the show, Offenbach Overtures, was dedicated to poking fun at the traditional form all ballets take. Listening to an interview with Paul Taylor, he states of his working method:

…and I don’t really have a message as such, but I am aware of the world we live in, and I watch people, I’m a watcher. I’m a terrible spy. I watch people move in their everyday lives, and their gestures that are so communicative. And those are so useable in a dance.

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Powerless Pistols: Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler

March 15th, 2009 § 1 comment

Hedda Gabler has recently been revived on Broadway with a prestigious cast and director, an awaited revival that revealed a disastrous interpretation filled with stilted performances—I can’t help but wonder why this play and why now. Being a critic by nature, or rather because of five years of art school, even I was not as unforgiving as the new york times or the new yorker. The play, like most, had its brilliant moments, and the rest was awkward at best. Interestingly, the better moments were brought about through the reinterpretations of the text, small alterations and additions to words and gestures that brought to life a little of the drama Ibsen likely had in mind, and that was so lacking in Sunday nights performance.

Ibsen, I have often thought, is more a feminist than most women who call themselves that. Watching last weekend’s performance I realized it was easier to misunderstand Hedda as a monstrous being without passion or feeling than to paint her in the light of the causes for those feelings. Rereading the play, I found that as unlikely as the story seemed onstage, there were small moments in the text that still ring sharply true. Her dialogue remains a critique of the obviousness and manipulation of the opposite sex, a thoughtlessness that over the last centuries has simply shifted, and has not yet disappeared. Hedda is not haunted and harassed by inner demons, she possesses a deformed conscience because she is fraught with discontent at her complete lack of control, over herself, her life, and those around her that she desperately tries to influence. In a rare moment of enthusiasm, when she believes her old lover has committed suicide at her insisting she states, “it’s liberating to know that there can still actually be a free and courageous action in this world. Something that shimmers with spontaneous beauty.” Though this notion is hastily stamped out it is as close as Hedda comes to disclosing her desire, and even hope, for life. Though the revival dwells on her talent for “feeling dead,” a line altered from “boring myself to death,” she is neither bored nor dead, and reading her frustrations as such is a dismissal of the insightful brilliance of Ibsen’s character.

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