Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Close to home

Sundown looking west over the Hudson from the West Side Highway last night at 7:45 PM. Photo: JH.
May 25, 2009. Close to home. Memorial Day felt like a Sunday. The weatherman forecast a thundershower. No; just sunshine and temperatures in the 70s.

I planted pots of impatiens on the terrace. Some geraniums, a wandering chartreuse colored plant called Imomoea (or Margarita); some ferns and a hibiscus that is being revived after last summer’s bout with aphids.

It’s a makeshift garden, not really a garden at all; poorly laid out. I look at the finished work and think to myself if I were clever I’d make something interesting with the little space outdoors that I have here in the city. But I’m not, so it’s just going to be something nice to look at for the next few months, as well as something to feel good about. By mid-July the space will be a vision of pinks and whites and greens. My own little park.

Everyday I went down the block to the Promenade in Carl Schurz Park along the river. Yesterday there were a lot of sailboats moving south in the mid to late morning toward the New York harbor, and later on north in the late afternoon. I got a shot of one where a guy is on his cell phone.
Neighbors taking in the riverside looking out towards Queens and Roosevelt Island yesterday afternoon at 4:15.
The guy in the center of the picture is on his cell.
The park looks more lush this year. I’m not sure if I’m just imagining that or not. The gardens that volunteers plant (and maintain) were teeming with floral activity. It reminded me of when I was a kid watching my mother on Sunday afternoons walking around surveying her little flower garden (she also had a large vegetable garden but that was serious food supply). She’d go out and tarry over them, hands behind her back, inspecting, contemplating. I used to think: what is she looking at so seriously?
Well, now I’m old enough to know, thanks to the volunteers in Carl Schurz Park’s gardens.
Looking down on the Plaza in Carl Schurz Park on 86th and East End.
Looking west down East 86th Street from Carl Schurz Park.
Oliver, JH's companion, on the other side of town, enoying the afternoon sun.
Changes. I looked at the new W which came in the mail a few days ago. I go all the way back to the beginning with W, when it was first a re-published mix of WWD’s editorial over a fortnight. It was a foldout/foldover -- format Andy Warhol also used on his original Interview.

Those were the days when Seventh Avenue became the fashion world and “designers” were just beginning to become celebrities (and rich). John Fairchild, son of the man who started the Fairchild Publications, was the boss-man and he encouraged irreverence a/k/a bitchiness, along with wit and humor in the editorial.

The word “walker” was coined in that publication during the Fairchild era. It was used in reference to a man named Jerry Zipkin, a wealthy real estate heir of a certain age who could be described as either hostile or pretentious. Bitchy. Never a pretty boy, he was quite self-possessed in presence, and as he grew older, he became a senior advisor of sorts to Nancy Reagan who often had him to the White House.
Nan Kempner, Jerry Zipkin, and Blaine Trump, 1991. Photograph courtesy of Mary Hilliard.
A New York born and bred boy, (he died at age 80 in 1995) he became a social fixture who was often seen in the company of the ladies whom Truman Capote identified as his “Swans” -- a kind of fashion/social arbiter among those girls, none of whom were ever his lover or mistress. Because. Hence the term: Walker. Nudge-nudge. This was back in the days before people would come right out and say they were gay.

Eventually, however, the word “walker” went into the vernacular meaning gay man in the company of an older social woman – a kind of outing of somebody. By then, W had they coined a new word for Mr. Zipkin, from the nudge to the sharp elbow: The Social Moth.

Whenever they ran his picture at a party, the ID would read Social Moth, not Jerry Zipkin. For awhile there, he was seen coming and going with Betsy Bloomingdale so often they started i-d’ing her party pictures as “Mrs. Moth.” This did not go over well and there was some kind of diplomatic to-do that ended the “moniker,” as Walter Winchell would have called it, and they stopped.

W's latest
All that to get to this: The latest W has a young actress named Ginnifer Goodwin on the cover. Ms. Goodwin is a beautiful young actress. Her outfit, if you could call it that, is a lot of leather and a lot of skin. Like she’s ready for ... something. In the jungle some people call life. She’s also got something in her black leather gloved right hand that looks like an ice-pick without a handle. Not sure what that is. Nevertheless, she’s a beauty.

I started going through the magazine. I don’t look at much of the merchandising/ commercial/advertorial stuff and never did: I’m not a shopper. I read the interviews because W has James Reginato and Kevin West (on the West Coast) and they are excellent – you learn, you can be amused, you learn more, and you come away thinking about something. I should also reveal that aside from that, and now that Suzy aka Aileen Mehle has hung up her platinum quill (or diamond and emerald studded stiletto, depending on whom she was writing about), West and Reginato are the only mainstays of what used to be a must-read.

Then there’s the fashion layouts. This month’s cover feature was Ms. Goodwin who stars in the fashion editorial, in a “story” which includes two young men looking buffed and ready (for each other), in a dark wooded area or a dark wood paneled room, everyone and everything looking very grimy/gritty/tattoo-or-two-or-three. The designers whose creations were featured in this fourteen page spread included Balenciaga, Versace, Dolce & Gabana, Givenchy, Balmain, Louis Vuitton, Chanel.

Questions that run through one’s mind. Not cheap, those labels. I mean, if it says: CHANEL, it’s expensive – even four or five figures expensive. As seen in W in a grubby/gritty/slutty/slitty pseudo-S&M scene photo shoot. My friend Pilar Viladas calls it “sad-young-women-in-a-cheap-motel fashion layout.”
Photographed by Steven Klein, styled by Camilla Nickerson and "written" by Danielle Stein; titled "Goodwin Goes Bad" with an opening: Sweet, innocent, bubbly -- actress Ginnifer Goodwin knows exactly what you think of her. Now forget it." In this shot, Goodwin is wearing an unzipped Dolce and Gabbana silk satin and cotton velvet dress.
I wondered: Do they even know their customer at W? Do they know those (mainly) women who have the kind of money that can buy those labels? Do those customers identify with these fashion stories? Would they even want to? Is this a business, or is this a crystal meth vacation?

I started at the back of the book to read the monthly column by Countess Louise J. Esterhazy, a nom de plume of someone – perhaps the emeritus John Fairchild, now retired, having sold his company for umpty-ump millions to Si Newhouse quite some time ago.

In this column the Countess Esterhazy, coincidentally or not, exhorts the “fashion industry” to add a little “joy” to the mix and give the customer a tip of the hat or a nod of appreciation. The thrust of this column is the “Countess” trying to make some sense of what has happened in the fashion business since the onslaught of our current financial crisis.

I don't know. I like to think fashion portends. History implies that. We know that after the French Revolution, the fashion that was the ancien regime went away, and stayed away for a century. We know that after the Suffragettes came to the fore, so did the ankle and then the calf, and then all hell broke loose. We know that after the Liberation movements of the late 60s, early 70s, everything was up for grabs both literally and figuratively, fashion-wise. So now when I see these layouts – and W is hardly the only one producing them because it’s almost more a fad than a fashion – I wonder: what are we in for? Besides some lousy business in the retail sector.
Where the boys are, Goodwin is wearing Givenchy's silk organza by Riccardo Tisci; Pants down, Goodwin is wearing Kiki de Montparnasse's silk bra; Balenciaga's viscose jersey briefs with attached leather belt by Nicholas Ghesquiere at Balenciaga, and Louis Vuitton gloves and shoes; Falke hosiery (presumably snagless).
Whoever created Ginnifer Goodwin’s fashion layout, whoever styled it, and photographed it, it was all creative forces of the moment. That’s artistry, take it or leave it. It’s as much a part of the collective unconscious as the apparently unquenchable need for handguns right at this moment in our republic. The question remains ...

Louise J. Esterhazy, in her now presumably ancient and un-garish wisdom (retail and otherwise) wrote: “Designers and stores are desperate to get women and men to buy, and this doesn’t help.”

Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters, I’ve gone on long enough.

Winter 2009 issue of Lapham's Quarterly
However, another “magazine” I read (parts of) over the weekend was Louis Lapham’s Lapham’s Quarterly. Each edition is based entirely on one subject. This one --which I didn’t see when it came out at the turn of the year – is based entirely on the subject of Eros. (The most recent edition is all related to Crimes and Punishment.)

Lapham’s Quarterly if you don’t already know is a book-sized softcover volume of about 215 pages. It sells for $15 a copy in better bookstores and newstands. It is a book merchandized as a magazine.

It is composed entirely of all kinds of writers -- new, old, ancient, famous, mythic, godlike, maniacal – all writing on the chosen subject. The pieces run from sidebar length to two or three pages with beautiful paintings, famous and not so, sketches and drawings, to illustrate.

Yesterday afternoon I was stopped by the piece titled “c. 1919 PARIS; The Bread of Angels.” It was “a fragment” from a story by Edith Wharton called “Beatrice Palmetto.” On the opposite page is a painting by Henri Gervex, 1878, of a naked young woman, voluptuous and spent, and asleep on the top of her sheets with her dress thrown over the chair next to the bed, and her jewels on the night table.

Standing nearby at the window (overlooking the Paris rooftops) is a young man, shirt open, cuffs unlinked, hair rustled, looking at her intensely, getting his head together. His conquest. As per the text. Steamy Mrs. Wharton. In case you were thinking people were any different then. Could probably sell a Balenciaga or two, Gervix and his brushes, Mrs. Wharton and her words; or Chanels, or Oscars. Maybe a whole wardrobe.

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