Sunday, 23 December 2018

The Itsy-Bitsy Bikini Scandal

The $2.50 Ferrarini (left) vs. the $285 Irgit
How many of us have seen an interesting crafted accessory or apparel item and thought "I could do that"? I have. If I'm able to recreate something I may even have had dreams of glory: This will make my fortune!

I've made necklaces of wrapped tubing or shredded strips of fabric, bracelets from safety pins and heart-shaped brooches from buttons. I made vests from antique pennants and "portraits" from paint chips. Not one idea was 100% original but 100% inspired by something seen somewhere. After the third or fourth laborious attempt the creations usually found themselves a cozy home in the back of a closet.

Probably a good idea I was not successful, though I doubt I would ever have the hubris to take on Victoria's Secret over copyright infringement of my stolen idea. This is the gist of "The Itsy-Bitsy, Teenie-Weenie, Very Litigious Bikini" in today's New York Times Business section. Read the full piece here: 

This is not a part of the paper I usually notice, but who could resist their photo of the two bikini tops seen above? In a nutshell, Ipek Irgit, a 34-year-old New Yorker originally from Turkey, was trying to make her way as a "style influencer" but having a hard time making a living doing it. On a vacation trip to Brazil in 2012 (I know—impoverished but on vacation in Rio) she purchased a colorful, hand-crocheted 2-piece bikini in the beach town of Trancoso for about $2.50.

Ipek Irgirt

What separates this bikini from the usual crocheted bikini is the use of elastic threaded through the crochet to give added (and necessary) support. Following positive reaction to the newly christened "Kiini" on the beaches of the Hamptons, Ipek decided to go into production. She asked a designer friend with connections in China to copy it and have it manufactured.

The bikinis were a hit. Ipek turned an item costing $29 to produce into a $285 "high end resort wear brand, designed by Ipek Irgit" (quoted from the website). After a modest start, the Kiini took off following an appearance on model Dree Hemingway in an Instagram feed. All the usual suspects came next—websites, magazines, exclusive boutiques, etc.—as did the copycats.

And here is where Ipek Irgit may have lost perspective. She coyprighted the design and decided to sue Victoria's Secret for their similar style. This was settled in Ipek's favor for an undisclosed amount.

The original in its creator's hands

Meanwhile—and here is where things get really interesting—the real designer back in Brazil came forward. Maria Solange Ferrarini, a 61-year-old Brazilian artist of modest means created and has been hand crocheting the originial bikinis since 1998. She sells them herself on the beach at Trancoso. 

Maria selling her suits on the beach

One of the copycats, a brand called PilyQ, started selling simiar suits to Neiman Marcus but managed to strike a licensing deal with the creator, Maria Ferrarini. When Ipek Irgirt got wind of this she decided to sue Neiman Marcus to stop selling a suit in violation of her copyrighted design. Somewhere along the line Ipek lost sight of the fact that she had in fact stolen that design and was now essentially suing the suit's creator. Too many suits and lawsuits in one paragraph!

This is still in litigation. Ipek seems to be tripping over herself in half-truths. There are emails to support the facts and Maria's handmade tag inside the bikini Ipek asked her friend to copy.  Ipek has expanded the styles, but the itsy-bitsy crocheted bikini is still front-and-center of the Kiini line.

The lessons here are many and obvious. The fact that you will never catch me in a crocheted bikini is beside the point.

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Coming Attraction: "American Style"

A four-part series called "American Style" will air on CNN in two chunks on Sunday, January 13 and Sunday, January 20.

The series will examine "how America’s changing style through the decades has mirrored the political, social, and economic climate of the time. Using archival footage and interviews with fashion experts and cultural figures including Tim Gunn, Donna Karan, Carson Kressley, Vanessa Williams, Beverly Johnson, Isaac Mizrahi, Christie Brinkley, John Varvatos, Diane von Furstenberg, AndrĂ© Leon Talley and more, the series highlights the most iconic moments from fashion and pop culture, giving audiences a front row seat to the runway of American history." The promotional video has fast cut snippets of Jackie, Elvis, "Sex and the City" and a winking 1950s housewife.

Power dressing, American style
The first episode will look at the 1940s and '50s and how World War II and Hollywood helped to define American style. The second episode covers the '60s and '70s; the next two bring us up to the present.

This promises to be a veritable feast for the fashion-possessed eyes, though I doubt it will break any new ground, especially if you have lived through all those eras (check). Sometimes the talking heads just talk too much; I hope visuals are allowed to speak for themselves. Will four hours really be enough??? No doubt there will be controversies. Will someone as important as Claire McCardell will be left out (love to be proven wrong)? In any case this treat is already on the calendar.

Friday, 14 December 2018

Caveat Emptor!

My coat on its way...

Let the buyer beware!

I took two years of Latin and never learned the meaning of caveat emptor, but I know it now. I was recently bamboozled by my love of fashion and a bargain. I also learned "you get what you pay for", and there was no way I was going to get a lavishly embroidered coat for $43.90.

I fell victim to a rather extensive internet scam— Chinese manufacturers who get your attention on Instagram or Facebook with striking fashion pieces for ridiculously low prices. Every model seems to be headless, shot crossing the street, and from an angle where they all look like Melania Trump.

Among the many plying this trade are Vavaspace, Romwe, SheIn, YesStyle, ChicNova and Front Row Shop.

I fell for a coat from Vavaspace as I am a sucker for anything "folkloric"— kimonos, kurtas, cheongsams, you-name-it. Several years ago I bought a beautiful embroidered jacket at H&M for about $90. The same coat was on the Vavaspace website "on sale" for $36.76, so I figured there was a good chance things were on the up and up. Here are pictures of what they showed, which looks exactly like my H&M coat:


Yes, the text says "Autumn and Winter Fashion Ethnic Printing Warm Coat", but it sure looked embroidered to me. Without a magnifying shot it was impossible to know for sure.

Above is the coat I bought. It too looks embroidered. There were no other shots on the website, and the text called it "Retro Ethnic Fashion Slim Embroidery Long Sleeve Cardigan". I knew there was a possibility it might not be as good in person— loose threads or uneven stitching, maybe a lopsided shoulder. I'm pretty good at fixing things. It did say the fabric was polyester, but there are all kinds of polyester.

What I was not expecting was a garish design printed on Aunt Tillie's polyester house coat. It actually fits pretty well, and if there were buttons I might even use it for a house coat. As something to wear in public, however, it failed miserably.

The coat is gone now from the Vavaspace website. With some difficulty I found this listing. Different wording and a doctored photo with an obviously printed coat, which is what I got.

Doctored photo, printed coat

It took over six weeks for my package to arrive from China (though the return address says "Chino, California"). While the website has instructions for returning unwanted items, I'm afraid I will never get my money back— in which case I will have lost $44 and Aunt Tillie's house coat.

It will be worth the humiliation of this confession if I save one more damsel from making a fool of herself. Crave not lest ye caveat emptor.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Fashion, Explained, at Last

One of my favorite childhood memories is of reading the evening newspaper. Papers meant something then; it's how we got our news. TV news, still in its infancy, consisted of a 15-minute wrap-up sponsored by Timex. My dad claimed he taught me to read by looking at the paper together while waiting for dinner. I will never forget reading the serialized version of "Diary of Anne Frank" when it was first translated into English. I was 9.

Who reads newspapers anymore? (OK I still do) Never mind that there are barely any at all. Kudos then to the New York Times for publishing a monthly special section, "The New York Times for Kids" in the Sunday edition. Aimed at 8-14-year-olds, the editor's note reads, "This section should not be read by grown ups." Until recently I obeyed, but in the November 25 paper I spotted an irresistible headline:

Some Kids Just Have It

Inside I found this wonderful double-page spread on young New Yorkers with style:

Then I noticed a piece by Vanessa Friedman, the Times fashion director and chief fashion critic. In a few paragraphs she describes her job and why fashion matters. I've read entire hefty tomes trying to define style and defend fashion. None came as close to clarity as this:

How the Times Fashion Critic Decides What's In and What's Out
by Vanessa Friedman

When I tell people I'm the chief fashion critic for the New York Times, they usually say, "That's such an awesome job!" Then they ask me if I've met Kendall Jenner or someone similar (answer: No, but I;'ve met her mom and once had dinner at a friend's house with her sister, Kim, and Kim's husband, Kayne West). I know that from the outside this job looks superglamorous. And it is, kind of: I get to go to more than 200 runway shows a year around the world (that's kind of exhausting), stare at models and famous people from across a runway, talk to designers and then write my opinions about what's happening in fashion for the paper.
   But there's much more to it than that. Fashion is also about how we show each other who we are. That's what has always interested me the most about it, and why I got into it in the first place: how it's used by normal people, like you and me. When I first started doing this job at another newspaper, the editor in chief told me he never thought about fashion. "Did you dress yourself this morning?" I asked. He said he had. So I told him he thought about fashion. Everyone does.
    Now that everybody is endlessly taking selfies and posting them for all to see, that's even more obvious. We buy the things we buy (or ask our parents to buy them) because they say something to us about who we are, or what group we are in, or how we want our friends to see us. So when I see clothes, whether on the street or on a runway, that's always what I am asking myself: What would people who wore this be saying about themselves? Would it help them say it? Is it useful or completely irrelevant?

Thanks, Vanessa, for making clear just why we bother, let alone still care about clothes and how we look. It starts young, and it doesn't end. Oh, and your job still sounds awesome.

Vanessa of the cool job 

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Biba's "Bohemian Rhapsody" Moment

Freddie meets Mary...and her coat

I don't usually talk in movies, but there was a point in "Bohemian Rhapsody" where I couldn't help it.

The pretty blond girl Freddie Mercury is flirting with tells him her fur-collared coat “is from Biba." And her friend follows with, "She works there."

I exclaimed out loud, "Biba!" That is a word to trigger memories, flashbacks and regrets (as in I shouldn't have given those clothes away). Biba was a store of legend never to be equaled. I've written about it here:

Freddie goes to look for the pretty girl, who is Mary Austin, the woman who became his great love and lifelong friend. As this is supposed to be 1970, that would be Biba on London's Kensington High Street. This was the brand's third store, which had previously been a carpet showroom.

Interior of an early Biba

Freddie has found Mary, the sales associate, near a display of women's pants. He innocently asks if she has the pants in his size. She proceeds to give him a mod makeover with a velvet jacket and long scarf.

Freddie after his Biba makeover

Increasingly more and more successful, in 1973 Biba took over the nearby former Derry & Toms department store, a 7-story Art Deco pile complete with roof garden. Biba refitted it in never-to-be-equaled Deco grandeur, rivaling any Hollywood set. Alas, through a mix of bad management and over-expansion—they were selling almost everything including baked beans— Biba closed for good in 1975.

Interior of  the last Biba
The reference to Biba will surely pass quickly over most viewers. I do always wonder when Hollywood gets its facts wrong—Mary actually worked in Biba public relations, not on the sales floor—what other bits of the "true story" may not all be true. And "Bohemian Rhapsody" has a few of those. But it's a good film, with great music, and—well—a little bit of Biba.

The real Mary and Freddie in later years

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

R.I.P. Glamour Magazine

Issue #1

Word has come down from on high at Conde Nast that Glamour Magazine will no longer publish in print. The January 2019 edition will be its last. Glamour will not quite have reached its 80th birthday.

Glamour was first published as "Glamour of Hollywood" in April, 1939. It soon stopped concentrating on movie stars and directed itself to "the girl with a job". That intensified after Glamour's merge with Charm magazine ("for women who work") in 1957.

Glamour promoted fashion and beauty, work and relationships in roughly that order. It became a bible for many young women; I was one of them. I started reading Glamour in 1956 when I was 13 and never missed an issue until I was unceremoniously let go in 1989.

But I digress.

Glamour was the road map for my future life. I knew I would leave Cleveland and move to New York City. I wanted to be a graphic designer, but my goal was not to be in publishing. As fate would have it (great expression) I ended up working in the design department of Glamour for 24 years, eventually becoming assistant art director.

My first issue: July 1965

I've written extensively about Glamour, especially my early days when the world of fashion was such a wonder. Although I actually found later jobs more fulfilling, Glamour is the one I go back to over and over. To have been a part of something that meant so much to so many...

To this day, when I tell people I worked for Glamour, there are nods of recognition and ooohs in wonderment. That magazine was important to almost four generations of women. How much we have changed in those 80 years!

The current editor, aiming to reach the millennials whose interest in fashion is only as a rebellious form of self expression, believes digital publishing is the way to go. The big difference is we read Glamour in hopes of becoming our best selves. This attempt smacks of hoping millennials will recognize themselves.

The past year of Glamour on the newsstands has been sad and embarrassing. I cringed when I saw a copy at the checkout counter. I'm almost glad it won't be there anymore. 

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Life's Lost Little Luxuries # 10: Department Store Deliveries

"...and send it please."

That would be my mother at the counter of Higbee's or Halle Bros. in downtown Cleveland. The time would be late 1940s into the '50s, before shopping centers and malls, when "shopping" meant going downtown with a list to the big department stores.

If the list were long and/or the packages big you wouldn't want to haul them around all day, especially if you were with an 8-year-old, more hindrance than help. It was much easier to "send it please" and have the boxes show up a day or two later at your doorstep. PS If you were my mother, you were almost always home—in the suburbs, no car, with a house and family to take care of.

I can clearly see those delivery vans in my mind's eye—green like their boxes for Halle's, brown with discreet gold lettering for Higbee's. I imagine May Company and Taylor's had trucks too, but the good stuff came from Halle's or Higbee's.

Outside Halle Bros. 1940

I still get pretty excited when UPS or Fedx pulls onto the street, a little less so for the postal van. But a department store delivery was a "welcome home" to what you had carefully chosen just a few days before.

I don't remember when the parade stopped. We moved to an apartment. My mother went back to work—downtown. There were now shopping centers, soon to be malls. One-stop shopping and load it in your car. I started shopping for myself and wanted it THEN.

It is ironic that Sears, which began as a mail-order company, recently closed locations and lowered expectations because it couldn't compete with home delivery like Amazon. What no one seems to mention is we have even become disinclined to venture away from our keyboards and actually visit the store.

The thrill is gone, along with boxes, tissue, paper tape, tea rooms and delivery vans.