Wednesday, December 26, 2012

gone dotty

Ugh I have descended into one of the least fulfilling internet research holes of my life. Does ANYONE know the name of these beadie doo-dads?:

You've seen this stuff before, right? As far as I can tell the technique has been confined to purses and bags, though why this might be the case is a mystery to me. I would buy the shit out of a t-shirt covered in the things.

Here's what I know:

  • They are not technically beads as they don't have a hole. Rather they appear to be fused on to the fabric, most likely using a heat transfer, I reckon. Don't bother googling that though, lest you be sucked into the Hama Bead universe - as if Hama Beads haven't already claimed enough hours of my life.
  • The earliest examples of the technique that I have been able to find are from the 1940s
  • A brand called Lumared seems to have specialised in the stuff, along with a Hong Kong label called JEM. They are sometime referred to as corde or cordo beads.
  • Finally, and most mystifyingly, the style seems to have struck it big in the land of milk and honey

Seriously, there are, like, a thousand of these for sale on Etsy. I would get one if I didn't think it would look like an invitation for arguments about the Middle East.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


What follows is my third blog post discussing Queen Victoria in as many months. I'm not sure how to explain that, but damnit, I'm not ashamed. It will also be my second Victoria's Secret post of recent times. I've got a bit of shame for that one.

In her book of collected essays, The Water Beetle (1962), Nancy Mitford describes an incident involving Empress Eugénie of France and Queen Victoria, that took place during the mid-19th century:

When the Empress Eugénie paid a state visit to England she went with Queen Victoria to the opera. The Londoners sighed a little as the two ladies stood together in the Royal Box during the playing of the National Anthem; the beauty in her Paris clothes beside chubby little red-faced Victoria. Then the time came for them to take their seats. The Empress, with a graceful movement, looked round at her chair, but Queen Victoria dumped straight down, thus proving unmistakably that she was of Royal birth and upbringing. Had that chair not been in its place the skies would have fallen, and she knew it. The audience was proud of its Queen and never gave the parvenue Empress another thought – indeed, nobody in England was at all surprised when shortly afterwards the Second Empire collapsed.

There was a moment during the Victoria's Secret show in which Rihanna starting doing a strange - but definitely sexy - backwards-walk across the catwalk. Need I say it, dear readers? Girl did not look back.

A bit perfectly, that's Karlie Kloss in the background, doing her famous panther-strut down the runway. Karlie also attempted a Victoria's Secret-y smile. It wasn't... wonderful.

But who cares, right? Because, look, there's Rihanna.

This was all part of the What-If-Georgia-O'Keeffe-Was-A-Deranged-Sex-Robot section of the show. No words will convey the essence of this bonkers yonic bonanza better than this photo does:

Also bewildering but in more of a, "What the actual fuck" kinda way, was the presentation of the Pink collection, a line designed for teens and college girls. In an interesting marketing decision, Victoria's Secret seem to have decided to also use Pink to chase consumers from the rather smaller Filthy Old-Man Pedophile demographic.

I am currently reading the book Framing Innocence: A Mother's Photographs, a Prosecutor's Zeal, and a Small Town's Response. It is a non-fiction account of how an American woman had child pornography charges brought against her after taking photographs of her 8-year old daughter naked in the bathtub. With great thoughtfulness the author, Lynn Powell, explains how in reality the photos, and the manner in which they were taken, were totally innocent. This did not save the mother from prosecution and arrest.

I'm. Just. Saying:

Ew. Let's get back to everyday-bewildering. Here is a woman dressed as some kind of sex-leopard.

That's ok! Sex-leopards I can deal with - but why is the sex-leopard holding a dog?

I guess it would be smarter to accept that the VSFS is really just a big ol' shroom fest, and I should really stop thinking and just start experiencing, man. I was definitely getting some high-times vibes from Very Pretty Woman, Doutzen Kroes:

I also sometimes got the feeling that Doutzen was as puzzled by the proceedings as me. During interviews she often tended towards the Ron Swanson school of speech-giving:

"I refuse to lather Marlene up and kiss her ring like everybody else. Instead, I'll be delivering a speech of facts. Marlene is a woman. She has worked in the government for three decades. Thirty years. Properly applied, that's how long a good varnish should last. So Marlene, it is true that you have won this award."

In the same spirit let me conclude: The Victoria's Secret Fashion Show - It certainly happened.

Sumatra steez

Photo from the book Ubud Is A Mood, edited by Leonard Lueras

Seriously though, how much is too much to spend on a Sumatran bridal headdress? I went to Indonesia earlier in the year, and let me tell you, their headdress game is just insanely amazing.

West Sumatran bride, photo by Diana Australis

Minangkabau Bridal Headdress from the Yorkshire World Collections

Another Minangkabau Bridal Headdress

And by the way, do you look at these Indonesian headdresses and find yourself reminded of a Russian kokoshnik? Because me too!
Anna Pavlova, photographer unknown

Wow, humans, right? Truly, we are all made of stars.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

words on paper

Here is an article I wrote that was published not long ago in Seizure magazine. Hope y'all like it.

The Lovely Ugliness of Fashion By Anusha Rutnam 

A woman pays a visit to the shop of a famous milliner and asks him to create for her a one-of-a-kind hat, something unlike anything her contemporaries would have seen before. The hat- maker pulls from a drawer a length of red ribbon. Before the woman's eyes he begins to weave, knot and tease this single piece of red ribbon into a most splendid creation, a hat of perfect loveliness. 
The woman exclaims at the beauty and ingenuity of the hat, gleeful that it will soon be hers. 
'How much do I owe you?' she asks. 
'$10,000' the master milliner replies evenly. 
The lady gasps, 'What? But it's just a piece of ribbon!' 
The milliner gently unweaves, unknots and pulls at the hat in his hands until only the piece of ribbon remains. 
'The ribbon,' he tells her, 'you can have for nothing.'

There is a scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca in which the housekeeper, Mrs Danvers, tortures her new mistress, the second Mrs de Winter, with a guided tour of the wardrobe belonging to her late predecessor.

Softly handling a lace negligée Mrs Danvers asks, ‘Did you ever see anything so delicate?… Look, you can see my hand through it.’  

Still from Rebecca (1940), Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

And we die a little for the tweedy second wife of the household because it is a most exquisite thing, made, Mrs Danvers helpfully points out, ‘…especially for her by the nuns in the Convent of St Clare.’

What piece of clothing could be more loaded with meaning than that negligée? Made by women who will never touch a man, once worn by a beautiful woman, now deceased, and virtually embalmed by her most faithful servant.

I think of Rebecca’s negligée as I stand, utterly over- whelmed, in Jakarta’s grossly oversized Tanah Abang Blok A Market. There are more bras in this market than there are breasts in the world. They are stuffed in clear, thick plastic sacks, the sacks stacked high. One gets the impression of standing in front of end- less walls of bulging cartoon eyes. And they are cheap, bought by the kilo and in slabs by Indonesians who will later sell them one by one to other Indonesians. I hadn’t seen another tourist for miles.

Bandeaus and balconettes, semis and demis, long- line and soft-cup, padded and pushy, all the usual suspects are here. In fact, except for the occasional Calvin Klong, it’s the same stuff sold in the department stores at home. And yet I am revolted. It is difficult to pinpoint why these individually inoffensive bras inspire such distaste. One almost feels sorry for them. I have long suspected that few objects have so tumultuous a lot in life as the fashionable garment.

Even without confronting the unpleasant realities of mass production in the clothing industry one can see that clothes have an uncanny ability to traverse the space between the lovely and the hideous. Most commonly it is a slow journey, the trudge of a style of garment that is designed, bought and worn by the Right People, subsequently favoured by a lot of people and ultimately adopted by the Wrong People.

In 1937 the historian James Laver attempted to track this process, breaking down the life cycle of a fashionable style of clothing into a neat timeline. The current fashion, he suggested, is perceived as smart but ten years ago it would have been called indecent. In one year it will be dowdy, in ten, hideous and in fifty years it will be considered quaint. New methods of production ensure that this cycle always spins faster and faster. The curved needle of the Blind-Hemming machine apes with incredible ease an arduous couture technique, wherein each stitch of the handheld needle picks up only a single warp thread of the fabric.

In a more glib fashion than Laver but in similar vein, Oscar Wilde’s oft-quoted observation, ‘fashion... is usually a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months’, still stands, give or take a few months. (As a proponent of the ghastly styles of the Aesthetic Dress movement, Wilde could certainly speak with authority on ugliness.) 

How much is Jane Doe cognisant of the process? Consider a woman who buys an accordion pleated skirt. 
BCBG Estel Skirt, 2012

The garment exists in the lineage of Mariano Fortuny, an early 20th century Spanish designer whose superb technique of hand pleating was shrouded in secrecy and died with him. 

The Delphos Dress, by Mariano Fortuny, circa 1920, picture from The Cutting Class

Whether the buyer of the skirt has heard of Fortuny is neither here nor there. The pleats in her skirt were set by huge hot machines, and the machines worked fast. Surely she must know that though she desires the skirt now, adores it perhaps, there will come a time in the not too distant future in which she will not. The skirt won’t be torn, the pleats will still be sharp but at some point she will find that the skirt no longer seems beautiful.

Sometimes the shift is more dramatic. The Reign of Terror during the French Revolution saw previously fashionable garments become a liability, marking their wearers as possible enemies of the state. The hat in particular was viewed as symbolic of aristocratic frivolity and perhaps with good reason given the tastes of the Second Estate. During happier days in the court of King Louis XVI one princess was seen to have fashioned her wig around a birdcage in which live butterflies fluttered. The threat of losing one’s head no doubt acted as a compelling inducement to cease adorning it so fabulously.

There are some clothes that succeed in transcending Laver’s cycle. One person’s emotional or affective attachment can mean that a garment is drawn out of that trudging journey from shocking to drab to classic, rearranging its value as an artifact.

The op-shop wedding dress is one such garment and a particularly pathos-laden one at that. For a single day this dress is a singularly important piece of clothing. It has been cut, pulled and stitched especially to fit the bride’s body. It is photographed, discussed and fussed over, bridesmaids stooping to flatten its hem. And then the day is over. Perhaps the bride (now ‘wife’) feels a glimmer of distaste, the dress having been so uncomfortable or expensive, perhaps a little stained and really so unwieldy and big – where will I keep it? It is dry cleaned (the op-shop wedding dress is always clean) and donated. It has become a ridiculous object, discarded but still steeped with some unknown woman’s personal but easily imagined fantasies and fears and hopes of a grand wedding day. It is a discarded relic – no bride will ever wear it again. It will probably become a Halloween costume, a sartorial one-liner.

The lingering presence of the other is felt in the op- shop wedding dress as it is in Rebecca’s clothes. The object’s meaning is no longer derived from exquisite fabrication or form. The many hands that have touched Rebecca’s negligée have left a garment deeply imbued with confused memories, which threaten to consume the people the dead woman has left in her wake.

And just as the orphaned wedding dress and negligée are saturated with sensory and nostalgic significance, the bras in the Indonesian market seem completely devoid of it. They too have made a departure from the fashion cycle, entirely unlovely though not because of any detail of style or cut. Rather they have come to inhabit a world in which clothing is robbed of fantasy and personal attachment. In this place, the hideous excesses of fashion are thrown into sharp relief (nylon, after all, takes 40 years to decompose). The bras are not being sold to be worn, but sold to be sold. Trapped in their PVC cocoons they have no tactile appeal and one can scarcely imagine a time when they will be touched, worn or loved.

It is a cruel one, the life of a garment; nasty, brutish, and short. Buffeted by the seemingly arbitrary laws of fashionable taste, which care little for an object’s beauty and nothing for its state of repair – only its place in the cycle of a trend. A projection of memories and emotional meaning can seemingly drag the occasional piece of clothing from the fashion cycle to a place where its craft is forgotten. By virtue of its intimate character, as an object with a uniquely physical connection to the wearer, the garment is well suited to become such a talisman. The milliner’s ribbon flits in an instant between beauty and worthlessness. It is a more meandering process by which the fashionable garment achieves such a fate, but the result is the same.

Friday, November 9, 2012

This isn't no intervention

I am so pleasantly surprised by the photos of Rihanna's performance at the latest instalment of the bonkers-fest that is the Victoria's Secret "Fashion" Show. (Oh I know, quotation marks humour. Move over Tina Fey.)

The dress is Vivienne Westwood. I feel like the sunglasses might be vintage Chanel.

I'm particularly fascinated by the last photo - the one in which she struts with Very Pretty Woman, Doutzen Kroes. Rihanna does more than hold her own and yet she doesn't dominate, precisely. In fact, I feel like there is a weird zen-voodoo-ying-yang sexiness balance in this photo.

The question of how to present female musicians at the VSFS is interestingly tricky terrain. For example, things didn't feel quite right when Fergie performed at the show in 2009:

The different between Fergie and Rihanna's ensembles is that the latter has some very decent fashion content. Fergie's outfit is an attempt to meet the VS Angels on their own terms (bonkers trash) and inevitably the comparison does not work to her advantage.

In 2011 Nicki Minaj went another way completely, taking a deranged whore clown of nightmares as her sartorial inspiration:

I actually adore this photo of Minaj and the oh so earnestly sexy Erin Heatherton, and get quite the Giulietta Masina in La Strada vibe from Nicki:

That said, and even bearing in mind that Miss Minaj has made outré costume an important part of her public persona, I can't help but feel that you can look at Fergie's example and find that Minaj has gone too far the other way. There is also something almost minstrel-ish about the singer's performance which feels kind of icky when you consider how fews black girls actually model in the show - I counted 3 out of the group of 37 models this year.

Katy Perry's live show aesthetic is so perfectly in tune with that of the VSFS that she must have seemed like an obvious choice when she performed in 2010:

I would actually say that, in the photos I have seen of the show at least, she often dominates the frame. That's not necessarily a good thing so far as Victoria's Secret is concerned.

And so it is Rihanna, with her Dietrich-ian sexiness, who manages to create the perfect dynamic. There's a quite a bit of Eartha Kitt-y cat cool in there too:

Rihnna exudes a very slightly masculine air while not a appearing, nor indeed wearing anything in the least butch. It's the opposite of how Missy Elliot appeared when she performed with Madonna, Britney and Christina at the Fauxmo Spectacular,  2003 VMAs:

Sidenote: Why didn't they make Missy the priest?!? I will never stop asking that question.

Ostentation 4 life

I'm fiending Lele Sadoughi's jewellery line so badly that I can't even take pleasure in looking at it.

I make me sick.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Obviously, Doctor

The Virgin Suicides was already one of my top three all-time favourite movies when I first read the Jeffrey Eugenides book on which it was based. I actually loved the book too, but reading it made me admire Sofia Coppola's film all the more. It would have been so easy to turn that story into an intensely dark film but Coppola took it to another place entirely.

Here is The Preatures' (formerly The Preachers) cover of Danimals' song, "Christmas Worm's Quest for Fresh Apples"

Again, hearing the original work (which you can listen to here) makes me appreciate the reinterpretation all the more.

p.s. Here is a Lone Maniac photo shoot starring The Preatures' Isabella Manfredi. Let's talk about this:

 Photo by Tess Huton

First Charlotte Free (who, quelle horreur, is a model, hairy and eloquent), and now Isabella?

Photo by Terry Richardson

About time.

To be clear, I'm not pro-hairy pits from an aesthetic standpoint (duh, I read Cosmo as a teenager, I'm keenly aware of which parts of my body I'm meant to be ashamed of) but my brain knows it's pissweak that this crazy rigid standard applies to women and not men.

And remember folks, it's always beautiful women who ease in the scary new trends. Just ask Miranda Kerr and her high-cut bathers.

Numéro #115, August 2010, photo by Sebastian Kim

Friday, October 26, 2012

Bard Boys

So I'm not huge on theatre and a plays and stuff, but the dream sequence from Shakespeare's Richard III is pretty boss. 
Richard III (1995), Directed by by Laurence Olivier

I would degrade myself in an exploitative women's magazine internship and spend the next twelve years fetching coffees, just for the chance to eventually be appointed assistant beauty editor and being able to publish an article on haircare called "Despair and Dye".

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Think evil of this.

Given the dearth of olden-day stuff in Sydney CBD, I'm a bit hesitant to rag on what little there is. That said, I think it would be uncontroversial to describe this statue of Queen Victoria as ugly-fugly:
For anyone interested in its history, I highly recommend taking gander at Public Art Around the World's page on it. It was there I learnt that the monument is a relative newcomer to our shores - we got the thing off Ireland in 1984. Here are some photos from before and during the move:

Though one can imagine that the Irish would be even less inclined than most to have any affection for the monument and its subject, they graciously turned down several offers from scrap merchants before gifting the bronze statue to the Antipodes. Fun fact: James Joyce nicknamed it the "Auld Bitch". Bless.

You might wonder from whence my interest in the Auld Bitch sprang. I'd like to say that I simply have an insatiable appetite for all things historical, that the world is my archive and so on. The truth, sadly, is that I'm just a big ol' perv. Suffice it to say, my first inquiry into the subject was the Google search "Queen Victoria statue Sydney george st nipple shield".
Astonishingly this did not yield many results. But seriously folks, isn't her pin (the Star of the Order of the Garter, I think) a little... on the nose? Here is another depiction of Victoria wearing the Star, this time with less fetish-chic:
Queen Victoria, 1843 (oil on canvas) William Fowler

Could it be that John Hughes, the sculpture's creator, was giving the Famine Queen, those dreadful Brits and, yes, The Man, a little thumb to nose action, an allegorical purple nurple, if you will? Probably not? Oh well, as long as we're here - 

Who wore it better, Queen Victoria or Rihanna?
Steven Klein, Vogue Italia Extreme Couture Supplement, September, 2009

Saturday, October 6, 2012


Editor's note: This is not a post about feet, even though the long first bit is about feet. I promise it gets super deep and meaningful, like, 3/4 of the way through.

The other day my mum and I were driving in Newtown and saw a group of girls in high heels walking along the footpath. I laughed at their respective gaites, familiar as I was with that horsey trot that accompanies the wearing of 3 inch+ heels. My mum on the other hand was actually concerned - "Why are they doing that?", she exclaimed in horror. Why? Christian Louboutin, mum. What about, "How?". Well, I'm no scientist, but I do talk a lot of shit so, if you'll allow me:

It seems to me that those girls were missing out on the last step in this cycle, where the leg straightens out, the foot flexing slightly in preparation for the heel making contact with ground. Instead, they go from the second last position to simply clomping straight down, knee still bent. 

Fashion is bonkers, yo.

In 2010 Tina Fey attended the Golden Globe Awards wearing this gown from Zac Posen's Resort collection of the same year.

The dress has stayed in my mind, mostly because it was panned by a lot of commentators, including E! host Giuliana Rancic. A week after the Golden Globes, Rancic and Fey met on the red carpet of the Screen Actors' Guild awards, where the following tête-à-tête took place:

Giuliana Rancic: I am here with the gorgeous Tina Fey, who looks fabulous tonight.

Tina Fey: Thank you very much. Now I didn’t watch – did you take a steaming dump on me too last week? A little bit, right?

Rancic went on to make this face:

And Fey went on to be the just but benevolent leader of the free world.

The other reason the dress stuck in me noggin was that it was the first time I had seen a full-skirted, tea-length formal gown on a non-olden day-er. These days the style is fairly established, if still rather uncommon, but back then I was surprised and, I'll admit, not entirely impressed with the look (though if I ever meet Fey I will deny ever writing this and proceed to wash her feet with my hair). Tina just didn't have the 'tude, you know? If you're gonna wear that style, you'd better mean it because this length of skirt demands a high degree of hamming it up. Observe: 
Christian Dior, Bar Suit, 1947

Those ankles, them feet! 

Indeed Fey was not alone in her failure to give this skirt the scaffolding it requires. Ulyana Sergeenko - who should really know better, given that she seems to be championing all things new-New Look - seriously disappoints: 


Victoria Beckham and Dita Von Teese are among the few contemporary clothes' horses capable of bring the requisite Work It (I need a glass of water) sensibility: 

Both have had extensive ballet training - a coincidence? I think not! Wing those feet Ladies!

Anyway, as noted, this isn't just a post about feet. It's about how the prevailing mode of dress can change the way we move and use our bodies. 

I remember when I first started watching the Next Top Model series, in around 2006,  there would always be a painful episode early on in the series in which the contestants were taught how to walk. Of course in Tyra's version there would always be some monstrous twist ("Your shoes are made from razorblades and the catwalk is covered with the handmade quilt your grandmother brought from the old country. Make it work", or some such) but even without that it was shocking to see how few of these women could just, well, walk. 

One of the more common problems, I noticed, was an inability to swing both arms while striding. In all seriousness I think this can largely be attributed to the mid-naughts-to-present trend for shoulder bags so large that the carrying arm hasn't room to swing. 

Similar but different, a pigeon toed stance seemed to match the 1960s-mod girlishness of late-naughts fashion. It looked weak and sucked.

More recently the fashionable pose du jour has undoubtedly been the single-leg bend. You know:

I feel like the main effect of this pose is to highlight sinewy, slender boniness. It's interesting that the unbent leg often seems straight to the point of hyper-extension. The pose manages to be both louche and a little strained all at once. I would cautiously suggest that the popularity of this particular stance seems to have coincided with the current fashion for extremely short skirts but I need to think over this one a little more.

With all this in mind we can view it as unsurprising that the tea-length dress has been a difficult garment to Work. It's new and requires a new way of holding the body. I want Tina Fey to try it again but next time she needs to bring a little more drama, a little more...