Saturday, May 07, 2011


The paragraphs below were written by an art critic not a style writer, and did not appear in the style section but in the section now named Art & Design.
A hairstylist friend of mine used to place leather bondage gear in her downtown shop window to scare off what she called “the wrong element,” meaning anyone wanting a nice wash and trim. She wanted to be sure that if you sat in her chair, you were ready to accept whatever look she decided on for you, because it would change the way you saw yourself in the world. That was the deal.

“Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a survey of the career of the British fashion designer who died last year, a suicide at 40, is similarly about control and change. The show, or rather what’s in it, is a button-pushing marvel: ethereal and gross, graceful and utterly manipulative, and poised on a line where fashion turns into something else.
40 years ago the explicit collapsing of categories would have been unthinkable. In 1994 when the New Yorker published an issue of articles on the fashion scene its writers were accused of slumming.*


Frank Gehry: "One of my greatest influences is the Italian artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini."


Descartes: "History is like foreign travel. It broadens the mind, but it does not deepen it."
Eric Hobsbawm
Why brilliant fashion designers, a notoriously non-analytic breed, sometimes succeed in anticipating the shape of things to come better than professional predictors, is one of the most obscure questions in history; and for the historian of culture, one of the most central.
Contra Descartes, as I've said a thousand times, language is change. "The primacy of the theoretical" will become always the primacy of fashion. The dream of a "scientific philosophy" is just that.
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I saw the show this afternoon.
McQueen wasn't a couturier he was a costume designer; and that gives both the credit they deserve. But as with almost everything put on by the Costume Institute the installation turns the Met into Madame Tussaud's. It's more vulgar -more bought and paid for- than the Guggenheim at its worst.

And I'll say again that the arts that cater only to the tastes of the various pseudo-aristocracies under capitalism lend themselves easily to kitsch. "Live the fantasy" is a tag-line in the fashion world, but whether the fantasy is of beauty and eternal youth or intellectual significance the basic structure is identical. And again there's something about Americans and the British and their relationship to France. A popular definition of kitsch is to be "more Catholic than the Pope", and McQueen's work -more French than the French- is as desperately overdetermined as an english language discussion of French theory. What's interesting about Gehry, and I've said this before too, is that his interest in Bernini doesn't originate in the academy. He sees the old world with fresh eyes.

Academics tend to forget that invention begins with observation, and that erudition is only a tool. The librarian is never the best model for intellectual life.
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* The issue is now on the web. One article in particular caused a bit of a stir. Below are the last paragraphs of Hilton Als' profile of Andre Leon Talley
“Look, LouLou!” Talley shouted. “The color of this ring is divine, no? Just like the stone you gave me!”

“What?” LouLou de La Falaise asked, barely disguising her boredom.

“This ring, child. Just like the stone you gave me, no?”

LouLou de La Falaise did not respond. She nodded toward Roxanne Lowitt, and Lowitt instructed her to stand behind Maxime de La Falaise and Talley. LouLou de La Falaise said, “I will stand there only if André tries not to look like such a nigger dandy.”

Several people laughed, loudly. None louder than André Leon Talley. But it seemed to me that a couple of things happened before he started laughing: he shuttered his eyes, his grin grew larger, and his back went rigid, as he saw his belief in the durability of glamour and allure shatter before him in a million glistening bits. Talley attempted to pick those pieces up. He sighed, then stood and said, “Come on, children. Let’s see something. Let’s visit the house of Galliano.”

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