Thursday, August 31, 2006

Fall Vogue Rising

Is something unusual happening in Paris or is this really about somehing new happening at American Vogue? The editorial pages of this year's customary encyclopaedic

September issue are suddenly swirling with truly spectacular high style, after many, many years. Buried in a plethora of edgy fall
advertising one discovers Anna Wintour's best editorial writing in a long time, a beautiful piece that puts her at the forefront of notable chroniclers of a swiftly changing world.

The Spanish Riding School

I confess, my first reaction to Kirsten Dunst on the cover and the tribute to Sofia Coppola's brilliant rock movie was, Oh, good, a little fantasy for a change, but that's just a costume! And a counterfeit Jeffrey "Joseph" Jones in my head scanned the layout and sniffed, "too many fonts!" Then I saw that between Grace Coddington and Annie Leibovitz, they had made it easy to see that the dress on the cover and the other dresses Milena Canonero designed for the movie are distinctly modern --as much attuned to contemporary tastes as the retroussé noses and chiselled chins in the pictures. Here are distillations rather than imitations of the 18th Century pannier hoop dresses so often on view at The Met from The Costume Institute. In fact, the dresses especially made by Rochas, Oscar de la Renta, Chanel Haute Couture, Alexander McQueen, DiorCouture/John Galliano, and Balenciaga/Nicolas Ghesquière for Vogue and Kirsten Dunst in the Teen Queen spread all show what a very long way the technologies of substance, heft, cut and drape have come since Rose Bertin kicked things off. What an interesting idea, too, to bankrupt other people by example-- if that is indeed what Marie Antoinette did, I hope nobody will lose their shirt trying to live like Michael Chow.

Supposedly, Rose Bertin said, "There is nothing new except what is forgotten." But that is not quite right. Things advance. Of course, the new shapes and proportions have an ancestry within a single generation of living memory. Now, two amd a half inches of excess hair shorn off the Kawakubo-Rykiel bob, and rendered anew in the color of lacquered cherrywood tops off the longest equine neck ever seen. Here are the proportions of leg and dress launched in 1967 as cartoons, in the sense of preliminary sketches, by Pierre Cardin and Rudi Gernrich. This time, in 2006, the other idiomatic shape of wide legged trousers and tiny jackets reveal an expertise and flowing confidence and precision of proportion impossible to achieve the last time around. Still, the new developments bear a strong link to 1967-68, the last time the world spun into heady dissent and outright revolution.

Perhaps without irony, amid all the renewed celebration of the art of high fashion and taste, Daphne Beal's article about new fortunes made and new enterprises managed by good looking young women in India focuses on the emergence of India's recently consumer-oriented economy, and the social dynamics of mass production and mass communication. (Despite the sour little remark from the understandably baffled and "recently departed" Elizabeth Bumiller, quite a few Americans now in their prime and living in the U.S. have always known that India matters.) The markets for processed food and recorded
entertainment and cars are hardly new to India, although foreign investment is growing by leaps and production is diversifying fast. One thing that is brand new, though, is the rising confidence of city dwellers in the reincarnated art of developing new forms of Indian dress. Now, with Tao Kurihara's new take on unstitched clothes taking the stage over here, is this not the moment to get rid of petticoats under saris? That clunky practice was originally adopted in the 1870's by Indian rajkumaris and zamindarnis, to jibe with the nadir of style then dictated by that other Germanic princess, the widowed Queen Victoria, the very antithesis of Marie Antoinette and her court.

Much that is presented in this issue is elevated and unified by the variety of veiled or masked faces, whether it's that netting, fine as mist or chunky as a catcher's face guard, or Takahashi's sinister hoods, or the painterly use of makeup-- all creating the fascination of mystery and distance, just as the therapist recommends.

A note of thanks for the end page's closing affirmation about "the synchronicity bewteen high
fashion and hgh art." People are gong to keep this one on tables, then on bookshelves and eventually for years in their attics.

Portraits of Marie Antoinette by Elisabeth Vig
ée-Lebrun are all over the Internet.....

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

That Summer in Paris

That Summer in Paris is a book about writing, about writers and their writing, painting and sculpture and music and writing, painters and writers and sculptors and musicians and writers, old and established writers and aspiring young writers. As such, the words “writing” and "work" appear often enough in the text to each become a sort of mental jaw-breaker. Other than that, all is variety. A dizzying array of museums, streetscapes, cafés, restaurants, apartment dwellings and one suburban villa provide the backdrop for an amusing story line based on the proposition that older Indian writers, even the great ones, have trouble writing about sex.

In the ordinary
course of things, and counting Hanif Kureishi as a Briton, one might imagine that this chokehold on erotic expression, or at least on spelling things out - to which Salman Rushdie once admitted - is a collective inhibition imposed by social or political constraints. One conjectures that such constraints might have been in full operation, say, until Vikram Chandra exploded the mold. In this one particular, though, Abha Dawesar doesn’t make the mistake of conflating personal problems with public matters. Rather, her heroic old gent is bubbling within from his highly-colored yet basically unspeakable memories that feature guilt- and consequence-free incest and happy mid-life paedophilia, as well as an episode of Bollywood-inspired sadomasochistic adultery. It seems his fictionalizations have left too much to the imagination. Helpfully, Ms. Dawesar's own most fluid voice emerges in flashbacks about seduction and arousal and, very occasionally, mind-bending, seismic consummation, which goes to show that young Indian writers going forward will not suffer from whatever was ailing the oldies in times past.
I found many of the discussions about art, or rather, The Arts and a smattering of Philosophy, to be somewhat stilted, possibly because the material is unsuited
for unfiltered use as conversational dialogue. The narrative is dotted, too, with implausible assertions and assumptions that might be the result of youth or inexperience – not least the sustained subtext of public art in well-frequented urban places invariably stimulating private arousal in old men and young women, never mind the notion that very short ten year olds can’t hear what is being said two feet above their heads. There are also quantities of uncomfortable prepositions, persistent intrusions of high school French, and a smattering of showstoppers such as, “The government buildings along the way stilled her restlessness.”

On the other hand, I was delighted with the frequent reference to a carefully and playfully built imaginary oevre of a fictional master storyteller, and the narrative device of continually using flashbacks of varying length to throw light on the present. The introduction of food, with a sad formula for Dal Sans Masala for One, threatened at first to swamp the story with bad recipes and worse menus (buns, mustard, beer and portobello mushrooms), but instead, the use of food grew with the telling to embrace considerable gatronomic expertise, a highly suggestive and indeed climactic sampling of cheeses, and, curiously, the tossing of at least two half-eaten chapattis into the trash and a hunt for a Parisian subsitute for pakoras, the last appearing soon after a mid-story change of race.

All in all, this is a merry romp to somewhere, and I wish all those who pick it up an enjoyable read. For those who need illustrations, Ms. Dawesar has posted those reproduced here and many more pictures at: