Tuesday, November 24, 2009

a little gem called Melrose Alley

by frédérik sisa

Cities always have pleasant little secrets, favourite word-of-mouth spots for locals in the know. LA, of course, is no different. I happened across Melrose Alley courtesy of ballroom dance classes. When you’re switching partners to practice a new step, conservations inevitably ensue - and from these conversations come all sorts of discoveries. It turns out that a fellow dance student, fashionista extraordinaire Sheila Speer, is the owner of this upscale little boutique tucked into an alleyway off of La Cienega immediately past Melrose. Contrary to what you might think, the store isn’t named after the alleyway; the alleyway is named after the store thanks to a more pliant city some time ago. Another surprise is that Melrose Alley has been in business for 25 years, getting by without advertising or flashy signs. It doesn’t even have storefront on Melrose Avenue. The only way to reach it is through the alleyway, passing by the backsides of various buildings until the small landscaped courtyard and entrance beckons you inside.

Within, the atmosphere is elegant and welcoming – a bottle of Centanario tequila and plates filled with various sweets offer visitors a hospitable treat. It feels rather like a private salon.

“We cater to an older clientele,” Sheila tells me. And a loyal clientele with discerning tastes too. A lady who came in to find some lovely pieces to add to her wardrobe, obviously a regular, told me just how much she loves coming to Melrose Alley. I can see why: Melrose Alley offers a wonderful selection of sophisticated, stylish, contemporary fashions and accessories.

But what, exactly, does it mean to cater to an “older” clientele? It means, for a start, no teeny-bopper or college fashions. This isn’t Forever 21, Gap, or Urban Outfitters with trendy clothes. Nor is it the typical Beverly Hills kind of boutique with fashion from the usual suspects – Chanel, Yves St. Laurent, and so on. In a spirit of fashion iconoclasm for an underserved age group (I won’t bother with numbers, which don’t really mean much), Sheila seeks out stylish fashion and jewelry designers with more individuality and independence than the large fashion houses, but certainly as much attention to detail and meticulous craftsmanship. Local designers are of particular interest, although national/international designers with a distinctive flair will find a place in the store. What struck me about the fashion on display – coming from design houses like Dismero, Robika, Stiletto, Evan Roberts, and others – is the detailing. A Stiletto skirt features strategically bunched fabric held in place by frog clasps. Another Stiletto skirt, longer on one side than the other, features two rows of frog clasps that give the skirt a sort of gothic/industrial look. Shirts by Dismero featuring creative button work, with pairs of alternating buttons accenting a shirt defined by a distinctive knotted fabric. Unfortunately, I take fuzzy pictures so some of the pieces I hoped to show you didn’t turn out. Here’s a serviceable snapshot of some of the pretty things I found, though:

Alas, gentlemen, there is nothing for us. Ladies, however, who have gotten past the trend of clothes with the word “PINK” plastered over their posterior would be hard-pressed not to find some elegant little number. And here’s another incentive to pop on by and say hi to Sheila: December 5th is the store’s 25th anniversary, which means, yes, discounts.

Melrose Alley
8465 1/2 Melrose Alley
Los Angeles, CA 90069

Many thanks to Sheila for her time...and for the tequila. :)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

a few words with Tessa Clogs

by frédérik sisa

In the world of footwear, clogs don’t get much respect. Even the name doesn’t often strike awe in the hearts of fashionistas. Stiletto. Espadrille. Gladiator. Mocassin. Brogues. Wingtips. Claaawwwwwggs…see?

But the humble clog, while not for all fashion types, is easily underestimated. Not only is its reputation as a hard worker well-deserved, it can be a very effective item of style - as this young woman illustrates. I like clogs precisely because they aren’t aristocratic. They have a certain proletarian quality that comes across as bohemian and down-to-earth. Clogs are not pretentious. And practical? Oh yes. Clogs are comfortable footwear with the substance of a shoe but the ease of a slide.

A surprise is that while clogs are typically relegated to the fringes, Big Fashion will, on occasion, take notice, as in the case of Karl Lagerfeld’s playful and refined work on the Chanel Spring 2010 collection. Stylin’!! Check it out:

(Image from style.com)

You don’t have to look to Chanel, however, if you want clogs suited to your own personal style. If you’re not in the mood for the straightforward style offerings of big brands like Dansko and Sanita, a good option rests with clog artisans like Tessa Clogs/Swedish Clog Cabin, who offer handpainted clogs, a very nice selection of colours (even for guys), and a few innovative touches like the “Tessa Straps.” I can’t speak from personal, hands-on experience, but I love their online catalog and the shoes have gotten rave reviews elsewhere on the web (see here, for example) So, to learn a bit more about these clog crafters, I had a friendly little eMail chat with Chris and Tessa Manning, owners of Tessa Clogs/Swedish Clog Cabin.

What made you decide to open a store focused on clogs?

Tessa (who is from the south of Sweden) and I (from the Midwest with Swedish Grandparents) met in 1993. After a trip to Sweden to visit relatives in 1994 we came back wearing hand painted clogs made in Tessa's home town. After wearing them around town and having so many people comment on them, we decided that we should begin to import them. So in 1994, we began to work with a few different manufacturers in Sweden and brought them here to Vail. When our shipments would arrive, Tessa then would spend evenings painting them up and selling them to Vail locals and stores in town. From here, we continued to grow selling locally and nationally at other fine boutiques. 1998 was when we opened up our first Swedish Clog Cabin and in 2000 we moved to our current location, downtown Vail approximately 100 yards from the ski lifts.
The Tessa Straps are a nice touch...what's the story behind them?

We know that people like to accessories and we continued to brain storm over how we could do this with our clogs. After playing around one day with straps, we came up with the idea of having an interchangeable strap and the Tessa Snap Strap was born. What is fantastic about this idea is that a person can have one pair of clogs but change the look by just changing our snap strap.

I'm picturing a town full of people wearing clogs...How are your clients, especially your fellow residents of Vail, incorporating clogs into their wardrobe?

Being a mountain town, we have a casual, fresh, hip, funky, bohemian style that we all live. So our locals and guests tend to wear our Tessa Clogs all season, dressed up and dressed down. You can see Tessa Clogs being worn by all sorts of folks: from men tuning skis here in town to some great celebs in NYC wearing them out on the town. What is so fun to see, is all of our
returning guests coming in to get there new pair of Tessa Clogs when they are visiting.

What advice do you have for someone who may have never worn clogs before but is curious to try?

Tessa Clogs are a wonderful addition to your life. Of course we all want the fashion but sometimes we forget about the comfort. All feet are different but the shape of our sole has been made for an anatomically correct position. So when your feet slide in, the position that they are put into is one that can be comfortable for all day standing and walking. If you ever take a peek at folks that are on the feet for hours on end, they are wearing clogs - and we are trying to get the world to wear Tessa Clogs :-)

Many thanks to Chris and Tessa for their time answering my questions!

As for you lot, dear readers, if you’re not exhausted by Aqua’s rapid-fire interrogation in her last post, sound off below…do you wear clogs? How do you keep it stylish?

One more thing: if you do choose to get yourself a pair of Tessa Clogs, please drop me a line and let me know!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Shoe

By Aqua Catlin

Sorry guys, another lady post. There's so much shoe news of late its a shoe-in for a review on my favorite topic. I've been trying to contact Pamela Anderson or her people. She's come out with a new line of boots. Not sexy mamma boots. In the style of "Uggs." Named after their appearance? Anderson's are vegan apparently and called Pammies. Its cool she found a way not to use animal products because Uggs are what they are because of what they are: sheep skin and wool. Its nice for all you vegans out there to have another footwear option. If you can call them that. But goodluck getting a pair. Navigating Pam's website to get into the store page is impossible and I've had to do a bit of detective work as there's no "contact us" page. So far I've gotten no response. Waiting. I'm a bit more 99 than 007. tick tick tick

When I was a child, I wore quality shoes all the time. This meant hideous brown leather, (this was key), monsters such as Hush Puppies and worse. Have you seen these things? My memory says "heavy and ugly" and I'm too traumatized to find an image. I almost got a pair of black patent mary janes when I was 7, but mother backed out of the purchase and got the Pups. sob. All the other kids got to wear junk: fun, vinyl, colorful kids' shoes. They also got to eat meat while I was raised vegetarian. Contradict much, Mum? Ah well. I just giggle and remember when my 5 year old brother threw his Pups into traffic as we walked home from school and I strap on a pair of 4 inch heals on my way out for sushi.

I've done a bit of research over the last couple days and years. Doing my tango dancing, I've become really aware of t-straps. Ladies, if you can, then avoid the ankle strap - it really shortens your legs. Fun though. I also notice how nice it is to have padding under your feet and toes. I can't find the link for you but Target and CVS sell a really cute padded satin insert for high heels. It comes in a 3 pack for about $10 with 2 different neutrals and a sexy leopard print pair. I go through these like water. Also for closed toes this season, pictured here is a nice nude elasticated lace toe cover that's ingeniously padded on the bottom and pretty on top.

Another great product that's widely available, an arch support without being the entire insert/insole. Its for anyone wearing a flat base shoe or in this case, heel, and I'll bring a few pair to the set and make someone my emotional slave for the entire shoot by handing over a brand new pair when they need it most. You remove the backing and stick it down to the shoe. You can use it on any flat, sandals too. Its close to invisible but if you're in pain you don't really care if someone catches a glimpse. I really recommend this one for guys too. Arch and foot support is so key!

And so is fit. Fit is hardest to achieve. One foot bigger, the brand doesn't make half-sizes, their 6.5 fits your 7 foot but their other 7.5 feels too tight. Nope, they're out of 8. Want 8.5? You've been there. One great cure for the shoe that's slightly too big, is a combo of heel grips (stick it on the inside of the heel and avoid blisters too!) and the satin inserts. Just one option will do it ok but together you're truly cosy. Today I paired my one size too big heel - pictured above - with just the inserts. Wore them for hours with barely any slipping out, though I was careful. Speaking of slipping...

Today met someone wearing these. Looked like a gimmick and a cry for attention but what do I know about this kind and informative stranger. It was a very silly walk. But futuristic..?

Said he was a dancer and that it saved him from 80% of the impact as well as strengthened his entire bod. Maybe. But isn't that what Curves and MBTs claim with a much lower profile? Kangajumps. Not my first choice in fitness footwear. May as well talk about that too. Taste.

What makes some love heels and others go for flats? Are you a flat lover? I'd love to know why, please explain below. Some are cute and every shoe has a place. But heels are heels. No matter how my feet may pay, I will put them in heels while I'm alive to do it. But not without some taste.

Lady Gaga
wears these hoove-like no-nos by Alexander McQueen in her absolutely gorgeous new video for her song "Bad Romance". Its a must see. Such styling! I am looking out for the first pics of other celebs actually wearing them to events. They will be torn apart by fashion critics, quite rightly.

Jimmy Choo, luxury footwear designer is doing a line of his famous shoes for H&M. I've never been a fan but now... in this price point...I'm sure that I will die without the blue cage heel and I'm sure that its already all sold out. sob. Well, since I recently joined Shoedazzle, I may pull through with and alternate. And is it so wrong that a vegetarian wouldn't mind giving those zebra flats a whirl round the brunch buffet? Update: Yes they are sold out and now double the price on Ebay.

Let me know your thoughts,
heels or flats? Why? What do the men in your life like? Why? Any brilliant shoe fixes of your own? My shoes are always in and out of the shoe repair. Those guys really maintain a loved shoe. Has anyone noticed how Steve Madden's shoes feel like the devil lives in them while Carlos Santana's line is comfy like a royal slipper? Do you think they care? Do you like Euro or American sizing better? Anyone need the actual measurement chart? Any observations in general? If you could only wear one shoe forever which would it be?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

guayaberas: dispatches from the great shirt quest of '09

by frédérik sisa

The Day of the Dead is my favourite of all the holidays. Introspective yet festive, colourful yet funerary – just the sort of thing that suits my gothic-go-lucky frame of mind. Although it’s been a few years since my wife and I celebrated the Day of the Dead at the historic Olvera Street in downtown LA, the happy circumstance of my wife getting a photograph in an exhibit at the Pico House provided the impetus for a return.

The exhibit was lovely, and the wonderful day proved chock-full of people, costumes, dancing, Calaveras, altars…and, of course, margaritas and a fine Mexican dinner with good friends at La Golondrina. As is traditional – as a tourist destination, Olvera Street is, unsurprisingly, full of shopping opportunities – I hunted for shirts. But while I’ve opted in the past for t-shirts with beautiful Jose Posada artwork (see image at left), this time I hunted under the Prime Directive of the Great Shirt Quest of ’09: Thou Shalt Avoid T-Shirts.

And thus, my discovery of the guayabera shirt, also known as a Mexican Wedding Shirt. (Wikipedia offers this fun factoid regarding the name: “The origin of the name Guayabera may come from a Cuban legend that tells of a poor countryside seamstress sewing large pockets into her husband's shirts for carrying guava (guayabas) from the field. Guayabera may also have originated from the word yayabero, the word for a person who lived near the Yayabo River in Cuba.”

Not quite a first discovery, though. Cubavera offers guayabera shirts, but I admit I was bit skeptical (especially when going solely by images on a website) and ended up sticking with Cuban-style shirts. After all, the things have 4 pockets. 4! Pockets! Crazy!

After the shock of having so much storage space on a shirt passes, however, the construction and aesthetic appeal stand out. The details are incredible: a row of three vertical buttons at the hem on each side of the waist, rows of pleats (called alforzas) on the front and back, embroidered patterns. If you can get past my lousy picture-taking skills, you can get the gist in these pics:

I ended up getting two shirts; a short sleeved black shirt and a long-sleeved burgundy shirt. (If I succeed in taking decent pictures, I’ll post them.) In the final assessment, these shirts offer both comfort and an impeccable style that can move from formal to casual and back without missing a beat. The pockets even add to the charm - forget guayabas - how about tequila bottles? Guayaberas, then, have proven to be cures for the common shirt and a worthy addition to the wardrobe.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

more fashion news from the trenches of identity politics

by frédérik sisa

Grab yourself a cuppa joe or a martini, this one’s a gabfest…

A few items in the news caught my attention in light of my post on Jonathan Escobar. Before getting to them, however, I’d like to thank Quirkate and Morbidmiss for sharing their thoughts. And morbidmiss? I apologize for not directly responding to you; I was keeping an answer for, well, this post.

As you may recall, the issue was Escobar’s removal from school because the way he “dressed like a girl” was allegedly disruptive. Feedback strongly leaned towards the idea that fashion is, indeed, a means of self-expression and not simply practical ornamentation. Of course, that brings up the whole idea about why one chooses a particular set of clothes: comfort, style, or both. Since I never really answered my own question, other than to object to anyone telling Escobar how he should dress, here it is. As pointed out by many of you, fashion (interpreted broadly to refer to choice of clothing) is, indeed, a means of self-expression as well as an identifier. No surprise there. We see examples of this everywhere: uniforms, for example, identify a function like police officer, doctor, cleric, and so on. People will use their clothes to reveal their inner selves. I’m thinking bright colourful socks for bright colourful people. But the problem is that really no guarantee that any piece of fashion will mean what we want it to mean. There may even be limits to just how communicative fashion can be since it is not a language on par with language. If one person wears stripes and another wears solid, could you really gain insight into these people? Would it be possible to assign a meaning to the choice? The problem is that sometimes people don’t wear anything because it means anything; they just wear it because they like it.

Then we have to consider cultural context and the influence of value judgments, which leads to the notion that as individuals we have no real control over how people interpret what we wear. Consider goths, for example. Within the community, the black clothes and funerary ornaments hold a particular set of meanings. To the mainstream, however, goth fashion can hold negative and derogatory meanings like “freak,” “depressed,” “Columbine massacre,” and so on. Where the goth may be asserting his or her individuality, others may see a morbid obsession. And what about culture? To cultures not steeped in Western funerary customs, the significance of the colour black and other gothic accoutrements may simply not register. Unfortunately, and this is the crux of the issue, the clothes themselves don’t decisively settle things one way or another. Meaning can’t be fixed and reliable. This is why I don’t think it means anything to say “dress like a girl;” there is no objective foundation by which he can create a link between gender and clothing. It’s all relative, in other words. Which doesn’t diminish the capacity for fashion to be self-expressive. It just means that fashion is self-expressive in a constantly changing environment of signs, meanings, and interpretations.

But there I go veering off into pompous pontificating again. So let me take this whole discussion up a notch with this little bit of news from America’s Next Top Model. During cycle 13, Tyra Banks had the models undergo cosmetic changes to become…another race? From Access Hollywood/Yahoo:
Tyra told bleach blonde Erin Wagner she was going to be "Tibetan, like the Dali Lama, and Egyptian"; Southern belle Laura Kirkpatrick was put into makeup to look "Mexican and Greek"; Jennifer An, who is Korean, was told she was going to be "Botswanan and Polynesian"; African-American Sundai Love was made to look "Moroccan and Russian"; redheaded Nicole Fox was "Malagasy and Japanese," while blonde Brittany Markert was put into makeup to look "Native American and East Indian." (Click here for image source and article.)
And if that isn’t enough, how about that flap over at the French edition of Vogue, in which Dutch model Lara Stone posed in blackface?

(Racist? Artistic? You tell me. Image borrowed from Laetitia at TFS. Click to enlarge.)

Reactions, of course, span the gamut from outrage at perceived racism and equally spirit of experimentation. In the collision between the political and aesthetic, however, the question isn’t so much whether the photos are racist – context is key – but whether the body itself can be just as much an anarchic medium of self-expression as clothing. Answer: what about the efforts we put into changing our bodies – from body piercings and tattoos to darkening one’s skin through tanning? It seems to be that a key factor is individuality versus conformity. To what extent should the individual conform to societal expressions of personal identity, even in matters associated with the body?

Whatever your opinion – and I hope you’ll share it below – one has to give props to Tyra Banks and Vogue for stimulating discussion. Sometimes there is more to the fashion industry than we give it credit for. Sometimes.

And that’s it for the heavy stuff. Next week we break out from the holding pattern with more dispatches from the Great Shirt Quest of ’09. There will be thrills, chills, and…pockets? Oh yes. There will be pockets.