Saturday, February 23, 2013

On Unwearables

Years ago, before I really had any artistic appreciation for fashion, I had a love-hate relationship with magazines. I've always been a reader, so I loved the articles, the interviews, the photography. What I didn't understand were the editorial shoots. Impossibly skinny models with a hair style that likely took hours and expertise, garish makeup–but that wasn't the most puzzling. It was the clothes. A shirt with a sweater and a jacket and a coat and tights and socks with a mismatched skirt and an armful of jewelry? Would anyone in their right mind ever wear that?

With a few exceptions, the answer is no, and for a number of reasons. The first is the impracticality of dressing like a fabulous, fabulous clown. So few can pull off an over embellished and strikingly on-trend ensemble. The second deals with budget. It's not rational for any given person's everyday outfits to add up to a ballpark total of $10,000. (This would exclude jewelry.) I think there are very few people in this world that can wear head-to-toe Chanel, Saint Laurent, Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton on a daily basis. 

As I've matured, I've come to understand fashion, magazines and the general ways for the world much more. Fashion is a fantastical, ever-changing world full of unpredictable and innovative creatives. It's wearable art. And just like art, you can make of it what you want. It can be everything, it can be nothing. 

So these editorials, they are works of art. They're not meant to be taken literally. Yes, if you wear that exact outfit on the street, people will stare at you and take your picture. (Yet, if you want to, you certainly can.) They're a launching point for an outfit, for a purchase. 

The same can be said of runway shows. The looks aren't necessarily meant to be worn all together, at the same time. 

Joe Zee, the creative director at Elle magazine, is frank about the disconnect. “Is every single look that you see going to be accessible and wearable? No, but that’s not the point. I would like to think that our readers are smarter than that. We’re the thinking woman’s fashion magazine. No one is going to rip out that page and re-create the outfit exactly as shown. Instead, the image will provide a point of reference.” 

Photos: All courtesy of Women's Wear Daily

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

History Lesson on Nail Polish

Curiosity is a compelling thing. Einstein claimed he was not a genius, just exceptionally curious. I like to think I'm exceptionally curious. I wonder about the mundane, the elegant, the downright bizarre. How did the delightfully petite macarons come about? Where did the word 'serendipity' come from? However, I am certainly no genius.

Yet, here I am, another curiosity, another question: Who decided that it was aesthetically pleasing to paint a glossy coat of varnish on one's nails?

Thus, here we are: nail polish, a brief history. 

Babylonia, 3200 B.C.: a treasure trove for historians, anthropologists, archaeologists, and now beauty enthusiasts. Manicures made from kohl were first spotted in ancient royal tombs, worn by males in colors with accordance to social class. 

Around the same time, the Chinese also used nail color as a sense of self-expression and class definition. Their methods of coloring the nails were quite different than ours of today; they used egg whites, beeswax, Arabic gum and flower petals to soak their nails for hours to get the desired hue. 

The ancient Egyptians, too, were advocates of nail color, staining them with henna. Lore has it that Nefertiti and Cleopatra wore shades of red, which is only fitting. 

Jump forward to 1920, France. Michelle Menard adapted the enamel used to paint cars to a less high-tech and permanent version for nails, which was popular among flappers. Menard came to America, where she perfected her formula, which became part of a company later called Revlon. 

Thanks to Technicolor television and the immense popularity of glamorous actresses like Bette Davis (left), nail polish became an essential in the realm of high fashion. To no surprise, red was the most in vogue, as popularized by Rita Hayworth (right). 

In 1976, the French manicure debuted on the runways in Paris and was an immediate hit. The market begged for a more versatile style, and the natural look fit the bill. 

In the '70s, '80s and '90s, black nail polish was popular among the rock and punk band set, evoking their gritty style and music. 

Today, it seems anything goes. Ombre, color blocking, glitter, caviar. Nail art mimics the trends of the runway. There are dozens of blogs and websites dedicated to decking out nails. You've no doubt seen the "signature" nail art pose: a freshly painted manicure energetically gripping the new color's bottle. You can go high or low, O.P.I or Deborah Lippman, China Glaze or Dior. 

As a female, getting or giving oneself a manicure is a rite of passage. Painted nails can be seen on a three year old or an 80 year old, the effect is the same. Think about it: how many times have your nails been painted in your life?

Sources: Illustrated polish, Chinese, Egyptian, Bette Davis, Rita Hayworth, Dior