Africano Americano

In 2019 while earning my MA in Fashion Journalism online at the Academy Of Art University I was enrolled in Danielle Wallis’s Fashion Styling class. After enduring weeks of preliminary lessons where we learned how to style for a client, photograph accessories, and analyze magazine editorial layouts, we finally reached the final project.

Since one of my goals, as an African American fashion/feature writer is to incorporate my culture into my writing, I wanted to choose a final project concept that reflected that. Compiling various ideas from five influences, representing art, literature, music, dance, and fashion I came up with a cohesive story that I called African Americano.

In homage to my paternal grandmother, who was half Italian and half African American, I cautiously presented it to Professor Wallis. Once I further explained, in my bubble map and mood board, that I was also going to represent the 1960s and 1970s, and my muse was going to be Tish Rivers from James Baldwin’s novel If Beale Street Could Talk she became excited as well.

Two of her requirements that almost halted the project before it began, however, was that I look for clothes and accessories within my zip code and the outfits had to be realistic. So anything with an African American flair had to be thoroughly incorporated and make sartorial sense. In the film, based on the book, Tish Rivers worked in a department store, but in my fashion story I widened her scope and gave her a wardrobe that would be just as appropriate if worn at school, in an office, or a bank.

Within my zip code, 90008, the shops I chose were within the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza and the surrounding areas. What I couldn’t find there I found in my closets. Edited down to five outfits, which I also modeled and photographed, the African American touches-a multicolored cloth bag from Malik Books, two African necklaces from the Pan African Film and Arts Festival, a Notorious BIG t-shirt from Ross Dress For Less and a black and white Black Panther tote from the Soul of a Nation exhibit at the Broad Museum-embued my styling with a uniquely ethnic flavor.

Now as I look back at African Americano, and put it into context with the other projects I completed at the Academy Of Art University before receiving my degree last December, I have to say it was definitely the one that made me proudest to be an African American.

Ripped from the Runway with Snow Xue Gao’s Spring 2021 Collection

Spring 2021 Trends:

If I were to describe the trends for Spring 2021 I’d classify them as pandemic and post-pandemic. In the first group, which centers on quarantining, sheltering at home, and Zoom correspondence they include: face masks, fashion gloves, leisurewear, sweatsuits, and Zoom jewelry. In the second group they include clothes that “shine” with “crystal embellishments, sequins, and reflective patent leather,” fun colors like silver, soft pink, and vibrant orange, “clashing prints,” and “head-to-toe playful prints”. Besides these trends there are those that carryover from other seasons or have a retro vibe (i.e., transparency, “statement collars,” neon brights, “exaggerated shoulders, bubble hems, and stripes, etc.,) along with the risqué and futuristic genre of bra and crop tops, utility garments and netting.

Snow Xue Gao:

Following close examination of these trends from New York, London, Paris, and Milan via fashion journalism commentary in vogue.com, Refinery29.com, FashionMagazine.com, WWD and others, then analyzing Vogue, Elle, and InStyle magazines I realized the Chinese designer, Snow Xue Gao, presented the most unique and innovative fashion show for Spring 2021 in New York City.

Not only did her designs cleverly reflect the “ease and comfort” we’ve all become accustomed to, while under quarantine during the pandemic, her mash up of Eastern and Western influences provided a prototype for her target customer once she emerges from quarantine during the post-pandemic period. Conceived for the professional woman who enjoys expressing her individuality and prefers buying wardrobe additions instead of trends and fads the creativity she brings to her garments blends classicism with futurism effectively.

Born in Beijing, Gao began her studies at the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology before moving to New York to work on an MFA in fashion design at Parsons School of Design. After graduating in 2017, and being shortlisted for the LVMH Prize competition, she launched her brand and started getting noticed by Vogue, WWD, and others in the press. Influenced by both the suiting popular in Western fashion and the “silks, prints and cultural motifs” from the East she’s particularly known for her eclectic approach.

“Ease, comfort and versatility have been keywords that have popped up during Zoom calls, and were all mentioned in Snow Xue Gao’s spring collection, which featured a more relaxed design approach without losing its East-meets-West mixed media identity.”

Andrew Shang

“Ease, comfort and versatility have been keywords that have popped up during Zoom calls, and were all mentioned in Snow Xue Gao’s spring collection, which featured a more relaxed design approach without losing its East-meets-West mixed media identity,” wrote Andrew Shang in the article Snow Xue Gao RTW Spring 2021.

By taking the “clashing prints” trend and mixing it with deconstructionism and the pandemic-related trends of “pajamas as outerwear,” florals and plaids she’s achieved a look that seamlessly works as well at home as it does for quick errands out with a mask worn for protection. Titled Love, Family, and Friends Gao said about the collection in the article Snow Xue Gao Spring 2021 “I really hope that my clothes can give people a feeling of happiness, relaxation and casualness.”

Influenced aesthetically by Dries Van Noten and Martin Margiela, her Spring line consisted of structured, belted blazers, patchwork dresses, skirts, tops and pants kept down to earth with flat, black men’s-style shoes. Figure-enhancing, without being overly clingy or body-consciousness, her garments also had a slight 1930s/1940s feel

Writer Laird Borelli-Persson in her collection review about the designer for vogue.com wrote that “Gao is a talented tailor with a distinct signature of puzzling asymmetric “dual” or half-and-half looks together that play softness against suiting.” It was just this attention to her “distinctive ensembles” that earned her the admiration of Rihanna, who wore one of Gao’s jackets at the 2016 Global Citizen Festival in Central Park.

Only time will tell what the future will bring once the pandemic is over, but one thing is certain, talented and innovative designers like Snow Xue Gao will always be in demand as interesting ones to watch.

Ripping Through the Fabric of Time with Martin Margiela’s Spring 2021 Ready-to-Wear Collection

After considering the “stylish sweatsuits, long tunics, and oversized trousers” from Miuccia Prada/Raf Simons, Fendi, and Louis Vuitton that both defined our post COVID-19 existence and reinforced our sartorial safety nets, to obsess over, I chose a collection I couldn’t get out of my mind-Martin Margiela’s Spring Ready-to-Wear 2021 line.

Presented in a striking film that combined the creation of the clothing and accessories with Argentina and the tango it not only personified where we are now psychologically but also aesthetically. Utilizing “recicle” up cycled pieces, vintage “traditionally loomed Venetian brocades for the dancers’ Mary Jane shoes, leather, glossy wet-looking textures, gauzy white, etc.,” the stark palette of black, white, and red showcased the tattered finery beautifully.

Patterned after the poverty deluxe of the tango dancers John Galliano met in Argentina he slyly injected a variety of trends for his interpretation. Broken down they include: “reflective surfaces, expressive textures, recycled textiles, black and darker tones, and the contrast of red.” Seductive and glamorous, the textile trends utilized for this phenomenal collection definitely reflect the spirit of our times by glorifying our nostalgia for tradition and our desire for fantasy.

Fashion Evolution and Our Wardrobes

If I were to describe my wardrobe, I’d definitely say it’s eclectic, because I dress to tell a story with my clothes instead of adhering strictly to trends. Since I’m a professional fashion/feature writer who often needs stylish gear for interviews, store profiles, fashion shows, and other events, I buy and collect according to the industry’s dress code requirements for individuality. That could mean anything from a secondhand suit bought from an online store, to a vintage dress from Etsy.com, Goodwill, or Council Thrift Store or a jumpsuit from Target, T.J. Maxx, or Ross Dress For Less. Even though I have a wide range of clothes in my wardrobe, the three areas I’ve noticed that reflect significant changes in the field of fashion too include, fast-fashion, secondhand, vintage clothing, and personal style.

Bow-front blouse from Ross Dress For Less

“Fast-fashion is a term used to describe an industrial phenomenon associated with companies that accurately and instantly track consumer demands in order to rapidly manufacture and offer trend-driven clothing and accessories at exceptionally low costs,” writes Sara Idacavage in the article The Development of Fast-Fashion. When I examine the fast-fashion merchandise in my wardrobe, I notice quite a bit from Forever 21, H&M, and Uniqlo. While I doubt the sustainability of Forever 21 and don’t agree with how they’ve incessantly copied others, I still enjoy wearing their clothing, especially when paired with something vintage, secondhand, or designer.

“Fast-fashion is a term used to describe an industrial phenomenon associated with companies that accurately and instantly track consumer demands in order to rapidly manufacture and offer trend-driven clothing and accessories at exceptionally low costs.”

Sara Idacavage

Although I also agree it’s true what Idacavage writes in The Development of Fast-Fashion about “the fast fashion business model often relying on manufacturing in low-wage countries such as China and Bangladesh” I also believe they provide employment and goods to those in society who might otherwise not be able to obtain either due to where they live, their socioeconomic circumstances, or their race.

Unfortunately, the growth and change of fast-fashion in the “late 20th and early 21st centuries” haven’t been sustainable and have added to clothing’s disposability. H&M with their Conscious Collection is attempting to right some of these wrongs by transforming recycled plastic bottles, etc., into new merchandise. The fact that a lot of fast-fashion ends up at thrift stores and on secondhand websites poses a new argument about its lifespan, because instead of going into a landfill it goes into the wardrobe of another owner, reducing its instant disposability.

Red and white gingham shirt and multicolored pants from ThredUp.com

As a long-term thrifter and sartorial storyteller, one practice I still adhere to and partly learned from shopping fast-fashion, is combining inexpensive finds with expensive ones for a unique look. “Fashion and social histories have noted that it became increasingly popular to mix “high” (designer) with “low” (mass-produced) fashion during the 1990s,” writes Idacavage.

For me that could mean a Ralph Lauren shirt with a pair of jeans from Forever 21 or a tunic dress from Prada (Miu Miu) with a pair of joggers from Fallas. By buying clothing to fit in with my existing wardrobe I’m also practicing sustainability because I rarely discard anything after repeated wearings, giving my fast-fashion pieces an extended life.

Secondhand Rules:

Secondhand, or as Nicky Gregson and Louise Crewe call it “commodity revalorization” in the e-Book Second-Hand Cultures, is an area that has impacted the fashion industry as well because the resell market is almost as profitable as the retail one. Promoted by fashion bloggers like Sarah Chuck on Instagram, it’s become a reliable way to sustainably acquire and exchange clothing.

Personally, I’ve successfully added things to my wardrobe from various thrift shops and the online sites ThredUp.com and Swap.com and plan to continue as long as the quality of merchandise is maintained. Besides the budgetary plus of the practice, buying secondhand is one of the most constructive ways to extend the life of clothing. Since I’ve learned more about sustainability, I’ve consistently bought clothes this way from H&M‘s Conscious Collection.

White Dress from H&M

Vampire’s Wife x H&M:

Recently, thanks to COVID-19, Zoom meetings, webinars, and working from home, I’ve had to mostly shop online so I’ve become more cognizant of sustainable clothing and accessories on the internet. One dress I bought from H&M was even featured on T.V. as part of their Conscious Collection. Perfectly on-trend, the white fabric is made out of recycled polyester.

Another dress I recently bought from them, a black lace mini (The Mystique Dress) from their Vampire’s Wife x H&M collaboration, is also sustainable and the lace is “made from recycled polyamide”. Basically, what I like about the line is that it’s “mainly made from sustainably sourced materials” and the styles are distinctly gothic and Victorian.

“The collection consists of desirable statement mini and maxi dresses made from recycled nylon or recycled polyester, accompanied by covetable jewelry.”

Susie Cave

Susie Cave, the company’s founder and Creative Director told H&M in an interview “The collection consists of desirable statement mini and maxi dresses made from recycled nylon or recycled polyester, accompanied by covetable jewelry.” She also later states, “Sustainable fashion means that the entire life cycle of the product aims to reduce any unnecessary environmental and socio-economic harm.”

A New Mind Set

The criteria we use to measure the value of a successful fashion or product is if it’s qualitative or well-made, attractive, and long-lasting. Today with so much emphasis being placed on whether an item is sustainable or not the criteria we measure it with has changed to include the way it’s manufactured, the materials used to make it, and how kind it will be to the environment when its lifespan is over.

For example, the way Eileen Fisher creates her clothing with the goals to be “comfort driven, quality made, trend adverse, and timeless” exemplifies this new mind set. Intent on a “slow fashion” pace she wants to give her customers something that lasts. In order for the fashion industry to be on board other designers and manufacturers need to do the same.

Fashion Dead Ends

Fast-fashion and its approach to over-production, over-marketing, and advertising to consumers, then the rapid disposal practices by companies and consumers is a fashion dead end that needs to change. Writer Jim Dwyer in his January 5, 2010 article A Clothing Clearance Where More Than Just the Prices Have Been Slashed exposed H&M‘s practice of tossing “unsellable” merchandise instead of jobbing them or donating them to a charity or a thrift store. Destroying the clothing and accessories further with box cutters and razors so scavengers couldn’t reclaim them and resell them, also creates unnecessary waste and pollution.

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From 2010 when Dwyer first reported this story, to 2019 when Elizabeth Segran wrote Your H&M addiction is wreaking havoc on the environment. Here’s how to break it for fast company.com, a few small start-up companies like Cuyana, Ammara, and Senzo Tempo have instituted a new approach to retail that’s dedicated to educating the consumer about conspicuous consumption and how to purchase “less often and more wisely”. Now that so many fast-fashion retailers are experiencing a decline, and these new companies are on the upswing, there are lessons they can pass on that make more sense.

One important lesson is to slow down production and produce less to stem the flow of over-production. Another important lesson is to consider it from the design point-of-view and find creative ways to analyze and interpret prevailing trends, and if there is a case of “unsellable” goods, a solution would be to “re-purpose” or “up-cycle” them into “sellable” ones.

Finally, if Stella McCartney could use “old stock fabrics to create rare, limited pieces for her Spring 2021 collection” so can H&M and other retailers and designers.

Corporate Scandals: A Study in Unethical Behavior

The business environment both Enron and Bernie Madoff existed in allowed them to choose unethical behavior (i.e., dishonesty, unfaithfulness, untrustworthiness, and a lack of integrity) to either achieve a significant profit and personal gain at the expense of others thereby giving them absolute power over those dependent on them. They also consistently disregarded any consequences for their deception and greed as well. Instant gratification was their goal, and in the case of Enron, they even encouraged their stockbrokers to look for duplicitous loopholes or arbitrage to close deals. This indicates their role as leaders was compromised by the unethical decisions they made.

Initially both operations seemed “too good to be true” so it was easy to convince others to either invest in them or with them. Despite doubts raised by employees, with Enron and Madoff due to the suspicious business practices on paper, they were quickly brushed off and ignored. In Enron‘s case their downfall came from their “cooking the books” and “pumping and dumping stocks”, and in Madoff’s case, his whole operation was a Ponzi scheme. Overall, the most important lessons to be learned from the Enron and Bernie Madoff scandals is without an established “Code of Ethics” and consistent checks and balances from government and business experts unethical individuals can go rogue and gamble recklessly instead of practicing with legitimate transparency.

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Primary similarities between the two scandals was they were basically a scam enacted by con artists. Enron and Madoff dressed the part of legitimate businessmen, had enough education and skills to pass and fool their employees and investors, etc., then conducted themselves from this platform of lies. In doing so they were able to get over. Individually the people who were the major players in these tragedies acted from the wrong value systems, and their cheating, lying, and bullying were reinforced by temporary success, power, and fulfillment.

During the time, when Enron and Madoff concocted their diabolical masterpieces, the economy was on the upswing, so no one cared or noticed, but once the downturn occurred and people either needed a return on their investments or their money back, the swindles became increasingly noticeable and financially detrimental.

Truthfully, I think the scandals happened because no one was allowed to ask questions when something looked suspicious despite “red flags being raised”. Madoff, in particular, didn’t allow anyone to question him and was so intimidating his investors backed off and Enron, when they coordinated their electric deal with California, did everything they could to find loopholes within the system, unfairly gouging customers in major West coast cities.

The company’s directors, for both companies, didn’t protect their employees and investors because as long as they were successful and making money themselves, they disregarded others. Their behavior became profit driven so their decision making skills became skewed and they became personally irresponsible and careless. Instead of respecting their power and using it for good they abused it and used it unwisely.

So how can credibility be recovered with investors after all of this? It can be recovered by first apologizing to them for mistakes made and by then establishing a transparent set of ethical codes that guarantees the companies act professionally at all times according to industry, government, and legal guidelines. Following the Enron and Bernie Madoff scandals, however, I don’t think credibility can ever be recovered with their past investors, but if those involved want to recreate themselves within the business world later they should make sure they own up to their part in the scandals, then emphasize the strengths they utilized and brought to these companies before they collapsed.

Alice + Olivia By Stacey Bendet

If I were to select a fashion brand to analyze for its interactive marketing strategy I’d choose Alice + Olivia By Stacey Bendet because not only is it a very popular and influential company online they also have a strong on-site presence. Described by Bendet as “a very feminine brand, a girl’s girl brand” it’s based in New York City but is sold in over 25 standalone stores internationally and in the United States. It’s also sold at a number of online sites such as http://www.theoutnet.com, http://www.cools.com, Neiman-Marcus, Nordstrom, Nordstrom Rack, Bergdorf Goodman, saksfifthavenue, ThredUp.com, and others. Customers can also purchase their clothing directly from their website on http://www.aliceandolivia.com.

Brand History:

Launched in 2002, Alice + Olivia By Stacey Bendet decided she needed to learn how to make a pair of pants that fit her both stylistically and creatively. After receiving a myriad of compliments on the pair she designed for herself, a friend who was putting on fashion shows at New York’s Russian Tea Room asked her to include her designs in a fashion show. In a true Hollywood moment, following the show, Andrew Rosen, CEO of Theory told her he wanted to invest in her company and someone from Barney’s Department Store called her the next day to place an order.

What began as a small design idea with alumni and partner, Rebecca Matchett, at the University of Pennsylvania suddenly became a large company with potential. Using the first name of their mothers, Alice and Olivia, they set out to recreate Bendet’s vision of “whimsical, flirty, sexy, and sophisticated womenswear” inspired by her love of “vintage clothing, flea markets, and traveling.”

“The first few years were really about me going to design school.”

Stacey Bendet

From an early age Bendet expressed an interest in fashion and clothing. At the University of Pennsylvania even though she studied International Relations and French she entered the industry with the two assets every designer needs-excellent taste and strong personal style. Besides design she’s also an influential trend-setter who’s appeared on the Vanity Fair Best-Dressed List over four times and is now in their Best-Dressed Hall of Fame. “The first few years were really about me going to design school,” she told Robin Mellery-Pratt in the article Stacey Bendet of Alice + Olivia Says Focus on Making Beautiful Product. “I had a graphic background and I was designing a lot of the actual fabrics, but I needed to learn about everything else.” By adding one item to her line each season and year she’s slowly expanded to “cashmere sweaters, skirts, dresses, gowns, shoes, handbags, and accessories.” In 2017, she added eyewear. An instant hit with Gwyneth Paltrow, Gigi Hadid, Amal Clooney, Jessica Alba, Kourtney Kardashian and other celebrities, Alice + Olivia is popular with consumers who want something timeless, unique, and fun as well.

Overall I think they present very well through interactive marketing because they’re present enough to be visible to their target audience yet obscure enough to be a discovery for those not familiar with them yet.

Pacing in “Lyari Girl” and “A Mother’s Dream”

“Lyari Girl”

In “Lyari Girl” the shots opening the film were wide and helped set the scene where the story takes place in Karachi, Pakistan. The violence of the shooting contrasted with the beauty of the clothes on the line and give the story a frenzied, but lyrical pace, that symbolically reflected this world. At a slower pace, as the story unfolds, the contrasting speed of pace when the girls are shown boxing in the club makes the film more dramatic and tense. Matching the blows being thrown, the background music provides a compelling counterpoint that justifies the athleticism of the athletes. The sounds of gun fire and explosions, in the city, also affected the pacing. They not only allowed an oral symbolism that echoed ominously they also controlled the sound of the boxing. Throughout there was an impatient urgency that caused a palpable anxiety. Primitive and starkly lovely, the title of the city, opened with a pastoral quality that felt leisurely compared to the factual events following it. Together they formed a nice, easy backdrop to the ensuing subtitles.

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“A Mother’s Dream”

The shots-the wide angle in the beginning, at the cemetery, the close-up shots of the chimes blowing in the wind, and later when the mothers are talking at the table-have a very slow pace which allows the viewer time to absorb what’s going on and is being presented. Compared to “Lyari Girl” with its frenetic, boisterous opening “A Mother’s Dream” is its direct opposite, making the story that much more startling.You’re really allowed to feel the pain of the women presented both realistically and poignantly.

Since the music is equally haunting, sad and beautiful it helps solidify the pace throughout the film and gives the entire piece a gentle funereal quality appropriate for its subject matter. The choice to keep the pacing at a slower rhythm than “Lyari Girl” was also very effective because it helped the viewer understand who these women were as mothers grieving for their slaughtered children. When the camera focused on the wind chimes just as they had on the clothes on the line in “Lyari Girl” the pacing of both films mirrored each other with meditative grace. Death was close by, and these small moments felt like the calm before the storm.

Ultimately I found the pacing of each film to be very effective, because while both thematically dealt with death, one is about young women living in a war zone and finding refuge in a supportive boxing club, and the other a grieving mother trying to heal.

My Favorite Online Retailer: ThredUp

If I had to say which online shopping site is my favorite, I’d have to say ThredUp. The way I started shopping from them, a few years ago, was while doing research about online shopping for a blog I’m working on. I saw their name, liked it, and became curious.

I also kept getting repeated emails from them, which helped make my decision to check them out. When I finally did, I decided to take the plunge with an inexpensive purchase. A pair of second-hand green corduroy pants from J.Crew for under $5, caught my eye, and I figured with such a small investment even if they turned out all wrong I wouldn’t be too disappointed or financially strapped.

The moment they were delivered in their signature green polka-dotted box, lovingly folded in matching green and white polka-dotted tissue paper, I was hooked and instantly became a regular customer. Confidentially I do have a brick and mortar counterpart, that’s also a favorite, which perfectly compliments the merchandise I buy from them. The store I go to when I don’t shop online at ThredUp is Council Thrift Store in Mar Vista, California. Both carry top notch designer, second-hand and sometimes “new-with-tags” items that keep my wardrobe well-stocked and unique.

One of the reasons I keep coming back to ThredUp, despite shopping elsewhere, is their dedication to quality and customer service. Their items are pretty true to specifications, as depicted on their website, and the regular email alerts they send telling me”my favorites” have been reduced are consistently updated and priceless. Ultimately, the main thing that sets them apart from other online retailers to me, is the skill they use when suggesting compatible items to wear with my purchases. When I used to work in retail, as a Fashion Merchandising major at CSULA, fashion coordination was a required part of the job, but sadly since most of the stores I shop in today have eliminated it along with customer service, I’m on my own. Fortunately ThredUp hasn’t forgotten these little amenities and doesn’t mind classing up the internet with this valuable mind-set.

The Five Elements of Story

Despite it’s lack of words the children’s picture book Journey, published in 2014 and written by Aaron Becker, still has the five elements needed to tell a good story. Given the Best Illustrated Children’s Book Award by New York Times Book Review, it’s one of my favorites, and I’ve read it with quite a few children in my day job as a Special Education Instructional Assistant at Leo Politi Elementary School/LAUSD.

After the library clerk, at Leo Politi, recommended it to me I bought it from amazon.com for my own personal library. Recently I’ve discovered there are two more books in the series, Quest and Return. Throughout all of my reading sessions, with the book, one of the most amazing things I’ve learned is that without the words the reader has to read the story themselves through the illustrations.

SETTING: The lonely girl’s bedroom in her apartment.

CHARACTERS: A lonely girl’s family: a mother, father, and older sister. The lonely girl’s cat. The soldiers at the castle. The gondoliers and their passengers. An Emperor. A purple bird. The purple bird’s captors. A little boy who later befriends the lonely little girl.

PLOT: The lonely girl desperately wants someone to play with. When she can’t find anyone she takes a red marker and draws a door on her bedroom wall. After she enters the door a magical land awaits. Alone, industrious, armed with her trusty marker then captured by the evil Emperor she learns what it is to be brave, kind, and finally befriended.

CONFLICT: External (The lonely girl’s environment-a large unfriendly city and a busy family. In the magical land it’s a powerful emperor.) Internal (The lonely girl’s loneliness, lack of self-confidence, and fear.)

THEME: Kindness can set you free.

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