Truth Plus Talks: On the Issue of Newness

March 6, 2012 § 2 Comments

Is just plain pretty old news? Christian Dior Fall 2012

“The responsibility is no longer just about making a nice piece,” Elbaz said in a preview. ” you have the responsibility, on one hand, to work on the vision, so you have to bring the newness, and it also has to have a zipper. How do you work with both?” (WWD, 3/5/12)

Following along with this season’s Fashion’s Month, I’ve been struck time and time again by seeing the term “newness” in reviews and reports.Yes, what’s new and next is inherent to fashion; it’s why we look to the runways and presentations to begin with. But when newness is forced or newness produces clothing that is difficult to wear for a large swathe of potential customers, what is the implication of pushing designers to create newness in the first place?

Personally, the runway clothes I find myself reacting most positively to are made of the finest and rarest fabrics on earth, in flattering silhouettes, and in exciting new colors. The newness comes from a difference in silhouette, a slight alteration to a style that’s worked in the past and that can be refreshed now, and gorgeous craftsmanship or embellishment. In the past ten or fifteen years, designers have used technological innovations to fundamentally alter natural and synthetic fibers. In previous eras, during the textile R and D heyday of companies like DuPont, new fabrics were created to benefit the wearer, to make her warmer, slimmer, or to make garments easier for her to machine-wash. Now, the hyper-treated fabrics developed by designers are meant to mimic rubber, bondage and even parachutes. Cool, yes; helpful to the wearer, perhaps not.

This Paris Fashion Week, Bill Gaytten, who worked under John Galliano for many years, and has been at the helm of the house since Galliano was let go, was lambasted yet again for a show that did not present newness. Yet, his previous couture collection and this Fall 2012 were unquestionably lovely.  Even, dare I say, wearable. Maybe he’s not “taking the house forward” or showing us his “vision”, but he is turning out fabulously beautiful, luxurious and expensive clothes that women who can afford them can actually consider buying. I’ve seen the images from the show appear on fashion and home design blogs since the clothes went down the runway, so I know that not everyone thought the collection was a total disaster. The clothes are true to Dior’s ever-popular New Look and the the house’s romantic personality. They are more practical than fanciful, and Dior’s apparel sales are reportedly on the rise. Still, fashion cognescenti are prodding LVMH to replace him for someone more artistic or more forward-thinking. I’m not sure which makes more sense.

Today’s Truth Plus: Style Links

February 3, 2012 § 1 Comment

A fashion revolution? (Friedman, FT, 1/30/12) Vanessa Friedman and a few other sites have covered the launch of honestby.com, an e-commerce venture started by designer Bruno Pieters. Honestby is the most transparent e-biz to have launched in recent memory; it allows customers to see and understand the pricing and work that goes into each garment that the company produces. It’s a radical idea, and one that could turn retail on its head if it works.

Tory Burch, taking the fashion world by storm (CBS Sunday Morning, 1/29/12) A short, but well-done interview with designer Tory Burch. It was interesting to hear that she envisioned an entire luxury brand before its launch, and has followed through with success on that concept.

Couture Report: The Day Before Dior (La Cava, NY Times, 1/23/12) This beautiful piece of insider journalism is exactly what Cathy Horyn was suggesting the fashion world needed more of. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at how Dior’s jawdroppingly gorgeous, John Galliano-less couture collection came to exist. Incredible photos.

It’s In The Jeans (Phelps, Style.com, 1/23/12) I like the story of Carrie and Matt Eddmenson of denim brand Imogene and Willie. They started small, are growing carefully and revived local manufacturing.

Ad Campaign – Bates Disciplined Fabric, 1950 (The Vintage Traveler, 1/25/12) I’d never known that Bates College was named after a textile company. Here’s a great background on The Bates Manufacturing Company.

Inside 3×1, Soho’s Only Fully Transparent High-End Denim Factory (Grinspan, Racked, 1/25/12) I’ve been meaning to get down to this denim shop/factory. Like Honestby, it’s meant to bring the consumer closer to the design and production process.

Joseph Brooks, Who Refined Lord & Taylor, Dies at 84 (Vitello, NY Times, 1/30/12) Joseph Brooks was a master merchant and marketing visionary who had great success at both Lord and Taylor and Ann Taylor.

Luis Fernandez & Greg Lawrance – The Duo Behind NUMBER:Lab (Fashion Law, 2/2/12) A law and small business-related interview with up-and-coming menswear brand, NUMBER:Lab.

Today’s Truth Plus: Apple, Daisey, Greenville, Johnson’s New Job

February 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

Again, I’ve managed to collect a long list of links in a short period of time, so for that reason, I’ll post the manufacturing/business-related ones today, and the style-related links tomorrow. Since I last wrote anything op/ed-like here, we’ve all listened to the State of the Union and made it through a primary or two. Everyone is thinking about manufacturing, outsourcing, big business, small business, and entrepreneurship.

I myself have been thinking about President Obama’s SOTU message about needing to ‘get each other’s backs’. In the midst of all these policy debates, it’s our basic values that I wonder most about. Do we care about one another enough to employ fair labor practices domestically and abroad? To not destroy the environment? To remember the importance of education and innovation in America? To pause and stop thinking about our own finances and self-worth, and to start considering that of the greater good? There are many factors which have made us a self-centered, inward-thinking society, concerned with our creature comforts, but isn’t now the time to reconsider that attitude? What will it take?

In China, Human Costs Are Built into an iPad (Duhigg and Barboza, NY Times, 1/25/12) I know many of you have probably read this piece, and the large number of similar articles about the manufacturing of Apple parts in China, specifically at a company called FoxConn. This piece unearths the extreme work hours, on-the-job dangers and environmental impact of producing the iPad. Apple execs quoted in the piece argue that they’re doing everything they can to treat their outsourced laborers fairly. Will articles like this cause consumers to think about where their favorite products are made? Or is it out of sight, out of mind? The thing is, I don’t think we can get away with complete ignorance forever.

Mr. Daisey and The Apple Factory (This American Life 1/6/12) If you haven’t listened to this podcast, you must. Mike Daisey, a performer, and  “self-described worshipper in the cult of Mac” actually heads to the Chinese city of Shehnzen to investigate the lives of workers at FoxConn. He  risks his safety to interview employees about a recent outbreak of suicides at the factory. His re-telling, part of a one-man show being staged here in NYC, is chilling. What we can’t see, Mike Daisey did, and it’s not pretty. This American Life’s host Ira Glass asks his audience if or how much they should care about where their favorite products are made. He also airs short interviews with the NY Times’ Paul Krugman and Nicholas Kristof, both of whom argue that Chinese industrialization is ultimately good for their country and their citizens, and that eventually they will evolve into a service economy like ours in the U.S. But if they do indeed evolve, where will things be made? How can manufacturing jump from country to country, exploiting human lives, the environment and even consumers? At some point, we will run out of places willing to make things for nothing.

The Past and Future of American Manufacturing (Planet Money, 1/10/12) NPR is doing an incredible job with on-the-ground reporting about domestic and international manufacturing issues recently. As I’ve mentioned below, I’m a huge fan of Planet Money’s Adam Davidson, who recently wrote a long piece in The Atlantic,Making It in America, and this podcast goes along with this piece. Davidson traveled to Greenville, SC, a former cotton/textiles hub, to find out about what life was like during the manufacturing boom, and during the current manufacturing draught. What he finds is that there is a surge in new manufacturing opportunities, and that these factories need a few low-skilled laborers, but place great value on highly-skilled, highly-trained workers. This training comes from specialized schooling and instruction, and he suggests government encourage more of this type of education in order to increase American manufacturing. But what I kept thinking about, after listening to this podcast, was a short interview with the owner of the company whose auto part factory Davidson visited. The owner is based out of company HQ in Long Island City of all places. His company is public. And while he claims to have a family business, to really care about his American workers, he is absolutely pessimistic about keeping or growing American manufacturing job opportunities. He says no tax credit or schooling opportunity will help, that he has to report to his shareholders, who care only for profit and not for people. I think Obama needs to talk to business-owners like this one, to find out what could reverse his thinking, and his shareholders’ feelings.

The State of Our Disunion: A Globalizing Private Sector, A Government Overwhelmed by Corporate Money (Reich, 1/23/12) Robert Reich, always articulate and direct, mentions many of the same issues Davidson raises in his piece. But Reich goes on to say that not only are large, publicly-owned corporations maximizing profits by utilizing overseas’ labor, but they are are influencing politics as fierce lobbyists and political contributors. Not easy to make change when this is the case.

Ron Johnson tries the Apple magic at JCP (Ken Segall’s Observatory, 1/25/12) Everyone is watching to see if Ron Johnson, Apple’s former head of stores, can polish a very dusty brand, J.C. Penney. He’s made a lot of aggrandized and much-covered speeches and announcements about a change in pricing structure and a shop-in-shop concept (one of which is dedicated to Martha Stewart, and has gotten her in some legal hot water again). I’m going to sit back and watch what happens. J.C. Penney stores have long targeted Middle America, and if Johnson goes too slick, he may miss the mark. Buying cheap goods from vendors is a lot different than building a dream store around a perfect line of products.

 

 

My Second Day of Work in New York City

September 11, 2011 § 1 Comment

Today, I’m glad to see a few clouds in the sky. September 11th, 2001 was my third day living in New York City and my second day of work. After a summer of shuttling back and forth between Boston, where I lived with my parents post-college, and NYC, where I was hoping to work in the fashion industry, I’d scored a job working as an assistant to maternity designer Liz Lange and the company’s Director of Marketing. My interview with Liz occurred only a week before I moved into my grandmother’s empty attached house in Queens. She’d been moved up to Boston to be closer to my Dad and for health reasons. I remember that I had a brand new TV in that house that my dad had bought to watch the Yankees; he and my brother had stopped there on the way to Princeton, where my brother was about to start his freshman year, because my brother had come down with the flu on the ride down. In any case, the house was in Fresh Meadows, Queens, and required an hour-long Express bus ride and a 25-minute city bus ride to get to my new job. It was a long trek, but the house was a familiar, free and immediate place to stay and I was glad to have it.

On my second day of work, Liz Lange was slated to show at the Bryant Park tents at 9am for her first runway show. By now, many of you have probably read Eric Wilson’s beautiful article about that show and that fashion week. I woke up very early to get to the tents; Liz had kindly invited me to come and watch even though it was only my second day. I was not well-versed in New York style at that point. I wore simple black trousers, a tee shirt and a jean jacket with a Swarovski pin in the shape of a Scottie on it. I was young and trying to look put-together.

When I got to the tents, I remember catching Liz’s eye as she spoke excitedly to various reporters from ABC, CNN and other major networks. This was the first maternity fashion show ever, and it was Liz’s day to shine. She had Mary Jo Fernandez and Lara Spencer walking in the show, celebrities in attendance, and every major magazine had RSVP’d. Her family was there with her to celebrate the big day. Liz’s employees at the time invited me to come and grab a seat to watch the show. I chose to stand in the standing room, in order to give as many editors and reporters the chance to properly see the show. I couldn’t believe my luck that I’d made it into the industry and into such a wonderful company.

Just as the final attendants took their seats, there started to be a buzz of whispers. I remember seeing one woman crying in the stands, and no one could understand why. I also remember the younger Lauder sister, Jane, coming in to the tent before everyone was seated, and exclaiming that the World Trade Center had been hit by a plane. At that time, everyone thought it was just an accident, and the show went on as planned. It was chic, dynamic, revolutionary and everything I think Liz had envisioned. But as the show ended, it became clear that something else beyond an accident had occurred. People began to run from the tent, and the news coverage shifted from a happy fashion show about creating life to a tragedy beyond our wildest imagination.

One of Liz’s employees, Natalie, had a car with her at the tents and offered me and the manager of our Beverly Hills store a ride uptown. I was still fairly confused at that point, not even really knowing where the World Trade Center was in relation to where we were. I knew I had to get uptown though. We saw the news being broadcast on the side of the Fox News building, and then saw the smoke all the way down Sixth Avenue. The graveness of what was occurring began to sink in.

Natalie drove us to the Liz Lange offices where Janie, our Director of merchandising (whom I ran into on the street a few months ago) asked me immediately if I had somewhere safe to stay on the Upper East Side. I remembered that my friend Jodi lived with her mom not far from my new office. I found her home number and her housekeeper, who spoke Spanish and little English, answered the phone. Janie hopped on the phone for me and told the housekeeper in Spanish that I would be coming to the apartment.

I walked up and over the 15 blocks, was buzzed up by Jodi’s housekeeper, and for awhile we watched the news together. The towers fell. I could not believe what I was seeing. I kept trying to call my mom, and my brother, and my friends, but couldn’t get through to anyone, and knew they were worried about me, and I them.

Somehow, Jodi got through to her apartment and her housekeeper let her know that I was there. A few hours later Jodi and a band of my college friends and sorority sisters came through the door. I was so happy to see them. Only a few months after graduation, we were all still close and very used to caring for one another and spending our time together. Jodi’s mom came home and we all sat together and watched the news as it came in. She’d walked all the way from her job in Brooklyn, or downtown, I can’t really recall now. Everyone was pretty badly shaken. I finally got through to my family, and even my roommate who at the time was in Officer Training School. Liz and I emailed to make sure that the other was alright. I slept on Jodi’s floor on an Aerobed that night and felt thankful that I was safe.

The next day, I put back on my outfit, and my jean jacket with the Scottie pin and walked down to the office. Many of my co-workers had come in. I think everyone felt like they needed purpose, something to do to keep moving. That night, I was able to get back to the house in Queens, and that weekend, went and visited my brother in Princeton. We rested, and walked, and by the time I had to go back into Manhattan, I felt a lot better.

It’s funny; I look back at that time, and can’t quite believe that I chose to stay in New York. I’m not sure I could do it again. The sadness, fear and loss of life on 9/11 were and still are more than I can really comprehend. But I did get my first glimpse of a city whose residents care for each other, who act as a community, and were tough enough to keep going. As we all remember that sunny morning, I hope we can remember to be decent to one another, to be protective of one another and to never forget what happened.

Also see: My Mom’s Account of 9/11

Today’s Truth Plus: Get It Made, Skinny Pants, Karen Kane, Fluff, Batteries and Stoll

August 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

Afingo Fashion Forum Las Vegas: Get It Made Wrap Up (Malik, Afingo, 8/29/11) A tidy summary of what sounded like a very interesting and useful discussion on starting a fashion business.

Skinny Pants – 1963 (Couture Allure, 8/29/11) This then-and-now commentary on slim cut pants is great. Also, I need to find out more about those Sandler of Boston shoes. So many of them could be worn now!

High-End Retailer Brings Production Back to U.S. (Bloomberg, 8/26/11) This interview has been posted a few places, and it’s because it’s a good one. Lonnie Kane is the CEO of Karen Kane, a womenswear design firm that’s been in business in Los Angeles since 1979. The company shifted some of its Chinese production back to LA, which is an impressive feat in and of itself. Kane also speaks about trade and immigration laws that would start to bring back textile and manufacturing businesses to the U.S.

Front Row Fluff (The Emperor’s Old Clothes, 8/24/11) I’m a personal fan of The Emperor’s Old Clothes blog, and in fact, it encouraged me to start Truth Plus. I’m a bit more of a cut-and-dry writer and theorist, but I’ve always admired the author’s passion about changes in the fashion industry. This post covers what he’s expecting this coming Fashion Week, an event that’s become more media focused than fashion focused it seems. Fluff is a former designer who worked for a long time on Seventh Avenue, and had his own firm, and he’s got a very credible belief that more attention should be paid to the clothes that are presented and to the design techniques it takes to produce them than to the bloggers and other VIPs in the front row.

Does America Need Manufacturing? (Gertner, NY Times Magazine, 8/24/11) Using the backdrop of developments in the lithium-ion battery industry in the U.S., author Jon Gertner of Fast Company explores the question of whether or not the economy needs manufacturing to improve. There’s no question among the experts that he speaks to that factory production on domestic ground would lead to an increase in jobs. But there is skepticism about whether or not we could reinstate manufacturing  after so many years of outsourcing it. Are we just too behind? How will it be funded? How far should government go to support it? His conclusion is that the business model has to somehow change. We can’t expect to move forward as a service industry, with companies like Facebook employing only 2000 people, if we want to create jobs. But we also can’t build a manufacturing industry that is less competitive and more expensive than our overseas counterparts.

Stoll Grows an Oasis in Manhattan (Friedman, WWD, 8/30/11) One company that is taking a modern approach to apparel manufacturing is Stoll, a German-based knitting machine manufacturer. Stoll has set up a “sample making, knit apparel education and production training” facility in the Garment District in order to act as  “a “connector” between designers and manufacturers looking to utilize and cultivate U.S. manufacturing.” It’s ideas like this that will make a change; Stoll is providing education and guidance that apparel companies are seeking, and also providing jobs to American factories, all while selling their machines. Everyone benefits.

Welcome to Truth Plus.

October 5, 2010 § Leave a comment

Truth Plus is a term coined by my family.  It’s a form of honesty that’s equal parts blunt, constructive and benevolent. It’s our way of coaxing one another to face facts, to think through problems, to grow and improve.

Truth Plus in blog form is my chance to muse candidly about lifestyle businesses, the economy, media, technology, and occasionally social conventions. It’s an extension of discussions with friends and family about how change happens and it’s pros and cons. And although it’s a step away from the light and lovely, I hope it will ultimately be thought-provoking and optimistic.

I’m starting small and slow, but all thoughts and questions are welcome. You can reach me at jess@jgandconyc.com anytime.

Here goes!

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