Friday, December 10, 2010

Under the R... 38

My friend Phoenix and I are always talking about our dream trip: NYC, or as Jay-Z would say: 
the concrete jungle where dreams are made,
where there's nothing you can't do,
the streets will make you feel brand new

Neither of us has been, and someday we will have the money.
 We'll visit The Met, eat at Papaya King, and browse Opening Ceremony. 

Until then, I will soothe myself with R38,
Racked's list of the Top NYC shopping spots (which they update yearly):


This just came out:

CopyRanter coined the term 'AssCrackVertising' in response to this recent Daffy's campaign.  In September, low-end fashion retailer Daffy's enlisted DeVito Verdi's advertising agency to take it one step further for their NY store:
  • "We needed to find an interesting way to launch fall fashions at Daffy’s, a clothing retailer in NYC . We created a street-level event that blended window shopping, a fashion show and an interactive peep show. The Daffy’s “Undressing Room” featured live models stationed in the Daffy’s display window at the retailers Herald Square Flagship, right across the street from Macy’s. All through the night, pedestrians passing by the store were encouraged to send a text requesting the stylish clothes the models in the window must try on (and take off). Every text message Daffy’s received was on display for the crowds that had gathered to watch. And each of the models directly responded to the thousands of text messages that came in." September 2010 (video here).
While I'm quite tickled by 'AssCrackVertising', apt new slang that nails the semi-restrained North American take on sexual intimation in advertising, the concept itself is old and busted.  There's nothing clever about this anymore.  Even the dress-me-up-dress-me-down storefront peep show seems desperate, rather than shocking.

PETA, longtime supporter of animals and public nudity.

Now, I'm not saying that because we aren't as scandalized by these images as we once were that we should just open the floodgates and give marketers carte blanche.  Hey, this isn't France.  I think most people would agree that there is a time and place for risque advertisements, and that the demographic makeup of the audience should denote when/where ISN'T appropriate. 

I have often wondered how Two and Half Men gets away with that lowbrow, lewd stuff at 5pm on Tuesday afternoon network TV.  I guess the same way that cigarettes are marketed to children via smiling cartoon characters.  I wonder what censors and ratings agencies exist to monitor the flow of advertising into our lives.  We've all seen the emerald green "this preview has been approved for all audiences" screen, but what about the commercials that came before it?

Dove: banned in the USA

Diesel: banned in the UK

Opium by YSL: banned in Canada

So, some things I learnt about who bans what and why:
  • "commercial speech" is protected by the First Amendment in the USA and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms Section 2(b).
    • This protection is not to the same degree as noncommercial forms of expression. 
  • False advertising is illegal.
    • The power to regulate unfair or misleading advertisements rests with the Federal Trade Commission in the USA.
    • In Canada, several pieces of legislation define and criminalize false or misleading advertisements depending on their type (ie: Competition Act, Health Act...).  Visit the CRTC website for more info or to make a complaint.
    The Advertising Standards Authority (UK) banned this Rimmel ad because it fails to clarify that Georgia Jagger's lashes were enhanced artificially.  The lash inserts "distort the visual representation of the effect achievable from the use of the product alone" and is therefore misleading.
  • The Television Bureau of Canada establishes standards and guidelines for hundreds of advertisement-producing members.
  • Our courts use a 'balancing test' to apply limits to time, place, and manner of advertisement.
    • Great article on the differences between US and Canadian regulation (apparently, we're better!)
  • Our litigious neighbours to the South have decades of case law regarding ad censorship:
    • In a famous 1976 case, a Virginia law that prohibited the advertising of pharmaceuticals was struck down.  The court stated that rather than allow such a paternalistic approach, "people [should] perceive their own best interests... and be well informed.  The best means to that end is to open the channels of communication rather than to close them."  Ever since, open dissemination of information has been touted as essential to a free market economy.
    • Generally, US courts will consider whether:
      • the advertising is a lawful activity (can't be misleading in letter or intent)
      • the regulation of the ad advances governmental interest
      • the regulation of the ad is more extensive than necessary to serve public interest
Clear as mud, right?

Calvin Klein: banned in Australia
Advertising Standards Council reasoned that the image, featuring model Lara Stone, glamorizes rape and violence.

Calvin Klein (above) has a history of poking Censorship Bear.  In fact, he built his eponymous brand around his renegade image, feeding off the gasps of those crusty enough to be offended by a little nudity.  It's seems too simplistic to say that controversy and negative press made people want to buy his clothes, but it did.  A certain kind of people, at any rate.  Klein tapped into the despondent youth market like no one else, by placing himself in a vein a counterculture.  His name offered an attractive paradox: buy in, without conforming.  Remember those grayscale CK One ads full of androgynous, heroin chic models?  They were advertising perfection.  Calvin Klein has always used sex to sell, but the right kind for the times.

Most recently, an Eva Mendes TV spot was banned in US markets for being a touch too titillating, emphasis on the 'tit'.  Eva's just one in a long line of Calvin Klein sexpots that sell clothes the best when they are wearing the least:

Nothing gets between Brooke and her Calvins.
Early Kate Moss, at the height of waif chic.

Marky Mark shows us his 'funky bunch'
Eva Mendes recent print ads
 I suppose the thing to remember is: context.  Calvin Klein has the right idea; gauge the current climate accurately and sex is still a delicious suggestion, capable of raising a consumer frenzy as well as the ire of the Standards Board.  Get it wrong and you'll go down in the annals of advertising history, not for your products, but for the punchline:

The Time, it is A'Changin

You know what would look great in my new apartment?
StudioVE's Manifold Clock ($45 plus shipping)

Watch a little video here.

Fashion Quiz: Worldly Wearables

1) BABOUCHES (Turkish/Oriental in origin) would be worn:

a. on the head, for religious ceremonies
b. casually, on the feet
c. wrapped around the waist

2) Afghanistan's President,  HAMID KARZAI wears PASHTUN clothing. 

His traditional hat is called a:

a. rantoon
b. karakul
c. bardeez

3) The BIRETTA is worn by male members of a particular profession. How
do they wear it?

a. lacing it up to their knees
b. in a hip holster
c. placing it squarely on their heads

4) These are named after the Italian revolutionary, Giuseppe Garibaldi,
who visited England in the 1860's.

a. red and black embroidered shirts
b. embellished waistcoats
c. tri-pointed caps

5) The DHOTI is very well known in India. It is worn only by men. How
is it worn?

a. tied around the waist with the ends tucked up between the legs
b. draped over the head
c. with a fringed sash across the torso and secured at the hip

6) Name the following garment:

a. trumpeter
b. singlet
c. minstrel
d. doublet

7) Watteau pleats of the robe á la française are so-called because they:

a. look like rippling water
b. were conceived of by Madame Watteau
c. appeared in the portraits of Antoine Watteau

8) How did the knights of old wear GREAVES as part of their armour?

a. as protection of the legs below the knees
b. attached to gauntlets, over the elbows
c. underneath the breastplate

9) On which part of the body would you see a SOU'WESTER being worn?
(If you are Canadian and get this wrong, minus 200 points!)

a. on yer feet
b. on the noggin
c. over your gob

10) Name the following wedding garment, traditional in Malaysia and Indonesia:

a. tu'bung
b. burka and tapeet
c. songket with palembang cap

11) How did ladies of the Middle Ages wear a WIMPLE?

a. draped over the head and under the chin
b. laced through a grommetted belt
c. tied into their hair

1 - B.  They are lightweight slippers.

2 - B.  The hat is made from the Qaraqul breed of sheep (aka: Persian
lamb).  The hat is peaked and folds flat.  It has been popular among
Soviet leaders, most famously worn by Hamid Karzai.
3 - C. This item is a small, stiff clerical cap. The colours vary
according to the rank of the wearer. - Priests wear a black one,
bishops a purple one and cardinals a red one.

4 - A. The Garibaldi jacket or Garibaldi shirt were bright red woolen
garments for women with black embroidery or braid and military details
popular in the 1860s .

5 -  A. This garment is a loin cloth worn by male Hindus. The ends, which
are passed between the legs, are pulled up and tucked into the waist.

6 - D. This is a man's snug-fitting buttoned jacket that was worn in Western
Europe from the Middle Ages through to the mid-17th century (think: The Tudors).
The term also refers to a formal jacket worn with highland dress, a variation
of which is called an Argyll jacket (or coatee/ Prince Charlie jacket).

7 - C. Watteau was known for painting women wearing these cascading pleats
that looked like heavy capes.  Other artists have styles named for them, such as
Van Dyck collars.


Van Dyke

8 - A. Most of the names of parts of armour come from the French
language. 'Greave' comes from the Old French word 'greve' which meant

9 - B. The sou'wester is a waterproof hat with a very broad brim at the
back of it. It is worn, especially, by seamen and deep-sea fishermen
in stormy weather.

10 - C. The term songket comes from the Malay word sungkit, which means
"to hook" (the fabric is made by hooking groups of threads together).
Songket is a luxury product traditionally worn during ceremonial occasions as
a sarong, along with a Palembang hat of silver/gold thread.

Songket headdresses were worn at the courts of the Malay Sultanates. 
Traditionally, Muslim women and adolescent girls wove songket
but some boys and men are also weaving them today.  Like most
Sumatran textiles, they embody a system of interpretable emblems.

11 - A. The wimple is, of course, still worn in the 21st century as part
of the habit of some nuns.

As always... thanks for playing!

Denis Gagnon

  I admit, I am woefully uninformed when it comes to Canadian designers.  I hadn't heard of Denis Gagnon, the bespectacled French Canadian who's been in the business for a decade, until I looked into who designed that zipper dress that's been featured in every October/November fashion rag around:

It's sad that I only take notice of a domestic talent once it's featured in an American glossy, eh?

Like Schiaparelli before him (who is sometimes credited with being the first to put ornamental zippers on gowns), Gagnon is an artist first.  He obviously places a premium on inventiveness, letting the wearability of his garments and commercial viability slide.  This (commendable) approach to the industry had everything to do with his shop closure and restructuring, circa 2007. 

His comeback show (the 'Denise' Collection) was well-received, containing the zippered and fringed dresses that have been given prominent placement in recent spreads and editorials.  While his trademark is leather, artfully swirled, pieced, and puckered...

his new vision also includes bias knits, chunky pendants with matching silver cuffs, and the interplay of heavy fringes/zippers with light silks and softly slanting hems.

His show is a striking study in comparison and contrasts, made all the more cohesive and involving for it.  The pieced-together leather pants reference the concentric swirls of zippers that form the neckline of a layered chiffon dress.  Articulated elbows could look like knight's armour, if they weren't accompanied by similarly structured sweater dresses that are tucked and folded just so.  As a layperson who doesn't always 'get' the concept of a runway show, I adore how precise and focused Gagnon's work is.  He has a vision, and he's letting us take a peek at it.
I would recommend Gagnon to fans of Rick Owens, Martin Mariela, Haider Ackerman, Gareth Pugh, and Mark Fast.  They all share that kind of brooding, somewhat gothic, romantic, and razor-sharp intensity.  Back in August, Gagnon did a cheap-chic line with retailer Bedo that was all those things.  The severe, all-black collection showed his signature leatherwork, eye for detail, and edgy aesthetic.

While I'm stoked to see a great Canadian talent experiencing a bona fide comeback, I hope this collaboration is a one-off and not the seeds of future commercial cow-towing.  It's clear to me that Denis Gagnon creates works of art that just happen to be clothes.  I would hate to see these beautiful means unto themselves weaken and become mere means to some profit-motivated end.




Sheepskin Showdown

I've always had a bit of a hate-on for Uggs and their wearers.  Mostly, it's that zombie-like foot dragging teenage girls do down mall corridors and crowded sidewalks.  The swooshing, scraping, sheepskin shuffle.  For the love, pick up your feet!

photo credit: Stephen Lewis
I get it.  They are one of those products, discovered by niche groups for utility and comfort, then adopted by the fashion set, somewhat ironically.  Skater punks wore Converse OneStars and nurses wore Crocs.  Australian surfers wore generic twinfaced sheepskin boots, bought at corner stores and gas stations.  Now, they're ubiquitous.

Etymological legend says that 'uggs' or 'fugs' began as shorthand to describe the knee-high sheepskin boots Aussie pilots wore in WWI... you need your Flying Uggs in that unpressurized cockpit, Mate!  Shoe companies have been using the 'Ugg' title ever since (see: 1930's company Blue Mountain Ugg Boots).

Now, we say UGG like we say KLEENEX, the registered trademark has transcended brand status, coming to identify the entire genus albeit but one species.

But it's been an uneasy and litigious rise:
  • "In the process of transforming an item of utilitarian footwear into a ubiquitous fashion icon, UGG’s corporate parent, Deckers Outdoor Corporation—an American conglomerate selling an Australian sheepskin product manufactured in China—sparked an acrimonious international trademark dispute that ensnared politicians, reshaped fashion and hobbled a national industry in order to shape a global one." (Wall Street Journal online, Sept 9 2010)

Deckers, the American company that bought Uggs in 1995, has aggressively hunted the competition through:

  • trademark infringement lawsuits (ie: against rival sheepskin boot company Koolaburra),
  • fraudulent eBay auction pogroms,

Fake Uggs -->
SiteJabber estimates they are the most counterfeited brand of 2010,
topping the list just above Coach, Tiffany's, Louboutins, and sports jerseys.
  • cease and desist campaigns against the cottage industry boot companies that showed fledgling international sales (most famously, the McDougall family 'Uggs-n-Rugs' which lives on here!) 

Uggs is in the news again, with the recent filing of a trademark infringement lawsuit against Emu Australia.  The Wall Street Journal reports that the California suit alleges Emu is misleading consumers:  In response, Emu Australia's Dave Porter:
  • The... law suit makes us laugh down here in Australia. What does the word “Australia” convey to consumers as part of the Ugg® Australia trademark?  Customers do care about trust and true brand heritage...they are also smart! Eventually the truth about these brands that try to leverage off Australia will become widely known; that they are not in fact genuinely Australian.
According to the same Wall Street Journal article, Deckers reported a 25% third-quarter profit, record international sales, and an improved margin.  The brass claims this is due to "more compelling products and a wider consumer audience".  I have to balk at this, since Ugg boots are as recognizable as the Christian Louboutin red sole, and their appeal has little to do with expanding product lines or converting untapped markets.  They are a one-note brand.  In my opinion, Uggs owes their meteoric rise and freakish staying power to the cult of celebrity.  They have been long-favored by stylists and their big-name clients as in-between takes footwear:

Pammy Anderson, on the set of Baywatch
Of course, teenagers mimic their idols, especially if the slippers being sported have an inaccessible $175 price tag... then they MUST be good!  Oprah's gave them her regal seal of approval when she chose them as one of her Favorite Things in 2000.  Kate Moss wears them at Glastonbury, SJP drops her kids off at school in them.  It's impossible to open a People Magazine and NOT see them nowadays.

Uggs is now the high school mean girl, so popular and powerful that she doesn't need your approval anymore.  But... I'm sensing the inevitable backlash, cafeteria revolt, and regime change.  Uggs corporate stance presumes there are only two kinds of people who don't do the sheepskin shuffle: those who can't afford $180 boots and those who just haven't bought a pair... YET.  This we-don't-need-your-business-but-we'll-take-your-money attitude is particularly dangerous for a company that proffers a utilitarian item, steeped in heritage.  Suing Australian companies for manufacturing their traditional footwear looks ugly on an American company that does all their work in Economic Processing Zones like China.  This Goliath just keeps kicking David while he's down, and it's distasteful enough to turn non-Ugg wearers like myself into Ugg-boycotters.

So good luck in court, Emu.
I can't imagine Emu Australia's advocates needing to say anything other than this:

Take a look inside, not even the company, but the boot itself.
Emu Australia, Made in Australia
Uggs, Made in China.

Find great AUSTRALIAN brands at NatureShop: Love From Australia, Emu