Monday, September 21, 2009

Fashion Books for Inspiration, Tips, and Dress-to-Impress Tricks

Influence by Mary Kate Olsen and Ashley Olsen; Karl Lagerfeld + Olsen Twins, image from

“Of course I’ll be ready then! I have three hours!”
My boyfriend is truly a great man. Along with my two older brothers and dad, who all, at some point in time, have kindly put up with my gads of jeans, millions of shoes, and purses for every occasion in every imaginable place... all o v e r my house. All have waited an extra five minutes…or 45 pick me up or take me somewhere because “I just can’t find anything to wear! Yes, I really am serious! I don’t have a single thing!”
And besides, sometimes three hours is not as long as you think. You start painting your nails, but first you have to take off the old polish, trim your nails, file your nails, decide what you are wearing and what shoes you are wearing so that the polish matches your outfit…maybe shower first so that the shower doesn’t destroy your new manicure…where was I? Oh! Decide what to wear…

Where do you go for fashion rules, dos and don’ts, trends, and ideas?
Unless I’m alone, we all know that sometimes just standing in front of your closet staring at the clothes on their hangers isn’t exactly inspirational.
Here are just a few of some of my favorite fashion books, all filled with great tips, tricks, quotes, and photos that always get me out the door a little bit faster:

Fashion Illustration by Fashion Designers by Laird Borrelli:
I purchased this book years ago, and I always forget the incredible beauty of its contents until I open it up again. Laird Borrelli compiled fashion illustrations and sketches from tons and tons of brilliant designers. Philip Lim, Christian Lacroiix, Rodarte, Karl Lagerfeld, Badgley Mischka, Wolfgang Joop, Riccardo Tisci…an amazing list of talent that continues on. Flipping through pages of fashion illustrations, I see the carefully articulated designs and details, the deliberately planned buttons and individual stitches; flipping through these pages, I am reminded that fashion is high art—perhaps a more lengthy process than most. Designing a piece of clothing is truly a commitment—from sketch to illustration, fabric to sewing machine, manipulating every fabric until it reaches perfection. Best part? Each illustration is unique. Clothing has always been a means of self-expression, and after studying each sketch, you will undoubtedly appreciate your individual style.

What not to Wear for every occasion by Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine:
This book divides each chapter by occasion, and each occasion is further divided into more specific sections—smart, casual, or trendy. For example, are you planning to attend a party in the winter and want to look confident and elegant? Or, do you have to attend a school PTA meeting and want to assure respect from parents and teachers without looking too matronly? Trinny and Susannah lay out the laws, and their humor is not only funny, but blunt and helpful.
Best part? The authors include shopping advice at the end of each chapter, outlining a list of their favorite stores (in low, medium, and high price-ranges).

What you wear can change your life by Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine:
This book is even more packed than the last What not to Wear book. It keeps the handy shopping guide and ups the humor. It offers more personal advice—like what colors look best on which skin tones and how you can define your own, individual shape (no, we are not all pears, apples, or other nonsense fruits commonly prescribed). Extra, Extra? Trinny and Susannah have not only provided instructions regarding the wear of clothing, but also include how to store your clothing for better longevity.

INFLUENCE by Mary-Kate Olsen and Ashley Olsen:
Whether you love the Olsen twins or not, you’ve gotta hand it to ‘em—their book is wholesome and creative. In the introduction, the young ladies discuss their passion for design. Mary-Kate and Ashley use fashion to express themselves and delve deeper into others. They interview the likes of Christian Louboutin, John Galliano, and Diane von Furstenberg. There is a good mix of interviews and photos that really highlight each designer’s dreams, realities, and hopes for future projects. The book offers an exposure to so many unique, inspiring fashion perspectives. What else? The book packs in great art and personal photos, near and dear to the Olsen twins and the designers. You can see fashion changing with the decades and wearable fashion in all sorts of environments.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Parsons Reconstruction

Reconstruction at Parsons; photo by Caitlin Donnelly

On Thursday morning and all through the afternoon, there were people lining the street outside 66 5th Avenue. Everyone was peering into the Parsons storefront gallery, trying to get a glimpse of the signature pieces lining the walls—all designs from the Parsons archives and Louis Vuitton’s artistic director, Marc Jacobs himself. Ten teams of students were deconstructing the costumes and creating new, historically based pieces.

The five iconic, inspirational looks from Marc Jacobs/Louis Vuitton along with the five looks from the Parsons costume archive were previously presented to the students. Raw material was provided for the competition—material that would otherwise be destroyed due to its lesser quality or because it was duplicate material.

Initially, the student competitors presented sketches, individual renditions of new, abstract concepts. Fiona Dieffenbacher is the Director of External Projects at Parsons, and Dieffenbacher kindly admitted me into the storefront gallery and further explained the competition and its purpose: “The Nouveau Classical Project works to re-engage and excite everyday people about classical music. Parsons will team with the Nouveau Classical Project for the debut of our students’ designs; a concert combining classical music and the fresh, new fashions made by the design teams today will be held at the Tishman Auditorium in New York on October 2, 2009.”

I squeezed between the busy students, all of whom were intently sewing, ironing, and altering their pieces. Concept teacher Michele Bryant offered guidance to the students and chatted with me as we watched them work. “Today has been quite surprising,” Bryant commented. “Those experienced with deconstruction dive right in. Other students who are very good workers in 2-D were frightened by the 3-D process, but all of the students have been turning out brilliant work.” I gazed around, and although I expected frazzled, stressed out students, everyone calmly and familiarly maneuvered about their dress forms. Some students sat on tabletops for better access to their garments in the crowded workspace. Sitting in such a location, student Anna Choi told me about her menswear piece: “We originally submitted designs for women, but in the end a different approach seemed advantageous. I’m not as familiar with constructing menswear, but luckily our designs were pretty androgynous. By altering fabrics and colors we easily adjusted our initial ideas.”

The students also kept in mind their specific musician assignment—whether they were male and female was important, but also noting their individual instruments was essential. For example, Katherine Leaver and Victoria Choi were assigned a cellist. Recognizing the constraints placed on a cellist—unique movements or the distinct wide-leg, seated position of the musician—they adjusted their costume accordingly.

Another Parsons student, Gabrielle Arrada, worked solo on her dress: “My partner is in the ER,” she said as she busily weaved a needle in and out of her material. “We hand-dyed our material in the bathroom sink, and now I am finishing our look up alone. Things will happen, so I just have to keep working.”

Later Thursday night, all of the students’ pieces were critiqued by a panel of judges, including Harold Koda, the Curator in Charge of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. All of the students were winners though—each of their completed pieces will be worn at the concert at Tishman Auditorium, enhancing the already noteworthy classical music by Samuel Barber, Maurice Ravel, and Thomas Osborne.

Lela Rose: an insider's look at fashion careers

Lela Rose Spring 2010 Ready-to-Wear; photo by Caitlin Donnelly

Thanks to Betsy Killough and Lela Rose for making me feel right at home in New York City.

On Tuesday night I made my way uptown to visit the corporate offices of Lela Rose, where Betsy Killough, former Lawrencian and Free-State High School Graduate works as Head of Sales.
The elevator dropped me off at the 13th floor, and as soon as the doors opened I felt right at home. The office of Lela Rose was emanating with those good ol’ hometown, sweet Kansas vibes.
Betsy gave me a tour of the studio, where I checked out the show room, pattern table, sewing station, storage closet, sample collections, wedding collections, inspiration board, and Lela Rose’s workspace.
Then I got to play dress-up! I tried on the new collection—pieces that had just brushed the runways at Bryant Park last Sunday!
The collection is already a hit—some dresses are pre-ordered for the Emmys! Betsy gave me some insight regarding such immediate reception: “Lela’s Spring 2010 Ready-to-Wear Collection is our best yet. It is modern and fashion forward. It’s a bit of a daring departure from Lela’s previous designs, yet the pieces are fresh and still remain true to who the Lela Rose customer is—that is me and you, your mother, your sister, your aunts, your girlfriends, your grandmother.” As I looked at the colorful knits, gorgeous linens, loose-fit blazers, and amazing chiffon blouses, I did imagine each of my friends and my own mother wearing the timelessly constructed pieces by Lela Rose.
Betsy explained, “The fit, form and upbeat colors of Lela Rose’s new line offer a pristine start for the new year. Simple adaptations have created a cohesive collection—experimental pleats, unique silhouettes, fun pocket-details, and a twist or shift of shapes offer an understandable sense of individuality that is definitely not boring.”
While Betsy was chatting with me, I recognized the twinkle of passion in her eye. She stands behind the clothing designed by Lela Rose, and she loves what she does. Betsy is humble; she recognizes that most women her age are not running an entire sales gamut for a major fashion firm in New York City: “When I was a sophomore in college I called up Ken Downing, the Fashion Director at Neiman Marcus, and I asked him for an internship. His secretary told me, ‘Mr. Downing doesn’t normally take interns,’ but I was persistent and got a spot. I was young and took chances—I thought, ‘Why wouldn’t Ken Downing give me a job?’ Now I’m in New York working for Lela Rose.”
Betsy gave me brilliant advice: “Sometimes, ignorance is bliss. Don’t think too much, just do it.”
As I unzipped the beautiful colorblock linen skirt and pulled off the highlighter gauze tiered tank, I felt a confident fulfillment. I said farewell to the spring collection, and Betsy walked me down the street to the subway. In the night air of the big city, the two of us parted. “See you next time you’re home,” I said to Betsy.
“Yes,” she replied, “I’ll meet you in Lawrence.”

Zero + Maria Cornejo Spring 2010 Ready-to-Wear Collection

Maria Cornejo, Spring 2010 Ready-to-Wear; photo by Diane Bondareff, AP photo

Maria Cornejo’s Spring 2010 Collection looks like an urban design structure or a permanent forest—not a piece of clothing that follows any rules or fashion trends. Her pieces can be worn for a lifetime.

Judith Puckett-Rinella is Senior Photo Editor for T: The New York Times Style Magazine. Walking back towards the Times after the show, Puckett-Rinella told me: “Maria’s clothing is modernity without the ridiculousness.” She pays attention to real women, creating clothing in which all women will feel as beautiful as they are in actuality.
Her clothing gives in to the natural form of the body—not attempting to manipulate fabrics against gravity or include high-strung pleats or folds that stretch an unwilling material.
Cornejo’s collection included 41+ looks, separated thematically: Black and White Noise, Wood and Brown Leather, Grass and Green Glide, Water and Ink Wave Jacquard.

The harsh contrast of black against white was reduced by the fluidity of Cornejo’s designs. She incorporated natural fabrics—linen and leather, and used wooden accessories to emphasize a natural, organic look. Nothing looked forced; the fabric wanted to be there.
Cornejo also showcased her new swimwear, making the simplest bandeau tops and twisted-straps effortlessly chic. I was particularly impressed with Cornejo’s wide-range of pieces. She had everything from wood neck cuffs, leather Tookie bags, jumpsuits, waistcoats in stretch uni cotton, linen jackets, crop knee pants, dresses, shawl jackets, washed polyester trousers…

…silk dresses, sleeveless knits, cowl-neck shirts, leather leggings, wrist cuffs, jersey t-shirts, stretch cotton shorts, shoes…

The prints in Cornejo’s collection were sensational images—personal photographs screened onto silk fabric. The image sources are listed in the program notes: the weathered deck of an island beach house, the turbulent wake of a Bosporus ferry boat under a vivid blue sky; spikes of grass or the black static of white noise crawling across airy fabrics.

I cannot explain the natural beauty of Cornejo’s collection. Check out some of my favorite looks on

Slide 31: Kala dress in Drape
Slide 32: Kala Top in silk charmeuse and ochy skirt in drape
Slide 34: ID Goa Dress in Nova Twill
Slide 41: Long Cade dress in Silk waterprint

Fall Fashion Week: designs by Lela Rose premiered at Bryant Park

Lela Rose Spring 2010 Ready-to-Wear; Louis Lanzano, AP Photos

If my memory serves me, I don’t recall a single black garment on the runway.

Lela Rose created a comfortable ambience at her Sunday show, utilizing calm and blissful colors to showcase her designs. The palette was well-balanced with an edgy subtlety—not a contradiction, but a brilliant interpretation of wearable bright hues. Even the ever-popular, eye-scorching neons were presented in a classic, fun way. Via the program notes, Rose cites artist Alex Katz and the familiar, saturated colors visible at Venice Beach as inspiration. Grass-green, sea-glass blue, navy, orange-crush, dove grey, magenta, and shell pink truly do reflect the playful serenity of a vibrant, ever-evolving California beach and the trademark, color-splash prints made by Alex Katz.

This spring, look for unexpected color-blocks—not just horizontal color swatches. Also, incorporate metallic without overpowering your outfit; look for designs that draw attention to the center interior of a garment. Purchase patterned skirts and tops, each in individual color-groups; this allows for an easy contrast between the two items that is still compatible regardless of their own busy designs.

Shape and Fabric:
Unique twists and knots, exposed backs, rolled sleeves, layers and tiers, exaggerated hips, and asymmetrical tops dominated the looks of Lela Rose’s Spring 2010 collection. Blazers with rolled-lapels caused an eye-catching, doubling effect—the fabric layers resemble the beautiful roll of ocean waves. Soft pleating on skirts—equipped with pockets and slightly pointed hips—helped to maintain a feminine form. The raked tops, chiffon blouses, and tweed skirts prominent in Rose’s collection are sophisticated yet approachable; for example—a t-shirt is the bright hue of orange-crush, soothed by its cashmere fabric and silk side panels.

Keep your eye out for impeccably designed and structured pieces; however, find pieces with movement. Sheath dresses and open-back dresses can be unexpectedly flattering and sexy (Rose’s ivory ribbon lace sheath dress). Pay attention to details—embroidered belts, rolled necks, and cascading detail took the pieces in Lela Rose’s collection to the next level.

Fall 2009 Boots

over-the-knee boots, Twelfth Street by Cynthia Vincent Lindy

The worst part about summer is giving up my collection of boots. For almost five whole months, some of my favorite shoes are abandoned, tucked away in a suitcase under my bed. I have to keep them there—otherwise, every time I catch sight of them, it breaks my heart. Poor little guys! Sitting, lonely at the back of my closet, waiting and waiting for any inkling of fall weather…
Plus, stuffing each pair with newspaper or shoe-forms to keep their shape intact is such a drag!
Anyway, when it comes down to it, I think boots just make you feel powerful. Sometimes you just gotta stomp!

Most of us have a good pair of boots—one that we’ve really lived in (…says the 22-year old...). My favorite pair of boots have been beat-up, ripped-up, re-soled and back again. I wore them an entire semester in Europe—literally, I never changed my shoes! They went with everything, and they felt like a part of me—besides, they are fabulous!

So never get rid of your tried and true boots. But do remember—there’s always more room in your collection! Read on about a few new boots that should be on every woman’s fall wish-list:

These will be the hottest footwear for anyone who’s in-the-know regarding fashion and trends this season. Last year, the boots were gaining popularity throughout Europe and sneaking into the United States; however, unlike last year’s over-the-knee boots—which were mostly spotted in no-heel versions—now look for the sky-high boots, not only in the length, but also in the heel. Wear your over-the-knee boots with short dresses, tights, leggings, skinny-jeans, or pleated trousers. Materials will vary, but I’m loving all versions suede. To get versatility and longevity out of your over-the-knee boots, look for a more pliable pair. If you can fold, roll or cuff the top of your boots, you can change your entire look.

Boots with laces/boots with tread:
Lace up, black boots always remind me of the Victorian-era. Find updated versions with unique details—like a modern, cone heel. Also, don’t put away your summer versions, equipped with a peep-toe. This fall, showing off your toes—covered by stockings, of course—is fun and sexy. Want another option? Pick up a pair of lace-up boots with treaded soles. Thank god someone finally created a fashion-forward, weatherproof, non-slip, high-heel, cute boot! The sporty-trend from the summer generated an amazing winter shoe alternative!

Foldover Boots:
The newest of the knee-length boots, the foldover boot, has a wide-leg upper-piece that almost looks like a separate attachment. Instead, its well-constructed, inside-out material is completely finished, glossed, or bedazzled. These boots go from casual to ultra-glamorous: From double buckles hugging the calves to jewels on the toes, chunky wooden heels or thin, spiky stilettos. Keep in mind the material as well—a weathered leather tends to feel more comfortable and vintage-y, a PVC material gives off urban-vibes, and a suede feels dressy and sophisticated.