Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Pretty on the Outside

If you think that fashion regularly reaches heights of such ridiculousness that Mount Everest looks like an anthill in comparison, you should try reading fashion writing. If you can call it that. Reflecting a style an editor friend of mine likes to call "high hysteria," much of it centers around imparting short, pithy lil' nuggets of insider advice on how to trick your hair into shiny sleekness despite the humidity or learning how to deftly manage liquid eyeliner in the pursuit of the ultimate Sophie Loren eye.

And just in case you don't get the urgency of it all, an exclamation point (or three) always, always punctuates the end of every sentence. Fashion editors live for the exclamation mark. And alliteration. Alliteration rules.

The nose glows? Banish shine forever with these five fabulous tips!

How to rock the Bettie Bang without looking like you just graduated grade school!

High heeled patent purple booties make a sizzling statement for fall!

But this is nothing compared to "serious" fashion writing. Especially when it emerges from the keyboard of one Ms. Plum Sykes, the woman I most want to bitch slap with an overstuffed Birken bag, she's just that irritating. Each month, she dutifully grinds out 1,500+ words for Vogue on fashion-related subjects as diverse as mastering the brooch (really!) to searching for the perfect long-sleeved dress. One can see why editor Anna Wintour hired Sykes, for both women possess a similar air of rarefied self-satisfaction. But Sykes isn't really a full on bitch on wheels. She sort of fell into her roll of Park Avenue Princess. "Oh that? The trust fund? Pishaw, I barely even know it's there!" Even worse are her attempts at humor, which are laughable but only because they make her seem even more cluelessly smug, as witness this strangely Leave it to Beaver-esque opening of the aforementioned article on long-sleeved dresses:

There are three things a woman really needs at 38: a husband, at least one child, and a dress with long sleeves, which, I have discovered over the years, may be harder to come by than the husband. I found two potential husbands in the space of four years—and married one of them. But in all that time, I found only one really good dress with long sleeves, despite looking for such a frock just as diligently as I looked for the husband.

And this on deciding what to wear on the picket line during the screenwriter's strike (if you can call adapting one of the most badly written pieces of chic lit in the history of the universe writing for the screen):

I wake on picket day to chilly gales and big, fat, icy raindrops. I glumly resign myself to wearing a Burberry trench and nasty J.Crew Wellingtons with dogs printed on them. I’m about to leave when Delia Ephron, Nora’s sister and a fellow writer, calls to wish me luck on the picket line. “I made six new friends,” she yelps. “It’s the best party in New York right now!” Newly insecure, I immediately change into a brand-new gray merino-wool Martin Margiela turtleneck sweater and chunky high leather boots from Veronique Branquinho. Some warmth is provided by my sharply tailored Alexander McQueen fur-lined suede jacket with enormous hoops of fox fur at each cuff. The look is fashion girl meets snowbunny.

Here, Plum is given the perfect opportunity to endear herself by creating some sharply realized, self-effacing social commentary – maybe even, perhaps, a farce – and what does she do? She misses the boat by a mile. Snow bunny? How about dumb bunny.

Then there's the kind of fashion writing that isn't admonishing, isn't insulting, isn't even, when it comes right down to it, understandable. This kind of writing falls into a category I like to call: art-school-affectation-meets-the-five-martini-lunch. In other words: WTF?

Take this sample from Missoni's Web site describing their spring 2009 collection. Don't get me wrong. I adore Missoni, a venerable Italian owned and operated manufacturer of some of the finest knits and sports wear in the world, and I would give anything to be able to afford one of their iconic "zig zag" dresses. But when it comes to describing their vision? A picture should be worth a thousand words.


Instead of this:

As in a kaleidoscope of futuristic aero-paintings, whirlwinds of colors, designs and shapes respond to new rules of perception. Rhythm and speed tell the story of a new beauty in a world that is dynamic, three-dimensional, energetic, vivacious, creating a mood that is contemporary, extravagant and unexpected. A conscious path of elegance that beautifies that which cannot be changed, giving power to the imagination and evoking grace and seduction. Electric frequencies of color . . . mechanical elements inspire embroideries.

But no one, and I mean no one, can craft more Baroque crimes against the English language like the admen and women shilling perfume. One of the best of the worst is French niche perfume house, Kilian. Click on their Web site and you are immediately taken to a blank black canvas which succinctly and charmingly asserts that "Perfume is a messenger who opens a thousand doors in the memory." Fair enough. But instead of leaving it at that, they go completely off the deep end and proceed to describe each and every one of their juices in the most purple prose imaginable. This one-liner for their Prelude to Love perfume, for instance, simply boggles the mind:

A splash of crimson blossoms across the cheeks and hearts beat wildly, a refined yet bold bouquet of the noblest citrus soothes and refreshes mounting sensations of exhilaration.

Is this an advertisement for perfume or the latest Harlequin Romance?

Not even the normally down to earth Estee Lauder is immune to the power of the hysterical pitch. Lauder's ad for its newest perfume, Sensuous, starts off harmlessly enough:

Estee Lauder Sensuous was created to evoke the warmest, most feminine side of a woman. Her softness. Her confidence and grace. Her strength.

But then things just get silly:

You are luminous. You are real. You are Sensuous.

As opposed to what? Dull and opaque? Immaginary and surreal? Floating in outer space?

Still, given that when all is said and done, I probably make about two cents to every perfume writer's dollar, where in the heck do I sign up? After all, this morning? I spritzed myself with vintage Shalimar and I swear, I was immediately whisked away to a far off, exotic locale where illicit love affairs unfold like silken sheaths under diamond studded velvet skies redolent with the heady scent of exotic blossoms and forbidden fruit.

Or maybe it was just the waffles burning in the toaster?


Jenny said...

I can barely handle fashion, much less the writers...and I think that's what puts me off most of the time. I can love the look, but trying to actually decipher "Fashion Speak"? It makes me run directly to the Lands End online catalog and buy yet again, a black v-neck sweater.

Oh wait,

A hot smoldering expression of blackness!!

how's that?

I'd love to smell like burning waffles.

NYD said...

The writing might be vacuous, but like sugar cookies and candy canes they taste sweet; just don't try and make a meal out of them.

VintagePurseGal said...

"Long sleeves vs. short sleeves: a fight to the death!"

"Rock that zipper like it's a hook and eye!"

"Whip-stitched, basted or hot-glued... how to tell when your skirt is sporting the right hem!"

Ohmigosh, I'm having way too much fun with this. I'm just lamenting the fact that I don't own a Roget's Pocket Fashion Thesaurus. Or anything Burberry.

moi said...

Boxer: I'd love to smell like burning waffles. Do I have a perfume for you. Annick Goutal Sables. I'll get cha a sample :o).

NYD: You're one of those silver lining kinda guys aren't you?

Wendy: OR some Wellies with lil doggies on 'em.

czar said...

Love the smile on that mannequin. Good god.

And the dress? The graphics term "moire" comes to mind. It looks like a mistake.

Fashion writing (and what I've just read constitutes 100 percent of my total lifetime input) reminds me of an article that once appeared in the Onion: "Writer for Cosmopolitan commits suicide after writing three thousandth column on 'Five Ways to Please Your Man.'"

Aunty Belle said...

LOL! Purrrrrfect, Dahlin'.

"Plum Sykes?" Heh, more like Plum Skyes'

Wendy, " Roget's Pocket Fashion Thesaurus" Fabulous!

The whole thang makes me run fer mimimalism--nuthin' wrong wif a black V neck or two, or ten.

sparringK9 said...

amen sixter! i think curatorial departments in a museum can give these poseurs a run for their trust funds. i can remember one spectacular staff war where i asked "is the purpose of this wall text to assist our guests in understanding the art work? or is it a forum for you to show off your scholarship to other self-important art snobs?"

thats a line form my self help book: how to win friends in museum administration. grrherhahaha

i hate plum sykes. in vogue you can get an article on natural beauty next ot a page on newest developments in plastic surgery, injectables and re surfacing. all while wearing 60 thousand dollars of product!

Doris Rose said...

A wonderful, insightful and informative piece.Purple prose, huh. good to know.;)

Bretthead said...

Those darn waffles. Good rant. Let me know when you rant on sports writers.

moi said...

Czar: We're either trying to please men or trying to wash them out of our hair. There must be a sane middle ground.

Aunty: I used to live in fear of dying in a sudden, tragic accident and my friends and family coming over to clean out the house and whispering among themselves: "She was such a wonderful person but what is UP with all the grey sweaters?"

K9: We simply must start a campaign to stop Plum Sykes in her Manolo-ed tracks immediately. Can't the girl just retire to the 'burbs and make jam already?

DorisRose: Cruise the perfume sales Web sites one of these days. Romance novelists have nothing on these people.

WTWA: Um. Is Jimmy Breslin still writing? Howard Cosell?

fishy said...

Was that last paragraph your audition for a bigger paycheck?

While I agree with you this is a bizaar journalistic specialty they can hardly write, " sniff this, have sex for breakfast".

Very enjoyable posting. How many exclamation points were required????

Pam said...

Except that I sort of agree with the bit about the elusive long-sleeved dress.....

Aunty Belle said...

Long sleeves are a girls best friend after f---y I mean, I doan care if yore biceps is shapely, yore under arms look like chicken skin.

moi said...

Fishy: I have nothing against GOOD advertising writing. By all means, all you ad people out there, set a stage, create a mood, entice, and inspire – one of the joys of living, after all, lies in one's aspirations. Just do it well. (So now I guess I have to find some examples of good writing and post them!)

Pam and Aunty: That's why God invented the Diane von Furstenberg silk jersey wrap dress. If only we had someone better than Dumb Skies to tell us about them.

NYD said...

Nah, I just don't pay attention to the bullshit of decribing fashion. The damn work speakes for itself. Can you imagine a building being described in the same manner?
"The terraces produce a scintilating over and under shadow effect that exudes a resplendent memory of tossing gossamer water balloons off the fifteenth floor to smash and engulf the populace in an ever extavagant display of anti- socialist behaviour".

moi said...

NYD: Hee! You're good!