The Great Shoe Wake

I died for beauty, but was scarce

Adjusted in the tomb,

When one who died for truth was lain

In an adjoining room.

He questioned softly why I failed?

"For beauty," I replied.

"And I for truth, -the two are one;

We brethren are," he said.

And so, as kinsmen met a night,

We talked between the rooms,

Until the moss had reached our lips,

And covered up our names.

- Emily Dickinson, 1862

I've been planning this funeral for months, years actually. Everything short of wreaths of roses and readings from the Psalms. If I had hardwood floors instead of carpeting I'd be pouring my shot of whiskey right out in honor of my fallen heroes - all six of them, in fact. To be fair, not all of these heroes are entirely fallen. Some are merely in ICU or in desperate need of hospice care just to manage the pain a bit. Is it their pain, or mine? I wonder.

I suppose I should tell you what I'm talking about here: shoes. Very beautiful, expensive, adored, and in another time frequently worn, shoes. Back when I worked in the luxury fashion industry I gathered together quite a collection. I'm not one of those people that builds a collection and then hordes it for myself alone; no, I share it with the world and display my affection (and appreciation) openly. Thus, these shoes have served me well and are now very close to death, if not entirely dead.

In all honesty, some of these do have some life left in them but I am concerned that if they emerge from the cryogenic stasis of my closet that they will disintegrate once they hit pavement. So what to do? How do you honor the life of a much-loved, once-luxurious set of footwear? Do you bury them in the shoe cemetary, burn them and scatter the ashes above Union Square, or perhaps commit sati upon their blazing pyre? I have no idea. But before I do anything, I think I should give them a mention here...

The Lou-Boos above are my very first pair from that illustrious house, and unfortunately I never wear them. This despite the fact that the style was on an episode of Sex and the City back in the day. (One of the few when Carrie was in Paris with Baryshnikov - can you imagine those stilettos on cobblestones? Me neither.) They're about a half-size too big for me and even with the anti-skid sole they are always precarious on the foot - like any second they could potentially go flying and impale the handsome head of a gentleman caller. This looseness makes them more than a little uncomfortable, and while I lament giving them up, I'm afraid they are just using up precious closet space.

These gold Celine sandals are likewise mere space-suckers in the armoire. Glittering, Grecian, shapely, sexy, and strapping, these shoes always garner compliments galore. This is a good thing that my toes appreciate because they hurt like the dickens when worn. Dickens? More like having a pair of rubber bands around your foot just below the arches, cutting off the blood-flow. Despite only having worn these all of three times, the insoles are completely unglued, rippled, and serve as a useles layer on an ultra-thin lower sole. I've been dying to throw these away, but my heart collapses at the thought of putting anything named Celine in the garbage.

Back around 2004-2005 chunky heels were in style and I definitely participated in this trend. Enter the next two pairs: a Mini-Damier Mary Jane and Mini-Monogram Cerise Pump, both by Louis Vuitton. I cannot tell you how much I adored these two in their time. The Mary Janes' straps are connected by small pieces of elastic which are now so overstretched that they could snap at any moment. Meanwhile, the pumps are scuffed, scratched, and stained with the residual damage of many many adventures, at play and at work. Both pairs are as loose as bedroom slippers (even with the heels) but are now beyond wearable. They're just embarassing. As far as disposal goes, these two are my Velveteen Rabbits.

Another oddity is this ultra-fabulous pair from Marc by Marc Jacobs. Entranced by their colorful polka-dots I had to have them so badly that I paid full-price for them, around $250, which was a LOT of money for me back then. (Hey, who am I kidding, it still is!) It wasn't until after I'd purchased them that I found that they were also in an episode of Sex and the City, but I can't remember which one. Retro, fun, and sexy, I still love the compliments I get on these shoes. They're still in really good shape, outwardly, but inwardly there's a few little issues. Okay, so I snapped one of the heels at one time; you wouldn't know it but for the six-odd angry-looking nailheads that the shoe repair drove right through the instep. I would have forgotten this myself if that shoe still had its insole, but it doesn't. They're also barely comfortable after about an hour, so they too go unworn.

Finally, remarks for the best pair of kitten heels that ever came out of the House of Dior. A saucy mini heel and a long pointy shape are paired with lush black leather, making these versatile and easy to wear. At least that used to be the case. The little "Dior" metal embellishment on the right shoe has come unhinged on one side so it starts to swing around as I walk. The overall condition is good though, but these too feel more like slippers than shoes and tend to flop on my feet. They've been re-soled and re-heeled umpteen times, but they're so lovely and adorable! It breaks my soul to conceive of stuffing these kittens into their dust bag and drowning them.

Has anyone else faced a similar predicament? How does one dispose of no-longer-wearable designer fashion? It cannot be restored or recycled or given away at this point, and belive me, no museum would want them. Apart from a sacrifice on the altar of fashion, I'm not sure what to do. Plus, I'm not sure the Gods would care - they aren't virgins after all!

Here's a drink to all my shoes, past, present, and future...

Derek Lam Talks Chicken...No, Really!

Derek Lam, image from Teen VogueDid you know that Derek Lam and I went to the same high school? Yes, it's true. A few years apart, but the same school. St. Ignatius College Preparatory launched both of us on paths of creativity, fame, and stardom. (Okay, clearly one more than the other, but you get it.) So when the St. Ignatius alumni magazine Genesis asked me to interview Derek Lam for an upcoming issue, you can imagine that I got a little starstruck at this idea. Like...would he even talk to me? Well, he did.

How did I do it? I emailed someone and asked very very very nicely, and kept following-up. You know that adage about the squeaky wheel? It works. But be sure to squeak very softly and sweetly. Then, a lovely PR person will email you with the message that you get 20 minutes TODAY at 5PM Eastern.

And that, boys and girls, is all there is to it. Like Conan O'Brien said: "If you work really really hard and you're kind to people, amazing things will happen." Actually, it probably came together because Derek Lam is just a genuinely sweet person, full of fun, ideas, a love of fashion, fashion people, and his hometown of San Francisco. I send a thousand thanks to everyone at Derek Lam, and my good friend Jill Lynch for thinking of the whole project in the first place!

Published here with permission from Genesis magazine.

**********************************************************

Derek Lam Fall 2010, from Style.comPart of your development began in your grandparents’ garment factory here in San Francisco. Was it understood that you would enter the family business from the get-go, or did your family try to encourage you into other directions?

I was only about 5 – I was a child. So there was no opinion about that. I just liked the familial atmosphere of the place. I knew it was great to be in a place surrounded by relatives working together. It was very comforting.

So when did you really begin to learn about garment construction?

When I went to Parsons.

Did you go to Parsons right from SI?

I went to Boston College for a year and a half and then transferred to Parsons.

High school is usually a time best forgotten for most of us (myself included.) But, is there something about your years at SI that you think helped to shape who you are today? Was there an experience there that really helped to shape your creative side, or was there an activity you were a part of that helped move you in the design direction?

There were two classes. The first was what was then called “Social Studies” – about people, what makes them do what they do, culture, defining who you are, with analysis and history. The second were my art classes. I had one teacher – Ms. Wolf? – Yes, Katie Wolf, she’s still there. – She is? Wow that’s amazing. I loved her classes. The last time I came home, my Mom asked me if I wanted my SI yearbook and I started flipping through it; I was like “I remember this person, and this person…”

I also really loved my English classes. They gave me a great love of literature and writing, and all of that contributes to the arts. (Notice I didn’t say science?)

I enjoyed the experience there because while SI is very academically motivated, they’re very good about educating “the whole person”.

Tod's Shade Bag, designed by Derek Lam, image from BagSnobIf there are high school students at St. Ignatius, or anywhere, who are interested in fashion design, what suggestions do you have for them? Is there anything they can do at a young age to help cultivate their eye for design? Or anything they can do to get into the practice of design?

I’m not sure how you could cultivate it - I didn’t know what a fashion designer was at that age. I went to Parsons in New York City to study art. I had a curiosity about art and culture which then led me to fashion design.

Being in a place like San Francisco, there’s so much culture that gives people curiosity, the city reveals culture everywhere, which is all a part of art and design.

I know that film has inspired your collections in the past, such as In the Mood for Love in 2004, and Ascenseur pour l’Echafaud in the Fall of 2009. One of my efforts here in San Francisco is organizing a bi-monthly film screening called Style Cinema SF. We screen fashion films, or films that have some sort of a strong aesthetic. Do you have other favorite films that you return to again and again for inspiration?

Barry Lyndon – that’s amazing…The Shining…I love Chinatown. For me it’s about the cinematic quality, the story told with costume and atmosphere. I like to think of my collection as a movie with no parts. I want to create mood, desire, and fantasy - that same cinematic quality, and also prompt people to think “I can have that in my life as well.”

I also know that a lot of your collections are influenced by place; I wondered if you had a San Francisco collection cooking in your brain somewhere. And, what era of San Francisco history really speaks to you?

That’s an interesting question because my collection for Fall [2010] I called “The Myth of the West”. I was thinking about the people who settled in San Francisco, who created a European city in the wilderness of the West. They were from the East, bringing their culture, values, etc., and created the mythology of “The West”. Cowboys, gold mining – our western legends. It’s clearly not an eastern, pilgrim culture in that setting.

I know that you worked for Michael Kors for years and you both are the capital-S in American sportswear. How do you see sportswear responding to the times right now? Is there still a place for luxury in American sportswear?

That’s interesting because a lot of Europeans say “why do you call it “American Sportswear?” because to them sportswear is what we would call “activewear”. Sportswear is made up of items that are easy to mix, and yes, have a basis in sports. (Riding, hunting, etc.) When you explain that there’s suiting, sportswear, and evening, then the Europeans begin to understand what it is. For me, it’s the most valid point of view on how to dress. Ultimately it’s the consumer who makes it work for them – how they use it in their wardrobes.

How do you incorporate the luxury? Is it in a design detail, the material, the fabrication…?

Yes, all of those things. I’m always looking for ways to incorporate luxury into items. I love to incorporate hand-work into pieces. I love working with modern mills - those who make bonded, technical fabrics. But I also love working with the couture mills. For me, luxury is a new point of view with a taste of the past.

Derek Lam Fall 2010 from Style.comName one garment that you will never get tired of designing/interpreting.

Trench coats – I do a trench coat every season. They’re sexy, mysterious, and in New York, or I guess San Francisco too - you can throw on a coat and you’re dressed.

How do you define or compare the “Derek Lam girl” and the “Tod’s girl”? Are they the same person or is it a different personality, a different style?

Derek Lam is personal, it’s what I want to say – a dialogue with my customer. For Tod’s, it’s thinking about their brand. Tod’s is modern classic with Italian flare and a modern “pep”. I suppose the customer for both is looking for my signature. How is Derek interpreting something, what is perspective is Derek offering? (By the way, I’m saying this as one of my customers, I’m not talking about myself in the third person.) I design for both brands but filtered from within my own point of view.

Do you feel the pressure to create a popular “It” bag every season, such as a YSL Muse or Balenciaga Le Dix?

No…no, that’s a lot of marketing. Every season is a fresh start. I’m trying to determine what intrigues, what’s desirable to the customer. I think about what’s missing in their wardrobe. This is much more important than any commercial endeavor.

Plus, there’s really no science to it.

No there isn’t, or, that’s not my role. There probably is a science to it, but it’s someone in marketing who determines that.

Derek Lam & Vanessa Getty at Foreign Cinema, from 7x7I read in Women’s Wear Daily last fall that when you came to San Francisco for a visit, you asked your Mom to cook up some abalone with shitake mushrooms. What are some of your other favorite San Francisco flavors? Which places or neighborhoods do you always love to visit when you come here?

I ask my Mom for a “usual” home meal – whatever we would usually eat at home. So, while I really don’t have a specific request, I just leave it up to her. I love to visit the Ferry Building; I’ll go down there and have some oysters or just walk around. I love to see what’s going on down there.

The last time I came to San Francisco Vanessa Getty hosted a party for me at something Cinema?Foreign Cinema, yes, it’s one of my favorites.I had never been there and it was great. When I visit, I’m kind of like a tourist, rediscovering the city I grew up in. I also like the place that has California cuisine – up on Market Street and I can’t think of the name. Zuni?  Yes, the Zuni Café. They have the best chicken! Yes, the chicken with croutons? Yes! Their food is so good! It’s always my first lunch or first dinner when I arrive in San Francisco.

The next time you visit you should try NOPA – it was founded by some of the people from Zuni. What’s it called? NOPA – N O P A – their roast chicken is amazing too. Where is it? It’s at Hayes & Divisadero. Oh – it’s close to Zuni, sort of. Yes, Hayes Valley-ish. Their chicken is divine – I sort of embarrass myself I enjoy it so much. That’s how Zuni is for me!...

My Eco-Tote, My Identity

BCBG eco-tote, Spring 2008One of my favorite stories of young professional girls is the classic soapy novel The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe. (Trust me, if you’re someone working your way up in a company, it’s right there with Valley of the Dolls.) What made me fall hopelessly in love with the story was the author’s description of the young ladies of the typing pool carrying their lunches in defunct Bonwit Teller shopping bags...

Don’t we all do this? I love buying just a little something (usually a cosmetic) in order to get a small shopping bag to take for lunches! What I love more is spying the girls on bus and seeing their lunchbags in turn. The whisper of a Neiman’s butterfly, the stately lettering of Marc by Marc Jacobs, the mod ovals of Jonathan Adler, the white-on-black of Barneys, or the elegance of Diptyque – I’ve carried them all for lunches at one time or another. It’s the air of “purchase mystery” that everyone loves to play up for another day, even if the bag holds nothing more exciting than tuna salad with a side of grapes.

A classic Fauchon tote - eco-chic for years!Of course, these little paper gems convey a lot more than one’s purchase power; they’re a walking passport of one’s shopping travels. The chocolate-ivory stripe of Henri Bendel or the whimsical blue-and-red of Fred Segal show that one has gone coast to coast in the pursuit of style. Then there’s the famous bags of Fauchon, the Paris gourmet shop whose re-usable bags have been gifted and carried for decades. More than a shopping memory, all these little bags have been resused and recycled into fashion caché for years! In the case of Fauchon, carrying their tote meant you'd travelled to Paris (or 5th Avenue,) knew the non-touristy neighborhoods there, and probably had a sophisticated palette - not to mention a tin of fois gras at close hand...

Kenneth Cole "Use Me" toteNow we have our “eco-tote” craze... In the name of eco-chic, designers are now bringing us coveted bags to carry within our bags, just so we have something handy and equally chic to carry home mundane items from the neighborhood grocery or Walgreens. Still, the simple canvas totes are rife with implications of status, location, and income, as they serve as a walking billboard of a person’s demographic.

Yesterday, my Dad dropped off something I’d forgotten on a recent visit to my parents’ house. My Mom had packed it up in a canvas tote, and I didn’t even notice what it said during the hectic few seconds of getting it from my Dad’s car and running back into the office… No sooner had I returned to my desk than my colleague (a native New Yorker) made a comment…

Colleague: “Oh, what did you get from Clyde’s?”

Me: “What?”

Colleague: “Your bag – it’s from Clyde’s…”

Me: “Oh – it’s my Mom’s. What’s Clyde’s?”

Colleague: (turning away with a raised eyebrow) “It’s a pharmacy on Madison at 74th…”

Me: “Oh…yeah, I think my Mom likes that place.”

YSL tote as a fashion-show gift bagWithin five seconds, my borrowed eco-tote conveyed a message that someone (me, ostensibly,) had been to New York and shopped at a very exclusive (and expensive) pharmacy shop on the Upper East Side.

Just like the witty upside-down logo totes being given out for free at the upcoming Yves Saint Laurent fashion show (Eric Wilson's NY Times article), the tote conveys a message of being an insider, being exclusive, being in the right place at the right time to get the right eco-tote. So much more exclusive than a mere Muse bag, don’t you think?

Last year, Anya Hindmarch’s “I am Not a Plastic Bag” totes flew off of store shelves and became a hotly-bidded eBay commodity thereafter. According to The Bag Snob, Hindmarch stated at the beginning of this effort: “Our aim with this project has been to use our influence to make it fashionable not to use plastic bas. 'I'm Not A Plastic Bag' was designed to be a stylish, practical, reusable bag that would raise awareness of this issue and spark debate." I would venture to guess that everyone that bought the Hindmarch bag knew about the pitfalls of plastic long ago, but they simply wanted the latest must-have item. Personally, I hate it when someone says they're "raising awareness" - who is some designer to say I'm not aware? The rhetoric just smacks of smug superiority, especially as it concerns something as simple as "plastic is bad for you." Duh! The reason the bags sold out wasn't because of their enlightening abilities, but because everyone wanted to convey that they too cared about the environment while looking exclusive doing it.

Whole Foods/Lauren Bush Feed toteAt Whole Foods, you have one of two branded options to purchase there: the standard reusable green bag, or the famous Lauren Bush “Feed” bag – the proceeds of which go to feeding children in Rwanda. Now this is an effort whose awareness needs raising. For just $29.99, you can feed 100 children. Talk about a great product: affordable, well-designed, results-driven, and coveted. Everyone’s happy with this bit of brilliance, and it even zips up into a compact carrying case so your bag isn’t floating around in your handbag causing traffic jams among the wallet, cell phone, and eyeglass case.

But charity aside, what does the “souvenir” of your munificence say? This “Feed” tote tells the world that not only do you a) shop at a rather expensive grocery store (Whole Foods), but b) are a conscious, philanthropic being, who c) cares about the needs of children in under-developed countries. Now that is quite the message to send!

As with any trend that starts at the street, designers are now capitalizing on these eco-chic totes by designing into the trend and creating new “It” bags. A search for “canvas tote” on Etsy yields over 4,000 items, all made by small-production crafters and artisans. Not one to be late to any party, Target has an entire section on their website entitled “Reusable Shopping Bags” with totes priced from $9.99. Other retailers start out in the market inexpensively, such as the $20 “Use Me” bag from Kenneth Cole, or the $38 “Be Chic Buy Green” tote from BCBG last spring. But now, Marc by Marc Jacobs is putting out screened bags upwards of $100! Other designers are making limited editions, using the classic luxury brand method of creating a must-have item. Luxury branding in a canvas tote? Does that even make sense? Isn’t accessibility the whole point of this trend?

Continuing the thought, aren't designers setting themselves up in competition with themselves by creating low-end carry-all totes and high-end luxury handbags? Which bag will attract more attention and draw more covetous envy?

Marc by Marc Jacobs "Save My Pole" toteApplying Beaudrillard’s thoughts on semiotics, this trend in eco-totes is really just another way for us to express ourselves. They’re our outward representation of what we stand for, where we shop, and what we want to support. By being conscious of our ecology and ridding ourselves of plastic bags, we have generated a replacement that is literally a blank canvas waiting for expression – preferably a designer one.

Of course, if I really want to carry an eco-chic tote with a label, I’ll keep packing lunch in a stylish paper shopping bag like I have for years. Those babies are chic, and free with the purchase of something you're buying anyway!