Sunday, August 06, 2006

stylish eccentrics

There's nothing that the fashion world (and I) loves more than true eccentrics in their midst: the jolie laides, the unusual muses, the unlikely icons. Think Isabella Blow, or the most eccentric of them all, Diana Vreeland. I was going through some fashion newsletters that have piled in my email, becoming the digital equivalent of a pile of magazines waiting to be read, i.e., making me feel guilty. (Not that guilty--some of them are unreadable, frankly.) I found I'd missed this article on Diane Pernet, who I was introduced to via a New York Times article last year. Pernet is a true example of the genre: a former designer who now lives in Paris and exclusively wears long, black Gothic outfits, complete with a veil or mantilla that's attached to a very high bouffant hairdo. Sunglasses and bright red lipstick complete her look. She looks like a cross between a 16th-century Spanish noblewoman and your wacky Aunt Esther. She's also got a blog--the copy is so-so but I do like the pictures, especially the ones from her archive--images from her designing heyday in the 80s and early 90s. Unfortunately there aren't many of them; much of her work was lost through a mixup with a storage company, I believe. I'm always impressed by how loyal these women can be to their own uber-distinctive looks. It's one thing to wear red lipstick every day, quite another to commit yourself to black lace and a beehive for a lifetime. Really I wish there were more of these people, especially in Chicago, and especially when it seems like every woman in the world is wearing a sexy top with skinny jeans and heels. So safe. Where is the individuality, the creativity? I do try to do my part, busting out the parasol and a 40s hat now and then, but I don't have the wherewithall to make it a permanent look.

Then somehow I landed on this article about the most influential fashion editors, and it made me think of a review I'd read about The Devil Wears Prada, which said that all the best fashion editors have their own visual signature--Vreeland's lacquered hair and Kabuki makeup, Anna Wintour's bob and dark glasses, Suzy Menkes' weird loopy bouffant on the top of her head. I think this article is mainly focusing on Americans, but in my opinion you can't talk about the most influential fashion editors without mentioning Carine Roitfeld, the editor of Paris Vogue, whose bangs and bushy eyebrows are her trademarks. She looks kind of scary, but in interviews she comes across as much more human and forgiving than Anna Wintour, who is frankly terrifying. (When Roitfeld smiles, she actually looks like she is happy.) In a way the two personify the differences between Parisian and New York style. NY is all about surface polish, no mistakes, the latest looks, while in Paris women are more true to their own tastes combined with an awareness of style that comes from fashion being so ingrained in the local culture and economy, I suppose. I think that's why Parisian style is so hard to mimic, because there's always something off-kilter about it.

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