Tuesday, March 29, 2011

By Design

To turn off the computer. It's amazing to me how much I can accomplish when the computer is off. These last couple of weeks have been incredibly productive, sewing-wise. I've made three skirts (one of them complete with darts and a zipper!)...

...an Elmer Fudd-style hat for Sonia, and two pairs of toddler moccasins. I even have a load of wash going to preshrink some recently-purchased fabric, and will be turning this machine off in half an hour tops to draft up the pattern for a dress. Sure, with the computer off I'm less caught up with the news and the latest celebrity scandals, and my soon-to-be-overdue library books and phone bill are slightly weighing on my mind (not to mention I should be searching for a job!)...but no matter. What I am blissfully infatuated with at the moment is constructing clothes and making sense of patterns.

I am in love with patterns. I just recently learned how to decode these fragile paper beasts, and it has been incredibly enlightening. It's fascinating enough, our instinctual desire to create. But then for us to codify our creations so that they can be replicated and recreated--I find this so exhilarating and comforting. I have always been slightly in awe of architects and designers, their blueprints, their ability to marry form and function, even their sharp way of dressing is something I admire.... Not that I have any desire to build a bridge--and if I did build one, I certainly wouldn't want anyone to dare cross it--but somehow, my understanding of the necessary steps in the construction of shoes for my little ones, the way to properly insert a zipper (note: understanding does NOT equate with mastering), and the basic technique to bring shape to a garment makes me feel like I am, in the smallest way, making sense of the world around me...and maybe inching a tiny bit closer to understanding who I am.

In addition to the sharp-edged dotted lines, the beautifully straightforward arrows, and the practical formality of the instructions, what I love about patterns is that the process of deciphering one is a lot like learning a new language. At first everything appears foreign, incomprehensible, and scary. But with a little guidance, constant exposure, and a lot of trial and error, it all starts to make beautiful sense. And like uttering a sentence in a new, foreign tongue, when a garment is constructed there's no covering up one's mistakes. It's exhibited in all its vulnerability and uncertainty. Like the slightly gnarled zipper on the back of my skirt.

There's something very liberating about being a novice and willing to expose oneself in that way. (Although I'd never let my zipper expose me in too compromising a way, let me reassure you!) I'm reminded of studying literature in college--or, rather, deconstructionism, postmodernism, and the epistemological uncertainty of everything. It's no wonder that in the midst of my studies I was drawn to dance and language because of their very transparency. No amount of research or rhetoric would cover up the fact that I was a complete, wet-behind-the-ears novice. In dance, my most impassioned Brechtian ideas of the stage and performance couldn't hide my weak pelvic muscles or lack of a properly-arched foot. In my study of Mandarin, it was humbling to attempt to translate and interpret two lines of Confucius in a two-hour class. And constructing clothes from patterns, like performing a dance or speaking in a foreign language, requires the mastery of at least some basic vocabulary and technique. Fortunately, I'm pretty sure that I'm getting the hang of the pattern thing. At least that is my hope, because it would kind of suck to always be a novice in everything.

With that in mind, it's time to turn off the computer, get off my bottom, and get my fabric into the dryer.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Remember this ad?

This ad spoke to my soul during my early-teen years in the 90s. Oh, how I felt this way. Really, really felt this way. Really really obsessively felt this way. Disregard the fact that the ad and cologne were aimed at men...to that all I have to say is pish. I mean, what is it about that tender age for girls--okay, yes: hormones, puberty, chemical imbalances in the head--that makes us yearn, wonder, dream, and become fanatically obsessed with something or someone: a pop singer, an entire band of pop singers, or, you know, an intangible and holy High-School-Senior.

Obsession. I experienced this very thing--it led my heart to jump out of my chest at the sight of one particular person, and me to alternate between writing my name combined with this stranger's surname over and over and over again in cursive, and lovingly scribbling both of our initials combined with a plus sign and encircled by a dozen Paper Mate-inked hearts--all over my binder, all over my diary, and all over the jacket cover of my pre-Algebra textbook. And all the while, this person--or, this being that has been stratified into the status of a Greek god--had no idea of my existence.

Almost twenty years later, I found myself face-to-face with this crush/obsession/person. In fact, we had been neighborly acquaintances for over a month and I had no idea that he and HE were the very same person. I'm still getting over the initial shock, but my rainbow-bright cheeks have by now subsided into a hidden blush, and at the moment I am surprisingly less inclined to want to prank call him and stalk him in L.A. Gear Flames than I am dying to get my hands on a copy of this new book to try to make sense of that time in my life.

(These L.A. Gears appear to have gone on to shoe heaven.)

Even strange episodes like finally meeting a former crush eye-to-eye, after almost twenty years, no less (twenty years??!!), makes me ponder fashion. I think back to that transitional period in my life between pegged jeans and grunge, but I also think about youth and all the awkwardness, uncertainty, absurdity, and beauty that comes with it. Yes, fashion no doubt has an unremitting fascination and obsession with youth, and often appears to idolize youth to the point of fetishism. And sure, there's the very visceral fear of old age that we all experience preceded, ensued, or inflamed by the industry's highly profitable marketing toward and of youth. But isn't it only human to want to relive, rediscover, recall that time when one's inside world is infinitely intense, dramatic, emotional, enigmatic, and new? When the creation and experience of something fantastical appears endlessly exciting...and possible?

To quote Marc Jacobs, "Youth to me is the most beautiful and sexy thing, really. I’m by no means a pedophile, but there’s a purity to youth. There’s an experimental side, there’s a curiosity. All that is more intriguing to me than knowing, headstrong, oozing sexuality."

This take on youth reminds me that there is a difference between "being young" and "youth." To me, fashion's obsession with youth is an expression of our collective desire to see and experience the world with freshness, newness, vitality, creativity, originality, wonder, and awe. Diana Vreeland said that "the greatest vulgarity is any imitation of youth and beauty." And also, "Without emotion, there is no beauty." It seems that emotions can run unbearably high when one is young, but emotion is also a constant flame and the fountainhead of beauty and creativity throughout our lives.

I recently went with my uncle to his class at a local health center, where he and over a dozen others participated in a morning exercise regiment. An elderly man came in supported by a walker and guided by his wife, placed weights on his walker before pushing it to the side, and attentively waited as he sat himself on a plastic chair at the front of the class. A woman wearing her soft white hair in a bun stepped onto a treadmill and walked with a bounce in her step for at least half an hour, bun flopping to and fro with exceptional grace. Watching the group perform stretches while seated on their chairs was like witnessing a beautiful piece of choreography. Every movement was so deliberate, comical, or sweet, and perhaps harder to perform than it would appear. And all I could think was, this is innocence, vulnerability, and youth. This is beauty.

Friday, March 11, 2011


I am no fashion historian. I don't even keep up much with today's fashions. And aside from the fact that, unbeknownst to my husband (because he most certainly wouldn't have been a willing accomplice), the names of my children were, on my part, partially inspired by two of my favorite designers (Sonia Rykiel for her big, frizzy hair, tiny cardigans, oversized sweater dresses, big tassels, jumpers, and bra-lessness; Marc Jacobs for his dowdy chic, vintage mash-ups, bold understatedness, Rufus Wainwright, and sexy sex-lessness), I really can't comment on the latest "it" jeans, bags, shoes, designers, perfumes, etc. But I do know what I love and what speaks to me.

For example, don't be surprised if I start wearing my hair like this again. (It feels so good to embrace big hair, literally and figuratively!)

So now that I have launched this blog and, just over two months from its inception, find myself not knowing what else to reminisce about, not wanting to take endless cropped photos of myself (despite appearances to the contrary), and not reconciled with the fact that I am a mostly-unpaid freelance reflector, I've decided to become a doer. Not the capital "d" kind of doer, no no. Perhaps I should say a "maker." I've decided to bring my sewing skills to the test, to go beyond pillowcases and curtains and baby blankies to finally make clothes for myself and my little girl and littler boy...and hopefully friends and extended family and anyone else willing to don clothes that likely will be navy blue, polyester (read: can handle spilt milk, bean-burrito fingers, and countless machine washes), vintage-inspired, and possibly just the slightest bit off in places. My first project is this cap-sleeved shirt. I wore it to lunch yesterday and my very sweet and/or very polite friends didn't say anything negative about it, which of course gave me more than enough ammunition to keep going.

This morning I was thrilled to find that this vintage-Gucci-belt-as-necklace really works in a sort of modern art kind of way.

There's nothing quite like stumbling upon something in my closet and seeing it in a totally different, totally awesome light. Or maybe it's just the cloudy, windy day getting to my head. The kids were already on their third or fourth episode of Diego courtesy of Netflix, I'm supposed to be editing, doing dishes and laundry, and it was coooold outside.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Temporal Pleasures

Some things weren't meant to last forever, but that doesn't mean they can't make life more interesting and fun. A little bit of sweetness and love never gets old.

And because I have a hard time letting go of lovely things (including empty but beautiful and still chocolatey-smelling boxes of chocolates), I couldn't yet bring myself to throw out these adorable hang tags that were snipped off of a few recent purchases I made at Mars. Talk about effective marketing--the descriptions are so sweet and succinct, and the fact that they are handwritten totally sells me. They somehow bring back those feelings I had playing store as a kid, getting the due date stamped in my library books, and passing notes with my best friend during fifth period.

Times will change, but fortunately the presence of the human touch will never go out of style. I'm back in Berkeley tomorrow for a sewing class (finally facing my fear of interfacing!)...so it will be hard to resist a trip to Mars for more vintage treasures and more treasured hang tags. After all--and I may be revealing the full, frightful extent of my packratedness by asking this, but--what else should one do with those gorgeous, crinkly, sparkly gold plastic trays that once housed objects so divine?