monsieur S.

This is a short text about a beautiful failure. It also serves as an intro for the sound file below. Whit Stillman, one of my favourite artists in the world, has agreed to be interviewed for the first recording of my podcast – a podcast which, in a way, I’ve created mostly in order to have an excuse to meet him. Monsieur Stillman said yes – unwisely, as some might argue – partly based on the fact that I am the owner of the twitter fan account dedicated to his gem The Cosmopolitans. There’s a certain chance that this also played a small part, or somehow this. Whatever his reasons may be, the fact is that the dream was realized one Friday morning in grey Paris.

There’s a famous motto stating “don’t meet your idols”: however, when it comes to this realized dream, I would say that this is definitely a case of “do everything you can to meet your idols, and when you do, don’t be an idiot”. Almost every sentence to come out of my mouth was awkward, hazed, and maybe worst of all, everything was executed excruciatingly slow. Three different languages got mixed up in my head, all the supposedly half-intelligent sentiments which I wanted to present as questions got terribly tangled up, until it actually got to a point where the two most lucid questions I managed to ask were about twitter and fashion, or how I most eloquently chose to put it, “people wearing stuff”. TWITTER AND FASHION. OH MY GOD.

So the devastating news: I was an idiot. This is the failure part. The extremely good news: Monsieur Stillman is, beyond a master of the rare kind where each of his works is unmissable, also someone who excels in the art of conversation and thus succeeded to say genuinely interesting things albeit my shortcomings. Below the sound file of our conversation you’ll find some of these things in writing, in case you wish to seize his astuteness without my interruptions.

In case that you do choose to listen to the conversation, you’ll find: a memory of watching Flashdance in Helsinki, different ideas about how the Metropolitan story could have been told, the augmentation of noses and asses, a blueberry tart which was able to find its way to Isaac Bashevis Singer, a claim regarding the superiority of Dior’s new look, and how the first months of 2019 might see The Cosmopolitans get the official go for 7 more episodes.

 

 

Whit Stillman in Le Peloton, Paris, January 2019

Being guided by the material
I don’t like the standard process that some people push for, which is to have sort of an idea of everything that’s happening in a story before you write: the idea of having a treatment, or an outline which you start with, and then you fill in the blanks with a screenplay. I find that our initial ideas tend to be very cliché, and very familiar, and very much derived from what we’ve seen before and what we think we’re supposed to do. And so I think, sometimes, you get to the better material when you go off the rails with an original idea and have to fix it: you know, have to sort of go with what the material, or the characters, are doing somewhat autonomously. When you’re guided by the material, rather than trying to shape and form the material too much, or manipulate it, or jerk it around like a marionette.

Defending the inside
In the case of Metropolitan, I think I probably started it with the idea of Tom Townsend being the protagonist, being the outsider character who comes into the group and all that: but I had had that experience, and at the end of the experience, I ended up being an insider and not an outsider. So I was writing from an insider perspective, defending the inside, and I couldn’t honestly take the outsider’s perspective and do the conventional thing. One of the weaknesses of popular cinema is that it is always trying to flatter the preconceptions and the biases of the audience, and it’s never in any way really educating the audience or bringing the audience into a different world, beyond their prejudices. In Metropolitan the prejudice that everyone would have going in is to hate the insiders’ group – the debutante types – and to like the outsider Fourrier socialist. But in the course of doing the story, I saw that I was in a situation where the Audrey character was much more sympathetic than the Tom Townsend character. He’s kind of thick, preoccupied with the wrong girl and ignoring the right girl, not being very nice to her. And the seemingly obnoxious Chris Eigeman character was really getting all the funny lines and all the insights. And the heart character was the Charlie – Taylor Nichols – character, who’s also the sociologist. And so, at one point I said, well, it’s really Audrey’s story, I’ll make it about her – and I tried to make it about her, but I had already done so much with Tom. So I said, well, I just have to let this be the way it is. It’s four protagonist characters with their different points of view.

The people who are least enjoying debutante parties are the debutantes
The Gossip Girl version of the debutante would be these heartless rich girls, where in fact the people who are least enjoying debutante parties are the debutantes. So a lot of the girls are having the party under the misconception that it’s about them, and that they’re the centre of attention, and they’re embarrassed, and awkward, and unhappy. And it’s not that, you know, you could also just be, well, it’s a party, get over yourselves.

You have to have a lack in order to have something else
Sometimes when a film is not being well received by critics, in where I feel it should have been better received by critics, let’s say, I find that their approach isn’t really to actually get involved in what happens in the film, but it’s like they have a checklist. Like, maybe there’s some interesting dialogue, and some funny jokes, but there’s no forward momentum, or there’s no “plot”, or there’s no tension. And the thing is, everything that you have is also going to be a lack. And you have to have a lack, in order to have something else. So, generally, if you have jokes or something funny happening, then you’re not gonna have tension, and plot, and forward momentum. You sort of can’t. I mean, I think that there are a few cases when people have been able to do that, and it’s really wonderful – I admit it’s wonderful. But generally, if you have one thing you’re not gonna have the other. So I think that this idea, this sort of checklist approach to evaluating something, is a misfire.

Oh yes
Oh yes. Well, I try just to ignore it [it = identity politics] as much as I can.

The great thing is really just loving people completely different
You know, I find it very, very strange, people saying how important it is for them to have all their artists from the same background as themselves. Occasionally, you do hit upon a writer who’s sort of close to you in certain ways, but the great thing is really just loving people completely different.

She’s the only writer where I can’t think of a sentence she wrote that I don’t feel close to
Jane Austen is the writer who with I identify the most, and so, what is my connection to an 18th century British maiden woman? She’s the only writer where I can’t think of a sentence she wrote that I don’t feel close to. With almost every other writer it’s… I guess the first writer who affected me a lot was these very romantic, early novels and stories of S. Scott Fitzgerald. It really affected me because I was fifteen, I had known how the world was, so this fantasy was very appealing; and at the same time, I was meeting people from that world, and so it created my interest in it. But now I can’t really read those anymore. The early works I find really, really flawed. His first novel is nonsense. It’s really nonsense.

I don’t see realism, naturalism, as particular virtues. They’re without moral aesthetic content
One of the tensions I find in doing films is that I like formality, and I like uniforms, and traditional outfits of various kinds, and I’m living in a very, very informal, casual world. So casualness, informality, grunginess, are really dominant – but I don’t like to show it. So, how can I get away from that? How can I do the kind of world I like looking at – in the present day? And so everything is changed, stylized. I mean, I don’t see realism, naturalism, as particular virtues. They’re without moral aesthetic content. The worship of various ideas of vérité – I find that very misplaced.

mon tiff

Peter Lindbergh, Vogue September 1989, via Christopher Barnard

les épaules exceptionnels de ‘boomerang’

Boomerang, 1992. Costume designer: Francine Jamison-Tanchuck

comment on dit ‘prodigieux’ ?

John Galliano returns, in a stupendous coat, to his childhood neighbourhood in east London and takes the bus

newspaper père

[Arena Homme+, Fall/Winter 2017]

This editorial is brilliant, its title is even more brilliant, seeing Maurizio Cattelan reading a torn newspaper is brilliant, Haley Baldwin’s boredom is brilliant and Stevie Dance living in Paris is brilliant.

a love letter to Alexander Fury, or: the future of fashion, a treatment

About a month ago Alexander Fury, one of the important voices in the fashion media today – one might even dare to argue, the most important of them all – penned a succinct manifesto regarding the Future of Fashion. Yes, with double capital F’s.

This is really and truly an event, first and foremost because each of Fury’s texts, especially those published in the past two years during which his voice has become clearer and louder in the best possible sense, can count as a micro-event. Our fatigued minds, wary of the still-exploding big bang of opinions, views, hot and cold takes, might stray and succumb to the relativist illusion of “everyone matters”; and yet it is exactly this multiplied background noise which makes real voices – if and when they are able to reach a crystallised state – echo and reverberate more influentially than ever before.

Also, not just another text by Fury, this is a full-fledged manifest – besides Fashion and Future, its third key F-word is Freedom – and as such, it calls for considerable attention.

So, how do we go about when our Favourite Fashion Frère has laid before us the grounds for a new kind of juncture, asserting that “a revolution is the only way to jolt us out of complacency”? The declarative form demands a committed response, and so it is only natural to take directions from a pivotal pop-culture format which perfected the art of committed responses: the reality index by Chris Rovzar and Jessica Presler.

Emerging exactly a decade ago, every week the index obsessively graded the plausibility factor in the latest episode of Gossip Girl, which was then widely – well, depending on your ideological stance towards the definition of ‘widely’ – considered as The Greatest Show of Our Time, back in those 2007 naive days, predating the Netflix nation.

Following that journalistic achievement, here is a truth index tallying up Fury’s roaring Mishnah. Because remember, dear boys and girls, in this world there is right and there is wrong, and don’t you let anybody tell you otherwise. Here we go.

Right: Fury begins his article by emphasising the nature of fashion as change itself: “[Fashion] is, by its very nature, malleable and mutable, each season transforming itself, and hopefully you, into something new”.

Wrong: It is vital to adjoin technology to this distinction, not just as means or as medium – which Fury obviously touches upon later in his text – but technology as, besides fashion, the other pure form of change.

It was about five years ago when Kurt Andersen published his too-long essay in Vanity Fair, basically suggesting technology consumed the newness aspect of fashion. Even though his thesis is wrong, and has never proved more wrong than in the recent Spring 2018 show season, trying to understand these two superpowers as adjacent is indeed a critical intuition. Not in the poor sense of “wearables”, and not even in the deeper sense which Fury duly refers to, the sense of being utterly transformed by the digital experience. Abstraction here is key, as there is nothing more abstract than The Future.

Right: When tackling the character of the Designer of the Future, Fury is considering Alessandro Michele and his method of “pulling from a wide-ranging and esoteric landscape of references” as a possible mould.

Wrong: Michele is the designer of the very near future, as in the next-second future, as in the now – and yet the present in this discussion’s context carries zero value. Michele might geniusly perceive how to treat the past as his own to take, but this creation mode is fascinating only as a mode, not as creation. He does not produce clothes, he produces posts. And while it is interesting to watch a major fashion house goes full-on millennial, relating to the real world solely as #content, it is neither a sustainable future nor a welcomed one. It is no wonder that the last Gucci show was adorned with one literal message, “resist”: Michele is effectively resisting his role as a fashion designer, replacing it with the position of a social media manager. Looking further than the immediate present, the visuals from the Gucci runways will be as relevant as used @fuckjerry memes. To include Michele within the supergroup of designers who light the way forward isn’t just wrong, it’s a sin.

Right: Fury notes that a key element in this überdesigner – not the sleazy company, the Nietzschean concept – is that for all those who subscribe to this definition, the novelty is embedded in the culture surrounding the clothes, all the while circling back to the clothes themselves. “It isn’t just about the clothes; it’s about the entire universe each of them has been able to create […] Yet those worlds all lead back to the clothes”.

Wrong: In 2017, you cannot talk about the circle of clothes-culture-clothes and not include Demna Gvasalia as a crucial force within it. If Michele, as we already alleged, is mainly treating clothes and culture as an ongoing joke, then it is Gvasalia who has the real guts to face it all. It might be interesting to note here that Fury himself had in the past posited those two in another text with a declarative title, “These Two Guys Are Changing The Way We Think About Fashion”. While it is usually Gvasalia who is being misjudged for his cynicism, he is the one who aroused newness that cannot be mistaken.

We can start outlining the circle anywhere. For example, a starting point can count as the “COLLAR” collar, opening in basic black the Spring 2015 show. Culturally speaking, you can just about blindly pinpoint anywhere across the globe, around which spreads a universe of images that show how completely changed is even the way in which people choose to present their clothes – it suffices to take a look at every giant fast-fashion site, and note how the body pose itself has morphed into a burned-out sort of standing, almost falling, profile position. Feel like closing the circle of influence, before opening it up again? It’s that huge red tent, which might also be referred to as a puffer coat, which is a Balenciaga by Gvasalia creation, shabbily eternalised by Mark Borthwick. Joining the Cristobal glory of radical construction with the most frowned-upon touristic item is newness by definition, which must not be overlooked.

Right vs Wrong, summing it all up: when inspecting The Future of Fashion, the right thing to do would be to see technology, history and politics not just as influential or even critical in the way they relate to fashion, but to see if we can elevate fashion as an equal force within these spheres.

Then again, that might not be the most appropriate material for Harpers’ Bazaar. And so, once again and as always, Alexander Fury is right.