June 21, 2015

Closing the Gap

Gap has been having a tumultuous year. Back when former Creative Director Rebekka Bay left the company in late January, I posted on Facebook that I would address the issue...eventually. Turns out my procrastination has somewhat worked in my favour, as it was just announced this week that Gap would be closing 175 stores.

Let's start from the beginning. Patrick Robinson was hired on at Gap back in 2007 to revive the brand. He was a vibrant character, and he brought with him a youthfulness and hope that the company could shed its bland exterior and strike a note with buyers once again. I don't think he quite managed to accomplish the company's goals, as it was only until late 2011 that I found a Gap item worth blogging about. But as luck will have it, Robinson had already been dismissed earlier that year.

Another year later, enter Rebekka Bay. The irony is, Bay was brought on for the same reason Robinson was: to revive the company. Once a boulder starts rolling, there's little you can do to stop it. The revival efforts just kept on coming, one after another. There has to be a point when one realizes revival has simply become a desperate fight for survival. Under Bay, the brand lost what little lustre it had left. It was selling incredibly dull basics - khakis, t-shirts, blazers - with absolutely no unique design elements. They were just khakis, just t-shirts, and just blazers. On occasion, there were one or two pieces that'd pique my interest, but more often than not, I'd walk into a Gap store and be bored by the end of it. Gap fell into what I call the Bermuda Triangle of fashion retail. Average quality, average prices, average design - deadly middle ground that leaves customers halfhearted and uncommitted.

So then fast forward to 2015. Rebekka Bay has been removed - in fact, her entire position has been removed. Gap stated it would fly without a pilot, opting instead to leave design responsibilities to a team. Having a design team run the show isn't a bad thing (see: fast fashion retailers, Maison Martin Margiela's old model), and I was very curious about what would come out of it. As they say, two heads are better than one. Perhaps what Gap needed was just a bit of diversity.

But in February, Gap hired Wendi Goldman as the Executive Vice President of Product Design and Development. While the position in of itself was new, Goldman had essentially taken over Bay's role. The brief headless-design-team experimentation was over, and now we find ourselves in present time, with 175 Gap stores set to close in North America and Europe. The white flags are up, and defeat is in the horizon.

I understand the history of the company as quintessential American sportswear, and am sad to see that in this case, sticking to one's roots is like shooting poison into one's veins. I do believe there is a place in the market for casual separates with an all-American flair, but the pieces need to be done right. There needs to be either quality construction or unique design. After all, wardrobe basics can be bought for a couple bucks from fast fashion retailers - Gap needs to prove it has more to offer.

Image Source: GQ, Elle, Social Broadcast Network

June 7, 2015

Welcome Home

The city I go to university in has terribly underwhelming shopping malls, which means I find myself deprived of high-end window shopping for practically 8 months a year. So when summer rolls around, I try to hit up Holt Renfrew and Nordstrom at least once a month. Walking into these stores is like falling into a warm embrace that welcomes me home and comforts me with the promise of great fashion. Here are a couple of highlights from my latest adventures:

Theory Ruffle Shirtdress

My first encounter with Theory was with one of its impeccable blazers. I was in high school, finally confronted with the trials and tribulations of finding a job. Back then, I only had enough credentials for retail sales associate or office admin postings, but my parents insisted early on that I always present myself as a professional - which meant shopping for blazers and business pants. In my quest to find the perfect blazer, Theory stood out as a winner. Theory blazers are divinely tailored, skimming the body in all the right places to create a crisp silhouette. But it wasn't a blazer that made me stop in my tracks during my most recent shopping trip to Holt Renfrew...it was a shirtdress. I quite like the look of shirtdresses (see: Now that's what I call menswear-inspired), but this ruffled number from Theory took it to the next level. Not only was it tailored to a T, the ruffle at the hip highlighted the tension between dressy and casual. Juxtaposition - what I consider one marker of good fashion.

Balenciaga Wire Shopping Tote

I first came across this tote in a fashion magazine, and already then I fell in love with it. So when I saw the bag displayed in Holt Renfrew, I had to take a closer look. The lines were clean and minimal, and the tote exuded a slicing industrial edge. I loved the use of rough metal wire against the flawless leather and gleaming gold logo plate. It's one of those cheeky items that reminds us some of the best fashion comes with a good sense of humour.

Alexander Wang Sneaker Bag

Speaking of humour, Alexander Wang is chalk full of it with his latest sneaker bag. No, this is not exactly the prettiest of handbags, but it is definitely among the most creative. My curiosity was initially piqued by the two air bubbles; I remember thinking I had never seen anything like that on a handbag. It wasn't until I turned the bag to its side that I saw the heel of a sneaker materialize. I was floored. What a great design concept! While you might not carry this for purely aesthetic reasons, you could very well carry it to make a statement.

Valentino Rainbow Rockstuds

Being the Red-Soled Fashionista, most people tend to think I'll spend my first paycheque on a pair of Christian Louboutins. Even though I certainly love the famous red soles, my dream shoe is actually a pair of Valentino Rockstud flats. I have lusted after Rockstuds ever since the they first appeared parading down the Fall/Winter 2010 RTW runway. It won't be my first paycheque, but one day, I do plan on being a proud owner of Valentino. While I will likely buy these now-iconic flats in red (staying true to my blog in some way), I found this multi-coloured version a fun way of transforming a classic pair of flats into a trendier option for potentially new audiences. I'd never invest in this rainbow rendition, but I certainly do appreciate it.

Mackage Arrow Bag

I feel as if I've come across the name Mackage before, but despite having heard of the brand, I don't recall having ever seen one of its products in person. Our official meeting, therefore, was at Holt Renfrew when I saw this Mackage arrow bag. The body of the bag is a design typical of our modern minimalism - angular and spare - but I found the silver arrow closure an adorable feature. To unlock the purse, one must twist the arrow 90 degrees and slide it out. I can imagine all the cool girls deftly unlocking and locking their purses with an insouciant air, making this particular sleight of hand more coveted than the handbag itself.

Kate Spade Shira Glitter Sunglasses

As I've mentioned before, Nordstrom is a gold mine for sunglasses. What I found on my latest trip there was golden - literally. I have a guilty attraction to things glittery and sparkly (but classy, not tacky), and these Kate Spade shades were just begging me to try them on. I've been searching for a new pair of glasses over the past year, and I've come to find that cat eye glasses just don't jive with my face shape. So I actually wasn't expecting these sunglasses to look so good! The bridge fit my flat nose, which helped the frame sit up past my eyebrows (a rule of thumb my dad has passed on to me). When I put the sunglasses on, they felt so right and looked so chic. It's rare that a pair of glasses melds so well with my face structure, continuing the lines of my visage like an artist with a slick wrist. Maybe it's not that I can't do cat eye frames - I just need to find the right one!

Kotur Glitter Globe Clutch

On another glittery note, I found this stunning Kotur Glitter Globe Clutch as I walked inside a boutique selling evening attire along a hip and artsy avenue. As a kid, I remember having a fascination with shaking snow globes as hard as I could, and as it turns out, that childish quirk can be satisfied even as an adult. Once shaken, the outer shell of this perspex clutch fills with glitter. The glitter you see in the centre is actually a sparkly pouch that can be removed to make the clutch entirely see-through, giving you options for different looks. I'm obsessed with this idea of dynamic fashion, where movement and metamorphosis play a role in making your outfit wholly unique. This clutch strikes me as a more elegant approach to Christopher Kane's gel-filled clutches (which I also adore!), and I would highly recommend checking out Kotur's other gorgeous creations.

Image Source: TheoryBalenciaga, Alexander Wang, Valentino, MackageKate Spade, Kotur

May 14, 2015

Who Wore it Better

FYI, I've been absent for a while because I've started working full-time for the summer again! I'll try to keep up this blog, but between my new summer job (which I am LOVING, by the way) and my continued involvement as Managing Editor at a fashion company, I'm left with few hours in a day. I do have a lot of blog ideas though, so check in occasionally!

It's been a long time since I've been to the mall to try on some clothes. The last time I documented my window shopping adventures was during the summer in Dressing for the Occasion, so when I went out shopping with a friend last month to help her pick out a dress for our banquet, I thought it was time to bring back my ever-classy changing room selfies.

P.S.: I take these photos with my ancient Blackberry 8520, so you'll have to bear with me on the photo quality. And full disclosure: the photos are edited in order to bring out the colour that gets washed out when you pair a Blackberry camera with changing room lighting.

BCBGMAXAZRIA Suzy Draped Asymmetrical Silk Dress

I saw this BCBGMAXAZRIA dress displayed on a hanger and fell in love with it. It had so many design elements that I adore - sheer silk, gloriously long butterfly sleeves, a belt to create shape, and an asymmetrical hem - all done in a pretty pale pink. I had to try it on.

Sadly, the dress was no longer a shining image of perfection once I put it on. Don't get me wrong, the top half was fantastic. The sleeves were so ethereal and elegant that I am now contemplating including butterfly sleeves on my dream wedding dress. But the asymmetrical hem? That needed to go back to the drawing table. You can see in the photo that the skirt criss-crosses over itself - looks decent in the photo; looks messy in real life. The shorter tail of the skirt flapped awkwardly around my right side, and my legs did not look flattering with the odd placement and shape of the slit. Unless you plan on doing the Angelina Jolie pose all night, this dress is better left on the hanger.

Forever 21 Bejeweled Chiffon Suplice Romper

If you've been with this blog since its early stages, you'll probably know by now that I never buy anything from Forever 21. However, I do have friends that shop there, and as a regular window shopper, I try on everything - from high-end to low-end. I picked up this romper from Forever 21 because the embellishment and plunging neckline caught my eye.

I do tend to prefer lower necklines, as higher necklines make me feel constricted, but even so, I have never worn a V-neck this deep before without a camisole underneath. While I would definitely need tape to keep the neckline in place, I found the long sleeves and bejeweled strap helped keep the look classy and more within my comfort zone (and the fact that flat chests make plunging necklines look high fashion helped...). As for the rest of the romper, my friend commented on how short the shorts were, but I actually didn't mind because they were done in a fancier fabric and looser design. What I did have a problem with was the shape. The ultimate cheap quality of the romper caused the shorts to flare out and the elastic waist to look bulky. But luckily, it doesn't matter because my conservative mother would never let me out of the house in this anyway! (Love you, mom)

Forever 21 Metallic Knit Maxi Dress

There is an obvious colour difference here, but I honestly can't remember what the true colour of this maxi dress was. Nonetheless, I don't think I remember it being as light as the photo on the right. This dress was actually decent - I have no major qualms about it (but no major praises for it either). The only thing I personally didn't like was how the arm holes cut in. I find my upper arms to be a little chubby, and I hate it when tops cut in to reveal my shoulders. As a result, I thought I looked slightly top-heavy, and along with the showy metallic fabric, found myself strangely feeling like Lady Gaga with her shoulder pads.

Image Source: Bloomingdales, Forever 21

April 23, 2015

You Don't Have to Try

As I worked in the office last summer, there was a song I jammed to that had inspired me to write a blog post. The song was 'Try' by Colbie Caillat.

Obviously, it's been a year since I was listening to this song at my desk, and I've only now gotten around to typing up the post. Although I think the timing is actually perfect because I recently had an experience that gives me a - not necessarily new - but better understanding of the issue at hand.

What I want to talk about today is makeup. My mom has always been a strong proponent of no-makeup, and has been firm about wanting me to look natural. As a result, my encounters with makeup were few and far between. I used to wear it as a kid when I performed in The Nutcracker ballet on stage, and wore some of it during my Grade 12 graduation. For things like job interviews or events, I will generally swipe on some lipstick. Day-to-day, I wear absolutely no makeup.

While the lyrics of this song aren't groundbreaking, it was the message that resonated with me. I remember girls in my junior high who depended on their mascara; to be seen without it was their worst nightmare. But I think as Caillet would say: that's not the point of makeup.

Why should you care what they think of you,
When you're all alone by yourself,
Do you like you?

First and foremost, you need to love yourself. Makeup is most powerful when it's clear you would be just as confident about who you are without it. I've always admired girls who aren't afraid to post photos of themselves bare-faced because it shows that when they do put on makeup, it's for their own happiness - not for the approval of others. Makeup is about enhancing the natural beauty you have, but if you don't like who you are underneath, then makeup will only ever be a mask.

I mentioned the timing of this post is particular because, just recently, my friend agreed to help show me what I would look like with makeup on. She came over to apply eyeshadow, eyeliner and lipstick:

I wanted to share this because putting makeup on helped me change the way I look at myself. I used to be so jealous of girls who were pretty, wondering why I wasn't graced with the genes to look as stunning. I used to hate taking off my glasses because I thought my eyes looked awfully tired and flat. Yet as you can see, I'm not wearing glasses in these photos - and that's a big deal for me. I have never taken a photo of myself without glasses, nor have I ever been so happy to see myself without them.

But the real moral of the story here happened when I took my makeup off that night.  I looked at my once-again bare face, and realized that the features I so loved with makeup on were still there. I realized that the eyes I once thought were dull were actually quite wide and exploring, that the lips I hated for being too big were actually nicely plump, and the face I always thought was too wide was actually due to the way my cheeks pop when I smile.  Funny how I had to see myself with makeup in order to love myself without it.

I still adore the way I look with makeup, and I have a whole new appreciation for what a simple cat eye can do. I would definitely wear makeup again if I had the chance, but day-to-day, I will continue without it because I know I don't need it to feel good about myself. After all, the most important question you have you ask yourself is: do you like you?

April 12, 2015

Color Me Beautiful

Blondes have more fun. Redheads have a fiery personality. We've all heard of these sayings, and we all know amazing people who prove that, at the end of the day, these are simply stereotypes. Nonetheless, these expressions got me thinking: what does my hair color say about me?

Before we can even begin to delve into this question, I must first establish what my hair color is. I have what most people would classify as black hair:

Those with dark hair are said to be reserved, sophisticated, intelligent and mature. I mean, sure, I'll happily take those descriptors! But joking aside, I actually don't think these are all too far from the truth. I am very shy and timid (socially awkward is my middle name), and despite having a blog where I talk about me and my thoughts for days on end, I'm actually quite uncomfortable being under the spotlight. In real life, I prefer to be the one asking questions - the quiet observer. My sense of style errs on the side of sophistication and elegance, and while I won't call myself intelligent, I do value brains over beauty. School and career have always been my top priorities, which in hindsight, has helped me avoid all the craziness of the infamous teenage phase. I've always been known as mature, to the point even my Grade 5 BFF knew ten years ago that I'd grow up to be the type to relax with a glass of wine after work. So far, it appears I'm fulfilling all the stereotypes.

But wait!

In a plot twist worthy of a Christopher Nolan film, my hair isn't actually black. It's a dark brown. I once had a confused classmate ask me if I dyed my hair because under direct sunlight, it becomes a warm golden brown. I also specifically selected the above photo of myself because my hair happened to reflect a blue-ish tinge from the late afternoon sun streaming through my window. All in all, there's more to it than meets the eye, and I like to think the same can be said of me. For those who get to know me, they might realize I have a deep passion for fashion and writing, that I speak in strange self-made accents when I get particularly hyper, and that I love laughing (sometimes loudly and uncontrollably).

In the end, it's not about what your hair color says about you - it's about what you make it say. Because hey, I may not be blonde, but I sure do have a lot of fun.

I teamed up with Madison Reed to share my thoughts on hair color and personality. Madison Reed is a hair care company that specializes in hair dye free of PPD, sulfates, resorcinol, ammonia and gluten.

April 3, 2015

A New Chapter

I can't believe it's already been one year since my business faculty's year-end banquet (which I documented in This Is the End). How time flies. Last night, I attended yet another banquet, but this time, it served to celebrate our graduation. However, while my friends mark an end to a chapter in their lives, I am staying behind one more year to complete my dual degree program. I have yet to feel the buzz of excitement and nervousness of my peers as they advance into real world, but I am filled with both happiness and sadness as I see them begin their new adventures, knowing that I cannot join them. I wish them all the best, and know that they will do great things.

I'm pictured here with two friends on my left and right, both looking fabulous. For myself, I actually chose to wear the same outfit as the one I wore to a fashion show last month. The only things I changed were my hair, tights, and nails. I've mentioned before that my own attempts at curling my hair have never quite been that successful, but this time around, my wonderful friend offered to do it for me. The results are definitely worth applauding considering my hair is very flat and hard to work with:

The same friend also lent me her Essie Merino Cool nailpolish, which I applied literally an hour or two before the banquet was to start  It was my first time using Essie nailpolish, and I loved it! The brush was tiny enough for a clean application, and the formula went on very smoothly. Essie, along with Joe Fresh, are definitely on to my list of best nail polish brands. As for tights, I had opted for classier opaque tights during the fashion show, and so decided to go with sheer patterned tights for the banquet.

Overall, I had a fantastic time. There was dancing at the end of the night, and despite my generally reserved character, dancing is one activity I absolutely love. When I finally got the chance to make my way to the dance floor, my night was made right then and there. But more importantly, I was surrounded by the company of great friends who provided plenty of laughs throughout the night. The banquet was likely the last time I will see many of my friends, but the bond we've developed over the course of our time together will stay with us for years to come. And perhaps one day, if our paths cross once more in the next chapter of our lives, we'll pick up right where we left off.

March 21, 2015

Beauty or the Beast?

"Can any fashion item be worn with the right styling, or are there things people just shouldn't wear?"

That was a question a friend of mine broached while eyeing a blouse that regrettably resembled a hospital gown.  I'm ashamed to admit the question gave me pause. I've been critiquing fashion for years now, yet I don't have a neatly packaged answer for what makes fashion...ugly?  I half-blurted, half-mumbled some poorly articulated answer:

"It's not about the piece itself.  It's all about fit, quality, and...um, yeah, fit and quality."

Shameful.  Despite being a writer, I'm actually really, really horrible at articulating myself in real life. But pushing aside my fumbling answer, I do think I was on the right track.  I started pondering the idea again when my friend messaged me lamenting the return of high-waisted pants.  I, on the other hand, welcomed the trend, and it made me wonder why there was a difference in how we both perceived the attractiveness of those waist-defining (and crotch-lengthening) bottoms.  How do we get away with critiquing fashion and giving it our "yes" or "no" seal of approval?  Can we really call something unflattering when it's all in the eye of the beholder?

To begin, there are certain things I look for when I discern whether fashion is ugly or not:

1) Fit

If something doesn't fit, there's a much higher chance you don't look good in it.  It doesn't mean the item has to be skintight (and following the oversized trend doesn't mean you can go baggy as baggy goes), but that the seams and cutting hit where they're supposed to hit.

2) Quality

I've seen so many outfits that look good from afar, yet once I venture closer, the pilling fabric, unraveling stitching, and lack of structure make the outfits exceedingly average. That strange, curved shoulder jacket may be the most unflattering thing you've seen, but at least it's well-made - and that is something worth admiring.  Being a broke university student, I know how difficult finding quality pieces at reasonable prices can be, so my trick is to go for pieces that look expensive but don't necessarily leave a massive dent in your bank account (stores like H&M or Joe Fresh, and any killer clearance sales are my saviours).

3) Design

Design and quality work hand in hand. A basic white tee might not have much in terms of design, but the quality of its construction is what makes it special. Nonetheless, a garment that has some element of original thought put into it deserves appreciation.  For example, I own a Prada sweater that looks like any simple V-neck grey sweater, but on closer inspection, one notices there is slight ruching along the shoulders done with exposed black stitching.  It adds just that extra bit of depth to the top, and it's something unique, even if it's something only I know about.

But overall, what makes fashion look good is something that goes beyond the specifics into a more holistic perspective that, ultimately, makes it all subjective.  Because no matter what one person may call ugly, I know I'll find keen street stylers who pull it off like they're wearing Dior Couture. And so that brings me to a fourth point:

4) Confidence

The final, most important ingredient.  This is the one element that trumps all.  If you feel great in that hospital gown blouse, and you walk out there holding your head high, then no question, that blouse looks good.  Anyone can wear anything.  The right styling and awareness of one's body shape definitely helps, but it's confidence and daring that wows me, not "good" style.

At the end of the day, every fashion item/trend/look has the potential to be flattering, as long as the wearer first and foremost believes in it.  Everything works.  Nothing's ugly. Unfortunately, a lot of the "ugly" slander gets thrown at high fashion, runway looks. Understand that what goes down the runway is not necessarily meant to be worn as is on the streets.  Runway looks are exaggerated, meant to give us a good show, and designed to speak to our wildest creative fantasies. The runway acts as a conduit for trends, ideas, and sociopolitical messages.  Tell me, can you really call that ugly?

Image Source: Photo1, 2