August 12, 2018

Time's Up

I have been following the fashion industry for ten years, yet it has only been in the past few years I have truly sensed a seismic shift in our attitude towards fashion. Trends have come and gone...and come back, and technology has been a persistently disruptive force shaking the industry to its core (a topic I touched on back in 2010), but I believe what we are witnessing now is different. We are in the midst of a cultural change. Fashion tends to have a distinct characteristic every decade, and I wouldn't be surprised if we are right on the cusp of defining our current conviction. The present-day zeitgeist might not be revolutionary, but I would consider it revelationary -- an aha! moment where we realize, yes, fashion can be like this.

In addition to having impressive racial diversity on the runways lately, we have seen a move towards a new kind of look: one that is comfortable, casual, and even crazy. Labels which specialize in skate and hip-hop streetwear, such as Yeezy, Off-White c/o Virgil Abloh, Supreme, Vetements, and Fenty x Puma, have experienced meteoric rise. Our growing focus on health and wellness has brought activewear to the forefront, with Nike and Adidas actually rivalling the major fashion brands in footwear. Moreover, there is a deepening acceptance of 'anything goes' fashion, evoking crazy cat ladies, eccentric vagabonds, and hippie activists. Led by powerhouses Gucci, Balenciaga and Maison Margiela, layers and layers of clothing are thrown together to hide and obscure the lines of the body -- avant-garde style with urban sensibility. At what point in earlier years could we have thought to send such ugly clothing down the runway and still have people lap it up? Let's face it, the cool kids nowadays are wearing oversized hoodies, slip-on mules, laidback culottes, chunky runners, fanny packs, embellished slides, patched-up denim, socks with Birkenstocks, micro shades perched low on their noses, and yes, even platform Crocs (thank you, Balenciaga).

It is no coincidence this new aesthetic coincides with today's volatile sociopolitical landscape, where on the regular we encounter actions and speech crawling with undertones of intolerance, disrespect, and hate. What we are seeing is a response to our current reality with clothing that can become a canvas to bear our manifesto. A battle cry for diversity in the face of adversity. We climb up high with our megaphones but before we even have to speak up, what we wear declares: We don't have to look good. We just have to feel good -- about ourselves, about others, and about the world we live in.


To illustrate this modern mentality, let me take you for a walk down memory lane and chronicle the ascent of athleisure.

Our story starts off with American sportswear in the late 20th and early 21st century, fronted by designers such as Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Perry Ellis, Tommy Hilfiger and Michael Kors. This approach was exemplified by relaxed, unfussy separates which -- although influenced by the ease of sportswear -- were still appropriately dressy enough for social occasions. There had not yet been much focus on actual athletic gear...until 2005. That year, Adidas released Adidas by Stella McCartney, a collaboration I believe to this day remains highly underrated. McCartney was truly ahead of the times. She achieved the unfathomable: she changed my perception of gymwear and convinced me it was possible to exercise both my body and sense of style at the same time.


Shortly after, Lululemon began to gain traction with its derrière-defining yoga pants and zip-up hoodies with a distinguishing omega, and the brand became famous (or infamous) for making it socially acceptable to sport activewear casually outside of the gym. Perhaps, too acceptable. Being decked out in head-to-toe Lulu eventually became an object of ridicule. The way I see it, our obsession with athleisure sincerely started when Karl Lagerfeld outfitted his models in sneakers for Chanel Spring Couture 2014. At that time, who in their right mind would have ever thought to combine runners with the runway?! For Chanel, no less. And for haute couture, no less. Yet when the Kaiser speaks, we listen. The moment became a movement, and the movement became our #currentmood. Cool kicks started cropping up everywhere on both the streets and the runway, and soon enough, they stole the title for most pervasive trend. Even I caught the bug. I initially swore off rubber soles in high school (I did choose to identify with red soles, after all)...but now I own nine pairs of sneakers, most of which were acquired within the past year or so.


In 2018, sneakers are our stilettos, sports bras are our lingerie, and putting Ariana Grande's "God is a Woman" on repeat with a chia bowl and fresh pressed green juice in hand, a healthy mind and body are our mantra. One day, there will of course be a return to classic fashion. Elegance is eternal. But right now, we really need this new order. We really need the world to take notice. In our baggy logo-ed sweaters, our sleeves may be long, but our hearts are loud. The fire burns brightly within us and to those who think they can weaken our flame, you better listen up: times are changing, both in fashion and beyond.

Image Source: WWD, Viper Mag, The AustralianTrend Hunter, AOL

August 3, 2018

Nine West Gone South

Well, it's been a minute. Having taken a week off work for a staycation, I thought I would finally have more time to hunker down and blog. But of course, me being me, I scheduled myself full this week and haven't actually had a single day at home.

Today, however, I am here.

I have many things I'd like to catch up on, but the most recent of them is the bankruptcy of shoe retailer Nine West. In April 2018, Nine West filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the United States, and shortly after, began the widespread shuttering of its American and Canadian stores.


To say I was surprised would be an absolute lie. For years and years, Nine West stood out like a sore thumb (toe?). It attempted to mingle with the likes of Aldo, Town Shoes, and Call It Spring, but realistically, it was the awkward mother trying to fit in with her daughter's friends. There was something indescribably off about Nine West shoes. They appeared almost too stiff, as if their designers tried to sketch out the perfect shoe, but in the process, ended up trying too hard to draw within the lines. What I didn't see when I looked at a pair of Nine West shoes was the innate talent of someone who knew how to make a good shoe.

Nine West straddled an odd line between classy and trendy. It would take classic silhouettes -- stiletto pumps, ballet flats, penny loafers -- and plop on one or two crazy elements. Pumps fully covered in a floral print. Black flats with enormous bow ties. Loafers in metallic pink leather. Conceptually, I think Nine West was aiming to make quintessential shoes more unique and interesting -- good on them for that. In execution, however, they failed to rope the design elements together into a cohesive shoe. Like blindly pinning a tail on a donkey, the final result was disconcerting.


I never had the desire to walk into a Nine West store because in the few times I did venture through, I left feeling thoroughly uninspired. In light of its bankruptcy though, I decided to give it one last chance. I visited multiple stores over the course of a month, revisted the same stores in case the inventory was refreshed, and willed myself to find one, even just one, pair of shoes that I might consider buying. And yet I still came out with nothing.

Having monitored Nine West so closely for a month, I realized how poor the quality was relative to the price. The majority of footwear was made from synthetic materials and lacked the soothing lines of a well-shaped shoe. I picked up a few items, but as soon as I tried them on, they looked ungainly. The toe box was too wide, too stunted, too curved...the shoes just didn't look natural on the feet.


Nine West's bankruptcy only served to remind me why I never shopped there. In some ways, you could say it is sad to see so many giant retail chains closing down, but frankly, I think consumer spending speaks loud and clear when it comes to identifying which stores are underperforming. If you don't sell what people want, the truth is your space can be better utilized by someone else who does. The constant refining of the retail landscape is an inevitable response to the way of the world as defined by you, by me, and by us.

Image Source: Butterboom, BMG, Style Democracy