Crotchety in Westwood at Westwood

We strolled last week down Memory Lane. Not, to be sure, our own, but that of a visiting out-of-town friend, who worked in film in 1990s Los Angeles. Our template was Melrose Avenue, where we walked a reasonable length, (a contradiction: to ambulate in southern California beyond the mailbox is to be instantly declasse) from La Cienega east to Wasteland, a second-hand store we understand is largely unchanged from our friend’s prowling years ago. We noticed high prices, above end-of-season sale rates, for much-worn pieces. We noticed our age, too. The music was far too loud and the light too low. Girls wandered through the gloom in states of semi-dress, trying items on in mirrors fixed to architectural columns. Only as they departed, so meagerly clothed, did the intelligence of their efficient changing-room outfits become clear.    

The city’s retail transformations might, paradoxically, be more evident to recent and infrequent visitors to Los Angeles, like us here at Gyun Gyun. There are on Melrose and elsewhere long stretches of high-rent spaces empty, creating segregated and no-go spaces within the famously patchwork neighbourhoods of the city. The dialectic effect is of a hyper segregation of geography at the same time that, as we have remarked elsewhere in these pages, a much greater diversity of Americans are bravely patronising neighbourhoods historically closed—except as staff—to them.        

Our friend came of age and self with Vivienne Westwood, whose tall, light-stone store looms incommensurably on a corner lot arm’s-length from the self-consciously luxurious stores of Melrose Place. With its VIP space upstairs and rooftop garden, the store evokes a mistaken urbanity, of a Parisian atelier placed clumsily like a monument on the Washington Mall. 

We have had over the years similarly bewildering in-store experiences. Where other sellers of rebellious, liberating, and identity-transforming clothes have tended to be welcoming and encouraging (when not grooming), the Westwood staff have always been impressively cold and standoffish, with a remarkable, almost trained, consistency. Maybe it’s a “punk” thing?        

On one such occasion, we mistook such negligence for tasteful discretion, only to look up from a rack of clothes terminating behind the counter, where staff were idly scrolling the Huffington Post homepage. As we exited the store we loudly praised the Westwood/The Rug Company rug near the street entrance. Finally sure of an audience, we slowly dug our toe into its surface. “I have the bigger version.”   

This visit the staff were much more lively, showing consideration and efficiency to walk-in shoppers while they operated at much-reduced capacity, though not without that familiar suggestion of effortful patience. The clothes don’t quite work for us here at GG-like Punk music an artistic dead-end, at their best an Edwardian style and texture put to better, more progressive use by Burton at McQueen. Neither did the prices suit our guest. We each took home a neatly coloured pub/football towel at what we thought a fair 75 USD. One can never have too many towels near the beach. 

Before entering the store, we made a small queue with a young couple arrived shortly after us. The man, unusually tall and thin, wore a black, logoed, ironic-synthetic athletic warm-up suit. The sun was out and it was warm. He campily puffed a heavily flavoured cheroot, bringing to mind a clammy Jimmy Savile. His partner was heavily made-up, with a gyroscope eye which, though her head was invariably turned away, would at intervals fix on us a level stare.

“Who makes that bag? Lanvin?”

“You have a good…eye. Wow. Yes, it is.”

He nodded and half-turned his head to exhale. A mock-propriety amidst virus-shy regulations. 

“How much was that?”

We alternate between policies of inquiry and disclosure on cost. For a time we thought it a cutely anti-bourgeois line of conversation. On reflection it seems a dubious way to start a revolution. To his direct question we thought the only move a straightforward reply.

“21. Or 25?”

We cringed at our own abbreviation. Surely that is only on when there are at least two more zeroes in play.

He nodded. 

“Seen the new collaboration with Gallery Dept.?”

“In fact, I just read the email this morning…”

“Those are going to be rare. Expensive.”

“Oh?” Doubt concealed with quick agreement. “I’m sure. They looked interesting.”

“They’ll be hot.”

He nodded confidently.

Such genuity regarding fashion betrayed the man as an avid consumer rather than insider. And who, apart from fans of older Lanvin womenswear (we’re sure we’re the only ones who half-heartedly collected the old men’s) would spot their latest bags? Both a Paul Smith and a Loewe employee misidentified ours as Loewe since we started wearing it. We were impressed by this young man’s research.

The exchange raised questions for us on the future of legacy fashion houses. Here was embodied proof of the excitement of the drop/dump/collaboration. Hype for its own sake; utterly false rumour of limited quantities; truly dubious artistic merit. And yet, clearly this young man was a serious shopper: the future. What then, does that future look like for the big houses? Should they remove the fixed designer entirely, rotating as they do now between teams, like relief pitchers or football goalkeepers, and set up shop as so many art galleries, lending their logos to a changing cast of influencers, who will dump/drop/collab a remix on the hype-hungry?  

Bag Bumming

My new daily driver is Lanvin’s “Hook” Bag. It is large and structured, so that I can load it with all the necessaries of a full day out, yet also flexible enough for a tight space; between people or car seats. It is also thrillingly unisex, with a sturdy, comfortable strap that can produce purse, tote, and even backpack effects. Adjusting it is a pleasure, since it fastens with a tasteful loop stamped with the Lanvin text logo. The hardware has discreet house logos, too, and the eagle-eyed (a rep at the local Loewe store not among them; she thought it was one of their own) will note the “JL” stitching of the strap. 

The bag is elegant and luxurious, but not too “cutely” shaped. It serves very well on days we haven’t the strength to trade in “well, men’s bags aren’t pretty-deal with it!” defiance.

On receipt of it from Lanvin’s K11 Musea Hong Kong store, I didn’t think of reviewing or filming it. I just wanted to cram our things in it and use it. That process was a relief, too, as I transferred my cards to the attached wallet. For years now I’ve used a Valentino rockstud fold wallet. A pleasure to use and pretty, the studs nevertheless required careful attention to avoid scratching other leather accessories in a shared tote. The (permanent?) retirement of the Valentino and the personal revelation of the attached wallet-how many discarded bags have misshapen, abused, royal like the currency they nobly carried, these little flags separated from their bodies, waving in surrender?-gave me a delightfully carefree feeling. 

Perhaps too carefree. After a midweek lunch I stepped into a local Whole Foods grocery store for a single item: peanut butter for post-exercise smoothies. 

Whole Foods stores in this area resemble nothing so much as a singles bar. Shopping expensively, in their sexiest athleisure wear, the no-longer-quite youth here describe the very kernel of their souls by the food they (don’t) eat. There has always in this location been bouncers, too. They have since it opened nearly a decade ago had a preoccupation with imagined theft (of what?), and employ patrolling security at all hours.

So it was, dressed thus

that we entered for a precision grab of organic peanut butter. I picked from the shelf the nearest container and brought it to my chest before, superstitiously, remembering to replace it for an “untouched” container at the back of the shelf, no matter that I already handled the “dirtier” one. 

Quarry in hand I made for the checkout. But first, I made to extract the attached wallet from the Hook bag. Pulling on the leather strap it was rapidly reeled to the surface. My hands though, were still damp with hand sanitizer from entering the store. Concerned, unnecessarily, with the leather finish, I attempted to unzip the wallet while exposing it to the minimum surface area of hands and fingers.

Although I have long since lost any shame at the public display of “women’s bags,” I also feel no need to advertise this little gender rebellion in a “conservative” (that is to say, anti-cosmopolitan) locale. I half-turned for privacy, still by the peanut butter, to learn the best use of the wallet, struggling in a pinched chicken wing posture, sawing ineffectually at the string zipper.
Card in hand I waited in line behind a family of three, the father, trim and outdoorsy, negotiating with his daughter, whose head reached just below the terminal, about who should conduct their card transaction. 
“I can!”
“You will-one second.”
The father inserted the card, rather unsportingly I thought, while the girl stood with furrowed brow, her two hands poised around it. 
“Okay, take it.”

I gave a “wasn’t that nice” smile to the checker, a woman in her 30s. In my left hand the peanut butter; in right, shouldered bag and credit card. 

As I extended my arm to hand her the peanut butter she asked, “Is that all?”
“Yep,” I said, automatically, in the way a parent might affirm a newly speaking child’s identification of a passing object. 
“Is that all?” she said again, this time with a low tone to the final word.
“Yeah,” I said, with an apologetic chuckle, unsure whether she hadn’t heard us, or if she thought a single item unusual.
“Is that all?” she said, this time taking time over each word. 
“Oh. You think I’m shoplifting?!”
“I don’t know what you’re doing.”

I immediately understood why I was being accused-it was the fussing with the bag and the peanut butter swap. Nevertheless an unedifying scene followed.

*

Of the hand-wringing threats to the fashion industry-sustainability, diversity, retail/resale-the least threatening to us is the big resale websites. What is the benefit, when a live-feed of a purchase broadcasts our individual credibility, of buying a used bag at 80% of retail on the TheRealReal? Overproduction and year-round sales from all but a couple of the conglomerate labels mean it is possible to buy these items new for less than on consignment, where the buyer has to pay for two sellers. 

TheRealReal is useful as a well photographed archive, however. Searching for the proper name for our Lanvin Hook bag, a used version was advertised to us by Google. TheRealReal called it a “leather Hobo bag” (1125.00 USD). 

After our experience trying to buy peanut butter with it, we thought this an accurate description.

Or: was it to do with that double waisted Prada trouser? Does the sight of it anger people? You be the judge:

Southern California Fieldwork

Yesterday we sent one of our assistant content researchers to explore their local fashion ecosystem. Their official assignment was to compare the colours of Lanvin’s Bumpr sneaker there with our inventory in Asia. Afterward, with a two digit per diem—that’s 00.00, not 00,000.00—local observation for future features.

Turning into the Lanvin store we were greeted with: ‘Are you here for the Curb sneaker?’ After a rapid self-examination of our clothes, we drew ourselves up proudly. What gave the impression that we were contributing to the Foot Lockerfication of the most ancient fashion house? But of course, we were; for the other model, we explained. 

So very many colours! Slight variations of synthetic upper, the latest—we ought to have anticipated it—in full grain leather. Attractive on first release as a retro middlebrow athleisure reference, the lux irony loses its gild when the luxury house itself produces infinite on-demand variations. Thus our discomfort at buying, rather than simply admiring, luxury sneaker trends. 

Jealousy, no doubt: we have been delighted by the resort ‘21 collection, which suggests some of Bruno Sialelli’s range. We wish there was as much of it in our local store as there are sneakers. The resort collection, making use of prints from the twentieth-century Russian artist and designer Erte, is much more grown-up. The preferred wider cut of Sialleli’s trousers are a natural fit with these more formal, wide cut blazers for men. Did we say wide? They aren’t in fact; and this is an attractive conjuring trick of Sialelli’s tailoring. Fitted at the chest, with slim and elongated drainpipe sleeves similar to the women’s, the monochrome colouring, square shoulders, and play with buttons all add a formidable, martial punch to an otherwise androgynous look. It appears that the suit will be as masculine or feminine as its wearer, or better, their mood at the moment. An achievement.

Finally, Sialelli’s preference for warm weather wear doesn’t look quite so sweaty. These clothes might be worn to a glamorous dinner. The womenswear is all about the hardware: gorgeous metal, self-fabric and leather buttons, fixed to jackets and coats (the leather lapelled peacoat is particularly good) with variations of balloon and rounded sleeves, all combined skillfully with refreshing Erte printed silks, scarves and blouses. This, not a hoodie and a bag of Cheetos, is what we aspire to after lockdown. Note the Erte collaboration in our blouse below, bought at Harbour City, Hong Kong.            

*

Cross the way at Louis Vuitton, a dozen shoppers wait in line. So, down the corridor, at Gucci. Elsewhere, including Saint Laurent, empty. Black people now shop at South Coast Plaza, something which, before the renewed publicity of the Black Freedom Struggle, was not the case. It is not without shame that one imagines the discomfort that kept them away in the past. 

We explored emerging and underappreciated designers at feel-good local French-owned boutique Please Do Not Enter and, extinguishing our allowance, bought socks. 

Then, to Bottega Veneta, to get, for the first time among our American staff, hands on the latest collections by Daniel Lee. It was, in our brief glimpse, impressive. Despite BV’s apparent resurgence, there was no line at its door, which was moreover, open. Losing ourselves in the moment, we entered, noticing one employee reviewing an accessory with a pair of Chinese women. 

As we paused at the sunglasses, we noticed a tall, lean, bespectacled man polishing a jewelry case in the center of the store. His suit, at the second half of its laundering cycle, brought Dickens to mind, its colour no longer quite black. As we made our way to ready-to-wear he grasped the shoulder-width sides of the jewelry case, as if bracing himself before fainting. Doubled forward over the glass, his neck was peeled stiffly back, like an opened tin of sardines, over which his head lolled heavily. He gasped. 

“It’s ok,” we said, forgetting the times, hoping in this way to indicate a “browser.” 

It’s no wonder Daniel Lee has overseen the label’s retreat from social media. Short on logos, he makes use of impressive combinations of textiles and leather, as with, for example, the Plat Lace-Ups, which looks like an elegant if slight ‘50s football boot with asymmetrical lacing. The woven upper is in fact, to the touch, ingenuously structured, with a beautiful contrast leather tongue. Neither would be evident digitally. 

Examining the shoe, we heard a breathless sigh. “..Lisa…” 

We looked up at the still-stricken store minder. He leaned further over the jewelry case, his back by now as flat as its illuminated glass. He spoke again, this time the syllables stretching to a moan: “Lisaaaa!” 

Unaware, from too much unbroken lockdown, of the agony we were inflicting on the man, we assumed, at best, that he worried of a missed sale; at worst, of theft. 

We had our eyes trained on the curious Quilt sneaker, imagining its proper use, when we heard a dry, halting whisper at one ear. 

“Excuse me, would you leave?” said the polisher, who had silently liberated himself from the liferaft of his jewelry case. His speech, like all which pass through the turmoil of a body suffering from harmless unsociability, was utterly royal. 

Horrified, immediately, on recognizing our violation of health protocol (all of us to a man are devout rule-followers), we fled, giving the polisher, by now perhaps rising at the chance to express a long suppressed occupational wish, our quickest and sincerest apology. Taut with personal anxiety, the polisher’s face softened as we departed to one of sacerdotal benevolence, of commiseration at our recklessness unchecked.

Meanwhile back (far) East, we have added a few BV pieces to the wardrobe labyrinth. About which, more to come. 

*

Whenever staff undertake such assignments, we ask—with gyungyun HR staff present—what they are wearing. Our assistant researcher wore a Haider Ackermann sweater styled with BV necklace (unremarked on in-store), Lanvin shoes, and a pair of jeans which were incinerated between research and publication. 

Lanvin Fall Winter 2021 First Look

A nostalgic music video introduced Lanvin’s FW 21 collection this morning. It is a cheering piece, offering an unconventional look, de rigueur no thanks to the pandemic, of the variety of ways fashion designers can play with the inspirations for their collections.  

Bruno Sialelli’s first menswear collections didn’t impress us. They looked a lot like Loewe, his previous gig. The clothes had the by-now definitive sailor-prep look of Loewe menswear: light sand and sky colours, white at collar or cuff and hardly anything, apart from long wool nautical coats, that could be worn to a restaurant that takes credit cards. It was a worrying suggestion of limited range that both the 2020 shows were beach themed.      

But there were promising elements, too. Sialelli is strong with prints and patterns, making use of both to emphasise, not a single logo, per corporate requirements, but a great many, including the very old and beautiful mother/daughter signature of the house, used as an all-over print, and also collection-specific artistic rendering of text, the house name emblazoned on top and trousers like a holiday advertising hoarding. 

We at gyungyun like from our designers coherence and specificity above all. We want to feel that we are enjoying the fruits of an artist’s obsessive labour of love, not a moonshot at a logo or influencer that will save the bottom line. And thankfully Sialelli is showing some of that, too. His menswear, particularly from the waist down, shows a keen eye, an almost obsessive understanding of an epoch; in this case late 1990s alternative sportswear.

If that embedded cult anthropologist of American youth Hedi Slimane produced collections inspired by the eternal return of the coastal surf boy, Sialelli is inspired by the slightly more athletic American skateboarder. For even when Slimane appears to be showing skateboarders (SS21 Celine) he still cannot let go of the Vans wearing surfer. 

Sialelli’s references to the skater-athlete are much sharper. His cropped pants, a carry-over from Loewe, paired with the successful Bumpr sneaker, are a gesture to the summertime saturation of major American sportswear brands during the late Clinton years. Starting in Fall ‘20 Sialelli began exploring some of the fringes of the 1990s norm, with exaggerated width trousers, belted a little too low, and fat tongued, short-bodied skateboard sneakers, reminiscent of a pair by DC or Etnies. If Slimane looks, perhaps in vain, for the grotesque beauty of the affluent coast, Sialelli seems to understand the less-fashionable, but no less loved, transformations of the high-corporate as worn in the suburbs. These, one imagines, are the looks of the demigods of the designer’s youth, the beloved teenagers of his own childhood: friends of older siblings, no longer playing sports but still hiding an unmistakably athletic body beneath saggy pants; a DJ when they were provincial, talented, and cool. 

It is no surprise, then, to see a similarly accurate historical approach to the music video introducing the new collection. To the happy surprise of those of us who feel uneasy at the marriage of (too) casual wear and fashion, we learned that the future is formal, and that dinosaurs like us will show the youth the way.

The film is in fact a music video, set to (in its most recent adaptation) Gwen Stefani’s If I Was a Rich Girl. An international group of young people disembark from an old Lincoln limousine and check into the Shangri-La Paris. In a measured reference to the limitations of our current social lives, the kids arrive in formal wear and, apparently restricted to their accommodations, make the best of a rough job, tearing through rooms littered with Lanvin branded shopping bags in sexy, luxe fabric dresses and animal print casual wear. 

The film is a delightful send-up of the 1990s hip-hop music video, a suggestion that the app idols aren’t as revolutionary as they imagine. There is the same self-referentiality, of riches and wealth and goodies unavailable for use; the clothes so much rapper money, unspent, probably unreal, thrown sterile at the camera. Like an old episode of MTV Cribs, these glamorous residents trot out their luxury car collection, too. But they are children’s electric toy cars, on top of which models in low-cut dresses and opera gloves do donuts in the hotel ballroom . These aren’t the slightly cringeworthy diversions of lonely popstars, after all. They are the waking dreams of a generation of youth who want to be able to live theirs. “If I Was a Rich Girl,” I would give it all away to live, this film seems to say. 

And accurately, too. It’s pitch perfect in places. Who recalls the flimsy storylines of music videos during their peak? One was either, and rarely both, a viewer of the dancing in the video, or of the slightly vague love story narrative, an attempt no doubt, at cross-branding, which is here, too. Inevitably our hero/performer would be met by the character from a contemporary film or show, often minor, and we have that here, in a dancing concierge. An influencer, surely? 

The clothes? Hard to say without a lookbook. The best luxury designers today sell menswear in two categories: the ever more youthful streetwear—here leopard print tracksuit, those baggy pants and skate shoes—and tailoring with varying degrees of reference to the first category. The streetwear depends for sales on hype (and therefore of limited artistic or critical utility); the second, on designer talent. 

Sialelli’s men’s tailoring is uniquely androgynous. It is soft, monochrome, and gently oversized, with narrow piped sleeves. It is reminiscent, in the pastel colours and frequent recourse to a double-breast, to women’s postwar day suits. The jackets reference the 50s and 60s in colour and material, in contrast to Gucci’s 70s high-camp fabrics and the earnest masculinity of Kim Jones’s athletic (‘80s?) Dior runway suits. If “cool French girl” could be found in men’s suits, we might find it at Sialelli’s Lanvin.                       

Midway through the video, a giggly girls’ bathroom moment is interrupted by a video call with Eve. Also celebrating in anxious isolation, in black dress and clutching a black pencil bag with gorgeous oversized hardware, Eve delivers a few lines of verse, as if to affirm and kickstart the value of youthful desire. It’s a lovely intergenerational touch, speaking a too-often obscured message of these times, of hopeful (for once) universals, and of promise born from diversity.