September 30, 2008

Fall leaves inspire drop in sweater hemlines and chunky cosy details

Regardless of today's high temperature, it 'tis the season to be wearing sweaters and I spoke with a twin set of designers - Anthony Castro and Scott Walhovd of the local label and boutique, 212 - about the warm and fuzzy.

Bold...fetish...architectural are the trends governing womenswear this season but how do they apply to this season's sweaters?

They do and they don't. The idea of bold silhouettes can't manifest in knitwear the way they can in leather goods or structured tailored clothes.

That said, Sweaters are chunky with bold collars and details.

Another trend s a low-slung aesthetic. It's like gravity has taken hold of dramatically cut soft materials and dragged it down to create the slouchy look. Think swooshes, downward hem lines and neck lines.

It's a relief after years of high-cropped clothes like belly shirts and layered looks that have segmented women's bodies between the bust and waist.

Now, it's time to look at layering action around the thighs.

In this gravity influenced design, look out for low vees, low-slung closure points and button details.

Sweaters are like the stock market....they're going down.

Locally look to Scott Walhovd and Anthony Castro of 212 for their take.

They have a great heavy shawl collared cardigan. Double-breasted with six-on-six leather buttons. Try it with leggings and ankle boots or even low-profiled sneakers.

They also have a plum sweater dress in cashmere silk that hits mid-thigh and can be worn as a tunic with skinnies.

And Anthony mentioned layering with thin tees and the right sweater is the way to go this season.

He says, "Make your own look."

September 22, 2008

These shoes are made for talking: Carla Stef of Holt Renfrew brings in some of this fall's stunners in women's footwear

This season is about taking all the trends you've been hearing about and wearing these last few months and mashing them together so the separate trends for ankle boots, gladiator sandals and metallics converge in one brassy, black-heeled Gucci.

The trend towards SHAPE, TAILORING and ARCHITECTURE melds in to a houndstooth tweed, leather and wood block heeled platform by Marni.

And there's still room for subtlety in a Christian Louboutin limited-edition peep-toe pump, the platform is covered and peeps at the toe. Cheeky.

All can be found at Holt Renfrew, right now.

Thanks, Carla for bringing it to CBC.

September 18, 2008

And what about the fashion sense of Obama and McCain?

Amy Lapsley asked via Facebook:

Amy Lapsley at 9:51pm September 17
what do you think of obama v. mccain in the fashion department?

My response:

JJ Lee at 11:31am September 18
Obama looks great. McCain seems feeble but that's an age thing. I find their attire more invisible than the attire of our candidates.

One of the great goals of sophisticated masculine style is to make the clothes invisible. The focus should be on the person.

Both McCain and Obama have done that.

Because, our leaders are less skilled in dress, they often wear things that draw attention to their clothes - mistakes are noticeable, dressing well is all about "je ne sais quoi"!

And you, Amy Lapsley always achieve the quoi!

September 17, 2008

Menswear War: How Harper and Dion use sweaters; whether to blue suit or not to blue suit; and how style became a 2008 election issue in Canada

The Conservative party's strategic deployment of the blue sweater vest to soften Canadians' impression of Stephen Harper has turned the sartorial sensibility of all the candidates into a campaign side issue.

Taking the initiative, Harper now owns the sweater. While in previous campaigns politicians have pulled out sweaters to show solidarity with the regular folks, something is different this time around because it worked.

It would seem no other candidate can now wear a cardigan, vest or pullover without cuing close clothes watchers to reference Harper's first strike (as seen in the above still from the first volley of Conservative election ads - this one titled, "Family is Everything").

It reminds me of Nike's attempts in the 1980s to initiate branding by electronic colonisation. The athletic shoe maker faded their famous swoosh logo into a field of TV static with the hopes of making electronic snow a visual cue for viewers to see the Nike logo where it wasn't.


Everybody knows if you wear a blue suit you're a "suit". However, this election it doesn't really pay to wear any other colour. Yes, there is an old English tradition of socialist and labour leaders wearing black suits as a nose-thumbing to Tory blue - but at least they were smart enough to avoid weaker tints.

Jack Layton, who in the past, has been caught in murky grey suits that appear green under the lights (or are they murky green suits that appear grey?) has stuck with a front-runner's blue. Tory may lay claim to inky indigos and the Liberals have the less masculine red...and the NDP have orange with green highlights. Jack, stick with the blue suits and say NO to orange ties.


What about St├ęphane Dion? This week, he too has adopted the blue suit. And better yet, he has in his arsenal an absolutely dark shade of blue in two-button form. He's taken a fairly sophisticated approach and paired them with nice on-blue foulard print or jacquard square ties with tiny squares or diamonds. This is a nice break from the endless striped (regimental) ties I have seen. So, for Dion, I award a Snazzy.

One tip I would offer is: Super dark, midnight blues are best because they are resistant to the wacky white balances video cameras must adapt to compensate for different temperature lights. Only the darkest blue suits will stay bold and dark under all lighting conditions.

Dion did go with a grey for his visit to Newfoundland. There seems to be stripes or herringbone patterns, who knows, and that's what you want to avoid. Visual ambiguity. Though, his colouring does do well in a grey suit for in-person appearances. I suppose he's a "winter." Just not so good for the camera.

Actually, here's another good tip. Candidates should dress in front of a video camera and monitor instead of a mirror. This is a good way of figuring out what will look good on camera.

If Stephen Harper followed this advice, he never would have appeared in this atrocity. The light colours make him look heavy and do not convey a sense of strength. Actually, it looks cheap.


Obviously, candidates want to relax their look once and awhile, especially if the goal is to sway blue collar votes. Dion did a pretty good job by having the best of both worlds. On Sunday, he work a blue suit with a burgundy (a nod to Liberal red) sweater and an open neck.

Not bad, but I vote for candidates to keep their ties firmly knotted. And, in the case of Dion, I recommend he keep his dark suit pants on and give the blue jacket a break during the day by wearing a herringbone tweed sports coat with elbow patches. Preferably dark.

It will evoke his professorial credentials without making him look stuffy.

Though, one may have to wear it with the burgundy sweater if a dark version can not be found. We don't want the whole outfit to come across too pale.


One final thing. I've noticed all the candidates have attempted a bit of variety by wearing striped shirts. However, most have adopted framed striped shirts. This is where a thicker main stripe is bracketed by two smaller stripes of another colour. DON'T WEAR THEM.

They often look like the below:

Harper's Bengal-striped shirt from earlier today is slightly better (right).
If digital strobing can be avoided, candidates may want the more sophisticated butcher striped shirt. The lines are more distinct and graphic with a simple foreground-background relationship. Another option is the pinstripe shirt, which, unlike the pinstripe suit, has a nice relaxed allure to it with the stripes being thicker, yet straight forward.

Remember, how you dress occupies the greater bandwidth of non-verbal communication. And since personality and leadership qualities have become a major selling point among the candidates, it would make sense to dress the part.

Sorry, Ms. May - you need to snap it up.

September 2, 2008

Local fall fashion haul for womenswear 2008

Nine West's ankle boot with pleated vamp
and in-step zippers at Town Shoes stays on
trend without an early style expiry date.

It's ten hours by plane to the latest fashion trends of Paris and Milan, but today we bring it home on Vancouver by Design. We hit the mall and find out what looks have made the jump over the pond and into local shops.

Q. How were you able identify fall trends for this season?
My usual answer would be that I research on the usual garment trade websites, blogs and view the European runway shows on line and I do do that...but today a took a more shopper/consumer-centred approach. I bought the latest copy of Vogue Magazine - the September 2008 Fall bible - and hauled that mammoth magazine into Metrotown's Metropolis Shopping Centre.

Q. Why did you do that?

The main reason is I wanted to correlate the trends and hot styles put forward in Vogue and find out how it translated into the boutiques most women would shop at in Vancouver. So, essentially, I went window shopping.

Q. On which trends did you zero-in?
From my notes after perusing all 800 pages of Vogue, I identified a trio of trends that I felt would be considered relevant to women in Vancouver -- so I won't be talking about evening dresses inspired by ballerinas.

One was sculpted or shaped suits. There's a trend on the high-end side to create jacket-pant-skirt combinations that have dramatic shoulders, defined collars and waists, and skirt shapes that modernize the suit.

Q. Were you able to find anything like that?
Not at Metrotown. I was told by staff at Aritzia that the mall skews younger than Oakridge. One can find sculpted or shaped suits there but for Metropolis the answer is "NO."

Instead, we find a more traditional look at stores known for their business suits, like Jacob and Banana Republic. There, I found a much greater push towards a tailored women's suit. Not so dramatic - they strove for a feminine elegance.

At Banana Republic, I believe I saw a grey suit (pencil-striped) that borrowed much from men's tailoring. It had a hacking pocket (slightly slanted side pockets) and a jaunty ticket pocket (a tiny pocket one finds over the right side pocket). Most notable was a visible top-stitching which emulated the hand work of a tailor. So at Banana Republic and Jacob, there was a fairly conservative take on the suit. But perhaps it's my memory playing tricks on me. I haven't been able to find this suit on BR's website.

But there one new thing to report - the cropped blazer, which has been in fashion for what seems like the last decade, has taken a backseat to the longer tailored blazer.

Q. Why is that a good thing?
The cropped blazer really favoured skinny women. Because it is cropped you don't get the coverage on the backside some women would prefer.

Now, this isn't a blazer, it's outerwear, but one of the best pieces I saw today with the benefits of the on-trend look of dramatic shapes while maintaining strong traditional tailoring was a Funnel Coat by Talula Babaton.

Talula Babaton is an in-house label at Aritzia. The Funnel coat is a great coat. It's black virgin wool. It is double breasted with six on six button (all the lovely black wood buttons work on the coat). It's a longer coat so it will cover your bottom.

Better yet, it has a nice nipped waist just above the natural waist and below the bust and from there it is an A-line, flaring out from the waist.

It has a bit of swing and has a bit of shape without being a slave to trend. That's the Talula Babaton Funnel coat at Aritzia for $298.

Q. Speaking of price, how do you buy trendy clothes without it going out of style?
I think as everyone says "you should buy basic classics" -- but I see nothing wrong with looking for trend-inflected version of classics. Here's a perfect example.

SHINY as an look will be a big trend this fall. SHINY is an expensive look. The fabrics and finished cost more.

A great buy that falls into the SHINY trend is a black trench coat I saw at Zara.
It is a shorter version of the trench coat. It will cover the bottom and perhaps go mid-thigh.

It's a shiny black nylon. You're going to wear it when it rains. It has a cinched belted waist which gives it a great shape and it's very inexpensive at $99.00. It's utilitarian with style, but no so much style you can't wear it next year or the year after that.

Q. You've done SHINY. You've done SHAPELY...what other trends did you find?
I'm going to save listeners some money. I'm going to tell you about a trend I don't like because it only suits the thin and long legged. It's the wedged-heeled ankle boot.

Now, the ankle boot is not the problem. But when it's married to the more recent style of wedged heels or platform wedge heels, where the shoe has no independent heel but rather is one monolithic sole, the ankle boot becomes a really clunky shoe.

One example I saw was an ankle boot wedge sneaker in patent leather by Geox at Town Shoes. It had velcro sneaker straps and has zero elegance.

An alternative I would suggest is a 3-inch heeled ankle boot by Nine West. It's $130. It has a bit of fetish detailing with instep zippers and pleating at the VAMP - that's the top of the shoe.

It's very 80s without going too far. And it will elongate the leg rather than make it stumpy.

Q. So go for classics that are inflected with shape, shininess, and anything else?
Yes, quickly, GRAPHIC means a bold look including geometric prints.

I saw a lovely cotton, black and white, set in sleeve, fleur-de-lys dress at Club Monaco. It's a perfect balance of trend and classicism, the KATE print dress at Club Monaco for $179.