Friday, December 26, 2008

Another entry about Van Gogh

Despite the fact that the MOMA Van Gogh Colors of the Night exhibit has been up since mid-September, I didn't make it there til recently. I actually ended up purchasing a membership, and have gone twice so far (in one week). I plan to go at least once more before the exhibition goes down.

I get such a visceral reaction from seeing his work, and when I stare at his paintings I try to drink it all in -- the colors, the thick brush strokes (I've been trying to figure out how he got the paint so thick on the canvas without it mushing into the layers already on the canvas), and his choices in using heavy lines sometimes and colors at other times to outline shapes. I did a copy of a Van Gogh painting recently, but it would be cool to do a copy from looking at the actual painting as opposed to a photo, since there is such a three-dimensionality and texture to his painting.

Anyway, I have to say that I was kind of disappointed with the exhibition. Part of the reason is that it's always so crowded that it's hard to just stand and look at the work. And you have to wait. They also didn't have as many pieces as I would have liked. There were a bunch, but I think I was hoping for more of the big ones I'd seen at the Musee d'Orsay and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Or maybe I just can't get enough.

But one thing struck me. It was a fact that I already knew, but struck me again. It was this quote:

"Van Gogh did not pursue a career as an artist until 1880, when he was
twenty-seven years old."

I just turned 27, so this time it was more meaningful to me. I often feel like I am so behind in terms of what I want to achieve, but I realized I am at the age when Van Gogh had just embarked on his art career. It reminded me that I still have time to accomplish a lot.

One has to remember that Van Gogh ended his life, and his career, only 10 years later. Granted, he did work as an art dealer and doodled while pursuing other careers, but I always find it so inspiring that he was able to accomplish so much in that short time. That's also what makes his story so tragic -- who knows what other works he could have made if he had just held on?

What I also find inspiring about Van Gogh is that he accomplished what he did mostly through hard work. He didn't have the virtuosic talent that someone like Picasso possessed, which is evident if you look at his early paintings. The colors are kind of murky and if you look at the Potato Eaters painting, considered his first breakthrough, the figures are grotesque and awkward. Even his figures later on are still kind of awkardly drawn. But he kept working (he was incredibly prolific, especially towards the end of his life, and managed to make over 2000 works over his career) and made some of the most beautiful paintings ever made.

Van Gogh's story is a cautionary tale too. Perhaps he wouldn't have become so famous if he hadn't committed suicide (there is a great scene in the movie She's All That where the protagonist, who is an art student, is recommended to commit suicide in order to further her art career by these two mean girls), but I always wonder what would happen if he had chosen to live. Too often people give up on their dreams when they're on the cusp of something big. When you're really seeking a dream, it often feels like you're not really moving forward, and it would be easier to give up and do something safe. But I don't think I could live with myself, wondering what if?

I love you, Vincent Van Gogh.

Haute Couture Patternmaking

In addition to my draping classes, I was taking patternmaking. Our teacher was a friendly Breton man named Dominique Pellen. He was younger than my draping teacher, and was therefore less traditional in his manner of teaching. He quickly realized that my language capabilities were holding me back and would patiently re-explain things when I had a confused or panicked look in my eyes.

We started with the basics. First we learned about the standard measurements (bust, waist, hips, shoulder length, etc). The first pattern we drafted was a short sleeve, and then we worked on variations, like making it a balloon shape. This was accomplished by drawing lines on the original pattern, cutting on those lines, and then fanning the resulting segments out which would create volume when the pattern was sewn.

Next we worked on the "jupe de base" or basic skirt, along with variations. We also did different long sleeves, then a "chemisier" (shirt), and jacket (probably the toughest pattern) before returning to do bonus sleeves -- the raglan and kimono sleeves. We also learned a little about grading, which was probably the trickiest concept. Grading is when you expand (or shrink) the pattern for different sizes. What makes it tricky is that it's not like enlarging or shrinking something on a copy machine; you have to be aware of how the body changes with a change in size, so sometimes in addition to changing the width you also have to shift angles.

I had never taken a patternmaking course before, but from what M. Pellen explained, it sounded like in haute couture patternmaking, you take more measurements than in ready-to-wear, so the patterns are more precise (again, there is an importance placed on fit). When the patternmaking is done right, things should fit like a glove and follow the contours of the body.

At the end of each course, there is a final exam. I think the highest score you could get is a 20, which would be like if you were working in an haute couture atelier. I was proud of myself because while I was nowhere near a 20, I got the highest score in the class -- this despite not always understanding what M. Pellen was saying and having less experience than most of my classmates. After a few months of patternmaking classes, I felt like I could eventually develop patterns for most garments.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne

A couple days after moving to Paris, I started my classes at l'Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne. The Chambre Syndicale sets the rules for haute couture, and runs the school as well. As our teachers liked to remind us, it's the only school in the world devoted specifically to haute couture, although now they teach ready-to-wear techniques. Initially, I had only planned to take classes there for a few months. Therefore, I enrolled in the Formation Continue, a program designed for professionals with experience in the fashion industry. I enrolled in the patronage (patternmaking), moulage (draping), and dessin (drawing) "stages." However, the drawing course was cancelled due to a lack of students. The classes were 9 to 6 with a one hour "pause" for lunch, and a couple of 15 minute breaks during the day. The draping class was three days a week and the patternmaking was one day a week.

Our draping teacher, Mme. Saget, had worked at a few different couture houses before beginning to teach at the Chambre Syndicale, including Yves Saint Laurent and Courreges. She was very Parisian, which I learned was different from other French people. They are more reserved and proper. We each had a mannequin and she gave us yardages of muslin. She would do a demonstration and then we would work on our own mannequin and try to do the same. She walked around and corrected things that were wrong.

The class was very difficult for me. Unlike most of the others, who were older than me and had had more experience in fashion, I was pretty clueless about draping. Also, the classes were held in French. Although I had taken French all through middle and high school, and had taken a conversational French class in college, understanding what was happening was tough. Firstly, everyone spoke much more quickly than I was used to understanding. Secondly, there was a lot of technical language that I had never learned in my French classes, like "poitrine" (bust) or "taille" (waist). The first few weeks were especially rough. I finally sympathized with my parents, trying to survive in a foreign country, barely speaking the language. I relied on the charity of my classmates, who would glance over at me looking frustrated or confused, and would try to explain to me what was happening.

I was also frustrated with the teacher, who seemed indifferent to my struggles. However, I eventually realized that her style of teaching was different from what I was used to. Although I expected my teacher to come rescue me when I was struggling, she would not approach me until I asked for help. Once I figured this out, things became easier and she was very kind and helpful. The rest of the class found me amusing because I would ask her random questions about her experiences and sometimes more personal things as well.

Draping is a difficult skill, and it's a type of sculpture. We were given sketches and then expected to interpret the sketch. You work with the muslin, cutting it and pinning it to shape it. As much as possible, you want to keep the grainlines running parallel to the "droit fils" or straight lines that demarcate the body from head to toe, so that the fabric drapes nicely. There are many rules to be learned, which differ based on different fabric details, like seam placement and sleeve shapes.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Returning to Paris

After I left Korea, I gave myself a week in New York to get things sorted before I left for Paris. This turned out to be a big mistake.

I thought that I would have more than enough time to pick up a student visa, which the French consulate website said could be processed in a day. I was in for a rude introduction to the shitshow that is French bureaucracy. First of all, when I got to the French consulate, I found that it was only open in the mornings, and I had to wait on line all day just to get an appointment for the next day. When I got there with all my paper work, I found out that I didn't qualify for a student visa because I wasn't attending an accredited university. Instead, I had to apply for a long stay visitor visa, which would take two months to process. Which meant I would have to come back to pick up my visa in a couple of months.

One thing that did go smoothly was finding an apartment. One of my French friends recommended using, on which I found an apartment on Ile St. Louis, where I had stayed the last time I was in Paris. It's such a beautiful neighborhood, although one of the more expensive areas in Paris.

my street
my building

the courtyard

Apartments in Paris are pretty small but this one was tiny. You can see more pictures of the apt here on my landlord's website:

It took forever to get my landlord to help me get the internet running, and I discovered that this was a trend. It took a lot of effort to get anything to happen in Paris, like setting up a bank account or anything involving paperwork and the government.

What's going on?

I've been a bad blogger. It's been over a month since my last entry. I hope everyone enjoyed Thanksgiving. Mine was pretty good except for a big fight with my mom before dinner. I ate way too much but it was grand. Then watched Kung Fu Panda. Sadly, animated movies no longer captivate me the way they used to.

I've been very busy over the past several weeks, working on my most recent collection, which is a departure from my previous work. I've done a small collection of silk cocktail dresses, and incorporated color -- I'm a colorist.

After the scramble to get the samples made -- I do the patterns and cutting before giving it over to the factory to be constructed -- I did a couple of photo shoots with my friends. Unfortunately, I won't be showing these photos for at least a couple of months but I was pretty excited about them.

I've been trying to make decisions about what to do moving forward. When you're as emotionally invested in your work as I tend to be, it's tough to make rational business decisiosn.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Korea - Summer 2005

My summer in Korea was a low point, and I struggled with depression while I was there.

Previously, most of my trips to Korea had lasted two weeks at most. The one exception was the summer before I started college, where I spent two months there. However, that summer had been one of self-indulgence. Having finally gotten into college, I allowed myself to do as I pleased -- partying with my friends, spending the money my relatives had given to me, and enjoying one of those perfect summer flings.

This trip was vastly different. I learned that two weeks was probably the best length of time to spend in Korea. Beyond that period, you realized that there was little to do for fun in Seoul besides get drunk. Furthermore, I was there expressly to make as money as possible so I could study in Paris. That summer taught me that I could never make my sole existence about making money. I felt like my soul was dying each day I went to work. Despite getting along with most of my coworkers, and having the chance to become close with my friend Christina, I despised my boss, who promised one thing and gave us another. Despite the strides in technology and other forms of modernization that Korean society was still fairly sexist. I also felt stifled in such a homogenous culture, one which seemed to reject creativity in favor of conformity. I couldn't dress the way I wanted to without expecting to receive stares in the subway or on the street. My relatives told me I was fat, as the ideal was to be stick skinny, with a body more like an adolescent than a woman.

I stayed at my grandmother's house while in Seoul. My grandmother lives with two unmarried aunts and I became close with them -- another of the few good experiences I had while in Korea. One of them in particular was an amazing cook and I loved eating her food.

However, when it was time to leave Korea, I was ready to go.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

PS - Part 2

Weronika had learned production the hard way -- by being thrust into it and having to figure things out as she went, encountering one disaster after another. She showed me the ropes and I quickly learned that everything that can go wrong generally does, which made me understand how Weronika had become very paranoid and OCD about things. Whether it was calling and visiting the factories every day, sometimes multiple times a day, or mastering the art of following up -- especially with the Italian mills, who had a tendency to take at least twice as long as they said they would, she taught me the importance of being very careful about clear and direct communication with all parties involved in the production process. I also learned how to think quickly and come up with solutions to problems. One time, I spent days with different interns painting skirts because the print had come out spotty.

Most of the Korean factory owners were delighted to have a Korean person to talk to, and I quickly developed a rapport with them, who were all a little crazy in their own way. Like my parents, once they found out about my academic background, they tried to convince me to switch career paths.

For production, the patterns used for pieces in the show are generally slightly altered to fit a more average shaped body. Once the patternmaker had made the alterations, they were sent to the graders to be marked and graded. Meanwhile, after the orders had been taken, the fabric was ordered in bulk from the mills, who made the fabric specially for us. As I mentioned, the fabric was often late, which was a problem because buyers gave strict deadlines for their orders. Once the delivery date passed, buyers expected discounts or in worst cases, cancelled the order all together. This possibility made our jobs stressful, and we were constantly pushing everyone in the process to get their jobs done quicker.

Once the fabric arrived, it was sent directly to the cutting room, a factory that dealt specifically with cutting fabric in bulk. The markers (basically the patterns in a range of sizes) were sent to the cutting room, and placed on top of the fabric to be cut. Then the cutters sent the cut pieces to the factories, who would have been prepped by us with trim, notions, and labels. The factories would start working on the pieces, although we would have to continually harrass them as they would put our orders to the side to work on bigger orders by other designers (like Marc Jacobs).

When the pieces were finished, we would come back and do an extra quality check on them (generally the factory has someone in-house to do this as well). We would ask the factory to fix anything that we thought would likely catch the eye of a buyer, who often looked for excuses to return items if they didn't sell. Then we would have the factory polybag the pieces and we would ship them to the stores, hopefully by the delivery date. Let's just say that I memorized both the US and International numbers for UPS. The worst part was when they would lose a package that we had made an effort to get out in a timely manner.

Because the company was small, I soon found myself handling other responsibilities as well. At the time, the company had inked a deal with a distribution company called Bluebell, and I ended up taking a trip to Tokyo to present the Fall collection to them. I also helped Shirley in working with Bonnie, our point person at PR Consulting, with press responsibilities, which in one case included dropping off a motorcycle jacket at Rosario Dawson's apartment. Eventually I was put in charge of hiring and managing interns, whose resumes came into the general mailbox daily.

Working at the company was very exciting and I learned a lot quickly. However, after two seasons I became disillusioned with my job. Unlike some other people, it wasn't enough for me to simply be working at one of the hottest companies in New York. I knew in my heart that what I really wanted to do was design, and for my own label. Despite the advice of my close friends and family to the contrary, I decided I needed to quit and go back to school for fashion.

I had always wanted to live for a time in Paris, and I remembered the Chambre Syndicale that my fellow intern at Dior, Karin, had attended. I looked up courses there and found that they had a Formation Continue, courses designed for people who had worked in the industry, since I didn't really want to pursue another full "degree." Because I didn't have the support of my parents (initially), and I was broke, I set up a summer job in Korea tutoring SATs (my expertise) and doing college admissions consulting through a friend to make enough money to pay for a few months of classes in Paris. I had originally planned to take a vacation in May, and instead made that the day I would quit. Shirley hired two different interns to replace me and I spent a couple of weeks helping them get settled in their new posts. After a brief vacation to the UK and Ireland (including my first trip to Scotland!), I was off to Korea.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Episode 12

Watch it here:

New items in the shop -- 25% off with discount code: FALL25OFF

Dear Nicolas,

I wish I could afford your clothes.

Friday, September 12, 2008

PS - Part 1

When I returned to New York, I had a first round interview with Weronika, the production manager over at Proenza Schouler. As their business was expanding (it was a couple of years old at that time, which was late July 2004), so were her responsibilities, and she was looking for someone to assist her in handling the production process, which was mainly in New York at the time. She had been interested in my resume (which I had passed on to the two designers when I met them in the spring) because I had done a production internship and because I was Korean. I would find out later that a good number of the factories they worked with in the Garment District were Korean-owned, and a couple of the owners didn't speak the best English. So she wanted an assistant who could aid in the communication process. Weronika had become friends with Lazaro when they were both interns at Michael Kors.

She seemed to like me and had me come back to meet with Shirley, who was the CEO and third partner (with Jack and Lazaro). She had met the pair through a friend. Once she had spoken to me, she called Lazaro over and he chatted with me a bit to make sure he liked me. I was a bit starstruck again, but he was very nice. I must have passed the test as they invited me to start with them soon afterwards. I was to go through a brief trial period after which I would be hired.

It was an interesting time to join the company. It was still very young, and I was the first full-time hire beyond the original four (Jack, Lazaro, Shirley, and Weronika) who had started out together. The boys had been nominated for the first CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund (which they ultimately won), so there was a lot going on with that, including the filming of the documentary "Seamless." In addition, the three partners were in the process of moving out of the live/work loft in Chinatown to their own apartments. Even then, (when most people would just give me a blank stare when I told them where I worked) there were always celebrities stopping by (I remember dropping an outfit off to Rosario Dawson). I was a little disappointed when I missed SJP's visit to the studio.

Soon after I started working was the Spring 2005 show, held at Milk Studios. It was exhilarating to watch the show after having seen the new "It" models try the pieces on in the fittings. Then of course, the after party at Bungalow 8. Once the show was over, however, our work began, and I was soon initiated into the process of managing the production of high-end ready-to-wear in New York.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Mastercard Priceless Experience 2004

Wow it's been three weeks since my last post. I am not so good at this blogging thing. I've been busy, mainly moving to a new apartment in Manhattan, and settling in. It's great and I love it.

Anyway, back to where I left off. About a week or so after graduating from Harvard, I was on a plane to Los Angeles. The sixteen of us interns were put up in the Universal Studios Hilton for five weeks, with all expenses paid for, plus a small stipend for spending money. In addition, we were given free trips to the Universal Studios theme park, and vouchers to restaurants at CityWalk, a shuttle ride from our hotel. It was pretty surreal. We also got a tour through the different sets and studios of Universal Studios, including the soundstages and the fake New York City. They also treated us to a Hoobastank concert (during which we wanted to rush the stage but were stopped), complete with a limo ride.

The internship was split into two parts. There would be the filming of Hoobstank's next music video, "Same Direction," along with seminars moderated by Lara Schwartz (who produced many of "Puffy" 's videos) with Universal Studio music executives and random people involved in virtually all facets of the music and music video business, including a couple music video directors (Nigel Dick and Dave Meyers -- who had been working on Britney Spears "Outrageous" video before she dropped out of the rest of the tour and began her fall from grace), Kevin Lyman (who started the Warped Tour -- we also got to "help out" and hang out at one of the venues, where I first saw Flogging Molly from backstage), and some people from KROQ.

Now, Hoobastank isn't my favorite band, either, but the process of making the videos was exciting and edifying. "The Reason" was a decently big hit that summer. It was a ballad that had been released with the intent to appeal to soccer moms. They wanted to follow it up with "Same Direction," a more punk rock song that would appeal to their original core fan base.

Early on we met with Brett Simon, a young director who had done the video for The Reason, which was a pretty cool video (probably because it has nothing to do with the lyrics of the song. I also recently realized that he directed that NLT video I love.) Despite the internship being advertised as one where the interns would be directing the video, ultimately Brett had creative control over the project and final say, although he did incorporate our input. Each of us was asked to submit an idea for the two videos (both for Same Direction). One would be a sequel to The Reason video, as it was quite popular, and one would be more creative. Four ideas were chosen (two for the sequel, two for the other) and we were divided into four groups. We were split into groups based on our ideas.

A girl named Rachel came up with the idea of a "Mad World," and I ended up in her group because my idea was similar (I wanted to set it in the 19th century). Our group wrote a treatment, which is basically a detailed summary of the plot of the video, where the band is in an alternate reality where everything is garish and exaggerated. We submitted images of makeup and props as well. Our group's idea was the one chosen for the "other" video but with modifications. Brett anchored the idea with a concrete story -- the video would be about a fifth member of Hoobastank that was cut from the band 17 years prior -- a triangle player. It would depict him imagining what his life would be like if he were still part of the band, concocting dioramas in his basement to embody his fantasies. The four groups were combined to form two -- with the sequel groups together and the "other idea" groups together.

Ultimately, we ended up helping out with both videos but we spent more time on the one we were working on. The Mad World video was filmed in a huge open warehouse type space, where we helped the crew construct the sets -- life sized replicas of the dioramas that we helped the art director construct. Using clever set design and camera work, the video goes from the dioramas to the life-sized replicas. Here it is:

The video is hilarious and odd -- definitely not what you'd expect from such a commercial band. Which is why the band didn't choose it for the official version. I definitely would have chosen it. It featured a cameo of Joan Jett (playing the triangle player's mom, cleaning out his earwax?!) and Dennis Rodman's limousine.

The other video is a prequel/sequel to "The Reason." It was shot at an abandoned restaurant space and the nearby alley. The coolest part was the cameos, which I forgot about until I watched again -- Joel from Good Charlotte, Chester from Linkin Park and...... KANYE WEST! This was before I even knew who Kanye was, or I totally would have tried to make friends with him. I was like, who are these people? I think they are all on the same label, which is why they agreed to do the cameos, during the band auditions for lead singer (they were all pretty funny).

Here it is (it will make more sense if you watch The Reason first, although both videos take multiple viewings to kind of catch certain details).

Looking back, it was definitely a wonderful experience, although I hate to say that the crew members were cooler than the actual band (although Dan, the lead guitarist, seemed cool and was our favorite). You don't realize until you're on a set how many people are involved and necessary for these types of production, who don't necessarily get credit -- all the crew members, camera people, ADs, DP, art director, wardrobe, producers, PAs, etc. I'm definitely still interested in film/music videos and would like to get into that somehow in the future, but the experience was discouraging because I realized how difficult it would be to put together that sort of a project without serious funding or the support of a studio. A successful fashion house generally operates in a similar manner, with the designer in a role parallel to a director, but at the same time, one person can and often does make a dress alone from start to finish. I also didn't like LA, which is where most of the contacts we made were.

[Another random cool aspect of the trip was when I got to meet up with Stephen Stills and his wife, Kristen (whom I had met at Harvard). They took me to a Democratic rally at the Saban (as in Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers) residence, and then we bought steak dinners for takeout and drove in his Aston Martin to his house in the Hills. I met his kids and he let me listen to his album in his personal recording studio. Totally amazing. (I recently saw him again when he played with Nash and Y oung in Central Park).]

And so, before I left LA, I set up my interview with Proenza Schouler.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Back to School/Graduation

After returning from Paris, I took a short trip to South Korea to visit my family there. It was soon after the documentary in which I had been featured aired, and a couple random people recognized me on the streets of Seoul... mostly because of my distinctive eyebrow ring (very few people in Seoul have eyebrow rings). I met with the producer to catch up and he gave me a tour of the MBC (the broadcasting company) studios. It's funny how small TV sets are. They use wide-angle lenses to make them look bigger on TV.

Then it was back to school. A lot of things were on my mind. The biggest thing was probably the question on many college senior's minds -- what am I going to do after I graduate? Up until college it seemed that my path in life had been virtually predetermined -- get good grades, keep up the extracurriculars, and get into college. Now it seemed that there were so many options, it was hard to focus.

Graduate school was quickly ruled out. The only graduate school I could see myself doing was an MFA in art and didn't seem like a feasible option. Should I do a second BFA in fashion? Apply for a fellowship? What kind of job should I apply for? I knew that because I didn't have formal training in fashion, it would be difficult to get a design job straight out of college.

I was tempted to try to apply for the sorts of jobs my friends were applying for in finance and consulting but my GPA and background did me a favor and ruled those options out. At that point, Abercrombie & Fitch, Gap Inc, and Polo Ralph Lauren were all recruiting for their executive training programs at Harvard, so I applied. I went through the interview processes with all three companies, making it to the final round with each. A&F flew us out to Columbus, Gap flew us out to San Francisco, and Polo flew us to New York.

Along the way, my friend Michelle (who had done the fashion show with me) found out about a career fair at FIT in the fall and we went. It was interesting but the best part was that the original keynote speaker, who was supposed to be Michael Kors, I believe, had suddenly been unable to attend, and was instead replaced by Jack McCullough and Lazaro Hernandez, the designers of a new line called Proenza Schouler.

One woman who had worked in the industry for a while told me that my best bet in learning the business would be to work for a young startup, especially since my ultimate goal was to start my own business. The two that had been getting a lot of buzz around that time (this was fall of 2003) were Proenza Schouler and Zac Posen, and I knew it would be a great opportunity to work for either of them. At the end of their talk, Michelle and I went up to them and I talked to the designers (I remembered Jack from my very brief stint at Marc Jacobs) and I handed them my resume. They said they didn't have a job open at the time, so I didn't expect much to happen from our encounter.

The interview processes with the three aforementioned companies happened in a succession with A&F finishing in late fall, Gap finishing in early spring, and Polo finishing later on in the spring. (Funnily enough, I ran into a Galliano intern at the Polo final round interviews.) One after another, I made it to the final round only to not get hired. In hindsight, I probably shouldn't have mentioned that I was more interested in design than being placed in the training programs, but I also knew deep down inside that they weren't the kinds of jobs I wanted, where I would be another cog in a corporate machine. However, I was still devastated. I wanted some sort of security, reassurance that I'd be OK after I graduated from college.

If security was what I wanted, I probably should have chosen a different profession.

In the meantime, I had also been half-heartedly applying for fellowships and admission to FIT. My mentor had introduced me to Kenneth Cole, who did a talk at the Kennedy School some time in the fall related to his book, which was about how he advanced causes he supported through his business and vice versa. I wrote a thank you note to him with my resume enclosed, and soon got a phone call from his HR department. We met but when I realized that they didn't really have a separate design department for clothes (at the time the clothing design was done out of house), the talks stopped.

I was also focusing most of my efforts on my VES thesis, which was studio work about the nexus of art and fashion. We were each given studio space and a fairly generous budget for materials based on our proposals. Doing the thesis proved difficult in a number of ways. Firstly, I felt pulled in all different directions. I really wanted to do a painting thesis but there is a bit of a negative bias against painting, which is often viewed as backwards and old-fashioned. Since I was exploring fashion, I was encouraged in critiques and discussions to do photography and performance, media which interested me less than painting. Secondly, I had a hard time managing myself, being disciplined and putting in regular studio time -- something I still struggle with today. I would work in fits and spurts. My thesis reflected these problems. While I received decent marks at the final review, they were less than what I had hoped for because my thesis didn't feel resolved. Rather, my reviewers said it felt more like an exploration of ideas than a comprehensive project. I included paintings, photographs, and performance, but each component seemed like a separate project. They didn't really work together. I was very disappointed with my work and when it was over, wished that I had stuck to my guns and done more of the representational photorealistic work I had started out doing.

Spring rolled around and I was feeling pretty depressed. I was disappointed with my thesis, I hadn't gotten any of the jobs or fellowships I had applied for, hadn't gotten into FIT (although I knew the portfolio I submitted was poorly done), and wasn't sure what I would be doing after I graduated in June. I felt lost.

However, I soon discovered that God did have plans for me.

Sometime in the spring, I found out that I had been chosen as a semi-finalist for the Mastercard Priceless Experience Internship Contest, which I had applied for on a whim when I had seen info about it on a e-mail to the house list. The internship would involve living in LA for several weeks and shooting a music video. The initial application was a very short essay on why you are interested in music videos. For me, music videos was a great intersection of my artistic interests -- fashion/visual art, music, and film. I think they had chosen 32 semi-finalists. To be chosen as a finalist, you had to submit a video of yourself, discussing your favorite music video and why it was your favorite, without using clips of the actual video. My family friend Casey had shown me a bunch of Guns N Rosesn and Michael Jackson videos when I had visited Yale for the Game in the fall, and I chose November Rain, partly because I liked the dramatic costumes (especially in the wedding scene), and discussed how fashion plays an important role in music videos.

I found out a few weeks later that I had been selected as a finalist, and would be flying out to Los Angeles a couple of weeks after graduation.

Soon after that, I got an e-mail from the production manager at Proenza Schouler, telling me that there was an opening and to contact her if I would be interested in an interview. We corresponded and I informed her I was definitely interested but would be going to Los Angeles for several weeks after graduation. She told me to contact her when I was back in New York.

By the time I graduated, I was still unsure of what I would be doing after the summer, but I was feeling more hopeful as I prepared for my upcoming trip to Los Angeles.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Why I Love Scotland -- long version

I might be obsessed with Scotland. When it comes up in conversation, people ask me how I became so obsessed. As with most things that one loves passionately, it can't be reduced to one simple reason.

First of all, it might be helpful to talk about why many Americans love English culture/people/stuff. It's because of a certain duality. America inherited much of her culture, at least in the beginning, from England, as a British colony. At the same time, English culture is distinct from American culture (some say America doesn't have a culture because its culture is a mix of the many different cultures of the immigrants who have come to this country, so it's hard to pinpoint one distinct culture). So you've got the English accents, the sharp wit, the quirky creativeness (the British invasions in music, the YBAs in contemporary art, the talented fashion designers that continue to come out of Central St Martins). In short, Americans like English culture/people/stuff because it's foreign (different) but not too foreign, like, say, Sri Lanka, which feels less accessible.

So having established that, Scottish culture/people/stuff can be characterized by what I've described about England but more extreme. The accents are more distinctive, less common (at least here in New York), and more exotic than your standard English accents. Scottish people do "strange" things -- they eat haggis, wear kilts, play bagpipes, speak Gaelic, but they're still part of the UK (remember the shared heritage) and pretty much speak the same language as us. For such a small country (around 5 million, about a tenth of the population of England), it has managed to churn out some of my favorites -- one of my fave bands (Franz Ferdinand), one of my fave designers (Christopher Kane), etc. There are probably other artists/designers/musicians that I haven't mentioned or maybe don't even know about -- every so often I'll delightedly discover that something else that I love is from Scotland! And come on, who doesn't love the movie Braveheart?

How did this insanity all start?

Well, I will tell you. Remember, this is the long version.

Growing up, I had a few Irish-American friends. My town was very Jewish, but there was a decent sized Italian- and Irish-American population. My Irish friends were cool -- hard working but also fun-loving, and always ready for a drink (yes, we're stereotyping).

Fast-forward to junior year of college. After having been classically trained as a violinist, I decided to join an "acoustic-electric progressive symphonic folk rock group." I was trying to figure out what kind of pickup to use, and in the process became friends with the premier fiddle player in my class at Harvard, Gabe Jostrom (check out his band). He introduced me to a few different artists, including Ashley MacIsaac, a Nova Scotian (i.e. New Scotland) fiddler, whose music was the most interesting to me. Since American bluegrass/folk music has roots in Celtic music, I became more interested in Irish/Scottish culture as I learned more about improvisational violin music.

Fast-forward again to the summer of 2004, after I graduated from college. As part of the Mastercard Priceless Internship program, we got to hang out at one of the locations on the Warped Tour. With the other interns, I snuck backstage during the set of Flogging Molly, an Irish folk-punk rock band. The set was electrifying and I was excited by their instrumentation, including a violinist. Their lead singer sings with a thick Irish accent and references his childhood in Dublin. As I became a big fan of the band, I became more interested in Irish culture. Flogging Molly's music was so vibrant and energetic, but the words were sad and melancholy. It was an interesting dichotomy and I loved listening to the different instrumentation. The traditional touches were refreshing after listening to so much commercialized crap with the same synths and electric guitar sounds.

I went to another Flogging Molly show that fall and also decided I wanted to visit Dublin, to see the place which had inspired such lively and spirited music. I got a chance that spring, but was a bit disappointed. I'm not sure what I was expecting -- maybe a quaint and pretty city that was lively and spirited like the music. There were parts that were like that, but the city was in a transitional state, developing. There were more industrial and urban sections that looked more like your average American town. There was a sadness about it, which made sense given the lyrics in the songs and the history of the city. In short, it failed to meet my expectations.

However, during that same trip, I had scheduled a day trip to Edinburgh (I think because I had also become a fan of Franz Ferdinand that fall because of my boss, who liked to play it at work). Edinburgh was everything that I had expected and hoped for in Dublin, and hadn't expected for Scotland. During that day trip, we did a tour of the city, including a requisite visit to Edinburgh castle. The city is breathtaking in a majestic way, and I loved walking on the cobblestones in the Royal Mile, feeling like I was back in the Middle Ages. I was delighted by the tour guides wearing kilts and the accents that I could barely understand. I fell in love with the city and Scotland and decided I wanted to come back.

What I love about Scotland is that same wonderful feeling of surprise I felt when I visited Edinburgh. That feeling you get when you experience something unexpected but wonderful. Although I have only managed to go back once so far, and very briefly, every once in a while I'll hear about a new designer or musician or trend or news (like this) from Scotland that is wonderful/awesome/hilarious in an unpredictable way. My friends make fun of me, but also encourage me by sending me articles they find about Scotland.

I half-jokingly say I want to marry someone from Scotland although I have never actually met any cool Scottish (from Scotland, not American) men in person (and there don't seem to be many in New York). My answer may not satisfy most, but I would ask that before you write me off as nuts, you should really visit Edinburgh! You would understand how J.K. Rowling wrote her Harry Potter books there (yup, another awesome thing that came out of Scotland, although Rowling is actually English).

That is all.

The Evolution of an Haute Couture Collection - Aftermath

The day after the show, the studio was very quiet. It was the last day for three of the interns. Most of the designers were away, probably on vacation. Siria and Natalie were busy working on sketches/designs for the haute couture clients. Marie organized some leather samples for Sophie, and Karin and I cleaned up the studio. It was hard to believe that a couple of days ago the studio had been filled with people -- Steven, John, Francois Toledano, a writer doing a story for the New Yorker, workers from the atelier including the heads, Sophie and Rafael, other assistant designers, models, two women taking polaroids of each model --- and now it was totally empty. There wasn't much to clean; it had already been mostly tidied up.

After our last lunch all together at the cantine (the employee cafeteria), we watched a video of the show, which was already done. Then we watched the version televised on Paris Premier the night before, which had interviews with John, and clips of John and Steven watching the models walk around in the toiles of the dresses.

Afterwards, we just kind of chilled. It was a little sad that it was all over. We exchanged contact info. Rambert gave us each a gift. It was an earring, shaped like a nail, in a pretty white Dior gift box with a matching ribbon. Karin said Steven must have been pleased with the show because she hadn't gotten anything after the last show.

I had two more days left. the next day things picked up because a woman had ordered 65 dresses, so Siria was hard at work, sketching the models. She asked me to photocopy the fabrics at 40% so she could use them for her illustration. I ended up making 6 copies of each fabric sample because reducing them in size made them too small. Then I fit the copies together to try to resemble a miniature version of the fabric. Then Siria took the collaged photocopies and cut out the dresses she'd designed from them. With her markers and watercolors, she deftly worked on the photocopies to make the illustrations look more photorealistic. Since she had so many models to do, we worked this way for the rest of the day, stopping only for lunch.

On my last day of work, Siria showed me how to cut out dresses from the photocopies I had made. Once she showed me, I realized how easy it is. So I helped her cut them out so she could put details on them. I was glad that Tiana had showed me how to use the color photocopy machine, because the tricks she had showedme came in handy. For instance, Siria had this cream colored lace she tried to color red, but when she used the marker on the photocopy, you couldn't see the lace. So I used one of the tricks Tiana showed me to photocopy the lace in red.

At some point, Steven, who was already back, had ordered some Chinese takeout, but he gave it to me and Caroline when John called him out for lunch. Through the course of the day, different groups of people would watch the show on video in the reception area of the studio, including Steven. I tied to watch his reaction, but I couldn't tell what he was thinking.

Before I left for good at 6PM, I got different people's contact info. After I left, I bought myself a pair of shoes I had been eyeing, and went home to pack.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Evolution of an Haute Couture Collection - Part 4

Not having slept at all, we returned to the studio at 9:30AM. First I went to the Grand Salon to see if they needed any help. They were madly finishing up their work, working on the final dresses. All of the designers helped with the finishing touches, ruching a skirt or sewing sequins.

After a while I went up to the Atelier Flou. We helped Rambert get the dresses down one by one as they were finished. The "petite main" who had finished the dress would put it on a hanger and then we'd put a polybag over it. Then we'd take the elevator down from the fifth floor (where the ateliers were) to the second floor, down the steps to the studio (there was a half staircase between the second floor and the design studio), where Nicolas (one of the production managers) and other people were packing up the dresses for the movers. They were making sure every dress was there, noting the label on the dress.

We finished at around 1:30PM, when we all got into cars to go to to the Hippodrome d'Auteuil, where the show was being held. With our backstage badges we were able to waltz right in. On one side there was a temporary makeup rooms with tables with mirros, stools in front, lights, and makeup artists putting on finishing touches on some of the models. There were photographers and cameramen everywhere, madly taking pictures and interviewing the models.
Here is Sam, one of the designers, helping Jacquetta Wheeler with her outfit.

We went through the flap to the dressing area, where the models had begun to put on their outfits. Each model had a clothing rack, with her name and polaroid photo posted on a piece of oaktag above the rack. Her clothes were on the rack, and the dresses were helping them get into their clothes.
Alek's rack.
A dresser helping Stella Tennant, probably my favorite model.

There was a huge sign tacked above the entry to the catwalk with words of inspiration.

The lineup.

We ran around, helping dress the girls, taking pictures -- it was nuts. I managed to introduce myself to Andre Leon Talley.

Karolina KurkovaStephen Jones adjusting a hat.Natalia Vodianova.a closeupMarie, lacing up Alek's with Valery Prince and another friendly model.

The models were all very tall, and with their heels they seemed gargantuan. We had been told that we would not be able to watch the show but at the very last minute, before the girls went out, we dashed into the auditorium to try to find a place to watch the show.

The show itself was incredible. It was amazing to see it all come together. The interior of the space was vast and there must have been at least a couple hundred people inside. The space was totally darkened except for the spotlight on the models, and the wall of photographers at the end of the catwalk whose flashes were going off nonstop. The soundtrack we'd been hearing in the studio was on full blast in the auditorium. Elizabeth Hurley and Jack Nicholson were among the many VIPs.

One by one, the models filed out on the catwalk and they all looked magnificent. Steven and John had added touches like torn up shirts around the models waists and tape on some of their fingers to really conjure up the essence of the theme of the dance. Some had gestures to act out as well, like a girl who lifted up her skirt for the audience.

A couple of girls actually slipped. The really high heels coupled with the extremely voluminous and unwieldy dresses made for a dangerous combination. After the last model, Ai, had filed off, there was a pause. The music started again, and the audience clapped for the finale with all 50 girls filing down one after another. Then the music stopped. Another pause, and even before the music began, people were whistling for John, who came out in a crazy outfit, his hair all wet as if drenched with sweat. He stopped a couple of times on the catwalk, snapped his head, looking down at the audience (the catwalk was raised). There were security guards following on the sides, I guess to prevent any crazy fans from chasing him.

As soon as he'd disappeared, we ran backstage again, where the models were busy getting undressed and the designers were chatting. Eventually everyone made their way to the makeup area, in front of which servers were pouring Moet into plastic champagne glasses. We all got glasses and chilled. We watched as the Arnaults made their way out, snapped by the paparazzi. Natalia Vodianova and her husband were also snapped.
With the other interns, after the show.
With Mr. Kyuin Chae, or "Queen," his nickname (although I think he's straight).

Gradually, as people left, it got quieter. Caroline and Aurore, two of the interns, left with a couple of people from the lingerie department. Karin, Marie, and I (the other interns) asked Sophie to call us a cab to get us back to the office. Instead, we ended up taking an Espace back with Mme Riviere. Then we went back to the office, where Siria and some of the production people were already back to work. We chilled a bit, and then went home. I had dinner, and then slept for a long time.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Evolution of an Haute Couture Collection - Part 3

The show was scheduled for July 7, 2003, which was a Monday. We worked straight through the last few days, through the weekend, in preparation. It was thrilling to see the collection coming together -- the fabrics whose designs we'd collaged together, the toiles we'd helped cut out and carry transformed into real garments, little things like the fabric tape we'd helped iron and color in with marker.

The day before was a Sunday, and as is typical the day before a show, all hands were on deck until the last moments. The Galliano interns came during the day but it was slow at first and they were told to go (but returned later).

At 3PM the models came in for fittings. The design studio was filled with all 50 of them (I noted 50 exits, although on there are only 49). They sipped on the Evian and Diet Coke laid out for them, watching a movie that played in the reception area while they waited their turn, but as one of the interns noted, none at the cookies (which we ate). I'm not going to lie, I felt a little starstruck when I saw Karolina Kurkova belting Beyonce from the top of her lungs.

A couple hours after the fittings began, one of the Galliano designers who fairly recently started his own line, Queen, (aka Kyuin Chae) started to make padding for the balconnet bras that all the models would wear under their garments in the show. The back of the design studio was transformed into an atelier and we all started helping with sewing the bras.

At 9PM we ate dinner, Lebanese food. Around 11, some of the models with later fittings went out for drinks with Sam and Alex, the pret-a-porter designers.

Below is a gratuitous photo from the evening with Sam, and Ikuko, two of the designers, and Marie, a fellow intern who I think now works at Dior.
Meanwhile the bra factory was going strong. We put on peppy music to keep us going. The fittings went on til about 4AM. When that was finished we relaxed for a bit until a Galliano intern, Brian, asked us to come help at the Grand Salon. The Grand Salon is a huge room where I am guessing they held the original Dior fashion shows, when the women used to walk around with numbers. It had been transformed to a work station, with contract workers flown in from Germany to assist in finishing the garments in time. We helped with sewing sequins onto the dresses. It took us forever but it was incredible to watch the women, whose fingers flew. Eventually, at around 6AM, Florence, one of the women in the Atelier Flou, took the skirts from us, and we went back to the studio to help Rambert, the studio director. Finally Rambert called us cabs and we left at 7AM, to return at 9AM.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Evolution of an Haute Couture Collection - Part 2

Once the muslins were made, they would be presented to Galliano on the models. We would hear loud music blasting from the front area of the design studio where John would be seated with his assistants, Bill and Steven, and models would be prancing back and forth, sometimes with stockings on their heads. Notes were taken, Polaroids were shot, and sketches were drawn. The muslins would be taken to the ateliers where they would be used to make the show samples. The pieces were extremely heavy, with lots of crinoline and tulle to create the volume that Galliano is known for, and it would be tricky to carry the pieces from the design studio to the atelier. (The Dior mansion which headquarters the company is massive).

At the same time, the assistant designers were tending to the rest of the ship, such as this lingerie/swimwear fitting:

One great thing about interning at Dior is that they had the means to employ the top people in their fields. So I found myself fetching shoe polish and spray paint for Stephen Jones, who makes many of the hats and head pieces for the Dior shows. One time I was sent to get hairspray and I saw Stephen Jones and Orlando Pita chatting on the couch by the reception area. A week or so before the show, Pat McGrath waltzed around with her crew, doing makeup tests with models. There were models made up to look like they were sweaty from dancing. She had a rich voice and a thick British accent and was very friendly when she came over with Polaroids of the models to be photocopied.

Around this time we'd see tons of models around the studio for casting. Many were young, very skinny Eastern European girls. We did meet an American girl though, named Valery Prince, who was very friendly. We'd hear loud music blasting from the front area where Galliano and his team would watch the girls walk. The music was a blend of Coldplay, Beyonce, dance music, and tap and flamenco rhythms, which would become the show soundtrack.

As the show approached, things in the studio became more and more hectic. Lots of unfamiliar people came and went. We even caught a glimpse of Monsieur Arnault (chairman of Dior and LVMH) and Monseiur Toledano (Dior's CEO). There was a photographer snapping pictures in the studio, for what I think would be a documentary. There would be music blaring to keep people pepped up, and we were sent to and from the ateliers. Anticipation mounted for the show.

Saturday, June 28, 2008


Apologies for not updating as frequently as I would like. Things have been a little tough lately, as you might have guessed from my posts. I've been struggling with anxiety and depression as well as little snags here and there. However, I'm feeling better. I will be selling at the Young Designer's Market today and hopefully I will get around to updating my blog soon.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Van Gogh

My favorite painter is Van Gogh. At some point after he decided to pursue his career as a painter he became estranged from his parents (along with many other people in his life). His brother Theo remained his loyal and staunch supporter until the end, giving him financial support even when he failed to sell more than a couple of paintings before he died (now they're worth millions). I told my brother long ago that he would be my Theo.

Sometimes when I get into a fight with my parents about my career choice, I remind myself of Van Gogh.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Evolution of an Haute Couture Collection - Part 1

Rather than reproduce the journal entries I wrote while I was interning at Dior, I will instead reconstruct events based on those entries as well as realizations I came to afterward. Although I aim to be as accurate as possible, there may be slight inaccuracies or things I don't remember. I will do my best.

The haute couture collection was developed in a surprisingly short period of time (about a month), given the intricacy and number of garments (there were 49). It started with Galliano deciding on a theme, which for that particular season, was the dance. All different styles were drawn upon for inspiration, ranging from flamenco to ballet to reggae.

Here are some photos of the inspiration boards.

The reason why it is possible for a house like Dior to produce an haute couture collection in such a brief amount of time (while simultaneously continuing work on its pret-a-porter and accessories lines) is because it has a very organized and well-developed infrastructure. At the time there was Galliano with his two head assistant designers -- Steven Robinson (who passed away not too long ago) and Bill (I forget his last name). According to one of the interns, Steven was more involved in the artistry and Bill was involved with the technical aspects.

Below them was a host of designers in specialized areas, plus a studio manager who coordinated everything and the production staff who kept track of the design process in order to be able to coordinate production in the future.

Each designer had a specialized function. In French there are more specific descriptions of fashion designers than in English. There is the term "createur," which has subtle connotations of being the person with the ideas or concept. Then there is the term "modeliste" which describes a designer who makes prototypes, or "toiles" as they are described in French, by draping them out of muslin on the mannequin, more like a sculptor. Then there is the term "styliste" which describes a designer who designs by sketching on paper.

In this case Galliano would fit the "createur" role, since he was the mastermind behind the collection, and directed his assistants with his vision. I have heard a comparison between fashion designers and film directors, which makes sense to me after witnessing both processes. At some point, both have had experience with many, if not all, aspects of the creative process, but ultimately they direct other people to execute the vision that they have.

There were a few "modelistes" in the studio, one Korean girl who had studied at the Chambre Syndicale and two from northern Europe (I forget where exactly, maybe Norway or Sweden?) who had studied in their countries of origin. They were given directives from Galliano or his head assistants but told me that instead of being assigned specific shapes they had freedom to experiment, and Galliano served as a "third eye" to yea or nay what they came up with, guiding them.

Here is one of them, hard at work. You can see how sculptural the process is, as Galliano's style tends to involve an intricate three-dimensionality.

Then there were a couple of "stylistes" who worked to adapt the couture designs to more wearable options for clients and celebrities who were comped with free clothes. They would also attend fittings so that they were aware of the details of the garments and/or perhaps document them for organization purposes. There was one girl who was there full-time, having recently graduated from St Martins (a large number of the designers were St Martins grads, as was Galliano). Another was freelance and had previously worked at Valentino. Both were elegant and beautiful Italian women.

There was also a textile designer, who had also graduated from St Martins. For some reason, they didn't really use computers or the internet much at the studio, so most of her design work was accomplished through the use of physically cutting and pasting with photocopies, with the help of us interns.

There was also a knits designer, who knitted leg warmers, leggings, and a rasta beanie for the show (among other responsibilities).

There were several other designers, including accessories designers and designers for the pret-a-porter collections (who were still involved in the couture collection as they would later adapt certain ideas for pret-a-porter), and some freelance designers as well. There were so many with all different functions that it was difficult to keep track of who did what. Somehow they all worked together to fulfill Galliano's vision.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Internship at Christian Dior -- Introduction

Julian's friend was a contributing editor at Vogue at the time, and had suggested through Julian that I keep a diary of my internship there, for possible inclusion in the magazine. That didn't happen, but I'm glad I kept a record of my internship.

Much of my experience involved just trying to figure out what was happening. There were several reasons for my confusion. First of all, I had not yet had any formal training in fashion aside from my very brief experience at Marc Jacobs, which, in comparison to Dior, was still a small enterprise. Secondly, my French was lacking and while Galliano, his head assistants, and several of the other assistant designers were British or at least English-speaking, much of the design studio and other employees as well as interns with whom I interacted on a daily basis were either French of spoke French more fluently than English. Thirdly, Dior is a massive organization. I was there to assist with the haute couture collection, but at the same time there were people working on the pret-a-porter, accessories, and lingerie collections. To further complicate things, Galliano had his own design studio for his eponymous label in the 20th arrondissement, whose designers and interns also came to help out in the Dior studio. There were so many things going on at the same time that it was hard to keep track and really follow everything.

When I started my internship on June 10th, there were already three other interns, all French. Another joined a week or so later. Three had gotten their internships through some sort of connection (like me), but one had gotten her internship through her own merit, having just finished her schooling at the Chambre Syndicale. Her name was Karin and she was very friendly. She had been there for a few months and helped me to piece together what was happening.

At the time, John Galliano was one of my favorite designers (I still respect him but right now my favorite designers are probably Nicolas Ghesquiere and Christopher Kane). So for me, seeing him was like seeing a rock star. We would see him from time to time and he was very friendly. I vividly remember him in a pink tank, pink bandana, and hair in two braids like a schoolgirl. I got to speak to him on a couple of occasions, once when I was organizing books for him and another time when I went down in the tiny elevator with him (there was a regular sized elevator and there was a small two-person sized elevator). This is the conversation we had:

me: I just wanted to say, I want to be like you when I grow up!
JG: (laughs) You will! (we get off the elevator) See you later!

Right. One of the best assignments I was given involved hopping in a sleek black BMW to drive to Galliano's beautiful residence in the Marais. I walked inside the front foyer, almost attacked by a tiny barking (but harmless) dog, and dropped off the show soundtrack for him. However, most of the assignments were standard intern bitchwork: making (lots of) photocopies, which was necessary for keeping everyone in the studio and production staff on the same page (literally), fetching McDonalds/coffee/shoe polish/thongs/fabric swatches/wifebeaters/spray paint/anything and everything, ironing fabric tape, dyeing said fabric tape, cutting out patterns and pieces of fabric, sewing/embroidering small things, etc.

I leave you with this image:

My Second Trip to Paris

After completing my junior year of college, I headed to Paris in June of 2003. Exhausted after my flight, once aboard the airport bus from Charles de Gaulle to the Arc de Triomphe, I fell asleep, foolishly leaving the Louis Vuitton wallet I had purchased that spring on the seat next to me. When I got off the bus, I got that sinking feeling that came with the realization that someone had stolen it.

Despite the rough start (a stranger kindly gave me a Metro ticket, without which I wouldn't have made it to my destination since all my cash and cards were in that wallet) and the several sketchy men I managed to encounter during my stay in Paris (French men can be very aggressive in a creepy way), the city did not fail to charm me.

My foyer (pictured below) was located on the beautiful Ile Saint Louis (basically, the other island in the middle of the Seine, at the city center, which connects to Ile de la Cite, where the Notre Dame cathedral is situated).
Walking across the Seine every day was surreal. I didn't get my first iPod until after college, and at the time I was still using my MiniDisc player. My soundtrack for that summer was Jimmy Eat World's "Clarity" album, and hearing songs from that album still reminds me of that summer in Paris.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Marc Jacobs, on Art, in Interview Magazine

I’m not really well educated—other than an art survey course at the High School of Art and Design in New York when I was, like, 15. I don’t know the history of art, but I got over intimidation from the art world when I realized that I was allowed to feel whatever I want and like whatever I want. That’s what I always laugh about with Richard [Prince]. When someone says, "Why did you do that?” and you say, "Because I liked it”—I think that’s really enough. And when I think about what came before Pop art, I understand that maybe these people were spilling their guts onto canvas through use of abstract strokes and colors and techniques, but that’s not really moving to me. There’s something about what I see every day, and the banal—I mean, what Pop was. I can kind of worship that, and I can look at that and smile, or I can just say I like it and that’s fine. That’s all I really want. I don’t want to work that hard, you know? I like what Pop did, and I think that we live in a world where, on every level, people like what Pop did.

Friday, May 23, 2008

My First Trip to Paris

I had studied French since 5th grade and I had always wanted to visit Paris but had never had the opportunity. I decided that even if I wasn't able to get an internship that summer in Paris, I needed to visit before I graduated. I couldn't find anyone I really wanted to go with so I decided to go alone during my spring break. One of the house masters was a professor in French literature so he gave me a recommendation for a good cheap hotel in the 6th arrondissement, near the Jardin du Luxembourg, called Hotel Jean Bart. The proprietor was an old French man who spoke no English and the hotel was very French. The rooms were tiny but there was a free breakfast that included delicious warm croissants and hot chocolate.

Paris is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities in the world and very pleasant in the spring time. It was surreal walking around the city. I felt safe walking around alone, even at night (although I didn't stay out too late).

Fortunately, during my stay, I was able to schedule my interview with Madame Riviere, the Directrice de la Haute Couture. I made my way to the 8th arrondissement, the ritzy neighborhood where many of the big fashion houses are headquartered, along with fancy hotels and expensive nightclubs. Someone at the boutique housed on the ground floor of the Dior mansion directed me towards the back entrance, where there is a reception area and the entrance to the offices and studios. After a while, Mme Riviere's assistant, Cecile Levy, let me in to see Madame. She gave me a brief introduction to haute couture, somewhat condescendingly as she puffed on her cigarette. She was very thin and dressed in a very French and chic manner. I realized that her haughtiness had probably developed from her job of communicating daily with very rich and powerful women. The interview was more of a formality. While I don't remember much of what was said, I left knowing I would be interning at Christian Dior Couture that summer.

When I returned to Cambridge, I began the arduous processing of paperwork necessary to do pretty much anything in Paris. I had to get the French Consulate to sponsor me for a Convention du Stage ("stage" meaning internship). A new acquaintance told me about a foyer, or residence hall, she had stayed at when she was in Paris the previous summer.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Simple Life

I happened to watch a bit of Nightline last night and one segment caught my attention. It was about a family in Pasadena that has a small farm on their 1/5 acre property and has managed to be self-sufficient. They make money mainly through selling produce grown on their property and also do things like distill their own car fuel from waste vegetable oil and use solar panels for heating. You can watch the segment here.

It was actually quite interesting to me because I've always romanticized a time when people could pretty much do or make whatever they needed, be it food, clothes, tools, furniture, etc. This is one reason I am enamored with Native American culture. As a lass, I was fascinated in school when they taught us about the Iroquois and how they made their own longhouses and tools and clothing and weapons. Sure I understand the importance of the Industrial Revolution and ideas like the division of labor, and I love my Apple products and gizmos as much as the next person. And I don't think I'd ever want to live on a farm for more than a week. But I've always enjoyed being able to make things that you might normally buy, such as greeting cards. When you make something with your own hands, it's more unique and more meaningful because it takes you that extra time to do it.

The segment emphasized the family's frugality, which highlighted another unfortunate consequence of industrialization -- waste. Now, I'm not a big tree hugger (although when I was younger I used to be really into the whole idea of saving the earth through recycling and whatnot, and I used to have this book:)

but growing up in a Korean household, I was ingrained with a notion of frugality. It was cool to see one of the daughters using a hand cranked blender as opposed to an electric one, or seeing her cut her brother's hair (something I've always wanted to try but haven't because I'm afraid of giving my brother a bad haircut).

The whole idea of being "green" is a big trend in fashion now, although often I question the motives. For instance, people are all about clothing made from organic cotton but what would be more "green" would be to recycle garments that are already made. One thing I've done for a while is take old clothes and reconstruct them. At first it started because I wasn't very good at sewing, but I still retain an interest in it because it's good for the environment and often you find outdated clothing at thrift stores that has potential to be interesting if you just shorten the hem or take in a seam. It's a project I'm incubating because I enjoy it but it's very labor-intensive and difficult to scale since you're mainly making one-offs, so I haven't figured out how to make it a profitable venture. I love H&M, but sometimes I wonder what happens to all the clothes that aren't sold, and how they manage to make the clothes so cheaply...

An Introduction to Haute Couture

So if you watched my video you would know that the spring semester of my junior year I was busy with a myriad of projects -- costume design for the campus G&S production and designing for Eleganza in addition to keeping up with my VES painting and video courses, plus my other coursework and extracurricular activities (mainly the Korean drum troupe and the band I was in).

Sometime after Contradictions, Michelle and I were in New York and visited my professor, Julian, at his loft in Greenwich Village. I told him about the show and how I was interested in getting an internship in Paris, although I hadn't figured out how to make this happen. He said his friend, who I had met briefly when she came up for our class art show the year before, might be able to help me. He talked to her and she said that she thought that I should intern for a couture house, to really see the epitome of fashion. She was a big couture client and forwarded my resume to the different couture houses.

Before I continue my story, I want to enlighten my readers with the true definition of "haute couture," because before this all happened I was pretty much in the dark and now when I hear some really bad shit described as "couture" I get a little irritated. The BBC actually did a good documentary on it, which you can view here. In French, "haute" literally means high and "couture" means sewing or dressmaking (or seam, depending on the context). As Dior's haughty Directrice de la Haute Couture informed me, haute couture is clothing made by one of a dozen houses, or maisons de la couture, approved by the Chambre Syndicale which regulates the haute couture industry. The clothing is made specifically for the client and is therefore one-of-a-kind. The Chambre Syndicale has strict rules for which houses can be considered haute couture, including the following:
  • Design made-to-order for private clients, with one or more fittings.
  • Have a workshop (atelier) in Paris that employs at least fifteen people full-time.
  • Each season (i.e. twice a year), present a collection to the Paris press, comprising at least thirty-five runs with outfits for both daytime wear and evening wear.
Other well-known houses such as YSL and Lanvin were once couture houses but the couture clientele has been steadily shrinking over the past couple of decades (blame H&M). Garments cost upwards of $25,000 for a suit (I was informed by a couture client that suits at Dior now cost 40K EUROS). The more complicated the garment, the more expensive, and garments can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Haute couture garments incorporate fabrics made specifically for the house, and generally cost hundreds of dollars per yard or more.

The other big component of the cost is the labor. The workers, or "petits mains," at the ateliers of these houses start training when they are in their teens and generally work their way up from apprentices to the head of the atelier. They don't generally get paid a ton, but couture garments can take hundreds of hours to make. A lot of the work is done by hand and whereas many short-cuts are taken in ready-to-wear (or "pret-a-porter"), couture garments are expected to look as beautiful on the inside as they do on the outside. The inner construction is carefully hidden and the littlest details, like the finishing of a hem or a seam, are regarded with great importance.

Clients start with a meeting with the directrice, generally after the haute couture show, or defile. They describe what garments they are interested in -- generally they won't want the garment as shown on the runway. Often the looks on the runway are quite outlandish, to show off the craft and the capabilities of the house. The client might ask for a suit or dress made from the fabrics in one of the outfits on the runway. An illustrator attends the meetings and sketches an idea of what the client wants. The sketches are given to whichever atelier will be responsible. There is an atelier flou, for dresses and softer, draped garments, and an atelier tailleur, for tailored garments.

The client gets a fitting where appropriate measurements are recorded and placed in the client's file. A mannequin that is slightly smaller than the client is taken and padding is added where appropriate to resemble the client's form as much as possible. For instance, if the client's hips are a little wider than the mannequin, the padding is added there. A prototype, or "toile," is made out of muslin of the outfit. The client is fitted with this proto and the appropriate changes are made. They use the muslin because the fabric is so expensive they don't want to mess up on the first round. After this first fitting the garment is begun, though not finished, and with large seam allowances (seam allowances on most garments these days are around 1/2" wide, maybe 1" at the most -- haute couture garments generally have 2" or wider seam allowances). The atelier workers are quite skilled so once the garment is finished and they have another fitting the garment fits the client beautifully. However, if the garment is not correct, the atelier will work until it is perfect. The atelier workers have extremely strict standards and see imperfections that most people, even many dressmakers, might not catch. Also, if the client happens to gain or lose weight in the future, they can always come in and get the garment altered to fit them correctly.

Haute couture is generally a money-losing business (with the exception of Chanel), which is why many couture houses have shut down. Despite the high costs of the garments, it's hard to make money since the fashion shows cost millions of dollars, the cost of French labor is high, and there aren't many couture clients left. The ones that carry on do it for the publicity to maintain brand cachet and prop up the fragrance and accessories businesses that are the true moneymakers for the brand. However, because of the resources available to the biggest couture houses, including the level of crafstmanship, haute couture is truly where fashion and art intersect. This was why I jumped at the chance of getting to witness how this world worked firsthand.

The first hurdle was an interview with Dior's Directrice, a Madame Riviere. I missed her while she was meeting with clients in New York (she flies all over the world to meet with clients and do fittings since some clients don't have the time or simply can't be bothered with flying to Paris) since I was in school in Boston, so it was decided I would interview with her at the Dior headquarters in Paris, during my first trip to Paris ever.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Living In A Video - Part 2

Sometime during the spring semester, a major Korean broadcasting company, MBC, approached the Harvard Korean association, looking for individual students with "unique" backgrounds to cover for their upcoming documentary on Korean Ivy League students. Since there weren't many Korean students at Harvard who were as involved in the arts as me, my name was one of the ones given to the documentary crew. Since I was in the middle of learning about videomaking, I thought it would be an interesting experience, so I agreed to be one of their subjects. They ended up following me around as much as possible, although University policy prohibited them from entering certain spaces, like Lowell Lecture Hall, where Eleganza rehearsals and the performance took place. (I ended up letting them use some of the footage I used for my own video). It was amusing to see the finished product. In a few instances, they embellished certain details to make things more interesting or dramatic, and said stuff that wasn't entirely true. Since I happened to do a lot of random things I got more screen-time than a lot of the other students featured. What made me happy was that my grandmother who has had multiple strokes and pretty much sits at home all day watching TV got a kick out of the documentary, and ordered a copy so she could watch it every day.

I visited Korea a little while after the documentary aired and a couple people recognized me because of my distinctive eyebrow ring. Click here to view it (unfortunately, I can't figure out how to embed it) -- it's mostly in Korean but there are some bits where I'm talking in English that are humorous.