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.