Friday, February 25, 2011

Five Songs for a Rainy Day

Was very pleased to wake up to the sound of rain pounding on the windows this morning, which is a definite improvement over the incessant snow and ice this winter (of course, it has since turned to ice). Here are a few of my favorite rainy day kinda songs. 

Not all of them directly reference the rain, but they all capture a sense of those mellow days when you can cozy up inside with a cup of tea and avoid venturing out.

Each song is paired with some rain-based artwork that I felt captured their sounds, as well as matching runway fashions from the Fall 2011 collections which were shown in New York, paired mostly for color and texture. Enjoy!


 Michael Kors Fall 2011 Ready-to-Wear
"VCR" by XX
Rain, 1945 by Arthur Leipzig
Michael Kors


ADAM Fall 2011 Ready-to-Wear
"Riders on the Storm" by The Doors
Snow Storm: Steam-Boat Off a Harbour's Mouth by William Turner


 Mulberry Fall 2011 Ready-to-Wear
"Kathy's Song" by Simon & Garfunkel
Woods in the Rain by Tanya Turton


Donna Karan Fall 2011 Ready-to-Wear
"Mad Rush" by Philip Glass
Coastal Rain I by Norman Wyatt Jr.
Donna Karan


 Marchesa Fall 2011 Ready-to-Wear
"A Foggy Day" by George Gershwin as performed by Billie Holiday
Houses of Parliament, Sunset by Claude Monet

[All fashion images from]

It's so easy to fall into a dark grey and black color scheme on days like today, that I always make a point of dressing especially bright when the weather is dreary. It's become a sort of fun challenge that keeps me energized when the weather would bring me down otherwise! Today I ran around town in a bright red pencil skirt and felt fabulous, despite the knee-deep puddles (the gutters are blocked by snow still, so rain now means instant flooding!). Here are some fabulous items to help bring a little color to your rainy days!

Vintage Green Umbrella The Lemon Drop: Sunny Yellow 1970s Vintage Trench Coat, size medium-large
Vintage Air Wair Dr Martens in Cherry Red Leather Womens 7 1/2 UK 5 vintage ROYAL cartwheel hat (ww80sa00-1)
Vintage Green Umbrella from The Op Shop $18
Vintage 1970s Sunny Yellow Trench Coat from Beehive and Bourbon $50
Vintage Air Wair Doc Martens in Cherry Red Leather from Ruby Chic Boutique $58
Vintage Royal Cartwheel Hat from The Paraders $36

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Libya's Search for a Cultural Identity

Like many others, I was appalled to hear reports of military snipers picking off mourners at a funeral in Tripoli. It didn't stop there, as yesterday Libyan warplanes opened fire on protesters in that same city. Some of you may remember my post on modern art and fashion in Egypt during the recent revolution there ("A New Vision of Egypt"), and today I thought I'd take a similar look at the contemporary arts in Libya.

    R. Ben Barka                           H. El Shaery                         M. Bin Lamin 


Rabia Ben Barka was born to a wealthy family in Tripoli and had the opportunity to study fashion in London, Milan, and Rome. During Gaddafi's 1969 coup d'etat, her family was stripped of everything and Ben Barka found herself living in Rome and managing to get by in fashion by working for other designers. Outside her home country she felt unable to realize her dream of fusing Libyan and western fashion.

In the 1980s, Gaddafi's daughter became interested in her designs, and over time with contacts such as these, Ben Barka was able to return to Tripoli and start her label, designing pieces which blended traditional Arabic elements with modern western characteristics. Just take a look at these frocks, paired with Converse-inspired shoes.

She has even designed for Gaddafi himself, a bitter task undoubtedly, but she refuses to mix art and politics. In fact, she won't say a single thing about the regime or Libya's current state. But considering her battle to return to her country and then open its fashion to the outside world, one can only imagine the inspiration she will derive from the drastic changes in coming days.


Hamid Al Shaery is credited with completely re-envisioning Libyan music. From the 1980s to the present day, he has sought to modernize Arabic music by incorporating western elements while staying true to traditional instruments and styles. Here's one of his hits:

Like Ben Barka, he focuses on blending western and Arabic music to create something new that still somehow manages to be distinctly Arabic. But unlike Ben Barka, he is very outspoken about the current state of affairs in his home country (he lives in Egypt now). He has repeatedly stated his support of the revolution and is seeking ways to bring food and aide to the masses being brutalized in Tripoli. In fact, Rahad FM, a radio station owned by El Shaery has officially proclaimed itself pro-democracy live on air. For El Shaery, art and politics are clearly inseparable.


Mohammed Bin Lamin is an extraordinary, self-taught artist whose works seem to create another world, one that is deeply spiritual and full of a sort of wizened peace. Solara Sabah writes that "his works look as if they are a legacy from a great civilization that is vague" and writer Ethan Chorin claims, that though he can't quite put his finger on it, there is something quintessentially Libyan about the haunted paintings.

So here we have a Libyan artist who cannot be said to blend western and Arabic influences. Instead he seems to envision a new world that is grounded in history and has actually learned from it. Perhaps then Bin Lamin, though his works are the least overtly "Libyan" or Arabic of these three artists, is showing us the true Libya.

From that perspective, it is not about how art and politics influence each other, but about the whole they represent. In this case, that whole is a civilization that has not yet found itself (it only became independent in 1951, and Gaddafi has ruled since 1969), but which holds extraordinary promise.

Those of you who follow my blog know that this section is usually reserved for fashion items based on the day's post. I decided to open it to some other items this time around, to give you a better sampling of the region since purely Libyan fashion pieces are tough to come by. You'll find jewelry and fashion pieces inspired by northern Africa and the Sahara, an extraordinary board game, a photo of Tripoli with proceeds going to a charity of your choice, and of course some fabulous handmade pins to show your support. Enjoy!

Proud Libyan Six 1 inch Button Pins 
Libyan Stamp Necklace ANCIENT BOARD GAME: Helga (Libyan Desert, Sahara, Africa).
Arabic Large cotton thobe or Tunic dress oriental print Vintage 70s Dashiki Maxi Boho Hippie Angel Sleeve Batik Caftan Dress
Tribal Tuareg Cross pendant african necklace multicolor jasper brown silver SAHARA DESERT
African embroidered caftan dashiki dress, made in Ghana neutral wrapped stone pendant necklace - Tripoli
13 Apr 10 - 6x9 Fine Art Daily Photo

Handmade Proud Libyan 1" Pins by A Crafty Arab $8
Libyan Stamp Necklace by Camp Spearnak $12
Ancient Board Game: Helga from the Libyan Desert by Kurna $125
Vintage Arabic Tunic Dress from Magpie's Shop $37
Vintage 1970s Caftan Maxi Dress from Love Street Vintage $65
Handmade Tribal Tuareg Cross Pendant by Zahira Bazaar $38
Sahara Desert Ring by Metals by Ash $48
Vintage African Embroidered Caftan Dashiki Dress from Time Lords Vintage $58
Tripoli Neutral Wrapped Stone Pendant Necklace by cooljewelrydesign $42
13 Apr 10: The Wonderful Mess of Tripoli fine art photograph by The Daily Foto Project $20 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Electronic Naturalism of Radiohead's New Single

With very little warning, Radiohead released their newest album on Friday. Entitled The King of Limbs, it feels very much like the natural progression from 2007's In Rainbows. Here's the first single (along with Thom Yorke's interpretive dance) below. Disclaimer: Anyone who has seen this band live (which includes myself) will find the dance perfectly normal.

Now that you've had a chance to experience the track and the video directed by Garth Jennings (Blur's "Coffee & TV" and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), here are the visuals this track brought to mind.

In general, the track has a very structured feel. The first thing that comes to mind is lines that move from right to left and occasionally intersect others, causing them then to move off in new directions. This is striking for two reasons. First, right to left motion is very unusual when I listen to music and also unsettling. It feels like walking the wrong way on one of those moving walkways at the airport. Second, the imagery was very angular with the intersecting lines only ever making perfect right angles. While geometric shapes aren't unusual, such perfectly defined and unchanging angles are.

All this brought to mind Piet Mondrian's famous painting Broadway Boogie Woogie (1943). It captures the lines and movement, as well as the irregularity of when the right angles occurr. It also shows the colors of the lines which throughout the song were striking shades of yellow, blue, and red (all the primary colors, interestingly enough). This fabulous dress displays similar characteristics.

  Primary Color Dress
Broadway Booge Woogie (1943) by Piet Mondrian
Vintage Primary Color Dress from Marjie W $32

The look of Mondrian's work and the dress, however, are a little too bright to truly capture the song. It's as if there is always a slate grey curtain behind them, which is revealed in the white spaces. The lines are still vibrant, but the white is less so, capturing a certain darker quality of the song.

8 x 10, Single Unframed Giclee Print, Kaleidoscope Series sale /// Vintage 1970s PREP SCHOOL Cotton Plaid Blazer
Giclee Print of Wood Sculpture Art - Kaleidoscope Series by Paint Square $22
Vintage 1970s Cotton Plaid Prep School Blazer from Lady Moon Vintage $20

While the above works capture the overall feel of the track, there are a couple of other musical elements which stand out and add some characteristics to the continuously moving structure of the image. 

Yorke's hand clapping, for example, stands in stark contrast to all of the digital effects, making them sound especially fleshy, almost grotesquely so. This gives the image pops of skin-colored tones, which, because the claps are so erratic and irregular, never really appear in the exact same shade. They are sometimes very pale and at other times rich and dark.

The Flesh Crawls - Oil Painting on Maple Plywood Panel ORIGINAL Size 6.5 Vintage Shoes Ankle Booties Flesh Toned Tan Leather Boots Slip Ons 1980s 80s Western Desert Lizard Embossed
The Flesh Crawls oil painting on maple plywood panel by Jamie Ribisi-Braley $200
Vintage Tan Leather Ankle Boots from Vintage Shoes and Boots $25

Another element which stood out was the sort of "swooshing" effect which occasionally gathers steam and grows louder before fading out again, returning periodically throughout the song. This sound causes waves of blue to emerge in the lower right and then curl towards the left, growing in size along the way. It's almost like watching the tide come in on the east coast.

ON THE WINGS OF LIGHT Abstract Oil Painting Vortex Love Vintage 1950s BLUE DREAM Floral Day Dress M
On the Wings of Light oil painting by Maureen Campbell $425
Vintage 1950s Blue Dream Floral Day Dress from Spun Sugar Vintage $48

Despite the song's mainly electronic feel and the strict structure of some of the imagery, it is remarkable to me how organic ideas such as flesh and water manage to enter into the scheme. So often electronic music seems cold and detached, but somehow this Radiohead track steers clear of that, evoking something natural and organic, a real testament to this band's growth over the years.


The press photos released in advance of the album show the members of Radiohead in mid to late 19th-century garb posing in a forest. Playing with this idea is the black and white "Lotus Flower" video which features Thom Yorke in a bowler hat and ambiguous collared shirt (true to press photos) also sporting what looks like a pair of Converse sneakers (a very playful touch). Here are some items to create that same playful vintage look!

Butch Brown Stetson Derby Bowler Hat and Box Vintage 80s 90s Classic White Shirt with Subtle Colorful Plaid Print
Vintage LEVIS 505 Straight Leg Faded Blue JEANS Low Top Plaid Converse Size 11

Vintage Butch Brown Stetson Derby Bowler Hat from Dapper Dean $88
Vintage Classic White Shirt with Plaid Print from 1thingleads $16
Vintage Levis 505 Straight Leg Faded Blue Jeans from Les Saispas Vintage $24
Vintage Low Top Plaid Converse from Vanity Vintage $50

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

High Fashion Meets Working Class Soul

Karen Walker was one of only a few designers at fashion week to credit music as her inspiration, pointing to the British Northern soul movement and in particular the Dexy's Midnight Runners' first LP from 1980, Searching for the Young Soul Rebels (the band would later gain fame for their hit "Come on Eileen").

Dexy's Midnight Runners

Northern soul was a music and dance movement that came out of the late 1960s mod scene in England. It sought to bring lively African-American music, particularly that of lesser-known Motown artists, to working class clubs. The movement peaked in the 1970s but saw a resurgence with a new generation in the 1980s.

Shows a painting, which depicts the outside of the Wigan Casino Club. There are queues of people, lining the pavement in front and a coach stopped nearby.
Painting of Wigan Casino,
Northern soul hot spot in Lancashire
by David Barrow

The dancing associated with the music was remarkably athletic, featuring spins, kicks, and backdrops. As a result, the fashion associated with the scene gradually shifted from the clean-cut mod looks of the 1960s with button-down shirts, blazers, and brogues to looser fits in the '70s and '80s including high-waisted baggy trousers and sports vests.

Northern soul dancing from the 1970s

Karen Walker's collection in particular looks at the three primary aspects which defined Northern soul fashion, speaking to both the music's demographic and function.
  • A working class aesthetic with elements like caps and peacoats straight from the docks
  • Loose athletic pieces clearly meant for moving but certainly not meant for the gym
  • "Sunday best" dresses with loose skirts to exaggerate the intense spinning on the dance floor 
Karen Walker Fall 2011 Ready-to-Wear Karen Walker Fall 2011 Ready-to-Wear Karen Walker Fall 2011 Ready-to-Wear

At times, Walker's collection was more literal. For example, check out how she incorporates the trademark patches. These patches celebrated various clubs and events and dancers would plaster them across their clothes.

Karen Walker Fall 2011 Ready-to-Wear Karen Walker Fall 2011 Ready-to-Wear Karen Walker Fall 2011 Ready-to-Wear

And while Walker's collection is more heavily influenced by the late '70s and early '80s period of Northern soul, she does make some very chic references to the 1960s Northern soul generation, with mod-inspired pieces that hint at the movement's more refined and tailored early look.

Karen Walker Fall 2011 Ready-to-Wear Karen Walker Fall 2011 Ready-to-Wear Karen Walker Fall 2011 Ready-to-Wear

Overall, Walker's collection was inspired more generally by the scene surrounding Northern soul than by the music itself. I think though, if you look closely, you can see some similarities to the musical style. For example, I can't help but think of one of the more frenetic tracks from the Dexy's Midnight Runners album when I see this look. They both have this almost electric energy. The print is so small and busy that it almost looks like it's in constant motion, just as the track's rhythm is subdivided into such smal beats that the pulse seems almost too fast to keep up with!

Karen Walker Fall 2011 Ready-to-Wear

"Seven Days Too Long"
Dexy's Midnight Runners (1980)

So there you have it, a look at Karen Walker's Fall 2011 collection and the inspiration behind it. It's always a pleasure to take a look at a collection, whether or not you like the looks, which is inspired by the arts. I sometimes wonder how fashion can develop and realize something new when designers say their inspiration was something like layering or knitwear. Granted musicians and artists often tout their influences as being other areas of music and art, but at the end of the day it can be very refreshing as well as challenging to look outside one's own art and realize something new.

Based both on old photos and Karen Walker's collection, here are some pieces to get your own Northern soul inspired look. So put on some vintage soul records and get to dancing!

Beanie hat skull cap Double Layer rib knit Reversible Merino wool Black vintage blue wool peacoat  Sheer White OpenKnit Tank Top Camisole Vintage Size SMALL MEDIUM MESH Sultry Summer     Black Vintage High-Waisted Flare Pants  Vintage Black Oxford Brogues Size 9.5M     Ska'd Soul - Keep the Faith/ Soul Shoes silver pendant necklace

Black Merino Wool Beanie Hat by Winter Symphony $35
Vintage Blue Wool Peacoat from Avant Anthologue $56
Vintage Sheer White Open Knit Tank from Stiletto Girl $22
Vintage Black High-Waisted Flare Pants from Le Petit Sufi $17
Vintage Black Brogues from Oiseau Vintage $36
Handmade Northern Soul Pendant by Madam CC $75
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