WELCOME TO FASHION AS A 2ND LANGUAGE: ARE YOU FLUENT?

FA2L is for anyone who cares about beautiful things–clothing, shoes, accessories, home furnishings–and the interconnected tribes of those who make, sell, market and desire them. If something speaks to you, buy it now or hold your peace: there are links in each story, so the item you want is just a click away. I'd like to hear from you, too: please view my profile, use the email button and send me your comments.MG

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Latest Name In Shoes Belongs to Obi Cymatica



Obi Cymatica has been obsessed with fashion for as long as he can remember –– he spent much of his youth sketching one ensemble after another. But around his 18th birthday, it suddenly hit him: he spent far more time working out details of the footwear than the rest of the outfit, and shoes were always the most exuberant part of the finished sketch. It was at that point, as a Forest Hills high school student in Queens, that Cymatica made up his mind to become a shoe designer.

Obi Cymatica was born in Madagascar, to Nigerian parents, and spent most of his childhood in Nigeria. When he was 16, he moved with his family to New York. As a designer, he's self-taught, but extremely determined: barely out of his teens, he started his own label, established a relationship with a factory in Florence, and landed a retail account with the online designer shop, Saxa. Even now, at the slightly-less-tender age of 25, he still makes every decision about the design and manufacture of every pair of his boots and shoes. 

Cymatica's idols include Christian Louboutin, whose "attitude toward making shoes" he particularly admires, along with how Louboutin has managed to maintain the aura of an atelier-based shoemaker, while growing his business by leaps and bounds. But Cymatica's ne plus ultra is Manolo Blahnik. They met, once, and the young man found himself almost tongue-tied as he tried to express his admiration for his hero. "I said, Mr Blahnik, you don't understand –– it's because of you I'm a shoe designer. Because of you! I think he just smiled. But it's true."

As for what inspires him, Cymatica says he turns to music. "I put on music, and sit down to draw. It might be Eartha Kitt, or house music, Amy Winehouse or a movie soundtrack. I envision a woman in that musical environment, and start sketching. If it's romantic, maybe the shoes reveal a little more skin; if the music is strong, the shoes become stronger, too. I like strength. After all, shoes are armor for your feet."

Photographs by Noël Sutherland. Leg model (and muse): Faustina Rose. Produced and styled by Mark Grischke for Fashion As a 2nd Language.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Refresh Yourself With a Dash (or Two) of Hermès

   Back in 2006, Hermès debuted Terre d'Hermès, a crisp, flinty, masculine fragrance created by the label's celebrated in-house perfumer, Jean-Claude Ellena. We here at Fashion As a 2nd Language were practically present at the birth of Terre (you can read our account of it here), so we perked up our ears when Hermès announced the arrival of a sibling with a strapping big name: Terre d'Hermès Eau Très Fraîche. Translated loosely from the fullsome language of French perfumery, that simply means "refreshing water from the realm of Hermès." Refreshing water, indeed –– with a delicious smell.

   Having written about fragrance ad nauseum for many years (including the general cheapening of many formulas, and the lamentable rise of so-called "celebrity" perfumes), we now make it standard practice to discount press materials that attempt to conjure olfactory poetry. Instead, we apply the simplest and most basic of criteria: Does a perfume (or cologne, or eau de quelquechose) smell good? In the case of Terre d'Hermès Eau Très Fraîche, the answer is, yes, it smells very good. Even better, it smells distinctive –– a bit like its brother, Terre d'Hermès, but with bursts of grapefruit, orange, something woodsy, and, best of all, something salty, like the warm skin of a man at the beach. If you still need a Father's Day gift, this would make a nice one. And, if a bottle happens to find its way onto your bathroom vanity, so much the better. As always, we suggest visiting your nearest fragrance shop and trying it for yourself. Happy spritzing!

Photograph by Mark Grischke

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

New York Shopping at LetterJ – It's All In a Name


   Men in New York have a new shopping destination, with an unusual name – LetterJ. It's housed in an airy former gallery space on West 23rd Street, near the Chelsea Piers and the High Line; but once inside, you could just as easily be in Santa Monica, or on Robertson Boulevard in Los Angeles. Sunlight streams through floor-to-ceiling front windows, lighting up a want that, need that selection of (mostly) casual clothing, plus accessories, bags, even candles and books. 


   Fashion As a 2nd Language visited LetterJ recently, and marveled at the range of unusual brands and reasonable prices. Here's a short list of names we saw on the shelves: Burkman Bros, Boy London, Gant Rugger (and Gant by Michael Bastian), Save Khaki, Mason's and Psycho Bunny. There are bracelets by M. Cohen, bags by Herschel Supply Co, and colorful skull candles, above, by D.L. & Co.


   LetterJ is the brainchild of Jason Somerfeld, an expert retailer and buyer with a big-picture understanding of what men want. He's stocked the store with products that create one aha moment after another: and he's priced them so an entire weekend's worth of gear (jeans, shorts, a couple of tees and a great-looking linen shirt) don't cost an arm and a leg. He's also chosen goods that appeal to all types of men, from skateboarders to retired lawyers. On the day we visited, we saw 20-somethings, 30-somethings and one particularly stylish 50-something shopping in the store – and each guy left with more than one item.


   And what's with the name, LetterJ? Somerfeld says, "It's in honor of my mother, JoJo, who always inspired me. It's also the first letter in my nephew's name, Jake, and in my own, of course – Jason." And don't they say, the family that shops together stays together? We're sold!

Photographs by Noël Sutherland

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Tani Underwear – Luxe Comfort For Today's Man



















   There's a new brand of luxury underwear in town, and it's all about comfort. In fact, Tani may well be the most comfortable underwear you ever put on. It also perfectly demonstrates our cherished belief in the power of understatement –– you'll find no silly gimmicks, no bells and whistles, here. Instead, Tani trunks, briefs, boxers and loungewear are designed with both technological subtlety and extraordinary attention to detail. And, as should always be the case with great clothing, Tani underwear begins with great fabrics, like Micro Modal Air (made from Austrian beechwood), superfine Tencel, and high-grade Swiss cotton.


   Here at Fashion As a 2nd Language, we are freakishly obsessed with how clothing is designed and constructed, even (perhaps especially) when it comes to underwear. Extraneous seams or design elements are no-nos; so are things that itch, scratch, pull or snag. And while we're perfectly willing to dry clean more complicated garments, we firmly believe that underwear should go in and out of the washer and dryer and not suffer for it. With Tani, that's not too much to ask.



   The story behind Tani is interesting, too. It's a Chinese brand, with significant distribution (some 300 stores in Asia alone), but it's only now being introduced to America. The man behind its US launch is Adam Dinkes, CEO and president of Tani's wholesale business in Europe and the Americas. Dinkes and his partner, Yarden Gagnon (former VP of Design at Calvin Klein Underwear), know precisely what they've got, and who will crave it. For example, this Tuesday, April 8, Tani will be among the sponsors of New York's Jeffrey Fashion Cares, which is one of the industry's great parties, benefitting charities like the Hetrick-Martin Institute and Lambda Legal. Tani is even part of the event's online silent auction: take a look, bid on a week's worth of Tani underwear, and offer your support. In turn, Tani underwear will support you, in style and –– of course –– considerable comfort.

This portfolio: Photographs by Noël SutherlandModel: Eric Bryant at Ford ModelsHair by Davide Marinelli for MUZE Salon. Produced and styled by Mark Grischke for Fashion As a 2nd Language.

Fashion credits, from top to bottom: 1) White brief by Tani. Vintage watch at Beth Frank. 2) Striped boxer brief by Tani. Tank top by Levi's. Sneakers by Maison Martin Margiela. 3) Slim boxer by Tani. Eyeglasses by Lafont. Vintage watch by Verdura. Leather flip-flops by Rainbow sandals. 4) Lounge pants by Tani. Vintage watch by Tissot. 5) Boxer brief by Tani. Sneakers by Brooks Heritage. Bath towel by Missoni.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Corporate Suit, or Rocker? John Varvatos Tells All

John Varvatos at the 92nd St Y. Photograph by Joyce Culver.
     Last night, John Varvatos sat down with Fern Mallis on the main stage of Manhattan's Kaufman Concert Hall (at the 92nd St Y), to participate in Mallis's on-going series of friendly-and-informative interviews known as Fashion Icons. On the table was an in-depth conversation about his "crowded" childhood in Detroit (his Greek-American family of seven lived in a tiny house), his early interest in rock & roll (from Iggy Pop and MC5 to Peter Frampton and Kiss), and, perhaps most important, his extensive training inside the corporate structure of two powerhouse brands: Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein.

   We've known Varvatos for many years, but some of his revelations were entirely new, including his story about working on the sales floor at Fitzgerald's, a men's clothier in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We knew the store well –– and we're pretty sure we bought a Polo Ralph Lauren linen sport coat there, which we subsequently wore to a (successful) job interview at VOGUE. In other words, our paths crossed with Varvatos much earlier than 2000, which is when we formally met him, previewed his eponymous collection, and photographed a handsome sheepskin coat for a "10 Best" story in ForbesLife magazine.

   Varvatos is a quintessential American designer –– his menswear hits all the right spots for average guys who want to look cool, but not too close to fashion's outer edge. As he's matured, he's turned more and more to his early loves, to the point where he now operates a store-cum-shrine on the premises of the former CBGB, and rubs shoulders with the same rock & roll icons who show up in his advertising campaigns. He's even launched John Varvatos Records, in conjunction with Republic Records. He plans to use the label for re-issues, compilations, and presenting new talent. And to think, it all began in Detroit, with a Buco leather jacket, "Sam's Jams" record store, and a dream.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Move Over Guys: Antonio Azzuolo is Talking to Her

Arthur D, of IMG Men, wearing Antonio Azzuolo Fall 2014 and eyewear by Warby Parker.
At Fashion As a 2nd Language, we've been fans of Antonio Azzuolo since 2009 (see our first story about him here). He hails from Montreal, but his career has taken him around the world, from Milan to Paris and, ultimately, New York. Along the way, he's worked for some seriously big designer brands, including Hermès, Kenzo and Ralph Lauren. He's also honed an eye for detail that's become more distinctive with each season's menswear presentation––and, for Fall 2014, he's finally taken the jump and introduced a woman's collection as well.

Part of Antonio Azzuolo's lineup in the Warby Parker shop.
The show's notes drew attention to what we've already come to expect from Azzuolo––specifically, his sharp, sartorial silhouettes, deftly infused with hints of the avant-garde. ("Savile Row meets the Lower East Side," according to the press release.) What this means, in real-world terms, is clothing that's both wearable and, perhaps, a bit too much, depending on how many pieces one opts to wear together.

Extreme texture, shown as an option for both men and women.
Azzuolo tends to keep his palette simple––black, white, grey and navy are his staples––but this season, he also wove in shots of pale pink, dark rose and deep purple. Pieces were often layered, resulting in turtlenecks tucked inside shirt collars, with sweaters, tunics and jackets adding additional fabric to "frame" the face and neck (perhaps that's why Azzuolo chose to show at the eyeglass store, Warby Parker).

Boy, girl, boy, girl––good-looking clothes, all the way down the line.

Men's boots by Antonio Azzuolo for Giuliano Fujiwara; women's sandals by Santoni.
As much as we liked the clothes, we were also impressed by the shoes. The women's sandals and pumps were by Santoni, but the men's military-style boots and handsome lace-up oxfords were part of a collection Azzuolo designed for Giuliano Fujiwara (a name we haven't heard in a while). They literally grounded even Azzuolo's most ethereal looks, and added a few more "must-haves" to our Fall 2014 wish list.

Antonio Azzuolo, center, with models for his Fall 2014 men's and women's collections.
Azzuolo brings a unique sensibility to New York Fashion Week, one that occupies a niche outside the boundaries of classic American sportswear. His clothes suggest everything from Parisian chic to Williamsburg cool, with dashes of British propriety, Japanese quirkiness and Milanese rigor sprinkled throughout. Combining sweeping gestures and careful details, Azzuolo takes us on a trip around the world. And, like any good tour guide, he leaves us wanting more.

Photographs by Noël Sutherland

Friday, December 13, 2013

Lagerfeld's "The Return" Brings Coco Chanel to Life



Just a few days ago, Karl Lagerfeld unveiled his latest short film, The Return, at a Chanel event in Dallas, Texas. If you weren't there to watch it on the drive-in movie screen, you can catch it here, thanks to YouTube. It's about 25 minutes long, and stars Geraldine Chaplin as Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel––"a real bitch," according to both Chaplin and her director, Mr Lagerfeld. The insouciance of the insular, mid-fifties era in French and American fashion (when declining perfume sales prompted Chanel to reopen her couture house––hence the film's title) is conveyed beautifully by a well-chosen, well-costumed cast. But it's Chaplin herself who commands our attention. Having had little time to prepare for the role, she still manages to express both sides of Chanel's Janus-like personality: tough-as-nails businesswoman on one hand; flirty, feminine schoolgirl on the other. The clothes and accessories are to die for––and Lagerfeld adds another feather to a cap that, at this point, holds enough plumage to choke a bird of paradise. Enjoy!

Friday, October 18, 2013

A Passion For Fashion: The Art of Buying Vintage


What's the difference between ''vintage" fashion, and just a pile of old clothes? According to author Kerry Taylor, it's a matter of quality, rarity and something less tangible––enduring artistry. She should know: she's a costume specialist who started her career as an auctioneer at Sotheby's (where she still provides service as a textile consultant), and now oversees the purveyance of finely-curated vintage fashion through her namesake sales, Kerry Taylor Auctions. Appropriately enough, her latest book, Vintage Fashion and Couture: From Poiret to McQueen (Firefly), serves as a well-rounded introduction to both the passions and the practical aspects of shopping for vintage garments.

Christian Dior "Jean-Pierre Grédy" cocktail ensemble, 1952: fuchsia silk chiffon with fichu neckline over black taffeta skirt.
Photograph: Condé Nast Archive/Corbis

Paul Poiret orientalist dress of bronze lamé, c. 1922.
Photograph: Kerry Taylor Auctions

Taylor looks at both the tradition of haute couture––hand sewn, made-to-order finery produced mainly in Paris––and high-end ready-to-wear, including the work of designers like Azzedine Alaïa and Alexander McQueen. It's not an exhaustive resource (Taylor says as much herself), but it does offer page after page of entertaining and informative snippets, for both casual readers and experts alike. And while it zips rather quickly through a simplified 20th-century timeline, it at least provides lots of fun examples of distinctive garments from almost every era. This aspect alone makes the book worth owning––it invites you to sit down and enjoy a long-running fashion show, featuring some of the most remarkable clothes of the last 100 years, along with the designers who made them and, of course, the fashionable women who wore them.

Daphne Guinness at Alexander McQueen's memorial service.
Photograph by Mark Stewart/Camera Press