Fashion Lifestyle

Sunglasses Are the Apex of Accessories

Anna Wintour
Photo: Reuters

Sunglasses are near the apex of accessories, just below the hat; they must be aesthetically pleasing without sacrificing practicality. Donning a pair can give a voguish look while protecting eyes from injurious UV rays. It’s a win-win. So don’t wait; choose sunglasses that match your personality.

Cool Conservatives

Ray Ban, Oakley, and Carrera are staples of the classic yet modish UVscreening eyewear. They are relatively inexpensive for branded spectacles; in the $200 range. Visit your local optometrist franchise or e-search through Asos for craftily selected and reasonably priced items. Ray Ban made waves with their aviator sunglasses. Classic choice. On the other hand, Carrera and Oakley offer moderately funkier options.

Hollywood Glitterati

Paris Hilton popularized these oversize, too rich to care sunglasses; practical shields against the flashes from Paparazzi. This look flatters all types of faces; don’t let the fashion police tell you otherwise. Opt for audacious brands like Tom Ford, Chrome Hearts, and Roberto Cavalli; a few labels that churn out the biggest and boldest. Websites like Amazon are great places to start your collection; as if you were going to stop at one pair.

Aspiring Artists

Go on Etsy (the eBay for art junkies) and view handmade, arty sunglasses. Be blinded by the “Rhinestone Studded Sunglasses” with plenty of bling (very Lady Gagaesque), or discover the “Steampunk Brass Goggles” with its out of this world look. However, both pale in comparison, at least in dark rooms, to the “Light-Up Glasses”; customarily made for ravers and glow stick fanatics. Connoisseurs with avant-garde tastes should visit the stylized site Gilt, which offers many niche brands. Look out for Linda Farrow; they periodically collaborate with respected artists and top fashion designers to produce limited edition pieces; which, are decidedly quirky.

Brand Name Lovers

Designer insignias on the sides of your frames send a powerful message to persons in visual range. The crème of the crop, the best luxury brands, have perfected symbol and font size. If you identify as naughty but nice, opt for logos by Gucci or Dolce & Gabbana. Perhaps you’re more of the sexy but sophisticated type; then give Prada or Armani a go and see what bites. The square G’s of Givenchy look mesmerizing but posh. Burberry, Lanvin, Balenciaga, and Saint Laurent tend to print their names smaller, so they are more about being restrained but playful. You can buy these stamped glasses full price at upscale department stores for typically $300 to $400. But if you’re not picky about trying on before buying, then there are plenty of online fashion outlets with generous sales where you can buy a pair (or three) at a more affordable price range of $90 to $150.

Star Trekkies

“Sometimes geeks can be chic,” said Anna Wintour of Vogue USA. Too true. Thus, aficionados of science fiction and space couture should most certainly try the mono-lens sunglasses. The coolest come from the houses of Christian Dior, Tag Heuer, and Martin Margiela; a pair of subdued blue Dior is worth every cent. Alternatively, go on Etsy and look up “Incognito Futuristic Style Robot Sunglasses Customized with Gold Studded Spikes”; it does everything but fire lasers.

Fashion Mavens

Vintage designer sunglasses are for those inclined to shrug off the trends, yet remain timelessly chic. Head straight for bygone pieces from the houses of Versace or better still, Chanel; the ones with the gold, interlocking CC logos on the sides are glamour alert. However, good tastes isn’t cheap, so expect to pay upwards of $400 for items in good to very good graded condition. On the other hand, these glasses’ 80s-90s character, rarity, and exclusivity usually excel on the cost per compliment spread sheet. Checkout vintage site Depuis1924 or for slightly more economical alternatives, go to peer-reviewed site Ebay.

Gatsby Impersonators

For those with rambunctious spending habits and glitzy taste, gaudy sunglasses are the way to shine. Cartier, Bulgari, Chopard, Louis Vuitton, and Tiffany & Co. have literally nailed it when it comes to decorating their chichi jewellery eyewear with variegated gemstones and precious metal plating. Their shades are ostentatious and bankrupting, the haute couture of sunglasses; one pair will lighten your wallet by at least $500. Hefty price tags aside, these sunglasses are investment pieces, and will thus retain their value as the years go by; kind of a like a Birkin handbag by Hermès.

Those were a few personality to sunglasses relationships. Remember, confidence shines through no matter how dark and adorned your shades are, so pick one (or three) that best complements your attitude. But wear them over your eyes where they belong, not back to front on top of your head; because that sight is an eyesore.

Fashion Lifestyle

Haute Couture Is Handmade Wearable Art

Photo: Chanel

Fancy a ball gown embellished with gold threads and white opals? A dress that fits you like a glove and is made in Paree? Make an appointment at a haute couture atelier now, and your lofty sartorial dreams can become materially real; albeit, for a very extravagant price of course.

Haute couture can be thought of as the champagne of fashion; it sparkles, it’s expensive, and it’s a protected name. To be considered haute couture, a fashion house must comply with the strict rules set by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture; a committee in Paris made up of fashionable elites. The basic stipulations a fashion house must satisfy at the very least, include: an atelier or two geographically located in Paris with a specific number of full-time seamstresses and seasoned artisans; and, the clothes produced therein must be custom tailored to suit the personal preferences and body contours of private clients, with at least one or two fitting sessions as part of the order.

The allure of haute couture lies predominately in the fine details and its delicate architecture. To construct a garment, the craftsmanship must be peerless and the quality of the materials world class. It is also standard practice for the prices to never be shown with the actual clothes; i.e. there are no price tags dangling about. However, expect the price of haute couture to be one or two more zeroes than ready-to-wear. For instance, a blouse will cost around $10,000 and the price of an evening gown will start at $100,000.

The word “club” often gets highlighted in articles flirting with the topic of haute couture, and for good reason too; for haute couture is a mystic world open only to an exclusive circle that includes billionaire housewives with charity galas to attend, glitterati heiresses with pink Bugatti’s to drive, luxury brand-endorsed celebrities who borrow dresses to wear at red carpet events, and the rare millionaire editrix of a fashion bible (such as Anna Wintour).

Of all the houses offering high fashion, Chanel haute couture is a staple in any temperature and humidity-controlled wardrobe, due to its reputation for producing chic and wearable clothes. All ladies who lunch have at least one Chanel suit in their collection. Headed by Karl Lagerfeld, the team of designers at 31 Rue Cambon take the customary tweed fabric to a higher level of simple elegance; embellishing Coco’s legendary suit with pearls and sequins to add shine and pizzazz.

For something to wear in the evening, a fashionable lady will turn to clothiers known for their statement formal wear, such as Christian Dior Couture, Armani Privé, Elie Saab, Valentino, or Versace Atelier; all of whom know how to produce breathtaking and ethereal pieces of wearable art that wow the beholder, kindle desire, and leave a lasting impression.

Nevertheless, haute couture is by no means the profitable branch of these fashion houses, it should be noted. Indeed, the practice today serves as the beguiling diamond powder that dusts a brand’s overall glamorous appeal; it’s basically a very costly marketing campaign, but one with a good return on investment in the long run; for the glamourousness trickles down into the ready-to-wear, passes through to the miscellaneous sub-labels, and pools at beauty counters worldwide.

A good example of this effect can be observed by comparing Armani to Klein. Both retail high-end ready-to-wear, Giorgio Armani and Calvin Klein Collection, respectively; both generously offer a profusion of affordable diffusion lines, Armani Jeans and Calvin Klein Jeans, for example, to name but two youthful offspring. Yet, despite employing similar business strategies, Armani has the upper hand when it comes to desirability and exclusivity. The main difference is that Calvin Klein doesn’t have a stake in the world of expensive dress.

Luxury vestments carry a powerful image and create an intoxicating fantasy that the media happily capitalizes on. Haute Couture is seductive; it’s a wearable aphrodisiac. The finest silk appeals to the most basic instinct of human senses (tactile). The shimmering embroidery dances to enhance the mood of the setting (galactic). The overall beauty is arresting (hypnotic). Only a lucky few know how it feels to surrender one’s person to an episode of sartorial elegance, and to experience the height of individualism at its most exclusiveness. It’s not for everyone, to be sure; but one can always dream expensively.

Fashion Lifestyle

Hermès Birkin Bag Is Handbag Couture

Hermès Birkin
Photo: Getty Images

If you thought that Louis Vuitton bags were expensive, be prepared to see the bar raised. Because the most coveted and mega-expensive receptacle the boulevardiers of Paris and New York lust after is a Birkin handbag by Hermès (pronounced “Air-Mezz”).

This bag’s recent history begins in 1983; in the First Class cabin of an Air France flight from Paris to London. English actress-singer Jane Birkin was rummaging through a substitute bag (her favorite woven basket was ran over by her husband’s car “on purpose”), when the contents within cascade down onto the carpeted aisle. Embarrassed, she scrambles to pick up her secrets, all the while profusely excusing herself to the person seated next to her. This person happened to be Jean-Louis Dumas, the chief executive of Hermès at the time; and great-grandson to Thierry Hermès, founder of the Parisian house. After helping Ms. Birkin collect her things, Mr. Dumas offers to make a bag for her. She says ok. And together they sketch an outline of the ideal bag on an Air France barf bag.

Upon returning to his workshop, Mr. Dumas instructed his craftsmen to realize the design. The outcome was a squarish bag with two handles, made from black supple leather, and finished-off with a lanyard that restricted the bag’s mouth (instead of a zip); whereby the flaps folded over a central buckle. A cadena lock was clipped on for extra security; presumably to prevent spilling incidents like the one that befell Ms. Birkin in First Class. The product was presented to the actress-singer, who was about to pay for it when Mr. Dumas made a deal: she would get it for free, on the house, if he could name the design after her. Thus, the Birkin bag was born.

Ms. Birkin carried her namesake bag with her everywhere. Incidents of spillage became a thing of the past. The fashion industry called it an icon, because Ms. Birkin herself was an icon. This paved the way for it to later become a status symbol of the highest order. Ms. Birkin is fond of joking that in New York, the bag is more famous than her.

Birkin handbags by Hermès are fashioned by hand (obviously), and can take up to 48 work hours, or more, if diamonds are added; which supposedly justifies their exorbitant cost. As a general rule, the smaller the scales of the leather, the loftier the asking price. This is because reptilian skin does not retain its natural elasticity, its voluminous and bumpy aesthetic, without artificially reinforcing each scale individually. Indeed, a practiced artisan with supreme patience and skill, must handcut microfiber fabric pieces and glue them onto the underside of each scale. The color of the bag also adds to its hefty value, as the dyeing process is tedious work. The house offers Birkins in a variety of colors – there are 25 shades of blue alone.

The price tag of a new Birkin handbag typically begins at the five figure mark, but can increase to six, depending on size, hide, and embellishments. Take this Birkin for example, fuchsia-pink crocodile skin with gold and diamonds, sold at an auction in Hong Kong for $223,000. Note that this is a resale; the auctioneer word for what we normal mortals call secondhand. Another, made from geometrically symmetrical crocodile skin, dyed to evoke images of snow-capped Himalayan mountains, white gold hardware encrusted with brilliant cut diamonds, priced at $432,000.

Naturally, production of Birkins are limited and unscheduled. Scarcity feeds the public’s perception of exclusivity. While there are no obvious brand labels on the Birkin, the bag retains its recognition factor by being the choice receptacle of celebrities; Sofia Vergara of “Modern Family” has five.

All in all, the Birkin is a classic and sturdy bag in a category of its own making. To justify its retail price, Hermès promises quality and a good return on investment; whether that be through everyday usage, or auctioning it off in pristine condition at a later year. Buying a Birkin is not a purchase. It is an investment.

Fashion Lifestyle

Christian Dior Invents the New Look

Dior store
Photo: Shawmut

Esteemed Parisian couturier, Christian Dior, was zealous in his dream of making every woman who wore one of his oeuvres feel like a countess from a great family; to wit, one who spends languid summer days meandering the gardens of Versailles and warm spring evenings promenading Avenue Montaigne. His clothes were ultra feminine in their design, remarkable in their architecture, and fabric-rich in their construction; the pieces were wearable compliments.

Two years after World War II ceased, Monsieur Dior presented his first collection; it both shocked, excited, and reignited the fashion industry. Gone were the boxy, fabric-rationed wartime garments, and in came voluptuously shaped flared dresses made of lined fabric. The “new look” as legendary fashion editor Carmel Snow put it, shattered the fashion landscape; while some adored the collection, others took issue with the coiffed, refined, and urbane woman that Dior envisioned – a stark contrast to the simple (chic) elegance Chanel peddled. But opposition dwindled within the following twelve months, as Dior became increasingly adored and its style widely adopted.

Some years later, looking to expand his business overseas, Monsieur Dior visited America; whence his collection of ultra-feminine gowns was met with a lukewarm reception, for Marilyn Monroe was then in vogue. However that may be, he left the country of opportunity inspired all the same.

The inception of the CD monogram in 1951 created piracy issues but increased the brand’s visibility tenfold. Profits continued to soar in the years that followed. Recognition was conferred at every ball and award ceremony. Dior was heralded again and again as the “General Motors of Haute Couture.” But as ill luck would have it, merely ten years after rising to prominence, Christian Dior died from a heart attack in 1957; he was 52 years of age. Monsieur Dior’s 21-year-old assistant took over the reins of the house, his name was Yves Saint Laurent.

For decades thereafter, CD progressed smoothly with command swaps here and there. Things got more financially rigorous when French businessman Bernard Arnault bought the couture house in 1984. With world domination in the works, the company Christian Dior S.A. acquired a large stake in LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton); thus becoming the world’s largest luxury goods conglomerate, and effectively installing Dior as the suzerain of the French fashion market.

Twelve years later, two American Vogue bigwigs, André Leon Talley and Anna Wintour, joined forces to convince Mr. Arnault to hire then not so famous Givenchy designer, John Galliano, for the top position of creative director at Christian Dior. Wisely, the business tycoon acceded to the proposal. The fashion emporium witnessed soaring profits and global expansion under Mr. Galliano’s watch. Indeed, he is credited as the catalyst that put Dior on the world map and turned it into a brand adored by the rich and famous.

In 2004, a bronzed Charlize Theron became the face of Dior’s iconic golden perfume, J’adore; to Dior what No. 5 is to Chanel. Intriguingly, the name of the fragrance came about due to Mr. Galliano’s self-consciousness in expressing his French vocabulary. When samples were presented to him, he replied in an exaggerated hand-waving manner, “Oh, j’adore,” (I like it, whatever). His other muse, French actress Eva Green, became the face of Midnight Poison in 2007.

Unfortunately, Mr. Galliano had a public meltdown in 2010 when he made anti-Semitic comments whilst drunk. The incident received enormous media coverage and public scrutiny. It disgraced the designer and inevitably inflicted negative publicity for the house that had fostered his career and made his name. Dior and its executives had no choice but to let him go.

Never without incisive suggestions, Anna Wintour next championed the well respected men’s wear designer, Raf Simons, to lead Dior’s collections for women. His instatement in April 2012 was met with doubt from many quarters. The vast contrast in aesthetics between Galliano and Simons was discussed and debated at great length. Mr. Simons was known for his minimalistic, modern and youthful interpretations, whereas Mr. Galliano was heralded as a dreamer and romantic who made dresses for the likes of Marie Antoinette. Nevertheless, when the haute couture season came and went, no person of importance questioned Mr. Simons’ dexterity. Besides, it didn’t hurt to put beloved starlet Jennifer Lawrence in multiple campaigns, and Hollywood’s Adonis Robert Pattinson as the face of Dior Homme.

After Mr. Simon’s contract ended with the company, he did not renew. Many names were speculated as his successor; from Alber Elbaz (Lanvin) to Hedi Slimane (Yves Saint Laurent). After more than six months of searching, Maria Grazia Chiuri (Valentino) was named creative director; thus becoming the first female designer to lead Dior’s womenswear. Her first collection for the house debuted at the 2016 Paris Fashion Week. Suffice it to say here, Dior is in capable hands.

To wrap-up, Dior is a brand that appeals to the person who is after a patina of sweet and bold; gentle in comportment but not submissive to cultural lore. When wearing or using a Christian Dior product, one should keep in mind the philosophy behind the brand, be able to appreciate its rare exceptionality, and cherish its peerless vanity now and onward; every time without hesitation, purring “I adore, Dior.”

Fashion Lifestyle

Louis Vuitton Takes Traveling Very Stylishly

Louis Vuitton store
Photo: Louis Vuitton

In a mysterious small hamlet no longer recognized by modern geographers (though historians concur that it lied in the mountainous region of Eastern Jura), Louis Vuitton was born in the golden summer of 1821.

Young Vuitton spent the majority of his childhood surrounded by heavily wooded massifs and blue satiny lakes. However, the rustic lifestyle proved too slow for Master Vuitton’s burgeoning taste. And so at the plucky age of 16, his ambition took him to the bustling metropolis. In Paris, he apprenticed at a workshop belonging to a lauded luggage and trunk-maker, Monsieur Marechal. He stayed on for 17 years.

During this time, Paris was artfully shaping itself as the stronghold of good taste and fashionable manners. Men wore suits and critiqued art; women donned crinoline skirts and tête-à-têted. Polished society flirted with notions of adventure and exploration; “Bon voyage” was the word du jour. For seasonal trips to country villas or travels to more exotic locations, the skills of trunk makers and professional packers were much in demand.

After leaving his long-time position with Monsieur Marechal, Louis Vuitton opened his own atelier. The year to remember is 1854. Business sailed smoothly for the first four years, that is, until a prodigious game-changer blew in. His newly debuted trunk was rectangular in shape (more stackable) and covered in grey canvas (better against the inclemency).

Vuitton’s artistic designs combined with the practicality of his trunks left a pleasant impression on the beholder, custodian and proprietor alike. Amongst his notable clientele was the Empress of France, Eugénie de Montijo – her husband was Napoleon III. Madame de Montijo frequently switched her abode to more enticing locales, according to the seasons, and oftentimes called for Mr. Vuitton’s unparalleled expertise to box up her costume jewellery, and, lest we forget, her actual jewellery, so that she could leave with grace and arrive in style. It was through her patronage that Mr. Vuitton was able to cultivate a legion of aristocratic patrons, and thus solidify Vuitton’s image as a brand of luxury and celebrity.

Louis Vuitton died in 1892; he was 70 years old. The company’s reins passed to his son, Georges Vuitton. A qualified craftsman and ambitious entrepreneur, as was his father, Mr. Vuitton Jr. shepherded the corporation to new heights. He enhanced his father’s audacious legacy (elegance and functionality must endure the harshest of critics: time) by designing the company’s LV monogram, introduced in 1896. At the time, Mr. Vuitton Jr. thought such a pattern would put a stop to the mushrooming number of counterfeits on sale at the markets. Ironically, the pattern became the most counterfeited motif in fashion history.

The monogram canvas was revamped in 1959. The graphics stayed, but a new state-of the-art coating method was applied, allowing the fabric to maintain its suppleness while adding durability.

In 1987, leading champagne manufacturer, Moët et Chandon, and gargantuan distiller, Hennessy, merged with Louis Vuitton to form the world’s largest luxury goods conglomerate, LVMH (its parent company is Christian Dior S.A.). Current CEO Bernard Arnault compared his fashion blockbuster to “a luxury Microsoft.”

For a long time Louis Vuitton was not a full fashion house like its counterparts Chanel and Dior, which produced ready-to-wear and haute couture. To expand the purview of the label, Marc Jacobs (with a confirmatory nod from Vogue’s editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour) was installed as LV’s creative director in 1997. Unlike other designers in the top job of rival fashion houses, Mr. Jacobs had no archives to draw inspiration from. One could say it was an adventure – one into the high-stake territory of high fashion. But like Mr. Vuitton’s game-changing trunk in 1858, Mr. Jacobs’s off-the-rack inception was a trendsetter. A series of small serendipitous lines soon followed suit, from handbags to watches and fine jewellery.

True to Louis Vuitton’s reach-for-the-stars reputation, Mr. Jacobs cast full-time singer and moonlighting actress, Jennifer Lopez, in a raunchy advertising campaign shoot. This first campaign was followed by a chart of stars that epitomized the house’s much prized glamour, namely Madonna, Angelina Jolie, and mega-supermodel Gisele Bündchen. But Mr. Jacobs also perceived that the LV trademark was a winner in its arena. Thus to complement glittering faces, celebrated living-legends were drafted, viz. moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, and multi-medalled swimmer Michael Phelps.

Another momentous strategy which Mr. Jacobs implemented to keep habitual and potential buyers (not to mention copycats) on their toes was via periodic collaborations with prominent artist. A successful blending of high-art and haute fashion saw an outstanding collaboration between Louis Vuitton and contemporary Japanese artist, Takashi Murakami, resulting in the famed multicolored monogram bag.

It should come as no surprise that production at the Louis Vuitton’s workshop is tightly controlled to maintain its track record of exclusivity. In fact, demand always far exceeds supply by tenfold. And prices are never reduced, ever. Thus, ‘liquidation’ takes the cases of Vuitton on a different journey than do commonplace outlets: the End.