Magazine Review: W November 2007

•November 3, 2007 • 1 Comment

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Okay, as you may have gathered by now, Ac.Stet is jobless and struggling to make ends meet as a person-who-makes-art. As of last month, he has taken a vow – like some monk from some clothedom temple – to go on an austerity drive.

But Ac.Stet realized to his chagrin that November is really a demonic month to begin any austerity drive especially when it comes to his indulgence for fashion magazines.

Why? With Art Basel Miami (arguably now the most buzzy art fair over 50 states) revving up for its curtain call early next month, the magazines have abandoned their impassioned Green pursuits – a popular central theme in the preceding months – in favor of embracing the Arts as an editorial theme for their November issues.

Now, when you twin Arts and Fashion together – two of Ac.Stet’s most fevered passions – in one magazine, something’s gotta give in Ac.Stet flummoxing life. Predictably, he bought them up … and had to forgo a huge slice of his grocery money (not alot to begin with) and survive more on 3-minute noodles.

Previously, Conde Nast’s W has been a title Ac.Stet has consciously delayed reviewing. It is one of his favorite magazines, and he has been reading it since he was in his teens. But such familiarity mandates a certain distance in order to wean off whatever biases (good ones) he may have with this lovely publication.

But with this November edition – cover-lined “The Art Issue” and buffeted with a choice of nine Richard Prince covers – it is excruciatingly hard to resist not making an indecent pass at it.

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It has an incredible line-up of contributors, the caliber of whom only a formidable fashion title can attract: Ac.Stet’s McDreamalicious Mario Sorrenti, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, M|M Paris and Juergen Teller, as well as resounding names in the art world, Kiki Smith and Matthew Barney.

So it was quite a minor dip in anticipation when the magazine opened with a trend story on Pg 100, “Trends: Wild Things”. The writer Venessa Lau reports on the resort trend of Africana, with Franco Rubartelli’s photograph of Veruschka-in-safari-lace-ups in mind. Now, Ac.Stet has read a couple of Ms. Lau’s work before and most of it consists of catwalk reports. Her style is insipid, a consequence – Ac.Stet prays – is only because of her youth. And it shows. Let Ac.Stet give you an example from this article:

“… Michael Kors channeled a jetset Veruschka-gone-to-Marrakesh (His girl is trading in that gun for a pair of shades and a cocktail) …”

Unfortunately, it reminds Ac.Stet of the Stone Soup bedtime story his Papa used to read him as a kid, where in the end, the pot of soup taste entirely of all the other ingredients and not of the stone. Look, if you take away Veruschka’s gun in the context of her safari garb, that iconic essence is gone, isn’t it? So why keep forcing in that Rubartelli image of Veruschka?

That is not all. From an initial springboard from the safari idea, Ms. Lau went off-point to talk about tribal influences from designers like Sigerson Morrison. So Ms. Lau not only thinks safari = Marrakesh, but also that safari = tribal. In fashion writing, one has to be focused and concise, otherwise, it becomes fluff, the stuff that people read for a laugh on a train-ride and then forget.

But the article is not entirely flawed. At the very least, the mentions of Meryl Streep’s Out of Africa (although it slipped Ms. Lau that her invocation of the term “blixen-babe” earlier in the text owes its birth to Karen Blixen, of which the movie was based) and … Cate Blanchett’s Indiana Jones And The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull caused Ac.Stet to be rather excited.

The Beauty Flash pages made Ac.Stet stop in his visual tracks. Now, Ac.Stet don’t usually read Beauty sections, since he is blessed with good complexion genes and has little use for things the fairer sex indulge in but when a paragraph in “The Acne Diet (Pg 174)” says dark chocolate may alleviate acne, Ac.Stet just about need that to justify his pralines diet while in Milan.

Sometimes, you really wonder if fashion magazines still used to be that know-it-all they profess to be, in the Age of fake-smart-fudge-all Yahoo-oogle-bility. On Page 178, the Travel Flash section recommends a list of hotels to stay in Miami for December’s Art Basel.

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W may have the misfortune of having someone like Ac.Stet who knows the arts, fashion and travel (and many other fields also) to critique its publication. And he can tell you a couple of things wrong here. First of all, it is already too late to recommend hotels for Art Basel in November. Hotels have all been booked since October, some even by September. Second, even if there are vacancies, they are going to be at prices beyond the budget of your average W reader. Yes, a W reader could be a millionaire. But even millionaires don’t like to be ripped off. Third, W recommends The Albion Hotel for stays, which is an awful suggestion.

Now Ac.Stet knows Miami Beach rather well, and The Albion is located at the ghetto end of Lincoln Road, the default main tourist trawl. And let Ac.Stet warn you, it is not pretty. Check in at your own risk.

And then you wonder why places like the Hotel Victor is left out. But then again, W is traditionally weak in its travel writing. This should be considered a minor surprise.

W’s half-tome dedication of the issue to the arts begins on Page 188 with a story on million-dollar art mishaps, and ends on Page 392, Suzy’s paean to Nicolas Sarkozy, liberally lifted from L’Aube Le Soir ou La Nuit by Yasmina Reza.

In-between, there are stories on big devils who teach little devils to wear Prada (Pg 126: “Underage Fashion”), and the devils too busy fighting to wear Prada (Pg. 239: Kevin West’s “No Country for Old Men” actors’ story).

But what this issue of W really does is to teach Ac.Stet a lot about art. You know how sometimes you don’t really know what something is until you figured out what it is not? Well, W’s Art Issue is this way.

Flipping through the pages of where artists such as Richard Prince and Sara van der beek create pages and pages of art-like images, you realize that it is not art.

The worst kinds of art are those created when you are conscious that you are making art. Ms. Van der Beek’s series of images is inspired by the history of photography and collage begins on Pg 370 and runs on for eight leaves. It is a series of flat, uninspired, pretentious works that keeps saying “Man-Ray-Man-Ray-Man-Ray” over and over in Ac.Stet’s head:

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In the same vein, the phototextual installationist John Baldessari is poorly used by W in a series of photographic manipulation using archived portraits and images shot by Mario Sorrenti. Sure, editor Julie Belcove explained in her Editor’s Letter (Pg 92) that Baldessari is making art because he stripped the telling facial features of models’ faces and replaced them with acid-colored blobs. But looking at it, Ac.Stet cannot help but be reminded of the bastardized Whistler’s Mom in that Mr. Bean goof movie.

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Sadly, works of fashion-as-art are not art. They are mimicry, reproductions of projections of shadows on Plato’s Cave. No doubt some are good pictures, but when you slap on a loaded word like “art” on the series, you expect more. You expect something that lifts you from the humdrums of reality and change the quality of your day, not something you look at and say, oh yes, that looks like art. Something that resembles art is not art. Something that resembles art is that tomfoolery of a practice they christened “design”, so the masses can at least grasp the concept of aesthetics. Fashion suffers from an inferior complex within the socio-cultural domain it operates, in the same way that, say, interior design operates under architecture. It is a minor discipline that could. But surely, for a diamond to be formed, it takes time. Not to mention lots of critique-cal pressure.

Unfortunately, Fashion – fueled by its inherent ego and natural proclivity for showiness – likes to piggyback on hype and leapfrog into something bigger, and of which it is not properly prepared to assume. Fashion, when unchecked, becomes an expanding bubble. The air density inside remains the same but fluff and indifference expands its volume, giving the illusion that it is grander and bigger and higher and fuller, but in essence is only spreading itself ever so thin without filling itself up with the substance to keep pace with its lofty promises.

It promises Art, but no matter how many mirrors, bells, whistles and how much smoke, it delivers essentially the same thing: chiseled lines, painted faces and expensive clothes. It is a different brew of soup, no doubt, but using basically the same ingredients.

Industry players like to say fashion is an art because it offers an alternate universe. True, but Ac.Stet would like to point out that they are talking about Clothedom, not fashion.

Fashion belongs to a fantasy realm, most definitely, but like what Lacan says, fantasies are something that can be approximated but never realized, that is their paradox. It is something that drives fashion people forward, but to declare that they are already there, that fashion has become art, is ridiculous. Ac.Stet can only name a handful of magazines, people and events that have truthfully aspired toward clothedom perimeters of art (i.e. i-D, Kawakubo, Bowery, McKenna, Chalayan). While Clothedom is Art, it is difficult for fashion to be art because it is helplessly tied to clothes and commerce. How can you change the bodies and mercenary greed of men (and women) towards a realm where such human attributes has no relevance?

W certainly can be Art-like, but why should any fashion magazine want to go down this road of pretension? Magazines like POP, Bon, i-D and recently Wonderland (notice they are all European) do fashion spreads that are transcendental, but they don’t soil the atmosphere of their images with a “This Is Art” declaration; conversely, Vanity Fair and New Yorker write fashion as if it consists of a string of existential axioms, but neither label their work as “This Is Fashion”.

Even if Ac.Stet cut W some slack, it should be pointed out that W is only interested in the visual arts. And to push the dagger in deeper (and Ac.Stet is only killing with kindness here), we can say that it narrowly focuses on the most visual of the visual arts: photography chiefly, painting, collage, sculpture (under which Ac.Stet groups installation).

But dance? Performance? And where is Video Art in this issue? Where is this one salient form of the visual arts that Ac.Stet feels will revolutionize the arts in the next century? Where is Aitken, Oursler and Viola? Where’s the address of the democratizing effect of YouTube on video and filmic art?

Oh for sure, W makes a feeble attempt of acknowledging Video Art by yanking some obscure Chinese artists in your face, and an 18-page indulgence on Matthew Barney with a double-fold extension page that would make any advertiser emerald with envy. Ac.Stet attended the Matthew Barney documentary by Alison Chernick last year at Art Basel Miami at Lincoln Road’s Colony Theater and he is not convinced. Mr. Barney is not a video artist. Yes, he makes moving pictures and he makes beautiful films, and he is a performance artist in lieu of his Drawing Restraint projects. His films have a ambiguous mainstream quality of beauty and narrative to them, even though his film language is arcane. Ac.Stet don’t have the seniority in the arts nor the experience in the practice to know for sure (then again, ultimately, who can?). But certainly, Ac.Stet can tell you that Mr. Barney is hardly representative of Video Art. Ac.Stet much prefers his drawings than anything else:

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He is definitely interesting, enough for W to develop a soft-spot for. But so is the pretty but vacant Mr. Orlando Bloom on the red carpet at the Cannes, but what does he do, really?

Granted, since the days of Tennant, Warhol and the reign of Weber, beauty (in place of talent) has always been fashion’s obsession. Reminds Ac.Stet of something he once read on a T-shirt: Not Talented But Connected.

Where W fails in its fashion and photographic spreads, it succeeds tremendously in its profiles of seminal movers and shakers in the art industry.

This is an unfortunate irony for a fashion magazine but one that is fitting for W’s effort for November. Not so unfortunate if W is counting on non-fashion and non-targeted people to pick up a copy just because it is an art issue. And not so ironical if you remember that parent company WWD actually has its roots in society. It cut its teeth on profiling the crème de la crème of society, falling back only on fashion as its bread-and-butter, only to evolve gradually as a fashion magazine when the world turned its back on class demarcations. You won’t find information like this anywhere anymore on the Googleverse, because most digital footprints of W Magazine’s history had been * cough * mysteriously erased. But trust Ac.Stet.

For its art stories, deputy editor Julie Belcove continues to build on her reputation as an arts writer functioning in a fashion world.

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Giving her two-pence in her two piece on Charles Ray and Marion Goodman, Belcove struggles with a kind of fortitude and industry you would associate more with a college sophomore angling for some sort of favor with a grading professor. She seems to want readers to know she has some kind of upperhand in her interviews and her writer’s voice is somewhat too audible:

“The piece, [Charles Ray] insists, was born of a desire to fashion a compelling multifigure sculpture, and nothing of his true self was revealed. But if there is no connection to his own identity, why did he give each figure his face, and why on earth did he name the thing after himself? Now he’s stumped. “No …”
And again, anyone who thinks Matthew Barney is a great artist is immediately and credentially suspect. Though Ac.Stet concurs that it is a fact that Ms. Belcove writes extremely well, she is no Roberta Smith, but then again, neither is W an ersatz The New Yorker.

W forms that group of nomenclatured magazines that pride themselves with a letter for a name: O, Q, T and V (and of course, then now-defunct M). Perhaps by that minimal gesture of a typesetter’s brushstroke, they seem to say, a whole word is too much and too unnecessary to address what we have to say. So a symbol will just have to do.

Certainly, W is a symbol of fashion insider status, having found its niche as that publication that straddles society and ready-to-wear bordering on luxury.

But for an art issue, reading this month’s W is like taking an art tour in Chelsea but only perusing the goods at the Marian Goodman and no where else. It is hardly symbolic.

Instead of such onerous double duty, it could have just focus on being double-U.

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Magazine Review: GQ November 2007

•October 31, 2007 • 3 Comments

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It is a common misconception — and Ac.Stet’s sorry you have to hear it from him — but GQ is not a fashion magazine.

Oh, but there is nothing wrong with that in the same way that you would rightfully point out to Ac.Stet that the tomato is not really a vegetable, and Panama hats aren’t really from Panama.

But Ac.Stet feels impelled to pick it up for a review — as he did previously with Details, Glamour, Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire — for many reasons:

1) Ryan Gosling is on the cover.
2) Ryan Gosling is on the cover with a beard
3) Ryan Gosling is on the cover with a beard, wearing pin-stripes
4) Ryan Gosling is on the cover with a beard, wearing pinstripes, in a good interview by writer Alex Pappademas.
5) Ryan Gosling is on the cover with a beard, wearing pinstripes, in a good interview by writer Alex Pappademas, who peppered the story with references to Jim Morrison and The Doors.
6) Ryan Gosling is on the cover with a beard, wearing pinstripes, in a good interview by writer Alex Pappademas, who peppered the story with references to Jim Morrison and The Doors, and said-story precedes another by Charles Bowden on the artist Fernando Botero, which is as beautifully and sensitively written as Ryan Gosling is sensitively beautiful.
7) Ryan Gosling is …
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See the power of a cover? Everything good, or bad, in a magazine begins from there. Surely, what’s good for the Gosling’s good for the ‘genda ?

November’s GQ do hold great things but only if you understand that the old soul within coverboy-coverman-boyman-youngman-oldboy-(oh-boy!) Ryan Gosling’s babyface is a hidden metaphor.

You see, GQ’s insides are largely devoted to making you forget Mr. Gosling’s youthful titan outside and to remember the senior titans in masculine pol-and-pop-culture: Godfather’s Francis Ford Coppola (68), American Gangster’s Denzel Washington (53), Fernando Botero (75), Jerry Seinfeld (53) and John McCain (71).

There is a minor disappointment – one that GQ likes to practice in its anniversary issues – the reprints of GQ articles culled from the past 50 years. Rightfully, GQ can have repeats of favorites, maybe because they feel, hey, since you like it so much, you should have it again.

On Page 66, GQ re-published food critic Alan Richman’s 1994 recollection of his culinary adventures in Vietnam. National Magazine Award-winning though it may be in 1994, it is boring by today’s literary standards: it has no war moral lesson, even fewer gastronomic reference, and to cap it off, the story is not even complete. In fact, you have to log onto the GQ website “to read the rest of the article …”

You may say this is a symptom of nostalgia. But some things are good only once. In Cooking, we call this a re-hash, so we don’t waste last night’s jambalaya. In Television, we call it a re-run, so cheap programming can fill in-between cheaper tiers for advertisers on a budget. But in Publishing? A re-print of a story with a decade-old award, doesn’t make it a re-ward.

Look, with any name, the motive of “repeating” is the same: Faves on a cheap, so everyone – producers and consumers – is happy. But to repackage old stories at 1994 costs and then serve them back to you at 2007 inflationary prices, GQ must think its readers are a dumb-assed generation of men too hazed in their Derek Jeter Driven fragrances to realize this.

But like Ac.Stet says, the decision for re-prints was a minor disappointment.

Thankfully, GQ redeemed itself with good fashion pages.

What strikes Ac.Stet this month is how close GQ approximates towards Clothedom this month in the regular diary item “Every Shirt Tells A Story” on Pg 80.

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Subject Mordechai wears a look that he hates with a passion. Why, what a lovely exemplification of Clothedom! A manifestation of clothedom is that clothes are things that are alive, like friends and loved ones. And in tandem, clothedom clothes are not plastic. Like a dear friend, you don’t always like them, but you love them most of the time. Ac.Stet has a rather regal whipsnake leather jacket from Versace which he really loves or that gold-pinned serpent vest but there are times he puts it on and parties and has moments like, What the fuck is this snake doing dying on my shoulders? It’s the same kind of self-consciousness that negotiates between you wearing it and then you imagining yourself seeing yourself wear it. It is a feeling – sometimes fleeting – that mutates from self-awareness into situational awareness and which we – like Mordechai here – disguises into a kind of persistent griping just so to distance yourself from it. After all, as a Clothedom-practitioners, we never take ourselves that seriously as to not be able to internalize all the sentiments a great fashion look can generate.

Are you lost? Ac.Stet thought you may be … but good magazines like GQ do provoke inner articulations like these – if you do love fashion deep enough to think about it – and Ac.Stet encourages you to listen to them and indulge in them as much as you want to.

On the same page, essentially how wicked is this GQ suggestion in “The Look: These Buds Are Made For You”?:

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The transhumanist in Ac.Stet only has two words to say: Technology blossoms.

Further on, there is a personality in such an esoteric discipline, that his name really shouldn’t be popping up as regularly as his does: Frederic Malle. Remember his ubiquity in T The New York Times Style Magazine? On Pg 102, GQ gives him a full-page drill on his recipe for style. It is written in a Fill-In-The-Blanks style, which is a variant of the Q&A interview format, which makes both writing it and reading it breezy.

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But like all deceptively simple things, the Q&A format of interviewing is often over-exploited and misunderstood. This format is best employed when you have a really interesting person to interview (which in this case, Mr. Malle is) and he has a unique way of phrasing his words and the laissez-faire style of Q&A practically allows him to retain his style and tell his story. But the problem with the Q&A format, as any seasoned magazine editor would tell you, is that if you are not a good interviewer, and you master no control over the session, the A in Q&A becomes gibberish. Read this from the Frederic Malle Q&A and you will see what Ac.Stet means:

Q: What exactly it is I do.
A: “I enslave noses. Perfumers historically don’t work on their own to make a fragrance. It can take a year, actually. So if you do that alone, you go completely buts. My job is to look after the perfumers. I’m like a publisher of fragrances.”

Look, which part of “exactly” do you not understand? What does “enslave noses” mean? What does “publishing” fragrances mean, exactly? Me-guess the writer Adam Sachs just let it slip by, like the whiff of a forgettable cheap perfume.

Another gripe on Page 64 when Tom Ford is asked what he feels is The Best Piece of Clothing of the Past 50 Years. Mr. Ford says: “The Blazer. It will always be iconic…”

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Ac.Stet just creeps out whenever the word “iconic” is being thrown around, like a discarded panty in a frat-house party: overly-familiar, much-abused, but mostly used in inappropriate ways.

The Versace safety-pin dress Liz Hurley wore to a film premiere is iconic. The swan dress Bjork wore to the 2001 Oscars is iconic. The Chanel suit Mr. Ford later exemplifies with is iconic. The costume jewellery Iris Apfel drowns herself in is iconic. A singular style, a signature look is iconic. A blazer, as a type of clothing, is not iconic. What Mr. Ford must mean to say, is that a blazer is a staple, a classic, or is timeless. Ac.Stet only wished the subs and copy-editors at GQ would have picked up on that.

Flipping on, you realize one problem that arises whenever fashion magazines try to do features on fashion on the cheap – by the way, to aspire towards Clothedom, never expect things to come cheap – is that, they usually come off, well, cheap.

This November, GQ falls uncharacteristically into this pothole. In its “Style At Any Price” section, it recruits Foo Fighter Dave Grohl to model clothes from Cheap Monday, Target and Macy’s I.N.C. in a spread titled, well, “Cheap Tricks”. As if it felt it has not nailed in the credit-on-a-diet message, the start-page looks like a puerile Mastercard commercial targeted at kids:

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And later, in the same section on Pg 234, GQ puts hardly-clotheshorse-material actor Chiwetel Ejiofor in an ill-styled spread titled “Glam Slams”. Does anyone smell Domino’s Pizza?:

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Has it finally happened? Has the GQ graphics department and their signature acid-colored geometry finally backfired this time? Alors, look at the fashion photography on Pg 258 titled “New Rio”. It is beautiful, but there is nagging urge in Ac.Stet’s line of vision to read the “New Rio” header as “NERO”, that devil of a ruler who is destined to bring the world as we know it to an untimely demise:

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It sure doesn’t help that right from the get-go in “God is Green”, Editor-in-chief Jim Nelson primed Ac.Stet in his Editor’s Letter with a preamble on how a green crusade is spearheaded by Nero’s spiritual opposite: The Pope.

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Oh, and the NEw RiO fashion imagery do bring to mind something John the Apostle said in Rev. 13:11-14,16-18 “… [the beast] also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark”:

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Ah, but this is madness, you say. But if it is, then it is a kind of glorified dementia … a descent into the kind of madness once poetically translated in Beautiful Mind, where every image supplant a visual code.

But such is the poison of Clothedom.

You master it to free yourself from the visual codes of fashion. And then you never see your examined life the same way again.

Would you take the Red Pill, or the Blue?

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Or has your mass-market style guide already chosen for you?:

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Magazine Review: Marie Claire Nov 2007

•October 28, 2007 • Leave a Comment

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Marie Claire is one magazine that wears many hats.

And Ac.Stet’s not just talking about the strange hat feature it has on Page44, odd in a fall-winter season when one should really be shielding against the winds, not the sun.

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Why, it is a shapeshifter!

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It has so many variations in magazine styles that when Ac.Stet flips through its pages, he mentally plays a game of Magazine Charades with himself.

This is Marie Claire … as Us Weekly:

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… as HAPPY Magazine (UK):

 

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… as New York Magazine:

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… as GLAMOUR Magazine:

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… as DETAILS Magazine:

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… as Travel + Leisure, or Conde Nast Traveller:

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… as Real Simple Magazine:

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… as RADAR Magazine:

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… as JANE Magazine:

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… as National Geographic (you gotta hand it to them editors at Marie Claire):

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… and finally, as Harper’s Bazaar:

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So what is Marie Claire?

Ac.Stet is still not very sure.

It is the same reaction he got when he reads the piece on the Beckham’s interview by writer Howie Kahn. What is he trying to say in the story exactly? Nothing much, except we now know he got miffed because he couldn’t wrestle a good interview out of the Beckhams? And what about the perfume that triggered the whole junket? We know nothing about that too, except something arcane about it smelling like the future. And even so, it was a silly way to end a story without the writer really knowing what that means.

One saving grace of the November issue of Marie Claire is an exercise in good journalism by writer Jenny Bailey on the ugly malpractices of spa aestheticians in “The Truth About Medi-Spas” (P. 76). This is certainly a must-read if you only have time for one story in the magazine.

For other stories, you may pick up any other hybrid-clone at your local newsstand.

As the French-born Marie Claire may sometimes remember hearing: C’est la meme chose.

Magazine Review: COSMOPOLITAN Nov 2007

•October 28, 2007 • 3 Comments

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Magazines like Glamour, Allure and Cosmopolitan make you realize that there are women’s magazines such as these aforementions, and then there are women’s fashion magazines.

In truckloads, women’s magazines serve pages after pages devoted to the same theory of a woman’s ideal existence: Happiness is a state of mind as that other half. In tandem, stories are single-mindedly trained on variations of that subversion: Men, and where to find them, how to get them, how to keep them, and all that kind of unnecessary information you really should be getting by experiencing, rather than from reading.

Women’s fashion magazines, on the other hand, work on the philosophical notion of negation. As in the negation of men, and following which, negating women’s position as that other half. In so doing, fashion magazines reclaim women’s position as singular entities. Away from men, they become empowered, albeit by their desire for material supplants like fashion, clothes, accessories and beauty. This magazine group – which claim titles like Vogue, W, Elle and Harper’s Bazaar as members – has zilch stories on relationships, except those that revolves around thousand-dollar crocodile bags and silken Lanvin dresses. The unwritten ethos of these magazines is that fashion emboldens and strengthens you to be that one singular entity, bestows you that independence from men – and all the emotional baggage of bonding and coupling – once thought indispensable in order to feel complete.

Fashion, as these group of magazines seem to say, is the panacea for an existence in a pre-determined lonely world.

Ac.Stet’s Clothedom theory is that the presence/ absence of Fashion as a main focus in a women’s magazine denotes respectively, an empowerment/ a replacement, for men.

This month’s issue of Cosmopolitan clearly exemplifies this theory of Clothedom. What it lacks in fashion editorial, it more than makes up for in M-E-N. Men, Man, Guys, Boys, Boyfriends, and — that breed of men that spells the boon and bane of Cosmopolitan’s target audience of single women — Bachelors.

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November is the magazine’s annual 50 Bachelors issue where readers vote for their favorite fantasy catch – one from each American state, get it? – for the year 2007.

So really, there is no better month for Ac.Stet to review Cosmopolitan magazine than this.

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In the same way that women’s fashion magazines make life impossible without fashion, women’s magazines make life seem impossible without men.

The cover itself shows just how important its editors think the stronger sex is, and should be. Just read the coverlines: Six out of nine of them make sure you never forget who women really should be living for:

“the hottest things to do to a MAN with your hands”

“meet our 50 BACHELORS!”

GUYS’ sex confessions”

“what’s your sex style? Figuring out yours – and HIS – will double your bliss”

“100 outrageous facts about MEN

“I know what your BOYFRIEND did last night”

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Inside, Cosmopolitan dishes out its brand of gender ideology that just seems … oh, so natural. Generally, these are the tenets of Cosmopolitanism:

#1. You have to fetishize yourself:
“You vixen.”
(Page 120) “You’re a vixen on constant simmer.” (Page 270)

#2. You have to learn to stroke his ego:
“ ‘You are hot’ That’s the top compliment a man wants to hear.”
(Page 42, Cosmo Men section)

#3. You have to be dishonest:
“After … something kinky with a new guy … offer a little white lie about how it’s your first time trying that – it makes him feel special.”
(Page 42, Cosmo Men section)

4. You are just the movie, but he? He is the star:
“Let HIM be your Superman”
(Page 113);

5. You are his toy:
“Wham-bam and he’s a happy boy.”
(Page 125)

#6. You have to like what he likes:
“Men love girls who like boy food.”
(Page 36)

As if these are not enough to make one suspect that sitting at the top of the Cosmo masthead are bratty-boy Daddies with Lolita fantasies, not unlike those on Dateline NBC’s To Catch A Predator, their Fun Fearless Fashion Awards for “Most Buzz-Worthy Show” was awarded to that dude-slobberfest … Victoria’s Secret.

And as for the expose on Page 132 “Tales of an NFL Cheerleader”, Ac.Stet can almost hear thousands of frat boys pilfer copies of Cosmo from their lady dorm-mates for some sheepish indulgence.

As if how women should conduct themselves in the presence of men in their waking hours is not enough, Cosmo goes on for four full-pages to define who you are in their absence, when you are sleeping (“How do you sleep when HE’s not there?” Page 160).

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Finally, when women do make it on their own in male-dominated territory, they have to … become men. Quite literally. On Page 130 in its “Real Life Reads” section on “TV’s Newest Buzzmakers”, Cosmopolitan interviews Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas, whose brainchild Reaper on CW, means they have to re-imagine themselves as … slacker dudes.

Women, in order to preserve their worldview of dualism, also have to view men as prospects: “How Our Friendship Turned To Love” (Page 128).

You do suspect that if women can ever be sexes in their own right. So Ac.Stet flips over to the fashion spreads, and while some are well-shot (most others suffer from uneducated lighting and tired poses), they also seem to imply that women are … wallflowers.

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In “The Bold and the Beautiful” (Page 168), besides channeling the title of a soap opera built on the lives of women plagued by the mien of men, the sub-text is suggestive: “This season, you have all you need to create headturning outfits … There’s zero chance you’ll fade into the scenery – no matter how breathtaking it is.”

This reminds Ac.Stet of that time when Richard Nixon who keeps saying “I am not a thief. I am not a thief.”

Well, essentially, this fashion spread is likely to turn the viewer’s attention from the wearer to the landscape. And moreover, notice how it is written “… you have all you need to create headturning outfits …”? So, the clothes are not there for women to create their own identities, but rather, to make the clothes look good:

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In the end, women now cannot be heard AND seen, and if they do, they should be seen best possibly in a way that mazimizes their appeal to men. The visual pleasure’s rather 1970s Laura Mulvey, yes?:

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We can read it this way, or we can read it another way. But either way, you will suddenly realize that the magazine is singularly tuned to train readers to use sex as a tool.

After all, a good Cosmopolitan girl does not mean that it is imperative that you have a man. Uh-uh, No. What Cosmopolitan actually means to say is that it is okay if you don’t have a man … now. But you have to have one … eventually.

And here’s how, the editors say: Sex.

Cosmo editors make sure they teach you how to use it to snare one, keep one and keep many others hungry. The magazine is filled with body-as-weapon encouragement:

(Page 126): “You could offer really amazing sex as an incentive.”

(Page 154): “Why don’t you … Give your guy a reverse strip …”

(Page 106): “As a Cosmo reader, no one could ever accuse you of lacking in the sexual-dynamo department.”

(Page 112): “Since you are a hot Cosmo girl, you likely spend a lot of time cooking up ways to blow your guy’s mind between the sheets, which, to be clear, is a very good thing.”

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Cosmo not only asks women for sex advice, they also ask men for it so readers can better prime their sexual identities accordingly (Page 106: “What Not to do in Bed” + Page 38, “100 Things You Need to Know About Guys”, Cosmo Men section).

Ac.Stet wants to be convinced that Cosmopolitan is teaching women to reclaim their bodies from the doctrinations of men, and instead use it for their own benefit. But instead, Ac.Stet comes away believing that in lesser hands – read: doll-brained writers – women readers may just as well haul themselves back to a prehistoric time when they were mere pretty vessels for the well-laid plans of mice and men.

You may also get a strange vibe that Cosmopolitan may not really be intended for just straight women.

There are odd columns like “Bedroom Blog”, (Page 126). Boring and uninspired as it reads, Ac.Stet really wonders who really wants to read such a piece, given that the only people interested in bedroom blogs are straight men, Dateline NBC predators and lesbians.

But Ac.Stet gets a huge clue from its advertisers.

For a women’s magazine, it scores a lot of ads targeted at men: Adidas’ 0:01, Kenneth Cole’s Reaction, Stetson’s Original Cologne and David Beckham’s Intense Instinct. Even when it is not, the ads are not exclusive to women, but are targeted at BOTH women and men: Calvin Klein’s Eternity and Euphoria, Hugo Boss’ XY, Usher’s For Him and Her.

Of course, this may be due to the fact that the November issue is dedicated to its Cosmo Men Special, but a nagging suspicion is that Cosmopolitan feels that women (some already high-income individuals or equal breadwinners in their own right) are not intended to be shopping just for themselves, but also for – yah – men.

Layout-wise, Ac.Stet gets rather discombobulated by Cosmopolitan’s organization of its section headers.

What is the differentiation between the two sections “You You You” and “Totally Cosmo”?

Why can’t the stories under these two sections like tips on corporate success, home deco on the cheap and the poorly copied Diana Vreeland-ripoff column “Why Don’t You …” either (i) come under one new revamped section; or (ii) be absorbed to other sections like “Weekend”?

One suspects that the force of vision for these sections – which might have started well years ago – are faltering to a state where certain vaguely-defined sections are now treated as dumping grounds for stories that defies the mag’s categorization (e.g. the “How do you sleep when he’s not there” story on Page 160).

Ac.Stet has mentioned in an earlier post that these past two months have been the book-hawking season for magazine editors. Cosmopolitan proves Ac.Stet’s point once again, with not just a a quarter-page mention in the Editor’s Letter page penned by in-chief Kate White, but a full four-page excerpt from the book “Basic Black: The Essential Guide for Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life)” written by Hearst Magazines president Cathie Black.

Besides Ac.Stet’s difficulty reading between Black and White, he does realize that having a name like COSMOPOLITAN brings a huge burden.

From dictionary.com,

cos~mo~pol~i~tan [koz-muh-pol-i-tn] –adjective means ==
1. free from local, provincial, or national ideas, prejudices, or attachments; at home all over the world.
2. of or characteristic of a cosmopolite.
3. belonging to all the world; not limited to just one part of the world.
4. Botany, Zoology. widely distributed over the globe.–noun
5. a person who is free from local, provincial, or national bias or attachment; citizen of the world; cosmopolite.

It is an immense duty to bring the world to your reader, even American Express’s Travel + Leisure have a juggernaut of a task every month doing just that. And having read Cosmopolitan, Ac.Stet gets no sense that a person becomes more of a cosmopolite, in the sense that the reader is “at home all over the world” or “not limited to just one part of the world”.

Magazines like this really just wants women to live and die in one world: Men’s.

If this is a moral choice, there is no wrong in that. But for their sake, Ac.Stet hopes it’s in the surrounds of men like these:

cosmo111.jpg*

It will certainly make the descent sweeter. Oh, but what a dreadful way to live and a beautiful way to die.

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In Fashion, A Name Grants Immortality … or Less Pretentiously: “Let’s Play Jeopardy!!” (13)

•October 23, 2007 • 1 Comment

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Names often fool.
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But if moneys and longevity are at stake in a fashion game of changing trends and whimsical consumer fancies, then a good name – preferably not your boring own – should be used as a talisman to tide over the capricity of the business.if you think you know your fashion history, and fashion pseudonym trivia, then let’s play Jeopardy!

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In 1971, distance runner Phil Knight founded sports shoe manufacturing company Blue Ribbon Sports with friend Bill Bowerman. Later, inspired by the Onitsuka Tiger trainers from Japan, he launched his own shoe range and renamed his company after the Greek goddess of victory:
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Nike.

Mainstream Media’s Oriental Baby Boom

•October 22, 2007 • Leave a Comment

As if to make up for decades of Far Eastern negligence, the media industry is now gorging on that ethnic segment long overlooked by marketeers. Thanks to that onslaught of over-represented Asian models on the New York and European catwalks since last Spring, Orientalism finally has a face in mainstream media.

And it has gone rice-white, pearl-hued, yellow-skinned, golden-toned and almond-eyed, beginning from where they should all start: infants.

Some may want to credit this to the sociological results following that China baby-adoption boom seen in the last decade.

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