Tribal Vibes

One of the key trends of the season is a return to bold, primitive patterns and tribal-inspired styles. I wrote about this trend in my Jewelry Fashion File blog on in a post entitled “Primitive Motifs in Fashion in Jewelry” on February 23: “As perennially popular as animal prints, lavish amounts of chunky jewelry are a key element of this season’s tribal-influenced fashions.” Among those at the forefront of the trend are American designers Michael Kors, who coined the style “Afriluxe” as he was inspired by the savannas of Africa, and  Donna Karan, who reportedly was inspired by Haitian artwork.

There are plenty of editorial stylings of young models in tribal-inspired bathing suits, short shorts or short skirts accessorized with layered necklaces and chunky bangles, leather wraps and animal teeth and bones. These looks are exotic, sexy, and sometimes, frankly, a bit costume-y. There are also plenty of outrageously loud and large prints, which have a tendency to wear the wearer unless she has large features and an outsized personality.

Don’t let the extreme stylings put you off. The richness of the patterns and prints and the sense of handmade quality in artisanal jewelry can be exquisite, well worth incorporating into your wardrobe. You may find that prints and jewelry of smaller scale suit you better, particularly if your facial features are small to average in size.

One of my favorite tribal-inspired looks is this dress ($3,895) and necklace ($1,495) from Donna Karan New York, modeled by actress Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in the December 2011/January 2012 spring preview issue of Harper’s Bazaar.  The relatively small scale of the motifs in the fabric make it suitable for women who might find overly large prints unwearable. The arrangement of the motifs accents the waist and bust, emphasizing the model’s shape. The pair of unmatched bracelets from Alexis Bittar ($295 – $375) are the perfect accent. The model also wears hoop earrings ($70) from Roxanne Assoulin for Lee Angel. The look is sexy and sophisticated.

One important caveat about wearing tribal-inspired styles: Choose flattering hues. Most of the designs are decidedly warm-hued and look great worn against skin with golden undertones but can make cool-toned complexions look pasty.  If you are fair with pink or blue undertones to your skin, consider a faux tan as a necessary accessory to these styles.

Lessons in Wide Stripes from a Retail Web Site

The clothing offered for sale online by major retailers can provide eye-opening lessons in the visual effect of prints. When the same garment is offered in two versions, one solid and one in a print, both modeled by the same woman, it is easy to see how adding a pattern changes the effect of the garment.

For instance, here is a dark blue top from Allen Allen offered on the Nordstrom web site for $48.00 in plus sizes. The scoop neck and three-quarter sleeves are both flattering details for fuller figures, and the model looks comfortable and lovely.

Take essentially the same design and make it in a wide stripe, and the effect is completely different. The horizontal emphasis is not flattering to the model. It disguises her curves, making her figure look blocky. The size of the stripes is disproportionately large relative to her facial features, distracting the eye from her pretty face.

Change the coloring of wide stripes, however, and quite a different effect may be achieved. Here is the “Beach Towel Stripe” tee from Splendid offered on the Nordstrom web site for $108.00 in plus sizes. Although the stripes are about as wide as those on the previous example, the coloring focuses the eye at the narrowest part of the model’s body, emphasizing her hourglass shape. The deep vee neck and three-quarters sleeves are also flattering design details.

I salute Nordstrom for using plus-size models for its Encore Department fashions. Although seeing a model that closely resembles one’s body size, shape and proportions is not likely for the vast majority of us, it is wonderfully helpful to get a visual sense of how a women’s size garment fits on a model who is not a traditional sample size.


Shoe Sanity

Are there glimmerings of hope that designers once again are creating footwear that is not only stylish enough to appear in the fashion press but also comfortable, somewhere in the vast universe of options between sky-high and pancake-flat? Two items came to my attention as I perused the March 2012 fashion magazines.

This ad for Bally Switzerland appears in the March 2011 issue of Elle magazine. The model wears an elegant pair of slingback heels of 2 1/2 inches in height. The shoes, adorned with tone-on-tone bows, are a neutral shade of beige, a leg-elongating hue for women of fair skin. The shoe style, “Paulinne,” is available on the Bally web site and is priced at $525.00. It is also available in black.

Here’s a close-up of the Paulinne style. Notice the metal wrap around the bottom portion of the heel. If you’ve ever wrecked a pair of shoes by catching the back of the heel, you’ll appreciate this protective yet stylish design detail.

There is also promise at the casual end of the style spectrum. Glamour magazine’s “resident trend tracker” Rajni Lucienne Jacques reports in the March 2012 issue of the magazine, “Every spring I go on a journey to find a not-too-high sandal that satisfies me as much as my usual heels. I want style and comfort at the same time! This season Loeffler Randall answered my prayers.” She reports that the designer’s new Heart LR collection is full of neon clogs that she describes as “Cutesy and chic all at once.”

Pictured in Jacque’s article is a pair of “Inge” ankle-wrap clogs in acid green neon leather on a poplar wood base. The shoes have a 55mm heel (which translates to 2.2 inches). The clogs are available on the Loeffler Randall web site and are priced at $235.00. Jacques tells her readers “I’ll wear them with everything.”

Introducing neon into a wardrobe can be fun, but a more versatile option is the identical style in gold metallic leather, seen above. Metallics can work in a wardrobe as a genuine neutral. The Inge style is also available in black leather on a poplar base.

Ankle wraps, clogs and bows are not suitable choices for everyone, to be sure. I’ll report more options in shoe sanity as I see them profiled in the fashion press.

TheOhLook: Photo Styling with a Diagonal Bent

This exquisite, uncredited photograph of Emily Blunt that appears with her profile in the March 2012 issue of InStyle magazine deserves a closer look.  Blunt is gorgeous, of course, and younger than most of my readers, but the styling of the actress and the photo are both worthy of mention.

The teal color of her dress relates to and heightens the color of her eyes and compliments both her skin tone and hair color, demonstrating the power of a flattering hue. Her jewelry, a bronze or antiqued gold cuff and an interesting arrangement of blue ringed agate stones and antiqued gold leaves, balance each other. Having only a glimpse of the jewelry to the right makes one want to see more of it, adding active intrigue to the photo.

The position of her right arm repeats the diagonal of her one-shoulder top. The effect is to draw the eye up to her face. A similar effect to this styling can be achieved with a drape of fabric, the careful positioning of one arm, and some well-chosen jewelry.

Also worthy of note is the quotation that appears at the bottom of her photo: “The most beautiful people are those who don’t realize they are. Those are the ones I stare at.” When asked to sum up her philosophy of beauty, Blunt replied: “I love seeing faces that live and breathe–that are covered with lots of lines and you want to know how they got them. People who do too much plastic surgery often have a very still, startled expression. I can’t imagine that there’s much joy to be gained from that. If you can’t move your face, you can’t express yourself.”

The Comfortable Sexy Shoe Matrix

Finding stylish yet comfortable shoes can be a challenge these days, as designers and stylists seem to take an all-or-nothing approach to height:  sky-high heels often accompanied by platforms, or the flattest of flats. Here are some of spring’s newest designs, interpreted as to what they say about the wearer – in this case, “I’m the Boss” – from the March 2012 issue of InStyle magazine:

The March 2012 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal contains a wonderfully informative article by author Lauren Lipton entitled “Our Smart, No-Judgment Guide to Wearing Cute Shoes and Sexy Heels–Without Too Much Torture.” The article balances  statistics from the American Podiatric Medical Association about shoe-related maladies with the recognition that “There’s no mistaking the seductive pull of a beautiful pair of shoes.”

The article includes a discussion of how to prevent or to fix such shoe-related foot problems as bunions, hammertoes, Morton’s neuroma, plantar fasciitis, and Haglund’s deformity, a bone spur that develops at the back of the heel where the Achilles tendon attaches.

Included with the article is this superb matrix, assigning styles of shoes on a continuum from sexy to not so sexy, and from unhealthy to healthy.

Lipton writes: “The good news is that you don’t have to pack away your sexy high heels. Just wear them less often, for shorter periods and for occasions where you won’t be on your feet too much.” To keep your feet healthy, “try switching regularly between a variety of low, supportive footwear.”

Lipton concedes on the matrix page, “Let’s face it. The perfect shoe–drop-dead sexy, healthy and comfortable–doesn’t exist. Most styles fit somewhere on this spectrum. But designers are rising to the challenge. . . .”

One of the designers promoting a realistic approach to fashionable footwear is Prabal Gurung, a young designer whose fashions have been worn by Sarah Jessica Parker, Kerry Washington, Rooney Mara, Oprah Winfrey and First Lady Michelle Obama. Gurung launched his eponymous collection in 2009 and was runner up for the 2010 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund.

The March 2012 issue of InStyle  profiles Gurung and his philosophy of dressing: “Your clothes should provide an honest portrait of who you are, in fabrics that make you really happy.” Among his practical tips: Choose lower heels. “I’m not a fan of super-high shoes. And you want to walk tall when wearing brights!”

Notice the purple dress shown above right on the page from InStyle, illustrating “an easy shape.” Gurung comments: “Don’t ever wear anything that isn’t sincerely flattering. This [dress] works for many figures.”

At the moment, it may be even more difficult to find comfortable sexy shoes than it is to find a dress in a shape that flatters many figures. I’ll be watching for both.

More More Ad Challenges Please!

Almost 10 years ago, back in April 2002 to be precise, More magazine challenged five American advertising agencies “to create campaigns that would change corporate decision-makers’ minds about how they sell” to women over 40. About this demographic Mary Lou Quinlan wrote: “[J]ust try finding us when you switch on the TV or flip through most magazines. Page after page, ad after ad, pretty young women sell everything from soft drinks to software. Younger women may be highly attractive and are certainly strong spenders, but their buying clout pales in comparison to that wielded by women over 40. Still, there’s an 18-34 demographic desirability locked into corporate America’s mindset.”

Perhaps women over 40 have become more visible in advertising over the last 10 years — celebrities such as actress Diane Keaton have proven appeal to all age demographics. Nevertheless, it is fun to look back at the ads created by the ad agencies for the More ad challenge of 2002. Here are my top two favorites:

From the Kaplan Thaler Group Ltd.:

From D’Arcy Los Angeles:

Wouldn’t you love to see More magazine run an ad challenge again?

White Plus Red Equals Chic

Angelina Jolie pictured above right, from the 1/30/12 issue of People magazine

Borrow the look from Angelina Jolie at the 2012 Golden Globes. She wore a column of champagne-colored satin accented with a sliver of red near her face, and accessorizing her look with a red clutch, red lipstick, and perfect posture. Her look was pure drama and sheer perfection.


Or look for inspiration from this ad featuring Anne Hathaway for Tod’s, and wear head-to-toe white accessorized with red. Combine a red bag with a red scarf, belt or shoes, or any of those accessories plus some noticeably red-accented jewelry or bright red lips or nails.

Three uses of the accent color is ideal under classic design theory; two is fine. Be sure to wear more than one pop of red, however, so that the viewer’s eye takes in your whole look and doesn’t just land and linger on one spot.

Personality & the Color Red

Bright red is getting plenty of notice in the fashion press these days, not only as a symbol of February’s Heart Health Month, but also as Valentine’s Day approaches.

Even if you look great in the color, if you’re a gentle spirit by nature, you may well find that bright red doesn’t suit you. It’s too attention-getting for an introvert who doesn’t enjoy the limelight. It’s also a very strong and sometimes off-putting hue for someone who wants to appear friendly and approachable.

Go with your instincts. Wear the colors that suit your personality and the hues that feel right to you, whether in a particular situation, or all the time. Those colors provide clues to your authentic self.

Sticks & Stones

You know the old rag… “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” It seems that O’s creative director, Adam Glassman, takes this a bit too far in the feature “Your Biggest Dressing Dilemmas . . . Solved!” in the January 2012 issue of O, the Oprah Magazine. The instructive and interesting feature, while full of excellent advice and no doubt well-intentioned through-and-through, has the unfortunate effect of labeling the models pictured with all manner of insulting observations. Muffin Top, Pooch, Armpit Fat, Chub Rub, Cankles, and so on, with a model illustrating each insult. It sounds more like a schoolyard than a fashion spread.

Can the lovely model pictured next to the large photo captioned “Turkey Neck” ever live down that moniker?

How about adding a few more…  Fat Ass?  Bubble Butt?  Mosquito Tits?  “Short people have no reason to live”?

Let’s go back to Ms. “Turkey Neck” for one more look. The hoop earrings she is wearing are large with irregular shapes along the edges. To me, these shapes relate to, and therefore emphasize, the folds of her neck. They also dangle so low as to draw attention to her neck. What would have made her look even more attractive:  a pair of earrings that sit on her earlobes and draw the eye upward. I would choose a design that is visually light, not heavy, to work with the overall pastel loveliness of her look.

Clueless as to What Works at Work

I was excited to see the brand new, recently published supplement to Marie Claire magazine, Marie Claire @ Work.”  This might provide a wonderful resource for my blog readers, I mused.

Alas, the first impression given off by the magazine supplement is one of cluelessness. Actress Katie Holmes is the cover model, not exactly the archetype of a working woman, although goodness knows, in-demand actresses with children and high-visibility celebrity husbands no doubt work very, very hard.

Holmes appears to wear a sleeveless garment, seemingly uncomfortably  crisscrossed over her breasts with gold metallic strapping that then fastens around her waist. What manner of professional work apparel is this?

A quick peek at the credits reveals that the garment is a belted swimsuit. Yes, a swimsuit. Belted. From Michael Kors. Something NO professional woman will be wearing to work unless, of course, she’s a swimsuit model.  (And hey, it’s not like Michael Kors doesn’t design all manner of beautiful looks perfectly appropriate for the professional woman at work. He does.) Articles about brilliant career women juggling their home lives and professional successes cannot make up for this inexplicable faux pas of a first impression.