Friday, April 30, 2010

The Elegance of Refusal

“To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not, rich; to listen to stars and birds, babes and sages, with open heart; to study hard; to think quietly, act frankly, talk gently, await occasions, hurry never; in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common - this is my symphony.” -- William Ellery Channing, 1906

I love this quote and feel that Dr. Channing’s idea is as relevant now as it was a hundred years ago. Elegance is, as Coco Chanel says, “refusal”. It is the act of saying no, of pulling back. And whether we are talking fashion or we are talking about how to carry oneself, it is all the same. Elegance is a natural state that all of us often forget as we try to fill our insatiable need for things to define ourselves.

In the design process, I often find myself guilty of “gilding the lily” and adding design details that become superfluous. My aim these days is to simplify the process and in doing so, maintain an elegance (and integrity) of design. This is not as easy as it sounds when many search for over-designed, over-logo driven items with which to adorn their image. Simple, elegant design is still as expensive, if not more, than something that has “bells and whistles” and yet many customers will balk at a higher price for a simple elegant piece. But thankfully not everyone equates high price with overly decorated fashion.

Recently, I met a customer who was shopping for his wedding day. The wedding was to take place in Malibu on the beach and he wanted to be elegant and understated. He ended up buying a very simple white linen vest and matching pair of shorts, to wear with a green oxford shirt and paisley tie. I was thrilled that he chose such a great look for his wedding day and was honored to be a part of his quest for an elegant but very stylish look. The fact that he chose a wedding ensemble that didn’t include a jacket was his own statement in the elegant act of “refusal”, refusal to go for the status quo, refusal to not let his special day go by in a rented, impersonal tux.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

JB's Interview with Tim Groen

Ever since he based a Spring/Summer presentation on Joseph Beuys’ near-death experience, I had been dying (no pun intended) to talk to John Bartlett. The menswear designer was also way ahead of the curve when he explored the shrunken suit silhouette, and while his contract with Liz Claiborne just ended, he has wasted no time (soft-)launching a women’s line “without the fuss”. To cut a long story short, there was plenty of creative stuff I would have loved to talk about with John, but here’s why I changed my mind:
Lately I was beginning to notice that John is putting a lot of energy behind a variety of causes, not the least of which is animal suffering. And I love talking about animal rights even more than I like talking about the influence of Joseph Beuys on fashion.
John, who told me that he’s always been interested in Native American rituals and Eastern philosophy, states that as much as fashion is important to him on a creative level, “Fashion alone can be very draining and superficial.” And so he turned his focus on charities, in order to keep himself connected to aspects of the world that have nothing to do with fashion, and where he can make a difference.
Recently John ditched all fitness activities in favor of yoga (Jivamukti, to be precise), and as with many serious yoga practicioners, the issue of vegetarianism and veganism came up. When a designer goes vegan, you can rest assured that it influences how they think about their profession.
It seemed only fair that I gave John a platform, however modest, to talk about some of those super important issues:
TG: So, let’s forget about fashion for a moment.
JB: Ha! thank you.
TG: We both have rescue dogs, so we clearly don’t have to convince each other. But would you mind explaining once again to people who may be considering getting a pet, why rescuing from a shelter is the way to go?
JB: The levels of cruelty and abuse at the puppy mills that supply the stores are obvious to everybody now. So please avoid pet stores at all costs. If you want to a specific breed, try the shelter anyway. So many pure-breds are being rescued from puppy mills, that it’s changing the face of shelter dogs. It used to be all unidentifiable mixed breeds, but that isn’t the case anymore.
The other thing you can do to avoid pet stores, is to check breed-specific rescue sites; there’s a site for every breed.
But I have to add that while for me personally rescue is the only way to go — I’ve only had rescue dogs as an adult — there’s nothing wrong with getting puppies from a responsible, recognized breeder who treats animals humanely.
TG: You actually facilitate pet adoption events in the West Village, right?
JB: Yes, We organize adoption events with the North Shore Animal League, where they park a big mobile unit full of dogs — most of whom had never walked on grass before they were rescued — and cats in front of our store for a day, and I promote it weeks in advance. We usually average about ten adoptions a day, which is really great for an off-site adoption van!
TG: That is fantastic. Now let’s talk a little bit about fur…
JB: Ah, fur! This past season was really, really crazy; fur was everywhere in New York for Fall/Winter 2010! Two thirds of the designers showed fur on the runway. Apparently the furriers are courting designers to push fur. They’re making all their samples, supporting shows, and create demand, so a lot of stores are asking for it. And because it’s making money, a lot of designers feel pressured to offer it — even those who aren’t sure they feel good about it.
I have always worked in leather, and when I was working in Italy, I would see all this fur that was treated as another ‘fabric’, and kind of an amazing one, actually — if you don’t consider where it’s coming from. So in 2000 I did one season where I worked with rabbit fur, and afterwards I felt so disgusted. I had felt pressured to use it. It just wasn’t me, so I stopped it right then.
A lot of my colleagues are pro-fur, and I’m trying to figure out a way that I impact the pro-fur phenomenon. I’m talking to a lot of designers, editors, fashion directors, asking them, “This is what’s going on. Are you aware?” And if they are, well, at least I tried to point it out.
TG: To me it’s a total clear cut issue; I dare anyone to come up with images of a “fur farm” – nice euphemism, by the way– with happy, well-treated animals. Or to convince me that trapping in the wild is a “green” thing to do.
Why do you think it is so hard for people to denounce this entire industry? Is it just money, or is it maybe something more primitive than that?

JB: I really wish that I knew. A lot of the powerful fashion editors ardently promote fur.
One of the designers I spoke to said, “But the animals are humanely gassed.” All I could think was: Humanely gassed? Doesn’t that argument sound a little Hitler to you?
And so what if some farmers are gassing? Most of the fur comes from China, which has a horrible track record when it comes to the treatment of animals. Just look at the videos PETA—which is a very controversial place—is showing on their site about the skinning of live animals for exotic skins, it drives me crazy!
TG: How does your pro-active stance on animal cruelty affect your collection?
JB: It’s actually more and more affected by it, to the point where I decided that I’m not going to work in leather anymore at all. I used it for fall, and I’ll sell the pieces I still have, but that’s it.
There are all these things that are coming up for me, such as vegetarianism and animal cruelty, partly because of yoga. And I’m trying to have real clarity about it in my own life, so I can speak about it without being hypocritical.
It means that I have to figure out synthetic or fabric shoe options for the runway, and that I may not be able to work with companies I’ve worked with in the past. I know it’s going to be challenging. I realize that when I make the change, lots of peeps will try to criticize and dissect what i am doing — but i think every bit helps.
TG: So, does that mean you’ll keep heading in that direction? Next stop: sustainability?
JB: The collection will not be sustainable as much as it will be as cruelty free as I can make it. Being sustainable is definitely the next frontier, but given my own journey, not using animals is more immediate. I think that producing collections that are compassionate and cruelty free, also helps reverse the effects of the meat industry’s devastating toll on the environment—which is bigger than i ever realized.
TG: Finally, what what would you say to young designers?
JB: Young designers should indeed look at the videos that PETA and the Humane Society—which is another amazing organization—show about how these animals are treated, and how they are killed. I think the more you can inform young designers about how these skins are brought to them, and about the alternatives, the better.
At Parsons, for example, they have PETA and fur industry representatives come in to talk to students. I would think that that would be enough to sway anybody’s opinion. So at the end of the day it’s irresponsible if you’re still going to use fur. Irresponsible and vain.
Shortly after our interview John had another successful North Shore Animal League adoption event in front of his store.
John Bartlett
This is John’s site. It shows the collections that are in store, and has a link on it to his blog. It also tells you about other (human-focused) charities that John is involved in, which we didn’t discuss, such as SAGE and The Trevor Project.
PETAAs John says, “a controversial place”. It is, however, also an eye opener, and full of current info on international animal rights.
North Shore Animal League. A favorite of John’s: the largest no-kill animal rescue and adoption organization in the world.
ASPCA. This is the organization that rescued my dog, Whiskey Groen, from a kill shelter in Tennesee, after which I found him on , a directory of more than 13,000 animal shelters and adoption organizations across the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

JB on the Daily Front Row

Check out the piece about the North Shore Animal League adoption event (starts at 1:21).

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Social Media Convert

Social media is suddenly on everyone’s mind. From huge mega-corporations to grass roots charities, the concept of communicating via the Internet has become the obsession of both David and Goliath alike. Celebrities are tweeting and individuals can get a sense of a personal connection to their favorite idols. Facebook has become a given for anyone or any company who wants to reach out and communicate.
I, for one, was hesitant to join the world of social media. It felt impersonal and a bit one-sided, especially the twitter phenomenon. But, slowly and surely, I, too, have become a social media junkie, for better or for worse. As I gain followers on twitter and receive daily requests for friends on Facebook, I am becoming a total convert to the power of Internet communication. 
My fear, though, is that like email, we can hide behind these new tools of communication to lash out in anger and to express things that we would never say given a face-to-face audience. I am guilty of posting very confrontational videos from PETA for example and feel that after posting them, although I do believe very much in their message, that it can be a cowardly mode of using the Internet to vent my frustrations. I also find that it is much easier to confront people’s views online through blogger comments and other means when I find someone who has different beliefs than I. 
As I wade through the very confusing and complex world of social media opportunities I am committed more than ever to try to approach what I share and what I say with compassion for our differences. If I cannot say it to someone’s face, then I should not commit it to the World Wide Web. I have many times felt ashamed at something I posted or about something I commented on and realize that the new world of social media can turn into a dangerous realm for negative thoughts and cowardly attacks.
My own journey with the world of social media has been an interesting one. I have certainly developed a larger client base through Facebook and Twitter and am able to reach my target audience with regards to what I am working on or what is of interest to me. But in the end, it can feel empty and disconnected. I find myself obsessing about what someone has written about me on a blog and feel powerless about how to respond to negative comments that come with being in the public eye. It can be a very hurtful place. For example, I once was scrolling a blog about an event that I had attended and one person mentioned that I looked fat and that my clothes were too tight. Believe me, I lost about 20 pounds since! Ironically it took a faceless commentator to shame me into losing the extra pounds.
I know that this world of Internet communication is in its infancy and that like everything, it will develop, hopefully into a useful and affirming tool. It’s ironic that social media many times becomes anti-social and actually removes us from connecting with people in the here and now. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Grace On and Off the Runway

Writing for dot 429, this past week's theme was “Grace," I conjured the three sister goddesses (Aglaia, Euphrosyne, and Thalia) to inspire my sleep-deprived brain.  These lovely ladies of Greek mythology are known as the “givers” of beauty, charm, wisdom, and love.  Sounds like a perfect wife for many of my single lesbian gal-pals. 
To me, grace is a wonderful attribute, and having just re-launched my women’s collection (for Fall 2010), I have added “grace” as the perfect buzzword to describe my ideal female customer.  In the fashion biz, designers tend to promote power, sex, youth, and wealth as the ideal facets of their “woman”.  To me, it is important to speak to a woman’s dignity, compassion and graciousness alongside their desire to look amazing in what they wear.

This past February, I staged a fashion show that re-introduced my “JB” woman alongside the “JB” man. I was excited to work with women again and endeavored to follow my heart and intuition and design for my fantasy customer, namely the lesbian woman.  I have had many fierce women come into my shop in the West Village and ask why I didn’t make the clothes I made for men in their sizes.  So I listened to them and sent out a collection of menswear inspired fall clothing (sans ruffles, beading, lace and all that cliché girly stuff) and presented it on a variety of gorgeous women (young and not so young, straight and gay, slim and curvy).  You see, having followed the women’s fashion world for so long, and having designed for women throughout the late 90’s, I wanted to present women of diverse ages and diverse body shapes. When you put a garment on a 5’11 Amazon, of course it is going to look amazing.  But when you put it on a woman with real curves and maturity to boot, you get an entirely different sensation.

I bring this up because one of the women who “graced” my runway is a very talented photographer and all-around stunning woman named Gigi Stoll.  Gigi has modeled for much of her adult life but has made her name with her incredible work as a photographer (please check out her work at  To me, she embodies the grace that I would like to have associated with my foray back into women’s design.  Not only does she look absolutely stunning, she also glows from the inside out.

And not only is Gigi graceful and gracious, she has the grace that I admire in anyone, male, female, or transgender.  When Gigi is not working on the set photographing celebrities or traveling to shoot exotic destinations, she is doing God’s work here on earth; she is a Sage volunteer who serves as a “friendly visitor” to an elderly GBLQT New Yorker.  I had actually seen her at a Sage meeting for friendly visitor volunteers and remember that I could not stop looking at her.  So this posting goes out to Gigi, whose grace and gorgeousness sets the standard for all of us.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

John Bartlett Denim Suit Featured in NY Times

Check out this suit story from the NY Times.
John Bartlett denim suit featured in far right for $1040.

dot 429 Launches

Please check out a new gay social media site called dot 429.