Friday, October 20, 2006

what jeffrey has to show for himself continued

(click here to go to the first part of "what jeffrey has to show for himself")


his muse, his self
In looking closely at his work I think that what distinguishes Jeffrey from the other three finalists is his lack of attention to women's bodies. He's interested in doing something else. I think this is why he wanted to have the models all wear matching wigs. For many designers the models become their muses but Jeffrey's muse is himself and his ideas.

marilinda la maravillosa
Now I'm not saying that he wasn't fond of Marilinda. He better be. He would not have made it to the final four without her because she saved his ass a couple of times. She sold that couture gown like she was the Calypso Queen at Carnivale.

(I don't know where she is from originally and I am pretty sure she isn't from Trinidad but the way she sashayed down the runway reminded me a of a dance from there.)

Marilinda could sell the Emperor's new clothes (and some would say that she did).

On the other hand, there are some things that would make the Queen of England look like a whore.

When it came to lapses in taste all of Kayne's glitter and rhinestones could not top what Jeffrey could barf up on the runway.

Anyway, I am certain that Jeffrey appreciated and liked Marilinda but I never get the sense that she -- or any woman -- was his muse.

Except perhaps Gwen Stefani, which may be why he wanted to have the blond wigs because that is exactly what Stefani did in her L.A.M.B. collection show this fall:

And by the way -- nothing says "Japanese ghost and demon stories" like a runway full of models in blond wigs.

japanese ghost and demon stories
Okay, I have to talk about this one.

How many times did we hear Jeffrey tell people that his collection was inspired by "Japanese ghost and demon stories"? He said it enough times that one would assume that this was important to what he was doing. Everytime he said it Tim Gunn or Michael Kors or Nina Garcia or whomever would nod their head and be very impressed with his intellectual depth and creative breadth.

I just want to know why no one said, "Gee, that sounds interesting, Jeffrey. It sounds like you have some great tattoo design books around your house. And little Harrison must enjoy the stories about the demons that eat children. However, in what way do your clothes have ANYTHING ON GOD'S GREEN EARTH to do with Japanese ghost and demon stories?"

It is fine if he started there and ended up somewhere completely different. That happens a lot in the creative process.

However, if the final collection has little to do with Japanese ghost and demon stories then why did he keep bringing it up? Why? Because it sounded good. And it didn't just sound good. It sounded cool. Kora knows bullshit when she hears it.

I think it is safe to say that generally speaking, the images for the various collections of stories -- the most famous being One Hundred Tales by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) --

Left to Right: 1. The Plate Mansion (Sara-yashiki); 2. Skeletal Ghost (Kohada Koheiji); 3. The Laughing Hannya (Warai-hannya); 4. Oiwa (Oiwa-san). All of the above images are from One Hundred Tales by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849). Additional references and links are at the bottom of the post.
do not use the color palette Jeffrey used. That is, the primary colors of 40s pinup retro-red polka dots and circus green and white stripes are not what one thinks of when imagining something inspired by Japanese folk culture.

I'd also like to point out that it isn't like high fashion doesn't have a lot of brilliant examples of designers who have been inspired by various aspects of Japanese culture and aesthetics, including peasant culure. Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto are just the three most famous designers to emerge from Japan since the seventies. And, of course, Japan is the most lively place for street fashion that is centered around the teen age girl.

One could say that Jeffrey's Holly Hobby apron dress (see previous post) and the Marilinda dress "gesture" towards some of the folding and pleating that is associated with Japanese high fashion design today.

Although, I would consider the gesture to be a bit too broad to really indicate something specifically Japanese. Is Jeffrey's dress more "Japanese" than "ball gown" in its styling? (The great thing about using wedding gowns as examples is that in a pinch they are basic examples of generic types for dresses.)

I'm just not seeing is what this has to do with Japanese ghost and demon stories. However, I certainly have not read every ghost story or seen every ukiyo-e print of ghosts and demons. I am also quite willing to believe that there is something in the collection that is obvious to most people that I'm just not seeing.

If there is, so far no one I've read has explained it to me. Sure, people have mentioned something vague like "seeing a Japanese influence." But this doesn't really support the specific reference to Japanese ghost and demon stories.

Here's the thing. The book below is about Japanese ghosts and demons and is popular among tattoo artists. It has some bright red and green on the cover and perhaps the prints inside are also richly printed. The actual ukiyo-e prints are not as saturated and are often very faded (if not damaged). My best guess is that this might be the kind of book he was looking at.

I know it's a stretch but I'm grasping at straws here, trying to give Jeffrey the old Project Runway benefit of the doubt. But I still don't understand the whole reference to demons and ghosts. I don't really see much of an element of fantasy in his collection. It seems like the three other designers have a greater sense of that than he does (but more on that later).

As I was looking at some of the ukiyo-e prints I wondered whether he was inspired by the images of ghosts and demons or was it more by the style of the prints themselves? That is, are his clothes more connected to the Hokusai demon images (above) rather than, say, Hokusai's images of street life? Or just the fabrics and designs of the clothes in the prints? Or the graphic lines of the woodblock prints? (After all, a great deal of late nineteenth and early twentieth century art can be traced back to the influence of these prints on western artists.)

For example, do his clothes have a connection to the woman on the right (below), because she is a ghost that they don't have with the woman on the left even though the woman on the left is wearing a garment that has more similarities to the clothes he designed? (I'm speaking in broad terms such as the stripes and hanging folds.)

If that is the case then why didn't he say that he was inspired by some patterns he saw in wood block prints? The answer seems obvious to me. Japanese ghost and demon stories just sounds so much cooler.

And if he was so taken with these tales then which ones in particular? His collection can't be about the hundreds of stories, he must have had to pick out a few, perhaps even just one?

There is the popular tale of the maid Okiku who breaks her master's Delft plates for which she is killed by being thrown into a well that she haunts and poisons (the Hokusai image above on the far left). One of my favorites is the tale of Oiwa, the dead wife who haunts the husband who disfigured her, taking on various forms including that of a paper lantern (the Hokusai image above on the far right).

I don't get any sense that the narratives have anything to do with his collection. Frankly I wouldn't be surprised if he never read any of the tales. That is fine except for the fact that he made it sound like there was a literary context for his collection.

It seems like he got a lot more credit than perhaps he deserved for the narrative context of his collection. He certainly had a better story than the others. The judges were all much more impressed with his. But the others didn't pretend to be anything more than what they were. I have a lot more respect for that. Especially when you consider how amazing they really are. They didn't need to pretend to be more.

If there is any connection at all it is probably going to be at the visual level and not the narrative level because I don't see how the clothes tell much of a story about Japanese ghosts and demons. There were no decapitations or snakes or goblins that I could see. Unless you count this:

(I'm just joking, I don't expect it to be that literal of course.)

If Jeffrey could have pulled this off I would be the first to be wowed and delighted by his collection. Believe me I would love to see such a collection that created a contemporary fashion statement out of an art form that has such intense visual and literary power. But in terms of what Jeffrey produced: sorry, I'm not buying it. Literally and figuratively.

But if anyone has any thoughts how these twelve pieces might, say, serve the fashion needs of a Japanese demon woman -- taking her through her day, please feel free to share them.

That said, this really IS fascinating material: both the Japanese art of ukiyo-e and its folk culture's myths and legends. So if you are interested in finding out more here a couple places online to start investigating:
Note: Kora is going to show her hand here, because in truth, she thinks the floating world and myths and legends are ultimately far more important and more interesting than Project Runway. Which doesn't mean she doesn't think Project Runway isn't great fun. She wouldn't spend her time with it if it wasn't. However, it's better when it can be connected to things that are more interesting and important to her. So even if Jeffrey was bullshitting it was nice that he brought up the subject of Japanese ghost and demon stories!


lotusgreen said...

excellent rant. of course that collection looked not in the slightest like it was inspired by anything japanese, let alone ghosts. odilon redon, yes. jeffrey, no.

and yes! wouldn't it be so cool to see a collection that really was inspired by that!

by the way, can you please tell me whose prints those are. the one on the right looks so wiener werkstatte!, don't you think?



Anonymous said...

If I'm not mistaken (and I well could be), Jeffrey cited a specific book called "Japanese Ghosts and Demons" by which he was inspired. I also think that his colors well represented the colors found in many of the works by Hiroshige & Yoshitoshi, both of which have work in this book. All of the "white" you cite in his pieces looked to me to be more of a parchment color (cream, winter white, ecru, but not white), and the red, deep green, navy, and black are all found in many of these Japanese ghost and demon prints.

Give the guy a break! Creativity is a very organic process; he started at Point A & ended at Point B, but he was nonetheless honest about his inspiration. Just because YOU wouldn't have come up with the same ideas doesn't mean that he was less than truthful about it!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your excellent and informative rant. I have an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and your position is absolutely accurate. Jeffrey and the judges (and "Anonymous" above) have absolutely no idea what he's talking about regarding the book "Japanese Ghosts and Demons", and apparently the judges were also fooled by his "cool" sounding story. Sad.

But unlike you, I hated the green awning-striped dress. My aunt wore the almost exact style of dress in the 80's as a bridesmaid, only hers was pink. The style was ugly then, and is ugly now.

It's nice to read something written by an educated, insightful blogger! THANK YOU!!

Anonymous said...

Always love your blog! Thanks for your excellent take on the whole "Jeffrey's collection wins!" nonsense. As soon as I heard Jeffrey say "Japanese ghost stories and demons" my crap detector went off. What a load of hooey.

Anonymous said...

You obviously know a lot more about Japanese ghosts and demons stories and art than I do. Nonetheless, I do see how it was Jeffrey's inspiration.

I merely googled "Japanese ghosts and demons" and found quite a number of images that contained the exact palette for Jeffrey's collection -- one even had a swath of red with white polka dots! (at least that's what it looked like to me)

I thought Jeffrey's use of organza (or was it organdy? I'm never sure which...) lent an ethereal quality.

Some, if not all, of the garments had a loose, flowy drape similar to some of the kimonos in the images I pulled up.

Inspiration is such a personal process, though, that it's really not surprising when it's hard to connect the end result to the purported inspiration.

In any case, I appreciated Jeffrey's more artistic and subtle source of inspiration than Michael's and Uli's more literal "safari" inspiration -- both of which fell flat, in my opinion.

All in all, a very interesting discussion here! Thanks for getting us thinking!

Anonymous said...

EXCELLENT post, I had also thought the same thing. Why is no one asking about the japanese ghosts and demons? his collection has nothing at all to do with that! it just sounds cool. I am so glad you did all the research. and this is ditto for me: "it's nice to read something written by an educated, insightful blogger! THANK YOU!!" Gabriella

rosephreak said...

What we have here, IMHO, is a case of the Emperor's clothes. Just because he said so, everyone believes it. Thanks for calling BS on this one. I thought it all along, you had the courage to up and put it in print. I also respect that you cited several sources and seem to really have given it a lot of thought. (Not meaning to sound like a teacher grading your work - just impressed. )

I liked some of Jeffrey's stuff, but hated the green stripes, and even my daughter who would typically like stuff that goes with tattoos, goth, Hot Topic-ish styles, gave it a perplexed, raised eyebrow look. The red arm sling dress just looked like he was confused.

Enjoying your blog. :)

eric3000 said...

Thanks for the informative commentary!

I, also, didn't see any connection to his inspiration. He may have been inspired by it but it just didn't show up in the clothes. Although the judges seemed to get it for some reason. I could see some connection to contemporary Japanese street culture in the polka-dot baby-doll dress but I don't know what that has to do with ghosts. And I think you are being too kind to associate his pleating with Miyake.

I just think too many people confuse ugly with innovative. Several of Jeffrey's designs were really good but there were too many that just looked like tired, old rocker trash we've seen a million times before. I just think it's sad that Uli's garments were all attractive and things women would actually want to wear and so that automatically makes them boring. I think things can be attractive and innovative at the same time.

James Derek Dwyer said...

fantastic dissection of this pseudo collection -thanks ;-)

wildflower38 said...

Great analysis!!!! I totally didn't see the "demons and ghosts" in Jeff's collection and his explanation of it was lacking in subtance. Maybe the "ghost" outfits were the ones with that white gauze???? I thought Uli should have won.

FeFe said...

I love polka dots in any color, and while the red material Jeffrey used is close, they are in fact not dots but apples. He pointed this out in his 10/19 Today show appearance and they are shown in the video.

I can think of nothing more wholesome to represent Hollie Hobbie. Can you imagine her not presenting a red apple to her teacher on the first day of school polished from the 5 mile walk to reflect her bonnet?

It should be said Jeffrey shows a lack of attention to women's bodies. Dresses cut longer in front and shorter in back are a mystery to even Heidi Klume. However, could it be his paternal side? Who isn't distressed at the sight of a scraped knee? Was this an effort to prevent boo boos? Only his son knows.

As Japanese ghost and demon stories were the inspiration, he chose the material in red with white apples. The apple is not present but the outline as Japanese demons and ghosts need not bother with food. A mere ghost of an offering. His collection, that is.

Anonymous said...

I just told you where Marilinda s from...

trixie b said...

Thanks for all the great responses! It is nice to have an exchange of different opinions based on a thoughtful consideration of the collection. It makes things so much more interesting to be offered new approaches to consider. You've all given me a lot to consider and I appreciate it.

bungle said...

Kora in Hell?

gawd she's awesome

Git yer precious self outta hades and up to olympus where you belong. No more pomy-granite fer you lady it's all nectar and ambrosia from here on out. PERIOD.

Anonymous said...

what a relief to read a thoughtful and knowledgeable analysis of Jeffrey's collection - and for calling him on the ghost and demons BS!

Why Kors, Nina and Heidi, plus Tim Gunn, feel this guy is so innovative completely amazes me....

Abbey said...

Perhaps you have researched ghosts and demons stories extensively, but you don't seem to know anything about fashion design. The point of inspiration is not to end up with a garment that looks like it fell out of the story, but with certain details (colors, textures, etc.) that reflect that inspiration. I do see parallels between Jeffrey's designs and the colors in Japanese prints, as well as the line, shape, and pattern used in the dresses.

Jeffrey mentioned ghosts and demons stories twice in the two-hour finale, once to Tim and once in front of the judges; I don't believe he was beefing himself up--no one looked that impressed anyway.

If you believe that Laura or Michael was more qualified to win than Jeffrey, you are unable to judge fashion objectively. Just because you don't like him or wouldn't where his clothes doesn't mean he isn't a good designer.

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