Monday, August 26, 2013

Monokinis for men: Trendy or fug?

Gay activist and designer Rudi Gernreich may not be as well-known as Dior, Gucci, or Courréges, but admittedly, he’s a subdued style icon who transformed the face of fashion with his minimalistic 1960s “mod” style. Gernreich is best remembered for his topless “monokini” swimsuit modeled by his premier muse Peggy Moffitt.

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The monokinis are visual products of Gernreich’s notion of freeing the body. The world took notice of this extreme from a “widely misunderstood fashion prophet,” and the Roman Magnus Stylebook eventually saw the monokini swimsuit as a fixture of androgynous fashion, sported by men as quirky as Borat and as sophisticated as Armani ramp models. Also known as mankinis, monokinis are seen under the fashion dome as a hot mess, a methane-high detachment from common Speedos or boxer shorts.

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Being the fruitions of Gernreich’s radical beliefs, monokinis represent a conduit between social statement and modesty. The swimsuit comes in different styles, cuts, and patterns which could be teamed up with a pair of boardshorts and the like for more covered and edgy but decent interpretations.

The bespoke one-piece has re-launched a sort of liberation movement that uses the profoundness of fashion as activism. Monokini-wearing men believe that they’re freeing themselves from all sorts of conventions and that they have to own up to their taste despite the public’s overt prejudice.

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Access the Roman Magnus Stylebook on this blog and get familiar with the unchartered territories of fashion.

Friday, July 19, 2013

REPOST: Countdown to fashion week for designer Jonathan Simkhai

Ruth La Ferla of NYTimes.Com goes behind the scenes as designer Jonathan Simkhai prepares for the New York Fashion Week in September.

Jonathan Simkhai spends most of his waking hours chasing cool, an ineffable quality he might spy in a random pileup of deck chairs, their stripes meandering every which way, or in the image of a skateboard gang surfing the pavements of Venice Beach. Nothing is too crazy or far-fetched to escape his roving eye.

During a recent road trip in upstate New York, he came across a crumbling barn, its whitewash peeling to reveal a layer of slate paint underneath. “Its weathered look felt very elegant,” said Mr. Simkhai, who promptly reproduced the effect on a fabric in the resort line he unveiled last month.

Will its grainy look re-emerge for spring? Hard to say. The collection Mr. Simkhai plans to show in September, at the start of New York Fashion Week, is only now beginning to take shape in his head. Some seven weeks before showtime, the line was in its gestational phase, Mr. Simkhai gathering with magpie energy the sights, sounds and tactile impressions that inspire him. “Inspiration,” he mused, “that’s really just a reference point, a way of keeping the collection concise.”

As he talked, he perched on an ash-blond wooden table in one of the incubator offices provided by the Council of Fashion Designers of America as part of its initiative to support emerging fashion businesses.

His two previous collections, athletically breezy and sassed up with techno detailing, trained a spotlight on Mr. Simkhai, who was singled out at, Women’s Wear Daily and Barneys New York, among others, as a talent to watch. Just the same, Mr. Simkhai, who showed his fall collection at Milk Studios in February, found himself vying for attention with industry stars like Joseph Altuzarra, who was presenting elsewhere at roughly the same time.

The competition was formidable, but he held his own, parading checkerboard-printed T-shirts, patchwork leather sweaters and twisted tomboy basketball jerseys and baseball jackets to an enthusiastic crowd that included Tomoko Ogura, the Barneys fashion director, and April Hennig, a merchandise manager for Bergdorf Goodman.

These days, his office doubles as his studio, a space that was hectically animated by fabric swatches pinned to one wall, and a pair of mood boards. One outsize sheet of fiberboard was covered in magazine tear sheets showing casually posed models in loosefitting jackets, baggy striped shorts and pencil skirts; another was plastered with photographs of adolescents in the natty clothes and challenging attitudes of the 1960s London youth quake.

Those oddly assorted images can help kick-start a collection. “They are almost like a diary,” Mr. Simkhai said, “even if nothing in the collection ends up actually looking this way.” For the designer, such photo references serve as talking points, providing his line with a unifying narrative thread, a story that, in his phrase, “the salespeople can latch on to.”

Spoken like a merchant. But then the designer, who is 28, got his start in retail, assigned at 14 to create window displays and act as a buyer for Habana Jeans in Scarsdale, N.Y., near his home. That brief apprenticeship taught him to anticipate his customers’ wishes or, as he put it, sounding a bit like Steve Jobs pitching a product release, “to give the clients what they want before they know they want it.”

His first designs, conceived about four years ago, were improvised, whipped up for a handful of friends needing beach cover-ups that would see them into town. Snatching shirts from his own closet, he repurposed them as minidresses, a breezy button-down look that became the foundation of his borrowed-from-the-boys aesthetic.

That fusion of male-female themes can’t help but seep into his work. “I can’t get into the head of a girl,” he said candidly, “so I spend a lot of time thinking about what I would want to wear. Naturally it gets masculine.”

Inevitably the boxy shapes, leather T-shirts and track pants that are his roguish signature will find their way into his spring line. “As much as I like femininity,” he said, “there will always be a button-down shirt.”

Still, he is always testing ideas. Lately his outlook has grown more refined. “I’m thinking of adding longer skirts,” he said. “They just feel right.” And he is giving increased weight to practical matters. Sure, a backless dress is charming and will probably have a place in the line, he said, adding with a wink, “but I’m finally catching on that women wear bras.”

He is quick to mine his archives. “Maybe there was something slightly rushed in the last collection that I want to revisit,” he said. As often as not, seeds of future designs are embedded in his current work. “The day before a show,” he said, “I tell myself, ‘I definitely want to explore this look next season, or I definitely don’t.’ ”

The fall 2013 collection was in part a product of his fascination with ska, the Jamaican precursor to reggae embraced by young Brits in the 1960s, their look an amalgam of skinny dark suits and ties, graphic checks, porkpie hats and, for girls, tight shirts and minis.

Spring 2014 will expand on that motif. “Coming off ska, I thought: ‘Who was listening to that music? What did it inspire?’ ”

The answer, of course, was mod. “ ‘Wow,’ I thought, ‘there is definitely a lot of material here.’ ”

An illustrative sampling is pinned to a black-and-white mood board on a far wall, dominated by images of clashing teenagers and those overturned awning-striped beach chairs. The photographs document the Battle of Brighton Beach, a hostile 1964 encounter between mods and rockers engaged in a turf war at the storied British resort.

Those images coexist with snapshots culled from libraries or lifted from the Internet, spied in passing through the window of a vintage store, ripped from yellowing tabloids or reproduced from Instagram screen grabs. The board is always morphing.

“Sometimes I take pictures down because they’re no longer relevant,” Mr. Simkhai said. Others remain, functioning as “place-holders,” helping him return, when necessary, to his original themes.

On the wall behind him was a cacophony of fabrics in sunbaked colors or alternating shades of indigo and aquamarine. “This all is very provisional,” he said. “I pull fabrics that maybe don’t make sense. I can be all over the place. I haven’t figured it out yet.”

He doesn’t doubt, though, that in time that zany collage-in-progress will form a cohesive vision. For now those swatches serve as place-holders, too, pointing the way, he said, to the next stop on the road.

It’s Roman Magnus’ long-held belief that fashion is a tactile experience. Visit this blog to get front seat perspectives on fashion events around the world and know how your favorite designers prepare for events as exclusive as the New York Fashion Week.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

REPOST: News: Liya Kebede Designs for J.Crew; Miu Miu Won't Show in Milan Anytime Soon

Kate Upton is back on the Victoria's Secret catalog while Miu Miu may be a no-show in the Milan Fashion Week.  These and more in this update from Elle.

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Ethiopian model and philanthropist Liya Kebede showcased her clothing line, Lemlem, in J.Crew's June Style Guide catalog. She also designed a summer-ready tunic exclusively for the retailer. {J.Crew Press Release}

Despite Giorgio Armani's request for Italian brands to strictly present their collections during Milan Fashion Week, CEO of the Prada Group Patrizio Bertelli explained why Miu Miu will continue to show during Paris Fashion Week. {Business of Fashion}

Marni collaborated with Argentinian artist Romina Quirós on a collection of illustrated T-shirts, tote bags, and iPad cases for the Italian brand's Winter 2013 Denim collection, available this June. {Marni Press Release}

As the highly anticipated Sound of Change concert approaches, here's a list of the many international channels you can tune into on June 1 to watch the star-studded event. {WWD}

Kate Upton made her return to the Victoria's Secret catalog since posing for the lingerie brand in 2011. {New York Daily News}

Designer Erin Fetherston and Cobra Starship frontman Gabe Saporta got married on Sunday at a Bajan plantation. {People} Meanwhile, in Malibu, Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul married his longtime girlfriend and co-founder of the Kind Campaign, Lauren Parsekian. Congrats to the newlywed couples! {Vulture}

Google is looking to close the gender gap in technology by conducting initiatives aimed at hiring and training more female programmers. {CNN} 

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

How much mercy for Paul Gauguin?

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Paul Gauguin colored Tahiti perhaps not the way he saw it but the way he wanted it to be. This is the tragic flaw of his legacy. Society is usually forgiving toward artists, especially post-mortem. But Paul Gauguin’s later biography seems to push people to the limits of tolerance, and if not for the wise reminders of waters under bridges, we could have defrocked his mythic persona and chastised him in press conferences, just like what happened to Lance Armstrong.

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Roughly, here’s what he did: He sold Tahiti to us fans in installments of dishonest art. Some of us didn’t buy the titillating, half-nude themes, as the white man’s burden has long lapsed into a cynical appreciation of noble savages, and how sophisticated they eventually turned out to be. Gauguin’s paintings, in blocks of naturalistic colors and picnic airs, depicted a tropical paradise with a manifest sexual ease. His representations seduced his French compatriots back home and reduced Tahiti to a greedy flicker in occidental eyes. Taken at face value, these paintings are things of beauty, albeit fantasist.

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It doesn’t help that new details surfacing about the life of the artist serve new rounds of a public trial. He was most-documented as a wife-beater and a swindler who played his peers’ impressionability. His florid musings about French Polynesia in the most exotic terms were meant to manipulate curiosity toward his paintings and his own persona. In the grips of art exceeding intention, how far are we willing to overlook these deluded depictions which were plucked from the malice of an otherwise talented painter?

I ask because in the book of Roman Magnus morals, I have yet to find an artistic villain to oppose my artistic heroes. Candidates other than Paul Gauguin can tweet me here.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Lanvin's futuristic, yet wearable fashion

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French label Lanvin takes us to the future of fashion with its ‘Mix Material Looks’ collection—a selection of creative pieces interweaving a range of fabric types and warped textures that make for a wearable utilitarian high-fashion.

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When I first saw the French collection, I was reading a dystopian sci-fi novel while tucked in on the couch in my humble Roman Magnus Atelier, in Palatine, Il. Seeing the headline ‘futuristic fashion,’ I was quickly sent back into haberdasher mode and onto exploring the nitty-gritty of Lanvin’s collection, which spells anything but bizarre and odd.

Lanvin’s rendition of future fashion is one that you can wear in your day-to-day chores. The collection is hinged on the French house mission to provide creative pieces yet wearable clothing that carries the style and innovation emblematic of Lanvin’s signature elegance.

Building on the current influence of sportswear, designers Alber Elbaz and Lucas Ossendrijver reworked nylon to make it as transparent as possible and a pleasing component of a wearable outfit. They matched the resilience of the thermoplastic with the classic appeal of luxe snake skins, silk fabric, zippers, and other twisted textures to create a solid display of disparate artistry that’s runway quality but practical enough.

Suffice to say, the jackets, shirts, and parkas under the ‘Mix Material Looks’ catalogue immediately soared in the must see section in my very own Roman Magnus blueprint for gent fashion, and I could see my entire haberdashery churning out edgy aesthetics with strong futuristic and sportswear inspiration.

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Thursday, March 7, 2013

(Dis)abusing the beret

I have a beret emblazoned on its wide, flat side with “Roman Magnus,” one of those abominations of taste among well-meaning gift-givers that I forgive in good faith, like the clothing messiah I am. I’ve occasionally used it to prove the point that berets are good, clean fun any way they are worn, but they don’t actually invest anyone with artistry nor Communist inclinations.

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As an American, I have less use for berets than a Mexican sombrero. In my days as a traveling youth in Europe I purloined one off the streets of Paris. Someone had left it on the edge of the fountain at the Jardin des Tuileries. I flipped it over my head in jest, and my tour guide later remarked I looked like a real European then. Another myth, by the way. A beret does not a European make, even though for a time it had been worn by peasants, warrior classes, aristocracies, and artisans in many places in Europe, particularly France and Spain. I don’t remember speaking better French then.

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A beret these days is no more of a status marker than a fashion statement among men and women. David Beckham wears the slouchy, knit types and the acrylic fiber Parisians. Hugh Jackman and his theatre credentials tee off the look perfectly. Pedestrian New Yorkers are owning the look in equal measure. It stands for something and yet not --- it’s just old-hat, but it’s well-loved.

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Berets are good for keeping from cold drafts, going incognito, and hiding bald spots. I make them as adjuncts to certain types of suits. A dapper friend of mine, Guillaume, palpated the look in horror and remarked that I was giving Europe back to the all-too-well-dressed elite. Mad hat assumption.

My berets hang out as genuine American citizens in my Roman Magnus Palatine, IL atelier. I see quite a number of people going around with them in San Francisco. To order from me, reach me through this Twitter page.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Watching Les Misérables: The 1832 rebellion is child's play, or blissful ignorance

Even fans of the cinema and theatre franchise mistakenly assume that Les Misérables is about the French revolution from 1789 to 1799. This is forgivable, given that the real subject matter, the June rebellion of 1832 in Paris, was also an attempt to overthrow a monarchy and its ideals and abuses.

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The latter event was instigated by adherents of Republicanism in Paris, intellectuals which included Victor Hugo, a prominent ideologue. However, the easy confusion between the French Revolution --- the effects of which were more lasting and global --- and the June rebellion of 1832 typifies French social and political landscapes.

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 The French Revolution of 1789 led to the decapitation of absolute monarchy. The execution of King Louis XVI and some members of his royal court was unforeseen worldwide. The left-wing revolts that made this possible had both the support of countryside peasants and Republican aristocrats. The new order, established by the empowered bourgeoisie, did not take more than a quarter of a century to dismantle. Napoleon rose from his experience during the French revolution, expanded the French empire, was exiled and overthrown, and was eventually restored to power. So went on a sporadic chain of ineffectual monarchies until Paris had to revolt against them again in 1832.

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These basic historical tidbits were made known to me by a French exchange student in town to check out my tailoring shop, Roman Magnus Palatine IL, where the subject of conversation naturally fell to the thrill of the new Les Misérables adaptation. As expected of a Frenchman, he was underwhelmed by the Hollywood patina but approving of Tom Hooper. Meanwhile I had an intellectual image to protect and pretended I wasn’t just humming a tune and … oh might as well know my Les Mis.

My atelier, which I baptized Roman Magnus Palatine IL (too many personal references on that one, go figure), is my personal bric-a-brac. I go there to read, be a tailor, and most of all, rattle the stuff that figure in my blog.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Saving Luang Prabang

So I keep traveling with my anthropologist friend, who had to lock herself up in a cabin in Luang Prabang to finish her dissertation. Her thesis had nothing to do with the place nor with the Lao peoples but she could do well to tackle those. The whole place is looking to be led to an alarming state of degradation.

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Westerners have been settling quite comfortably there. In part, that accounts for the modern mélange of traditional and Western architecture. As a UNESCO World Heritage site, it’s expected to welcome a deluge of tourists, all re-done in Orientalist fashion: native skirts with Western tank tops, messenger bags of Lao weave.

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The food, as usual, is superb, and in that regard, we were relieved to be rid of fusion. I was particularly pleased with the congee from Le Petit Nid; it was like a thick bouillon of sticky rice and chicken with trademark herbs. Variations on the papaya salad abound. This salad is normally a Vietnamese or Thai expectation, but the Lao like to toss it in thick fermented fish sauce and chili.

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I also encountered a few good French restaurants here and there. L’elephant is a bit more highbrow, welcoming expat crowds. Some continental-style cafes are situated within market compounds, easily conjured by sweeping couches and cushions in between shops. While my friend wrote like a demon, I gazed out from a coffee shop and waited for real elephants to trundle by. Something that occurs quite often, I was told.

I guess I am going back in less than a couple of years before they attempt to build a commercial complex there. Then we boycott it until they close it off to all tourists, like Tibet.

Hi, I’m Roman Magnus, a small-time tailor from San Francisco blogging with all the free time I have. Follow me on Facebook.