Thursday, April 28, 2005

Thursday Stylin': Let Them Wear Trunks

Today's desperately pathetic attempt to fill pages and grub ad revenue reminds us of the loss of that grand old tradition, the swimming pool full of naked guys; some articles on eye bags and beards; advertorial embarrassments; and the typical offensive assumptions.

The Paris 6: Before we learn that there's six fashion designers who have been rather successful at a young age, and probably have some shit in common, we get hit over the head and instructed that high fashion really is for everyone (and presumably, fit for consumption by everyone). Check it:
You don't have to be a fan of the reality show "Project Runway" to appreciate that fashion has become more and more populist. This is the age, after all, of the adolescent designer, the celebrity designer, the hip-hop designer, and the claimants have been as varied as Sean Combs and Esteban Cortazar, who was 18 when he held his first show.

And though fashion, like politics, is still an insider's game, with its own addicts and agenda-setting editors, nothing, it seems, can compete with the authentic judgment of bloggers and Web viewers. Ask yourself: How elitist can fashion be when the 20 most popular fall 2005 collections on received a total of 22 million hits in 12 days?

The rest of the article is an impenetrable forest of fashion-insider references and subordinate clauses. One assumes that only the most Stylin' of copy editors handled this piece. Or some poor bastard used to reading actual news threw up his hands, assumed it was all good and went to go buy some Snackwell's from the vending machine. If this makes sense to you, you're a better fashionista than Cole Slaw Blog:

Although one can point to designers who have achieved empire without a loss of prestige among insiders - Karl Lagerfeld and Ms. Prada for sure - and to others who have remained influential through innovation, like Rei Kawakubo and Azzedine Alaïa, members of the new group have come to the fore because their influence has derived from clothes. Not marketing campaigns, accessories or chatty celebrities, but clothes. This represents an ideological break from the late 90's, and the business model of Mr. Ford and Gucci.

Cole Slaw Blog read more accessible paragraphs in sociology textbooks. This could all be total bullshit, or not. Cole Slaw Blog lacks the fashion sensibilities of Stylin' Central, but we know abuse of the English language (as well as bullshit) when we see it.

The Tao of Skinny-Dipping: My co-blogger e-mailed me to say that this article, about the pleasure of males swimming naked with other males, and why it's something to aspire to, actually made him throw up in his mouth. I didn't ask why, but it's clear I should have. There's so many things in here that could easily make one spit up one's chicken curry. It's a classic example of NYT Stylin' sensibilities.

Sympathy for the privileged? Check.

The article's first two sentences are the kind of writing you imagine Sherman McCoy himself finding refuge in, as his world crashes down around him. "After long days spent defending their positions atop New York's most competitive fields, Manhattan's alpha males need to unwind. From mistresses to treadmills, these men have as many forms of relaxation as sources of stress."

Yes, why do our city's robber barons have it so hard? Between the taxes to pay and the mistresses to pork, certainly a capitalist needs a way to unwind. But what better way than to do so with one's wang on full display! The increasing rarity of such a pleasure (life's a bitch when you have it good) is a theme throughout the rest of the article, as is ...

Lust for the perks of wealth? Check.

All these private clubs! So exclusive! Five recommendations needed to get in to The Racquet Club! And just look at the members: Bond traders! Investment bankers! Hedge fund analysts! And in their 20s, for the most part! Successful alpha males! Oh, how the Stylin' crew longs for some baggy trunks to conceal their excitement.

But that exclusive inner chamber (the implications of which are manifest), how hard was it to get access? Well, "'It's a matter of the WASP ethic,'" said one investment banker in declining an interview ... " So plummy! So society.

What else have we got? Let's see ...

An utter lack of self-awareness? Check.

The Racquet Club on Park Avenue is a place where alpha males can swim without anything to encumber their precious nads. The article calls it "as much of a time capsule of the Gilded Age as can be found in Manhattan ..." And one can play "obscure racquet sports played since the time of the French Revolution by the kind of people against whom the French were rebelling."

This is the kind of shit that goes beyond the venalities that fill this section (and to a lesser extent, the rest of the paper). These are some serious implications.

I do realize this section is part of the Times' campaign to celebrate materialism, but this seems a few steps beyond holding up $600 jeans and Jonathan Safran Foer's Brooklyn pad as achievements. I know it's helplessly over-serious to allude to the lessons of history or some such shit, but the Gilded Age and pre-revolutionary France probably aren't times we want to revisit. Maybe if there's a revolution, the Third Estate can swear an oath in the pool at The Racquet Club.

Christian Diets: Fewer Loaves, Lots of Fishes: What would Jesus Eat? Well, I'm going to guess he didn't mix meat and dairy, didn't eat pork or shellfish, and occasionally, yes, liked himself a nice piece of fish. Apparently, ever since, Christianity has been about trying to reproduce Jesus' ripped abs on every crucifix. (Hint: Maybe it's genetic.)

Anyway, Christianity is apparently just another angle or way to market a product. How well do Christian diets work? About as well as secular ones. It should come as no surprise that some people who are faithful would appeal to God for help with losing weight. And it should come as no surprise that there are people who would exploit religion to make a buck.

"Look, it's no secret that some of the most popular songs, books and movies now are faith-based," said Jordan S. Rubin, author of "The Maker's Diet," which has sold more than a million copies. "Look at 'Purpose-Driven Life' and 'Left Behind' in books, 'Passion of the Christ' at the movies and musical artists like Switchfoot, who sell in the millions. In the pop secular marketplace people are embracing faith as mainstream."

Rubin, who in another life possibly sold the idea of marching bands or mass-transit solutions to town fathers, goes on to explain just how lucrative a line of work it can be, helping Christians shed pounds.

And like secular diets, they can be big business. Mr. Rubin said his book supports a line of supplements with sales of nearly $60 million last year. One of the largest programs, First Place, which started in 1981, says it is in 12,000 churches worldwide, offering participants a member's kit ($80) and Bible study ($20).

Doesn't sound exploitative at all! Unfortunately, the article doesn't even bother to explore that thread, just picks itself up and moves along, limning the rest of the world of Christian dieting in all it's mind-numbing glory.

One wonders why this piece is even in here among all the glitz and glamour of the Stylin' Section. Cole Slaw Blog is going to guess it's part of an yet another trend these days, called "Red-state pandering."

If we see future articles on the rise of the corn-liquor Cosmo, a blind tasting of smokeless tobacco or exurban gentrification, then our hypothesis will be in full effect.

Shaggy Chic: The Call of the Semi-Wild: Cole Slaw Blog would have loved to be in the meeting that resulted in this story being assigned, because it's basically just an article about beards and those crazy hipsters who sprout them. ("I know, let's do something about beards! I see them all the time on the L-train!")

Seriously, it's an article about beards. God bless its author, author David Colman, who managed to squeeze every single column inch he could out of such a witless assignment.

how do the talented editors at New York Times Stylin' Central manage to keep catch these important trends right at their apogee? It's a mystery. But somehow, whether it was by skill, luck or the need to fill a white rectangle on the page, the full backstory on those shaggy men who capture our imagination so can now be revealed.

And, oh man, what a tale. There are celebrities to cite and authorities to quote.

Like the apparently surname-challenged Jimmy Paul, who's so stylin' he won't even cut your raggedy-ass mop _ he works exclusively on fashion shoots. (Note: in journalism, this is called establishing the credentials of your source.)

Paul tells us that beards are not just of the moment, but "very, very current!" So current, in fact, that he didn't even take a beard trimmer with him on all of those exclusive fashion shoots until recently. Which makes beards not just current, but very, very current.

It's the currentiest trend that's fit to print! The article also quotes the style director of Cargo magazine, a publication which has done away with all pretense to informing readers about anything except what to buy. No wonder he's in the Times' rolodex! Rather fittingly, Colman also penned a beard trimmer buying guide as a sidebar. Hooray for celebrity-worshipping News You Can Use!

Wink (if You Dare) at All Those Remedies for Eye Bags: Even Vogue and Cosmo (probably) aren't this silly and vapid when they're writing about shit like this. Some examples of how even a topic as heft-free as eye bags cant' be made fluffier by The New York Times, which is impressed by the big words known by the manager of a cosmetics counter at Macy's. "'I'm not exactly sure what they're made from, but they get into the Langerhans cells under the skin and plump them up," said Ms. Davis, a tall young woman dressed in a white lab coat, which allowed her to talk about things like Langerhans cells with breezy confidence.

No wonder they got snowed on the whole Iraq war thing. But I digress. Back to the article's other offense, namely a throwaway line that nevertheless laments the lack of genetic research to fix eye bags. Yes, it's just a silly throwaway line in a silly, throwaway story, but because a friend of Cole Slaw Blog is a doctoral candidate in genetic research, we can't help but take some umbrage. Is it OK if she puts that off until after she cures cancer? Or is bald a hip new trend? Let's go to Moby's Lower East Side tea cozy and ask!

Fashion for the Adult Teenager, Too: News You Can Use if, like the rest of us, you scrimp and save in private so you can pick up the lunch tab at Cipriani and pay for that half-share in the Hamptons. Apparently, there's this store where you can buy fabulous clothes and accessories on the cheap! Thank you, sweatshop labor and thank you, Alex Kuczynski! (Weren't you an actual reporter once?)

This feature, called the Critical Shopper, shows us all how to look fabulous for less, beginning with a fun little anecdote about how everyone thought Kuczynski's earrings were like totally expensive, but they totally weren't. (Next week: Kuczynski replaces the coffee at Per Se with Folgers crystals.)

The astonishing part of this article is not the way that Kuczynski shows she can roll with the Stylin' Crew, with turns of phrase like "the words 'Forever 21' are simply a phrase one utters to the plastic surgeon" and "If stores were Hilton sisters, H&M would be Nikki, and Forever 21 would be Paris."

Thankfully, Kuczynski does mean to say that Forever 21 is badly overexposed and should just go away already. Not in the Stylin' Section, where Paris Hilton could make Profiles in Courage! No, Forever 21 is where readers can find "a dazzling array of silk chiffon halter tops, sequined denim jeans and terry cloth hot pants."

We're also treated to a slice-of-life vignette from inside the store, complete with all the guesswork and projecting that characterizes New York Times-style journalism, from political coverage to sports to the Stylin' Section.

At the same time two young women were clearly preparing for an evening out. One of them held a black key-ring halter ($15.80) to her chest and spoke a sentence in what sounded like Russian that ended with two words in English: "Friday night."

Her friend picked up a diaphanous green silk shirt and, holding it up against her friend's face, uttered a similar sentence, ending with the words "Saturday night." Judging by her tone and the emphatic lift to her eyebrows, Saturday night date's was definitely the more promising one.

Sounds like someone's gettin' laid! Or maybe not. Who knows when the journalistic sensibilities of the Stylin' Section and Alex Kuczynski combine! I'll spare our reader the rest of the article, which basically ended with Kuczynski getting all wistful about the days when she and her pals would prepare for nights out without, it should be noted, having a reporter who didn't speak her language guess at her plans.

The Power of One Foot Pushing: A half-page advertorial for scooters, but scooters that have a big wheel in front. Seriously.

Chanel Just Says No: Eric Wilson's indispensable column about some people who wanted to borrow Chanel gowns for a party to celebrate a gala for an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art sponsored by Chanel, but were told to dress themselves. Apparently, some people care about this. This is supposed to be the party of the year, but frankly, we can't see it topping the impromptu Monkey Clap Dance Party that broke out two weeks ago.

Off the Trail and Into the Woods: An entire column devoted to online shopping. Which, in 2005, is apparently still pretty hard to do. Nevertheless, our intrepid correspondent manages to walk us through the rigors of finding just the right equipment for a really light hike. Also, how to drop $25 on a lunchbox. Because the ad staff only was able to fill a third of the page with ads, there's also a helpful sidebar, about how to buy colorful objects online. What a valuable service the Thursday Stylin' section provides for our city's doltish materialists!

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