The Savvy Sage of Sewing Stimulation

Suzy at the Y

It’s no secret I really like Suzy Menkes.   Part of the reason is that she’s so dang grounded about fashion and yet she understands the creative process and knows her stuff.  So when she does an interview or an article or anything I’m usually all over it like bark on a tree.  Here’s a brief bio.

She recently did an interview at the Y (and when you are talking about that generally to places outside your local home, it usually means the 92nd Street Y in NYC, and if you’re in NY doing the rounds – after all the fabric stores aren’t open 24/7, I don’t know why….but alas they aren’t, then you gotta do something in the evenings, and the 92nd Street Y has to be on your kullcha list!!!).

Here’s a gal that looks like anything but fashion (that hair I have never figured out) and two Anna Wintours would fit in her bod, but she has a fabulous.  When I find a current video, I will post it here, so for now you’re just gonna hafta read about her – and when you do, you’ll find how really grounded she is.

There are two bits on this stint at the Y, the one, which is probably a bit more informative is here, and the other, is here, and wanted to include some quotes from her, from that second article.

Fern Mallis (the other gal in the photo who did the interview) was the director of the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America – which is a very strong group of designers and do many fine things for the industry).

Here are some of her quotes from the interview:

On John Galliano’s troubles… It’s a tragedy. We know that creative people have all sorts of demons. I would never say that I love Hitler in any shape or form ever, and I don’t know many people who would. That’s not to say that somebody with such brilliant talent shouldn’t be given some kind of second chance. But how you do that is difficult.

I concur.  There is absolutely no excuse for his irrational and despicable comments.  At the same time it shows the terrific pressure these designers are under.  Think about having to create 6 minimum shows a year (RTW Fall, Couture Fall, Resort, RTW Spring, Spring Couture and Pre-Fall) and for each show there are 20 to 30 ensembles.  Each one has to be executed and thought out well and with a lot of creativity.  Plus this always has to be better than the last show as the business owners of the house and the bean-counters are standing right over the artist’s shoulder expecting financial results.  That may not always be possible in a creative environment….hence you have the pressure taking hold, and some folks do not deal with that well or at all, and turn to drugs or even suicide (Alexander McQueen).  This behavior (the addictive one) is not really a concern of the house as long as the designer keeps putting out the creative work, and therefore as the behavior and addiction becomes worse, the business folks aren’t really want to stop that flow of creativity to allow the designer to get some help, so until something like an outburst (or worse) happens, the poor designer is often caught in a spiraling loop that does not stop until it explodes.

For we regular folks it’s hard to understand.  I purchased the Sundance DVD (Signe Chanel) and have thoroughly enjoyed it and one of the things that is remarkably clear is that this man is no slouch.  He works incessantly to make sure that every garment that comes from Maison Chanel is impeccable and done with as much care and attention as he possibly can.  He’s been doing this a long time, and although Chanel has bean-counters and business types (and I don’t mean to make them out as the total villains in this), he has enough of a rep that he is better able to deal with them.

And Mr. Galliano does seem to be making ever effort to rehab his rep, and hopefully will be given the opportunity to do that.  Artists by their nature are eccentric, and he certainly is.  Karl is and in the DVD there are times when I wonder about the malarkey going on (every time he enters the maison, he has to be announced on each floor with a series of about 13 phone calls – that’s a bit much).  But the truth is that he is that good.

I traveled to NYC one time, for the sole purpose of seeing 7 operas in a weeks (which was a delight) and of course did some fabric shopping as well.  But the first night I saw with a lady (part of the opera group I was with) who had the worst whine and nasal in her voice I had ever heard and thought if I have to listen to this all week, I’ll DIE!!!  So I decided to find out about her and there might be something we could talk about.  I asked her where she was from, and she said Europe (I could tell from her accent – heavily Deutsch!)   Then asked her how in the world she got to Denver (she was from Denver and had come to hear opera as well), and she replied that she had come with Anna Freud and worked with her and the Blitzkrieg children.  Surprise!!!!  I never heard that whine again all week long and we became fast friends!!!!

But one night we had Wagner.  I didn’t want to go cause he is a notoriously antisemitic and anti-feminist, and turned to my new Jewish friend, Barbara, and asked her how could she go to listen to this horrible composer.  She simply replied: “He’s that good!”  Hmmmm….well if someone like Barbara who certainly has been wronged by the likes of Wagner-types, could like him, maybe I ought to give him a second look.  I did.  For my 50th birthday, with some other Jewish friends, we attended the Ring at the Met and it was spectacular.  Barbara was right – he’s IS that good!

I feel the same way about Galliano (and Karl).  They are that good.  Although there’s a lot of malarkey going on around them.  This doesn’t mean that it excuses his behavior.  It may to a small degree explain it, but it certainly doesn’t excuse it.  And hopefully with future therapy (which he is undergoing) and more reproachments to his rep, he will return and be forgiven.

On the state of European houses: Tragically, all of the big bosses never come to me. I am sure they go to Anna [Wintour] and ask her advice. I tell people what I think, and that is probably not what they want to hear. Fashion houses are like families. Yves Saint Laurent was absolutely built that way. People were treated like family and they felt like family. It isn’t like that anymore. It’s much tougher, not necessarily better or worse.

On going digital… It’s equivalent to the revolution and what a privilege to live in such an era. It’s a question of whether you use it intelligently. I try to train myself not to go home at midnight and start looking at my emails. I don’t always succeed. I have a Facebook page. I am not tweeting at the moment. During the collections, I am absolutely flat-out. It is very heavy. Heavy is the wrong word because I love it. But it is an enormous amount of work.

On working conditions in Bangladesh… There has to be a change in mindset by the consumer. It’s about saying there is something morally wrong about having a swimsuit or dress that costs the same as a cappuccino. I don’t think the answer is the Disney answer. To pull out would be a catastrophe because that’s the only industry they’ve got there.

And although this is not directed specifically to us, I do wish sewing was more available to everyone, because what this is, in my mind is a direct reflection of the effort (obsession even addiction) to the every nebulous goal of achieving yet a cheaper price for every contract, season and production contract that is made.  Pretty soon something has to break, and maybe this is the beginning of that break of the cheap fashion finally finding it’s breaking point where it is no longer feasible to go cheaper, less quality, less value and hitting “below zero”.  If more folks at least knew about sewing, then they would be so appalled by the quality of clothing available that the demand for this sort of cheap fashion would dry up.  And yet this is a source of income, the little that it is, for some of these women who are in such provincial (antiquated) societies that place women more as possessions rather than persons.

But that’s a subject for a whole other post!  For now we can revel in Ms Menkes words of wisdom!

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