It's OK for intellectual feminists to like fashion

Blog title from Hadley Freeman's book The Meaning of Sunglasses : "Prada styles itself as the label it's OK for intellectual feminists to like".

The author is a bilingual fashion editor, writer and translator with a serious blog, cinema and magazine habit.

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Helen Santos’ West Wing Wardrobe

For proof of how far First Lady fashion has come under Michelle Obama, don’t look to Laura Bush or Hillary Clinton, but rather to Helen Santos, wife of fictional presidential candidate Matthew Santos in Season 6 and 7 of The West Wing

Whereas the last two seasons of the show foresaw many early Obama administration appointments, from the election of a coloured candidate (in The West Wing, Santos was Latino and kept referring to himself as “the brown candidate”) to appointing Josh Lyman, a character loosely based on Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s first Chief of Staff, as Santos’ Chief of Staff, it showed no foresight when it came to the First Lady. 

Addressing a Yale law class in a 2001 commencement speech, shortly after the end of her tenure at the White House, Hillary Rodham Clinton advised: “Your hair will send significant messages to those around you…Pay attention to your hair, because everyone else will”. She could have made the same point about her wardrobe, considering the number of (often unflattering) column inches, it has generated over her 40 years in the public eye. Yet The West Wing, downright ignored the issue of clothes when it came to Helen Santos, possibly because its writing room was dominated by males who never had to wonder why fashion questions get asked to women more willingly than political ones.

Ignoring clothing could have been a way to make a point about how unfair the treatment of female versus male politicians outfits is. Instead, it is just another proof of how badly developed Helen Santos’ character, like so many other female characters on the show, was. To this day, despite watching the series multiple times, I have no idea about her education or professional background, just a vague feelingthat she came from a poor family.

Santos’ role was twofold. She gave the average Jane viewer an idea of how overwhelming a campaign, not to mention moving to the White House, might be if you are not the well educated Daughter of the American Revolution Abbey Bartlett was. Santos was her husband’s liberal conscience, reminding him where his heart was when he wanted to make the political choice rather than stick to his beliefs.

Dressed in a wardrobe of primary, block-coloured skirt suits, with a preference for red and blue (traditional political hues), and black or grey for more serious events, including church visits and the Democratic Convention, Santos is a blank canvas. The tops she wears underneath are equally boring; with neck types varying from the turtleneck to the round neck t-shirt. As much as I hate the concept, and as stupid as I find it, this is the definition of non-threatening dressing, and not a very good one. She’s neither sexy nor dowdy.

Santos’ single-breasted jackets, often with one button, emphasise actress Teri Polo’s waist. Her pencil skirts are knee-length and there is nothing in the way she dresses which expresses her personality. At best, you can surmise that her expected, business-like outfits, and the absence of imagination in her fashion choices, were a way for the wardrobe department to highlight how uncomfortable she is with her husband’s presidential bid and to express her fear at how it might affect her family. Yet, even as she warms up to the idea, for instance accepting to mortgage the Santos’ Houston house to fund the campaign if necessary, her clothing doesn’t change. 

A few times in Season 7, Donna Moss urges Santos to define the kind of First Lady she would want to be, an issue which never gets resolved. She holds liberal views on healthcare and education, two key issue of Matt Santos’ platform, yet is never more than as a way to prod her husband into debate or provoke campaign manager Josh Lyman. We never actually get to know much about what she thinks as a person, as an entity separate from her husband, and her wardrobe reflects that. 

The only moment Santos’ clothing becomes part of the narrative is in Running Mates (7x10), when tabloid photographers get a picture of her with her thong popping out of her trousers, starting a vague debate about candidates’ privacy which ends as quickly as it begins.

In Power Dressing: First Ladies, Women Politicians and Fashion, Robb Young argues that Jackie Kennedy’s outfits worked because they “echoed the mood of the country and indeed the world” just like Michelle Obama’s do; they, in turn, embody her husband’s promised change. Santos’ wardrobe could have echoed how groundbreaking a serious Latino Presidential hopeful was, or how important a candidate who took a more liberal position than Jed Bartlett was, even for a fictional America. Instead, it just reflects how much The West Wing shortchanged many of its female characters with poor character development and aborted story lines. 


Posted at 8:31am and tagged with: The West Wing, TV series,.

The West Wing Season 4, Inauguration: Part 2 - Over There. 

Posted at 8:48pm and tagged with: The West Wing,.

We’re for freedom of speech everywhere. We’re for freedom to worship everywhere. We’re for freedom to learn… for everybody. And because in our time, you can build a bomb in your country and bring it to my country, what goes on in your country is very much my business. And so we are for freedom from tyranny, everywhere, whether in the guise of political oppression, Toby, or economic slavery, Josh, or religious fanaticism, C.J. That most fundamental idea cannot be met with merely our support. It has to be met with our strength. Diplomatically, economically, materially. And, if Pharaoh still don’t free the slaves, then he gets the plagues or my cavalry, whichever gets there first. The USTR will go crazy and say that we’re not considering global trade. Committee members will go crazy and say I haven’t consulted enough. And the Arab world will just go indiscriminately crazy. No country has ever had a doctrine of intervention when only humanitarian interests were at stake. That streak’s gonna end Sunday at noon.

The West Wing Season 7 Episode 5, Writer: Peter Noah

For every real life political situation, there is a West Wing quote. This one has been playing on repeat in my head since the beginning of the NSA surveillance leak.

Posted at 9:25pm and tagged with: The West Wing, Quote on a Monday, edward snowden,.

President Josiah Bartlet: Toby…
Toby Ziegler: Yes, sir?
President Josiah Bartlet: When you walk out of here, there’ll be people out there, perhaps a great many, who’ll think of you as a hero. I just don’t for a moment want you thinking I’ll be one of them.

The Black Vera Wang

The only West Wing episode to name-check a fashion designer, The Black Vera Wang (season 3, episode 19) is mostly noticeable for setting up the last two acts of the season.

It contains all the tropes of an Aaron Sorkin teleplay: Josh and Donna banter, a staffer getting screwed over for trying to Do The Right Thing (Sam), further proof that the Republicans are evil (Sam), a fictional Middle East country used to discuss America’s real foreign policy issues (Qumar) and CJ’s love life clashing with her role as press secretary.

The episode title comes from a black Vera Wang dress CJ tries on in a department store while helping her niece buy an outfit for junior prom. The dress symbolises both how CJ is attracted to the Secret Service agent in charge of her protection, and reciprocally, and the threat she’s under, which warranted the protection in the first place and means their liaison is not to be.

Posted at 5:32am and tagged with: The West Wing, classy films, TV series,.

Aaron Sorkin and Paul Redford, The West Wing Season 2 Episode 7 The Portland Trip (2000)

This West Wing quote has been on a loop in my head since Newtown restarted the gun control debate.

Posted at 4:00pm and tagged with: Quote on a Monday, The West Wing,.

Congressman Skinner: You know I never understood why you gun control people don’t all join the NRA. They’ve got two million members. You bring three million to the next meeting, call a vote. All those in favor of tossing guns… bam! Move on.

Josh Lyman: It’s a heck of a strategy, Matt. I’ll bring that up at a meeting.

Eighteen percent, nearly one in five French woman voted for far right Front National candidate Marine Le Pen at the first round of last Sunday’s French presidential elections.

Trying to explain this number, many a political pundit suggested women chose Le Pen because she’s a woman. Said sociologist Sylvain Crépon on radio Europe 1*: “Marine Le Pen is a busy woman, a divorced lawyer with a modern image. That she’s living in a blended family anchors her in her time, and it might have contributed to the female vote.” 

I won’t dignify the suggestion that women are so void of political sense they cast their ballot based on sex, ideas be damned, but this highlights the absence of strong female candidates amongst the 10 politicians running. Aside from Le Pen, the other two women in the race, Eva Joly for the green party Europe Ecologie Les Verts and Nathalie Arthaud for Lutte Ouvrière, a party so left of the political spectrum it nearly falls off it, never stood a chance. They respectively got 2.31% and 0.56% of votes.

Women weren’t absent from the campaign, but they stuck to more “traditional” female roles of support and communication. Nathalie Kociusko-Morizet, who, no matter what you think of her boss Sarkozy, is one of the brainiest and smartest women in politics, was spokesperson for the Président-candidat. Clémentine Autain was on every TV station throughout the campaign defending Front de Gauche candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Nadjat Vallaud-Belkacem was François Hollande’s spokesperson. All these women are smart, locally elected politicians who have sometimes held ministerial jobs. Yet as things stand, I can’t imagine any of them running for president, and winning.

Denmark, despite having a Queen never had a female Prime Minister before Borgen was broadcast on TV. Now Hell Thorning-Schmidt has been in power since October 2011. The West Wing dreamt Obama, as Matthew Santos, before he happened. To change mentalities and finally elect a woman at its highest office, does France also need its own (quality) TV series proving fictionally, week in, week out, that yes, a woman can do it too?

* Sylvain Crépon quoted in "Qui sont les nouveaux électeurs du FN ?", Europe 1 24 April 2012, “Le fait que Marine Le Pen soit une femme, qu’elle ait une image assez moderne, de femme active, avocate, divorcée, qui vit dans une famille recomposée, c’est un peu la femme de son temps, ça a pu contribuer à un vote féminin” (Translation my own)

Still from Borgen, Season 1 episode 1, Link TV Borgen Press Room

Posted at 2:53pm and tagged with: france, politics, TV series, Borgen, The West Wing,.

1 - McQ and Stella McCartney coming back to London Fashion Week

Since Burberry made the move back and under Harold Tilman stewardship, London Fashion Week (LFW) has been gathering momentum. All major fashion editors now attend LFW, rather than hoping from New York to Milan, even though recent scheduling problems might have something to say to that. Showing in London will be a comeback to their roots for both the Alexander McQueen diffusion brand McQ and Olympic team tailor Stella McCartney. Both brands have a strong British identity and Britishness has become a marketing USP. With even Kanye West rumoured to join the capital, cool Britannia is regaining its pedigree. Will Alexander McQueen be next to join?

2 - A new designer at Dior and John Galliano’s future

The 2011 fashion year started with a bang with Galliano’s dismissal and ensuing conspiracy theories. Rumours after rumours have given everyone from Marc Jacobs to Raf Simons at Dior, to the extent not being named as a potential designer was a bad sign of your credential in the business. Is the job cursed? Is the house enjoying seeing its name pop up on social platforms too much to make a decision? Can Dior release another collection without proper artistic direction? Could Franca Sozzani get her wish of seeing Galliano reinstated? Is Sidney Toledano making a conscious decision to mark the end of the designer superstar?

As for Galliano, the moment backers decide he is once again a sound investment, I have little doubt he’ll find a new designer position. The industry is already being nice to him, his Internet ranking is on the rise and memory fades at the prospect of money.

3 - The Arab spring going into its second year

I spent some of the best days of my life in Cairo three summers ago. The city was nothing I’d experienced before. I’d been warned about the smell and the noise and that I would hate it but I ended up loving it because of its smell and noise and because it had an identity of its own, so different from all the European cities I was used to. Back at the LSE, I took a course on Nasser and Arab Nationalism which turned out to be the best of my third year. Watching a country fight for its future is very different if you’ve been there and if you know its history than if TV is your only link with it.

On a fashion-related note - the textile industry represents a significant part of the Egyptian GDP, not just as Egyptian cotton but also as clothing factories. The ongoing unrest, the lack of democratic resolution despite the elections and the role of the military and Muslim Brotherhood could mean rising prices on the long term, especially in the UK, the main European Union market for Egyptian apparel and home textiles.

4 - Presidential elections in France and the USA

April and November will be key electoral months in France and the United-States with Presidents Sarkozy and Obama running for reelection. Will France go against the European trend and elect François Hollande, the left candidate everyone dismissed as a joke two years ago? Will Obama’s West Wing-reminiscent administration loose the White House to the Tea Party? Even though the Carla/Michelle effect doesn’t translate in sales as well as the Kate effect, I hope any first lady taking over would have as much fashion taste. As for the fashion repercussions of new elections, they are more likely to be found on price tags following tax choices than in terms of policies. Despite fashion’s importance in the economy, the current economic situation puts us years away from making the craft a priority.

5 - The Artist released in UK cinemas

If you grew up in France in the 1990s, you might take the buzz surrounding The Artist and Jean Dujardin’s mute performance with a pinch of disbelief. Jean Dujardin will forever be Loulou, of 1 gars 1 fille, a long-lived, short-format sitcom about the triviality of a couple’s daily life. Seeing a full page dedicated to Dujardin in US Vogue is somewhat surprising, the possibility of his Oscar nomination difficult to fathom. Not that his acting doesn’t deserve it but because no one would have predicted him this kind of career. Jean Dujardin is the French George Clooney, from ER to The Ides of March.

6 - Another royal year

An exhibition dedicated to the Queen’s portraits at the Victoria & Albert Museum! New Diana, Princess of Wales dresses on display at Kensington Palace! The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations! Many new Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge outfits! The Royals on display for a month of Olympic joy! Another four day bank holiday weekend!

Queen Elizabeth II by Cecil Beaton, A Diamond Jubilee Celebration; at the Victoria & Albert Museum 8 February - 22 April

7 - Aaron Sorkin back on TV with The Newsroom

I loved him in The West Wing, loved him in The Social Network, loved him in A Few Good Men. A year after his Oscar win, Aaron Sorkin is back on TV with The Newsroom, scheduled for broadcast on HBO. Although the topic might be closer to Studio 60 than The West Wing for comfort, I expect dialogues between Jeff Daniels and Emily Mortimer delivered “while walking rapidly through a work place”* and Dev Patel as the “lone, down-to-Earth black man who brings calming wisdom to neurotic white people”*. Alison Pill could make a great “cute conservative blond woman who exists in a mostly liberal world but everyone ends up loving anyway”* while Daniels will likely keep the role of the “emotionally stunted male lead who is bad with relationships”* for himself.

*All quotes from “4 Things Aaron Sorkin Puts In Every Show”. And yes, I do know Dev Patel isn’t black.

8 - Sherlock and Mad Men back on TV

Contract negotiations meant we were deprived of Mad Men in 2011, while Sherlock's broadcast was pushed back to 1 January 2012. Will AMC and the BBC see a drop or a surge in ratings as a result? Can Don and Betty marriages last? Will Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat go the pop culture way and turn Irene Adler into Sherlock’s only love? Should we expect Holmesian influences and 1960s revival in the autumn/winter menswear and womenswear shows this winter?

9 - Marc Jacobs - Louis Vuitton and Van Cleef & Arpels at Les Arts Décoratifs

Marc Jacobs will open the fashion season at Les Arts Déco in March, followed in September by jeweler Van Cleef & Arpels. Described as “an analysis rather than a retrospective”, the Jacobs/Vuitton exhibition will show how both men influenced fashion and accessories at the end of the 19th and in the early 21st century. Drawing a parallel between the two designers is a new curation angle which should add to the fashion house’s myth and to the ongoing heritage trend. The Van Cleef exhibition should be more traditional with over 400 of the jeweller’s best work on display.

Marcs Jacobs - Louis Vuitton, 9 March - 16 September; Van Cleef & Arpels, 20 September - 10 February 2013, Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris

10 - Carine Roitfeld

Having christened her 2011 liberty by styling the Chanel campaign, posing on the cover of i-D magazine, featuring with her children in the Barneys window displays and releasing instant best-seller Irreverent, Roitfeld should know an exciting second year post Vogue Paris editorship. We know little of her projects for the year, except she will become a grandmother and launch a magazine, and it’s just as well since part of her 2011 appeal was her capacity to rebound and surprise us.

11 - Google’s iPad killer

Fashion brands and magazines have just started embracing Apple’s iPad tablet with platform-specific sites, dedicated apps and targeted subscriptions. Will they be able to carry their strategy and technology over to the Google iPad killer, announced by the company’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt? Google + was slow to release brand-specific pages but fashion brands were amongst the first to publish pages. Will the company follow a similar process, brand-wise, for the new tablet? Will the public be quick at buying the new gadget or shy away from yet another Google item in their life?

12 - Another year of Ryan Gosling

With Crazy, Stupid Love, Drive and The Ides of March, Ryan Gosling managed to be in three of the best films of 2011, in three very different categories. Will 2012 be the year of his first Oscar win? If his two Golden Globes nominations for best actor, drama and best actor, comedy are anything to go by, a nomination should at least be locked. This should be enough to keep everyone waiting for 2013 and his three new film Lawless, The Gangster Squad and The Place Beyond the Pines. Yes, I’m a fan and yes, I struggled to find a 12th reason to look forward to 2012. Not sure I’ll do Thirteen reasons to look forward to 2013 next year.

Pictures: London Fashion Week Begins At Somerset House, Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images Europe; Dior petites mains,; The pyramids in Giza, © Fashion Abecedaire; French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Senator Barack Obama, Jae C. Hong/Associated Press on the New York Times website; The Artist, publicity shot; The Newsroom, HBO Watch trailer screenshot; Princess Elizabeth, Cecil Beaton, Gelatin silver print, Buckingham Palace, March 1945, Museum no. E.1361-2010; Sherlock Series 2, BBC publicity shot; Spring/Summer 2008 womenswear show bags from the Toile Monogram Jokes line created by Richard Prince, © Louis Vuitton / Chris Moore; The 9 Lives of Carine Roitfeld, New York Times website; Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone on the set of Gangster Squad

Posted at 5:56pm and tagged with: Classy film, TV series, The West Wing, Vogue Paris, carine roitfeld, politics, technology, Sherlock, Mad Men, dior, john galliano, Alexander McQueen, London Fashion Week, Royal Family, cambridge, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, 2012 Olympics, Egypt, france,.

O a Presidential Novel, Anonymous

This is the perfect novel for all of you out there suffering from WWWS (West Wing Withdrawal Symptoms, a yet-to-be recognised by the WHO illness which symptoms include seeing every White House official as a West Wing cast member). Anonymously written by former McCain speechwriter Mark Salter, O is the fictionalised account of President O, the first black American Democrat to reach the White House, running for reelection in 2012. Half the fun of the novel is trying to guess who hides behind Salter’s acerbic description of political operatives, party player and journos while remembering the cold truth of a political campaign: no matter how hard you work, the outcome will likely be decided by an event you have no effect upon (San Andreo nuclear incident anyone?). Although Salter’s autorship hasn’t been formally confirmed, it’s easy to believe O is the work of a Toby Ziegler wannabe. His use of modals to switch from future to present as well as his ability to switch view point within the same scene, not to mention his scarce use of the present tense to focus on O’s feeling on the eve of the reelection reek of elevated Keep It Simple Stupid penmanship. The novel is, of course, open-ended: only the American electorate will decided who succeeds O at the White House on 20 January 2013.

Entre Nous A Woman’s Guide to Finding her Inner French Girl, Debra Ollivier

If you’re a regular on this blog, you probably know that I have a soft spot for books explaining how to become a French woman, passport optional. Entre Nous isn’t the best I’ve read so far. More how-to than memoir, it lacks the humour of an All You Need to Be Impossibly French. Yes, it does introduce anecdotes from Ollivier’s time in France to illustrate her advice on how French women dress, eat, cook, party, work and play but many of them don’t ring that true or border on the cliché. I would also grant a lot more weight to Ollivier’s expertise in Frenchness if her French quotes contained less mistakes. All in all, a forgettable exercise in the anthropology of French women.

A Vintage Affair, Isabel Wolf

Roman à l’eau de rose veteran Isabel Wolf has two tried and tested scenario: scenario #1 - the main character ends up with a man who came out of nowhere; scenario #2 - the main character starts dating Man A who turns out to be bad bad bad. She then realises that Man B, who she dismissed early on, is her soulmate. A Vintage Affair is a case of scenario #2 (yes, spoiler alert). After a double heartbreak (breaking off an engagement plus her best friend’s death), Phoebe realises her life-long dream of opening her own vintage shop. Cue to listings of vintage garments and designers which feel straight out of a specialised book rather than real-life conversation. Wolf tries hard to maintain suspense and reader’s interest throughout the novel but expectable twists and proven characterisation mean she fails to deliver.

Deadly Decisions; Bones to Ashes; Fatal Voyage; Devil Bones, Kathy Reichs

Four more books in the Bones series, one to go and I’m starting to suffer from repetitive reading fatigue. Reichs sticks to her proven recipe through and through, suggesting that reading one of her thriller after the other is a bad idea in killing suspense. On the plus side, my knowledge of the human skeleton has skyrocketed.

Fried Why you Burn Out and How to Revive, Joan Borysenko

There are books you really don’t want to identify with and Fried is definitely one of them. Borysenko has made a name as a self-help book writer on “spirituality, integrative medecine and the mind/body connection”. In the process of becoming “a New York Times bestselling author” (both quotes from her publisher), somewhere between meeting another deadline and speaking at another conference, she suffered from the 21st century illness: burn out. She’s recovered and, as she advises in her book, decided to get something productive out of the experience: another book and a few bucks. Broken down into the twelve stages of burn out and chapters covering the origins of the issue, from childhood trauma to big pharma, Fried compares burn out to Dante’s Inferno. The most interesting part of this book however is the way she wrote it, crowdsourcing experiences of burn out via Facebook.

Posted at 8:49am and tagged with: Paris, The West Wing, book review, politics, Roman à l'eau de rose,.

Every time the news are dominated by a leak, be it about a big fashion project, an exam or diplomatic negotiations, I think about this West Wing quote.

The West Wing, Bad Moon Rising (Season 2, episode 19; 2001)

Teleplay: Aaron Sorkin, story: Felicia Willson, director: Bill Johnson

Posted at 6:04am and tagged with: The West Wing, quotes on a Monday,.

There is no group of people this large in the world that can keep a secret. I find it comforting. It’s how I know for sure that the government isn’t covering up aliens in New Mexico

Because we’re all broken —- every single one of us —- and yet we pretend that we’re not. We all live lives of imperfection and yet we cling to the fantasy that there’s a perfect life and that our leaders should embody it, but if we expect our leaders to live on some higher moral plane than the rest of us, well, we’re just asking to be deceived.

The West Wing Season 6, “2162 Votes”

Written by John Wells

Pictures: YSL, Christophe Decarnin, John Galliano from Harper’s Bazaar, Alexander McQueen, Marc Jacobs

Posted at 3:57pm and tagged with: Alexander McQueen, john galliano, Marc Jacobs, Christophe Decarnin, yves saint laurent, The West Wing,.