Even though I spent a lot of time in 2012 stranded on the island of Manhattan, I still managed to do some continent-hopping to a bunch of my favorite foreign locales--and one city that I'd never been to before.
In January, Diane Pernet sent me to Rio again (I had to pout and beg a little bit and she finally relented because it was during my birthday) at the invitation of Monica Mendes and ABIT (Brazilian Textile & Apparel Industry Associaton). We stayed in Copacabana which is really the more authentic, egalitarian Rio experience as opposed to trendy Ipanema.
I celebrated my birthday with Rosario, Suleman and lots of complimentary champagne at the chic Fasano Hotel. (We craftily piggy-backed on a party the hotel was throwing for Mario Testino.)
And I made some new friends at the beach!
I set my camera down on the windowsill next to my bed in my room at the Windsor Atlantica so that I could jump up and capture this gorgeous sunrise on the far end of Copacabana called Leme.
Me hanging out at the treehouse restaurant Aprazivel in Santa Teresa.
In September, I took my yearly trip to the magical music-box-like city of Vienna, where I am invited to cover MQ Vienna Fashion Week.
I usually stay close to the Opera House, but this year for the first 3 nights I stayed in the rarely visited district of Margareten. After World War I, Vienna was known as "Red Vienna" because of the left-wing government that put a lot of Socialist programs in action, including municipal housing projects for the poor. There are quite a few in Margareten (and the highway that borders the district is nicknamed the "Ringstrasse of the Proletariat") and I did my own self-guided tour of the area. This one was my favorite communal housing project: the elegant Reumann-Hof, built in 1924 (above).
Lovely late-day light in Margareten.
Backstage at the Tiberius show at Vienna Fashion Week.
Designer Mariella Morgana Meyer at the "White Mask" afterparty for the Tiberius show at the fabulous Le Meridien Hotel (where I stayed for 3 nights).
One of my rockstar hosts at Vienna Fashion Week, my friend Zigi Mueller paired stars & stripes with rainboots (it always seems to downpour for one day whenever I visit Vienna).
I really enjoyed the "Reflecting Fashion" exhibit at MUMOK in Vienna's Museum Quartier. (Maria Oberfrank of MQVFW kindly supplied me with passes to all the museums.) One of the highlights was the inclusion of Elsa Schiaparelli's collaboration with Salvador Dali, the iconic lobster dress, which was very conspicuously absent from the Met Costume Institute's disastrous Prada/Schiaparelli show. Even though I am a Freudian, I was very amused by this feminist provocation (above), "Flow My Tears 1" by Mai-Thu Perret. The mirrored face is meant to reflect back all Freudian theories projected onto women, making her impervious to them.
After Vienna, I passed through Berlin for 3 days to visit my nutty "cousins" Vaginal Davis and Isabel. (Isabel has since fled the cold shoulders of the Germans and is now somewhere in sunny northern Thailand.) Isabel and I went to the Humboldt Cube museum and I took these photos from the veranda of the museum's restaurant.
Mitte is packed cheek by jowl with trendy, soulless boutiques that all seem to sell the same bougie "design" pillows and lamps for 50 euros a pop. One moment of respite was an interesting bookstore (the entrance, above) that also hosts reading.
Vaginal Davis in her studio in Schoneberg.
After Berlin, I took a 5-day holiday in Amsterdam--my first time!--and I was instanly won over by this charming little city.
House of Cheese!
Amsterdam street style
My friend Marcelo took me out to a marvelous dinner at the Silver Mirror, a restaurant that has not changed much since the early 17th century! We quaffed champagne and supped on foie gras brulee while sitting inside the fireplace. Those tiles!
View from the window of my suite at the delightfully quirky Lloyd Hotel & Cultural Embassy
My suite at the Conservatorium Luxury Spa Hotel
Happy art at the recently re-opened & re-vamped Stedelijk Museum
Me + Moet at the Amsterdam premiere of the amazing DIANA VREELAND: THE EYE HAS TO TRAVEL
Artist Scott Neary took me on a tour of "his Amsterdam."
We stopped by the Theater Tuschinski to check out the eye-popping interior.
Ilanga met me for green tea out on the terrace of the Amstel InterContinental Hotel where I stayed for one very royal night.
From pristine canal-lined streets to the gritty hutongs of dynasties past: non-stop flight from Amsterdam to Beijing!
Alice McInerney of Anywearstyle.com & I at Dada bar
Design writer Laura Houseley & Beijing Design Week Creative Director Aric Chen
Full moon over the Lama Temple
Partying with rich Communist Party brats at Baby Face
Madame Cat & Monsieur Fish at Wuhao Curated-Shop
Me & Jeffrey Ying aka Oscar Madison & Felix Unger at the Baccarat champagne toast in Sanlitun Village.
Rem Koolhaas's CCTV Tower which generates almost as much propaganda as Fox News.
Beijing's arbiter of elegance, Jeffrey Ying, gave a party for the Party on China's National Day in his glamorous penthouse.
NYC-Vienna-Berlin-Amsterdam-Beijing-NYC: This was literally a trip around the world as my return flight to NYC traveled over the Pacific. Thanks for taking this journey with me.
The oil may still be gushing into the Gulf and making its way up to the north-east coast (and England!) but at least we had picture-perfect weather on Saturday for my favorite summer event, The Mermaid Parade. I've been attending this Coney Island parade on-and-off since the late '80s and am happy to report that it hasn't changed all that much. It's still wonderfully rag-tag and eccentric with a refreshing absence of any kind of corporate branding or advertising. (It's also the largest art parade in the US.)
The big changes in Coney Island that we bohemian types have been fretting about for five years were not all that bad so far: The old Astroland was torn down last year and has been replaced by a sparkling new Luna Park (the name comes from an early-1900s incarnation of Coney Island's amusement park). Thankfully it's no glossy, corporate Disney production but I think it's nice the kids have brand-new rides. (And of course, the Cyclone and the Wonder Wheel, both historical landmarks, remain, as does the disused but refurbished Parachute Jump.) I was dismayed to hear that the Shore Hotel/Theater, where Tod Browning's "Freaks" premiered in 1932, has been earmarked for demolition as are a few other landmark buildings.
But onto happier thoughts: Here are my highlights from this year's parade...
Of course our first stop was Ruby's Bar & Grill on the boardwalk (the space was a speakeasy & underground cabaret in the '20s. After a long stint as a Hebrew National Deli starting in 1934, it became Ruby's in 1975. Without it, Coney Island would have no soul.) We loved this trio of bathing beauties.
Raw clams & beer at Ruby's is a long-standing Mermaid tradition for me.
Another not-so-great change in Coney is the old boardwalk being torn up and replaced with concrete. (Update: I received this message from Ruby's: "The boardwalk is not being replaced with Concret. They are reinforcing with concret then the natural Honduras wood goes on top. The area from Keyspan to Cyclone will always be the natural wood.") The parade ran along the old boardwalk side, with a fenced-off construction area cutting the width of area for parade watchers in half. Feeling claustrophobic, we fled to the parking lot where many of the marchers were being siphoned off....
...and I ran smack dab into this year's Queen Mermaid & King Neptune: Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed. Lou eschewed the traditional crown for a cap from Totonno's pizza parlour. (More on that later.)
One of the main themes at the parade this year was--surprise!--the BP oil spill disaster. Oil-covered mermaids were legion, as were agit-prop placards (BP = Boycott Pollution).
There were even oil-covered Somalian pirates....
This was my favorite: a zombie mermaid whose flesh had been dissolved by the oil spill.
The protest slogans were a bit....I don't know....it is just me, or are they a bit pointless? Would BP care if a mermaid swam in their toilet? Would a mermaid fit inside a toilet? And if they could, what would that achieve?
Meanwhile, back at Ruby's.....
....a spontaneous mermaid mosh pit broke out.
No, I didn't travel back to 1940 to take this photo of the Cyclone...but wouldn't that be grand if I could?
I talked everyone into riding the Cyclone (Corey & I stayed on for a second ride.) Here's Christine on her post-ride high!
Exhausted and starving, we made a pilgrimage to Totonno's Pizza on Neptune Avenue. It's considered the best pizza in the US. Opened in 1924, it is the oldest continuously operating pizzeria in the country.
On our way there, we were told by a local: "They have a LOT of attitude there....so make sure you give it right back to them!" When we arrived there was a long line of Brooklyn hipsters waiting to get in. Inside people were lingering over cups of melted ice, couples hogging tables that could seat six, a lone woman waiting over a half hour for a take-out pizza taking up a table that seated four. The staff could have cared less about the people waiting outside. I didn't mind waiting (we bought some cans of Foster's at a nearby gas station and sipped away in line); I just thought the restaurant's laid-back, almost passive-aggressive attitude was hilarious.
Of course, not everyone is as mellow as I am. One outraged guy went inside and started loudly complaining about the seating arrangements and the long wait. He was swiftly kicked to the curb by a tough-as-nails waitress who looked like she had seen it ALL.
Next was a bleached-blonde, leathery junkie woman who, despite the fact that she lived in Coney Island most of her life, was flabbergasted by everything that was happening around her. "Did you see the shit that's going on up on that damn boardwalk?! There are a bunch of fucking MERMAIDS running around up there!" And she wasn't trying to be funny. Then she was appalled by the wait to get into the pizzeria and went in and complained. She nearly escaped being turned into sausage by the chef.
The pizza , cooked in a coal-burning brick oven, was definitely worth the wait. The thin crust was heavenly, with a smoky taste, and the pie was delightfully grease-free. All the ingredients tasted very fresh. We wolfed down two pies.
Corey digs into his slice.
Nancy contemplates the beauty and simplicity of a plain slice.
I of course wanted sausage and mushrooms on mine and as you can see, I look like a maniac eating it.
We burned off some calories by walking back to the entrance of the new Luna Park. It's designed to look like the original Luna Park entrance.
A postcard image of Luna Park in 1913.
This 105-year-old film clip starts off slow but it has many rewards...including a live camel ride and a woman mysteriously collapsing on the beach.
Because it's been raining for forty days and forty nights in New York, a tinge of S.A.D.ness hung over the Mermaid Parade this year....but once the peppy punch of the marchers' prozac-and-beer milkshakes kicked in, the languor melted away and a festive mood triumphed.
The shroud-grey sky wasn't the only bummer mer-celebrants had to cope with: Days before the parade, a rezoning and development plan was approved for Coney Island by the City Planning Commission. The plan will allow developers to dismantle the old Astroland (sections of it have already been removed--the Cyclone and Wonder Wheel, however, are protected as historical landmarks), build some horrid, charm-less Disney-like amusement park, and create 4,500 new housing units. (Only 900 of them will be affordable to low-and-middle-income families. Considering the lack of well-to-do NY yuppies given the recession, maybe the luxe condos will be snapped up by Europeans who have grown weary of their summer view in the south of France??)
But the clouds did have a (tarnished) silver lining: After fears that it would be shuttered, Ruby's Bar & Grill was able to renegotiate their lease with Thor Equities--for how long, I'm not sure. Opened in the late '60s, Ruby's is my favorite bar in New York. The walls are adorned with photos of old Coney Island stretching back to at least the 1920's, and the jukebox pumps out classics from Elvis, Sinatra and Johnny Cash. (None of that weird hipstah music the kids listen to in other parts of Brooklyn).
On the way to Coney, we were blessed to be on the same F train car as the Reverend Billy, pastor of the Church of Stop Shopping. (Did I just hear a gaggle of fashion victims' hearts skip a beat?) From his website:
"Reverend Billy and the Life After Shopping Gospel Choir believe that Consumerism is overwhelming our lives. The corporations want us to have experiences only through their products. Our neighborhoods, 'commons' places like stoops and parks and streets and libraries, are disappearing into the corporatized world of big boxes and chain stores. But if we 'back away from the product' – even a little bit, well then we Put The Odd Back In God!" Hallelujah, Billy!
Before the parade starts, it is a Coney Island tradition to meet up at Ruby's for beer, hot dogs and all manner of deep-fried delights.
My Mermaid Day lunch at Ruby's: Not one, but two plates of juicy, jumbo raw clams, washed down with a pint of Ruby's Amber Ale. Sluuurrrpp! (I also managed to wolf down an excellent sausage, onions and peppers sandwich as well).
If someone ever decides to remake that car crash of a film known as Fassbinder's "Querelle," this handsome, young man will be the first in line for the lead. (A la Brad Davis, this stud's sexual preference was up for debate with me and my friends. Carole insisted he was straight; Corey cast the gay vote. The fact that his sidekick--the guy in the blue t-shirt--was a sexually ambiguous hipstah didn't help matters).
Following a heavy rain, the parade got off to a dry start with plenty of color to combat the gloom.
Whenever I attend the Mermaid Parade, I always think of the time I interviewed Manuel Cuevas in Nashville in 2006. The legendary designer, who has created costumes for Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton, the Stones et al, told me an amusing story about his now-departed pal Johnny Cash:
“Cash called me from a payphone on Sunset Boulevard and said, ‘Manuel, do you think it will happen again?’ His voice was half-hopeful, half-melancholy,” Manuel remembers. “And I said, ‘John, what are you talking about?’ And he said, ‘The titty parade! Do you think there’ll be another titty parade?’ I laughed and told him, ‘Well, I hope so and if there is, you better call me sooner next time!” (This was sometime during the Sexual Revolution—circa 1969—when liberated girls took to the streets and randomly flashed their breasts at policemen and other bystanders).
And speaking of Elvis....
No, this is NOT photographic evidence of the Ayatollah Khamenei rigging a voting booth in Iran--it's Zoltar, Coney Island's premiere prophet and used car salesman!
These ingenious gals dressed as roller coaster cars and sped and spun down the entire parade route.
Is that mer-royalty approaching....?
It is! This year, actor Harvey Keitel was crowned King Neptune while actress Daphna Kastner was Queen Mermaid. (Sorry you can only see her arm in the photo!)
God save your mad parade....
"When is the fucking sun ever going to come out again?!?!"
Sexy bongo bearer!
"Nah, I didn't get paid much to be an extra in the "Eyes Wide Shut" orgy scene....but they let me keep the costume!!"
Ever since Henry Rollins stopped hitting the gym, he's begun to resemble Uncle Fester.
These clever craftsmen constructed a float out of some of the pieces from the dismantled Astroland. When God gives you lemons....
After the parade, everyone convened at Ruby's to escape the blistering cold outside....
My pal, the lesbian rock star Carole Pope, grabbed a bloody mary to prepare for her 2-hour bus ride to Asbury Park. Peaches was performing that night at the Stone Pony! From one iconic, time-worn party beach to another, all in one day....I can't keep up with Carole!
Corey and I left Ruby's so we could go take a spin on the Cyclone roller coaster (which I think is a UNESCO World Heritage Site at this point...?). On the way I discovered this customized bus which reminded me of the hippie-painted plane in Michelangelo Antonioni's counter-culture cult film, "Zabriskie Point."
No, this is not a beach in northern Scotland in early winter....it's still Coney Island in June.
I've been following the recent fracas that has erupted concerning Mrs. de la Renta's displeasure over Michael Gross's latest expose of New York's hallowed inhabitants and institutions: Rogues' Gallery: The Secret History of the Moguls and the Money That Made the Metropolitan Museum. Though I've not read it yet, I'm sure it's packed with many meticulously documented, clutch-the-pearls anecdotes like the ones found in some of his previous works, such as 740 Park and Genuine Authentic: The Real Life of Ralph Lauren.
A hilariously written blog post and interview by the mysterious "Madame Arcati" documents de la Renta's attempt to suppress all media coverage of Gross's book. (Make sure you read the equally hilarious reader comments, as well).
I for one am not surprised that someone on The Met's A-list would resort to undemocratic tactics to quash any and all voices who dare to cast their social order in an unfavorable light. I was a victim of the Met Costume Institute's ire when I penned what was deemed an unflattering and irreverent piece about their Jacqueline Kennedy exhibit for DUTCH magazine back in late 2001. After attending a press luncheon with Harold Koda and Hamish Bowles to preview the show, I met with the Costume Institute's publicist (I can't remember the girl's name but I'm sure she's run off and married a once-rich banker and left The Met). She assured me that since I was covering the exhibit for DUTCH (the magazine was at the height of its buzz and influence at the time) that of course I would be invited to the Met Gala for the show's launch. Your invitation is already in the mail, she basically implied. Eight bottles of your favorite champagne have already been reserved. Your hors d'oeuvres? We'll ensure that the varnish on them has dried well before your arrival.
However, when I mentioned that my journalism style was often humorous, she blanched. "H-h-h-humorous?" her voice trembled. As if it was just was not possible to write anything funny or, god forbid, satirical about an exhibit celebrating the holy Mrs. Kennedy. (I'm really no big fan of the Kennedys. Jack was too rabidly anti-Communism for my tastes--how was he any better than Reagan?--and while I do appreciate Jackie on a certain level, I never could abide her ascension to sainthood via the fashion world. Her greatest skill was her opportunistic ability to choose the right men to marry, and her descent into decadence and self-indulgence during her Jackie O years, while entertaining, should somehow disqualify her from sainthood).
Jackie O squeezes out a smile despite the fact that the whale-testicle-covered chairs that she ordered for the luncheon never arrived.
So, after my article on the Jackie exhibit came out in the summer issue of DUTCH, I waited for my Met Gala invite to arrive in the mail. But every day was a Charlie Brown-like mailbox experience. ("What's the matter Charlie Brown? Still no invite to the Met Gala?") Calls and emails to the PR girl, who was a good friend of the club doorman I later wrote a book about, went unreturned. The doorman reached out to her and he was similarly rebuffed. (Despite their friendship, I believe he never heard from her again). Weeks after the gala came and went, I called her again and left a courtesy message (again, unreturned) to see if she had received her copy of the magazine (surely she had) and wanted to know what she thought of the article. At this point I was really just trying to provoke her, and I knew that she had most likely been instructed by her superiors to slash me from the invite list. There's nothing more dreary than institution people who have no sense of humor about their subject matter.
Anyway, here is the article from the Summer 2001 issue of DUTCH:
How Now Jackie
A new exhibit at the Metropolitan Costume Institute shows how Jacqueline Kennedy’s pop princess persona is irreplaceable.
By Glenn Belverio
In 1963, about a week after the publication of Jacqueline Susann’s memoir about her pet poodle, Every Night, Josephine!, John F. Kennedy was assassinated. When Susann stopped by her publisher’s for a meeting, she found everyone gathered around the TV taking in the news. “Why the fuck does this have to happen to me?!” she exploded. “This is gonna ruin my tour!” But like any good writer, Susann was eventually inspired by this pitfall. Her last novel, Dolores, was “the intense, tragic story of Dolores Ryan, the beautiful and fashionable young widow of an assassinated American President”. The most thinly veiled roman-a-clef in history, Dolores examined the psyche--and shopping skills--of an American First Lady. An excerpt: “Their first real argument came when she bought ten pairs of shoes. Jimmy stared at the bill with total disbelief. ‘How can you wear ten pairs of shoes at once?’ ‘They match different clothes,’ replied Dolores. ‘Clothes I intend to buy.’”
The clothes bought by the real First Lady of Fashion, Jacqueline Kennedy, will be featured in an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute titled "Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years." Susann biographer Barbara Seaman writes of the author’s interest in Mrs. Kennedy: “She identified totally with ‘the other Jackie’, with her brunette beauty and elegance, her tragedies with children…her aura of sadness mixed with strength.” Sadly, there will be no juxtapositions of the Valley of the Dolls author’s famous Pucci outfits alongside Mrs. Kennedy’s Givenchy gowns. Also, don’t look for any mention of an experience that the two Jackies shared: both were patients of Max Jacobs aka “Dr. Feelgood,” the notorious quack famous for his vitamin B and amphetamine shots. (Mrs. Kennedy’s visits to Dr. Feelgood's office are documented in Sarah Bradford’s recent bio America’s Queen.)
This would all make for an interesting comparative pop culture study in two American Jackies: Susann, the vulgar, brash broad of trashy letters, and Mrs. Kennedy, the polite, shy lady of historic and aesthetic preservation. Susann swore loudly like a sailor, indulged in Nembutal suppositories, and wrote books about pill-popping starlets and suicidal bisexuals. Mrs. Kennedy whispered demurely (“like Marilyn Monroe playing Ophelia,” Maria Callas famously quipped), smoked cigarettes while hidden from cameras (one would be hard pressed to find a photo of her smoking), and read esoteric French books. Some may argue that Jackie Susann was a precursor to the later, hedonistic Jackie O., wherein her First Lady decorum surrendered to the decadence of the late '60s--a period defined by Susann’s sensationalistic novels.
But being that the Jacqueline Kennedy exhibit is not meant to be viewed as a perverse pop playground (the tone is decidedly reverential), Susann’s sensible absence requires no explanation. However, the impressive show contains many consolations. “Jacqueline Kennedy was taking a look that was very much in common currency in certain fashionable circles but wasn’t by any means an aesthetic that had been embraced by America at large”, explains Hamish Bowles, Vogue editor-at-large and curator for the exhibit. “She took something that came from a very sequestered world and made it nationally and internationally visible.” On display will be many of the elegant gowns Mrs. Kennedy wore for formal functions and public appearances designed by American designer Oleg Cassini: the black satin dress she wore when she met the Pope, the famed Inaugural ball gown, the sleeveless pink shantung dress she wore to India (a trip she reportedly brought sixty suitcases for).
There will also be a few Givenchys -- such as a stunning hot pink ribbon-back dress -- most of which were allegedly bought before she moved into the White House. (With the exception of the ones purchased for her appearances with JFK in Paris). This was in lieu of her suggestion that she would only buy clothes that were made in America. “If she was wearing Paris couture clothes that she already had in her wardrobe, I don’t think she can be criticized for that”, says Bowles. “On the contrary, it showed some level of sobriety and thriftiness, and it also showed that she was drawn to very simple, understated clothes.”
Another way that Mrs. Kennedy satisfied her French fashion fixation was to have some of her clothes made by Chez Ninon, an American company that legitimately copied Paris couture. One such example is the cranberry wool trompe l’oeil dress (a copy of a Marc Bohan design for Dior) she famously wore in the televised tour of her White House restoration project. Even better than the actual dress is the inclusion of video clips of the program in the exhibit. The White House Tour video is a hypnotizing historical artifact. Mrs. Kennedy’s whispery, campy recital of historical factoids, her sometimes stiff, sometimes boyish movements, and her nervous schoolgirl smile suggested a failed attempt at projecting a fully developed pop royal persona. (She allegedly went to bed in tears after viewing the broadcast.)
It perhaps goes without saying that at least one garment will not be included in the show: the infamous blood-splattered Chanel-like pink suit that is stored away in some arcane Washington vault. “The stained suit Jackie refused to change that day documented the polarities of womanhood: the pastel pink of girlhood and romance and the barbaric blood red of birth and death,” wrote Camille Paglia in her essay "Mona Lisa in Motion."
“That garment, like the Shroud of Turin, was a pictogram of her life story, with its failed pregnancies and widowhood.” Some may wonder how an exhibit on the clothes of Jackie Kennedy can be complete without the psychological and historical information displayed on that suit. Many will understand the need for restraint and respect on such an issue. Jackie Susann’s Dolores certainly understood the need for restraint: “Part of the duties of being First Lady was to look perfect. She sure didn’t look perfect now…the wrinkled suit…her hair falling across her face…she mustn’t allow the tears to come. A lady doesn’t show emotion in public.”
Above: Dr. Pablo Sepulveda Allende sporting a Ho Chi Minh t-shirt. It just doesn't get any better than that.
Dear Fellow Pinkos,
I love thisnews item about Chavez's daughter, Maria Chavez, dating Salvador Allende's cute grandson. For those who don't know, Salvador Allende was Chile's democratically elected Marxist president who was overthrown by a bloody USA/CIA-backed coup on September 11, 1973, because the U.S. could not tolerate the existence of a fairly elected Communist so close to home. Allende committed suicide during the siege with a rifle given to him by Fidel Castro. Seventeen years of US-approved fascism, helmed by General Pinochet, ensued.
I traveled to Santiago de Chile in November 2007 to report on the Museo de la Moda and fashion/politics during the Allende and Pinochet years for ZOO magazine. For those who missed that issue, here is my piece below.
Man of La Moda
Jorge Yarur makes a fashion statement in Chile’s post-Pinochet culture
By Glenn Belverio
While passing through Buenos Aires last November, I had a brief chat with Argentine designer Jessica Trosman about my upcoming visit to the Museo de la Moda in Santiago, Chile. “There’s a fashion museum in Chile?!” she asked incredulously. Her shock was based on the unstylish reputation of most Chilean women. “Chilean women dress simply, nearly always in slacks; they wear their hair down and use little makeup," writes Isabel Allende in her 2003 memoir My Invented Country: A Nostalgic Journey Through Chile. "On the beach or at a party they all look the same, a chorus of clones.” It was certainly not my aim to judge the questionable dressing habits of Santiago’s female population. I was, however, curious about how a fashion museum was being received in this far-flung country, one that is framed by the Andes, deserts, glaciers, and a vast stretch of the Pacific. Chile is, after all, a nation whose fairly recent political history—Salvador Allende’s controversial Marxist government in the early '70s followed by a long, brutal dictatorship led by General Augusto Pinochet—continues to resonate in everyday life. (A popular bi-weekly newspaper called The Clinic, for example, serves up scathing political satire and investigation, and is named after the British clinic where Pinochet was first incarcerated.)
An illustration of Salvador Allende from The Clinic
The Museo de la Moda, which opened in June 2007, is located in the exclusive uptown neighborhood of Vitacura, a wealthy, sterile community full of opulent homes surrounded by towering hedges. The area is in marked contrast to Santiago’s bohemian and partially seedy Downtown and Bellavista districts, where a majority of the city’s museums are located. Entering the Museo, you have to check in at a guardhouse, making you feel as if you’re crashing a private party at someone’s home on Mulholland Drive rather than visiting a public museum. But, in effect, you are visiting a private residence, for the Museo has been installed in the former childhood home—an impressive, one-level Japanese-style house built in 1962—of Jorge Yarur Bascuñán. The only child of a wealthy textile manufacturer of Palestinian descent and a bohemian Chilean woman, Yarur transformed the house into a fashion museum after his parents passed away sometime in the '90s. He began collecting pieces in 1999 and has since amassed over eight-thousand acquisitions.
The lovely zen-like exterior of the Museo de la Moda
Walking through the darkened hallways (the floor-to-ceiling windows of the house have all been covered with heavy curtains) I discovered such treats as important vintage Dior, Chanel, and Cardin pieces; a velvet dress worn by Eva Perón; Joan Crawford’s Jean Louis gown from the film Queen Bee; and a selection from Nolan Miller’s Dynasty wardrobe worn by Joan Collins. The temporary exhibit, titled Dressing Time and curated by Lydia Kamitsis, also reached back to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and was comprised of pieces from Yarur’s collection. Another, permanent exhibit takes up several rooms and is devoted to tennis clothing from 1880 to the present. An interesting facet of the Dressing Time show was a number of dresses from the '40s and '50s whose designers’ names will go unrecognized by most. They are pieces that belonged to the muse of the museum, Yarur’s mother, Rachel Bascuñán. “My mother was looking for her own style, more than big labels,” Yarur told me over the phone from Paris, where he was tirelessly acquiring more pieces for the museum. “She liked fine clothes, but she was searching for her own identity.”
A few of the pieces Ms. Bascuñán possessed were bought during her spectacular eight-month honeymoon in 1958. A colorful, dreamlike video transfer of an 8mm film plays continuously at the entrance of the museum’s galleries, documenting the honeymoon’s long trail: from Buenos Aires to Rio, Milan to Morocco (with a pit-stop in North Carolina so Jorge Yarur, Sr. could visit the cotton mills). Elsewhere in the museum is Ms. Bascuñán’s pink 1958 Ford Thunderbird—not a typical Chilean’s car at the time. One of her paintings hangs a few yards away from a work by Latin-American surrealist, Roberto Matta Echaurren, in the house’s carefully preserved den. “All the knowledge of culture that I have is from my mother,” says Yarur. “My father was always working, so I spent a lot of time with her, listening to classical music and learning about art. My mother was a quiet, sensitive woman. She never spent hours on the phone gossiping like other Chilean women.”
Inside the Museo
“This young millionaire, Jorge Yarur, didn’t know what to do with his life until he discovered his passion for fashion, which he has dedicated all of his energy and resources to for the Museo,” says Professor Pia Montalva, a Yarur associate and author of To Die a Little: Fashion and Society in Chile, 1960 – 1976. “And he does it very well, very seriously, elevating himself in the eyes of other qualified museum experts.” Ms. Bascuñán’s consumption of non-big-label fashion was not, according to Montalva, unusual for Chilean women during the '40s and '50s. “There was a design house in Chile during the '40s that sold prototyped copies of French high fashion. A manufacturer would buy a copy and then reproduce it with Chilean fabrics, using high-quality manual labor, and sell it commercially in large numbers,” Montalva explains. “By the mid-'60s, there were a number of boutiques that sold imitations of more avant-garde designs by Courrèges, Cardin, Saint Laurent, and Rabanne.”
Jorge Yarur photographed in Paris in 2007 by Kai Junemann
Copied French ready-to-wear was obviously not confined to Chile—Jackie Kennedy wore American-made knockoffs of Paris fashion while in the White House—but soon, even ersatz fashion statements were rendered démodé by sudden political and economic changes. When Salvador Allende was elected president in 1970, he implemented a number of socialist programs designed to improve the socio-economic welfare of Chile’s poorest citizens. “Allende was all the time against the rich people, and that affected my family,” remembers Yarur, who was a child at the time. “His government was about resentment of the rich, not about everyone having the same standard of living.”
“During that time, there was a fear in exhibiting or representing your status. Expensive, ostentatious dressing style disappeared,” explains Montalva. But, it seems, Chilean Marxism did not sound the death knell for creativity and style. “Toward the end of Allende’s presidency, the lack of natural resources produced a hecho a mano (manmade) style,” continues Montalva. “Women made their own clothes and accessories by recycling and transforming old garments from their wardrobes. A hippie-folk aesthetic emerged with an emphasis on the individual.”
Because the United States government could not tolerate the existence of a democratically elected Socialist in Latin America, they aided and abetted General Pinochet in a bloody, brutal coup against Allende on September 11, 1973. During the long years of Pinochet’s undemocratic government that followed the coup, U.S. and other foreign economic interests predictably seized the moment: Fashion flourished under fascism. “The big change during the military dictatorship was the arrival of foreign fashion brands: Esprit, Levi’s, Wrangler, Benetton, Fiorucci, and the boom of malls and department stores,” notes Montalva. “In the long run, the consequence of this change was the progressive destruction of Chile’s national industries, textiles, and clothing. The main legacy of Pinochet is that Chile has distanced itself from its continental aesthetics. It denies its mestizo origins and considers itself a ‘white’ country with a very superior level of development. And from that it builds its identity.” Perhaps it’s this homogenization that spawned Isabel Allende’s “chorus of clones”? “The women of Chile copy each other,” confirms Montalva. “I don’t think that will change because it’s rooted in Chilean idiosyncrasy; but it is a problem that is much more complicated than fashion.”
General Pinochet addresses his troops
A symbol of twenty-first century optimism, the Museo de la Moda is like a dollop of sugary meringue on Chile’s bittersweet late-twentieth-century history of flawed social programs, political repression, and torture. But even with the frothiness of eighteenth-century lace ruffles and Joan Crawford’s crimson satin, Yarur is turning his sights toward the streets. “I want my exhibits to address the cultures of North and South America and Europe, but not just be a reflection of the glamour you see in fashion magazines. Real fashion is to be found on the street, not at a party where everyone is wearing nice dresses and tuxedos. That’s a minority, what you see on the red carpet.” This is good news for those who’ve grown weary of Anna Wintour’s annual Costume Institute gala and the event’s coverage of couture-clad starlets who think Erté is the name of a new brand of caffeine-infused vodka.
Yarur’s museum is also poised to address a larger political history’s influence on clothing: the two World Wars and their impact on fashion’s long-lasting patterns. Yarur’s overall fashion vision is at once rooted in Chile (the museum’s homage to his parents) and well beyond his country’s social and religious parameters. “His collection is made with a non-elitist and non-nationalistic approach,” says curator Lydia Kamitsis. “He juxtaposes pieces from all over the world, and of different interests. They can be very simple or very sophisticated. This diversity makes us understand what fashion is about in France compared to Italy, the U.S., Argentina, or Chile.” Beyond the Andes, it turns out, lies a new and unlikely fashion frontier.
My photo of an exit at a Santiago subway stop. No, this has nothing to do with 9/11 in the U.S.--the avenue is named after the day of the 1973 coup in remembrance of Allende's death. (Chile is now moderately Socialist).
Once upon a time, this blog used to be about New York nightlife, club doormen and my 2006 book, "Confessions from the Velvet Ropes." But as you probably noticed, I've become bored of the NY club scene and started getting my kicks by traveling around the world to fashion shows and other glam events. However, I couldn't let this item pass by. On his blog, Michael Musto interviews doorman Derek Neen and declares him the "best doorman in NYC" (Thomas Onorato, the main subject of my book, is not really a doorman anymore, so I'm sure he doesn't mind giving up his title). I also profiled Derek in my book--hanging out with him at the doors of Beige and Roxy was definitely more fun than being inside the club--so if you can get your hands on a copy (I think it's out of print but there is aneBook version) there are many juicy stories from his 20+ years-long career.