How to be a fashion designer


What you’ll need: 99% Inspiration, 0% Perspiration (you don’t want sweat stains on your satin)

Songlist: Suffer for Fashion by Of Montreal, The Dress Looks Nice on You by Sufjan Stevens

Further reading: Richard Avedon’s Versace: The Naked and the Dressed

My grandmothers loved gardening. The scent of petunias immediately brings me back to my Grandma Joan’s community pool, where she and I deadheaded the purple flowers together. Bougainvillea covered the walls of Grammy Phyllis’s Caribbean house, and she created her own hibiscus hybrids in a shade garden outside her bedroom. When I was about 8, I was looking at a flower catalog with Grammy and realized how these plants so closely resembled elegant dresses. I got out my sketch book and created an entire collection of flower-inspired dresses on the spot.

Granted, my designs were somewhat unconventional. I didn’t understand much about textiles, and paired a lycra top with a crushed silk skirt. I also didn’t have a frame of reference for trends–my collection included styles from every decade in the twentieth century, without much in common from one dress to the next.

Hen and Chick plant: my inspiration

Seventeen Magazine hosted a contest in which readers could send in their best dress design and the winner’s dress would be created for her prom. I was maybe 13 at the time (the average age of Seventeen’s readership, ironically) and didn’t care at all about prom, but knew I wanted to have the winning design. While my earlier sketches were crude, I spent days working on my drawing of a dress inspired by the Hen and Chick plant. The dress was a forest green ball gown with white and pink embroidery that mimicked the shape of the leaves and, let me tell you, this dress would have been stunning. I was sure this would be a winner.

Months later, I opened my new issue of Seventeen and saw the sketches of the finalists. The runners-up were relatively bland, and the winner was a bright pink ball gown with sparkles on every available inch of cloth–the kind of dress that screams out prom.

I didn’t design too many dresses after that, and have since then realized that my fashion sense is nonexistent. In middle school I had three pairs of pants in rotation: high water khakis, button-up track pants, dark denim bellbottoms (serious bellbottoms). I haven’t gotten much better. But sometimes I wonder what would have happened if that forest green ball gown had won. Would I be sewing banana peels together on Project Runway or debuting lycra-silk dresses at New York fashion week? Seems unlikely, but maybe, just maybe, that Hen and Chick dress would have propelled me to the top. Watch out, Versace.

Oscar watch 2011: Best Picture

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The Atlantic’s Benjamin Mercer weighs in on the Best Picture nominees, ranking them from his favorite (The Fighter) to least favorite (127 Hours).

Meanwhile, Nerve ranks all 82 Best Picture winners from worst (Crash) to best (The Godfather II).

Which was your favorite film of the nominees this year?

Natalie Portman: best actress?

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I’m not the only one guessing that Ms. Portman will be going home with the Oscar this Sunday. Following is the opinion of Nate Silver, writer for the NYTimes’s Carpetbagger:

Best ActressAnnette Bening won the Golden Globe for her role as Nic in “The Kids Are All Right”, but Natalie Portman has won the majority of awards and the Academy tends to prefer serious roles to comedic ones when the choice is otherwise close. Plus, everyone seems either to have loved “The Black Swan” or thought it so terrible that Ms. Portman deserves some empathy for having competently played such a ridiculous character (guess which group I’m in?). A small factor helping Ms. Bening is that she has twice been nominated before without winning (for “American Beauty” and “Being Julia”), but this is Ms. Portman’s award to lose.”

Natalie has been working as an actress for far longer than most of us probably realize. Here is her audition at 10 years of age:

And from a few years ago, she discusses, among other things, her early days of getting into acting:

Consuming the female body: actresses and food

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This salad may not make me sexy, but it sure makes me happy

Vegetarians aren’t sexy. Jerry Seinfeld learned that lesson the hard way fifteen years ago when he ordered “just a salad” on a first date. Apparently no woman wants to date a man who only eats salad. Meanwhile, actresses have become more vocal about their love of meat and large portions. But why are they trying to buck the long-held love between actresses and lettuce?

The New York Times published an article last week on the rise of actresses admitting to food lust during interviews. Perhaps the actress just wants to prove that she’s “healthy” (read: without an eating disorder) or just-like-you (you are America! you love to overindulge!) But perhaps there is a more pernicious reason that the women themselves aren’t even aware of. The article suggests that these instances of public gluttony are meant to equate consumption of meat with consumption of the female body, thereby endorsing male fantasy and devaluing the body itself.

Padma Lakshmi enjoys her bacon

Padma Lakshmi, host of Top Chef, doesn’t see a problem with that:

Look, the two things we need to survive in life are food and sex or love. Food for our bodies, and love for our hearts. So what is better than the archetypical image of a woman eating succulent, dripping, greasy, comforting food?”


Gaga in the flesh

Lady Gaga infamously wore an outfit made entirely of meat to the 2010 MTV Music Video Awards. When asked why (the question that is most associated with her entire persona), she said that she wanted to convey that “… if we don’t fight for our rights, pretty soon we’re going to have as much rights as the meat on our bones. And I am NOT a piece of meat.” She was specifically referring to rights of homosexuals serving in the armed forces, and the statement she made is respectable in that light. But what do we make of the fact that her cover for Vogue Hommes Japan, a precursor to the VMAs, is the most sexualized image of a woman with meat that exists in popular culture? She stands barely covered, meat falling off her body, mouth open, “The Naked Truth” printed at the bottom. Strangely, she’s more recognizable as human in this picture than how she usually presents herself.

Lady Gaga has created and maintains the most elaborate celebrity image in our pantheon of superstars, and that makes us, the audience, assume that each iteration of her persona means something. But in her Vogue Hommes cover, is Gaga pointing out the ludicrousness of the female-body-as-meat or is she just succumbing to fantasy like all the rest?

Great Oscar speeches

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Let’s face it, the Oscars can get pretty boring. We watch for the dresses, we watch for the opening monologue, we may watch this year to see what James Franco and Anne Hathaway have up their sleeves, but we never watch to hear one more long list of names we don’t recognize (though, of course, those who get named must be ecstatic beyond belief). Luckily, some speeches are a little more interesting than just names. First is a compilation of excerpts from memorable speeches, and underneath are some of my personal favorites.

I love Jon Stewart, I loved him as an Oscar host, but perhaps I never loved him as much as when he brought out Marketa Irglova (about 1:30 in the clip) to properly accept her award in 2008 for Best Song. She ended up giving the best speech of the night.

Denzel Washington wins Best Actor and gives a shout-out to Poitier, who was awarded an Oscar the same night:

Though Russell Crowe may be neither short nor sweet, his speech was:

On the flip side, when Adrian Brody won Best Actor for The Pianist, his speech lasted much longer than the time he was allotted (he tells the music to “cut it out, I only get one shot at this”) but so much of it is great.

How to be a Hollywood actress


What you’ll need: A pretty face, a pretty face

Songlist: Hollywood Freaks by Beck, Paparazzi by Lady Gaga

Further Reading: True Confessions of a Hollywood Starlet by Lola Douglas

Sam, Roberta, Teeny, Chrissie

After the age of about seven, slumber parties were the only acceptable choice among my friends for a birthday celebration. Every slumber party was a variation on a theme, but all had to include the same three elements: cake, truth-or-dare, and the movie “Now and Then.”

This movie, a precursor to Sex and the City’s four-women-four-personalities formula, follows a group of friends over the course of one summer as they learn about their town’s secrets, deal with family issues, form deeper bonds, and generally Come of Age. I identified with Sam, the narrator who grows up to become an author, as I assumed every one of my friends did. She’s the main character after all, and she wants to be a writer. Only later in life (read: college) did I learn that some of my friends identified more with Chrissie, the sheltered redhead, some with Roberta, the tough tomboy, and some with Teeny, the Hollywood hopeful.

In fact, I did identify with Teeny in one scene, in which she practices an Oscar acceptance speech in front of a mirror. My mirror had served that very purpose many times over. For as much as I assumed we all identified with Sam, I also thought I couldn’t be the only one who wanted to wanted to be a Hollywood star. It’s one of those careers that is visible to American children from a very young age, along with teachers and doctors and whatever their parents do for a living. HR representatives and administrative assistants just don’t get the same amount of child-related publicity.

Movie stars have reached an absurd level of celebrity in the modern day. Many are paid outrageous sums for a job that not all of them can even do well (I’m looking at you, Kristen Stewart). I remember reading a book set in the late 1800s in which the narrator is embarrassed that her parents are actors–she doesn’t want any of her friends to find out. I was confused by this, at age 8, and asked my mom if there was some typo in the book. Surely the narrator wouldn’t be embarrassed? My mom explained then that actors had been disreputable for a long time, as they were seen to be untrustworthy. Their job, after all, is to put on a disguise and escape from reality.

We are only too glad, now, to escape reality with them. The film industry rakes in billions in suffering economies. While the films themselves are escapes from reality, we have also become more and more intensely focused on the real lives of our Hollywood idols. This strange dynamic leads to magazine features like “They’re just like us!” in US Weekly which shows Angelina Jolie at Target, as though movie stars don’t need to buy toothpaste, and as though we should care that they do.

For as long as I’ve been alive, the Hollywood lifestyle has been the epitome of glamour–who wouldn’t want such a life? But in this age of incessant paparazzi we ask our stars to navigate that fine line of extravagance and reality so that we can at once idolize them and relate to them. No wonder so many young Hollywood actresses get confused–they find projected on to their existence unfulfillable expectations, and either believe they deserve this attention and cling to it or get freaked out and try to escape it, which they can only do by escaping themselves.

"My fiance is a good actor because he said he didn't want to sleep with me in Black Swan but he totally wants to sleep with me! HA!"

Sadly, we seem to delight in a young actress’s fall. Once they show that they are not worthy of our idolatry–by stealing jewelry, by getting caught with coke, by being featured in a sex tape–we find it fitting that they self-destruct. There’s a public-stoning aspect to Lindsay Lohan’s inability to turn her life around or Britney Spears’s meltdown of a few years ago (yes, she’s a movie star–have you heard of Crossroads?!?) Our attitude toward these women is troubling; our desire for them is so great we wish nothing less than to consume them. Consume them we do, and spit them out when the taste has gone sour. It makes me worry for all those Teenies, those girls who will practice their Oscar speeches in the mirror this Sunday night after watching Natalie Portman win for Best Actress. They’ll watch her win (hopefully she’ll refrain from making some awkward comment about her pregnancy again in her speech) and think, That will be me someday.

DIY wedding veil

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Is it just a coincidence that "birdie" is an anagram for "I, bride"? Yes. Yes, it probably is.

My cousin, mom, and I ducked into the Brides of France store in Minneapolis on a cold November evening.

“Congratulations!” The shop attendant said to my cousin, when she told her she’d recently gotten engaged. The attendant started to show us the lavish and expensive wedding dresses shipped in from Spain. My mom, cousin, and I grinned at each other, having already found a beautiful dress for a fraction of these costs the day before. Still, we were in a wedding mood, and were happy to wander around the shop brimming with satin and lace.

The girl helping us showed us back to the accessories section, which was full of purses, tiaras, jewelry, and veils. My cousin had tried on a traditional veil with her dress the previous day, but we joked that we could easily an identical veil out of tulle for a few dollars and no one would know the difference. Here at Brides of France, though, they had more than just your typical veil. We were all intrigued by the birdcage style and the blushers made out of wider mesh complete with sparkly clips and flowers. However, we left without any new purchases.

A week later, my mom came home with a orange-mesh bag of clementines. With a little extra work, that hideous orange mesh was transformed into a perfect wedding veil, or at least a great gag-gift for my cousin for Christmas.

But making a beautiful birdcage veil isn’t all that difficult. I found a great website that shows a simple pattern with relatively few materials–no orange-mesh clementine bag needed. All you need is 2 feet of 18″ Russian veiling, a comb, thread and needle, a ruler, and scissors. Sew the comb to the veiling, add an embellishment like a flower or feather and voila! You’re on your DIY way.

All you'll need for a beautiful birdcage

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