Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I know he was a dictator and did an untold number of absolutely unconscionable things, but I will miss Muammar Qaddafi's personal style. I've written about his ensembles here, and honestly, who else will yell at the U.N.? And yell for hours? I wish Qaddafi had been brought to trial. I'm a due process kind of person. I firmly believe that long, drawn-out, legal battles especially those with burdensome discovery, can seriously deflate a dictator, plus there is the added bonus of actually uncovering information about those crimes against humanity, and who was funding it. A real trial, mind you, not something manned by kangaroos.

I must admit: I often imagined the conversations that Qaddafi might have had with his stylist: make this more Bedouin, but add a couple sequins. I want the cap to look more military but retain the Bedouin feeling. I need a bigger Africa-shaped brooch, bigger, like two-thirds the size of my head. And I need a gold AK-47.

Do we now face a political landscape bereft of style? Are there no more delusional, power-hungry, seriously snappy dressers? Is there not a head of state left who understands the power of clothes? No oligarch to employ team of tailors to make some sartorial magic?

Meet Yulia Tymoshenko, former Prime Minister of Ukraine. Ms. Tymoshenko has the advantage of being a beautiful woman from the get-go, and she found a team of geniuses to create Slavic-folkloric- Star-Wars outfits for her. Oh, and there's some Evita with that Princess Leia.

Look at at these seamstress flourishes around the high necklines. (Her outfits also seem practical in a colder climate and when you spend most of your time in massive buildings with thermostats set arctically low so that men can wear wool suits.) Look at how these gorgeous brooches are deployed. Some look like badges of honor, others look like steam-punk weapons: Careful, Ambassador, my brooch is set to kill, not stun. Her dresses and coats utilize a lot of puffed sleeves and are made modern with exposed zippers. Her color pallet is also genius: she truly shines in white.

Of course there is that genius of a hairdo: that crown braid. Genius on someone's part. Absolute genius. Iconic. An instantly recognizable Ukrainian symbol and she wears it beautifully. If she has a secret on how to achieve such a bounty of hair in middle age, she could make a fortune on that alone. Apparently there is controversy about the braid as to whether or not it actually grows from her head. Ms. Tymoshenko held a press conference in which she unbraided, showing that it was all hers, or at least, all attached to her head. I really hope she has some magical powers and will share them with us mortals. (I really miss the mermaid hair I had in my youth, as Colette once said when looking at photos of her long-gone ankle-length hair: How I miss myself.) But that gorgeous braid is most likely the collusion of a genetic jackpot and a discrete miracle-worker hairdresser, both sadly out of reach for schlepper such as myself.

Just look at this coat.

And this one.

I should insert a legal disclaimer here: I do not understand the political situation in Ukraine. I made an unsuccessful attempt and am still baffled. If you have an opinion, I am happy to hear you out. What I do understand is that politics in Ukraine make mere mud-slinging look like charity work. Ms. Tymoshenko's former running mate, Viktor Yushchenko, suffered severe facial scarring when he was poisoned by the opposition. (Of course no one could prove who did it.) Ms. Tymoshenko herself is currently in jail on corruption charges. It has been argued that this is merely a tactic to keep her from ousting political opponent, Viktor Yanukovych, during election season. That may very well be. (And if one has to choose, I'd take imprisonment over poisoning any day, though neither are good for one's health.) She has been accused of brokering a deal with Russia at Ukraine's terrible expense to purchase natural gas. She might be innocent as the dawn, for all I know. And in comparison with poisoners and the like, she probably looks like a total sweetie-pie. But she didn't become one of the richest and most powerful women in the world just by being adorable. She's also a big fan of Margaret Thatcher, which means that she and I would probably get into an argument if we were seated to close too each other at a dinner party.

Then there is the giggling. Ms. Tymoshenko has a trademark giggle that she deploys during press conferences. I'm not a fan of using girlishness to manipulate events, but as I've often said, femininity is a tool used by an oppressed class to garner some benefits from the oppressing class. It's still around because it works, and every woman uses it differently (and has an opinion on what is off-label use). Is Ms. Tymoshenko a Ukrainian Sarah Palin, as I've heard her called? Hard to say, not speaking Ukrainian. But she doesn't seem as uninformed as the former Alaskan governor. It has been argued that her crown-braid and folksy-attire are an attempt to play on well, folksy-ness, as in:I'm just plain folks, folks. And an effort to play down her vast wealth. Then there are the stripper heels. Ms. Tymoshenko prefers those sky-high foot-torture sculptures that pass for women's shoes nowadays. But perhaps she wants to feel taller in a room full of men? (I'm very second wave on that issue, I mean, these boots were made for walking, why hobble yourself? Am I just a second wave scold?)

What's your take on Tymoskenko?

What would you have a a workshop of crack seamstresses create as your power wardrobe? I must admit that mine would look a lot like Ms. Tymoshenko's. But with fuller skirts, flat boots, and embroidery. And of course I'd say to my stylist: Make it more Bedouin, but add sequins.

You can follow Ms. Tymoshenko's legal battles and see hundreds more pictures of fabulous outfits on her official website.


Wednesday, November 02, 2011

I've been obsessed with all things Masonic for a while. I had great fantasies of becoming a Freemason. I thought I'd make new friends,contribute to my community, participate in bizarre rituals involving trowels and embroidered aprons. And eventually, when I made it to the 33rd Degree, I'd participate in a ceremony of car crashes, painful dentistry, and drink Guinness on the top of the Chrysler Building as it bloomed with green and orange streamers. Oh wait, that last bit would only happen if I stumbled into the Masonic Temple of Matthew Barney. (Actually, I suspect that Cremaster 3 is an extended commercial for Guinness. All that Guinness drinking, all those Irish harps. Think about it. Okay, I criticize Le Barney because I'm jealous of his success, I loved every bit of the Cremaster Cycle. All 20 hours or so of it.)

Of course, women can't be Freemasons, so there are women's auxiliaries to join which frankly look like no fun at all. Bereft of deliberately obtuse ceremony, secret handshakes, fez hats, and conventions, women's auxiliary looks at least 80% less fun. Does anyone out there belong to Job's Daughters? Eastern Star? The Rebekas? The Lions? The Rotary Club? Do you get to wear interesting badges and do rituals? Are you having fun?

I thought to assuage this Masonic-sized hole in my heart by getting myself a Masonic tie tack, and sticking it on my winter coat. But why advertise for a club that wouldn't have me? So I thought that instead of going forward, I'll go back (my unfortunate strategy for everything) and return (the eternal return) to early childhood and the first organization I ever joined: The Brownies. I thought I'd clap a vintage Brownie pin on my lapel and leave it at that. After all, I've got a Girl Scouts handkerchief that I love.

I had high hopes when I joined the Brownies as a wee lass. I had a thrifted vintage 1950's Brownie's uniform with a brown beanie that I adored. I thought I'd make new friends and learn new skills. The meetings of our troop, however, where not as fun as I had hoped. They took place in a classroom after school, and involved mass production of macrame for hanging plants. Our den mother ran a plant store and we were essentially her sweat shop to make the macrame sold in her store. Our one nature walk was a long schlep down a major urban thoroughfare to a McDonald's. Sadly, I am not exaggerating.

Ironically, my father was a co-architect of this dysfunctional Brownie troop, as he was one of the den mothers, something he was always proud of. He felt that his role as a den mother was to add discipline. He did this by sitting in the back of the classroom and yelling at us if we got too loud. Though we were hardly doing rowdy or extreme macrame, he felt that Plant-Store Den Mother could not control us on her own. (Which is of course a rather sexist assumption. Plant-Store Den Mother could break our little spirits all on her own.) My father's other main task was to stand outside smoking Pall Malls. There was talk of a camping trip that would literally take place on the school's playground, but that was nixed for some reason. No hiking, no campfires, I don't think we even did any group singing. Just knot tying. Lots of knot tying. Just 1970s sweat shop Brownies. I don't remember how it happened, but apparently I called Plant-Store Den Mother a fascist and hung up my beanie for good. I took my father with me, so she could exploit the other Brownies on her own.

But here is a lovely tea towel showing some happy vintage Brownies apparently worshipping an owl (or maybe a mushroom). They have been taught to identify mythical creatures in the forest, such as sprites and kelpies. It is available here on ebay.

Funny, I remember that one of the macrame pieces I made was an owl. Did the Brownie sweat shop ruin me forever for group membership?

Labels: , , ,