Last Saturday, I checked one major item off a list of things I need to complete within the next month. This coincided with a dear friend’s birthday eve. When the damning reviews of Sex and the City 2 rolled in earlier this summer, we said we’d watch it together when it came out on DVD so we could get drunk and yell at the screen in private. Drink and yell we did, because sweet Southern breakfast the sequel is terrible.
I was a fan of the show. While certainly critical of its racial myopia and its reliance on the credit card to buy female empowerment, I still pull out the DVDs I inherited from a former roommate when I want some questionable sartorial choices and effervescent dialogue. I’m interested in how the show spun off into a successful film franchise, as well as the show’s massive global success, particularly in countries like Korea. I saw the first movie in the theaters with two girlfriends, finding it mildly entertaining until I was five minutes from my house on the ride home and felt like I was cheated. News of a sequel seemed completely unnecessary, even if I think the argument about the double standard between unsympathetic film representations of male and female members of Generation X has traction.
So, how is the sequel so off base? Apart from the racism you already know about that I’ll elaborate upon below, it suffers from a terrible script. Writer-director-executive producer Michael Patrick King knows how to capitalize on the show’s glamor but penning dialogue was never his strongest suit. The sub-vaudevillian puns always get in the way. Part of what made Sex and the City resonant with its core audience was that its predominantly female writing incorporated personal experiences and insights into Carrie and the gang’s storylines and conversations. They effused the girls’ snappy banter with buoyancy. Their scenes together now are down-right airless, their chemistry residing somewhere between non-existent and downright acrimonious. My take is that the other three girls simply cannot stand Carrie any longer. Our whimsical protagonist’s self-involvement and flair for dramatic projection grated on me many times during the series. I always cite the scene in the first episode of the sixth season where Miranda intimates to Carrie that she is still in love with Steve, the father of her son, and her “friend” runs away mid-conversation because a guy she likes may see her in a fashionista’s idea of schlubby attire, but I could recall further back. A weak spot of the series toward the end of its run was that Carrie was intended to be represented as blameless and even somehow noble when she often acted reprehensibly. Now she’s married to that rich bastard I never liked and is upset that he wants to stay in their magnificently appointed apartment and eat expensive takeout and curl up on the couch. Things come to ahead when he installs a flat-screen television inches away from their bed. I would’ve tickled him with glee. She apparently is so disgusted by the gesture that she has to run to Abu Dhabi.
The other girls have problems people just don’t have. Samantha is getting older and thus developing a dependence on hormone supplements. Miranda has a mean boss (played with Texan swagger by comedian Ron White) and incurs guilt from her thankless husband and son, who take for granted that her 60-hour work weeks keep the lights on. So she quits her job and gets A NEW JOB A BETTER JOB by the end of the movie. Charlotte’s problems are the most poignant. She’s clearly suffering from the end of postpartum depression but will admit it to no one. This, like Carrie’s and Big’s decision not to have children, could have created an interesting character arc. She gets one half-decent scene with Miranda where they vent about motherhood, but it is marred by clueless nattering about how they don’t know how mothers without outside help manage. But most of the script sets up really stupid scenarios, like when her daughter ruins a vintage Valentino skirt that her mother is wearing for some reason while icing cupcakes in a crowded kitchen. Oh, and I’m pretty sure King wrote the buxom nanny as Irish in the script so Samantha could land the “Erin Go Braless” joke. Blarney.
Following an introduction that lets us know how the girls met in a very gentrified version of 1980s New York, the movie begins at the saddest gay wedding I’ve ever seen. Carrie and Charlotte’s
accessories gay best friends Stanford and Anthony hated each other during the show. But now they’re supposedly the only two middle-aged queens left on the island and Stanford has to sacrifice Anthony’s infidelity to get his white wedding. Liza Minnelli officiates for some reason, and then launches into a creaky rendition of Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies.” Frankly, this scene was why I wanted to see the movie. I love Ms. Minnelli but the whole production strives so hard to seem young and contemporary that it feels manic and desperate. This is beneath the talent who immortalized Sally Bowles and Lucille Austero. Let’s watch her get results with the Pet Shop Boys and say no more.
The movie, as you all know by now, becomes unforgivable in Abu Dhabi. At a movie premiere, publicist Samantha is given the opportunity to potentially take on a Middle Eastern hotelier as a client. He invites her and a few guests to stay in one of his luxurious estates. Miranda attempts to be sensitive to the particularities of Muslim culture and instruct the girls on how to behave. Carrie is forgiven for condescending toward her servant and gawking at Muslim women eating French fries in a food court. But King somehow forgets in his effort to throw Samantha (and Parker’s off-screen nemesis Kim Catrall) under the bus by forgetting that she’s a successful public relations professional and instead represents her as a horny, ugly American. She is an insensitive wreck after customs confiscates her anti-aging supplements. And when she finally finds a (white) business magnate to get her motor running, she has reckless disregard for social decorum.
Again, the franchise has always had a shaky grasp on addressing racial issues. In the first movie, Carrie takes on an assistant named Louise (Jennifer Hudson), which was clearly meant to quell charges against the show for only representing white ladies in a notable diverse metropolitan area. I’m pretty sure that Louise from St. Louis who loves Louis Vuitton (nuanced characterization!) is a figment of Carrie’s imagination, like the martian who hovers by Fred Flintstone’s ear. We only see Louise in relation to Carrie and she never has a scene with any of the other girls. I recently had a conversation with my friend Curran where we discussed how it was weird that the movies’ soundtracks primarily consist of female R&B singers of color like Hudson, Alicia Keys, and Leona Lewis, but none of this is reflected in the show’s casting choices. Again, women of color provide the girls with merely peripheral intrigue.
Catrall endured similar expenses against her dignity during later seasons and the first film. But this movie is nothing but a two-and-a-half-hour pie job. It’s an exercise in vilifying Samantha for being insecure about aging, suspecting that Charlotte’s husband might be cheating on her, and wearing a dress better than Miley Cyrus did on a red carpet event. Thus why I reference a Yoko Ono song in the post’s title. While Samantha isn’t put a brave face to eclipse her true feelings about her lover’s affair, like Ono is in the song, Kim Cattrall is putting a brave face as the franchise’s key players destroy her character’s memory.
I find it especially sad that the battle is waged against someone who I once considered my favorite character. While I identify most closely with type-A alpha nerd Miranda, I always understood why she was friends with Samantha. I believe Miranda could relate to Samantha’s professional drive and negotiating a bullish business world as a successful women. Thus I believe Samantha would have her dossier prepared and would have been on her best behavior in Abu Dhabi, if only for the sake of business. And while Parker gets top billing and producer credit, Cattrall was always a comedienne brave enough to mine sexuality of its humor, abject terror, and occasional splendor. Though it is lost in syndication, Cattrall gave City much of its sex. She is also the most loyal friend of the group, though I think both character and actress are proving themselves masochists by enduring their disdain. It’s time to get out from under the bus.
So, before I go into my post about Anna Sui’s Gossip Girl-inspired Target collection that launched last summer, I’d like to first announce something totally superfluous but strangely encapsulating. I am down to the dregs of my Anna Sui Dolly Girl perfume. My mom bought it for me several birthdays ago and it is a delightfully flirty fragrance that I only wear when I need to feel publically sexy. If I went to your birthday party, going-away party, theme party, house-warming, wedding, or any other BIG EVENT, this is what I smelled like before I got sweaty and/or drunk. Priced at $35 and lasting over several years, it has definitely served me well.
Delightfully flirty and publically sexy seems to be Gossip Girl‘s chief M.O. The CW teen drama, created by O.C. mastermind Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, is now in its third season and based on the popular tween book series of same name by Cecily von Ziegesar. It focuses on the soapy, bitchy, frothy excesses of a gaggle of teenaged haves and (to a lesser extent) have-nots and their parents in New York City. Importantly, its wardrobe is in essence a principal character, largely due to costume designer Eric Daman’s keen eye for established and emergent talent in contemporary fashion. The show has launched once-fledging talent like Blake Lively, who has appeared in pictorials for Vanity Fair and on the cover of Vogue. It has also scored previously unknown actresses like Leighton Meester into a spokeswoman deal with Reebok.
The show has proven itself bit of a taste-maker. How else to explain why this “silly” teen soap (with a considerable hip twentysomething following) got the coop of having Christian Dior’s Miss Dior Chérie advertisement air for the first time during the “Bonfire of the Vanity” episode? Oh, and let’s not overlook who directed the spot — Ms. Sofia Coppola, herself a hipster icon, fashionista, erstwhile clothing designer, sometimes design collaborator, and friend to folks like Marc Jacobs and, yes, Anna Sui.
BTW, I remember this really interesting feature Seventeen did back in 1993 with Sui, Coppola, and friends Zoe Cassavettes and Donovan Leitch, but cannot find it on the Interwebz. If curious, please contact your local library. When you find it, note the crocheted shawls, chokers, matte lipstick, and other hallmarks of early-90s fashion they’re wearing that are now making a comeback.
Bringing publications like Seventeen into the discussion make inevitable the show’s fanbase and target audience, who tend to be pre-teen and tween girls. Thus, there’s probably a fair amount of aspiration that can be marketed toward (a euphemistic term for “exploited”). And while I feel kinda icky about the proceedings, especially since Sui’s Gossip Girl-inspired togs tend to be mid-range ($30-$70), I at least can recognize that these clothes are more affordable than, say, Louis Vuitton, or even some of the garments sold at mall retailers like Express, Banana Republic, and The Limited.
The market-driven desire to dress like a gossip girl suggests a particular cultural power, perhaps one not since seen since Carrie Bradshaw became a game-charging sartorialist (and Sarah Jessica Parker became her). The Gossip Girl cast’s on- and off-screen wardrobe (and, in Taylor Momsen’s case, the merging of the two) has also provided fodder for fashion blogs like Go Fug Yourself, much in the same way that producer Josh Schwartz’s name-making franchise The O.C. Gossip Girl has even taken its fashion-plate status toward self-reflexive ends. In the season two episode, “The Serena Also Rises,” a fashion show seating chart appears on screen, with Fug Girls Jessica Morgan and Heather Cocks’s names on it.
Thus, the show, like other Schwartz-helmed programs, is known for its intertextuality. So it seems fitting that a television show — particularly one as creative as marketing and distributing itself in an increasingly digitized and convergent media climate that young women have been especially adept at traversing, would try marketing its show through clothes. It’s a move with a bit of recent history (Grey’s Anatomy for New York & Company) and a bit of current cross-promotional play (Mad Men for Banana Republic, which Jonathan Gray has critiqued).
But having Sui team up with Target to design for Gossip Girl it is interesting, and smart in terms of the show’s investment in fashion, both as an industry and as a bridging cultural practice. Like Gossip Girl, Sui’s work has been characterized by her ongoing interests in popular music. Gossip Girl‘s music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas defines the show by its of-the-moment “indie” sound, which in turn gets referenced, idolized, and critiqued at length by the show’s characters in much the same way it was on The O.C.. Likewise, Sui is often inspired by popular music — particularly 60s garage rock, 90s Britpop, riot grrrl, and mod culture — and incorporates the attitude and aesthetic into her designs.
Both the show and designer have a preoccupation with the 90s — for the show, it is an era that commercialized alternative rock and, for hip dad and former rocker Rufus Humphrey, it is an albatross. Sui might feel similarly about the era, which was her zenith period and was not repeated in the 2000s when peer designers like Marc Jacobs, Alexander McQueen, and Stella McCartney made the career move to be house designers for Louis Vuitton, Givenchy, and Chloé, respectively. Sui instead followed in the footsteps of designers like Betsey Johnson and continued to cultivate her brand from a slightly lower tier, opening boutiques around the world and continuing to create new collections, but largely outside of the elite world of haute couture. Likewise, Gossip Girl is not a big player on television with colossal ratings. It’s not on a big-four network or on a prestige cable channel like HBO.
(Note: Obviously, if one wants to read into Sui’s professional position her marginalized status as one of the few Asian American female clothing designers, there is ample room for this. Admittedly, I have not done so here, but would be very interested and encouraged by what others might have to say on the matter.)
But both designer and show have cultivated their kitschy, hip brands toward less-travelled though no-less-populist ends. Thus, it makes sense that Sui would link up with Gossip Girl (apparently, her favorite television show), and that they would link up with Target, a big box chain with affordable prices, a cooler and more ethical socioeconomic reputation than Wal-Mart, and a relationship with designers like Isaac Mizrahi, as well as M.I.A.’s former roommate Luella Bartley and Michelle Obama’s go-to guy Thakoon Panichgul who, like Sui, have created limited edition collections for the retailer.
Now, having already discussed the problematic nature of fixing a price range and marketing a clothing line toward an intended audience in such a blatant way, I’d like to close by casting a critical eye toward the clothes themselves.
One issue I have with the collection is how focused it is on dresses and skirts. While supposedly each outfit is designed with a particular gossip girl style in mind (specifically Serena’s boho chic, Blair’s classic glamour, Jenny’s runway punk, and clearly cast-aside Vanessa’s vaguely ethnic intellectual look), all of these items can easily be paired together because of their overt, unproblematized femininity.
Another issue, and one that Target faces with all limited collections, is whether big-name designers cater toward in-between or fat body types. The clothes’ sizes range from extra-small to extra-large, leaving out women and girls who are bigger. What is more, while these clothes appear to be well-made, many of the designs in Sui’s collection seems to principally flatter a long, lean body type. As a short, curvy girl who wears a size four (which, if we recall The Devil Wears Prada, is the new size six), I would have to belt pretty much all of these dresses so they wouldn’t look like gunnysacks on me (that is, the ones that aren’t so short that they would fail to flatter my thickly proportioned thighs). And don’t even get me started on how stumpy I’d look in a pair of checkered, bowed pedal pushers. NEXT!
So, while interesting in many other ways, I feel like Sui’s collection suggests that only certain shapes and classes get to be gossip girls when it comes to fashion. I don’t think we needed Target to tell us that, but I hope it inspires other women and girls to either make the styles their own or, better yet, start picking up the needle and thread and putting their own outfits together.
So, Beth Ditto is a style icon. No two ways about it. If you know this, then you probably also know that Beth Ditto just launched a clothing line for Evans in the UK. You may have already read SparkleBliss’s rad, insightful post about it on her blog (which, if you haven’t, you should — go here). And, if you follow SparkleBliss on Twitter, you may already know that she just bought herself a cute outfit from the collection.
Now, women in music dabbling in fashion is nothing new. Indeed, women in popular culture writ large dabbling in fashion is almost de rigueur — another way to circulate your brand, add more hyphenates after your name, and give your fan base more tactile, tangible access to “you”. Everyone seems to be have at least attempted at designing a clothing line (Gwen Stefani, Victoria Beckham, Jessica Simpson, Jennifer Lopez, Eve, Kate Moss, Rachel Bilson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Chloë Sevigny, an assortment of women on The Hills . . .) or work as a spokesmodel (M.I.A. for Marc Jacobs most immediately comes to mind).
But you’ll notice that a lot of the women I mentioned are presumably straight and all of them slender. Thus, the majority of female celebrity clothing lines align with normative identities of what women and girls should be. This indeed makes Ditto’s entrance into the world of fashion and retail (which she intimated in Bust as “dancing with the devil”) “a queer, fat cultural moment” as Charlotte Cooper at Obesity Timebomb purports it to be (and that SparkleBliss reprinted and linked in her post — seriously, go read it). It’s too bad that Margaret Cho’s High Class Cho line didn’t take off (complete with non-numerical sizes named for bombshells like Jayne Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe) — if so, we could add “woman of color” to the list of signifiers.
Also, looking at Ditto’s body and orientation is important when contextualizing her within pop music’s landscape. Slender pop stars like Katy Perry and Lady Gaga are also interested in fashion and with putting together their own clothing lines, but while Perry and Gaga flirt with queerness, Ditto is out. And while Perry’s look most clearly aligns with vintage, pin-up Hollywood glamor (albeit to a heightened, campy degree) and Gaga’s look is definitely severe couture (perhaps even a bit fascistic in ways reminiscent of Siouxsie Sioux, but let’s give this issue its own entry), Ditto’s collection is at once hip, wearable, distinctively Ditto, and specifically for plus-sized women and girls, perhaps more closely aligning Ditto with her fan base than Perry or Gaga could.
But we’d be doing a disservice to sing the praises of Ditto’s collection without (as SparkleBliss and Obesity Timebomb point out) a) acknowledging the inherent adherence to capitalism and b) being conscious of the (often cheap, exploitative) modes of production and labor responsible for putting this collection out into the market along with potential class issues and limitations among various consumer groups. Even the ways in which the unnatural, weird, non-human look of the mannequins wearing her clothes suggest we have a ways to go as a culture before a large female body becomes a natural body.
Alongside this, we can’t extol the virtues of Ditto’s collection without acknowledging that Ditto launched her line in the UK, where she is actually popular, instead of in the United States, where she’s slightly less than obscure.
I still feel like there’s something really important in having a space in the market for full-figured women and girls to have a cool clothing made explicitly for them, just like I thought it was rad for there to be Tracy Turnblad dolls to coincide with the release of the remake of Hairspray. Of course, I can’t exalt these instances without acknowledging the ickiness of capital, using niche groups supposedly under the guise of serving them while in actuality creating greater gains for the corporations and retail chains that create and disseminate the brand, and clogging our homes with stuff . . .
Yet, I do think these cultural moments are not to be overlooked, even if these moments are dependent on consumerism. It’s important for women and girls to have access to clothes that include them in the world of fashion that look good and make them feel good. Likewise, it is important that queer women and girls (perhaps more pointedly femme women and girls) have a spokeswoman creating an inclusive space for them in popular culture. Because there’s a lot of joy to be had in finding an item that was made for you.