Saturday, February 7, 2015



France has always been in love with technology. It has even figured out a corporate way to have a mother ship in the U.S. that links into all Louis Vuitton stores. There are phone agents who take your requests and contact the appropriate store. In my case, I just wanted the name of the PR agency that handled Vuitton menswear or at the least affirmation that the LV's menswear style director, Kim Jones, was responsible for the outstanding paisley shirt that appeared in the spring-summer T Magazine from The New York Times.

No go. After many, many tries at the mother ship, I called Paris LV. When I told them what I wanted, I was disconnected.

The shirt in question featured a brilliant fabric design, bringing bandana-inspiration to a new level of sophistication and worth every bit of the $815 listed as the retail price. And if it is the work of Mr. Jones, someone please give him my congratulations.

However, I am concerned about the model. It seems as if he is role-playing the waif, having spent $1,020 on those Bottega Veneta pants with their paper-baggy-looking front. It appears that he hasn't had enough money for food in quite a while. JP

Thursday, October 9, 2014


Giant 1970s paisley grouping from the book, Pantone: The 20th Century in Color.

Pantone, the New Jersey company that standardized color production and gives the world seasonal charts of what colors are trending in manufacturing, produced an interesting book, Pantone: The 20th Century in Color ― and paisley is treated as part of the 1970s.
The copy opines that just as van Gogh escaped some of his woes by moving to the Provençe of the late 1880s, the visual remembrances of that countryside have also soothed some of the stresses of the 1970s for everyone. And paisley, with the popularity of Pierre Deux and Laura Ashley, was part of that treatment.

The book features giant 1970s lavender motifs against a Mediterranean blue-green. Provençe-based fashion professional, Deanna Littell, said that from her view on a recent trip to St. Tropez, the sea was indeed aquamarine, the painter's word for blue-greens. What she likes about Provençal paisleys is the mix of monotone colors. She pointed out that Pantone's example of a Mediterranean blue ground with lavender paisleys made her think of fields of lavender against a deep blue sky.

It is also interesting that blue-greens have been on the fashion Pantone charts for a few seasons now. JP

Sunday, July 13, 2014



The sublimely talented fashion illustrator and artist, Antonio Lopez (1943-1987),  student of The Fashion Institute of Technology and a million other achievements, has been on my mind for some time now.   The artwork shown, from a Russian-themed Bloomingdale's ad from 1981, was used for the fall/winter 2012 cover of FIT's excellent Hue alumni magazine and was put aside for this blog to illustrate yet another paisley story.

Obviously, lots of other blog ideas seemed to have crowded ahead of Antonio. But when I read Elaine Louie's touching "Charles James and Me" feature on the front page of The New York Times ThursdayStyles (April 24), there was Antonio again to remind me.

This past May, in the UK's Business of Fashion, Colin McDowell recalled that in the 1970s, Antonio and his partner Juan Ramos set about to create a drawn record of James's work,  which took the pair 10 years ― and seems to me to be such a loving project for them to take on.  Louie writes that the June 1975 "Charles James" exhibit at the Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, featured 250 drawings by the designer himself plus 50 by Antonio. The writer also recalls how her friends Antonio and Juan called upon her to act as  "walker" for the star designer on opening night of the Syracuse exhibit. Her mission: to keep him from mentioning Halston and Diana Vreeland, both of whom lived with public CJ feud-clouds over their heads.    

Louie and I talked on the phone occasionally, she as editor of Art Direction and me, an editor of publications about advertising.  When I was doing a story on an artist for his striking Bloomingdale's fashion campaigns and probably called her, wanted her thoughts on the work. I remember phoning Antonio for an interview and somehow blurting out something like, do you know what a special talent you have?  What could the poor man say after that!

I believe it was also 2012, at The Morgan Library & Museum exhibit of drawings from Renaissance Venice, there was a little sketch of a piece of fabric being draped by a hand, I cannot remember whose.  It seemed that one could actually feel the fabric on the hand, on the skin.  "Antonio, you drape like that,"  I told the spirit-him.

In any event,  hopefully there would be some of Antonio's drawings in the "Charles James: Beyond Fashion" exhibit.  Located in the lower-level portion of the two-part exhibit, I could spot only two Antonio drawings among the designer's selected portfolio pages,  both with strong, bold lines that perfectly represented the designer's work and attitude.

Walls that edge the Met's main floor exhibit area are filled with sparkling, opinionated quotes from James.  One of my favorites:  "My dresses help women discover feelings they didn't know they had."   I can just imagine the power and fantasy I would feel wearing the displayed Charles James straight-line gown with its enormous, frothy sheer tail, much like the powerful rooster tails of hydroplane speed boats when they seemed to break the sound barrier in races on the Detroit River.  Dangerous. JP

"Charles James:  Beyond Fashion" remains at the Met through August 10, 2014.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014



I was very lucky to have chanced upon the late February NPR program, On Being, when Krista Tippett interviewed exhibition "maker"  Ann Hamilton, professor at Ohio State University,  Columbus,  and the person responsible for last year's exhibition at New York's Park Avenue Armory.  (Hamilton prefers to be called a "maker" rather than an artist.)

In that huge Armory exhibit, "The Event of a Thread",  New Yorkers were able to climb onto swings attached to giant white curtains that hung from mile-high vaulted ceilings.  Somehow, as  swingers swung, the curtains opened and closed.  Facing the swingers was a row of stenographers working away on endless rolls of paper, totally unconnected with the fellow humans visiting the exhibit.  It was all quite visceral, and somehow I didn't want to linger too long.

What intrigued me in the radio interview was the elegant expression of  Hamilton's  theory that thread and textile were both important forms of communication.  She told Tippett that when she first started making things out of textiles she thought of the textile as an animated surface that both covers and reveals, a place of embodied knowledge, the first house of the body.

She recalled body memories of sitting close to her grandmother as a child, knitting or doing needlepoint as her grandmother read aloud.  The rhythm of the two acts were remembered together.  The threads of needlecraft and the threads of ideas produced the same experience for her.  She continues to find a tactile experience in words.

With me, textiles often evoke a tactile emotion, sometimes a happy one, sometimes one full of wonder, sometimes a sad one.  Examples from J. Forbes Watson volumes of Indian fabrics, published in 1866, were on display near The Metropolitan Museum's Antonio Ratti Textile Center,  coordinated with The Met's major exhibit, "Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade".  The exhibit's long run ended late last year.

Watson was a doctor who traveled to India with the Bombay Army Medical Service in 1850 and lived there for three years. There is no accounting for his interest in Indian fabrics.  The fabrics he presented in his pattern books were manufactured in India and "were meant to inspire textile manufacturers in India and England."

Admittedly the paisley or boteh/buta motif is too powerful for eastern cultures to keep just to themselves.  Shown above, a charming floral with budding branches that turn into the teardrop motif.  But it is just so hard to see India at this point (1866),  losing what was left of its industry to a more industrially-savvy country.  It was even sadder when I came upon a pattern book at another library that showed a cotton print of English roses mixed with the motif, intended to be sold back to the Indian customer. 

Still the small exhibit was a welcome one and part of our shared embodied knowledge.  As Hamilton told Tippett, text and textiles are always woven experientially for her – as they can be for us all. JP

Sunday, October 20, 2013


Green bottle with motif center and upfront displayed at The Art of Arab Lands, The Metropolitan Museum Of Art. Below: Vera Bradley tin for mints.

We are at a silly point in U.S. marketing, where humanity is being drained out of advertising and public relations communication.  The symbol or graphic image is all, and the product is lifeless.  Years ago, the ultimate branding concept first sent shivers down my spine when Martha Stewart told PBS's Charlie Rose that she wanted to become a brand.  Yes, from a corporate sense, it was a logical decision.  After she is gone, the corporation will have an identity.  But at what cost to her humanity?  I remember Ms. Stewart  from her early days in the Kmart licensing program.  She may have acted up behind the scenes, but she was still human with a lot of great advice for home and table.

On to the green-glass bottle that was displayed in The Art of Arab Lands at the Metropolitan Museum of Art over the past spring-summer.  Some smart person in the 17th century decided to do a nice fragrance bottle with a large boteh (paisley) motif simply placed up front and center.  It wasn't designed to sell billions.  It communicated love of the motif, and it was probably a pleasant experience to use that bottle.

Vera Bradley, a successful gift company both online and in stores - known for its prints in fabric totes, home accessories and children's wear - produced the little round candy tin pictured.  Lovely to put in a handbag.  This year, they even have a paisley Christmas ornament.  I don't think paisley is the total branding message for them but I am sure that the gift customer loves the beautiful design when it pops up in the collection.

Perhaps the point of all of this is, perhaps we should get back to making products that are pleasant to use and stop obsessing about vacant, unhuman brand images. Remember, humanity separates us from the limiting world of the algorithm. JP

PS: VB candy tin is courtesy of Dodie, who is this blog’s copy editor.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


Edoardo Nesi's book, Story of My People, is an emotionally difficult book to read. It takes you right into the Northern Italian city of Prato and its ghost-town of empty factories and of factories turned into sweatshop dormitories. Nesi's book also reminds me so much of my hometown, Detroit. In one of my first blogs, I wrote about visiting Prato and seeing first hand how the spirit was cut right out of its textile craftsmanship and its community.

As Nesi points out it had a long tradition of the highest level of work, patronage and commercialism that dates back to the 15th century, the days of Cosimo and Lorenzo de Medici. In fact, it was a chance to see Lorenzo's final villa located close to Prato, that brought me there in the first place. And it was the overwhelming sadness of the current Prato that made me flee once I had visited the villa – a villa which Lorenzo planned but never lived to see built.

We are coming to realize that globalism for the sake of chasing the lowest price will not only lead to corporate riches but also to the grief of individual societies and to the destruction of highly-developed and century-honored trades.

For Detroit, the motto is "Speramus meliora, resurget cineribus." (We hope for better things; it will rise from the ashes.) This is from a quote from Fr. Gabriel Richard after a terrific downtown fire in 1805 that included his parish. And people of Detroit are talking about that motto today.

In my opinion, for an understanding of the true spirit of Detroit, the best book is Detroit City Is the Place to Be by Mark Binelli and for Prato, it is Nesi's Story of My People.

In the most recent decades, Prato seems to have done more fine menswear stripes and plaids than paisley motifs. But since the teardrop is a symbol for life springing forth, maybe someone in town will weave a little paisley for me? I also recommend that Mr. Nesi read the story of the Highland Park firemen in Mr. Binelli's book. It will give him heart but also might make him cry.

The urban struggle and struggle of the spirit are not new. Marsilio Ficino – translator of Plato into Latin and mentor to both of his patrons, Cosimo and Lorenzo de Medici –wrote in one of his loving letters to mankind: "Labor so that you may be good and shine with beauty; suddenly all things are good and shining with beauty for you." This, even when the outer world looks like hell as it often did in Ficino's Florence. JP